Douglas: Iowa State has a legitimate shot at the College Football Playoff

Iowa State junior quarterback Brock Purdy eludes pressure from West Virginia’s Sean Mahone during the Cyclones and the Mountaineers’ game Dec. 5 at Jack Trice Stadium.

Zane Douglas

Numerous times since Iowa State lost to Oklahoma State, I’ve been vocal on the Sports Weekly podcast with Matt Belinson saying the Cyclones no longer have a chance to make it into the College Football Playoff, given how things have shaped up in previous years for two loss teams.

I’ll be the first to admit I was wrong.

It’s been an extraordinary turnaround for the Cyclones, who will likely be sitting in the top six of the College Football Playoff rankings this week.

But how did Iowa State get here, and what will it have to do to leapfrog into the top four?

Iowa State started the season about as bad as it could hope for, getting upset by the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns — a huge loss that looked like it would set the tone for the Cyclones in 2020.

After winning a few in a row, including a 37-30 win against Oklahoma, Iowa State lost its second game of the year. This time, Oklahoma State stopped the Cyclones, and it looked like the season would end like others in the Matt Campbell era — just a little short of the top.

It’s nearing two months since that game against the Cowboys, and the Cyclones haven’t lost since.

Iowa State was on the outside looking in, but LSU did it a big service by taking down No. 6 Florida and opening the door a little more for the Cyclones.

Now, the Cyclones sit at No. 6, and they’ll be playing in the Big 12 Championship trying to make it 2-0 over now No. 10 Oklahoma.

The College Football Playoff chances are simple in that Iowa State needs to prove that it’s a top-four team, through a good game Saturday and potentially a bit of luck.

Here are the outcomes that will make it easier for Iowa State:

1. Iowa State wins the Big 12 Championship

This is the obvious one. There is no way the Cyclones make it in the top four with a loss to Oklahoma.

A blowout win could help the Cyclones even more, especially considering Oklahoma has moved into the top 10 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings.

2. Northwestern beats Ohio State

One of the top-four teams in the country is the controversial Ohio State Buckeyes, who will be playing in the Big Ten Championship on the same day as Iowa State’s conference final.

The Buckeyes are controversial because a few of their games have been canceled, and only a changing of the rules from the Big Ten allowed them to make the championship game without playing enough games that were previously deemed necessary.

That being said, the Cyclones have an 8-2 record while Ohio State is 5-0, and if the committee still has the Buckeyes above with just half the games played, I wouldn’t bet on Iowa State leapfrogging them.

That’s where Northwestern can help.

The Wildcats are having a breakout year, and besides a loss to Michigan State, Northwestern has been perfect this year.

The Cyclones will want Northwestern’s help Saturday.

3. Notre Dame beats Clemson

If Northwestern can’t beat Ohio State, then the Cyclones will be looking to the second-most vulnerable spot that is now occupied by the Clemson Tigers.

With only one loss to the No. 2-ranked team in the country, Clemson’s case for being in the top four is pretty strong, but the Tigers have to meet the undefeated Fighting Irish again for the ACC Championship game.

While a Clemson win would hand a loss to a top-four team, which is good for the Cyclones, a one-loss Notre Dame team with a win over Clemson earlier in the year is probably not going to fall Iowa State’s way.

Clemson losing opens up some options as it’ll have the same record as Iowa State (should the Cyclones win Saturday), and unlike the Cyclones, it won’t have a conference championship win.

Certainly, its two losses would be much more palatable, but the Cyclones have been helped immensely by Louisiana and Oklahoma State playing well and continuing to be ranked teams.

Iowa State will be Notre Dame fans Saturday.

4. Texas A&M loses to Tennessee

Iowa State will no doubt be competing with Texas A&M for one of those final spots in the College Football Playoff, but if the Aggies lose Saturday, it won’t matter.

The Aggies are a one-loss team with a higher ranking than the Cyclones, but with no conference championship, their chances are hurt.

Still, the committee could choose a one-loss team over Iowa State, so a Tennessee win could squash that issue for the Cyclones.

5. Alabama beats Florida

At first, I wasn’t sure how necessary this was going to be, but if the Gators win the SEC Championship on Saturday, their path to the playoff clears up a little bit, despite the loss to the Tigers.

This is especially apparent as the Gators only fell one spot to No. 7, flipping spots with Iowa State.

Florida would have the same record as Iowa State, with a win over the No. 1 team in the country and a more prestigious conference championship title.

The loss to LSU originally made me skeptical, but Florida is definitely still in the hunt.

6. Louisiana beats Coastal Carolina

Can you say resume booster?

This game isn’t likely going to have much of an effect, but when it’s all said and done, a conference champion Louisiana team that beats one of the hottest teams in the nation in Coastal Carolina could help boost Iowa State’s resume even more.

7. Tulsa beats Cincinnati

Here’s another game that’s unlikely to matter, but as long as Tulsa upsets the Bearcats, Iowa State fans won’t have to worry about an undefeated AAC team right behind it.

Personally, I think Tulsa’s only job should be to not lose in blowout fashion and that should sink the Bearcats, but a win over Cincinnati would destroy that possibility entirely.

8. Hope the committee still values the Big 12

Oklahoma made the College Football Playoff last season after a win over Baylor in the conference championship, but LSU dominated the first semifinal game with the Sooners 63-28.

Does that hurt the Big 12 Conference’s chances of getting another team in?

Perhaps, but it’s clear the committee wants to give Iowa State a chance, as its been leapfrogging teams for weeks now, culminating in a top-six ranking, despite teams below it having worse records at points during this span.

The committee likes Iowa State, and any chance it gets to force it into the College Football Playoff might be a chance it takes by the looks of it.

If Saturday goes right, don’t count out the Cyclones.