Forde-Yard Dash: This is how bad the playoff picture can get

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (fake-punt therapy sessions sold separately in Fayetteville):

[More Dash: Throwback Week 8 | Rise of SMU, Baylor | Best/worst coaches]



Week by week, the College Football Playoff comes a little more into focus. Two-loss teams are mostly done; one-loss teams are on the brink; undefeated teams can dare to dream. With two weeks until the first CFP rankings are revealed, it’s time to consider the possibilities that would be the most appalling to the most people.

Acrimonious Scenario One: Alabama gets a Tua Mulligan (11) and the SEC gets two bids (12).

How it could happen: Tua Tagovailoa is trying to come back by Nov. 9 from an ankle procedure performed Sunday. It could happen, but how close will he be to 100 percent? And what if he’s not 100 percent, and the Crimson Tide loses a close one to LSU? And LSU rolls to the SEC championship at 13-0, and ’Bama bounces back with a more healthy Tua to finish a strong 11-1?

Then both the Tigers and the Crimson Tide get in, and everyone else is fuming.

Then we get to go back through the endless caterwauling about how a team can’t even win its own division or conference, yet still compete for the national championship. And then everyone gets to charge the committee and ESPN and the rest of the national media with being in the bag for the SEC. And then it’s time to revisit eight league games vs. nine, and not playing enough non-conference games outside the South, and every other annual lament that is lobbed in the direction of the league that tends to play the best football more often than not.

And if you want to take all that fan outrage and turn it to 11, go ahead and make the team getting the benefit of the doubt Alabama — for the third time in less than a decade. In 2011, during the BCS Era, the Crimson Tide lost to LSU in Tuscaloosa during the regular season, did not win the SEC, but got the nod over one-loss Oklahoma State and one-loss Stanford for a rematch with LSU — which ’Bama won handily. And in 2017, Alabama got in after losing its regular-season finale to Auburn, edging out Ohio State for the final bid — then the Tide won it all over fellow SEC school Georgia.

If you give Nick Saban a chance, good luck.

Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) walks off the field hurt against Tennessee on Saturday. (AP)
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) walks off the field after getting hurt against Tennessee on Saturday. (AP)

Acrimonious Scenario Two: Notre Dame (13) gets in, with the help of Jim Harbaugh (14). If there is anything a large swath of America wants to see less than an Alabama backdoor bid for its sixth straight playoff appearance, it might be the Fighting Irish making the playoff for the second straight year — with Coach Khaki clearing the way. It’s not likely, but here’s how it could go down.

How it could happen: The Fighting Irish, currently 5-1, obviously would need to win out and get to 11-1. That would include a victory over Michigan in the Big House on Saturday. Then the Irish would need the Wolverines to storm through November on their way to 9-3, most notably beating Ohio State at season’s end.

Throw in a USC Pac-12 South championship at 9-3, maybe a Pac-12 overall title at 10-3. That would give Notre Dame a second quality win.

Meanwhile, Georgia — which handed Notre Dame its lone loss — would need to revive itself and finish strong with wins over Florida (Nov. 2) and Auburn (Nov. 16) to capture the SEC East. A victory in the SEC championship game wouldn’t hurt, either.

That confluence of events would considerably beef up the Irish’s strength of schedule, perhaps sufficiently to compete with other one-loss teams. Anyone think conference affiliation and 13th data points might come up a time or two?

Acrimonious Scenario Three: The Pac-12 (15) wanders in under cover of darkness.

How it could happen: The Power Five league everyone loves to rip might have a better shot at this than you think. If one-loss Oregon meets one-loss Utah in the Pac-12 title game, that’s potentially a matchup of Top 10 teams. The better scenario from there would be a Ducks victory, because they would have a win over the USC team that defeated the Utes, plus victories at Washington and Arizona State.

Then it would certainly help Oregon’s cause if Auburn navigates its closing gauntlet of LSU, Georgia and Alabama with two or more victories. The Ducks’ lone loss was to the Tigers, on the opening weekend, in a game Oregon led for nearly 55 of the 60 minutes. Some chaos elsewhere wouldn’t hurt, either.

Acrimonious Scenario Four: Cincinnati (16), anyone?

How it could happen: The hard way. But let’s tease it out. The Bearcats (6-1) would need to win out, that’s a given. That could include defeating one-loss Memphis on the road to end the regular season and then beating undefeated SMU in the American Athletic title game. Cincinnati is already ranked in the top 20, and it would theoretically keep moving up toward the Top 10 over the next six weeks.

The outside assistance would have to come in the following form: Ohio State would have to continue devastating everything in its path, thus making the Bearcats’ 42-0 loss in Columbus look less emasculating. A UCLA run out West would be vital — believe it or not, at 2-2 in the Pac-12, the Bruins still have a shot at the South Division title.

Widespread destruction elsewhere in the Power Five would have to occur. And even if it did, there would be one major hurdle to a 12-1 Cincinnati team with a loss to Ohio State getting a shot: The Bearcats almost certainly would be the No. 4 seed, and the Buckeyes probably would be the No. 1 seed, and ESPN execs would have aneurysms if the committee tried to sell them on a rematch of a six-touchdown game in September.


Four campus locations will host multiple games that, as of today, will have major playoff implications. Here’s the breakdown:

Ohio Stadium (17): 411 Woody Hayes Drive, Columbus, Ohio. Capacity: 110,944. Opened: 1922. The big games: Wisconsin-Ohio State on Saturday, although that one lost some massive luster when the Badgers were shocked by Illinois; Penn State-Ohio State on Nov. 23. The home team has won 17 straight games there, and it’s been a long time since the home team looked as good as it does currently.

Jordan-Hare Stadium (18): 251 South Donahue Drive, Auburn, Alabama. Capacity: 92,542. Opened: 1939. The big games: Georgia-Auburn, Nov. 16; Alabama-Auburn, Nov. 30. One or more of these three teams has played in the BCS championship or College Football Playoff 10 straight years. There is a legitimate chance it will be 11 straight this season.

TCF Bank Stadium (19): 420 SE 23rd Avenue, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Capacity: 50,805. Opened: 2009. The big games; Penn State-Minnesota, Nov. 9; Wisconsin-Minnesota, Nov. 30. The absolute least likely stadium on this list. But with the Gophers 7-0 and only a home game against Maryland standing between them and the collision with the Nittany Lions, the highly improbable is close to becoming real. And the mind reels at the premise of Minnesota being 11-0 when the Badgers visit for the Paul Bunyan Axe game. If that comes to pass and the game isn’t played in a blizzard, The Dash will be outraged.

Michigan Stadium (20): 1201 South Main Street, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Capacity: 107,601. Opened: 1927. The big games: Notre Dame-Michigan on Saturday; Ohio State-Michigan on Nov. 30. Harbaugh is 28-4 in the Big House, but the four losses were all big ones — twice to the Buckeyes, twice to Michigan State. His “Finest Hour” prediction didn’t quite work out at Penn State on Saturday, but he’s got a couple more opportunities for the elusive statement win on home turf.

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