The College Football Playoff has four spots. College football has five power conferences. How this thing will work out most years is with one of those power conferences being excluded as the other four champs advance.
Last year, it was the Big 12's co-champs left behind on selection Sunday by the Big Ten's Ohio State, the eventual champion. This year, the first conference out is almost certainly out well before then.
Saturday, No. 7 Stanford lost to Oregon in a rivalry that's fouled up the conference race seemingly every year for a half decade, giving the Cardinal their second loss. Later, No. 10 Utah fell to Arizona in double overtime, also the Utes' second loss.
Ordinarily, two losses wouldn't necessarily rule out a team from a top-four regular season finish. But this year's been more top-heavy than most. There are still five undefeated teams heading into Week 12, two more than there were in Week 9 last year. Even if all five of those teams suffer losses, that's still more than a full field of four, let alone Alabama and Notre Dame, which are already No. 2 and No. 4 despite losing games, and other one-loss teams like Florida and Michigan State.
So this year, two losses is about as close to a definite knockout as it can be.
So, great news for the other four powers, right? Win and in?
Well, no. The Irish are already No. 4, you'll recall.
And while the Playoff committee gives some sort of poorly defined bonus to conference champions, which the Irish have no way of achieving due to their independent status, Notre Dame's still totally alive.
Playing only 12 games will be a disadvantage. The committee held that against Baylor last year. But that means if it comes down to Notre Dame vs. the Big 12 champion, neither will have a game edge to count on.
If it comes down to Notre Dame vs. Baylor or Oklahoma State or TCU, ND's schedule is gonna compare pretty evenly overall (those three all basically played the same schedule). If the difference is the loss, you can't beat Notre Dame's: a two-point, last-minute coin flip at No. 1 Clemson in a downpour.
If it comes down to Notre Dame-Oklahoma, you'll be reminded frequently that the Irish blew away a Texas team to whom the Sooners lost. Scores against common foes is a listed committee factor.
The SEC champ is very likely in. The Big Ten champ is very likely in. Same for the ACC, unless Clemson suffers an upset to anything besides a one-loss North Carolina (and the Heels still have a lot of ground to make up in just a few weeks). That would leave one spot, and there would be only a few options to fill it.
Anyway, now that the Pac-12's out of the Playoff, Washington State can win it with no remorse.