While the college football playoff committee may desire to interject drama into the weekly rankings and make you think there’s more drama than there actually is, those rankings are pretty much a distraction at this point. The potential outcomes of the season aren’t complicated.
Alabama, Clemson, Michigan/Ohio State and Washington will all make the playoff if they keep winning.
So as we come down the home stretch of the season, what’s likely to happen and what are the biggest questions remaining? Let’s dive in and find out.
1. Will Washington win out?
The Huskies are the only team in the final four that has to finish undefeated to make the playoff and the remaining schedule for Washington offers some real challenges — USC, Arizona State and then at Washington State, a team that’s on an absolute roll.
Two of those games — USC and at Washington State are definite potential losses.
Assuming Washington State beats Cal this coming weekend — TAKE THE OVER — then the Apple Cup would be for the Pac 12 North title regardless of what Washington State does on the road at Colorado in two weeks.
And if Washington State beats Washington in the final week of the season then the Huskies wouldn’t win their division or their conference and would probably be out of the playoff mix as a one-loss non-champion.
Meanwhile, in the most Mike Leach move imaginable, Washington State could win the Pac 12 despite beginning the season with a loss to an FCS school.
I’m fascinated to see what happens in Washington’s game against USC this weekend because the Trojans are suddenly on fire.
If Washington wins out the Pac 12 gets a playoff team, but if Washington loses then we’ll have an open playoff slot and the Pac 12 won’t get a playoff spot.
So the biggest question outstanding right now is this — what’s going to happen with Washington?
2. So how many playoff contenders are there?
There are really just eight teams in the mix for the playoff as we come down the home stretch of the season.
Alabama, Clemson, Michigan, Washington, Ohio State, and Louisville are all teams with one loss or fewer that can consider themselves in the playoff race.
There are two additional teams — Auburn and Wisconsin — who would probably make the playoff if they won their conference titles and finished 11-2.
At this point it’s fair to say that the SEC, the ACC, and the Big Ten all have playoff spots pretty much locked up.
So it all comes down to Washington.
3. If Washington loses who are the top contenders to take Washington’s place?
I think the next team up would be Louisville, but there needs to be a caveat here, that’s only if Michigan beats Ohio State. Because if Michigan loses to Ohio State and finishes 11-1, it’s very likely that the committee would take 11-1 Michigan over 11-1 Louisville as the final team into the playoff.
That’s especially the case if Colorado continues to roll up wins in the Pac 12.
So if you’re a Louisville fan you need to root for two things to happen that would pretty much guarantee you a spot in the playoff — Washington loses to Washington State and Michigan wins out.
If both of those things happen I think the Cardinals are into the playoff.
4. Could the SEC or the Big Ten get two teams into the playoff?
Yes, but the only way the SEC gets two teams into the playoff is if Auburn beats Alabama and then the Tigers go on to win the SEC title. Then an 11-2 Auburn would make the playoff and 11-1 Alabama would have the best resume of any one loss team in the country. If Washington lost then I believe the Tide would go into the playoff ahead of one-loss Michigan, one-loss Louisville and one-loss Washington.
The Big Ten could potentially get two teams in the playoff in two diferent scenarios: Ohio State beats Michigan and then wins the Big Ten title to go 12-1. 11-1 Michigan would be left behind and if Washington lost to Washington State the Wolverines would probably be the top one loss team outstanding.
The other possible way the Big Ten could get two teams would be if Wisconsin upset 12-1 Michigan. Then 11-2 Wisconsin would make the playoff as the Big Ten’s representative and the Wolverines might be the top one loss team.
5. If Clemson lost the ACC title game to either Virginia Tech or North Carolina, would the Tigers get left out?
I don’t think so.
12-1 Clemson still would have a substantially better resume than 11-2 North Carolina or 11-2 Virginia Tech.
The only way Clemson misses the playoff is if the Tigers lose a regular season game and then also lose the ACC title game.
Then Louisville would go over them and the 11-2 ACC champ.
6. The conference title games are set up to be worthless.
WE’RE ALREADY GOING TO KNOW WHO THE BEST TEAMS ARE IN THE CONFERENCES — TITLE GAMES ARE WORTHLESS!
Alabama is likely to rematch Tennessee now, assuming the Vols don’t choke away a game against Kentucky, Missouri or Vanderbilt.
Ohio State or Michigan will rematch Wisconsin.
Clemson will play either a two loss Virginia Tech or North Carolina team.
Barring a big upset Washington will be 9-0 in the Pac 12 and play an inferior Pac 12 South team.
None of these games make any sense because we will have played the entire season to learn the best teams in the conference. And then we’ll play one arbitrary “title” game that’s entirely worthless.
Furthermore, they’re all worse games because divisions exist. DIVISIONS MAKE NO SENSE IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL.
If you were just taking the top two teams in every conference you’d get these games instead:
Alabama against Texas A&M, LSU, or Auburn.
Ohio State against Michigan.
Clemson against Louisville.
Washington’s match up is the only one that doesn’t change.
Those games are still mostly rematches, but at least they’re rematches with the best two teams involved.
I keep beating this drum because it needs to happen — eliminate divisions and instead of playing conference title games take the top five conference champs and three at large teams and play that round of the playoffs the second week of December on the campus of the higher seed.
THE VAST MAJORITY OF THE TIME CONFERENCE TITLE GAMES ARE OVERHYPED WASTES.
7. The idea that Ed Oregeron might get the LSU job is one of the most absurd coaching decisions I have ever heard in SEC history.
Only LSU could fire the most successful coach in program history and replace him with a guy who went 3-21 in the SEC in three seasons as a head coach at Ole Miss.
LSU’s offense was no different against Alabama than it would have been with Les Miles and Cam Cameron.
LSU now finishes at Arkansas, Florida, and at Texas A&M. Will a ton of the air come out of the Tiger balloon with this loss to Alabama? I think so. Which is why it wouldn’t surprise me at all if LSU loses at Arkansas and at Texas A&M. (I think Florida’s too bad for LSU to lose to at home.)
Even if the Tigers somehow win those three games the idea of keeping Ed Orgeron is patently absurd. Do you really think LSU is beating Nick Saban with Coach O. on the sidelines? Just stop.
I halfway think Nick Saban told Lane Kiffin to keep the score close enough that LSU people make this decision so he can destroy Coach O. for the next three years.
If LSU really wants to hire an assistant coach currently coaching in the SEC, don’t you have to hire Lane Kiffin and let Jeauxy Swampwater take over on the Bayou? Coach O. would stay on the LSU staff then, but you’d actually have a good offensive coach for a change.
Put simply, I can’t believe that anyone with a functional brain would consider Orgeron at LSU.
8. How about Penn State?
The Nittany Lions are crushing Big Ten opponents ever since their win over Ohio State. Now that James Franklin is likely to go 10-2 in his third year in Happy Valley is it possible that LSU or Texas could both come calling for him?
It’s interesting to think about, particularly because Penn State people weren’t exactly embracing Franklin prior to his win over Ohio State.
I don’t think Franklin would leave, but LSU and Texas are both better jobs than Penn State.
And here’s another interesting possibility, if Butch Jones tanks next year — which I think is a distinct possibility — is it possible that Tennessee could go after Franklin to come back to the SEC East?
If Penn State finishes 10-2 then Franklin will have solidified his resume as one of the top ten head coaches in college football and I think Penn State will face some challenges in keeping him. You better be prepared to open up that checkbook.
9. Is Charlie Strong going to keep his job at Texas?
This is the most interesting question left in the Big 12, will Strong be back at Texas next year? He’s 5-4 with games left against West Virginia at Kansas and TCU. Let’s assume that there’s no way even Charlie Strong can lose to Kansas this year. That means he needs to split with West Virginia and TCU to keep his job.
At 7-5 Strong’s probably back, 6-6 and he’s fired. (At 8-4 he’s certainly back.)
Much of the attention has focused on Tom Herman replacing Charlie Strong, but do you remember who the runner up was when Charlie Strong was hired at Texas? James Franklin.
Given that in his third year at Penn State Franklin has the Nittany Lions 10-2 against much tougher competition than Strong has faced and after taking over a job in a much worse situation, could James Franklin look at the Big 12 and like his odds of making the playoff better at Texas than in the Big 10 East where he’s coaching against Jim Harbaugh and Urban Meyer every year?
I don’t think James Franklin would leave Penn State after three years, but if Texas came calling with a huge offer, could he really say no to the Longhorns, a job he wanted over Penn State three years ago?
10. The SEC East is awful.
I Tweeted last week that Tennessee was still going to win the SEC East with a 5-3 record and Florida Gator fans lost their mind because they thought they had a decent team. Funny how I haven’t heard from any Gator fans in the wake of their decapitation at Arkansas.
I honestly wouldn’t be that surprised if the Gators lost their final three games this year — South Carolina is playing much better — TAKE THE UNDER — and LSU — TAKE THE UNDER — and Florida State will both be favored over the Gators.
Why is the SEC East so bad? IT’S THE COACHING, STUPID!
There are six coaches in the SEC West — Saban, Malzahn, Sumlin, Bielema, Freeze, and Mullen — who would all be the best coaches in the SEC East.
The SEC East is a coaching graveyard, you’ve got three former Saban assistants who were hired because there seems to be a theory in the SEC East that Saban’s greatness transmits via osmosis — Will Muschamp, Jim McElwain, Kirby Smart and Derek Dooley have all been hired based on this theory –, one guy who’s a good defensive coordinator, Derek Mason, another guy who has a flat top in 2016, Butch Jones, the guy Mizzou hired in the midst of a program dumpster fire, Barry Odom, and Mark Stoops, wo is going to go 6-6 in his fourth year and Kentucky fans are treating him like he’s Bill Belichick.
The SEC East coaches have never, ever been worse.
My dream scenario for Tennessee is this — the Vols go 7-5 in 2017 and fire Butch Jones, just as Lamar Jackson’s tenure at Louisville ends. Then Tennessee employs the Clay Travis dump truck of cash theory to bring Bobby Petrino to Knoxville. It’s easier to win the SEC East than it is the ACC Atlantic and Petrino would dominate at Tennessee.
By the way, as bad as the SEC East is, this is a great stat: Tennessee and Georgia beat Virginia Tech and North Carolina, the two teams that are leading the ACC Coastal this year, by a combined 30 points.
11. SEC power rankings.
3. Texas A&M
8. Ole Miss
11. Mississippi State
12. South Carolina
The real challenge here is twofold — Tennessee’s awful road loss at South Carolina and Texas A&M’s awful road loss at Mississippi State. Combined with Arkansas losing by 53! to Auburn. But we’ve seen enough football now that one bad loss — or one good win — isn’t completely reconfiguring our rankings very much.