Let’s be real: The impact of the Week 2 college football slate on the playoff race is…minimal.
Of the 82 contests featuring FBS teams, there are only two games — two! — in which both teams have at least 1% leverage in the college football playoffs, according to the Allstate Playoff Predictor. In other words, there are only two games in which the difference in chance of reaching the playoffs with a win and with a loss exceeds 1%.
Alabama at Texas is the obvious contender with legitimate playoff leverage for either team — though the Crimson Tide have an 82% chance of winning, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index. The other game is Baylor at BYU, in which the Cougars cringe with a single percentage point of playoff leverage in what should be a tighter affair (FPI makes Baylor a 58% favorite).
That’s it. There are other games that are consequential in the sense that they could impact the playoff race if the contending favorite loses.
Again, in other words – aside from the two competitions mentioned at the top – this week is all about teams defending their playoff odds and trajectories. Let’s talk about those two games, what other teams might stumble over in Week 2, and what the impact would be. We will ignore those with more than a 90% chance of winning and focus on losses that are at least marginally achievable.
Alabama (82% chance of winning) at Texas
Alabama playoff leverage: 19%
Texas playoff leverage: 14%
FPI is all about the Longhorns, at least relatively. Although Texas is nowhere in the AP Top 25, our predictive model is a believer, making Texas the seventh-best team in the nation going forward. While FPI isn’t exactly expecting a close result (it favors the Crimson Tide by 12.8 points), it does expect a closer contest than Caesars Sportsbook, which has Alabama as a 20-point favorite.
A loss at Alabama would drop the Crimson Tide to a 68% chance of reaching the playoffs, putting them behind only Ohio State and Georgia, but still ahead of Clemson. It would also increase Texas up to a 23% chance of reaching the playoffs, which would be the sixth highest chance. A Texas victory would give the Longhorns breathing room: if they won the Big 12, even if they lost a game elsewhere, they would remain a lock on reaching the playoffs with the conference title and winning over Alabama. It’s still a huge if.
Notre Dame Playoff Leverage: 14%
A loss to Ohio State is certainly forgivable in the (expected) eyes of the selection committee. A defeat against Marshall? Not so much, and that would be a playoff projection killer, obviously.
It’s firmly in the extreme-long-shots-but-not-literally-impossible category, to be fair. But FPI respects Marshall: The Thundering Herd is the No. 53 ranked team and the fifth best team in the group of 5, according to the model.
Baylor (58% chance of winning) at BYU
Baylor playoff leverage: 8%
BYU playoff leverage: 1%
It’s Baylor’s toughest contest until he heads to Norman to face Oklahoma in November. But the advantage is there for the Bears: if they can get past the Cougars — who are in the AP Top 25 but are just outside for the FPI (No. 28) — and Texas loses to the Alabama, Baylor would become the Big 12’s best chance of becoming a playoff team at 13%.
BYU isn’t much of a playoff contender — the Cougars are within 1% and, even if they finish undefeated, they’d have less than a 50% chance of winning a bid — but would settle for a win against Baylor, as it’s the Cougars’ second toughest contest this year (after Notre Dame).
USC (75% chance of winning) at Stanford
USC Playoff Leverage: 5%
If you had asked me which team I was most concerned about FPI being weak in the preseason, USC would have been. But the model adjusts and one game later, the Allstate Playoff Predictor gives the Trojans the 11th best shot to reach the playoffs. But that could quickly evaporate in Lincoln Riley’s first Pac-12 conference game if USC slips against Stanford.
Tennessee playoff leverage: 4%
The FPI buys the volunteers in the sense that they appear on this list. If Tennessee were to somehow make the playoffs (we’re stretching in a light week here, okay?), the path of least resistance would likely be a single loss, to Georgia, and a 11-1 finish. But in fact, under any scenario, there’s no way Tennessee can afford a loss to Pittsburgh with the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide on their schedule later this year.