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We entered the first weekend of November with substantial uncertainty in the SEC — by the end of the day there was none — Alabama and Georgia were headed to Atlanta to meet for the SEC title after road beatdowns of LSU and Kentucky, respectively.
I hope you listened to me and made some money gambling on both of these games. Alabama and Georgia weren’t just a little bit better than LSU and Kentucky, they were in a different class entirely.
Those SEC wins both went a long way towards cleaning up the playoff picture as well.
My playoff four are: Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Michigan in that order with Georgia, Oklahoma, Washington State, West Virginia, and Ohio State as the next five up.
Now let me explain my rationale and what might come next:
1. Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Michigan are my four playoff teams with three weeks left in the regular season.
If these four teams win out then there will be zero drama about the playoff selection.
But since it’s college football, where craziness lurks around every corner, the odds of all four of these teams going 15-0 collectively down the stretch are not particularly high.
But, and this is key if you look at the remaining games and the competing team resumes, I also think all three of the top teams could probably afford to lose a game and still make the playoff, especially if Alabama and Clemson lost a game before their respective title games and then won the title games.
I’ll explain that below.
In the meantime, my next five teams up are all still alive as well and, frankly, I’m not sure who beyond these nine teams is even in the playoff mix as we finish out the season.
So let me begin the Starting 11 with unpacking the playoff race.
2. Does the SEC have a chance to get two teams in the playoff?
First, as long as Alabama doesn’t lose two of its final four games the Crimson Tide are going to be in the playoff. I even think if Alabama lost to Mississippi State or Auburn and then came back to beat Georgia in the SEC title game that Alabama could not only still make the playoff, I think they’d probably still be the number one overall seed.
But if Georgia were to win out — that means beat Auburn, UMASS, and Georgia Tech, all at home in Athens and then beat Alabama in the SEC title game — I think there’s a 100% chance both Georgia and Alabama would make the college football playoff.
I really do, even if that meant that a 12-1 Michigan team had to be bumped from the playoff.
I simply don’t see any way possible that 12-1 Alabama wouldn’t make the playoff and I don’t see any way you could leave out 12-1 Georgia with an SEC title and a win over Alabama in Atlanta.
So if you’re a fan of any other team contending for the playoff you should be rooting for Alabama to go 13-0 because in that scenario there is no uncertainty — the SEC would only get one team in the playoff.
This also means the absurd SEC conspiracy argument levied by James Carville makes no sense at all. If the SEC were biased at this point it would be biased against Alabama. The league stands to make way more money if Alabama loses the SEC title game to Georgia than it does if they win.
I don’t think there is anyone out there who could argue that 12-1 Alabama wouldn’t be one of the four best teams in college football.
Barring two losses in their final four games, the Tide will be in the playoff.
2. I will be very surprised if Michigan doesn’t win the Big Ten title this year.
I have been very critical of all the praise heaped upon Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, but if he finally wins his division, the conference, and advances to the playoff in year four then he will finally live up to the media’s coronation of him as a top coach in college football.
Honestly, I’m stunned that Michigan is an underdog in advance lines for the road game at Ohio State. I don’t just think Michigan is going to win this game, I think they might go into Columbus and blow the Buckeyes out.
The Buckeyes were awful against Nebraska and I think Michigan State will beat them this upcoming weekend, which would eliminate Ohio State from playoff contention and essentially give Michigan the Big Ten East crown since the Wolverines would only have to beat Rutgers and Indiana to lock up the division then.
Assuming both teams, however, are 10-1 then Ohio State-Michigan will be a playoff elimination game.
But here’s the problem for the Big Ten — do you know who is waiting in the Big Ten title game? 5-4 Northwestern. If Northwestern can go 2-1 down the stretch — at Iowa, at Minnesota, and Illinois at home — then the Wildcats would advance to the Big Ten title game. Even if they go 1-2 they have a decent chance of being in the Big Ten title game thanks to tiebreaks over Wisconsin and Purdue.
The point of all this? How much of a slingshot effect would Michigan or Ohio State get from the Big Ten title game by beating 7-5 or 6-6 Northwestern? None at all. Especially since Michigan has already beaten Northwestern once.
Regardless of who advances to the Big Ten title game — Northwestern, Purdue or Wisconsin — this is a land mine game for the Big Ten. All it does is blow up a team’s playoff chances.
Now, it may not matter if Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame all win out then the fourth playoff spot would probably go to a one loss Big Ten team, but if it comes down to a tough call I don’t see the Big Ten champ getting much benefit from the Big Ten title game.
By the way, based on how they played against Nebraska, there’s also the possibility Ohio State could wreck the Big Ten’s playoff chances all by themselves.
If the Buckeyes lost to Michigan State or Maryland and then bounced back to beat Michigan the Big Ten’s playoff hopes would be dead for a second straight season.
So if you’re a Big 12 or Pac 12 fan, you want to root for Ohio State to lose to Michigan State this upcoming weekend and then beat Michigan to knock the Big Ten out of the playoff race.
Having said all of this, I think Michigan will win the conference and finish 12-1.
The only way I don’t see 12-1 Michigan making the playoff is if 12-0 Alabama lost to 11-1 Georgia in the SEC title game. I just don’t see any way the committee could leave out Alabama — who is clearly the best team in college football this year — or Georgia, who would be the SEC champion and would be coming off a slingshot win of all slingshot wins by upsetting the Crimson Tide in Atlanta.
3. Oklahoma and West Virginia are both still alive in the Big 12.
I’m not sure you can set an over/under high enough for this game between Oklahoma and West Virginia in three weeks in Morgantown either.
So let’s look at the remaining schedules for both teams.
Oklahoma plays Oklahoma State and Kansas, both at home in Norman, before closing out the year with a Friday night game against West Virginia.
The Mountaineers play TCU, a land mine game at Oklahoma State, and then finish at home against Oklahoma.
Each of these teams would still be alive at the playoff if they could finish 12-1.
But will either be able to do this? I have my doubts.
Right now I’d project West Virginia to lose at Oklahoma State and I’d project Oklahoma to lose at West Virginia.
If that happened both teams might meet again in the Big 12 title game with two losses, but the game would be inconsequential from a playoff perspective.
I’m not going to spend a ton of time trying to figure out the Big 12 title game scenarios, but four teams are still alive to make the title game — Oklahoma, West Virginia, Texas, and Iowa State. The latter team is particularly funny because Iowa State has already scheduled a make up game against Incarnate Word on the day of the Big 12 title game.
Yet if Iowa State won out, Oklahoma won out, and Texas lost one more game I believe your Big 12 title game would be Oklahoma against Iowa State.
Talk about a barnburner!
4. Clemson is on fire in the ACC.
Right now Clemson is clearly the second best team in college football.
In the past four weeks they have won by scores of 63-3, 41-7, 59-10, and 77-16.
They finish with games at Boston College and then home games against Duke and South Carolina.
Right now the ACC title game would be a match-up against Pittsburgh, but I’m not sure Clemson even has to go undefeated to make the playoff. Mind you, I think they will, but I’m not sure that’s necessary.
Having said that, for all the griping about Alabama’s schedule, Clemson’s schedule is actually worse.
The best win Clemson has all season is Syracuse, a team they were fortunate to come back and beat at home.
And they slid past 5-4 Texas A&M by surviving a two point conversion attempt.
That’s why it’s not only who you play, in my mind, it’s how badly you beat your competition. And right now Clemson and Alabama are in a different category than the rest of college football.
5. Does the Pac 12 have any playoff chance?
That would require a great deal of chaos, honestly.
We’re getting very close to three spots being locked up — Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame. Aside from these three teams losing multiple games, what Washington State needs to do is win out and then have two loss champions emerge from both the Big Ten and the Big 12.
What Mike Leach has done with Washington State is nothing short of phenomenal. The Cougars finish at Colorado, then play Arizona and Washington at home.
Washington State has just two Pac 12 titles in its football history: 1997 and 2002.
Indeed, Washington State has never won the Pac 12 and the Rose Bowl in the same year, something that’s a realistic goal for the Cougars this year.
But if they want to make the playoffs then they need the Big Ten and the Big 12 to fall apart.
6. How about Notre Dame?
The Fighting Irish are inching closer and closer to locking up a playoff spot.
The remaining schedule looks like this: Florida State, Syracuse and then at USC.
I think, honestly, Syracuse is the toughest team remaining on Notre Dame’s schedule.
But we’re almost to the point where Notre Dame could lose a game and still make the playoff. How so? Alabama and Clemson both look very strong for making the playoff. Right now so does Michigan. So long as Michigan continues to win it’s hard to argue Notre Dame, with a head-to-head win over 12-1 Michigan, could be left out at 11-1.
Of course the Irish can eliminate all doubt by continuing to win, but even with a loss, I’m not sure Notre Dame falls out of contention so long as Michigan continues to win.
One difficult scenario that could emerge: what if Alabama loses to Georgia in the SEC title game, Michigan wins out, Clemson wins out, and Notre Dame loses one game?
Then I think Clemson, Alabama, and Georgia would all be in the playoff. Would you take 11-1 Notre Dame or 12-1 Michigan? That’s a really tough call.
I think Michigan would be the better team, but don’t you have to value the head-to-head win when it comes down to deciding between two teams like this? I think so.
Again, Notre Dame can remove all the doubt by winning its final three, but that decision is one to keep an eye on.
7. UCF has no argument to be included in the playoff.
When you give up 670 yards to Temple, your playoff argument is over.
As I have been saying for several years, I’m in favor of an eight team playoff which takes all five major conference champions, two wild cards, and one at large Cinderella team from the non power five conferences.
But until that happens no non power five team should be in the playoff absent an incredible resume.
Based on what I saw against Temple Alabama would score 100 points against UCF.
UCF is not one of the top teams in college football.
8. ESPN apologized to the SEC and commissioner Greg Sankey for James Carville’s appearance on College Gameday.
Here’s what James Carville said on Gameday:
? James Carville suggests there is a conspiracy in the SEC to benefit Bama. pic.twitter.com/4zes5Vkw6K
— The Go Big Redcast (@GoBigRedCast) November 3, 2018
The shirt Carville wore said Greg Sankey hearts Alabama and that the SEC could kiss his ass.
Here was the apology ESPN gave on air.
ESPN just apologized on the air for James Carville’s comments about Greg Sankey on Gameday pic.twitter.com/OUoGeS1s3h
— Matt Scalici (@MattScalici) November 3, 2018
Look, I like James Carville, but I haven’t written or talked about this conspiracy theory because, frankly, it’s just stupid.
Alabama doesn’t need help, they’ve beaten everyone by 22 points or more this season. LSU, as anyone who saw the game last night could easily see for themselves, was outclassed by Alabama. They were not close to beating the Tide. In fact, if Carville wants to be mad at anyone, he should be mad at Ed Orgeron for punting from the 38 and later trying a field goal down by 22 late in the fourth quarter. The field goal decision ensured that LSU, currently trailing by three scores, would still be trailing by three scores after the field goal too. (LSU, of course, missed the field goal).
The truth of the matter is this — Alabama is much better than everyone else they’ve played.
They’re better coached and they have better players.
The best team in the SEC this year is Alabama, but the second best team in the SEC this year might be Alabama’s back ups.
As I wrote above, if anything the SEC is actually incentivized for Georgia to beat Alabama in the SEC title game because then the league would probably get two playoff teams. That is, the league should be rooting against Alabama, not for them.
The fact of the matter is this, it’s very difficult to make consistently perfect calls when it comes to interpreting targeting. There are many calls which are borderline and the penalty — ejection for the rest of the game, which can extend to the first half of the next game if the targeting happens in the second half — is very substantial.
In watching last night’s game live, I believed LSU got away with targeting on Alabama’s first touchdown catch.
Many of you agreed with men and many of you also disagreed with my interpretation of the rule, but that’s just it — it’s an interpretation of a difficult rule and officials have been instructed to throw the flag when they are in doubt.
The intent here is a good one — to protect unpaid scholarship athletes from head-to-head contact in a violent game. The goal behind the rule is to force players to slow down just a bit and change the way they play the game. That’s a worthy goal, particularly when the helmet has, all too often, become a weapon.
Oftentimes the distinction between one player being ejected and another being allowed to stay in the game is minuscule. But that doesn’t mean there is some sort of conspiracy at play.
Arguing that is, frankly, just absurd.
Having said all of this, what did ESPN think James Carville was going to say when he went on their show wearing that shirt? I don’t blame Carville for sharing his opinion, however misguided it may be, but it was pretty clear what he was going to say. And if you didn’t know that, all you had to do was read his shirt!
So why would ESPN let him spread his conspiracy theory?
That just seems like a mishap to me.
I do, however, find it incredible that ESPN apologized for what a non-employee said here, but has never apologized for Jemele Hill calling the president of the united states a white supremacist and saying his entire cabinet and his voters were also white supremacists.
9. Is it time to start talking about Alabama being one of the best teams in college football history?
I think so.
The Tide have won every game this year by 22 or more points and they just went on the road and thoroughly dominated LSU by 29.
The three best, undefeated teams I have watched play college football in my life as a fan are 1995 Nebraska, 2001 Miami and 2004-5 USC. All three of these teams went undefeated and won national titles.
The 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers had one 14 point win along with a 24 and a 23 point win.
The 2001 Miami Hurricanes had an 11 point win and a narrow two point win.
The 2004 USC Trojans, who went undefeated and won the title, and the 2005 USC Trojans — the team that lost to Texas in the Rose Bowl — had several close games in both seasons.
Through nine games, this Alabama football team has been completely unchallenged and is the best I’ve ever seen in college football.
If they go 15-0 and continue to play like they are right now I believe they will become the greatest college football team of my life. And, potentially, the greatest of all time.
10. My Outkick National Top Ten
3. Notre Dame
7. Washington State
8. West Virginia
10. Ohio State
11. SEC power rankings 1-14
Missouri’s beat down of Florida has thrown everything here into a mess. I think that will fix itself somewhat over the next three weeks as I expect Mizzou to win out and finish 4-4 in conference. You can make a strong argument that Mizzou should have beaten both Kentucky and South Carolina. In fact, I think the Tigers are better than both teams. The performance we saw from Mizzou on the road at Florida is the one I expected to see against Kentucky last weekend.
6. Mississippi State
8. Texas A&M
9. South Carolina
11. Ole Miss