The Daily Nole

For the Sake of Being Hypothetical: Can FSU Still Make the College Football Playoff?

Jeff Romance/FSU athletucs

After a 63-20 drubbing at the hands of Louisville, the College Football Playoff is probably the last thing on the minds of the Florida State coaching staff. For argument’s sake however, we’ll look at whether or not it’s still a possibility for FSU.

To truly come to a reasonable answer, one must get inside the head of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee. That endeavor, of course, is impossible, because it tends to cite reasons like “game control” and come to conclusions far beyond the scope of reasonable. What we can look at however, is trends.


It’s worth noting that in the first two years of the College Football Playoff, the committee has never given a bid to a team who wasn’t a conference champion. That said, FSU’s best path to attaining that championship would be winning a 3-way tiebreaker for the ACC Atlantic over Clemson and Louisville. The Seminoles would need to also beat whoever came out of the Coastal division in the actual ACC title game.


Six of the eight teams to make the College Football Playoff over the first two years of its existence have had losses, but never more than one and never by a 43-point margin of defeat. The good news for FSU however, is that the circumstances of the loss have not seemed to be all that important.

In 2014, 12-1 Ohio State was given the nod over a TCU team that finished 11-1 with its only loss coming by three points on the road to a top-10 Baylor team, who also finished 11-1. Ohio State’s loss that season came at home by 14 points to a Virginia Tech team that finished just 6-6.

Last season, Oklahoma was given a berth despite losing 24-17 on a neutral field against a 5-7 Texas team. Michigan State, the Big Ten champion, was also given a berth last season after losing to a 5-7 Nebraska team on a controversial play.

Would a 43-point woodshed loss for Florida State against a good Louisville team be seen as better or worse than losing to an opponent who had a .500 or losing record? From the committee’s standpoint, it would be tough to say.


Outside of Clemson, Louisville’s toughest remaining test looks to come in a non-conference game on Nov. 17 at Houston. If Louisville wins that game and finishes 11-1, it will likely conclude the regular season in the top-10 nationally. If if loses that game and finishes 10-2, it’s probably still finishing in the top 15.

Let’s say the scenario that creates the 3-way tie in the ACC Atlantic — Louisville losing to Clemson and FSU beating Clemson for its only ACC loss — features two very close games. Would the Seminoles be better off with Louisville losing to Houston or beating the Cougars?

The short answer is Houston, because two losses for Louisville would likely give the nod to FSU in the ACC Atlantic tiebreaker since the final criteria is highest College Football Playoff ranking. For argument’s sake however, let’s say all three teams finished 11-1 and FSU was still the highest ranked team and won the division.

When selecting playoff teams, it might still be hard for the committee to justify giving a 12-1 FSU team wearing the ACC crown the nod over an 11-1 Louisville team that beat it by 43 points? If Louisville lost to Houston and finished 10-2, the Cougars (assuming they ran the table) would probably be able to garner a spot in the College Football Playoff, which would essentially take one away from everyone else including Florida State.

Though it would take Louisville out of the equation for the committee when weighing the Cardinals against FSU, it would make Florida State’s loss look worse. It’s possible that the committee could see the recent 63-20 loss as a turnaround moment for the Seminoles and judge them more on what they had done late in the season rather than early in the year. They seemed to do so for Ohio State two years ago.


What the committee frowned upon for Florida State in 2014, it could smile upon the Seminoles for in 2016. That’s playing a tough schedule.

Despite being the nation’s only undefeated team entering the playoff two years ago, the Seminoles were given the third seed behind 1-loss Alabama and Oregon. FSU routinely struggled with lesser opponents that year and defeated only three teams who finished the regular season ranked.

Including the two top-5 teams in their division, the Seminoles are slated to take on a total of five teams that are currently ranked.

Those teams all need to play well for FSU to have a strong resume’ as do a handful of other good teams that aren’t currently ranked. North Carolina, who FSU faces on Oct. 1, is a team that could finish the year in the top 25. South Florida, an American Athletic Conference opponent, is another squad that could win nine or 10 games and perhaps crack the national rankings.

Facing a strong Coastal division opponent in the ACC Championship would help too. FSU has already defeated Ole Miss, who currently sits at No. 23.


Assuming the committee keeps its “conference champions only” model, the Seminoles would still need help from around the country. With there being five Power 5 conferences and only four spots available, FSU would probably need the champion from at least two of the other four major conferences to have a minimum of two losses.

The SEC currently has six teams that are undefeated, including No. 1 Alabama. It’s possible that each of those six teams lose at least two more games, but not likely.

The other conference that looks to be in the best shape is the Big Ten. Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Michigan State are all currently undefeated and in the top 11. In a conference that’s fairly “top heavy”, it’s hard to see each of those teams losing twice. If somehow Wisconsin or Michigan State emerged from the Big Ten with one loss, FSU might be able to eek out a playoff bid.

The wild card in all of this is the team mentioned beforehand and that’s Houston. If the Cougars run the table and win the AAC at 13-0, they would have also beaten Oklahoma and Louisville. The sheer win over Louisville would probably be enough to give the Cougars the nod over a 12-1 FSU team that lost to the Cardinals by 43.

If Houston runs the table, that leaves just one remaining playoff spot. If it slips to Louisville or anyone else, it probably leaves two. That takes us to the last two remaining Power 5 conferences: the Big 12 and Pac-12.

Though West Virginia is undefeated, Baylor appears to be the conference’s last remaining hope. The Bears have a long road ahead with trips to both Texas and Oklahoma on the agenda. Oklahoma, who is just 1-2, is still the conference’s favorite and if the Sooners swept Big 12 play, a 1-loss FSU still probably makes a more convincing case than a 2-loss Oklahoma. There’s a chance that even if someone like Baylor finished 11-1, FSU would still have a stronger overall resume’.

The last conference to look at is the Pac-12, where both Stanford and Washington look to be contenders at the moment. The teams will play on Sept. 30 in Seattle, but Stanford also has to go to UCLA, Notre Dame, Oregon and California. Washington has games at Oregon and Utah and a home contest against USC. As was the case last season, there is a decent chance that no team in the Pac-12 has fewer than two losses.


Obviously, there are a lot of scenarios that need to play out for Florida State to have a legitimate shot at the College Football Playoff. First and foremost, FSU must win out and find a way to win the ACC.

The Seminoles would then have to hope that three or fewer Power 5 champions had less than two losses and that the committee stuck with the status quo of rewarding conference champions and not allow a 1-loss SEC or Big Ten non-champion to jump the Seminoles for a playoff spot.

Needless to say, there are a lot of things that need to happen for FSU to climb its way back into the playoff conversation. Winning at South Florida on Saturday would be a good start.

Mike Ferguson is the editor of The Daily Nole. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson

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