Starting 11: The Playoff Race Tightens Edition

Saturday didn’t make the playoff race any simpler.

Instead of an upset arising to provide some form of clarity, the top six teams continued to lay claim to their status as major playoff contenders.

Effectively the playoff race is down to these six teams as monster favorites to be among the four teams to make the playoff: Alabama, Florida, Texas A&M, Notre Dame, Clemson and Ohio State.

Cincinnati may be alive with a slight playoff pulse, but they would need major losses down the stretch to find themselves in the mix. While fans of teams like USC and Miami may still be holding out playoff hope, it’s essentially over for all but the six teams above.

I’ll explain the playoff race in detail shortly, but first, as soon as I finish the Starting 11 I’m headed to Browns-Titans in downtown Nashville. And right now if you live in Tennessee, Indiana or Illinois, you get a 25-1 payout if you just pick the winner of the game. That’s right, if new users bet $5 and you earn back $125. So go get your bets in.

Okay, here we go with the Starting 11.

1. Alabama, Florida, and Texas A&M are alive for the playoff in the SEC.

How does this situation play itself out?

Alabama and Florida have just one regular season game left each, the Tide play at Arkansas and Florida plays at home against LSU. Win both of these games, as both teams will be heavily favored to do, and Alabama punches its ticket to the college football playoff while Florida will set up a win and you’re in scenario against the Tide in the SEC title game.

Meanwhile Texas A&M, which pulled away from Auburn down the stretch of the game, now has Ole Miss, which could be a wild shootout of a game, and at Tennessee scheduled to finish the Aggie season. Win both of those games and the A&M would be squarely in the playoff mix at 9-1.

This means the SEC could get anywhere from one to, believe it or not, three football teams in the playoff.

Alabama will be in the playoff with a win over Arkansas next week — the SEC title game will be about lokcing in the number one seed for the Tide — but both Florida and Texas A&M could make the playoff as well. How? If Florida beats Alabama in the SEC title game, Texas A&M wins out, Notre Dame beats Clemson and Ohio State were to be upset by someone in in the Big Ten then I think your playoff would be three SEC teams and Notre Dame.

So the SEC is locked in for one spot and three is a possibility.

Ultimately the playoff race, if you’re sketching it out in advance, feels like it may well come down to Texas A&M vs. Ohio State for the final spot. (In this scenario Alabama would beat Florida and Clemson would beat Notre Dame. Then you’d have Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame all in the playoff, I believe, with one spot left for either Texas A&M or Ohio State.)

So who would you pick in that scenario? I’ve got am embedded poll coming for you in a bit.

2. Notre Dame and Clemson are set to play in the ACC title game in two weeks and both teams are very much alive for the playoff.

In a move befitting the wildness of the season, the ACC abruptly eliminated games for Clemson and Notre Dame on December 12, setting both teams up with a bye week before the ACC title game, and making both of their inclusions even more likely.

The ACC playoff scenarios aren’t complicated. If Notre Dame wins the ACC title game and beats Clemson for a second time then the ACC gets one playoff team in, but if Clemson beats Notre Dame, so long as it isn’t a massive blowout and Ian Book stays healthy, then I think both ACC teams will be in the playoff.

So if you’re Ohio State or Texas A&M, you want to root for Alabama and Notre Dame to both win because if that happened then your playoff would likely be Alabama, Notre Dame, Texas A&M and Ohio State. (It would be interesting to see if the committee would avoid an Alabama-Texas A&M rematch or if they would set up the big game against Ohio State.)

But if both Florida and Clemson were to win then I think Ohio State and Texas A&M would both get boxed out because your playoff four would likely be Alabama, Florida, Notre Dame and Clemson.

3. Ohio State is alive for the playoff in the drama filled Big Ten.

I’ve been told three things by sources in the Big Ten: first, the athletic directors may well change the rule on minimum number of games required to quality for the Big Ten title game. This is a decision the athletic directors make, not a decision made by commissioner Kevin Warren. The minimum number of games could come into play if Michigan isn’t able to play on December 12th against Ohio State and if the Buckeyes only play five games in the regular season. If that rule were changed then Ohio State would be able to play against Northwestern in the Big Ten title game even if the Buckeye game against Michigan is canceled.

Second, the Big Ten may well revise its 21 day quarantine for positive tests in light of recent CDC guidance lowering the quarantine period to 7-10 days. That would be very helpful in terms of teams being able to play games. (Of course, not having this policy in the first place would have been much better).

Third, they are trying to potentially rework the Big Ten schedules on December 12th so that if Ohio State-Michigan can’t happen, there’s another team scheduled to play against Ohio State. But that’s complicated by the fact that there’s uncertainty about whether teams other than Michigan might have to sit out. So this is a major scheduling mess.

As a result, there has been some talk about playing Ohio State-Michigan on December 19th or, potentially, Ohio State-Wisconsin on December 18th, the Friday before the Big Ten title game, which would serve as a shadow Big Ten title game featuring the two teams who weren’t eligible to play based on the number of canceled games that occurred.

Okay, all of those moving parts have to be discussed before we get to the actual games. Right now Ohio State is scheduled to play Michigan next week and then, if they played and won, they would get Northwestern in the Big Ten title game.

So let’s presume that Ohio State wins both those games and finishes 7-0.

What then?

Well, the Buckeyes need for either Florida or Clemson to lose because if both those teams win their league title games there are no playoff spots left for Ohio State.

Then the Buckeyes would also like to see Texas A&M lose so it doesn’t come down to the 9-1 Aggies against the 7-0 Buckeyes.

But I think that’s the most likely playoff scenario for the final spot: A&M vs. Ohio State.

So who would you guys vote for if you were on the playoff committee and these were your options?

4. The playoff hopes of the Big 12 and the Pac 12 are essentially over.

The Pac 12, in particular, is a total mess and I’m not sure there is any scenario where, for instance, 6-0 USC could find itself in the mix for the playoff. Heck, I’m not even sure the Pac 12 teams will be able to finish their seasons given the ridiculous covid rule being put into place on the west coast.

Stanford HAD TO LEAVE THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA to finish its season. And, by the way, props to Stanford for winning at Washington despite the fact that they were doing walk throughs before this game in a public park in Seattle.

David Shaw remains, I think, the most underrated coach in college football.

The Big 12 is also out of the playoff race absent extreme chaos. .

But how about major props for Iowa State, who punched their ticket to the Big 12 title game and are going to be playing for their first conference title since 1915? That’s an absolutely phenomenal story.

So both of these conferences are effectively also rans in the playoff race.

Which brings me to a column I’m going to write this week, college football needs to expand the playoff. I think we have enough of a sample size now to see that the same three or four teams are in the playoff every year. And I don’t think that’s healthy for college football overall.

Given the financial constraints all of college athletics are in after covid, I believe it’s time to expand the playoff to eight teams for next season. (I’m not in favor of expanding the playoff this season because covid positives have turned into such a mess that the more teams in the playoff, the more challenging getting all those games played becomes).

5. Cincinnati is hanging on by a thread in the playoff race.

What would need to happen for the Bearcats to get a playoff spot?

Here’s their best scenario: Alabama beats Florida and Notre Dame beats Clemson. That locks in Alabama and Notre Dame as playoff teams and eliminates Florida and Clemson from playoff contention. Then either Texas A&M or Ohio State would have to lose a game. If that happened then I think Cincinnati, if they won out, would have a good shot of being the fourth playoff team.

But if that happened you’d also need to watch out for one loss Miami and, potentially, 6-0 Pac 12 champ USC or, believe it or not, a two loss Big 12 champ.

Again, I’d bet quite a bit of money that your four playoff teams will come from Alabama, Florida, Texas A&M, Notre Dame, Clemson, and Ohio State, but Cincinnati needs chaos to get in the mix.

6. Props to Coastal Carolina and BYU for playing their game on such short notice.

And how about that ending?!

And how about that win for Coastal Carolina’s Jamey Chadwell, who, if he doesn’t get a big job this year, is going to put himself in prime position to potentially get a big job next year.

But in all seriousness, I think what BYU and Coastal did to get this game scheduled represents everything that is great about the can-do attitude of many college football coaches and administrations in 2020. Yes, I know, it’s been a crazy, crazy year, but the flexibility that both these teams showed to get their game scheduled on virtually no notice was phenomenal.

I hated to see either team lose, but I loved that they played.

7. Joe Burrow was for LSU 2019 what Cam Newton was for Auburn in 2011.

I first raised this as a possibility after LSU’s home loss to Mississippi State to begin the season, but let’s look at the scenarios now.

The year after Gene Chizik went 14-0 and won a national title with Cam Newton, Auburn went from 14-0 to 8-5, 4-4 in the SEC. The next season, year two after the national title, Chizik went 3-9, 0-8 in the SEC and was fired.

The year after Ed Orgeron went 15-0 and won a national title with Joe Burrow, LSU is now 3-5 coming off absolute destruction by Alabama and they have Florida, which is a likely loss, and Ole Miss, which may well be a loss too, left on the schedule. So we’re talking about 4-6 or 3-7 for LSU the year after a national title.

Granted things are different because every game is a conference game, but that’s still a pretty intriguing similarity.

So where does this go for Coach Orgeron next year? Does he follow the Gene Chizik template and do things continue downhill or does he turn things around? It’s a fascinating question.

But it’s pretty incredible how fast LSU has gone from college football’s penthouse to near the SEC’s outhouse.

8. What’s going to happen at Texas now that the Longhorn season is down to Kansas next week?

Tom Herman’s Longhorns crushed Kansas State and will crush Kansas too to finish 7-3.

That will leave Herman at 32-18 overall, 23-13 in the Big 12 after four seasons. Putting that into context with Charlie Strong, the coach he replaced, Strong went 16-21 in three years at Texas, 12-15 in the Big 12. So Herman’s been quite a bit more successful than Strong, but he hasn’t been able to return the Longhorns to glory, his recruiting has begun to suffer, and, most significantly, Oklahoma and Texas A&M are both trending up.

Texas is, most certainly, not back even after four years of Tom Herman.

So what will the Longhorns do?

Urban Meyer looms as a potential replacement, the great coaching white whale in Austin. But does Meyer want the gig or does he just like the attention? And if he doesn’t, what direction do they go? This is the biggest coaching story of the offseason because Texas’s decision doesn’t just matter for Texas.

If Texas fires Herman, it threatens to set off a long ride on the coaching carousel as the coaches of several decent-sized programs — Penn State with James Franklin for instance — could end up in play for Texas. (Franklin was the other finalist when Charlie Strong was hired at Texas several years ago.)

Personally, I don’t think Herman has been bad enough at Texas to make this an easy call for the Longhorns. But as a college football fan can you imagine the drama of Urban at Texas? It would be incredible to watch.

9. The Heisman race, not surprisingly, is down to Alabama’s Mac Jones and Florida’s Kyle Trask.

Trask threw for 433 yards and four touchdowns against Tennessee, meaning he now has an eye-popping 38 touchdowns and three interceptions on the season. And, remember, this is all against SEC competition.

Meanwhile Mac Jones went for 385 and four touchdowns and now has 27 touchdowns and just three interceptions on the season.

Given that both guys figure to post good numbers against Arkansas and LSU next weekend, the Heisman will likely be decided in Atlanta in two weeks.

Trask’s team will be a ten point underdog in Atlanta so I don’t think Trask will have to win the game to win the Heisman, but I do think he’ll need to post good numbers against Alabama to maintain his lead. And his defense needs to keep Mac Jones from throwing for four or five touchdowns as well.

Regardless, it’s a two horse race and I don’t think Justin Fields or Trevor Lawrence are still factors.

If anything, the dark horse here is Davonta Smith, who had eight catches for 231 yards and three touchdowns. He now has a ridiculous 1305 yards receiving and 15 touchdowns. He’s just flat out incredible and may be the best overall player in college football this season.

10. Outkick’s National Top Ten.

1. Alabama
2. Notre Dame
3. Texas A&M
4. Clemson
5. Florida
6. Ohio State
7. Cincinnati
8. Miami
9. Coastal Carolina
10. Georgia

11. SEC power rankings 1-14:

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

As always, thanks for reading Outkick. Now go get your bets in if you live in Indiana, Illinois or Tennessee on the winner of the Browns-Titans. A $5 bet pays $125. I’m headed to the game now. Go Titans!

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.

5 Comments

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  1. I disagree with Clay that Notre Dame is in unless they lose in a “massive blowout”. I think they have to play even with Clemson. A 7-10 point loss and the committee will take an undefeated Ohio State if Florida wins.

    • Over Alabama? Doubt it. However If you’re betting on B1G sympathy from the the committee then maybe. The 2 dominant teams so far are ND and Bama. No one else compares based on length and strength of schedule alone. osu needs ND and / or Alabama to win to get in.
      Before there is an attack on A&M let me say that I do not believe A&M is the 4th best team in the country. Top 4: Alabama, Notre Dame, Florida, Clemson (switch those if you want). Unfortunately they all play in Conference Championships. osu length and strength of schedule is incomparable to any SEC/ACC/Big12 team. (Not their fault they play in a conference that tried to play politics with CFB and lost). Because the committee has always had a thing for all things osu and ou , I’m sure buckeyes will get the nod if ND or Alabama wins.

      • Ted,

        Not over Alabama. I was referring to Clay’s scenario where Florida beats Alabama and Clemson beats ND. See the last sentence of #2. If it comes down to ND vs Ohio State then I agree with you about the committee. I think they will try to get Ohio State in.

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