Memphis Tigers: Legitimate College Football Playoff team?

The Memphis Tigers are one of 11 undefeated teams entering Week 10 of the 2015 college football season. Even if Memphis goes 13-0, do the Tigers have a shot at the College Football Playoff?

The Memphis Tigers are having their best season to date, as the football team is one of 11 remaining unbeaten teams in the FBS. They have a terrific, young head coach in Justin Fuente, a Heisman Trophy-contending quarterback in Paxton Lynch, and an impressive home victory over metro area and big brother rival Ole Miss. The Tigers knocked off the Rebels at home, 37-24, on October 17th. However, can the Memphis Tigers crash the College Football Playoff party and anger two Power 5 champions in the process?

Of the 11 undefeated teams, three are in non-Power 5 conferences: the Memphis Tigers (8-0), the Houston Cougars (8-0), and the Toledo Rockets (7-0). Last season, there was only one undefeated team when it came time for the Selection Committee to pick the inaugural College Football Playoff and the New Year’s Six bowl games. That was ACC Champion Florida State. It seems that the FBS level could have a few undefeated teams at regular season’s end, including Memphis.

Naturally, should any of the eight undefeated in the Power 5 (Baylor, Clemson, Iowa, LSU, Michigan State, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, and TCU) stay unbeaten, they will certainly make the College Football Playoff in 2015. What makes Memphis’ case intriguing is that they have a surprisingly strong schedule and a fantastic win versus a potential New Year’s Six At-Large team in Ole Miss. That win is exponentially better than anything Houston or Toledo have done this season.

For Memphis to win out, they will have to beat 6-1 (4-0) Navy, win at No. 18 Houston (8-0 [4-0]), win at No. 23 Temple (7-1 [4-0]), and beat a struggling SMU Mustangs team (1-7 [0-4]). Navy and Temple’s lone losses on the year came to No. 8 Notre Dame. Memphis would likely get a rematch with Temple in the AAC Conference Championship. Finishing 13-0, winning the American, and beating several ranked teams only helps Memphis’ case for a possible CFP spot.

While it is a challenging road ahead for the Memphis Tigers to stay undefeated, it is possible. However, they will have to intently watch the Power 5 and hope for carnage and chaos. If there is one Power 5 Conference that is getting an undefeated in, it feels like the Big Ten is that conference. Iowa, Michigan State, and Ohio State could all do it.

Clemson might not lose in the ACC and LSU may not lose in the SEC, assuming they can knock off Alabama this week. The Big 12 could have all three undefeated teams in Baylor, Oklahoma State, and TCU beat up on each other. With a nine-game conference schedule, they all will have to play each other this year to crown a champion.

Essentially, the Memphis Tigers would need two of the following four Power 5 conferences to implode in November: ACC, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC. The ACC needs Clemson to win out to get a spot. The Big 12 Champion, probably TCU, would need to stay unbeaten, knocking off both Baylor and Oklahoma State convincingly. The Pac-12 might already be on the outside looking in at a Playoff spot. The winner of Alabama-LSU makes sense, but both Ole Miss and Florida have an outside shot, too.

All are possible outcomes, but the Pac-12 missing out and either the Big 12 or SEC cannibalizing themselves seem the most likely of the four. Clemson, for their part,  looks unreal in the ACC. Given that the Memphis Tigers are already No. 15 in the country with three or four more strong games on the slate, they could creep up inside of the Top 10 and turn the college football world upside down.

Mid-majors have won in big bowl games (Boise State over Oklahoma, TCU over Wisconsin, Utah over Alabama), so that isn’t unprecedented. Programs like Louisville, TCU, and Utah played well enough to earn Power 5 invitations in the last three years. Boise State still is a program of merit in the Mountain West, though the Broncos are having a down year for their ridiculously high standards.

Since this is only the second year of the College Football Playoff system, the Selection Committee will have to decide if non-Power 5 programs can even sniff a potential Playoff spot. Should Memphis win the American and sit at 13-0, possibly ranked in the top five, expect 12 candles to burn at both ends in Dallas. The Selection Committee will have to face their most difficult decision of their lives: the 13-0 No. 5 Memphis Tigers, the American Athletic Conference Champions.