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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

November 17, 2014 at 10:48 AM

Could the college playoff accommodate a two-loss team?

Arizona State’s numbing (in more ways than one) defeat at Oregon State Saturday night got me to thinking: Many of us, me included, have tended to overreact this season to particular losses, forgetting that the name of the game in college football is chaos. It simply is a game that defies form, probably because of emotional swings, so pronouncing anything to be absolute is risky.

To me, it was obvious that ASU didn’t really want to be in Corvallis Saturday night, and the Beavers took full advantage. And the natural reaction is to toss the Sun Devils out of the national-playoff equation, which surely figures to be the damage after No. 6 ASU was bounced by the Beavers.

But is there a chance some other two-loss team could scrap its way back into the playoff bracket?

Well, if you crunch the numbers of history, the outlook isn’t good. But I hesitate to say it’s out of the question, either.

I looked at two metrics: The number of Power 5 (or previously, Power 6) teams that had fewer than two losses at the time of the BCS rankings in early December that determined the national-title game. And I checked out how many such teams there were at this juncture of the season — in other words, with three more weekends to go after this week’s rankings.

First, the final reckoning of fewer-than-two-loss teams going back through 2007. (I picked 2007, because that was the year of end-of-season craziness that saw LSU jump all the way from seventh in the penultimate BCS standings to second, paving the way for its national title.) Obviously, there’s always the chance of, say, a two-loss team at No. 5 slipping past a one-loss team that was No. 4 and into the bracket, but we have to assume that any Power 5 one-loss team is going to be in an advantageous position over a two-loss team.

So, the number of power-conference teams with fewer than two defeats at the time of the BCS title-game matchups:

2013: 6.

2012: 5.

2011: 4.

2010: 6.

2009: 4.

2008: 7.

2007: 2.

Obviously, those numbers don’t paint a very optimistic picture of crashing this year’s field with two losses. But there is some hope if you go a step further, into the number of teams with one or zero losses at the week corresponding to right now:

2014: 7.

2013: 11.

2012: 8.

2011: 9.

2010: 9.

2009: 6.

2008: 7.

2007: 8.

That lends a little more hope for the two-loss set, because the current number of less-than-two-loss Power 5 teams — seven — is lower than normal.

To apply it to the Pac-12, I don’t think we can rule out UCLA yet. The Bruins were No. 11 last week in the playoff poll, and, coming off a bye, might figure to jump past Auburn (No. 9) and Arizona State (6) into ninth, unless they get leapfrogged by No. 12 Michigan State.

I’d guess UCLA to be the most viable two-loss team from the Pac-12, although Arizona probably can’t be counted out. The Wildcats would (prospectively) have beaten Oregon twice, and they’d have to have a victory over Arizona State, so they could be in the mix if there was some carnage above. Arizona State, on the other hand, would be carrying around two damaging losses — the 62-27 defeat to UCLA weeks ago, and a loss to an Oregon State team that’s tied for the bottom of the Pac-12 North.

(I suppose you have to consider Oregon as a two-loss team, but the Ducks wouldn’t have the benefit the others would gain by beating Oregon, plus they would be coming off  a loss, prospectively, in the Pac-12 title game, so that seems unlikely.)

What might have to happen to get a two-loss team in — Pac-12 or elsewhere — is for the SEC to qualify only one team, not two. Of course, if any league is to get a two-loss team in, you’d have to think the SEC would be the favorite.

Bottom line: You just know there will be attrition. The question is, how much.

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