College football chaos is alive and well during conference championship weekend.
No. 5 Oklahoma State was the first big victim of said chaos on Saturday, losing 21-16 to No. 9 Baylor in the Big 12 championship game — the last remaining team between the Cowboys and their first ever College Football Playoff berth.
The loss has to be devastating for Mike Gundy and Co., considering it came a week after the Cowboys beat rival Oklahoma for the first time since 2014. It’s even worse considering they gave up zero second-half points. The Cowboys remained in contention all the way to the very end after Baylor missed two field goals in the second half, but a fourth-and-goal stop from the 1-yard line on their final offensive play sealed the Baylor victory:
The Cowboys will also look at their turnover woes: They committed four in the second half alone, including two interceptions, a lost fumble and a turnover on downs to end the game. Perhaps the worst part of Saturday’s loss is that they were unable to get the victory against redshirt freshman quarterback Blake Shapen — making just his second ever start for the Bears. He completed 23 of 28 passes for 180 yards and three touchdowns.
Oklahoma State’s loss means it is no longer in contention for the playoff. But where the Cowboys lose, other teams stand to gain. Here’s what it means for the other playoff-eligible teams on championship weekend:
Rankings reflect Week 14 College Football Playoff top 25
Previous rank: 2
The Wolverines are still in win-and-in mode as far as the playoff is concerned. So long as Jim Harbaugh and Co. beat the Hawkeyes in Lucas Oil Stadium, then Michigan will become the No. 2 seed in the playoff. A loss almost certainly negates any chance the Wolverines would have of making the playoff, though it is perhaps worth asking whether a win by Georgia in the SEC championship and a loss by Cincinnati in the AAC championship would open a path for Michigan to the playoff, even if it loses to the Hawkeyes on Saturday. The Hawkeyes are ranked 13th in the latest CFP polls, so that might be too big a jump for them to participate in the playoff, even with a conference championship victory over 11-win Michigan.
Previous rank: 3
Oklahoma State’s loss to Baylor creates a window — no matter how small — that the Crimson Tide could still get in with a loss to Georgia, depending on how close it is. If they were to play the Bulldogs close in a one- or two-possession game, then that — coupled with a loss by the Bearcats in the AAC championship game — would likely guarantee a two-loss team making the playoff. At that point, would the committee take 11-2 Alabama, 11-2 Michigan, 11-2 Big Ten champion Iowa or 11-2 Big 12 champion Baylor? A tremendous amount of chaos would need to take place between the final whistles of the Big 12 and Big Ten championships, respectively, but the Bears’ win makes that scenario sound slightly less absurd.
Previous rank: 4
The Bearcats have less wiggle room than their Power 5 counterparts. The selection committee will likely never accept a one-loss Group of 5 participant, especially one that hasn’t won its conference championship. All things considered, Cincinnati must beat 11-1 Houston on Saturday if it wants to have any chance of making the playoff. It’s as simple a scenario as exists for any playoff-eligible team remaining in contention.
Notre Dame (11-1)
Previous rank: 6
The Fighting Irish have to be leaping for joy after Baylor’s victory in the Big 12 championship. They know the selection committee has never accepted a two-loss team, even those that have won their conference championship game. Moreover, ESPN’s Heather Dinich on Saturday reported that the CFP selection committee has determined Brian Kelly’s absence from the team — he is now LSU’s head coach — would have no bearing on how the committee ranks the Fighting Irish. If history holds, then Notre Dame should move up one spot into the No. 4 position, assuming an Alabama loss in the SEC championship game. The Crimson Tide are the last team remaining between Notre Dame and a second consecutive playoff berth. Not bad work for a team not even playing during conference championship weekend.
Previous rank: 9
The Bears have to overcome history — no two-loss team has ever made the playoff — if they want to make the playoff. The Bears would need to jump five teams to make the top four teams, with No. 2 Michigan, No. 3 Alabama and No. 4 Cincinnati left to play. It would take a loss by each one of those teams just to have a chance. If chaos were to be well and truly unleashed on Saturday, however, then who’s to say a two-loss Big 12 champion couldn’t make the playoff? Until then, look for the Bears to climb no higher than one of the first two teams out.
Previous rank: 13
Iowa is now in a similar boat as Baylor — assuming the Hawkeyes pull off what the Bears were able to in AT&T Stadium. The Hawkeyes have perhaps too big a jump to make, even with a win on Saturday. But a win over the second-ranked Wolverines would be the second-biggest win of the day. Say the Hawkeyes win big while No. 1 Georgia wins and No. 4 Cincinnati loses. Then the Hawkeyes would have about a considerably better chance of making the playoff. Anything less than that may be too much for Iowa to make the playoff. Even with all that, it may be too much to overcome for the Hawkeyes.
Oklahoma State (11-2)
Previous rank: 5
Oklahoma State’s playoff chances are gone. Because the Cowboys were a victim of chaos on Saturday, there’s no way they can benefit from any other losses by Michigan, Alabama or Cincinnati. The question is where the Cowboys fall from here. They’ll likely remain inside the top 10 — perhaps switching places with the ninth-ranked Bears — and in contention for a New Year’s Day 6 bowl game. If Baylor somehow makes the playoff, then Oklahoma State would look at a potential Sugar Bowl berth. If Baylor was left out, however, then the Bears would likely get the Sugar Bowl berth while the Cowboys head to, perhaps, the Fiesta Bowl. Not a bad way to end the season, but still short of expectations for Gundy and Co.