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Outlining Texas A&M’s potential paths to the Playoff

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A 9-1 SEC team will be in the conversation. But responses from other teams may determine exactly where.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Much was made in the national media of Texas A&M’s seemingly lackluster 20-7 victory over LSU on Nov. 28 at Kyle Field. The most notable talking point was that Texas A&M needed to not only win the rest of their games, but do so in convincing fashion.

But despite that assertion, A&M maintained their No. 5 spot in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings. At 6-1, the Aggies may not fully control their own destiny, but margin of victory isn’t what is going to make the difference in this team making the playoffs. Forget style points. A&M needs wins (and likely a little help) to fulfill Playoff dreams.

If A&M finishes 9-1, they’ll have a Playoff-worthy resume. But they’re also facing an uphill battle as the relative newcomer to the national title conversation. Every other team in the top six (Alabama, Notre Dame, Clemson, Ohio State, Florida) has a recent Playoff or National Championship appearance. Whether its intentional or not, it will be hard for committee members not to show preference to teams that have been there before.

It would seem intuitive that any loss by a team in the top four would help the Aggies, but that’s not universally true. Let’s outline what we need to happen to maximize A&M’s chances of moving into the top four and making the first College Football Playoff in program history.

Texas A&M’s paths to the Playoff

PRE-REQ: Texas A&M finishes 9-1

Know that each of the scenarios below has the prerequisite that the Aggies have to win their remaining games. Drop a game to Auburn, Ole Miss or Tennessee and no amount of help will get them into the Playoff. No two-loss team has ever made the Playoff, and A&M doesn’t have the resume or the history to be the exception to that rule.

PRE-REQ: Alabama beats Florida in the SEC Championship Game

Despite A&M’s head-to-head victory over the Gators, there are many who believe Florida has looked like the better team and deserves to be ranked higher (they’re currently right being A&M at No. 6). That would likely come to fruition if Florida knocks off No. 1 Alabama and wins a conference title in the process. A loss also probably doesn’t take enough sheen off of the Tide’s pristine resume to keep them from falling out of the Playoff either. Knowing all that, it’s in the Aggies’ best interest for Florida to get a second loss (removing them from Playoff consideration), and bolstering Bama’s claim to the No. 1 spot (making A&M’s loss to them in their second game of the season that much more forgivable). This alone likely doesn’t really get A&M in, but it would remove Florida from the equation, reducing competition for the Playoff spots.

Notre Dame beats Clemson (again) in the ACC Championship Game

Notre Dame already beat Clemson just a few weeks ago, but that game included the notable absence of Clemson’s all-everything QB Trevor Lawrence. If the Fighting Irish can beat Clemson again, this time on a neutral field with the Tigers at full strength, it would certainly solidify them into the No. 2 spot, and more importantly, give Clemson a second loss on the season. As I mentioned previously, no team with two losses has ever made the College Football Playoff, and no team who just lost their conference title game has ever made it either. Falling into both of these categories would surely do the Tigers in, despite their half decade of dominance.

Clemson blows out Notre Dame in the ACC Championship game

If Clemson beats Notre Dame in a tight game, it seems almost certain that both get in as one-loss teams. But if Clemson can win by, say, three touchdowns or more, that likely changes the equation. It’s just hard to see a team who just got blown days earlier making it into the Playoff. Yes, A&M has a blowout loss on it’s resume as well, but as is seemingly always the case, late-season losses are treated more harshly than those that happened months earlier.

Ohio State only plays five games or fewer

The Buckeyes have already had two games canceled because of COVID-19 protocols, and in a late-starting Big Ten season with no bye weeks, there is no time to make those games up. Apparently the committee has already had conversations about moving Ohio State down because of the limited number of games they’ve played. Their game this Saturday against Michigan State is not yet guaranteed (it depends on Ohio State’s test results in the coming days), and word came today that the Buckeyes’ Dec. 12 opponent, Michigan, just paused team activities due to presumed positive COVID-19 tests. If the Buckeyes end up only playing five or fewer games (and as a result don’t qualify for their own conference title game), the committee will have a decision to make. Ohio State is as blue blood as it gets, but if they end up playing half the number of games as other schools, that may be too big a knock for even them to overcome. If so, the Aggies would seem to stand to gain.

There are certainly other games still to be played, and a crazy unforeseen upset could happen and change the Playoff landscape. It’s happened before and at some point will happen again. But these are the most likely scenarios that get the Aggies over the hump and into the tourney to compete for a national championship. This season isn’t Playoff or bust for A&M (just being in the conversation at this point in the season is a win for the Aggies), but you never know the next time you’ll be in this situation. With a talented roster and a favorable schedule ahead, let’s hope the Ags can take care of their part of the puzzle, then hope the other pieces fall into place.

Poll

Assuming A&M wins out, how confident are you that they make the College Football Playoff?

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    100% (pass the maroon Kool Aid)
    (138 votes)
  • 16%
    75%
    (170 votes)
  • 48%
    50% (we’ll definitely need some help
    (510 votes)
  • 16%
    25%
    (171 votes)
  • 6%
    0% (BAS is uncurable and we’ll all die alone)
    (69 votes)
1058 votes total Vote Now