Let’s be real: The Week 2 college football slate’s impact on the playoff race is … minimal.
Of the 82 contests featuring FBS teams, there are only two games — two! — in which both teams have College Football Playoff leverage of at least 1%, according to the Allstate Playoff Predictor. In other words, there are just two games in which the difference in chance to reach the playoff with a win and with a loss exceeds 1%.
Alabama at Texas is the obvious candidate with legitimate playoff leverage for each team — though the Crimson Tide have an 82% chance to win, per ESPN’s Football Power Index. The other game is Baylor at BYU, in which the Cougars squeak in with a single percentage point of playoff leverage in what should be a tighter affair (FPI makes Baylor a 58% favorite).
That’s it. There are other games that are consequential in the sense that they could have an impact on the playoff race if the contending favorite loses.
Again, in other words — outside of the two contests mentioned at the top — this week is all about teams defending their playoff probabilities and paths. Let’s talk about those two games, what other teams could trip up in Week 2 and what the impact would be. We’ll ignore those with a 90+% chance to win and focus on the at least slightly feasible losses.
Alabama (82% chance to win) at Texas
Alabama playoff leverage: 19%
Texas playoff leverage: 14%
FPI is all about the Longhorns, at least relatively. Though Texas is nowhere to be found among the AP Top 25, our predictive model is a believer, making Texas the seventh-best team in the country going forward. While FPI isn’t exactly expecting a close outcome (it favors the Crimson Tide by 12.8 points), it does expect a closer contest than Caesars Sportsbook, which has Alabama as a 20-point favorite.
An Alabama loss would drop the Crimson Tide to a 68% chance to reach the playoff, putting them behind only Ohio State and Georgia but still ahead of Clemson. It would also rocket Texas up to a 23% chance to reach the playoff, which would be the sixth-highest chance. A Texas win would give the Longhorns breathing room: If they won the Big 12, even if they dropped a game somewhere else, they would remain a lock to reach the playoff with the conference title and win over Alabama. That’s still a huge if, though.
Notre Dame playoff leverage: 14%
A loss to Ohio State is certainly forgivable in the (forecasted) eyes of the selection committee. A loss to Marshall? Not so much, and it would be a playoff projection killer, obviously.
This is firmly in the extreme-long-shots-but-not-literally-impossible category, to be fair. But FPI respects Marshall: The Thundering Herd are the No. 53-ranked team and the fifth-best Group of 5 team, according to the model.
Baylor (58% chance to win) at BYU
Baylor playoff leverage: 8%
BYU playoff leverage: 1%
This is Baylor’s most difficult contest until it heads to Norman to face Oklahoma in November. But the upside is there for the Bears: If they can get past the Cougars — who are in the AP Top 25 but are just on the outside for FPI (No. 28) — and Texas loses to Alabama, Baylor would become the Big 12’s best chance at becoming a playoff team at 13%.
BYU is not really a playoff contender — the Cougars sits at under 1% and, even if they finished undefeated, they would have less than a 50% chance of earning a bid — but would tick up with a win against Baylor, as this is the Cougars’ second-most difficult contest this year (besides Notre Dame).
USC playoff leverage: 5%
If you’d asked me which team I was most concerned with FPI being low on in the preseason, USC would have been it. But the model adjusts, and one game later the Allstate Playoff Predictor gives the Trojans the 11th-best shot to reach the playoff. But that could quickly evaporate in Lincoln Riley’s first Pac-12 conference game if USC slips up against Stanford.
Tennessee playoff leverage: 4%
FPI is buying the Volunteers in the sense that they are on this list at all. If Tennessee was somehow to reach the playoff (we’re stretching in a light week here, OK?), the path of least resistance would probably be a single loss, to Georgia, and finishing 11-1. But actually, in any scenario, there’s no way Tennessee can afford a loss to Pittsburgh with both the Bulldogs and the Crimson Tide on its schedule later this year.