October 3, 2020

Do LSU and Oklahoma Have a Shot at the CFP After Being Upset?

In college football, they say that a loss in September is better than a loss in November for teams with national championship aspirations. Well, two teams that were in the College Football Playoff last year, including the defending national champion, are about to test that theory.

Both the Oklahoma Sooners and LSU Tigers suffered upset losses last weekend, an early hit to the championship hopes of both teams. Now we get to see if either is capable of surviving an early-season loss and still finding a way to reach the CFP and contend for a national championship. 

LSU is still alive, but...

In the case of the LSU Tigers, hope is very much alive. Based on the way the Bayou Bengals played in their loss to Mississippi State, it’d be a stretch to say that there should be optimism in Baton Rouge. However, if the Tigers can quickly put that loss behind them and start playing at a championship level, hope is far from lost for LSU to return to the CFP.

If we’ve learned one thing from the CFP after the first half-dozen years, it’s that a one-loss SEC team is a virtual lock to get into the top four. In 2017, Alabama didn’t even win the SEC title after losing to Auburn in the regular-season finale. Yet, the Crimson Tide was awarded the No. 4 seed and went on to beat Clemson and Georgia to claim the national championship. They even lost in November, not September, and found a way into the CFP.

In 2020, LSU will be able to follow a similar path. While playing in the SEC provides teams with a challenging schedule, it also provides ample opportunities to impress the CFP Committee with quality wins over highly-ranked teams. With games against top-10 teams Florida, Auburn, and Alabama, as well as a top-15 Texas A&M team and presumably another top team in the SEC Championship Game, the Tigers will have more than enough opportunities to redeem themselves for their loss to Mississippi State. 

In time, LSU can make people forget about that loss and be judged solely on what they do in October and November.

The caveat, of course, is that the Tigers running the table will be difficult. Granted, they did something similar last season when LSU went 15-0 and won the national championship. But few teams can run through the gauntlet that is the SEC West unscathed in two consecutive years. Moreover, if you were making a list of LSU’s toughest games in 2020, it’s debatable whether a home game against Mississippi State would even make the top five. In other words, the Tigers will face far more challenging games the rest of the season than the one they failed to win, making it unlikely that they can avoid a second loss.

Perhaps more importantly, the Tigers didn’t look like a team capable of beating a top-10 team, much less three of them. Outside of forcing four turnovers, the LSU defense was shredded by the MSU passing attack. On offense, the Tigers failed to generate much of a running game or keep quarterback Myles Brennan adequately protected. Even if Brennan can bounce back, the Tigers don’t have the same collection of playmakers they had a year ago.

Unless Ed Orgeron’s team can show drastic improvement, LSU’s second loss of the season is inevitable. At that point, the Tigers will officially say goodbye to their CFP hopes in 2020.

Business as Usual for the Sooners

For Oklahoma, last week’s loss to Kansas State is far from the end of the world. In fact, it’s more or less business as usual for Lincoln Riley and the Sooners. Riley has taken Oklahoma to the CFP in each of his first three seasons as head coach. Each season, the Sooners suffered a loss during the regular season but still managed to win the Big 12 championship and earn a spot in the top four. In fact, the Sooners also lost to Kansas State last season, only to win every other game until the CFP. 

This is familiar territory for Riley and the Sooners, so they should not be counted out of the CFP.

Despite the loss to K-State, there’s no reason not to think that Oklahoma is still the favorite in the Big 12. After all, the Sooners have won five consecutive conference championships, so it’ll take more than one loss to kick them off the Big 12 throne. While the Big 12 has plenty of quality teams, it’s been a bad season for the conference as a whole thus far. Kansas State, Kansas and Iowa State have all suffered losses to Sun Belt teams. Meanwhile, Oklahoma’s top contenders, Texas and Oklahoma State, have both had close calls early in the season and displayed plenty of flaws.

On paper, the Sooners are still the most talented team in the Big 12. The only thing Oklahoma is guilty of right now is having one bad quarter and having a young quarterback who threw three picks in his second career start. There’s no reason to think that Oklahoma won’t be able to bounce back from a loss and win the rest of the games on their schedule. Much like the last three seasons, a one-loss Big 12 champion is likely to be given a ticket to the CFP.

The only caveat is that the Sooners are relying on an inexperienced quarterback, which hasn’t been the case in recent years. Oklahoma’s last three starting quarterbacks include two Heisman winners and one Heisman runner-up. More importantly, all of them were upperclassmen with experience. Meanwhile, redshirt freshman Spencer Rattler had just 11 career pass attempts heading into the season. 

That being said, Rattler has just as much talent (if not more) as Oklahoma’s previous Heisman winners. Just like Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, and Jalen Hurts, Rattler holds the key to Oklahoma’s CFP hopes. If he can bounce back from last week’s loss, the Sooners will be able to bounce back from losing their Big 12 opener and will remain very much alive for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

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