Monday measure: How the College Football Playoff bubble is shaping up

·11 min read

No. 1 LSU, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Clemson are all undefeated with clear paths toward the College Football Playoff. But the race for that fourth spot in the field is very crowded.

Entering Week 13, there are eight one-loss teams with a realistic shot to be the No. 4 seed when the playoff field is officially unveiled on Sunday, Dec. 8. Here’s a look at those teams and how they fit into the CFP picture.

(Note: Rankings reflect the Week 13 AP poll)

No. 4 Georgia

Record: 9-1 (6-1 SEC)

Best wins: No. 6 Florida (24-17), No. 7 Notre Dame (23-17), at No. 12 Auburn (21-14)

Only loss: Oct. 12 - South Carolina (20-17 2OT)

Games left: vs. No. 24 Texas A&M (7-3), at Georgia Tech (2-8)

CFP outlook: Georgia clinched the SEC East title by beating Auburn on Saturday and seemingly has a clear path to the playoff, despite an embarrassing loss to South Carolina last month. The Bulldogs haven’t been explosive on offense, but are counting on a stout defense to give themselves a chance against LSU in the SEC title game. That only matters from a CFP perspective, of course, if Georgia takes care of business in its last two regular season games.

No. 5 Alabama

Record: 9-1 (6-1 SEC)

Best wins: at No. 24 Texas A&M (47-28), Tennessee (35-13), Mississippi State (38-7)

Only loss: Nov. 9 - No. 2 LSU (46-41)

Games left: vs. Western Carolina, at No. 16 Auburn (7-3)

CFP outlook: Alabama’s loss to LSU will almost certainly cost it the SEC West title. From there, it comes down to how the Tide stacks up against the rest of the teams battling for the fourth seed. Alabama’s crop of wins doesn’t exactly jump off the page and how the selection committee incorporates the injury to Tua Tagovailoa will be fascinating backdrops to the remainder of the season.

Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) listens to instructions from head coach Nick Saban during a timeout in the first half on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. (AP)
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) listens to instructions from head coach Nick Saban during a timeout in the first half on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. (AP)

No. 6 Oregon

Record: 9-1 (7-0 Pac-12)

Best wins: at No. 25 Washington (35-31), at USC (56-24), Washington State (37-35)

Only loss: Aug. 31 - No. 16 Auburn (27-21)

Games left: at Arizona State (5-5), vs. Oregon State (5-5)

CFP outlook: Since dropping its opener to Auburn in the final seconds, Oregon hasn’t lost a single game. The Ducks already clinched the Pac-12 North, but must take care of business against Arizona State and Oregon State before a likely matchup with Utah in the title game. If both teams are 11-1 in that game, a CFP berth could be on the line, especially if Georgia loses in the SEC title game.

No. 7 Utah

Record: 9-1 (6-1 Pac-12)

Best wins: at Washington (33-28), No. 17 Arizona State (21-3), Washington State (38-13)

Only loss: Sept. 20 - at USC (30-23)

Games left: at Arizona (4-6), vs. Colorado (4-6)

CFP outlook: Utah is in the same boat as Oregon, though the Utes’ loss came to Pac-12 South foe USC — a team Oregon beat by 32 points. Since then, Utah has won six straight and will be heavily favored to finish out the regular season at 11-1. Like Oregon, a loss by Georgia would be huge for Utah’s CFP cause. But Oregon might have a better chance to edge out a second SEC team from making the playoff.

No. 8 Oklahoma

Record: 9-1 (6-1 Big 12)

Best wins: at No. 13 Baylor (34-31), vs. No. 11 Texas (34-27), vs. Iowa State (42-41)

Only loss: Oct. 26 - at Kansas State (48-41)

Games left: vs. TCU (5-5), at No. 22 Oklahoma State (7-3)

CFP outlook: Things looked bleak for Oklahoma when it went into halftime of Saturday night’s game trailing Baylor 31-10. But the Sooners roared back and eked out a dramatic 34-31 win to keep its CFP hopes alive. That comeback came on the heels of a loss at Kansas State and nearly blowing a big lead of its own against Iowa State. Considering Baylor was undefeated entering the game, the win gives OU a résumé booster but it’s hard to see the Sooners moving past Oregon or Utah when the new rankings come out on Tuesday night.

No. 9 Penn State

Record: 9-1 (6-1 Big Ten)

Best wins: No. 16 Michigan (28-21), at No. 17 Iowa (17-12), vs. Indiana (34-27)

Only loss: Nov. 9 - at No. 17 Minnesota (31-26)

Games left: at No. 2 Ohio State (10-0), vs. Rutgers (2-8)

CFP outlook: Penn State got back in the win column by holding off a pesky Indiana team with a nine-minute fourth-quarter scoring drive. Now the Nittany Lions have their chance to storm back into the CFP race when they face No. 2 Ohio State in Columbus on Saturday. A win over the Buckeyes would put PSU in the driver’s seat in the Big Ten where a rematch with Minnesota — the only team to beat PSU — could wait in the Big Ten title game. But a loss Saturday puts PSU on the outside looking in.

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford (14) runs against the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Nov. 9, 2019. (Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford (14) runs against the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Nov. 9, 2019. (Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

No. 11 Minnesota

Record: 9-1 (6-1 Big Ten)

Best wins: No. 4 Penn State (31-26), Illinois (40-17), Nebraska (34-7)

Only loss: Nov. 16 - at No. 20 Iowa (23-19)

Games left: at Northwestern (2-8), vs. No. 14 Wisconsin (8-2)

CFP outlook: Minnesota’s undefeated run ended Saturday night at Iowa, and now it needs to win its last two games to win the Big Ten West title. If the Gophers beat Wisconsin for the division and then upset Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, the committee will certainly consider them for that fourth spot.

No. 13 Baylor

Record: 9-1 (6-1 Big 12)

Best wins: Iowa State (23-21), at Oklahoma State (45-27), at Kansas State (31-12)

Only loss: Nov. 16 - No. 10 Oklahoma (34-31)

Games left: Texas (6-4), at Kansas (3-7)

CFP outlook: The fact that Baylor was ranked No. 13 last week despite being undefeated showed what the committee thought of its résumé. And now that the Bears have a loss, it’s hard to envision them jumping these other teams — even as a one-loss Big 12 champion. And to win the conference, BU would almost certainly have to win a rematch with Oklahoma.

Scott Frost’s extension makes short leash for Willie Taggart harder to understand

On Saturday morning, a few hours before his team lost its fourth straight game and all but sealed another season without a bowl trip, Scott Frost was given a shiny, new contract extension from Nebraska.

Frost’s hire in Lincoln came with a lot of fanfare — and understandably so. Frost, a former Nebraska QB who was born and raised in the state, famously inherited a UCF program that went winless in 2015 and transformed it into an undefeated Peach Bowl champion by 2017. Frost was a wanted man and it was a massive win for a Huskers program mired in mediocrity that Frost wanted to come home.

Two years later, though, the turnaround most expected — Frost talked a big game all offseason — has not come to fruition. In fact, you could argue that the Huskers, now a combined 8-14 under Frost, have regressed. While the defense has been one of the Big Ten’s worst, Frost’s vaunted offense, led by heralded sophomore QB Adrian Martinez, has looked nowhere near as crisp as it did late in 2018. And now, after a 37-21 loss to No. 14 Wisconsin on Saturday, the Huskers are sitting at 4-6, mired in a four-game losing streak and needing to win their final two games just to reach a bowl game.

When the school hired Frost, a rebuild was anticipated, so there was never any danger of Frost losing his job. But what is the point of a contract extension for a coach who has done so little? His contract — which pays him $5 million per year — already went through 2024. Among his hiring class, only two Power Five coaches (Chip Kelly, Jonathan Smith) have a worse winning percentage. Why add two years without any legitimate evidence that he is doing a good job?

Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Scott Frost watches a play during the game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Memorial Stadium. (USA Today)
Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Scott Frost watches a play during the game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Memorial Stadium. (USA Today)

At Florida State, Willie Taggart was fired for having similar struggles. Taggart was let go after just 21 games on the job and a 9-12 record — a record better than Frost’s through 21 games. And yet he was let go without even being given the chance to finish out his second season. When Taggart was at South Florida, Year 3 was when his efforts really started to take off and translate into wins.

Yet he — the first black head coach in Florida State history, by the way — wasn’t given the same kind of leeway in Tallahassee. Why not at least let him finish out the year?

There are layers to the situation at Florida State — including the level of booster involvement and a new athletic director (Taggart was hired by Stan Wilcox, who now works for the NCAA) — that add to the context behind Taggart’s dismissal. Taggart inherited a program that Jimbo Fisher left riddled with academic issues and lack of depth at key positions. But Taggart didn’t make things better on the field, and that’s the argument for firing Taggart before it could get any worse — even with the $17 million buyout needed to move on from his contract.

Still, it’s exceedingly rare for a coach to be cast aside so quickly without some kind of glaring, over-the-top red flags on and off the field. By no means is 9-12 good, especially by Florida State standards, but it’s not like the Seminoles had deteriorated to the levels of Chad Morris’ program at Arkansas.

Yet Taggart gets fired and a guy like Frost gets a contract extension. That just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, does it?

Missouri somehow still waiting for the NCAA

If Missouri beats either Tennessee or Arkansas over the next two weeks, the Tigers are going to a bowl game. Maybe.

It’s been a bad season for Missouri. A team that looked like it had a legitimate shot at nine or even 10 wins in August has lost four straight games and sits at 5-5 following a 23-6 loss to Florida on Saturday. And it has no idea if it is eligible to play in a bowl game.

The NCAA slapped Missouri with a one-year postseason ban in January after finding that a tutor had done coursework for athletes in multiple sports. The Tigers officially appealed the penalty in July and still haven’t heard back from the NCAA.

A long delay from the NCAA regarding infractions cases isn’t anything new. The governing body can move slower than a snail.

But Missouri expected a ruling by the middle of November. Mizzou coach Barry Odom has said he’s “shocked” that the Tigers don’t know what the NCAA’s final ruling will be. It’s a weird situation that’s been muted by the team’s recent struggles.

As long as the appeal is still pending, Missouri is eligible for a bowl. That means that if the Tigers don’t hear from the NCAA by the time bowls are selected on Dec. 8, Mizzou is going bowling. Assuming, of course, it gets to six wins.

Arkansas is a dumpster fire and the Tigers are early seven-point favorites over Tennessee on Saturday. But winning either of those games is not the safest of assumptions.

Missouri’s offense has been awful recently. The Tigers last scored a touchdown in the third quarter against Kentucky on Oct. 26. Since then, Missouri got shut out at Georgia and mustered two field goals against the Gators.

Tiger fans may not want to see their team in another game at this point. But it could happen. As long as the NCAA stays silent.

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