Why two or three losses won’t kill the Sooners and Cowboys’ playoff hopes

Why two or three losses won’t kill the Sooners and Cowboys’ playoff hopes

Never mind the difference between “5 + 7” and “6 + 6,” as long as there are at least 12 teams in the playoff, the Sooners and Cowboys have a fighting chance.

Guerin Emig

By Guerin Emig

| Feb 27, 2024, 7:00am CST

Guerin Emig

By Guerin Emig

Feb 27, 2024, 7:00am CST

The best way to maintain sanity amid college football’s head-spinning change is to focus on teams, not the sport. Take a topic, apply its evolution to a team, and see if the change helps, hurts or does neither.

The College Football Playoff for example.

It is a 12-team enterprise this season and next, with a “5 + 7” model consisting of the five highest-ranked conference champions in the CFP’s final standings plus the seven highest-ranked at-large teams. The top four conference champs earn byes to the New Year’s Six bowl quarterfinals, with seeds 5-8 hosting 9-12 on campus in the first round.

Before last week’s CFP Board of Managers revision, this was to be a “6 + 6” model with six conference champs and six at-large qualifiers. The Pac-12 evaporated, so now we have one fewer conference winner and one more at-large team. The bracket set-up – bowls for the quarters and semis and campus sites in round one – is unchanged from one model to the next. 

There was discussion of further expansion beginning in 2026, with the potential for automatic bids for the muscle-flexing SEC and Big Ten. Meaning, we went from a decade of stodgy four-team fields to reaching 2024 and finally celebrating expansion… only to hear about the possibility that the well-conceived, fair-and-balanced 12-team mold won’t make it past two years. 

No kidding, man. Head-spinning

Let’s just set our feet and minds and think about what this means, right now, for the two teams we care most about. 

How does playoff expansion affect Oklahoma and Oklahoma State? 

The short answer: favorably. 

Never mind the potential for 14- or 16-team playoffs in two years, or even the difference between “5 + 7” and “6 + 6.” Focus on this basic math: 12 > 4. 

The four-team playoff was an exercise in exclusivity. Not just because for a while it felt like the selection committee voted in Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and OU only. More discouraging was the unwritten but understood rule that if a team lost more than one game, it was screwed. 

Of the 40 four-team CFP qualifiers from 2014-23, 16 were unbeaten, 24 lost once and none lost twice. The problem wasn’t so much who the committee was picking, at least until last December when unbeaten Florida State without Jordan Travis came along. It was how many they were picking. 

Now the committee fills 12 slots instead of four. 

Now we can research final playoff rankings from 2014-23 and, without making too specific comparisons since those rankings didn’t have OU and Texas playing in the SEC, USC, Oregon, Washington and UCLA in the Big Ten, or Utah, Colorado, Arizona and Arizona in the Big 12, breathe life into a bunch of multi-loss teams that never stood a chance. 

Forty-one teams with two losses finished in the top 12 of the four-team playoff rankings, with 33 finishing in the top 10. Twenty-three teams with three losses finished in the top 12 from 2014-23, with 13 finishing in the top 10. 

Those become our ballpark figures in terms of the potential inclusivity difference we’ll see in the expanded 2024 and ‘25 playoffs. 

Why does this matter for OU and OSU? Because they are both headed toward two- and three-loss seasons. 

The Sooners aren’t playing in the Big 12 of 2015 through ‘19, when they cashed four one-loss, conference championship seasons into four four-team playoff berths. They aren’t playing in the Big 12 period. 

They are headed for the SEC. And even while trending in the right direction, they are a good bet to get tagged with a few conference defeats annually. 

Schedule shrewdly in non-conference, the Sooners can take a few losses and still make a 12-team playoff. Recall that two-loss OU teams finished No. 6 and 7 in the 2020 and ‘16 playoff standings. 

Bet good money that OU power brokers knew those facts when news broke that they were SEC-bound in July of 2021… one month after a CFP committee presented an expansion proposal using the “6 + 6” model. 

Bet good money that OU will count on SEC commissioner Greg Sankey to take good care of his league when talk progresses toward further expansion and automatic power conference bids. As it stands, the Sooners’ path toward the playoff is wider. 

So is OSU’s. 

The Cowboys had one feasible path to the playoff the past decade – win the Big 12. Multi-loss teams weren’t making the four-team CFP, and OSU hasn’t had a team lose fewer than twice since the 2011 Pokes should have played for a BCS title. 

That Big 12 champion would have received a first-round bye in a 12-team playoff. OSU’s 11-2 2021 Big 12 runner-up was No. 9 in the final CFP rankings. It, too, would have qualified for a 12-team playoff. 

OSU’s 9-3 2016 Big 12 runner-up was No. 12 in the final CFP rankings. It would have been nudged out of a 12-team playoff, according to the “5 + 7” model, by MAC champion Western Michigan. Still, the Cowboys being right on the edge makes the point. 

They are sure to lose a few games in the realigned, flip-a-coin Big 12, but won’t have to win the thing to at least be in playoff discussion. 

Also, if we really are headed toward further expansion and auto bids for conferences, the SEC and Big Ten can’t take them all. Big 12 CEO Brett Yormark might not outflex Sankey, but surely he can get at least two or three. That’s all OSU might need. 

Put it this way: If OU operates from a stronger position, conference-wise, regarding the CFP moving forward, OSU is potentially better off in the Big 12 than in the ACC, and certainly better off for having been in the Big 12 than in the Pac-12. 

The lights are out in the Pac-12. Thus the change in 12-team CFP expansion models. 

The key, again, for OSU and OU is 12. Not “5 + 7” or “6 + 6” or any other figure. 

As long as there are at least 12 teams in the playoff, the Sooners and Cowboys have a fighting chance amid college football’s tidal waves.

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Guerin Emig is a columnist for the Sellout Crowd network. Read his work at selloutcrowd.com and guerinemig.com. Reach out with feedback and/or ideas at [email protected] or (918) 629-6229. Follow him on Twitter at @GuerinEmig and Instagram at @guerin.emig. .

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