The enormous sound and fury that gradually faded away during the Alabama game seemed to signal the end of the meaningful part of the LSU football schedule and the beginning of a string to be played out.
When the College Football Playoff committee dropped 7-2 LSU only from No. 3 to No. 7 in this week’s Top 25, it left open a path for the Tigers to earn one of the four CFP semifinal bids. That path is exceedingly narrow — the website FiveThirtyEight.com rates a 10-2 LSU team’s chances of making the playoffs at 10 percent — but it does exist.
The LSU Tigers dropped to No. 7 in the College Football Playoff rankings, following its 29-0 loss to No. 10 Alabama on Saturday night.
It is hard to know how this will all turn out, but it certainly means one thing: LSU’s game Saturday at 2-7 Arkansas just got a whole lot more interesting.
So what does LSU have to do to make the playoff?
1. LSU wins out to finish 10-2.
2. Alabama and Clemson (both 9-0) win out to make the CFP semifinals. Yes, LSU fans likely have to pull for Bama unless you think the Crimson Tide could lose to say Mississippi State and Auburn, which isn’t happening. Clemson also isn’t likely to lose, though a trip Saturday to CFP No. 17 Boston College looks dangerous.
3. The rest of the teams in the CFP top 10 take a tumble — or, preferably for LSU, tumbles.
What results need to go LSU’s way?
No. 3 Notre Dame (9-0) must lose at least one for LSU to have a chance to leapfrog the Irish, preferably two. Notre Dame’s last three include surprisingly weak Florida State, surprisingly strong Syracuse (No. 13 in the CFP) and a game at USC. If the committee has to pick between a 10-2 LSU and a 11-1 Notre Dame, who knows what would happen.
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No. 4 Michigan (8-1) loses at Ohio State or in the Big Ten Championship game. LSU may only need Notre Dame or Michigan to fall, but there is also no guarantee a 10-2 LSU would move ahead of a two-loss Michigan team.
No. 5 Georgia (8-1) loses to Auburn or Georgia Tech, or more likely loses in the SEC title game to Alabama. LSU’s 36-16 win over Georgia would likely put the Tigers over the Bulldogs in the CFP committee’s eyes, though not for certain.
No. 6 Oklahoma and No. 9 West Virginia (8-1 and 7-1, respectively) cancel each other out. They play in the regular-season finale at West Virginia then will likely turn right around and play in the Big 12 title game (without divisions, the Big 12’s top two teams meet). Oklahoma State, which plays both teams, could also play kingmaker and pay LSU back for losing late in 2011 to miss the BCS title game, opening the door for Alabama that year.
You could probably hear the gasps of surprise when LSU emerged at No. 7 in this week’s College Football Playoff rankings.
No. 8 Washington State (8-1) loses either to Washington in the regular-season finale or in the Pac-12 title game.
No. 10 Ohio State (8-1) loses Saturday at Michigan State or to Michigan or in the Big Ten title game. A two-loss Buckeyes team isn’t jumping over a 10-2 LSU. If you think the Tigers’ 29-0 loss to Bama was bad, it’s not as bad as the Buckeyes’ 49-20 loss at Purdue.
If LSU wins out and doesn’t make the playoff, then what?
Let’s assume Alabama wins out and is SEC champion and in the CFP semifinals. That would leave the Sugar Bowl searching for a replacement SEC team.
By rule, that replacement would typically be the highest-ranked available SEC team. That means if Georgia has just lost to Alabama in the SEC title game, it may come down to who is ranked higher by the CFP between 11-2 Georgia or 10-2 LSU (or maybe even Kentucky if it finishes 10-2). According to SEC executive associate commissioner Mark Womack, a team other than the highest-ranked available SEC team can go to the Sugar Bowl under extraordinary circumstances — let’s say a team has played in the Sugar two or three years in a row or the SEC champion lost a game before the SEC Championship Game and slid in the rankings. But unless Georgia loses to Auburn say, then beats Bama, those circumstances do not appear to be in play here. LSU hasn’t played in the Sugar Bowl since 2006, Georgia since 2007.
Summary: Though LSU predictably tumbled out of the College Football Playoff top-four rankings after its 29-0 wipeout by No. 1 Alabama, the Tig…
What if Alabama is in the playoff and Georgia (despite being blown out by LSU) stays just ahead of the Tigers in the final CFP rankings, say at No. 5 and No. 6, respectively? LSU would be bound for one of the other two New Year’s Six bowls available to it: the Peach or Fiesta. The Tigers’ destination, in that case, would be determined by the CFP committee.
If LSU loses a game down the stretch to finish 9-3, the Tigers could still wind up in a NY6 bowl. But LSU could also fall to one of the SEC's bowls. The Tigers have made two straight Citrus Bowl trips, so a third isn't likely. LSU might find itself in the Outback Bowl or even a less prestigious bowl like the Music City or Texas depending on what happens with Kentucky, Florida and possibly A&M.
Should LSU even want to make the playoff if it means playing Alabama in the semifinals?
The best the Tigers could realistically hope for is to be the No. 4 seed. That will likely mean a rematch against Alabama in the Cotton or Orange bowls on Dec. 29. The teams would be placed so as to put the No. 1 seed at the best geographical advantage. Alabama is a lot closer to Arlington, Texas (605 miles) than Miami (777 miles), but LSU is 150 miles closer to Arlington than Alabama.
Yes, LSU would be a huge underdog and at risk of getting blown out worse by Bama this time than it was last Saturday. So what? Of course LSU fans should root for their team to get in the playoff. The goal is to win the national championship. Anything is possible. As the saying goes, you can’t win if you don’t play — unless you’re UCF and declare yourself national champion.