College football fans are especially obsessed with perfection. Part of that stems from the game’s militaristic emphasis on precision. The other has to do with the fact that an unblemished record is actually attainable. No NBA team will ever go 82-0, and no baseball team will ever go 162-0. But a 15-0 college football team is certainly not out of the realm of possibility, and Alabama came within a second of doing it last season.
However, it’s been a while since we’ve had an undefeated FBS champ. 2013 Florida State was the last, back before the Playoff began. In a 15-game season, college football’s national champion is probably going to have a loss.
So, as October rolls around and Playoff rankings will soon begin to roll out, let’s look at the CFP’s short history of one-loss teams.
There have been 12 entrants into the College Football Playoff in the format’s history. Of those teams, nine have had one loss.
Here’s a timeline of when they lost.
- Ohio State, 2014, Week 2 vs. Virginia Tech
- Alabama, 2015, Week 3 vs. Ole Miss
- Oregon, 2014, Week 6 vs. Arizona
- Alabama, 2014, Week 6 vs. Ole Miss
- Oklahoma, 2015, Week 6 vs. Texas
- Ohio State, 2016, Week 8 vs. Penn State
- Michigan State, 2015, Week 10 vs. Nebraska
- Clemson, 2016, Week 10 vs. Pitt
- Washington, 2016, Week 11 vs. USC
If Oklahoma and/or Michigan end up making it into the dance this season, they’ll join the esteemed Week 6 list after catching Ls to Iowa State and Michigan State, respectively. If Ohio State were to make it in, that’d be the second time the Buckeyes fell to 1-1 and still made it.
You can lose once, and it doesn’t seem to matter much to the committee when you lose ...
The committee isn’t supposed to just slide teams up or down based on what they did the week prior. It’s designed to treat every game on every team’s schedule as a piece of a full puzzle, so a team losing late in the year shouldn’t be more costly than losing early. In 2016, for example, Washington lost in November, but only fell from No. 4 to No. 6, then made the field.
... but just don’t lose twice.
Looking at you, 2016 Penn State.
Your conference/division title doesn’t make for a Playoff resume unless you win enough (at which point other things can work in your favor too). Your 13 data points don’t get you into the Playoff unless you win. Those things can get you ranked ahead of Michigan despite losing to Michigan head-to-head, but that’s about it.
To recap: win your games, and then we’ll talk. It’s that simple.
College football brags about every week being a one-game playoff. It’s not really like that anymore with the CFP, and it wasn’t really with the BCS either. It doesn’t make the games less wild or the season less fun, but it does show that a loss isn’t the death knell for a season. More accurately, it just narrows the margin of error.