Which two-loss teams could wreak havoc on playoff picture?

Pat Forde

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (party hats and streamers sold separately in Provo, where BYU won for the first time since Aug. 26):

More Forde-Yard Dash: CFP rankings primer | 10 Heisman candidates | Butch Jones


The quartet of two-loss teams best positioned to wreak havoc on the College Football Playoff in the month of November:

Auburn (11). Spoiler opportunities: Georgia on Nov. 11, Alabama on Nov. 25. Both at home. The Tigers (6-2, 4-1 in the Southeastern Conference) have won nine straight at Jordan-Hare Stadium, including their last five SEC home games. But quarterback Jarrett Stidham struggled in Auburn’s two losses, completing just 22 of 50 passes for 244 yards and one touchdown against Clemson and LSU. And the two SEC pass defenses that are better than LSU’s happen to be Alabama and Georgia.

Iowa State (12). Spoiler opportunity: Oklahoma State on Nov. 11 in Ames. The Cyclones (6-2, 4-1 in the Big 12) are moving out of Good Story territory and into Good Team land. They swept October, shocking then-No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman to start the month and taking down then-No. 4 TCU to finish it. (Last time anyone scored two top-five wins in one month: LSU in 2011.) Suddenly the Mighty ‘Clones enter November tied for first in the Big 12 and in control of their own destiny. And they theoretically catch Oklahoma State at a good time, coming off the Bedlam showdown with Oklahoma (see below for more on that game). Keep this in mind, and try not to faint while reading it: Iowa State’s last conference championship came in 1912. It won the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association with an overall record of 6-2 and a league record of 2-0.

Michigan State (13). Spoiler opportunities: Penn State on Nov. 4 in East Lansing and Ohio State on Nov. 11 in Columbus. Like Iowa State, the Spartans (6-2, 4-1 in the Big Ten) control their own conference destiny. Michigan State’s strongest attribute this season has been its sheer survival instinct, winning four straight one-score games, but that ended in a triple-overtime loss to Northwestern on Saturday. This is a fairly average team that might be overmatched by the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes, but consider: Mark Dantonio’s record against Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan over the last four-plus seasons is 8-4.

Mark Dantonio and Michigan State have a prime opportunity to cause chaos against Penn State on Saturday. (AP)
Mark Dantonio and Michigan State have a prime opportunity to cause chaos against Penn State on Saturday. (AP)

Stanford (14). Spoiler opportunities: Washington on Nov. 10, Notre Dame on Nov. 25. This is pretty simple: If brilliant running back Bryce Love is sufficiently recovered from his ankle injury to be productive, the Cardinal (6-2, 5-1 in the Pac-12) will have a chance against both the Huskies and the Fighting Irish. If not, drastically lower your expectations. Love sat out last week against a lousy Oregon State team and Stanford mustered just 3.7 yards per play, its lowest number in three years, in a 15-14 win. David Shaw has stuck with Keller Chryst most of the season at quarterback, to the frustration of many fans who believe backup K.J. Costello is the better passer.


As the stakes continue to escalate, five Saturday games stand out as having the biggest impact on the CFP race:

Oklahoma-Oklahoma State (15). Where: Stillwater. When: 4 p.m. ET. There are Big 12 implications, CFP implications and Heisman Trophy implications, with Sooners QB Baker Mayfield No. 2 nationally in pass efficiency and Cowboys QB Mason Rudolph No. 4. For all his success at Oklahoma State, Mike Gundy has an Oklahoma problem. He’s just 2-10 against the Sooners – and while that doesn’t necessarily distinguish him from any other OSU coaches in a series dominated by Big Brother, it is an issue. “We’ve got to get the Bedlam piece figured out,” Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder told The Dash in August. This is a prime chance to do so. Dash pick: Oklahoma State 37, Oklahoma 35.

Virginia Tech-Miami (16). Where: Miami. When: 8 p.m. ET. The Hurricanes (7-0) have survived more than thrived, winning their last four games by a total of 18 points. And now they face their first ranked opponent of the season in the Hokies (7-1). A Miami win is a huge step toward the school’s first trip to the ACC championship game – but an inconsistent offense could find it tough going against a Bud Foster defense that has been by far the stingiest in the league during conference play. Dash pick: Virginia Tech 24, Miami 17.

LSU-Alabama (17). Where: Tuscaloosa. When: 8 p.m. ET. LSU bounced Les Miles because he stopped beating Nick Saban – he’d lost his last five against the former coach of the Tigers. Over to you, Ed Orgeron, who lost last year’s meeting 10-0. Although Orgeron stopped LSU’s September madness with three straight wins, beating ‘Bama is an entirely different challenge. LSU running back Derrius Guice should expect the Leonard Fournette treatment: The Crimson Tide held Fournette to 145 yards on 57 high-collision carries in three years. Dash pick: Alabama 28, LSU 7.

LSU head coach Ed Orgeron could earn a lot of good will with a win over Alabama on Saturday. (AP)
LSU head coach Ed Orgeron could earn a lot of good will with a win over Alabama on Saturday. (AP)

Clemson-North Carolina State (18). Where: Raleigh. When: 3:30 p.m. ET. N.C. State removed itself from playoff contention last week at Notre Dame but it’s the Wolfpack (6-2, 4-0), not the Tigers (7-1, 5-1), who lead the ACC Atlantic Division at present. Clemson certainly benefited Saturday from the return of quarterback Kelly Bryant after his in-game injury in the loss to Syracuse, and a pliable N.C. State defense should provide the Tigers with some big-play opportunities. Dash pick: Clemson 28, North Carolina State 17.

Penn State-Michigan State (19). Where: East Lansing. When: Noon. Early kickoff on the road in a game culminating a three-week grind? The intangibles do not stack up in Penn State’s favor. It’s reasonable to wonder how good the Spartans are (see above), but also reasonable to wonder how much the Nittany Lions have left in the tank after playing Michigan and Ohio State in successive weeks. (On the flip side, triple overtime Saturday doesn’t exactly leave Michigan State well-rested, either.) Dash pick: Michigan State 24, Penn State 23.


Baylor-Kansas (20) qualifies as the Pillow Fight of the Year in Power Five conference football. Combined record: 1-15 (thank you, Southeast Missouri State, for providing the Jawhawks with the one victory). Baylor at least is in an acknowledged rebuild in its first year under Matt Rhule. In its third season under David Beaty, Kansas remains trapped in a nine-year shame spiral.

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