This one was bad.
Oklahoma’s stunning home loss to Iowa State was easily the worst loss by a College Football Playoff contender over the past three seasons, as the third-ranked Sooners were favored by 31 points. Nine of the past 12 CFP semifinalists each suffered a regular-season loss, but none was as big of an upset as what happened at OU on Saturday.
It was the largest upset by any team against Oklahoma in the past 40 years — and yet it’s still premature to write off Oklahoma or any other one-loss team eyeing a top-four spot, because that’s the norm in this system. While the spotlight in the Big 12 turns to TCU, the lone undefeated team remaining in the conference after its win over West Virginia, CFP history reminds us that the selection committee can be forgiving.
Last year, national champion Clemson was favored by 21.5 points when it lost at home to Pitt. In 2014, semifinalist Oregon was favored by 23 when it lost at home to Arizona. In 2014, national champion Ohio State was favored by 11 when it lost at home to an unranked Virginia Tech team.
And of course, 2015 semifinalist Oklahoma was a 16.5-point favorite when it lost to Texas, which entered the game 1-4.
“Looking at the big picture, we’re still in it,” said OU quarterback Baker Mayfield. “We have 2015 to show for that. But for us, it’s not even about that right now. We’ve got to take care of business to win the Big 12.”
The best-case scenario for the Big 12 would be for TCU to be an undefeated conference champ, but don’t forget TCU still has to travel to Oklahoma on Nov. 11. It’s the only remaining game on the Horned Frogs’ schedule that they aren’t favored to win, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index. Meanwhile, the Sooners still have opportunities to impress the selection committee with wins against Oklahoma State, TCU and West Virginia.
In order to have a chance at running the table, Oklahoma has to quickly and drastically improve its pass defense. The Sooners were fortunate to beat Baylor two weeks ago after surrendering 463 passing yards, and they allowed Iowa State, which was using its third-string quarterback, 368 yards.
A signature win, though, can help compensate for a bad loss, and as long as Ohio State keeps winning, OU’s Week 2 win in Columbus will continue to resonate. The timing of OU’s loss is also relevant, as six of the nine losses by CFP semifinalists happened before the selection committee released its first official ranking of the season.
“Going forward, this team still has a ton in front of them,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said. “We’ve seen the blueprint around here for the last two years of a disappointing loss and what you’ve got to do to rebound from that in either early or midseason. So, we know how to do it, but knowing how to do it and doing it are two different things.”
They’re hardly alone. Here’s a look at eight more one-loss teams, ranked in order of the best chance to rebound:
1. Ohio State Buckeyes (lost 31-16 at home to Oklahoma on Sept. 9)
Evaluating the loss: Losses can definitely look worse by the end of the season, and if OU doesn’t rebound, that will be the case for Ohio State, especially since it was at home. Ideally for Ohio State, OU rebounds and wins out because there is no other signature nonconference win to compensate for it. That was the Buckeyes’ one shot.
The road back: OSU still has to play Penn State and Michigan, but after the Wolverines’ loss to Michigan State, it will be interesting to see where the committee has them ranked. If the Buckeyes win out and capture the Big Ten title, they should have a total of three wins — including the title game — over ranked opponents.
FPI says: The Buckeyes have at least a 70 percent chance to win each of their remaining games.
2. Oklahoma Sooners (lost 38-31 at home to Iowa State on Saturday)
Evaluating the loss: This is the worst loss on this list, but OU’s win at Ohio State is a huge boost that can still separate it in the end from another one-loss Power 5 conference champ.
The road back: Because the Sooners still have to play Oklahoma State, TCU and West Virginia, there is a very good chance we see them in the Big 12 title game. Everyone has been wondering how the resurrected championship game might impact the playoff, and it could be exactly what OU needs to get back in it.
FPI says: The Sooners are favored to win all of their remaining games.
3. Auburn Tigers (lost 14-6 at Clemson on Sept. 9)
Evaluating the loss: The committee won’t hold a close road loss to the defending national champs against Auburn. As far as losses go, this is about as good as it can get, assuming Clemson goes on to win the ACC again.
The road back: Auburn doesn’t have to worry about the loss to Clemson; it has to worry about beating Georgia on Nov. 11 and Alabama in the Iron Bowl.
FPI says: Auburn is favored to win each of its remaining games except for the Iron Bowl. The FPI gives the Tigers a 25.1 percent chance to beat the Tide.
4. USC Trojans (lost 30-27 at Washington State on Sept. 29)
Evaluating the loss: It was on the road to a ranked conference opponent, which can be overcome. If the Cougars can stay undefeated, there’s a chance they can meet USC again in the Pac-12 title game.
The road back: USC has to do more than win the Pac-12 title. It also has to beat Notre Dame on Oct. 21 in South Bend, because while the selection committee would certainly consider a one-loss Pac-12 champ, the league would need some major upsets to get a two-loss champ in.
FPI says: USC is favored to win each of its remaining games except for Notre Dame (26.5 percent).
5. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (lost 20-19 at home to Georgia on Sept. 9)
Evaluating the loss: The more Georgia wins, the better it is for the Irish, and right now the Bulldogs are the top contenders in the SEC East. The Irish would be able to overcome a narrow loss to the SEC East champs.
The road back: There’s no shortage of opportunities, as the rest of Notre Dame’s schedule is loaded, including November road trips to Miami and Stanford. While it’s a schedule tailor-made to impress the committee, it’s also extremely difficult to get through unscathed.
FPI says: Notre Dame is given a 48.1 percent chance to win at Miami and a 43.4 percent chance to win at Stanford.
6. Oklahoma State Cowboys (lost 44-31 at home to TCU on Sept. 23)
Evaluating the loss: Considering the Horned Frogs are now the only unbeaten team left in the Big 12, it can be overcome.
The road back: The Cowboys have to win out and hope they get another shot at TCU in the Big 12 title game. They will have back-to-back road games at Texas and West Virginia before the first ranking is revealed, then host Oklahoma on Nov. 4. If it can survive that stretch, Oklahoma State will at least be back in the conversation.
FPI says: Oklahoma State is favored to win each of its remaining games except Oklahoma (42.2 percent).
7. NC State Wolfpack (lost 35-28 to South Carolina on Sept. 2)
Evaluating the loss: Blech. It’s not good, as South Carolina is one of the SEC’s mediocre teams, but it can be overcome, especially if the Gamecocks finish over .500, which they should.
The road back: NC State has already solved two-thirds of the equation with wins over Florida State and now Louisville. The final piece is beating Clemson on Nov. 4, and the Pack will have home-field advantage for that one. In addition to beating the defending national champs, though, NC State also has to win at Notre Dame on Oct. 28. If the Pack have two losses before they play Clemson, it likely wouldn’t matter if they upset the Tigers and win the ACC.
FPI says: NC State is projected to lose back-to-back games against Notre Dame (26.3 percent) and Clemson (27 percent).
8. Michigan Wolverines (lost 14-10 at home to Michigan State on Saturday)
Evaluating the loss: The committee will recognize this is an in-state rivalry, but because it was against an East Division opponent, it hurts more in terms of getting back into the Big Ten race.
The road back: Michigan now needs Michigan State to lose, and it has to win out. The good news for the Wolverines is that they still have opportunities against Penn State, Ohio State and Wisconsin.
FPI says: The bad news is that the FPI projects Michigan to lose all three of those games.