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Ranking College Football's One-Loss Teams

Derrick Henry

Derrick Henry

The race to claim one of college football’s four playoff spots is officially in the home stretch. Week 10 is the first Saturday in November, leaving little time for teams to solidify their case as a playoff contender.

The playoff committee releases its first set of rankings on Tuesday, Oct. 28, but there will be plenty of changes over the next month.

Consider this: There are 16 one-loss teams from the Power 5 conferences. Over the next six weeks, 11 games are scheduled where both teams currently have one loss. And that doesn’t count showdowns between Mississippi State and Alabama and Ole Miss versus Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl.

Needless to say, much of college football’s rankings and playoff picture is going to be shaped by what happens in November.

With nine weeks in the books, let’s rank the top 15 one-loss teams heading into the first weekend in November. Keep in mind: These rankings reflect what has happened on the field so far and no projection into future weeks.

Ranking College Football’s One-Loss Teams

1. Ole Miss

Pick a team from the SEC as the No. 1 spot in this list. The case for Alabama is strong, as the Crimson Tide may end up as the best team in the SEC by the end of the year. But that’s a month away, and Ole Miss defeated Alabama 23-17 in Oxford on Oct. 4. The strength of coach Hugh Freeze’s team is a defense allowing just 4.4 yards per play. Linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche was lost for the year due to an ankle injury, but the defense should remain one of the best in the SEC. With an elite defense, Ole Miss doesn’t necessarily need an explosive offense. However, the Rebels need better production from their ground attack (3.9 ypc) and turnover-free play from quarterback Bo Wallace.

Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: Auburn (Nov. 1)
Games Remaining Against Undefeated Teams: Mississippi State (Nov. 29)

2. Alabama

As mentioned above, a compelling case can be made the Crimson Tide is college football’s best one-loss team. The Rebels get the nod over Alabama – for now - since they won the head-to-head matchup. Since losing 23-17 to Ole Miss, Alabama has rebounded by winning three games in a row, including a 59-0 blowout over Texas A&M. The Crimson Tide average 218.6 rushing yards per game, and receiver Amari Cooper has grabbed 71 catches for 1,132 yards. And here’s an interesting stat in Lane Kiffin’s first season calling the plays in Tuscaloosa: Alabama’s offense leads the SEC by averaging 6.96 yards per play. As usual in Tuscaloosa, the defense is strong. Alabama is holding opponents to 4.5 yards per play and 14 points per game. Pass defense is the Crimson Tide’s biggest concern, but this team will have a chance to climb in the playoff poll with remaining matchups against LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn.

Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: Auburn (Nov. 29)
Games Remaining Against Undefeated Teams: Mississippi State (Nov. 15

3. Auburn

Auburn’s ranking here demonstrates just how crowded the SEC West is in 2014. The Tigers rank No. 4 in the latest Associated Press poll, yet rank as the third-best one-loss team. Similar to last season, Auburn is winning games with its offense. The Tigers average 6.91 yards per play and 39.3 points per game. The defense has improved since last year, but there’s plenty of work to do on this side of the ball. Auburn needs better play from its secondary (eight touchdowns allowed in SEC play) and a better pass rush (12 sacks). A daunting schedule is still ahead for the Tigers over the next few weeks, starting with a road trip to Ole Miss this Saturday, followed by a home date against Texas A&M and then road dates at Georgia and Alabama to finish SEC play.

Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: at Ole Miss (Nov. 1), at Georgia (Nov. 15), at Alabama (Nov. 29)

4. Oregon

If Oregon is going to reach college football’s playoff, it will have to do so on the strength of its offense. The Ducks lead all Power 5 teams by averaging 7.5 yards per play and average 45.5 points per game. Quarterback Marcus Mariota is one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman, and he’s surrounded by a talented group of weapons, along with an offensive line that has benefitted from the return of tackle Jake Fisher. Defensively, Oregon is allowing 5.7 yards per play and ranks last in the Pac-12 in opponent third-down conversions. The Ducks also rank 10th in the Pac-12 against the run, and opposing quarterbacks are completing 62.8 percent of their passes. The remaining schedule for Oregon features a home date against Stanford this Saturday, followed by a road trip against a dangerous Utah team on Nov. 8.

Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: at Utah (Nov. 8)

5. Michigan State

The Spartans are the favorite to win the Big Ten, but their position within the rankings could be determined on where Oregon falls at the end of the year. If the Ducks make the playoff, a one-loss Big Ten champion would have to be in the conversation for a spot among the top four. However, if Oregon stumbles to 9-3 and doesn’t win the North, how would the committee view Michigan State? The Spartans have won six in a row and are on bye before a huge showdown against Ohio State on Nov. 8. Pat Narduzzi’s defense isn’t as dominant as it was in 2013, but Michigan State is averaging 40.8 points per game in Big Ten play.

Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: Ohio State (Nov. 8)

6. Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish came up just short in their upset bid against Florida State, but an 11-1 final record would give Brian Kelly’s team a chance to make the four-team playoff. Notre Dame has played six Power 5 opponents this season and still has games remaining against Navy, Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville and USC. Quarterback Everett Golson’s return has been huge for the offense, and the Fighting Irish are holding opponents to just 19.1 points a game.

Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: at Arizona State (Nov. 8)

7. Georgia

The Bulldogs are quietly flying under the radar at 6-1, and coach Mark Richt’s team has the inside track to win the SEC East. Georgia has won its last two games (Arkansas and Missouri) without running back Todd Gurley, but true freshman Nick Chubb has 345 yards and three touchdowns in his absence. Quarterback Hutson Mason has tossed only three picks in SEC play and has been efficient in his last two games (32 of 45). The defense seems to be improving with each snap under new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, limiting opponents to 20 points a game and just 4.7 yards per play. Georgia plays rival Florida in Jacksonville this Saturday, with a Nov. 15 home date against Auburn its toughest remaining game this year.

Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: Auburn (Nov. 15)

8. Kansas State

The only blemish on K-State’s resume so far this year is a 20-14 loss to Auburn. The Wildcats knocked off Oklahoma in Norman on Oct. 18 and will have a chance to play their way into the playoff conversation with remaining games - all on the road - against TCU, West Virginia and Baylor. Coach Bill Snyder’s team is holding opponents to 19.3 points a game, while the offense is tied for seventh nationally in third-down conversions and has lost only six turnovers. Quarterback Jake Waters has not thrown an interception since Sept. 18.

Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: at TCU (Nov. 8), at Baylor (Dec. 6)

9. Baylor

The Bears’ playoff hopes took a hit in Morgantown with a 41-27 loss to West Virginia. But with only one defeat so far, Baylor still has time to play its way back into the playoff discussion. The Bears play at Oklahoma on Nov. 8 and host Kansas State on Dec. 6. The offense is averaging 49 points a game, but the primary concern for coach Art Briles is the line, which has recently lost two starters to season-ending injuries. Baylor also ranks last in the Big 12 in red zone defense.

Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: Kansas State (Dec. 6)

10. TCU

Much like the Ole Miss-Alabama debate, we have to give the nod to Baylor over TCU since the Bears won on Oct. 11. However, the Horned Frogs are one of the nation’s most-improved teams and can take a step forward in the Big 12 title hunt with a win over West Virginia this Saturday. Quarterback Trevone Boykin has thrived under first-year coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham, throwing for 21 touchdowns to only three interceptions. As expected under coach Gary Patterson, TCU is strong on defense. The Horned Frogs are allowing only 4.9 yards per play and lead the Big 12 in third-down defense.

Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: Kansas State (Nov. 8)

11. Ohio State

Urban Meyer’s team was dealt a significant setback in August, as quarterback Braxton Miller was lost for the year due to a shoulder injury. Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett has filled in admirably for Miller, throwing for 1,689 yards and 21 scores while rushing for 458 yards and six touchdowns. Considering Barrett’s development over the last few weeks, the outcome of the Ohio State-Virginia Tech game would likely be much different if it was played in Week 10. Through seven games, the Buckeyes have showed slight improvement on defense, holding opponents to 20.7 points a game and 4.6 yards per play. While there is plenty of optimism about Ohio State, strength of schedule isn’t on its side. The Buckeyes have wins over Navy, Kent State, Cincinnati, Maryland, Rutgers and Penn State – a combined 23-23.

Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: at Michigan State (Nov. 8)

12. Arizona

Arizona probably has the best conference win of any Pac-12 team, defeating Oregon 31-24 in Eugene on Oct. 2. But outside of that win, the Wildcats have played a relatively soft schedule and will be tested by a November schedule with trips to UCLA and Utah, along with home games against Washington and Arizona State. Arizona’s offense averages 40.6 points per game behind redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon, but the defense ranks near the bottom of the Pac-12 (No. 8) in points allowed per game in conference play (33.5).

Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: at Utah (Nov. 22), Arizona State (Nov. 28)

13. Arizona State

Arizona State has won five of its six games by at least 14 points, with its only loss coming to UCLA (62-27) without quarterback Taylor Kelly. The senior is back in the lineup, and led the Sun Devils to a win over Washington last Saturday, but backup Mike Bercovici is a capable option if Kelly is sidelined again this year. A rebuilt defense was coach Todd Graham’s biggest concern this season. So far, Arizona State's defense has been inconsistent, allowing 62 points to UCLA and 34 to USC but holding Stanford and Washington to just 20 combined points.

Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: Utah (Nov. 1), Notre Dame (Nov. 8), at Arizona (Nov. 28)

14. Utah

The Utes are quietly one of the nation’s most-impressive teams through Week 9. Utah’s only loss was a one-point decision to Washington State, and coach Kyle Whittingham’s team is coming off a huge win over USC. The identity of Whittingham’s team is clear this season, as the rushing attack – led by Devontae Booker – ranks third in the Pac-12. The defense ranks second in the Pac-12 by holding opponents to 21.6 points per game and is first in sacks (35).

Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: at Arizona State (Nov. 1), Oregon (Nov. 8), Arizona (Nov. 22)

15. Nebraska

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The November slate will determine whether or not Nebraska wins the Big Ten West or loses four games for the sixth consecutive season. The Cornhuskers travel to Wisconsin and Iowa - arguably their biggest competition in the West Division - and host Minnesota. Running back Ameer Abdullah is one of the nation’s best, but quarterback Tommy Armstrong is still developing in his first full season as the starter. Nebraska is holding opponents to 20.5 points per game in Big Ten play.

Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: None

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