Sometimes, college football Saturdays look better on paper than they wind up being in actuality, and this past Saturday certainly fits that description. Three match-ups between top ten teams had every college football fan salivating over the "de facto playoff elimination" implications and the likelihood of three instant classics.
Well, the playoff implications played out, and we will discuss those in a second, but there was virtually no drama in any of the three aforementioned clashes. Top-ranked Georgia got smoked at tenth-ranked Auburn by a score of 40-17, seventh-ranked Miami trounced third-ranked Notre Dame to the tune of 41-8, and fifth ranked Oklahoma scored 38 points in the first half on sixth-ranked TCU to cruise to a 38-20 win.
Three really important games, all won by the home teams by an average victory margin of about 25 points. I guess the bright side is that you could drink casually on Saturday night without having to sweat the final outcome of any of these games.
So now there are two weeks left in the regular season before Championship Saturday decides all of the conference champions (including the Big XII this year, as they have reprised their conference title game). The playoff rankings will be released tonight, and unlike last week, when the same four playoff teams appeared as the prior week, there will be massive shake up this week, guaranteed.
Here's how I think it will go (NOTE: Each team's ranking below is their AP ranking as of Sunday morning):
The First Four
1. ALABAMA (10-0, vs Mercer, at Auburn)
2. MIAMI, FL (9-0, vs UVA, at Pitt)
3. OKLAHOMA (9-1, at Kansas, vs West Virginia)
4. CLEMSON (9-1, vs The Citadel, at South Carolina)
I told you it was going to look different! Alabama moves into the No. 1 spot, and probably appropriately so, considering that's the spot where most of the nation's eyeballs had them placed anyway, even when Georgia was ranked No. 1. Miami, on the strength of pounding a Notre Dame team that had handily beaten all of its opponents (except in their one point loss to Georgia), moves up to No. 2. Oklahoma's loss to Iowa State doesn't look nearly as catastrophic as it did at the time, and they boast double digit wins over the 8th, 10th, and 11th ranked teams, two of them on the road, good enough for the third spot. Finally, Clemson will likely be No. 4, meaning there are two ACC teams in the playoff mix right now. One will be eliminated in their conference title game, when they likely face each other (if not before... don't sleep on South Carolina, Tiger fans!)
The Next Two
5. WISCONSIN (10-0, vs Michigan, at Minnesota)
6. AUBURN (8-2, vs ULM, vs Alabama)
Yeah, Badger Fan, you're still sitting outside the top four, even though you smoked the Iowa team that beat Ohio State by 29 last week. Fear not, since Miami and Clemson will face off down the road, a spot will open up, and rest assured an undefeated Big Ten champ will make the playoff. So just win and you're in, Badger. Oddly enough, the same goes for Auburn now — if the Tigers win out, that would put them in the SEC title game against Georgia. A second win in a month over the Bulldogs combined with a win over the Crimson Tide should put the Tigers in the playoff, even with two losses. It helps that both of Auburn's losses are close and to respectable opponents (by six points at Clemson and by one point at a rising LSU). Oh, and do you guys remember who was saying Auburn still had a postseason pulse nearly a month ago when they were 5-2? Yeah, I remember.
One More In Control Of Their Destiny
7. GEORGIA (9-1, vs Kentucky, at Georgia Tech)
This is probably where I draw the line on teams that control their own destiny, right below Georgia at number seven. As bad as that loss at Auburn was, if the Bulldogs take care of Kentucky and Georgia Tech, they'll be 11-1 heading into an SEC title game against either the number one team in the country OR the team that beat them by 23 (REVENGE ALERT!). A 12-1 SEC champion WILL be in the playoff, and thus, Georgia can feel comfort in that if they win out, they're in. What they've lost, though, is their margin for error. Had they entered the SEC title game unbeaten, you could still see a scenario where a close loss to Alabama in that title game would be enough to write Auburn's ticket to the playoff. That possibility is now gone.
The One That Won't Die
8. OHIO STATE (8-2, vs Illinois, at Michigan)
Holy crap, not even a 29 point loss to Iowa in November can kill the Buckeyes! On paper, this looks like a long shot, but let's go through what has to happen in order for the Buckeyes to get in:
1. They must convincingly roll through their final two games.
Shouldn't be an issue considering they will be double digit favorites in both games. They might hang 70 points on Illinois, and this Michigan team is not equipped to keep up with Ohio State. So, check this box.
2. They must thrash Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game.
Well, they've done that before. Back in 2014, it was a 59-0 beatdown of the Badgers that punched the Buckeyes ticket to the dance. This win would directly eliminate one of the seven teams in front of the Buckeyes. Very doable, so check this box.
3. They need Alabama to roll through the SEC. The last thing the Buckeyes need is a debate over whether the loser of the SEC title game should get a playoff spot, or a debate over whether an 11-1 Alabama team who loses to Auburn but doesn't play in the SEC title game should go to the playoff. If Alabama just beats Auburn and soundly beats Georgia, that should eliminate two teams in front of the Buckeyes. Check this box! (Wow, see? They've already moved up three spots!)
4. They need Oklahoma to win out in the Big XII.
This sounds counterintuitive since the Sooners are in front of the Buckeyes, but stay with me here. The Buckeyes LOST to the Sooners, so the more OU wins, the better that loss looks. Also, if OU were to lose in the Big XII title game, it'd likely be to TCU, and if you're the Buckeyes, seeing the Horned Frogs lose to Oklahoma would eliminate the biggest threat to leap frog (no pun intended) Ohio State from behind. I see OU as a heavy favorite to run the table, so CHECK!
5. Have the Clemson-Miami loser lose soundly enough to go away.
This is more precautionary than anything else. I think a two-loss Ohio State probably trumps either a two-loss Clemson or a one-loss Miami, but having the loser lose by, say, three touchdowns would be optimal. This is the most unlikely of the five things to happen, but also the least necessary, as I think a mere loss by Clemson or Miami would bump them behind a Big Ten champion Ohio State.
So that should open up the final spot for the Big Ten champion Buckeyes.... I hate that.
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On Life Support
11. TCU (8-2, at Texas Tech, vs Baylor)
They need an abundance of chaos, and probably an upset or two that we don't see here, but the Horned Frogs have a few things going for themselves. First, they have two layups remaining in Texas Tech and Baylor, so they will finish 10-2. Second, the other likely two-loss team in the Big XII (assuming OU wins out and is the only one-loss team) is Oklahoma State, and TCU has the head to head tie breaker over the Cowboys. Finally, a Big XII title game berth would mean a rematch with Oklahoma, which is a potential win with a lot of juice. The percentage chance of things breaking TCU's way is minuscule, but it's greater than zero, so we will keep them on the list.
Rest In Peace
3. NOTRE DAME (8-2, vs Navy, at Stanford)
9. WASHINGTON (8-2, vs Utah, vs Washington State)
12. USC (9-2, vs UCLA)
13. MICHIGAN STATE (7-3, vs Maryland, at Rutgers)
We will start at the bottom and work up here. Michigan State lost 48-3. See ya, Sparty. USC has a 35 point loss to a two-loss team in front of them (Notre Dame), and the Pac-12 title game won't have an opponent with enough juice for the Trojans to make a move up the rankings. Washington played nobody outside the conference, and might be a four loss team before it's all said and done.
Finally, there's Notre Dame.... oh, my Irish. That was painful for me to watch Miami dismantle the Domers on Saturday, but this is what Brian Kelly is — just good enough to tease you every three years or so with a team that MIGHT have a shot. We've seen teams under Kelly kind of fold once the ultimate prize is off the table. If I had to guess, they will come out super flat for Navy on Saturday, and Stanford will beat them in the season finale Thanksgiving weekend.
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.