<
>

Which teams can lose a game and still reach the playoff?

play
Why OSU's biggest defensive test comes vs. Nebraska (0:49)

Brad Edwards crunches the numbers behind Ohio State's vaunted defense, explaining how a successful outing vs. Nebraska can wipe away their previous woes. (0:49)

This time of year, many of the remaining playoff contenders still control their own destiny.

But who can survive a loss in the playoff race?

That's what we're asking the Allstate Playoff Predictor today. Who's got breathing room -- and how much?

The rules: For each team, we're going to lock in a loss for the remaining regular-season game that it is most likely to lose, and then lock in wins for the rest of the regular-season games. For teams that have already lost a game, we locked in wins for the remainder of the regular season. Division races and conference championship games were not locked in. Each of these scenarios, for the 12 teams with at least a 1% chance to reach the playoff, is examined separately.

Now, let's dive into the breathing room rankings.

1. Alabama
Record: 11-1, loss at Auburn
Chance to reach playoff in this scenario: 78%

A loss to Auburn opens up two opportunities to miss the playoff.

1. The Crimson Tide can miss out on an SEC West title.
2. The Crimson Tide can lose in the SEC championship game.
The first is not necessarily a death knell, as we've seen with Alabama before in that exact situation. The second almost certainly is, given that it would be the Tide's second loss and they wouldn't have a conference championship. FPI currently considers Alabama roughly a five-point favorite over Georgia on a neutral field at the moment, for what it's worth, in what could likely be an SEC championship game matchup.

In any event, neither of these scenarios is particularly likely to keep Alabama out. That's why the Tide are in a better position to survive a loss than anyone.

2. LSU
Record: 11-1, loss at Alabama
Chance to reach playoff in this scenario: 71%

Here's the first big surprise: The Tigers have a better loss buffer than we might otherwise expect.

The path is pretty straightforward: LSU rolls through the rest of the SEC before running into the juggernaut in Tuscaloosa, effectively ending the Tigers' divisional hopes. But if it's close? And there's only, say, two other one-loss Power 5 conference champions?

Then the Allstate Playoff Predictor would see FPI's fifth-ranked team holding a pretty good résumé after beating most of the SEC and losing only to perhaps the best team in the country on the road -- and think there's a good shot the committee would put the Tigers in.

3. Auburn
Record: 11-1, loss vs. Alabama
Chance to reach playoff in this scenario: 68%

Can you sense a pattern?

FPI's strong belief in the SEC fuels this trend, but let's be honest: Wins in the best conference ought to count for more. Auburn's path is similar to LSU's -- except that FPI thinks these Tigers are little worse than LSU but have a tougher schedule. Don't forget that Auburn would have notched wins at LSU and vs. Georgia before losing to the Crimson Tide in this scenario.

In fact, from an average top-25 team's perspective, Auburn has the highest overall projected strength of schedule of any team (this is a slightly different version of SOS that we use for Strength of Record and playoff projections).

4. Ohio State
Record: 11-1, loss vs. Wisconsin
Chance to reach playoff in this scenario: 65%

Ah, finally another conference. The Buckeyes benefit from their loss coming in an interdivisional game, so they actually are guaranteed to win their division in this scenario, having taken care of business against Michigan and Michigan State and Penn State. Given how high FPI is on the Buckeyes -- a complete turnaround from what it thought in the preseason -- it would like their chances in the conference championship game. Even if they played the Badgers in a rematch, FPI would like Justin Fields and Co. as about a six-point favorite.

5. Georgia
Record: 11-1, loss at Auburn
Chance to reach playoff in this scenario: 59%

The Bulldogs are basically banking on an SEC championship game victory to get into the playoff here. Although they would be an underdog to the Crimson Tide, there's a reason LSU and Auburn are threats out of the West, too. Georgia would be a slight or moderate favorite over either of those teams should one of those teams be the Bulldogs' foe in Atlanta.

6. Notre Dame
Record: 11-1, loss at Georgia
Chance to reach the playoff in this scenario: 52%

All else being equal (assume equal number of losses, FPI rating and Strength of Record), the Allstate Playoff Predictor thinks Notre Dame would fall behind any Power 5 conference championship in the pecking order, but be ahead of any team in a conference that did not win its conference title. It's more complicated than this, but the simple interpretation is: If there are four or more one-loss conference champions, the Fighting Irish would be out. Three or fewer? Notre Dame's back, despite the loss to Georgia.

7. Clemson
Record: 11-1, loss at South Carolina
Chance to reach the playoff in this scenario: 44%

And here's the real shocker -- seeing Clemson on any list down this far.

But maybe it really isn't that much of a surprise. Because as we've heard all season: Clemson's schedule is mighty weak. And that talk is completely accurate.

If we look at strength of schedule from an average top-25 team perspective, Clemson's total projected SOS (including past and future games) ranks dead last among Power 5 teams. That's right: Last. You better believe that will be a talking point if Clemson loses to South Carolina and still wins the ACC championship.

Despite the Tigers' quality, there would be a pretty strong case to keep them out on résumé. It would be a close call.

8. Oklahoma
Record: 11-1, loss at Oklahoma State
Chance to reach the playoff in this scenario: 39%

Personally, I'm surprised OU doesn't have a better outlook. FPI still would give the Sooners a 78% shot to win the Big 12.

Like Clemson, Lincoln Riley's team would suffer from a not particularly strong schedule, and so their prospects are similar. Ultimately the Allstate Playoff Predictor is effectively saying: Given a loss to Oklahoma State, OU would get in 50% of the time that it won the Big 12.

9. Oregon
Record: 11-1, loss vs. Auburn
Chance to reach the playoff in this scenario: 35%

Oregon reaches the Pac-12 championship game by winning out from this point on, and would likely face USC or Utah there. The Ducks absolutely can get into the playoff in this scenario, but because they are FPI's 10th-ranked team, rather than, say, Oklahoma at No. 6, they get in a little under 50% of the time that they actually do win the conference title.

The Pac-12's hopes are almost completely pinned on Oregon winning out.

10. Florida
Record: 11-1, loss at LSU
Chance to reach the playoff in this scenario: 32%

Florida is guaranteed an SEC East Division title in this scenario, so its path to the playoff is mostly made up of a simple scenario: win the SEC championship game. The Gators will be underdogs, but we've seen crazier stuff in college football than this kind of upset.

The Allstate Playoff Predictor even saves a couple of percentage points when they lose in the conference championship game and all hell breaks loose elsewhere, but that's quite unlikely.

11. Wisconsin
Record: 11-1, loss at Ohio State
Chance to reach the playoff in this scenario: 32%

Back in the preseason, the Allstate Playoff Predictor would have been pretty floored to find out Wisconsin was this legitimate of a playoff contender, but FPI has changed its mind on the Badgers with Jack Coan leading the charge at Camp Randall.

This exact scenario -- Wisconsin winning each of its remaining regular season-games absent a loss in Columbus, Ohio -- happens in just over a quarter of our simulations. The real test, though, would come in the rematch vs. Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game. Obviously, Wisconsin would have to win that time.

12. Penn State
Record: 11-1, loss at Ohio State
Chance to reach the playoff in this scenario: 30%

This is a tricky spot for Penn State because it would need Ohio State to drop a pair of conference games to reach the Big Ten championship game. Barring that, the Allstate Playoff Predictor thinks it's possible for Penn State to go the 11-1 non-champ route that Alabama took a couple of years ago and we detailed above for other SEC teams. It's just harder for Penn State because no one (FPI included) thinks it's as good as LSU or Auburn.