Will Any One-Loss Team Climb Back Into Playoff Contention?

Since 1998, when the BCS championship game began, seven teams, including last year's Ohio State team in the first year of the College Football Playoffs, had at least one loss. In fact, seven of the last nine national championship games featured a team with at least one loss. While it makes the path a bit harder, losing one game doesn't mean the end of the world in college football.

There are nine teams in the Top 25 that have dropped a game so far. However, not all one-loss teams have an equal shot of cracking the Top Four to claim a spot in the playoffs. So, what teams still have hope of making it to the top despite their setback?

Here are three one-loss teams that have the best shot at coming back, followed by others that will have a harder time. My criteria includes current standing in the polls, opponents played thus far and opponents left on the schedule. The following list is based on the assumption that each team will win out, as a second loss will almost certainly derail them from making the CFP.

No. 14 Ole Miss Rebels 4-1 (2-1 SEC)

The Rebels went into last week ranked 3rd and playing some of the best football in the country. However, Gainesville is a hostile environment and the 25th ranked Florida Gators upset Ole Miss, 38-10. Florida is now 11th, while the Rebels dropped to 14. 

Ole Miss is 1-and-1 against ranked opponents. Their only win was on the road at Alabama by a score of 43-37. Beating Alabama is no small task and will look good to the committee when is comes time to vote. 

Currently ranked 3rd in the SEC West, the Rebels have a chance to move up by beating the two teams sitting ahead of them, No. 7 LSU and No. 9 Texas A&M. If Ole Miss upsets these two, they win the West and, as of right now, get a rematch with an undefeated Gators team in the title game. That would give the Rebels three more ranked SEC opponents on their win list, which looks good on any resume. 

No. 8 Alabama Crimson Tide 4-1 (1-1 in SEC)

Can we ever count Alabama out of the championship picture, even with one loss? The Tide seem to always claw back into the picture. Last year, they were in the playoffs with a loss and were even ranked No. 1. Their championship teams of 2011 and 2012 each had a loss too. 


Bama suffered a brutal defeat at the hands of Ole Miss and dropped from 2nd to 13th just a few weeks ago, but, in typical Alabama fashion, they've bounced right back. Nick Saban's team was the underdog this past week against Georgia for the first time since 2009. Alabama didn't take too kindly to that fact and beat up on the Bulldogs, 38-10, accounting for 379 yards of offense. The win was Alabama's second against a Top-25 team, their first being against No. 20 Wisconsin in Week 1. 

So why isn't Alabama, who is ranked six spots ahead of Ole Miss in the polls, put above the Rebels as the best one-loss team? They both play LSU and Texas A&M, and Alabama has the tougher schedule. But most importantly, Ole Miss beat the Tide and control their own destiny. Alabama must win out and have the Rebels drop at least one more game to have a shot to compete in the SEC title game. A non-SEC winning Alabama team is still good, just not good enough to get into the Top Four. 

No. 18 Michigan 4-1 (1-0 in BIG 10)

My surprise choice for one of the best one-loss teams, Michigan started off the year unranked under new head coach Jim Harbaugh. His debut didn't go as planned, losing to Utah 24-17. But looking back, that loss doesn't seem so bad. Utah was unranked, but has now  jumped to 5th overall and is looking like a front runner for the PAC-12 and a team that could sneak into the playoffs. 

Sine they lost, the Wolverines have been nothing short of spectacular. They have outscored their opponents 122 to 14, including a 31-0 win over 22nd ranked BYU. Overall, Michigan has only given up 7.6 points and 184 yards per game, both second-best in the country. 

Michigan has the 51st hardest schedule, but the three ranked teams that they have left to play against, No. 13 Northwestern, No. 4 Michigan State and No. 1 Ohio State, give them a terrific shot at skyrocketing up the polls. If Michigan beats these three, wins the Big 10, and goes undefeated the rest of the way, the Wolverines should be seriously considered for the playoffs. 

Honorable Mentions

No. 17 USC 3-1 (1-1 in PAC-12) 

Losing to then-unranked Stanford 41-31 plus owning no wins against a Top-25 team hurts the Trojans. With games against No. 15 Notre Dame, No. 5 Utah, No. 23 Cal, and No. 20 UCLA, USC can make a run at the playoffs, but will need tons of help. 

No. 16 Stanford 4-1 (3-0 in PAC-12)

Stanford lost to then-unranked Northwestern (currently 13th) but have come roaring back looking like a strong football team. With a win against No. 6 USC, if they can handle teams like UCLA, Cal, and Notre Dame, Stanford could be a dark horse to make the playoffs. Like USC, though, they will also need some help

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There are a number of factors that could lead to these teams having zero shot at the Playoff. A loss will almost guarantee no appearance, a currently ranked team could lose in the coming weeks making a win look less impressive, or even a previously ranked team they beat dropping out of the Top 25 will make matters worse for teams on the bubble. Only time will tell. We're almost half-way through the season, and headed what's sure to be a wild finish in college football. 

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