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Shi: Winning out won’t guarantee Stanford a playoff spot

As I write, some of the most important Republicans in the country are debating about how the GOP can help secure the future of this country. They’re debating the big economic questions.

Meanwhile, I’m writing about college football.

While I care about getting people jobs and making these jobs better, like many of these candidates I am also very interested in college football. I am a Republican, but more importantly for the purposes of this column, I am a Stanford football fan. My big non-economic question is this: Am I ready to drink the Kool-Aid?

Let’s get this out of the way. The answer is no.

Stanford is definitely a contender for the conference championship. But there’s a lot of good teams above it, and during a year that’s increasingly recognized as a weak season for the Pac-12, Stanford’s going to need all the help it can get to force its way into the national conversation.

Can Stanford ride carnage to the top? I’m confident that teams above No. 8 Stanford will lose – in fact, there are three sets of teams above No. 8 Stanford that play each other. Michigan State plays Ohio State, Alabama plays LSU and Baylor plays TCU. If Stanford wins out, it’ll be at least No. 5 in the AP Poll. And Stanford can expect at least one team to take a stupid loss. How many times have there been three undefeated teams?

Would carnage be enough? It’s nice to have other teams lose late in the season, but that doesn’t guarantee a shot at a title. Stanford might be No. 4 in the AP Poll, but the playoff committee doesn’t need to take the AP’s word as gospel. And lest you wonder whether the AP might try to split the national championship: When it’s time to crown a national champ, the winner of the CFP will have played a slate that will clearly make it the most deserving team in America. The playoff committee doesn’t have to pick the four most deserving teams. It just has to avoid picking teams whose omission would threaten its legitimacy. The odds of the committee being so monumentally tone-deaf as to leave out an undefeated, top-ranked Ohio State (or something like that) are pretty much zero. Last year, after all was said and done, the only real controversy was irrelevant to anybody outside of Fort Worth.

At the end of the day, how does Stanford’s resume stack up? Last year, Ohio State lost to a 7-6 Virginia Tech team and went on to win the national championship. Is Northwestern last year’s VT? I don’t think so. We forget that Ohio State needed the committee to utterly humiliate the Big 12 in order to get into the playoff. And if Stanford’s in the hunt for the No. 4 seed, people are going to ask the same hard questions they asked the Buckeyes about whether Stanford really deserves to vault over another 1-loss team.

People will find out soon enough that the Cardinal’s schedule is not actually that great. You can’t blame them for doing their best with the schedule they’ve been given (well, apart from Northwestern), but this is unquestionably a down year for the conference. UCLA is acquiring a national reputation for wilting in big games, making Stanford’s win over UCLA less notable. Cal hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt. Oregon, Washington and Arizona are all down. And it’s increasingly clear that when Stanford went to the Coliseum the Trojans were in shambles.

Yes, I’ve illustrated a worst-case scenario. But worst-case scenarios should be not only considered but also expected. The committee will always have tough decisions to make, and Stanford’s shaky schedule gives it a reason to ding the Cardinal. It’s hard to run the table anywhere. But even if Stanford runs the table, you could talk me into thinking that Stanford would be a team with one victory worth mentioning. And while I really want the Stanford seniors to go out with a national championship, one marquee win is not going to be good enough. Let’s root for chaos. Stanford’s going to need it.

 

Winston Shi sent in his column past his deadline tonight after being spotted at a Republican debate watch party. Tell him to stop fawning over the GOP and start helping his editors out at wshi94 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Winston Shi

Winston Shi

Winston Shi was the Managing Editor of Opinions for Volume 245 (February-June 2014). He also served as an opinions and sports columnist, a senior staff writer, and a member of the Editorial Board. A native of Thousand Oaks, California (the one place on the planet with better weather than Stanford), he graduated from Stanford in June 2016 with bachelor's and master's degrees in history. He is currently attending law school, where he preaches the greatness of Stanford football to anybody who will listen, and other people who won't.