5 one-loss teams that can still make the playoff
With four weeks left of the college football regular season, chaos appears to be on the horizon. Six undefeated teams remain and only three of them have a chance to finish unblemished, meaning teams with one loss will be jockeying to jump into the top four of the College Football Playoff.
As they stand following Week 10 of the season, I’m ranking the five teams best-positioned to make the playoff with one loss on their resume. It’s worth noting that this ranking takes into account games remaining, strength of schedule and quality of loss — the order would be very different if ranked based on how the teams grade out.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama ranks first on this list, but only mostly to the strength of their remaining schedule. With Mississippi State, Charleston Southern and Auburn left on the docket, the Crimson Tide don’t face a team they shouldn’t beat until the SEC Championship game. Even then, Florida isn’t a team that should strike fear into the Alabama fan base. Unless they stumble, Alabama is almost assured a spot in the CFP.
Alabama suffers from an inconsistent offense led by inconsistent signal caller QB Jake Coker, and would rank third of these teams based purely on PFF’s grades. However, on the flip side is Alabama’s top-ranked defense, which held Heisman favorite Leonard Fournette to season lows in attempts, yards, touchdowns, PFF grade, forced missed tackles, and every stat calculable for a running back in a dominant 30-16 win over the Tigers.
Easily a top-three unit in the nation, the Crimson Tide defense has zero players with at least 90 snaps below +1.1 and no starter sports a worse grade than +5.1. The defensive line is anchored by NT Jarran Reed, our fourth-best DT/NT at +37.0, while the second level is manned by ILB Reggie Ragland (+21.4, fifth in nation). With depth and productivity, Alabama’s defense overpowers their opposition and getting into a slugfest is a bad idea. I’d be foolish to not mention situational pass rusher Tim Williams who has 28 total pressures (five sacks, four hits, 19 hurries) in just 75 pass rush snaps.
2. Stanford Cardinal
The classic overreact to Week 1 outcomes hurt Stanford for the first half of the season, but stellar play in the Pac-12 have erased memories of an ugly opening loss at Northwestern. Those memories have turned into a loss against a top-25 team.
Stanford’s offense is led by much improved QB Kevin Hogan and Heisman hopeful HB Christian McCaffery. Hogan was wildly inconsistent a year ago with a high grade of +6.9 at UCLA and a low grade of -6.7 at Arizona State. This season he has shown a lot of progress and more consistency with just one negatively-graded game in the team’s only loss and three games at +4.0 or better. McCaffery wreaked havoc a year ago in a reserve role (+11.2 in 109 snaps) and has continued that play as the featured back in 2015 grading as PFF’s second-best back at +29.0 in just 386 snaps. Stanford’s offensive line is one of the best with LG Joshua Garnett paving the way as the top graded guard at +38.8 and FB Daniel Marx grading as the 3rd best fullback at +12.2.
On the defensive side, the Cardinal front seven is incredibly strong with three defensive lineman grading better than +14.3, and Blake Martinez grading as the best coverage ILB in the nation at +10.6. CB Ronnie Harris has been solid in coverage with nine passes defended and allowing just one TD. The weakness in their defense is the secondary, as it combines for -14.8 without Harris with players logging at least 100 snaps.
Stanford’s road is arguably harder than the rest, as they face a rejuvenated Oregon Ducks squad, a Jared Goff led California team, and fellow 1-loss team Notre Dame. Luckily all three are at home, but after that slate, they’ll have to win the Pac-12 Championship Game — which is likely to be against 1-loss Utah.
3. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
When QB Malik Zaire went down for the season in Week 2, gray skies hung over South Bend. Deshone Kizer held the ship afloat and has led the Fighting Irish to some very impressive victories, handing Navy and Temple their only losses on the season, as well as holding off talented USC and Pittsburg teams. Their lone loss came against the committee’s top ranked team in Clemson in a failed 2-point conversion. Balanced across the board, Notre Dame starts four offensive lineman grading at +12.5 or better along with their top four wide receivers grading positively, including Will Fuller (+10.1) with the only knock against the junior being six drops on 50 catchable targets for a 12 percent drop rate.
The Fighting Irish defense is led by DT Sheldon Day (+37.6, third in nation) and LB Jaylon Smith (+19.9, fifth in nation). Smith is highly touted as a top-five draft pick for 2016 and is a solid all-around defender grading in the top 10 in both run defense and pass coverage.
While halfback C.J. Prosise is in concussion protocol, he should be back in time for a finale at Stanford. At +20.5, Prosise is our eighth-best HB and Notre Dame’s best player. With two struggling home opponents in Wake Forest and Boston College, Notre Dame’s chances of finishing unbeaten are good — save for the Cardinal.
4. Oklahoma Sooners
That Texas loss is ugly, but since that loss (and even before it) the Sooners have done nothing but dismantle the opposition. OU’s +/- is an impressive 254 while both their offense and defense grade very highly. Led by QB Baker Mayfield (+33.6 PFF grade, third in the nation), the Sooners’ offense has several weapons including the underrated wide receiver Sterling Shepard, ranking seventh at +18.3, just one drop on 42 catchable targets, and the best passer rating against Power-5 competition when targeted at 156.4. Halfbacks Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon form a formidable two-head monster combining for +18.1, with Mixon sporting a 107.3 elusive rating against Power-5 competition, good for ninth in the nation.
Oklahoma’s defense is stout, especially on the defensive line. Led by Charles Walker at +22.0 (sixth in nation), OU’s defensive line boasts three players at +11.5 or better, while OLB Eric Striker leads the team with seven sacks, as his 26 total pressures ranks sixth in the country. The defense doesn’t start a single player with a negative grade with their “worst” contributor coming from backup free safety Hatari Byrd at -3.5.
The Sooners’ biggest test of the year comes this weekend at Baylor, with no relief as they follow that up with a home contest against TCU and on the road against Oklahoma State.
5. TCU Horned Frogs
The Horned Frogs make this list because of QB Trevone Boykin and the elite play of their offense. While the Oklahoma State game was disastrous, Boykin has been dynamic all year and not just with his legs. He has a +35.0 pass grade which ranks No. 1 in the nation, while his run grade is at +7.9 and 16th in the nation. While the wrist injury to wide receiver Josh Doctson leaves uncertainty (he is our top graded WR at +26.4), TCU lives and dies by Boykin. He is a special talent able to carry his team and spread the ball around to a bevy of weapons in receviers Shaun Nixon, Kolby Listenbee and KaVontae Turpin.
A year ago TCU had a dominant defense, but this 2015 unit is a far cry from that. With just two defensive linemen with at least 100 snaps grading positively and an average linebacker group, they fail to generate pressure on a consistent basis and stop the run. While DE Terrell Lathan has performed well as a backup at +14.6, it is an underperforming unit.
TCU has a very tough road to finish the season after a cupcake matchup against Kansas. They travel to Oklahoma before a home game against Baylor. If TCU wins out, they make a strong argument to make the playoff, but they need help to get there.