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Starting 11: Michigan Finally Beats Ohio State

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I’ve spent the entire fall on the road with the Outkick bus tour — from Fayetteville, Arkansas to Gainesville Florida, from Aggieland to the Clemson-Georgia opener in Charlotte — and I’ve had an incredible time meeting many of you during September, October and November dates on SEC campuses.

We saw every team play but South Carolina and Missouri and visited every SEC state but Kentucky and Missouri.

We’ll be in Atlanta doing a live Outkick show at Stats sports bar on Saturday afternoon before the SEC title game kickoff, but as our season on the road comes to a close I want to thank everyone affiliated with our Outkick bus tour. They did a phenomenal job putting it all together and they were a great joy to be with all fall.

One of the real joys of college football in general, particularly in the South, is the family connection that underscores all the games. I’ve had my boys with me in Nashville, Oxford, Tuscaloosa, Auburn, and Knoxville and they’re at the perfect ages right now where they will remember all these games for the rest of their lives.

Yesterday with my 11 year old in Auburn was truly a remarkable experience. I know I’ll remember it for the rest of my life and I know he will too.

I hope all of you have also had fantastic fall football seasons with your family and friends.

Okay, let’s dive into the Thanksgiving weekend chaos.

1. The conference title game match ups are wild.

Outside of Georgia vs. Alabama, which almost everyone could have forecast, if you had the ACC title game of Wake Forest vs. Pittsburgh, the Big Ten title game of Michigan vs. Iowa, the Big 12 title game of Oklahoma State vs. Baylor or the Pac 12 title game of Utah vs. Oregon, take a bow.

This year has been fantastic for college football because we’ve reached the conference title games with an entirely new collection of teams competing for playoff spots. For the past several years the biggest criticism of college football has been that the same teams play for titles every year.

But this year has mostly blown up that criticism because this year’s playoff race is wide open and most of the contenders are new.

If the season were ending today, here’s what my playoff would look like:

1. Georgia
2. Michigan
3. Alabama
4. Oklahoma State

In fifth place?

5. Cincinnati

But we’ve got a ton to still happen on conference title weekend.

So let’s break down all the permutations and then discuss the games that were played over Thanksgiving weekend.

2. What’s your most likely playoff foursome?

The most likely playoff foursome, I think is this:

1. Georgia
2. Michigan
3. Oklahoma State
4. Cincinnati

But that’s presuming all the conference title game favorites win, which almost never happens.

So how many teams are still alive for a playoff berth? I think the number is 11. Now let me explain why.

3. Here are my 11 teams still alive for the playoff.

The SEC has Georgia and Alabama still alive for playoff berths — with Georgia as the only team with a spot locked up –, the Big Ten has two teams, Iowa and Michigan, the Big 12 has two teams, Oklahoma State and Baylor, the Pac 12 has one team, Oregon, Pittsburgh or Wake Forest, each of whom would finish 11-2 as ACC champs, could also be in the mix if enough chaos occurred. Then you add Notre Dame and Cincinnati for a grand total of 11 teams with a chance to make the playoff.

I’m going to break each of these scenarios down in a moment, but first, here’s the ultimate chaos scenario that college football fans love to contemplate so much.

What happens if Georgia beats Alabama, Iowa beats Michigan, Baylor beats Oklahoma State, Utah beats Oregon, and Houston beats Cincinnati?

Your only playoff lock team would be Georgia as the number one seed.

Then you’d have three playoff teams to select with 11-2 Iowa as the Big Ten champ, 11-2 Baylor as the Big 12 champ, 10-3 Utah as the Pac 12 champ, you’d have an 11-2 ACC champ in Pittsburgh or Wake Forest, 11-2 SEC championship game loser Alabama, 11-2 Big Ten title game loser Michigan, 12-1 Cincinnati, and 11-1 Notre Dame.

Who gets in then? I honestly have no idea.

My best guess would be:

1. Georgia
2. 11-2 Baylor
3. 11-2 Iowa
4. 11-2 Pittsburgh or Wake Forest, 11-2 Alabama, 11-2 Michigan, or 12-1 Cincinnati (I think 11-1 Notre Dame is boxed out by Cincinnati)

This is just my best guess, but I think the playoff committee would take the 11-2 ACC champion to complete the playoff. The committee wouldn’t be picking the best four teams here, but they’d argue they were picking the most deserving teams. And this would also keep them from putting Alabama against Georgia in an immediate rematch game, which doesn’t seem very fair to Georgia.

But this is just my best guess.

As you can see, there’s a great deal of chaos still out there.

4. Okay, let’s make it simple, who is in if they win?

Georgia is in win or lose. With a win the Bulldogs are the one seed. With a loss to Alabama, Georgia might drop to number two overall although I think you could make an argument Georgia would still deserve the one seed even if they lost to Alabama. Either way, however, Georgia is, at worst, the number two seed in the playoff at this point.

The remaining three teams that are in with a win are Alabama, Michigan, and, I think, Oklahoma State. That’s the only trio that I believe is guaranteed to be in the playoff if they win their title games.

Cincinnati, I believe, would be the next team up, but that’s complicated a bit because the teams that beat Michigan and Oklahoma State, Iowa and Baylor, would also have strong playoff claims too.

But ultimately my playoff rankings entering the final week of the season would look like this:

1. Georgia
2. Michigan
3. Alabama
4. Oklahoma State
5. Cincinnati
6. Notre Dame

After Notre Dame, who is in the clubhouse with a completed season at 11-1, there would be a bunch of two loss teams angling for playoff consideration.

FanDuel, by the way, makes Georgia a -220 favorite to win the national title.

And then no one else is particularly close to the Bulldogs:

Alabama +750
Michigan 10-1
Oklahoma State 12-1
Cincinnati 12-1
Notre Dame 25-1
Iowa 100-1
Pittsburgh 100-1
Wake Forest 150-1
Utah 200-1
Oregon 200-1
Baylor 200-1

The only team FanDuel has odds on that I didn’t put in my playoff contenders is Utah at 200-1. I just don’t see how a 10-3 Utah team is going to make the playoff no matter what happens above them.

Okay, now on to the games themselves.

5. Michigan finally beats Ohio State.

This was an absolutely monster win for Jim Harbaugh.

It’s impossible to underrate how much pressure he’s been under to win this game and how much derision, including from these corners, he’s gotten over the five straight losses. (And the canceled game last year that would have been a sixth).

Ultimately Michigan just whipped Ohio State on the lines of scrimmage all day long.

The Wolverines ran the ball 41 times for 297 yards, an average of 7.2 yards per rush. Meanwhile Ohio State ran the ball 30 times for just 64 yards.

That was your ballgame.

Michigan dominated the lines of scrimmage and while Ohio State made plays in the passing game, they couldn’t overcome the physical whipping.

Now the Wolverines have to show up and win a tough and physical game against Iowa in the Big Ten title game. If they do that, and they should, Jim Harbaugh will have the Wolverines in the playoff.

Long after most of us expected, but he will have gotten there.

And he will have done it after a season last year that almost saw him lose his job in Ann Arbor.

6. Alabama survives in a wild Iron Bowl.

This felt like a game where everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Crimson Tide.

Bama dropped a snap on fourth down, dropped a hold on a field goal, had more penalties than any Alabama team I can remember — 11 for 129 yards — and were absolutely atrocious offensively for most of the game.

But Auburn left the door open with a couple of big mistakes on offense in the fourth quarter.

First, why were the Tigers throwing the ball on first down up 10-0 after their first fourth down stop on the Tide? There was 11:50 left in the game and Auburn had the ball at their own 44. TJ Finley, who was erratic in the passing game all day, threw a pick on the first play after the fourth down stop.

That led to an Alabama field goal.

Why not run the ball there on first and second down and take off another couple of minutes before taking your passing shot down the field so if it’s intercepted it’s the equivalent of a punt? It felt like Auburn had the game in control here and they gave Alabama life with an immediate turnover. Given the Tigers had a two score lead, this was really poor play calling.

Second, after the second fourth down stop Alabama only had two timeouts left. Auburn took the ball back over with 1:56 left at the Alabama 46. If you run the ball three times Alabama gets the ball back, at best, with under a minute to play and no timeouts.

Instead, inexplicably, you run the ball outside and your running back goes out of bounds.

Now you can credit the back, Tank Bigsby, for attempting to gain the first down, but why do you put him in that situation? If you run the ball in the center of the field you get stopped, probably, but Alabama is taking back possession of the football with fifty seconds left, no timeouts and needing to go the length of the field.

I like those odds way more than attempting to run for a first down against Alabama when you haven’t run the ball all game on them.

While everyone will focus on the 97 yard drive, I just feel like Auburn lost the game on those two plays. And unlike the Alabama drive, these were choices Auburn made that hurt their chances to win.

As is, the Tide outgained Auburn 388 to 159. The total yardage differential in this game suggests Alabama would have typically won by double digits. Credit Auburn for a much better performance than anyone expected, but ultimately the Tide’s win will grow in Iron Bowl legend and Auburn’s collapse will too.

Having said all of this, I just don’t see Alabama having much of a shot against Georgia. The Tide have beaten 6-6 LSU by six, 8-4 Arkansas by 7, both at home, and just beat 6-6 Auburn by two on the road. Even the game against Tennessee was tight in the fourth quarter. You can argue, in fact, Alabama hasn’t played a truly impressive game against an SEC opponent since Mississippi State back in mid-October.

I just don’t think this Alabama team is that good relative to past year Tide teams.

Which is why I think Nick Saban appears to be taking more joy from this 11-1 season than he has many more dominant seasons in the past.

He feels like this is one of his best coaching jobs, I think.

Maybe Alabama will rise up and play one of their best games of the season against Georgia this coming Saturday, but I just don’t see it.

I think Georgia is much better than anyone else in college football this season, Alabama included. And I think the Bulldogs dominate defensively on Saturday.

7. Oklahoma State wrestles down Oklahoma.

Credit to Mike Gundy who one year ago was, at least according to the blue check sports media brigade, on the verge of losing his job because he wore a tshirt featuring a conservative news network, OAN, on a fishing trip.

Now Gundy’s one win away from taking his team to the college football playoff and winning the Big 12 title.

That was partly thanks to Oklahoma getting no breaks at all in the officiating.

Indeed, watching the way Oklahoma and Texas are being treated by the Big 12, do we really think these two teams are waiting until 2025 to join the SEC? I just don’t see it.

8. Who gets the biggest open college jobs at Florida, LSU, and USC?

My predictions:

Florida: Billy Napier
USC: Matt Campbell
LSU: Lane Kiffin

9. Who wins the Heisman?

Your guess is as good as mine.

With CJ Stroud’s season over, it feels like the Heisman is Bryce Young’s to win if he can deliver a solid performance against Georgia on Saturday.

But if that doesn’t happen, I think Stroud may well win it by default.

Essentially this thing is wide open for someone to have an otherworldly performance and capture it.

10. My Outkick national top ten

1. Georgia
2. Michigan
3. Alabama
4. Oklahoma State
5. Cincinnati
6. Notre Dame
7. Ohio State
8. Ole Miss
9. Baylor
10. Oregon

11. SEC power rankings 1-14

Just FYI, it’s virtually impossible to rank teams here after the first three teams. Because we’ve got four teams that finished 4-4 and four more teams that finished 3-5 in conference, frequently beating each other in the process. In other words, it’s impossible to rank teams with the team that won a head-to-head match up always above the team that lost. So I’m trying to rank based on the totality of the resume, both in conference and out of conference.

By the way, every SEC team but Vanderbilt is heading to a bowl game this year.

1. Georgia
2. Alabama
3. Ole Miss
4. Kentucky
5. Arkansas
6. Tennessee
7. Mississippi State
8. Texas A&M
9. Missouri
10. South Carolina
11. Auburn
12. LSU
13. Florida
14. Vanderbilt

Written by Clay Travis

OutKick founder, host and author. He's presently banned from appearing on both CNN and ESPN because he’s too honest for both.

One Comment

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  1. Culturally, Lane Kiffen is not right for Baton Rouge. The Cajuns will not allow him the lifestyle he thrives on: He’s like a sober Hunter Biden — always needing a higher-high in a glamorous, celestial setting — Oxford is Mississippi’s little “uppity” setting and he fits with the imaginary wealth/success delusions Oxfordites are famous for creating around themselves.

    Baton Rouge is a little more “Earthy,” and they LIKE IT THAT WAY — not saying the Red-Sticks can’t roll out a Red-Carpet and make a dynamic splash, THEY CAN (plenty of old, oil money down on Highland Rd.), but in the end, the Cajuns LIKE being Cajuns; they like Crawdads and Beer – Lane is NOT a Cajun, he’s a [adopted] Californian and more of a champagne and brie kinda guy. He’d never adjust to that life-style and they’d never adjust to his. They might as well hire Gavin Newsome.

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