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Who to root for this weekend in College Football

Or: The Optimist’s Guide to the Cougs in the CFP

CFP National Championship Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The No. 14 Washington State Cougars, after eleven straight weeks of playing college football games, finally get to take a breath and relax as they take on the Fightin’ Byes of Open Week University. However, the Cougs remain in the thick of the hunt for the fringes of possibly being thought about for an outside shot at the College Football Playoff. So as fans, since we’re not able to take one game at a time this week, our focus shifts to what everybody else ranked above the Cougs in the CFP rankings is doing. If you’re wondering who you should root for on Saturday, you can rest easy my friend. I’ve done the work for you.

What follows is your COUGS IN THE CFP Guide to Fandom.

Let’s ride.

I’ll be using 538’s CFP Predictions model for the percentages referenced here. WSU sits with a 2% chance of making the CFP, with it rising to 25% if the Cougs win out. For the percentages, I’m assuming that WSU wins out because duh, of course we win out. Get outta here with your “we aren’t gonna win out.”


Alabama v Mississippi State Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images

Mercer @ #1 Alabama

WHO 538’s PREDICTIVE MODEL SAYS YOU SHOULD ROOT FOR: Alabama, weirdly. We want a lot of chaos in these last two-plus weeks, but apparently Alabama losing to an FCS opponent is too much chaos, and somehow ensures that WSU is outside looking in for the playoff. No percentage change if Alabama wins.

WHO YOU WANT TO ROOT FOR: Mercer. Come on man, seeing the Tuscaloosa Death Machine go down in flames in a way that we’re all too familiar with? Could it possibly get any better than that? I submit that it cannot.

WHO YOU ACTUALLY SHOULD ROOT FOR: Alabama. It’s actually better for the Cougs if there are one or two—and arguably three--teams that are clearly ahead of everybody else. A mélange of one- and two-loss teams all hovering around one through eight makes it a beauty contest, and we’re never going to come out on top of teams like ‘Bama or Clemson or Oklahoma if it comes down to that.

WATCHABILITY: 0/10. Let’s be real.

Virginia @ #3 Miami

538 SAYS: Virginia. A Cavs upset in South Beach puts our CFP expectancy up to 32%, probably going off the theory that Clemson v. Miami is going to essentially be a quarterfinal for the playoff anyway, so guaranteeing a 2-loss team in the ACC will help lower the bar for the Cougs.

WHO YOU WANT: Miami. I don’t know, it just feels better for college football when The U is good.

WHO YOU ACTUALLY SHOULD ROOT FOR: Virginia. This is where we need chaos. The ACC is probably going to get one in, whether it’s Clemson or Miami. We need the other one to have as many losses as possible to get them out of the picture.

WATCHABILITY: 4/10. Virginia’s not terrible anymore!

Minnesota v Michigan Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images

#24 Michigan @ #5 Wisconsin

538 SAYS: Go Khakis. If we can get the B1G out of the playoff picture entirely, that would do wonders for the Cougs’ chances. A loss to Michigan doesn’t move the meter much—only to 26%. But it puts the entire B1G in jeopardy if Michigan then beats Ohio State.

WHO YOU WANT: Wisconsin and 2 seconds.

WHO YOU ACTUALLY SHOULD ROOT FOR: Michigan. The less of the B1G we have to watch in the CFP, the better, I say.

WATCHABILITY: 5/10. Really dependent on how much you like 1960s football.

Louisiana-Monroe @ #6 Auburn

538 SAYS: Louisiana-Monroe. The upset here is good. Our percentage goes up to 27%. It also gives Auburn, who has a bit of buzz around them as a contender right now, a really bad third loss and drops them from the discussion completely.

WHO YOU WANT: Louisiana-Monroe. I mean why not?

WHO YOU ACTUALLY SHOULD ROOT FOR: ULM. It helps Alabama get clear of everybody else, and Auburn beating Alabama would be super bad for our chances, especially if they were to turn around and lose to Georgia in the SEC title game rematch.

WATCHABILITY: 3/10. Meh. Although Malzahn’s offense is fun to watch again.

TCU v Oklahoma Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images

#12 TCU @ Texas Tech

538 SAYS: Tech. Except not. Ok, this one’s weird. In the short term, we want the upset. That bumps us up to 29%. BUT. If TCU wins out, we go all the way up to 34%. Um…. computers, I guess.

WHO YOU WANT: Tech. TCU is within clawing distance above us in the rankings. If they lose, we probably jump them come Tuesday, and the higher we are in the rankings going into the Apple Cup, the better.

WHO YOU ACTUALLY SHOULD ROOT FOR: TCU. I think. Maybe not. If they are the Big 12 champs, that’s probably OK for us. I don’t know. The Big 12 is weird, man.

WATCHABILITY: 9/10. Air Raid vs. Gary Patterson is scheme heaven.

The Citadel @ #2 Clemson

538 SAYS: The world ends if The Citadel wins. It breaks the model. No one makes the playoffs because there is nothing left to play for in a world taken over by the Mind Flayer.

WHO YOU WANT: So um… Clemson?

WHO YOU ACTUALLY SHOULD ROOT FOR: As with Miami above, either Clemson or Miami is probably getting in. If you think Clemson is going to win the ACC, you want Clemson to win everything up to that point too, to get them clear of the rest of the pack and avoid the chaos of the lower slots. If you think Miami is going to win the ACC, you’re a fan of Frank Underwood’s alma mater this week.

WATCHABILITY: 0/10. The Citadel’s a pretty good FCS team. Clemson will defeat them, thus saving the world from utter destruction.


Georgia v Auburn Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Kentucky @ #7 Georgia

538 SAYS: The OG Air Raiders all the way. A Wildcat win bumps the Cougs up to 31%.

WHO YOU WANT: Kentucky. Georgia fans are weirdly like Steelers fans. They’re not as overtly obnoxious to your face like a lot of other fan bases, but they’re annoyingly omnipresent in places you wouldn’t expect and where they really shouldn’t be.

WHO YOU ACTUALLY SHOULD ROOT FOR: This one’s all #TeamChaos. A second loss for Georgia and they are toast. The dirty little secret for Georgia is that their schedule is tissue soft. They beat Notre Dame by one and blew out Mississippi State. Beyond that, it’s a collection of wins over the weaker half of the SEC and the typical SEC non-conference fodder. Pretty light.

WATCHABILITY: 5/10. Kentucky’s actually pretty fun to watch.

Navy @ #8 Notre Dame

538 SAYS: It doesn’t matter. Notre Dame’s hopes rode off into the Miami sunset last week. A loss actually hurts us, weirdly, dropping our percentage to 23%. A win indicates no change.

WHO YOU WANT: Navy. Also get a glimpse at Oregon State’s maybe future head coach? Come on, Coach Ken, we just want Air Raid vs. Flexbone every year. Is that so hard?

WHO YOU ACTUALLY SHOULD ROOT FOR: Whoever you like, my friend. Go nuts.

WATCHABILITY: 5/10. Navy’s down this year, but it’ll probably be a game until halftime-ish because triple option.

Indiana v Illinois Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Illinois @ #9 Ohio State

538 SAYS: We are super big fans of Illinois this week. If the Illini manage to pull off the upset, it knocks the Buckeyes out of the CFP picture and ups our percentage to a massive 46%. That’s almost a coin flip! If both Illinois AND Michigan win? 56%!



WATCHABILITY: 2/10. I mean, they gave Wisconsin a bit of a run. But this is Urban Meyer we’re talking about.

Kansas State @ #13 Oklahoma State

538 SAYS: A K-State win gives us a small bump to 28%, but the Big 12 is still pretty weird, man. Okie State winning out might be the best for us, because that might muddle up the standings enough to pull Oklahoma out without putting TCU or Okie State in.

WHO YOU WANT: K-State. It’s really hard to root against Grampa Bill.

WHO YOU SHOULD ACTUALLY ROOT FOR: I honestly have no idea. Okie State is literally right above us though, so keeping it simple, a K-State win moves us up a slot.

WATCHABILITY: 8/10. The Pokes’ offense is super fun.

4:00 PM EST

Northwestern v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Nebraska @ #10 Penn State

538 SAYS: Bill Moos’ new family can help us out by removing another fringe candidate and dropping another team ahead of us in the rankings. We go up to 31% with a Cornhusker win.

WHO YOU WANT: We want Moos to do well, right? No hard feelings?

WHO YOU SHOULD ACTUALLY ROOT FOR: Probably Nebraska, because a Penn State loss also makes the B1G a little weaker overall. But in direct terms it doesn’t super matter. Penn State’s out of the running.

WATCHABILITY: 6/10. Saquon Barkley is worth the price of admission.


UCLA @ #11 USC

538 SAYS: A USC win doesn’t help us a lot (26%), but a USC loss hurts us (21%), probably because of strength of schedule reasons.

WHO YOU WANT: USC, again for SoS/optics reasons, but also because everybody’s favorite whipping boy James Lawrence Mora is on the other sideline.

WHO YOU SHOULD ACTUALLY ROOT FOR: USC. The 538 model doesn’t completely factor in conference title games at this point (I don’t think), but if it did, I’m sure the percentages would be pretty significantly different. A second win over a 10-2 and Top 10 ranked USC looks a lot better than a second win over a 9-3 USC with a loss to UCLA would.

WATCHABILITY: 9/10. Based solely on uniforms alone.

Washington v Stanford Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Cal @ #22 Stanford

538 SAYS: Stanford for SoS reasons.

WHO YOU WANT: Stanford for eliminating the Huskies from the North race reasons.


Air Force @ #25 Boise State

538 SAYS: Air Force? I don’t know, that seems counter-intuitive. It bumps our number up to 29%.

WHO YOU WANT: Air Force. It’s weirdly gratifying to watch Boise lose on the SmurfTurf, since it doesn’t happen all that often.

WHO YOU SHOULD ACTUALLY ROOT FOR: I still think Boise winning is better for us than Boise losing. A Top 25 win has to be better for the resume.

WATCHABILITY: 8/10. Service Academy football is always fun, and Air Force coach Troy Calhoun might land a high profile job sooner rather than later.

Washington v Stanford Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Utah @ #18 Washington

538 SAYS: Washington. It’s better for us if Washington is 9-2 and ranked when we beat them, for obvious SoS reasons.

WHO YOU WANT: Utah. We bathe in the tears of Husky anguish.

WHO YOU SHOULD ACTUALLY ROOT FOR: Washington, through gritted teeth. Look, I know. We all hate the purple and gold. But a win against Utah keeps them in the Top 25 after we win the Apple Cup, and we need all the schedule love we can get to make this fever dream a reality.

WATCHABILITY: 5/10 if UW wins, 12/10 if UW loses. I’m petty. Don’t @ me.