On Tuesday night, LSU football was slotted at No. 7 in the College Football Playoff rankings.
However, nothing the committee announced matters for LSU. The Tigers’ path to the playoff is cut and dry regardless: Win out and you’re probably in. Lose at any point (even if it’s to Georgia in the SEC Championship game by a point) and the dream is over.
The Tigers rose up three spots from last week’s initial rankings after defeating Alabama 32-31 in overtime on a two-point conversion. It was the first time LSU (7-2, 5-1 SEC) had beaten the Crimson Tide in Baton Rouge since 2010.
LSU has no margin for error. No two-loss team has ever made the final four of the playoff, and the only reason the Tigers have a chance to buck that trend is because of its resume of wins.
LSU’s first post-Alabama test in Fayetteville against Arkansas (5-4, 2-3) on Saturday (11 a.m., ESPN). The Tigers then face UAB in Tiger Stadium the next week before traveling to College Station to face Texas A&M on the final week of the regular season.
“We’ve got to go up to Arkansas and beat a team that is very hungry after losing to Liberty,” coach Brian Kelly said on the Rich Eisen Show on Tuesday. “That’s really been our focus this week. And that’s not just coach speak, that’s just a young football team that has not had a lot of success that really just needs to focus on this week.”
Suppose LSU beats Arkansas and Alabama defeats Ole Miss on Saturday. In that case, the Tigers become SEC West champions and clinch a spot in the SEC Championship game in Atlanta where it would likely face Georgia. But if LSU wants to reach the College Football Playoff, it’ll have to win out, even beating the mighty Bulldogs.
“There’s certainly a path there, but a lot of work, right?” Kelly said. “We’ve beaten two top-10 teams but we’ve got to beat the No. 1 team in the country (Georgia) if we’re fortunate enough to even get (to the playoff).”
LSU has victories over Ole Miss (a former top-10 team) and Alabama (a program that has owned the CFP since its inception).
And the Tigers’ losses, despite holding two of them, aren’t bad either. Florida State slid in at No. 23 in this week’s rankings and Tennessee is still a probable playoff team, even if LSU lost to the Vols by 27 points.
Oddly enough, LSU’s spot at No. 10 in last week’s first edition of the CFP rankings was more important for the Tigers’ potential playoff hopes. By placing the Tigers in the top 10 and as the highest-ranked two-loss team in the nation, the committee demonstrated that it believed LSU could make the playoff if it won out.
Shooting up to No. 7 in the CFP is a remarkable achievement for Kelly and the Tigers, especially relative to where expectations were at the beginning of the season.
Along with bringing in Kelly, LSU changed out all but one member of its coaching staff and added 16 players from the transfer portal and 15 freshmen, a chunk of whom have been instrumental in LSU’s rise. Las Vegas pegged the Tigers as a 6.5-win team at the start of the year, and after their season-opening loss to Florida State, seven or more wins in Year 1 under Kelly seemed unlikely.
But, with three games to spare, LSU has already hit the Vegas over, beaten two top-10 teams and still has a path to reach the College Football Playoff.