The College Football Playoff picture may appear to be taking shape, but don’t believe anything you see in this week’s rankings. It is almost assured it will change next Saturday. Like the midway point of a game of musical chairs, many teams lost their seats on Survival Saturday yesterday, but we are far from over.
National championship hopes for Auburn, Kansas State, Michigan State and Notre Dame all came crashing down. Or, in Notre Dame’s case, were thrown away. Repeatedly. Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson threw four interceptions yesterday. Four! And if that weren’t enough, he fumbled the ball once, too. Brian Kelly’s cardiologist might even call Golson and plead with him to shape up, for the sake of his coach’s soon-to-be-exploding heart.
Alabama dodged a bullet, thanks to the most peculiar fourth quarter (in terms of LSU coaching) I’ve ever seen. What I predicted weeks ago—the SEC West would beat itself up—is happening. Next week will drive the final nail in the coffin for all those people who believe more than one SEC team will make the playoff. Not gonna happen. Mississippi State and Alabama are the last two elites standing. And they square off next Saturday night. Whomever wins that game will be in the driver’s seat.
It’s not like it took some great, mystical powers to figure this out. All I did was read the damn team schedules. All the top SEC West teams play one another. It doesn’t take The Amazing Kreskin to puzzle out that they’re going to knock one another out of contention.
A Playoff Without the SEC? It Could Happen
Here’s the real possibility that no one is talking about: NO SEC teams make the playoff. Think I’m crazy? Consider this: If Alabama beats Miss. St. and claims the SEC West with an 11-1 overall record and goes on to lose the conference championship team, ending the season 11-2, should they or an 11-1 Miss. St. team be considered over a one-loss conference champion from the Big 12, Pac-12 or B1G? No, if you ask me. Because doing so would be tantamount to saying records and championships matter less than perceived strength of schedule.
If Florida State goes undefeated (they will), and Oregon, TCU and Ohio State all win their conferences with only one loss each, who in their right mind would put a two-loss team from any conference in the playoff over those teams? Sadly, I can see that very thing happening. But the chances of an SEC-less playoff are greater than you think, too.Most Impressive Win This Weekend
Arizona State’s drubbing of Notre Dame is impressive. In fact, all the games featuring top-ranked teams basically lived up to the hype. But Ohio State’s authoritative win over Michigan State at East Lansing was the one I least expected. And they made it look easy. Most people wrote off Ohio State after losing at home to Virginia Tech. But now, they have positioned themselves to make a case for the playoff. Their season is far from over, but if they win the conference, it’s tough to deny them.
In the meantime, the pool of teams vying for the four playoff slots is really down to about eight or nine. Even though a couple two-loss teams are going to sneak into the Top Ten, they’re just there for show.
My Top TenMy List of Teams That Can Win the Championship
Screw Top Ten rankings. It doesn’t matter anymore. We’re down to three undefeated teams and nine one-loss teams in FBS. And three of those teams (Marshall, Duke and Colorado State) won’t factor into the playoff. I figure there are eight teams still in contention for the four playoff spots. Before we get to them, let’s pay our respects to the fallen teams this week.
Michigan State (7-2 / 4-1)—I really thought this was Sparty’s year. I really did. I guess we should’ve learned how it ends for State by watching The 300: lying dead, in a pit, next to the body of Gerard Butler.
Auburn (7-2 / 4-2)—I suppose this loss at home to A&M was karma coming back to collect after last year’s magical ride.
Kansas State (7-2 / 5-1)—It was a longshot for K-State to make it through their gauntlet of a season unscathed. It’s a pretty tall order to win on the road at Oklahoma, TCU, West Virginia and Baylor…all in one season.
1. Florida State (9-0 / 6-0)—Still, in my mind, the best team on the field. Off the field, a complete train wreck. But they are a beatable No. 1, so they better watch out for Duke.
2. Mississippi State (9-0 / 5-0)—They had the week off, playing Tennessee-Martin in their annual in-season scrimmage (an SEC tradition I despise). Nothing like a glorified intra-squad game to tune up for ‘Bama!
3. Oregon (9-1 / 3-1)—Not their prettiest effort this week, but the Ducks are my pick to win it all.
4. Baylor (8-1 / 5-1)—Call this a course correction. Baylor belongs ahead of TCU. They have a big test to end their season, but if they run the table, the Bears should be in the playoff.
5. TCU (8-1 / 5-1)—I was not expecting the Frogs to win so resoundingly over K-State. But they need a Baylor loss to have a chance.
6. Alabama (8-1 /5-1)—An impressive win vs. LSU, but this week’s home game vs. Miss. St. will be the game of ultimate consequence in the SEC. If the Tide wins, THEN I’ll slot them higher.
7. Arizona State (8-1 / 5-1)—The Sun Devils are much better than anyone realizes because nobody sees their games on TV. Thumping Notre Dame went a long way, but they’re a long way from being a contender.
8. Ohio State (8-1 / 5-1)—Beating Sparty in Lansing so resoundingly is impressive; a signature win in an otherwise season of cupcakes (but don’t look past Minnesoooota, now).
The Dark Horses
Only a handful of teams can truly upset the apple cart and turn this burgeoning debacle of a playoff system into complete chaos. They are:
Nebraska (8-1 / 4-1)—The Huskers have a legitimate shot at making the playoff, but it’ll require several dominoes falling, first. Their season is far from over, too. Wiscy next week, followed by a vastly underrated Minnesota team will not be easy outs.
Duke (8-1 / 4-1)—The only thing Duke can do is spoil Florida State’s run in the ACC championship. The Blue Devils play a pretty weak schedule. But if they win the ACC and a few other things happen (Pac-12, Big 12 and B1G champions crap all over themselves), then they have a shot at
completely embarrassing themselves in a playoff making the playoff.
Colorado State (9-1 / 5-1)—The Rams are truly a force with whom to be reckoned. CSU’s artful annihilation of arch-rival Colorado to open the season put the entire FBS on notice. I’m totally kidding. Who????? They’ll get a bowl game and they’ll like it. Playoff? Don’t talk so foolish.
The Other Undefeated Team
Marshall (9-0 / 5-0)—Yes, undefeated…in a weak, weak conference. Give them a Top 25 ranking and a Jan 1 bowl game and call it even. Maybe they can play CSU in the Who Gives A Rat’s Ass? Bowl.
Week 12 Games of Ultimate Consequence
Week 11 was, without a doubt, the best overall week of competition we’ve seen this season. Next weekend isn’t going to earn as much hype, but there are a few subtle games on the docket that could have major post-season implications.
Mississippi State (9-0 / 5-0)at Alabama (8-1 / 5-1)
This is essentially the final round of the SEC Round Robin tournament. The winner of this game is the likely representative in the CFB playoff…providing they win the rest of their games after this, plus the conference championship. In other words, it’s not over yet, but this game and this weekend should lay to rest any notion of multiple SEC teams in the playoff. Look for ‘Bama to win this one.
Ohio State (8-1 / 5-1) at Minnesota (7-2 / 4-1)
This is an important game for Ohio State. After a huge road win over Sparty, it would be easy to think the Golden Gophers are a gimme. Yes, Ohio State will be favored, but Minnesota is quietly piecing together a strong season. Jerry Kill’s Gophers haven’t played a ranked opponent yet, so this is their coming-out game. They need this win to prove they’re legit. But Minnesota is about to get schooled. Ohio State wins big.
Florida State (9-0 / 6-0) at Miami (6-2 / 3-2)
Sure, Miami isn’t an elite program these days, but this is a rivalry game. The Hurricanes could be looking for respect while the Seminoles continue to look for distractions from their off-field woes. FSU is playing better in recent weeks, but this will be the most hostile environment they enter this season. Don’t be surprised if Miami pulls off the upset.