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Saturday, March 23, 2019

Football

Playoff chances for Cougars drop after Louisville loses


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Even if the Cougars finish the season undefeated, their College Football Playoff hopes remain in the hands of the Selection Committee. | File photo/The Cougar

Heading into the season, experts predicted that the Cougars would finish as the highest-ranked Group of Five team, but would not qualify for the playoffs.

The Cougars gained traction after they defeated the University of Oklahoma in week one. Questions on whether the team could crash the playoffs sprouted.

Since then, the chatter has been losing steam after four wins over non-ranked foes despite large margins of victory. With interest in the Cougars depleted, the University of Louisville Cardinals and their quarterback Lamar Jackson uprooted the college football landscape after their blitzkrieg on Florida State University.

Louisville’s quick ascension was actually beneficial, because it strengthened the Cougars’ remaining schedule. Both teams will meet Nov. 17.

As of now, the meeting is the only remaining game against a ranked opponent for the Cougars.

After two weeks in the No. 3 spot, the Cardinals lost 42-36 to Atlantic Coast Conference rival Clemson University. The defeat only dropped them to No. 7, but the room for error is more significant between now and November.

If the Cardinals slip up before playing the Cougars, which seems unlikely given their schedule, they would further hinder the Cougars’ claim to be among the top four teams — assuming they win out.

To make matters worse: The University of Washington Huskies jumped the Cougars after their 44-6 blowout over Stanford University.

The University of Michigan or Ohio State University, two teams ahead of the Cougars in the poll, will have at least one loss after the teams meet Nov. 26. This should open up a top-five slot.

The problem is that only the top four teams make the playoffs. Assuming that the Huskies and the Cougars go undefeated, the committee could determine that the former performed better.

Even if the Cougars go undefeated and two teams ahead of them lose, the committee could still decide that a one-loss team should get in strictly based on strength of schedule.

The Cougars’ strength-of-schedule rating is only higher than the Huskies among the top six schools, but that could change. The Cougars had the 17th-highest rating before Louisville lost, dealing a blow to their strength of schedule and dropping it 10 spots as a result.

Realistically, the only thing the Cougars can do to improve their chances at a playoff spot is to keep destroying their lower-quality opponents and hope that Cardinals’ mishap was just a minor speed bump.

Both teams need to play at their best if the Cougars expect to capitalize on the win.

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