College Football Regular Season is a Double Elimination Tournament

Andrew Hahn

Well…not exactly, but pretty close.

The College Football Playoff (CFP) was started in 2014 and involves the top four teams in the nation playing in semifinal games, with the winners battling each other for the national championship. A 13-member Selection Committee is entrusted with choosing the four teams and is the target of rage from those who are left out from the playoffs.

Since the inception of CFP, 16 teams have made the cut, and none of the teams had more than 2 losses in the season, supporting the notion that the regular season is a double elimination tournament. The argument against this claim is that a one-loss season does not guarantee inclusion in the CFP. Also, an undefeated team from outside one of the power five conferences is not included in the discussion, unless the team plays in South Bend and has an angry leprechaun as the mascot. Despite these imperfections, college football arguably has the most exciting regular season of any major American sports leagues, because there are must-win games on the schedule nearly every week of the season.

With the double elimination concept in mind, here is what happened so far this season and what to expect for the remaining 2 weeks:

Week 1: There are 65 teams in contention, which includes all the teams in the big five conferences as well as Notre Dame. For the sake of argument, even the lowly Rutgers is still in the running. Coincidentally the number of teams is similar to the postseason single-elimination NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Although a team cannot be technically eliminated from the CFP with a first-week loss, some powerhouse programs, including Michigan, Florida State, and Miami, lose their first game, severely damaging their chances for a championship.

Week 2: Purdue, UNC, UCLA, and Arizona each lose their first two games, ruining their tiny preseason hopes for a national championship. 61 teams remain in contention.

Week 3: Rutgers, Nebraska, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Arkansas, Iowa State, Oregon State, and USC are eliminated. Not too much of a surprise, except for maybe USC and Florida State, who were the only teams in this group that was ranked in the top 25 preseason poll. 53 teams remain in contention.

Week 4: Illinois, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, Kansas, Kansas State, TCU, and Arizona State are eliminated. None of these pretenders had a realistic chance for a national championship, except for maybe TCU who was ranked 16 on the preseason poll. 42 teams remain in contention.

Week 5: Northwestern, Virginia, South Carolina, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Texas Tech, Baylor and Utah are eliminated. Only Mississippi State was ranked in the preseason poll. 34 teams remain in contention.

Week 6: Michigan State, Maryland, Indiana, BC, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Auburn, Oklahoma State, Stanford, and Cal are eliminated. The highest pre-season rank among these disappointed teams is 9 (Auburn). 24 teams remain in contention.

Week 7: Wisconsin, Penn State, Minnesota, Miami, Missouri, and Washington are eliminated. The most devastating week thus far, destroying the hopes of 4 preseason top-10 teams (Wisconsin, Penn State, Miami, and Washington). 18 teams remain in contention.

Week 8: Oregon, Colorado, and Duke are eliminated. Although Oregon was ranked 24 on the preseason poll, no one predicted Colorado or Duke to challenge for the championship. Helped by an easy schedule, Colorado and Duke were able to remain in the hunt this late in the season. 15 teams remain in contention.

Week 9: Iowa, NC State, Florida, and Texas are eliminated. After the first week loss to Maryland, few thought Texas would make it this far, but their 6 game winning streak came to an end against Big-12 foe Oklahoma State. Despite losing to unheralded Kentucky in the second week, Florida fans were optimistic after a victory over a strong LSU squad in week 6 but ultimately got their second loss, being blown out by Georgia. Both Iowa and NC State benefitted from an easy early season schedule, but both came down to earth. 11 teams remain in contention.

Week 10: Kentucky and LSU are eliminated. A perennial SEC doormat, Kentucky was riding high with wins over ranked Florida and Mississippi State, but losses to Texas A&M in week 6 and Georgia in week 10 sealed their fate. LSU’s season came down to a highly anticipated rivalry game against neighboring Alabama, but the number 1 team in the nation thumped LSU 29-0. 9 teams remain in contention.

Week 11: All nine teams in contention win their games. The three undefeated teams (Alabama, Clemson, and Notre Dame) win easily over decent competition (Mississippi State, Boston College, and Florida State). Of the six one-loss squads, only Oklahoma plays a close game, winning a nail-biter over in-state rival Oklahoma State 48-47. The remaining 5 one-loss teams (Michigan, Ohio State, Georgia, Washington State, and West Virginia) win in blowout fashion. 9 teams still remain in contention.

Week 12: West Virginia loses in a shootout against Oklahoma State 45-41, dashing their hopes for a national championship. Ohio State barely clings on, beating Maryland in overtime 52-51, after the Terrapins falter on a 2-point conversion in the first OT. The remaining 7 teams in contention win easily, some over extremely weak competition; most notably Alabama over The Citadel and Georgia over U Mass. 8 teams remain in contention.

Week 13 Preview: Known as Rivalry Week in college football, the final week of the regular season (not including conference championships) promises many meaningful games. The annual Ohio State-Michigan game is arguably the most important game thus far this season because it will eliminate one of these two one-loss teams from National Championship discussion. Alabama faces a tough Auburn (7-4) squad in the annual Iron Bowl, but the undefeated Crimson Tide will not be eliminated even if they lose to their in-state rival. The Apple Cup will be contested by the one-loss Washington State and the pre-season top-10 Washington, which is a must-win game for the Cougars who are in the midst of a surprisingly successful season. The annual Notre Dame-USC game has lost its luster as USC is at the end of a mediocre 5-6 season, and even a disappointing loss by the undefeated Fighting Irish may be meaningless, because this is the last game of their season, as this independent team does not participate in a league championship game. Clemson’s chance for an undefeated regular season appears good as they face their in-state rival South Carolina (6-4). Billed as “Clean Old-Fashioned Hate,” the annual game between the Georgia (9-1) and the Georgia Tech (7-4) has the Bulldogs heavily favored, but an upset by the Yellow Jackets will eliminate Georgia from National Championship contention. Oklahoma against West Virginia is not a rivalry game, and its importance is diminished after the Mountaineers lost their second game in week 12. However, this game promises to be hugely entertaining, as the two high-powered offenses battle it out, with an Oklahoma loss eliminating them from the National Championship picture.

Week 14 Preview: Conference Championship Week. Depending on the results from rivalry week, all five Conference Championship games may have National Championship implications. Following these games, if there are more than 4 teams with less than two losses, the decision will be up to the Selection Committee. In the unlikely event that less than 4 teams are either undefeated or have one loss, a two-loss team will be invited to the playoffs (or maybe an undefeated non-power conference team, Central Florida), destroying the notion of a double elimination tournament. Either way, it should be fun to watch.