Oklahoma is in, the winner of the Big Ten title game between Iowa and Michigan State is in, and barring any surprises in their title games, Alabama and Clemson are in.
But what if there is a surprise? Even with two losses, Stanford still lurks as a dark horse playoff candidate. If Clemson should lose, the ACC will make a strong case for a 12-1 North Carolina to take their place in the playoffs. But Stanford's resumme is much stronger. Still, the committee may let the Tarheels leap frog them.
Stanford's better option is for Florida to somehow beat Alabama. The SEC is undoubtedly down this year, and the Tide are its only serious playoff contender. If the Tide loses to Florida, it opens the door wide open for Ohio State or Stanford to get the last playoff spot.
The Buckeyes are currently ranked higher one slot than Stanford, but will have faced only five bowl bound opponents by comparison to Stanford's 10. Ohio State missed all the good teams in the West Division, and largely scheduled corpses for their non conference games. If the committee were to select the Buckeyes in such a scenario, it sends a very bad message to college football, one that is contradictory to their stated claims when the CFB Playoff was formed: We don't care who you beat, just win.
Stanford's win over Notre Dame in particular should carry a massive amount of significance in this discussion. The Big Ten has multiple teams who claim a historical rivalry with the Fighting Irish, but have collectively refused to schedule them anymore. This has simultaneously made the Big Ten schedules for the likes of Michigan, Purdue, and Michigan State easier, while forcing Notre Dame to travel outside the region for its opponents.
Likewise, the Big Ten has joined the SEC in the decision to expand its conference - without expanding its conference schedule. Stanford, like the rest of the Pac-12, plays a nine game conference schedule, plus a 10th to earn its championship. Nobody else in the Power 5 can say that.
Stanford is taking on exactly the kind of schedule the Bowl Selection Committee should be encouraging. It sorts out its conference, and gives useful data of where they stands against the rest of college football during its non-conference games.
The bad news is, even if Stanford gets a bid to the playoffs, it may not help the Cougars.
WSU’s biggest obstacle isn't Stanford, it's Oregon. If the Ducks can somehow snag a New Year’s Day bowl bid, that increases WSU's chances to move up. The Ducks are the second place team in the conference and highly ranked nationally. The Rose Bowl will want them badly if they can get them, but the decision will ultimately come down to the Bowl Selection Committee.
The committee rankings won't come until Tuesday but based on the way the AP voted this week, the early returns are discouraging. Oregon in the polls did not leap over teams from the Big 12, to get into the top 12. TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma State are still ranked ahead of Oregon. (From my chair, it is difficult to say why).
The Big 12 opted to play a very weak non-conference schedule this year. This means that Baylor, Oklahoma State and TCU’s only quality wins are against each other. They did not beat Oklahoma, and did not play a bowl-bound team in their non-conference schedule. Given that the Big 12 looks to have failed to fill its own bowl allotment, they didn't play many bowl bound teams in-conference either.
There is no way to justify it but from the look of it, all of the New Year's Six bowl bides are going to go to Notre Dame, the Big Ten, the Big 12 and the ACC. That means Oregon is the frontrunner for the Alamo Bowl.
THE FIESTA FACTOR
The Situation: For Oregon to gain a pick to the Fiesta Bowl, the committee only needs to come to their senses and start rewarding tough schedules the way they said they would, and the way the NCAA basketball tournament does. Baylor could help matters by losing to Texas on Saturday, but almost everyone else relevant has finished playing. Stanford could of course get a bid to the Fiesta Bowl if they lose to USC this Saturday, but that doesn't really help the Cougs. Some bowl projections already have the Cougs being taken ahead of the Trojans, who did not travel well to the Holiday Bowl last year.
THE ALAMO BOWL
The Situation: The Alamo fancies the Cougs and has the option to take them, but won't likely pass on Oregon. Doing so would mean the Ducks are passed over with a better conference record. The Alamo can do it, but it’s unlikely from my chair. The Ducks are higher ranked and have a better national brand. If the Ducks weren't available, the Alamo might not pass on USC.
THE HOLIDAY BOWL
The Situation: The internet was abuzz Sunday afternoon when Kyle Bonagura of ESPN announced that his sources have the Holiday Bowl committee leaning towards WSU. The Cougs are likely up against Utah for this bid (USC went here last year, and also didn't sell their ticket allotment). Utah will argue that they are higher ranked, have a better overall record and have never been to the Holiday. They make a good case - but a look at their schedule reveals a fading team. The Utes have lost two of their last three and did not have a good performance against Colorado. Overall they haven't beaten a team with a winning record since Oregon, way back in September. The Holiday Bowl may well want to put the Luke Falk Show on display, as this bowl is historically a shootout. A (probable in my mind) matchup against Christian Hackenberg and Penn State would draw a lot of viewers. The Holiday would likely take Oregon over WSU if Oregon fell to them. That would require Stanford out of the Rose Bowl and into the Alamo.
THE FOSTER FARMS BOWL
The Situation: As with the Holiday, this is probably another situation where USC's win helped the Cougs' prospects. Foster Farms wants to stay as close to home as possible, the bowl has a terrible December 26 time slot. Fans are unlikely to want to travel far for this bowl, but nearby USC and UCLA fans may not care enough to bother either. A half-filled Coliseum on Saturday, despite having the South Division title on the line, should have been an eye opener for any bowl considering the Bruins or Trojans. USC has a lame duck coach, and basketball season is underway in Westwood. Nonetheless, California is California and I expect one of the LA schools will go here. But if USC is gone, the Foster Farms would have to pick UCLA (five Pac-12 wins) over WSU (six Pac-12 wins). That could mean a WSU bid.
THE SUN BOWL
The Situation: The Sun Bowl committee has expressed their interest in WSU, and most bowl projections show the Cougs listed here. A potential matchup against Miami could be fun, even if the Cougs only see it on TV. I found it interesting CBS’ Jerry Palm projected UCLA here on Sunday afternoon. Based on what the Pac-12 conference told me, that’s wrong -- the Sun cannot accept UCLA over WSU. That also would make Palm's projection of WSU in the Las Vegas bowl errant.
THE LAS VEGAS BOWL
The Situation: The Cougs can fall no further than here. I don't expect that to happen, but then again, it has to happen to somebody. The only scenario would seem to be if the Foster Farms Bowl were to take leave of their senses and select a UCLA squad with five Pac-12 wins over those with more conference wins AND the Sun Bowl picking Utah over WSU. Again, the Sun Bowl cannot select UCLA over WSU.