Damn, 13 weeks go by way too fast. It seems like just yesterday, we were getting ready for a slew of opening weekend college football games, and now here we are, preparing for 24 hours of conference title game overload this weekend. Before we get to all of the speculation about the four team College Football Playoff field, here is this weekend's conference title game dance card:
FRIDAY, November 30
MAC: NIU vs Buffalo, 6:30 p.m. (Ford Field, Detroit)
PAC-12: #17 Utah vs #11 Washington, 7:00 p.m. (Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara)
SATURDAY, December 1
BIG XII: #14 Texas vs #5 Oklahoma, 11:00 a.m. (AT&T Stadium, Arlington)
Sun Belt: ULL at Appalachian State, 11:00 a.m.
C-USA: UAB at MTSU, 12:30 p.m.
AAC: Memphis at #8 UCF, 2:30 p.m.
SEC: #1 Alabama vs #4 Georgia, 3:00 p.m. (Mercedes Benz Stadium, Atlanta)
MWC: #25 Fresno State at #22 Boise State, 6:45 p.m.
ACC: #2 Clemson vs Pitt, 7:00 p.m.
Big Ten: #21 Northwestern vs #6 Ohio State, 7:00 p.m.
And here are the full College Football Playoff rankings, just released last night:
1. Alabama 12-0
2. Clemson 12-0
3. Notre Dame 12-0
4. Georgia 11-1
5. Oklahoma 11-1
6. Ohio State 11-1
7. Michigan 10-2
8. UCF 11-0
9. Florida 9-3
10. LSU 9-3
11. Washington 9-3
12. Penn State 9-3
13. Washington State 10-2
14. Texas 9-3
15. Kentucky 9-3
16. West Virginia 8-3
17. Utah 9-3
18. Mississippi State 8-4
19. Texas A&M 8-4
20. Syracuse 9-3
21. Northwestern 8-4
22. Boise State 10-2
23. Iowa State 7-4
24. Missouri 8-4
25. Fresno State 10-2
So we're basically down to six teams with a reasonable shot at the four playoff spots — Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Ohio State. Here are my thoughts on where we are and where we could be come Sunday evening, when the playoff matchups are unveiled:
6. PAC-12 is done, again
For the second year in a row, the PAC-12 will not only be left out of the four team playoff dance, but again this season, there isn't even a team close to consideration. Washington made sure that would be the case when they destroyed Washington State on Friday night in the Apple Cup. So now, we get Washington against Utah in the PAC-12 title game, with the winner going to the Rose Bowl. Yippee! I can't express enough how USC's butchering of their program by rolling with Clay Helton as head coach (and to a more tangential extent, Lynn Swann as the AD) for another season has an overall effect on the conference. Similar to Tom Herman's need to succeed at Texas in the Big XII, conferences are just considered better when their blue blood programs are hitting on all cylinders. At least the Big XII has Oklahoma. The PAC-12 is kind of a mess.
5. McKenzie Milton's injury basically eliminates any UCF Cinderella story.
On Friday morning, I laid out a scenario under which UCF, ranked ninth at the time, could at least start a spirited debate about their possible inclusion in the four team playoff. In short, it essentially involved the top three undefeated teams winning out, and UCF's campaign being built on the committee taking the "fourth undefeated" over any two-loss Power Five schools. And actually, it's setting up not completely terribly for that to happen. (Fly in the ointment — Ohio State would need to lose to Northwestern, but the Buckeyes have let lesser teams than the Wildcats hang around, or even beat them!) However, the gruesome season-ending injury to UCF QB McKenzie Milton ends any discussion of UCF as viable for the playoff. The committee takes significant injuries into account when assessing teams, and no player is more valuable to his team than Milton. For context, know that UCF is just a 3.5 point favorite on their home field against Memphis on Saturday, which means on a neutral field, oddsmakers basically see them as evenly matched. So yeah, a team that is Memphis' equal ain't making the playoff.
4. Notre Dame is the one school that can sit back and watch.
The Irish handled their business against USC on Saturday night, although it was a little dicey for a while. Notre Dame started slowly, falling behind 10-0 (their largest deficit of the season), and needed two Trojan turnovers in Irish territory to keep the game at 10-7 at halftime. However, a couple of big play Irish touchdowns in the second half were enough to put the VERY youthful Trojans away. So now, at 12-0, and ranked third, there really shouldn't be anything that a team below them can do to leapfrog Notre Dame. The only scenario where they may fall a spot would be if Georgia defeated Alabama, and both of those SEC schools wound up in the top three, along with Clemson. Speaking of which....
3. Well, maybe Clemson can sit back and relax, too.
The Tigers play unranked Pitt in the ACC title game, which says all you need to know about the state of the ACC. It's Clemson and a bunch of nothing. So that begs the question "If Clemson were to lose — in 2016, when they won the national title, their one loss was to Pitt — would that be enough to knock them out of the top four?" Man, it would have to be an UGLY loss for that to happen. Also, you'd have to consider how other one-loss teams that DO win their conference look this weekend? Does Oklahoma get major revenge on Texas? Does Ohio State pull a classic Buckeye move and hang 50 on Northwestern? I doubt we will need to concern ourselves with this, but Clemson losing would be the true "Holy s*%t!" moment that would really have the committee guzzling coffee on Saturday night.
2. The beauty contest that SHOULD happen — Oklahoma vs Ohio State
More likely, if form holds, we will wind up with Alabama, Clemson, and Notre Dame all undefeated, and Oklahoma and Ohio State becoming one-loss conference champions. The best part about this debate is that, unlike in 2014, the year of the inaugural CFB Playoff, when Ohio State leapfrogged TCU and Baylor, the Sooners are on the Buckeyes' level in the historical cachet department. There won't be any bias over one school getting in ahead of the other based on tradition or history. For the record, here are the resumes:
5. OKLAHOMA (11-1, 8-1)
REMAINING SCHED: 12/1 Big XII Title Game
ONE LOSS: vs Texas, 48-45 (Week 6)
* Week 3: at Iowa State, 37-27
* Week 4: vs Army, 28-21 (OT)
* Week 8: at TCU, 52-27
* Week 10: at Texas Tech, 51-46
* Week 11: vs Oklahoma State, 48-47
* Week 13: at #12 West Virginia, 59-56
6. OHIO STATE (11-1, 8-1)
REMAINING SCHED: 12/1 Big Ten Title Game
ONE LOSS: at Purdue, 49-20 (Week 8)
* Week 3: vs #15 TCU, 40-28
* Week 5: at #9 Penn State, 27-26
* Week 10: vs Nebraska, 36-31
* Week 11: at #18 Michigan State, 26-6
* Week 12: at Maryland, 52-51
* Week 13: vs #4 Michigan, 62-39
OK, a few thoughts here, as I get on the record early with my thoughts on the "Buckeye versus Sooner" beauty contest:
1. Common opponent - TCU
The one common opponent between the two schools is TCU, and Ohio State won a virtually even game with the Horned Frogs in AT&T Stadium in Week 3. (TCU gave up two "gift" defensive touchdowns in a 12-point loss to the Buckeyes.) The Sooners destroyed TCU in Fort Worth, but by then, TCU was a pretty banged up, demoralized bunch. I give a slight edge to the Sooners here.
2. "Close shave" wins
While the Buckeyes' struggles in putting away far inferior opponents has gotten a ton of publicity the last month or so — five point win at home over Nebraska, and a one-point miracle against Maryland on the road, most notably — the Sooners have been playing with just as much fire, going to overtime at home against Army (although that win looks better now than it did in Week 4, since Army is in the AP Top 25), eking out a win over Texas Tech in Lubbock, and stopping Oklahoma State on a two-point conversion attempt to hang on in the Bedlam rivalry game. So in the "close shaves" department, I'll call this a wash.
3. Best win
Ohio State has the best win among the teams' two schedules, their rout of Michigan this past weekend. Oklahoma's best win was probably the road win over in Morgantown last Friday over a West Virginia team that's been in the top 15 for most of the season. A "shade above slight" edge to the Buckeyes in the "best win" category.
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4. The one loss
This is the difference maker for me. Oklahoma lost to a Texas team that enters the Big XII title game in the top ten in the country. They lost by three on a neutral field, on a last second field goal. Ohio State got decimated at Purdue against a Boilermaker outfit that, while dangerous (obviously) under head coach Jeff Brohm, did finish just 6-6 and lost three of four after the upset over Ohio State, including a head-scratching 31-point loss to Minnesota. Massive edge to the Sooners in this category.
VERDICT: Stylistically, these two teams are very similar, in that any hope they'd have in beating Alabama (I'd give Oklahoma more than a puncher's chance, Ohio State a little less than that) lies in their explosive offenses. Both defenses have some sieve-like qualities, with Oklahoma's looking downright high school level at times. (How many playoff teams can say they fired their defensive coordinator in the middle of the season?) To me, this is an easy choice — you can't lose to Purdue by 29 under any circumstance, and win this argument. I don't care if the Buckeyes beat Northwestern by 70. If both Ohio State and Oklahoma are sitting there on Saturday night with one loss, the Sooners go on to play Alabama... and that will be a FUN game. One possible fly in the ointment — could a two-loss Geogria sneak in ahead of Oklahoma or Ohio State, each with one loss, if Georgia, say, goes to overtime against Alabama? It's possible, I suppose, which brings us to the final point....
1. If you want an eight-team playoff, root for Georgia.
Yes, I am assuming that the Crimson Tide defeat the Bulldogs on Saturday afternoon, but Georgia should put up a good fight. That said, if the Bulldogs do pull off the upset, they are definitely in the playoff. The question becomes "Would Alabama fall out of the top four?" I think a blowout loss (HIGHLY unlikely) is the only way that the Crimson Tide's ouster from the playoff becomes even conceivable. So if the SEC gets two teams into the playoff again, with Notre Dame as an independent, that would mean three of the Power Five conferences would be left out of the four team field. It's going to take years to chip away at the belief that "four is best" when it comes to the playoff (personally, I DO think four is best), but one way to accelerate talk of an eight team playoff is to leave certain powerful conferences out year after year. As it is, two will be left out, for sure, this postseason.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.