How Could UCLA Make the Playoff?

Nov. 12 -- With UCLA making a sharp rise in the College Football Playoff ranking, it looks like there's a realistic path for the Bruins to make the Playoff...

UCLA was ranked No. 11 in the most recent College Football Playoff ranking, a huge jump from No. 18 last week after beating Washington. Here's a look at the full, complete ranking:

1 Mississippi State 9-0
2 Oregon 9-1
3 Florida State 9-0
4 TCU 8-1
5 Alabama 8-1
6 Arizona State 8-1
7 Baylor 8-1
8 Ohio State 8-1
9 Auburn 7-2
10 Ole Miss 8-2
11 UCLA 8-2
12 Michigan State 7-2
13 Kansas State 7-2
14 Arizona 7-2
15 Georgia 7-2
16 Nebraska 8-1
17 LSU 7-3
18 Notre Dame 7-2
19 Clemson 7-2
20 Wisconsin 7-2
21 Duke 8-1
22 Georgia Tech 8-2
23 Utah 6-3
24 Texas A&M 7-3
25 Minnesota 7-2


A few things are pretty clear from this.

First, the committee is clearly going to put some real though into the ranking every week -- it won't be just another poll, and it won't abide by the same rules that the AP and Coaches Polls have held to for so long. UCLA was bumped up massively, from 18 to 11, thanks to, obviously, beating Washington, but for the strength of its wins over now No. 6 ASU and now No. 14 Arizona, as well as "good" losses to now No. 23 Utah and now No. 2 Oregon. The interesting things is that it also pushed UCLA ahead of Michigan State/Kansas State, both two-loss teams with inferior resumes (no good wins). So, clearly, there's going to be some thought put into the ranking. Nebraska, in a week in which it didn't play, got dinged three spots due to the falling stock of the Big Ten. Florida State, in a week where it beat a conference opponent somewhat handily, dropped a spot because of the falling stock of the ACC.

Second, the top four are all leading or tied for their conference lead right now, with TCU leapfrogging Alabama. That seems to indicate that the committee is not just going to pay lip service to the idea of winning the conference, but that it's going to be a key piece of the criteria.

Third, the committee seems to have a very high opinion of the Pac-12, with every team in the ranking having a higher ranking here than in the AP poll. They honestly might even be overrating the Pac-12 a bit, since Arizona State really doesn't have the look and feel of the No. 6 team in the country, but we'll take it. It might simply be that they're valuing the conferences (Big XII and Pac-12) that play nine-game conference schedules.

Brett Hundley & Conor McDermott.
So, what does this mean for UCLA? Given what we learned this week about the committee -- that they're truly going to value strength of schedule, winning the conference, and seem to have a crush on the Pac-12 -- I think the scenario where UCLA can make the Playoff is much simpler than we might have thought a week ago.

(1) ASU needs to lose, hopefully to Arizona to keep both of their rankings relatively high (makes UCLA and Pac-12 look better). (2) UCLA needs to win out and beat No. 2 (or No. 1 by the point) Oregon.

Honestly, I think that alone could do it based off what we've seen from the rankings this week. But to make it secure, I think another loss for each of Alabama, Baylor, and Ohio State would virtually guarantee it. The committee, to my eye, looks like it'd like to have a mixture of conferences in the top four, and UCLA would probably have the most complete resume of the group of two-loss teams, plus being a conference winner.

So let's go with these tiered scenarios for figuring it out:

1. ASU needs to lose to Arizona (or anyone, but hopefully Arizona)
2. UCLA needs to win out and beat Oregon.

With just No. 1 and No. 2, I think UCLA has a decent chance at the Playoff at 11-2 with the Pac-12 Championship, given how highly the committee is valuing conference champions and the Pac-12.

3. Alabama needs to lose (let's just go with Mississippi State remaining undefeated and beating them)
4. Baylor needs to lose to KSU
5. Ohio State needs to lose to Minnesota, or Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship game.

Given the rationale we've seen from the committee, I think the combination of No. 1 through No. 5 would virtually guarantee a spot in the playoff for UCLA.

6. Ole Miss needs to lose to Mississippi State to end the year.
7. Auburn needs to lose to Alabama.

And then this would take care of the remaining teams in front of UCLA currently, and make UCLA a lock for the Playoff.

Like I said, think the first two could do it, the first five would almost definitely do it, but if UCLA has all 7 happen, it's in. It's pretty clear that the No. 1 team in the SEC West is going to make it, and it's pretty clear that the No. 1 Big 12 team, which looks like TCU, is going to make it. Florida State should also make it, as long as it wins the remainder of its games.

But that fourth spot is very much open, and there's a somewhat realistic scenario where UCLA gets it. File this entire story under "things that couldn't have been said two weeks ago".

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