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6 One-Loss Teams That Could Still Make the CFB Playoff

Nick Saban

Nick Saban

Ohio State taught the college football world an important lesson last season: Don’t count out the one-loss teams after a September defeat. Every team would prefer to finish the season with a perfect record, but an early-season defeat isn’t the final blow for any program’s playoff hopes.

While the first playoff committee ranking won’t be released until Tuesday, Nov. 3, the latest Associated Press poll provides some valuable insight into where teams are in the national picture. The top 11 teams in the post-Week 3 Associated Press poll are all undefeated, with Alabama at No. 12 checking in as the first one-loss team.

With 11 Saturdays remaining until the final playoff ranking, there’s plenty of time for one-loss teams to play their way back into the top four. Here’s six to watch after Week 3:

Don't Forget About These One-Loss Teams in Playoff Contention

Alabama (2-1)

AP Rank After Week 3: 12

Key Games Remaining:

at Georgia, at Texas A&M, LSU, at Auburn

The Crimson Tide had a few self-inflicted wounds and some unlucky bounces in Saturday’s 43-37 loss to Ole Miss. Five turnovers resulted in 24 points for the Rebels, one tipped pass and lucky bounce resulted in a 66-yard score by Quincy Adeboyejo, and the defense was caught on a busted coverage on a pop pass play from quarterback Chad Kelly to Cody Core that resulted in a 73-yard touchdown. 

Why the Crimson Tide Remain a Playoff Contender:

Alabama’s run (or dynasty as some would call it) is not over. Quarterback play and the secondary remains a concern for Saban, but the roster talent is still the best in the nation, and running back Derrick Henry is capable of carrying the offense in most games. Priority No. 1 for Saban and coordinator Lane Kiffin is to settle on a quarterback – Jake Coker or Cooper Bateman. And the offense needs to solidify its receiving corps after Robert Foster was lost for the year with a rotator cuff injury. Sure, this team has question marks, but what team in the SEC West doesn’t?

Arizona State

AP Rank After Week 3: Unranked

Key Games Remaining:

USC, at UCLA, Oregon, Arizona

Arizona State faces longer odds than some of the other teams on this list after an opening week loss to Texas A&M. The Sun Devils haven’t looked crisp through the first three weeks, which includes sluggish performances against New Mexico and Cal Poly. The rush defense has been tested by two option teams, and while they are allowing 215.3 yards per game, this defense is limiting opponents to 3.96 yards per carry. Protecting the quarterback has been an issue, as the Sun Devils have allowed 11 sacks (nine came in the opener against Texas A&M).

Why the Sun Devils Remain a Playoff Contender:

The schedule is tough, which should allow Arizona State plenty of opportunities to move up in the rankings. And it certainly doesn’t hurt the Sun Devils’ playoff case for Texas A&M to continue to win. Coach Todd Graham’s team still has to play five ranked teams, and that doesn’t include an improving California team in the regular season finale. The offense is explosive but needs more big plays after generating just 10 plays of 20 yards or more through the first three games. A win over USC this Saturday would certainly solidify Arizona State as a team still alive in the playoff picture – or move Graham’s team squarely out of the mix.

Georgia Tech

AP Rank After Week 3: 20

Key Games Remaining:

at Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Georgia, at Miami

The Yellow Jackets hit their first speed bump of the 2015 season in Week 3. After crushing Tulane and Alcorn State, the competition level kicked up a notch against Notre Dame, and Georgia Tech fell short in a 30-22 loss. The eight-point defeat in South Bend wasn’t indicative of how the Fighting Irish dominated on Saturday, as the Yellow Jackets averaged only 4.7 yards per play and struggled to contain Notre Dame running back C.J. Prosise (198 yards, three scores).

Why the Yellow Jackets Remain a Playoff Contender:

Georgia Tech’s schedule is challenging, but there are opportunities to earn good wins against Florida State, Clemson and Georgia – three teams currently ranked ahead of coach Paul Johnson’s team. Saturday’s lackluster performance on the ground, (216 yards) was the first time since the 2013 Music City Bowl the Yellow Jackets managed fewer than 250 yards on the ground. Quarterback Justin Thomas is a difference maker, and is the type of player that can carry this team in close games. 

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AP Rank After Week 3: 13

Key Games Remaining:

at Utah, at Arizona State, California, at Stanford, USC

While no team wants to consider any loss “good,” the Ducks have one of the best defeats of any program so far this year. The 31-28 loss to Michigan State certainly won’t hurt Oregon if the Spartans continue to win and finish 2015 unbeaten or with one loss. The offense remains dynamic (6.9 ypp) under quarterbacks Vernon Adams and Jeff Lockie, and running back Royce Freeman ranks third in the Pac-12 in rushing. The defense remains coach Mark Helfrich’s biggest concern after giving up 33.7 points per game so far in 2015.

Why the Ducks Remain a Playoff Contender:

History is on Oregon’s side. After all, the Ducks lost to Arizona in early October and still managed to reach college football’s national title game. Oregon isn’t as dominant of a team as it was last season, but there’s enough talent to finish in the top four. And the schedule provides plenty of opportunities for marquee wins, as the Ducks still have to play at Stanford, Utah and Arizona State, while USC visits Eugene in late November. Sitting quarterback Vernon Adams against Georgia State to rest an injured finger should help the senior get back to full strength before Pac-12 play hits. If Oregon can finish 12-1, Helfrich’s team will have a strong resume to present for the playoff committee.


AP Rank After Week 3: 21

Key Games Remaining:

Arizona, UCLA, Oregon, California, Notre Dame

Stanford got off to a slow start in 2015 by losing to Northwestern 16-6. However, the Cardinal quietly rebounded in impressive fashion in Week 2 by handling UCF 31-7. And despite being a double-digit underdog against USC, coach David Shaw’s team knocked off the Trojans 41-31. Stanford’s offense didn’t play well in the opener, but this unit was nearly flawless in the upset over USC. Quarterback Kevin Hogan completed 18 of 23 passes for 279 yards and two scores, while the ground attack averaged four yards per carry behind Christian McCaffrey.

Why the Cardinal Remain a Playoff Contender:

If Stanford plays like it did against USC, this team has a good chance to finish 12-1 with the Pac-12 title. However, as we witnessed last year, the Cardinal’s offense can run hot and cold at times. There’s promise this group turned a corner, as Hogan has been sharp two weeks in a row, and the ground attack has back-to-back 100-yard efforts. The defense also ranks among the best in the Pac-12. With games against four ranked teams remaining, including November showdowns between Oregon and Notre Dame, Stanford is going to have strength of schedule and opportunities for quality wins on its side. 


AP Rank After Week 3: 19

Key Games Remaining:

at Arizona State, at Notre Dame, Utah, Cal, Arizona, at Oregon, UCLA

USC won its first two games by a 114-15 margin, but the Trojans stumbled in their first real test of the season in a 41-31 defeat to Stanford. And in a concerning sign for USC, the loss to the Cardinal was the Trojans’ third loss to an unranked team during Sarkisian’s tenure. The defense clearly missed end Leonard Williams last Saturday, as Stanford muscled its way for 195 yards and three scores on the ground and had only had one three-and-out possession.

Why the Trojans Remain a Playoff Contender:

Does the Pac-12 have too many good teams and not one dominant playoff favorite? That’s going to be the question going forward. Having too many good teams isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the Pac-12, but a two-loss champion might not finish high enough in the rankings to make the four-team playoff. USC’s offense is averaging 48.3 points per game, and there’s no shortage of playmakers or talent for quarterback Cody Kessler. Simply, the Trojans can outscore every opponent on their schedule. However, will the defense take a step forward in Pac-12 games? USC did not pass its first test of the year, but many opportunities are still in front of Sarkisian’s team. 

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