Ranking one-loss teams that could still make the College Football Playoff

Pat Forde

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (LSD sold separately in some CBS Sports Network broadcasts booths):

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As noted in the First Quarter, losses are inevitable for almost everyone. For some teams, getting it out of the way early helps – and, in the eyes of the CFP selection committee, there can be such a thing as a “good loss” when attempting to establish a pecking order between similar teams.

These are the five teams that should be at the head of the one-loss line, waiting for their chance to move up in the playoff discussion.

Notre Dame (11). The record: 5-1. The loss: by one point at home Sept. 9 to a Georgia team that is currently undefeated and rolling. The wins: Temple, Boston College, Michigan State, Miami (Ohio) and North Carolina, all by a minimum of 20 points. The victory over the Spartans is the best of the bunch, with added clout after Michigan State won at Michigan on Saturday.

USC (12). The record: 5-1. The loss: by three points at undefeated Washington State. The wins: Western Michigan, Stanford, Texas, California and Oregon State. Victories over the Cardinal and Longhorns are good and could continue to gain value as the season progresses.

USC quarterback Sam Darnold warms up before an NCAA college basketball game against Oregon State. (AP)
USC quarterback Sam Darnold warms up before an NCAA college basketball game against Oregon State. (AP)

Auburn (13). The record: 5-1. The loss: by eight points at undefeated defending champion Clemson on Sept. 9. The wins: Georgia Southern, Mercer, Missouri, Mississippi State and Mississippi. Closest game was 14 points (Mercer, of all teams); all three SEC wins by at least 21 points. Question is, are any of those five teams actually any good? Maybe Mississippi State. Maybe.

Oklahoma. The record: 4-1. The loss: at home to a mediocre Iowa State team. Definitely the worst loss of the five teams listed here. The wins: UTEP, Ohio State, Tulane, Baylor. The victory over the Buckeyes obviously is a huge one. But UTEP and Baylor are winless, and the Bears gave Oklahoma all it wanted Sept. 23. The Sooners have struggled in their last two games against what should be lower-division Big 12 opponents.

Ohio State. The record: 5-1. The loss: previously mentioned comeuppance against Oklahoma. The wins: Indiana, Army, UNLV, Rutgers, Maryland. The Buckeyes have been blowing people out since their loss, but the competition has been incredibly soft for several weeks. Maryland was a good team until multiple quarterback injuries struck. The Terrapins played their third-string QB against Ohio State on Saturday.


In the realm beneath Alabama and (for the moment) Georgia and Auburn, the Southeastern Conference has become such a stew of inconsistency and fan aggravation that it now is locked in a cycle of games between embattled coaches. O beats Mac, Mac beats Butch, Summy beats Bret, everyone beats Odom, and around and around we go. Winner of these games gets a brief reprieve from fans demanding his ouster. Loser is under more pressure than ever.

As the cycle continues, half the league could be fired by season’s end. The Dash prioritizes the endangered list.

Hottest seat: Butch Jones (14), Tennessee. The Volunteers had a bye week after their worst home loss in a century, and while there was no in-season firing forthcoming, the downtime only allowed the toxicity to fester. Predictably, a bogus rumor was started late in the week about Jones being on the verge of a dismissal. That didn’t happen, but it’s clear that there are plenty of fans who would like it to be so. Jones is 14-20 in SEC games, and in year five that’s not getting it done. Tennessee is 3-2 and, aside from a trip to Alabama on Oct. 21, the rest of the schedule is not daunting. But only a very strong finish would seem likely to save Jones at this point.

Thereafter, in descending order of heat:

Bret Bielema (15), Arkansas. An inexcusably generous contract with a $15 million buyout could be the only thing that saves Bielema – and even that might not be enough. After the Razorbacks were destroyed at middling South Carolina on Saturday, Arkansas has now lost five straight games to Power Five competition dating back to the end of last season. In his fifth season at Arkansas, Bielema is 10-25 in SEC play – and the next two games are against Alabama and Auburn. Arkansas very likely will be 2-5 heading into a gentler final five games.

Kevin Sumlin (16), Texas A&M. He was all but fired in the court of public opinion – and in the minds of some important Aggies boosters – after that season-opening collapse against UCLA. Since then, the team has steadily improved, winning four straight before a competitive loss at home to Alabama. But that game was still a loss, and if there are more of those to come then Sumlin is probably a goner. (Even though he, too, has a cushy buyout that A&M will have to deal with.)

Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin watches a replay during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against South Carolina. (AP)
Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin watches a replay during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against South Carolina. (AP)

Barry Odom (17), Missouri. Only in his second year, but this season is shaping up to be one of the all-time worst at a school that has seen some bad times. Odom is now 5-12, 1-4 this season, with the only victory over an FCS opponent. Mizzou hasn’t had a winless conference record since 1971 in the Big Eight, but this team might make a run at it.

Ed Orgeron (18), LSU. He’s 14 games into his head-coaching tenure, and just six into it as the full-time head coach. So it would be crazy to run him out this fast – except LSU is a crazy place, and Coach O put himself in immediate trouble this season with a 30-point loss to Mississippi State and a loss to Troy. Winning at Florida on Saturday was huge in terms of changing the mood – but that change will be temporary if beating the Gators wasn’t the start of a major upgrade in performance.

Jim McElwain (19), Florida. “McElwain’s Program Sits at the Crossroads,” declared GatorBait.net, a fan site that covers the school. This was Sunday, the day after the Gators were beaten at home by a previously reeling LSU team. For a guy with a 21-10 record, 16-6 in the SEC and 14-1 against the East, that seems rather melodramatic. But it tells you how the Florida faithful feel about a guy who has dramatically failed to live up to a big rep as an offensive coach. The Dash remains unconvinced that the winner of two straight East titles, while dealing with constant injury/suspension turmoil at skill positions, could be forced out after three seasons. But we’ll see how this one ends.

Seat temperature doesn’t matter, just presumed gone: Mississippi interim coach Matt Luke, whose team is 2-3 and has been outscored 137-42 by Power Five competition. At least the schedule is more lenient the rest of the way.


Ohio State loses handily in the Horseshoe. Michigan loses in the Big House. Notre Dame loses in the shadow of Touchdown Jesus, then wins by 20 in Spartan Stadium. Florida State loses twice in Doak Campbell. Nine different SEC teams have lost at least once at home.

Add it all up and it’s easy to arrive at the assumption that there is a disappearing home-field advantage (20) in college football. Then look up some Sagarin Ratings data, and that assumption has some backing.

By Sagarin’s computing, the current home-field advantage in the sport is worth 1.97 points. That’s the lowest it’s been since 2006, when it was 1.94. After hitting a high of 3.52 in 2013, it has declined every season: 2.77 in ’14, 2.68 in ’15; 2.13 last year, and now less than two points.

Why? That will take some time to explore. But all the modern trappings of home-field advantage – fans wearing matching colors, piped-in noise between plays, third-down hoopla – don’t seem to be having much of an effect. Road games shouldn’t scare too many teams right now.

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