<
>

The best wins and worst losses of the nonconference season

Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich, who spent the past four seasons as a member of the College Football Playoff selection committee, estimated there are about 250 metrics available to help the group determine its weekly top 25 rankings.

Each committee member whittles that down to a manageable number of statistics that matter to them most -- though every person in the room will tell you strength of schedule is extremely important, especially when analyzing teams with the same win-loss record.

"That's where you're looking for those little glares on the schedule, where you can see whether they played [an opponent] that can give you some kind of a glimpse into the team that they are," said Tyrone Willingham, a former committee member.

For better or for worse.

Nonconference season isn't entirely over, but with the exception of Georgia's annual regular-season finale against Georgia Tech, the top 10 teams currently ranked in the Associated Press poll have already played their most difficult nonconference opponents. (Yes, Georgia Tech, which is 1-2 after back-to-back losses to South Florida and Pitt, is Georgia's most difficult nonconference opponent this year.)

Here's a look at the best and worst of the nonconference season for CFP contenders, and what's to come:

Best nonconference wins

1. Clemson 28, Texas A&M 26

Of the four games listed here, Clemson was the only team to win a true road game, and the committee will appreciate how difficult it was to do in Jimbo Fisher's debut, in front of a nationally televised College GameDay crowd. Even if the Aggies get trounced by Alabama this weekend and wind up with a mediocre finish in the SEC West, they are still more formidable nonconference opponents than anyone Alabama (Louisville), Georgia (Georgia Tech) or Oklahoma (UCLA) have on their schedules. It's also an important result because the committee compares common opponents (without weighting margin of victory), and Alabama, Auburn and LSU will also play A&M. According to ESPN's Football Power Index, this was the best nonconference win in the FBS because an average Top 25 team would have had a 39 percent chance to win.

2. Auburn 21, Washington 16

Had the Tigers not won this one, they'd be in the same hole they were a year ago -- with a nonconference loss and a loss to LSU. Instead, Auburn earned a win against what is currently the highest-ranked team in the Pac-12. The Tigers' only problem is that they still have to play Georgia and Alabama on the road in November. If they can finish as a one-loss conference champion, they're in. According to FPI, this is the second-most-impressive nonconference win for an FBS team this season, as an average Top 25 team would have had a 43 percent chance to win.

3. Ohio State 40, TCU 28

Technically, it was a neutral-site game, but only by about 20 miles. The committee will also factor in how Ohio State won -- with Ryan Day as acting head coach and two defensive touchdowns on a night when star defensive end Nick Bosa was injured. The Buckeyes know how important a nonconference win can be, as last year's home loss to Oklahoma was one reason they were left out, but the win against the Sooners in 2016 was the boost they needed to get in. This could have a similar impact -- if Ohio State can get past Penn State on Sept. 29.

4. Notre Dame 24, Michigan 17

Every game is a nonconference game when you're an independent, but the Irish needed this one not only to get the season started in the right direction, but also to give them a cushion to stumble somewhere else down the stretch. Considering they've been winning by an average of less than a touchdown per game, it seems like a matter of time before the Irish fall. But FPI projects Notre Dame to win each of its remaining games -- except Oct. 6 at Virginia Tech (45.4 percent). The jury is still out on Michigan, fair enough, but if the Wolverines can eliminate their penalty problem and continue to improve against better competition, the value of this win can be greater for Notre Dame.

Worst nonconference losses

1. BYU 24, Wisconsin 21

It was the biggest upset of the season to date, and now Wisconsin likely has to win out and win the Big Ten championship to be taken seriously as a playoff contender both nationally and by the selection committee. The loss was even more devastating because it was a home game, and it's not like Wisconsin has another marquee nonconference matchup to help compensate for it. With wins over Western Kentucky and New Mexico, the Badgers' nonconference résumé is full. Wisconsin's remaining strength of schedule rank is No. 51, according to FPI.

2. LSU 33, Miami 17

Great win for LSU; sobering reality check for Miami, which was ranked No. 8 heading into that game. We've since learned LSU is better than many had given it credit for, and Miami ... is not. Had the Canes actually won this game, they probably would still be ranked in the top 10 after a 3-0 start. Here's the thing: With the exception of Virginia Tech and Duke (c'mon, pay attention), the rest of the ACC Coastal isn't very good. Three of Miami's most difficult remaining games are Oct. 26 at Boston College, Nov. 3 against Duke and Nov. 17 at Virginia Tech. Even if the Canes can win the Coastal Division and somehow, some way, upend Clemson in the ACC championship, this loss could still keep them -- and the entire league -- out of the top four.

3. Arizona State 16, Michigan State 13

The Spartans entered the season as a fringe CFP contender, one of the teams that could lend merit to the Big Ten's claims of depth and a team that further bolstered the strength of the East. And then this. And then ASU lost to San Diego State. So now, after an early bye week, Michigan State has one win against Utah State. And that is all. Central Michigan is the Spartans' only remaining nonconference opponent. MSU's remaining SOS is No. 64. Unless Michigan State makes a serious run at the Big Ten, it's going to be an afterthought in the committee room.

4. Oklahoma State 44, Boise State 21

Multiple former selection committee members have said they do believe there is a chance for a Group of 5 team to be in the CFP debate -- but it has to win these big nonconference games. The Broncos lost their opportunity at even being considered for a top four spot with the 23-point loss to Oklahoma State. The highest-ranked champion from a Group of 5 conference is guaranteed a spot in a New Year's Six bowl, but if any team is going to make its case for more than that, the stars have to align: It has to be undefeated, win a game like this, and the entire conference has to be held in high regard by the committee, so it has a few ranked opponents on its schedule in addition to a statement Power 5 win.

Impactful nonconference games left

1. Notre Dame vs. Stanford (Sept. 29)

The Pac-12's playoff hopes have been centered around Washington, but Stanford can change that narrative over the next two weeks. The Cardinal are entering back-to-back road games against ranked opponents, starting this weekend at Oregon and then at Notre Dame. Regardless of what happens in Eugene, the trip to South Bend looms large. If Stanford beats Oregon, it has some margin for error against the Irish, but a road win would really impress the committee. If Stanford loses to Oregon, it puts that much more pressure on it to beat Notre Dame and stay relevant in the playoff race.

2. Notre Dame at Virginia Tech (Oct. 6)

The Irish have been fortunate to win each of the past three games at home. Now they have to go on the road two of the next three weeks, but no game remaining on the schedule is as difficult as the trip to Blacksburg, according to FPI. It's one of the most unforgiving venues in the ACC, and Notre Dame needs to win because it doesn't have a conference championship game to play in, and right now Michigan, Stanford and Virginia Tech are its only ranked opponents. To finish in the top four, Notre Dame doesn't just need some statement wins -- it has to prove it can win on the road, too.

3. Clemson vs. South Carolina (Nov. 24)

Remember, the selection committee compares common opponents (without weighting margin of victory). Georgia destroyed South Carolina, 41-17, in Columbia in Week 2. Clemson will have home-field advantage against its in-state rival. While the selection committee does consider the emotions that factor into rivalry games, would Clemson have enough on its résumé to impress the committee as a one-loss ACC champ that ended the season with a home loss to South Carolina? It's certainly debatable, considering it's a weak year for the ACC and especially if South Carolina fumbles its way through an otherwise unimpressive SEC East.

4. Georgia vs. Georgia Tech (Nov. 24)

Georgia is in a similar situation to Clemson above. The difference? Georgia has opportunities to beat LSU and Auburn during the regular season. Considering how exponentially better both Georgia and Clemson have looked through the first three weeks, there isn't any logical explanation as to why either should lose to its in-state rival other than ... they're rivals. A home loss to the Jackets would be ugly, but would it be a knockout blow? Not if it's the Dawgs' only loss and they go on to win the SEC. If it's their second loss? Yes, much like Ohio State's second loss to Iowa last year kept them out. Ugly.