Friday Five: Teams that can play spoiler for the College Football Playoff
These teams may not be in the playoff picture, but they can destroy it
If you look at a college football schedule, you'll see that the College Football Playoff doesn't begin until New Years Day, 2018. That's when both the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl -- this year's semifinals -- are to be played.
Well, the schedule isn't being entirely truthful. While those are the official dates of the College Football Playoff, the reality of the situation is that the playoff has already begun. There were playoff games last weekend, there will be playoff games this weekend, and there will be more through the final weeks of the regular season and conference championships.
If you're hoping for a playoff spot, every game is a playoff at this point.
Of course, just because you aren't currently considered a playoff contender doesn't mean you can't have a major impact on which teams get there. So in this week's Friday Five, I'm ranking the five teams that could become the biggest playoff spoilers of the 2017 season.
For the most part, these are teams that have already seen their playoff hopes die but now can take joy out of possibly destroying someone else's. Of course, for a least one of them, crushing the hopes of others could bring their own playoff hopes back to life.
Let's get to it.
5. Minnesota: The Gophers have no shot at the College Football Playoff, but they do have a couple of very important games left to play. While this weekend's game against Nebraska doesn't mean anything, Minnesota hits the road next week to take on Northwestern. The Wildcats aren't reaching the top four, but they surprised a lot of people this week when they showed up at No. 25 in the CFP rankings.
That's big for Wisconsin because Northwestern being ranked gives the Badgers a win over a ranked team on what is a rather weak overall resume for a 9-0 team. If Minnesota were to beat Northwestern, it would harm Wisconsin's chances.
Of course, if the Gophers really wanted to crush their rival Badgers, the following week they could just beat them when Wisconsin comes to Minneapolis. So, as you can see, the schedule gives P.J. Fleck's team a chance to row their boat over Wisconsin's playoff hopes.
4. Utah: At 5-4, the Utes have no playoff hopes. At this point, they just want to make sure they get six wins so they can go bowling, and that means they need one win in their last three games. Well, two of those games will be difficult to win, but that's what makes the Utes a possible spoiler here.
Utah hosts Washington State on Saturday. The Cougars don't seem like a contender at the moment, but they are still alive in the Pac-12 title hunt. They'd need a lot of help, obviously, but we can't rule them out entirely. That said, the bigger impact of Utah beating Wazzu would likely fall on Washington.
The Huskies are 8-1 and currently sit at No. 9 in the rankings. They have no wins over a ranked team. If Utah were to beat Washington State this weekend, there's a chance the Cougars would fall out of the top 25, and take one of Washington's last two chances at resume wins away from it. If Utah can't beat Washington State, it plays Washington next week and could knock them out themselves.
3. Michigan: Even if it's not the role he wanted, you have to believe Jim Harbaugh would love the chance to play spoiler these last few weeks, right?
Well, he's going to get the chance. As things currently sit, Michigan is the biggest prize left on Wisconsin's schedule, even if it isn't ranked at the moment. With Michigan playing a Maryland team that I believe has to play its mascot at QB this weekend because of injuries, when the Wolverines make the trip to Camp Randall on Nov. 18, they will be 8-2 and ranked.
Simply put, for Wisconsin to have any hope of reaching the playoff, it needs to beat Michigan, whether it's ranked or not.
And even if that happens, Michigan can still mess with people. It finishes the season with Ohio State in Ann Arbor. While Ohio State's CFP chances are dangling by a thread, the Buckeyes can still win the East and the Big Ten. Well, if Michigan beats Ohio State, it keeps the Buckeyes from going to Indianapolis where they'll have a chance to play Wisconsin.
Thus Michigan would be denying Wisconsin a shot at beating Ohio State to pad its resume further.
2. Stanford: Stanford can start ruining plans on Friday night. That's when it hosts Washington, and at the moment, the Huskies look like the Pac-12's best playoff hope simply because they're the only team with fewer than two losses.
It's important to note, however, that even though Stanford has three losses and no shot at the playoff, it can still win the Pac-12. To do that, it needs to beat Washington, so the Cardinal have more motivation to beat Washington than just wrecking its season. Stanford can still salvage its own.
If that's not enough, no matter what happens in the Washington game, Stanford hosts another playoff contender to finish the season: Notre Dame. Should the Irish get past both Miami and Navy these next two weeks, they'll still be ranked in the top four and heading to Palo Alto with their playoff hopes on the line.
Win and they'd be in. Lose to the Cardinal, and it would most likely destroy their chances.
1. Auburn: The Tigers will have a larger say, however! Auburn's not only in the position of spoiler, but the Tigers legitimately have a chance to play their way into the top four themselves.
Yes, they have two losses, but they're the highest-ranked two-loss team in the CFP's top 25. Auburn is ahead of USC, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State.
Auburn also has two astronomical games left, beginning this weekend with Georgia, and then finishing the regular season with Alabama in the Iron Bowl.
If Auburn somehow managed to beat both Georgia and Alabama over the next three weeks, not only would it potentially ruin their playoff hopes, but you have to think Auburn would vault into the top four.
After all, it would be a 10-2 team with wins over Mississippi State, Georgia and Alabama. Its only losses would be to Clemson and LSU. Plus, if Auburn wins out, it wins the SEC West and will get another shot at Georgia in the SEC title game. If it goes 11-2 and takes down Georgia twice, I don't see the committee leaving it out of the top four.
Now, to be clear, I don't expect any of this to happen, but it could happen. And that's why Auburn is the biggest College Football Playoff spoiler out there. Not only can it spoil the party, but it can also crash it.
Honorable Mention: Florida State, Georgia Tech, Pitt, Virginia
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