Mississippi State University seemed to be in shock for the first half of last weekend's game against University of Alabama. The Bulldogs played some of their worst football of the season as the Crimson Tide won 25-20.
Dak Prescott threw three interceptions, Dan Mullen was off his play-calling game, and the defense couldn't get some key third-down stops. Although MSU was ahead on the stat sheet, a disastrous first half doomed the Bulldogs.
The loss hurts because it ruins the Bulldogs' undefeated season, although it doesn't mean they are out of the playoff race. After one loss, a team is not dead, but two losses mean any chance at the playoff sleeps with the fishes. Arizona State University and the University of Nebraska both suffered their second loss over the weekend and dropped out of the playoff conversation. That leaves just seven teams from the power conferences that are either undefeated or have just one loss—Mississippi State, University of Alabama, University of Oregon, Ohio State University, Texas Christian University and Baylor University. Florida State University is in the playoffs no matter what since it's the last undefeated team.
MSU ends the season with Vanderbilt and Ole Miss. If the team wins out, the Bulldogs should be in the four-team playoff.
Alabama faces Western Carolina and Auburn to close out the regular season. If the team wins out, it goes to the SEC Championship Game. Oregon faces University of Colorado Boulder and Oregon State to end the season and should play in the Pac-12 title game against a team from the conference's crowded South Division. Ohio State ends the year with University of Indiana and University of Michigan, a Big Ten title opponent from the jumbled East Division. Baylor ends the season with Oklahoma State University, Texas Tech University and Kansas State University. TCU will finish with University of Texas and Iowa State University. There is no title game in the Big 12.
All the one-loss teams, except for TCU, will play a ranked team in the final regular-season games and are in a conference title game. TCU has the easiest path to the final four followed by Baylor, then Ohio State and finally Oregon. Baylor plays a ranked Kansas State team and Oregon and Ohio State will be tested in conference title game.
Florida State might play a ranked team in the ACC title game but ends the regular season against Boston College and University of Florida. Florida shouldn't face any more hurdles to get a spot in the last four. Alabama will face a ranked Auburn University team, but no one finishes the season like Mississippi State facing Top 10 Ole Miss. Beating the Rebels will give any boost the Bulldogs might need to their playoff resume.
But there is no margin for error. Not this late in the season.