After focusing on the NFL for most of the season, while doing my work on college football and watching all the games in the background, I decided to take a look at the next two weeks and how they will impact the race for the national championship. Now heading into rivalry week and the ensuing conference championship games, I wanted to go through different game results and how they could affect the playoff picture, plus a prediction of what I think will ultimately happen. We have seen the committee show a lot of inconsistency and rank teams specifically to push those ones they are putting higher than the AP or Coaches Poll. So nothing is impossible at this point, but here is what I would think depending on how the following games turn out:
Alabama blows out Auburn in the Iron Bowl
War Eagle is the highest-ranked three-loss team in the country at number 15, because they have probably had the toughest schedule in the country. They started the season with a matchup against the 11th-ranked Oregon Ducks – which they won – and then they have gone to Texas A&M, Florida and LSU before hosting Georgia two weeks ago. And their three losses have come by an average of less than a touchdown. So going there for this rivalry should be a big test for the Crimson Tide with Tua out for the season, after a gimmie against the Western Carolina Catamounts, whose only game against an FBS team came in a 41-0 loss to N.C. State.
Mac Jones has looked pretty good in mop-up duty late in games and in his only other start versus Arkansas, but we have yet to see him go up against any competent defense, much less one of the best ones in the country in Auburn’s. With that being said, Alabama is so talent at the skill positions that it might just be enough. Najee Harris has been running all over defenders like a mad truck these last few weeks and they throw a bunch of quick screens to their arsenal of receivers. Nick Saban’s defense is what I am more concerned about because they have not even been close to anything they were in the last decade, which was most obvious when they gave up 46 points to LSU at home, and Gus Malzahn seems to always create problems for them with unique formations and trick plays.
If Bama loses this game they are obviously out of the mix, but even if they win a nail-biter, they are far from being a shoe-in for the playoff. If Georgia wins the SEC, I can’t see the committee putting the Tide in in favor of LSU, who already beat them in Tuscaloosa, and a one-loss Pac-12 champion in Utah might have a bigger argument as well. The only way this group has a decent shot at being among the final four is by winning the Iron Bowl in decisive fashion.
Michigan wins the “The Game”
Along with Alabama-LSU and maybe Oklahoma-Texas this seems to be the most anticipated rivalry game every single year. However, Ohio State has dominated the series recently, winning seven straight since Michigan last beat them in Ann Arbor back in 2011. The most heart-breaking one coming on a controversial spot that gave the Buckeyes a chance to win in double-overtime in 2016 and then last year’s 62-39 shellacking when the Wolverines came in as the number four team in the country and had the nation’s top-rated defense.
This year we go back to the Big House with Ohio State as the number one team for the first time this season and a Michigan team that put themselves out of the race for the Big Ten East early with losses at Wisconsin and Penn State. The Buckeyes come in as a nine-point favorite thanks to be the nation’s one scoring offense and defense respectively, outscoring opponents by an average of almost 40 points, with a Heisman trophy candidate on either side of the ball. The Wolverines on the other hand have looked dominant themselves since losing that game against Penn State. They have beaten their four opponents Notre Dame, Maryland, Michigan State and Indiana by a combined score of 166-45.
While the Fighting Irish were ranked #8 back then, we now know that they are not as good as they made us believe and the Buckeyes are playing in a completely different league, but what if Jim Harbaugh does finally pull it off and defeats his arch enemy? Of course this would mean a huge jump for them in the rankings, but as it pertains to the Buckeyes, I still think they would control their own destiny. At that point they would obviously have to win the Big Ten to have any shot, but unless they struggle in that game as well, I don’t really see them falling out.
LSU, Clemson or Georgia slip in their regular season finale //
So before we get into it here, let’s first see who these teams are playing – LSU hosts Texas A&M, Clemson takes the short trip to in-state rival South Carolina and Georgia continues a long-time rivalry against Georgia Tech. Surprisingly enough, we have seen all three of those underdogs pull off major upsets in recent years or even this very season.
Texas A&M definitely hasn’t had the season they were expecting in their second year under Jimbo Fisher, now sitting at 7-4 and outside the top 25, but let’s not act like they can’t play. All four of their losses have come against top ten teams and two of those were by one score, with a near-comeback in a 19-13 defeat to Georgia just last weekend. Obviously the Aggies would be much more dangerous at College Station, but this team has gotten a lot better since their worst game of the year against Alabama.
South Carolina has already beaten a top three team this year, when they won at Athens against the Bulldogs, when the reliable Rodrigo Blankenship missed a field goal that would have sent the game to triple-overtime. While they did give the Alabama defense some trouble early in the year, the Gamecocks just haven’t been very inconsistent throughout the season unfortunately. They have now lost four of the last five – all against unranked teams. This one should only stay close if Trevor Lawrence goes back to his early-season form and the competitiveness leads to stupid penalties for Clemson.
And then there’s Georgia Tech. It’s pretty tough to make a case for a 3-8 team that actually lost to The Citadel early on in the year, but somehow their three wins came against USF, Miami and then again surprisingly N.C. State. Once again, this would be insanity, but I will also never forget when the Yellow Jackets beat Georgia back in 2016 at their place in Kirby Smart’s first year at the program.
With all that being said, I would be shocked if any of these three contenders loses as big favorites this weekend. We see plenty of upsets by conference rivals, when they have the big brothers at their house and they are overlooked at mid-season, but all these teams know that they need to win these games. For entertainment purposes only – I think LSU would be fine if they still won the SEC, Clemson has no room for error with an incredible weak schedule and Georgia would be cooked at two losses.
Utah falls to a two-loss Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game
With Oregon losing to Arizona State in the desert it took a lot out of this conference title game, since both the Ducks and Utes would have likely gone in with only one loss on their resume and being ranked ahead of the eventual Big XII champs. However now it is only Utah, who I predicted to win the Pac-12, that can somehow finally represent the conference for the first time since that 2016 Washington debacle, when they had no shot against Alabama.
For the Utes to jump into the top four it really doesn’t take too much – if LSU beats Georgia in the SEC title game and Alabama doesn’t blow out Auburn, the committee will probably give the benefit of the doubt to a conference champion. While the Pac-12 is having a down-year, with only three teams having won at least nine games, and that loss to USC at the Colloseum was quite bad, this team has a pretty good shot at being there when the final rankings come out. If the Utes were to lose to Oregon, they would obviously fall out of contention and could actually drop all the way outside the top ten, which would heavily influence the bowl game they will end up playing in.
Even though the Utes’ schedule has only featured one ranked team so far, they do have a pretty good case if they win out. They beat the then-17th ranked Arizona State Sundevils pretty decisively at 21-3, they beat up on Washington State and Cal, who have proven to do well outside the conference, they showed perseverance in a comeback against Washington and these last two weeks they demolished UCLA and Arizona by a combined score of 84-10. After probably dishing out another whooping to Colorado on senior day, they will face up with Oregon, who just saw their playoff dreams get crushed. While style points might matter in that matchup, it will be tough to leave a one-loss conference champion out, when they would be winners of nine straight as well.
Georgia beats #1 LSU in the SEC Championship game
This seems to be the ultimate what-if question. While everybody else in the top seven could win out and make a somewhat compelling case for a playoff bid, we definitely know that these two top four teams will square off against each other and possibly throw another wrench into things. LSU was the number one team up until this most recent edition of the CFP rankings, when Ohio State leap-frogged them, while Georgia right now is the highest-ranked one-loss team in the nation.
Both of these SEC contenders are certainly among college football’s elite, as they find themselves among the ten best teams nationally when it comes to average scoring margin and have proven themselves inside a tough conference, as well as beating a top ten outside of that. What differentiates these teams is the way they have been doing it. LSU features the second-highest scoring offense (46.9) in the country with the Heisman frontrunner Joe Burrow leading the show. Georgia on the other hand is surrendering the fewest points per game (10.1), with top five rankings in first downs allowed, third-down percentage and yards per play. So this is a kind of a clash between two opposites when their strengths match up against each other, but what might decide this game is if the LSU defense, which has given up 20+ points in all but one game against Power Five teams, can get a couple of timely stops or takeaways against the Bulldogs attack.
I believe that LSU offense will be too much for UGA, because they have really become a balanced unit as Clyde Edwards-Helaire has averaged over 200 yards per game in his last four outings against SEC competition. If this game becomes somewhat of a shootout, I just don’t see Jake Fromm keep up with them, unless the Dawgs can control the clock with their rushing attack. However, even if the Tigers lost a really close one or blew it this week against Texas A&M, I don’t see the committee keeping them out of the playoff. They are the only group to defeat four other top ten teams and have already proven themselves. Georgia on the other hand might actually drop out of the top six, especially if they don’t stay within a touchdown.
The winner of Wisconsin-Minnesota upsets Ohio State in the Big-10 Championship game /
The Buckeyes have absolutely dominated the Big Ten title game the last three times they have gone there. The most memorable one came back in 2014 when they kind of fell off everybody’s radar due to J.T. Barrett getting hurt, but then squashed Wisconsin 59-0 en route to a national championship with Cardale Jones under center. The following two years they missed the conference title game due to upset losses to the eventual Big Ten winners. In 2017 they re-matched with the Badgers, who actually came within one score in the fourth quarter, but it never really felt like the Buckeyes lost control. And then last season they toyed with #21 Northwestern in a three-touchdown game.
This year the competition appears to be a little more stiff. While Ohio State has already beaten four ranked Big Ten rivals, including a decisive 38-7 win over Wisconsin, this will be their most tested opponent yet. The Badgers might seem less dangerous after that initial matchup between the two teams, but let’s not forget that the score was 10-7 a few minutes into the second half. Outside of that the Badgers’ only other loss came at Illinois, when quarterback Jack Coan threw an inexplicably bad interception to set up the game-winning field goal. The Badgers have blown out Michigan and Michigan State by a combined score of 73-14 and they are among the elite when it comes to average scoring margin and difference in yards per play. Minnesota on the other hand has been ranked in the top ten for three straight weeks now and is right behind all the conference title contenders at number eight. Despite keeping things close against inferior competition early on, they put themselves on the map with a win over then-number four Penn State and their only loss came by four points at Iowa, where we have seen plenty of really good teams lose in November. They have two NFL receivers, a strong offensive line and are top ten among Power Five teams in yards per play.
Whoever wins this weekend between those two teams would go to Lucas Oil Stadium as a worthy opponent and they have the ability to keep the ball from that explosive OSU offense, since they are both ranked in the top ten in terms of time of possession, but I don’t think either one of them is quite ready to battle with the nation’s number one team. We just saw the Buckeyes do pretty much everything they could to give away the Penn State game and they still won by 11. Even if they didn’t win the Big Ten, they Buckeyes would most likely survive. For the other team this would be huge however, as it would probably earn them a spot in the Rose Bowl.
Clemson somehow loses to the winner of Virginia-Virginia Tech /
Nobody has blown out teams quite like Clemson over the last six weeks. Since just escaping at North Carolina in a 21-20 game and going on their bye week, the Tigers have outscored the opposition 315-58 (average of 42.8 points), including a 52-3 destruction of a Wake Forest team that had been in the top 20 just a couple of weeks prior. However, because of a really soft schedule and some difficulties to get the engine running early on, the Tigers saw themselves outside the top five in the initial CFP rankings. With losses by Alabama and Penn State, they now control their own destiny, but they would not be able to survive a defeat.
Like I mentioned already, Clemson will face in-state rival South Carolina in the regular season finale, which should not be a problem for them, but with how weak the ACC has been, there is no room for error. Outside of 11-0 Clemson, every team has lost at three games and none of them has a winning record against AP-ranked opponents. By far the Tigers’ toughest test should have been Texas A&M in week two, who were #12 at that point, but even that was a home matchup and the Aggies don’t look as impressive now at 7-4.
Of course if the Tigers take care of business they are already assured a spot in the playoff, but as crazy as it sounds with Virginia and Virginia Tech being unranked and #24 respectively, that might be Clemson’s most challenging matchup all year. Both Coastal teams are 5-2 inside the conference and 8-3 overall. Virginia’s offense is led by dual-threat QB Bryce Perkins and they are top five among Power Five teams in terms of time of possession. Virginia Tech on the other hand has been top ten in punts forced and red-zone scoring defense, pitching consecutive shutouts in the ACC these last two weeks. Relatively speaking, Dabo Swinney’s guys shouldn’t struggle with whoever they face in the conference title game however, even if VT has been surging in the later portions of the season.
Oklahoma looks dominant in Stillwater and against Baylor /
First of all, the Sooners looked like a machine early on and with a win over then-number eleven Texas it seemed like they were on path to making the playoff. However everything changed in an upset loss at Kansas State, when the defense allowed 48 points and Jalen Hurts & company came just short of pulling off an incredible comeback. After a week off following that, they have stumbled through their last three games versus Iowa State, at Baylor and against TCU, winning them by a combined eight points.
Up next is the Bedlam rivalry against an 8-3 Oklahoma State team that has won four straight and found their way back into the top 20 nationally. Then it’s a rematch with Baylor, who has already secured their ticket to the Big XII Championship game. Oklahoma has dominated their in-state series historically, as the lead 88-18-7 all-time. It hasn’t been since 2014, when they Cowboys went into Norman as an unranked them that they have beaten the Sooners, but they have won their last four games inside the conference and feature the nation’s leading rusher Chubba Hubbard, who is going up against the 51st-ranked rush defense. Baylor on the other hand had their eyes set on a perfect regular season, as they were already up 28-3 against the Sooners in Waco, but allowed the biggest comeback in Oklahoma’s storied history. They are now outside reach of a spot in the playoff, but they will be hungry for revenge and to squash any dreams the Sooners had of making the final four themselves.
Oklahoma was still number nine in the nation until this week, so the committee clearly doesn’t think a lot of the Sooners and it would take a lot of help for them to be in the discussion, but they have the firepower to look impressive in those two games and put their name back up there. Let’s say they beat the Cowboys by 20+ and the Bears never really come close, because Lincoln Riley’s troops have their foot on the gas pedal from the very start, Alabama loses the Iron Bowl, then LSU beats Georgia for the SEC and Oregon beats Utah for the Pac-12. Is it really that crazy to see the Sooners put their name back in the conversation?
1. Ohio State (13-0)
2. LSU (13-0)
3. Clemson (13-0)
4. Utah (12-1)
Yes, I know – a little boring after talking about all these different scenarios. As always, I think Alabama-Auburn will be a close game and while the Crimson Tide do have a case with how they have looked for most of the season, I just don’t think the committee wants to see Mac Jones in the playoff. That means Utah would be jumping ahead of them if they win the Pac-12. Among my top three I don’t see any changes, because they are now clearly the best teams in their respective conferences and should enter the playoff undefeated.
Those matchups would be pretty fun, since we’d have the number-one scoring offense of Ohio State going up against maybe the best defense out there in Utah. Clemson going up against LSU would also be very interesting, since we have seen the Tigers play Alabama in each of the last four years and now we can see how the Crimson Tide’s SEC rivals will do against Dabo Swinney’s troops, who have given them more trouble than anybody in college football through the year. If Ohio State wins their matchup, this would also be the first national title game to feature two undefeated teams.