Georgia beating Alabama in the SEC Championship Game is just one potential outcome that could shake up the playoff picture
What a beautiful, chaotic, unexpectedly crazy weekend in college football.
After what seemed like a relatively boring month in the sport, rivalry week certainly delivered from start to finish after everybody was done eating their turkey and helping themselves to seconds. While we’ll get into some of the results in a bit, the combination of Notre Dame clinching their undefeated season and Ohio State thumping Michigan has made things very interesting on the College Football Playoff front.
With that in mind, here’s every scenario possible for Championship Weekend and what the College Football Playoff Selection Committee will do on Sunday afterward.
All Chalk: Alabama wins, Clemson wins, Oklahoma wins, Ohio State wins
Committee will go: 1. Alabama, 2. Clemson, 3. Notre Dame, 4. Oklahoma, 5. Ohio State
The committee evaluates the entire body of work for a team and they’ve continued to indicate they think the Sooners are better on the whole than the Buckeyes. Depending on whether or not Northwestern drops out of the top 25 if the Wildcats lose in this scenario, OSU will have at most three top 25 wins. OU on the other hand will have avenged their lone (narrow) loss and have a chance to have as many as four top 25 wins. Yes the Sooners' defense is bad but it’s not like the committee will forget that the Buckeyes allowed 51 to Maryland and 49 in a loss to Purdue. It will be a close call though.
Orange chalk: Alabama wins, Clemson wins, Texas wins, Ohio State wins
Committee will go: 1. Alabama, 2. Clemson, 3. Notre Dame, 4. Ohio State
Self-explanatory and a nice and easy decision for the committee if the Longhorns can pull off the upset. While it has no impact on what the CFP does in selecting the four teams, you can bet that ESPN executives will do a back flip if they see these two semifinal matchups.
Dawgs’ revenge: Georgia wins, Clemson wins, Oklahoma wins, Ohio State wins
Committee could go: 1. Clemson, 2. Georgia, 3. Notre Dame, 4. Alabama, 5. Oklahoma, 6. Ohio State
It’s possible that Georgia could flip spots with the Irish but that won’t matter a bit as they’ll still meet in a semifinal at the Cotton Bowl. It will make Buckeyes and Sooners fans upset but there’s little doubt the committee will still keep the Tide ahead of them even if they lose in Atlanta.
Cats and Dawgs: Georgia wins, Clemson wins, Oklahoma wins, Northwestern wins
Committee could go: 1. Clemson, 2. Georgia, 3. Notre Dame, 4. Alabama
We’re taking a wild guess at how all this would play out but the committee would avoid a rematch between UGA and Alabama (but could get one in the title game again). It’s easy to see the Big Ten getting left out and the Tide getting the nod over the Sooners as the more complete team.
Duzzi and Dawgs: Georgia wins, Pitt wins, Oklahoma wins, Ohio State wins
Committee could go: 1. Notre Dame, 2. Georgia, 3. Clemson, 4. Alabama
A near total chaos scenario sees favorites go down in spades. Even with championships in hand, the committee has seen Clemson and Alabama as two of the best teams all year and keeps them in the top four despite half the country being completely furious. The Tide would actually get the nod to be the No. 3 seed because their resume is better than the Tigers but they swap places to avoid a rematch.
Full Chaos: Georgia wins, Pitt wins, Texas wins, Northwestern wins
Committee could go: 1. Georgia, 2. Notre Dame, 3. Alabama, 4. Clemson
Crazier things have happened, we guess.
Other thoughts from the weekend:
2. Urban Meyer is fully in Jim Harbaugh’s head now
The old adage that you throw out the records in a rivalry game has never been truer than after what we saw in Columbus.
Michigan’s previously stellar defense had allowed just seven touchdown passes coming in and yet gave up six to Dwayne Haskins on Saturday afternoon. There were mental errors on mental errors by the Wolverines. Ohio State’s defense — that just got shredded by Maryland the week prior — was suddenly stout and getting third down stop after third down stop and were really only responsible for 13 points when you take out the special teams gaff before halftime and the garbage-time scores in the fourth quarter.
Even wilder, consider that while the final score was 62-39 this was just a five-point game at halftime!
This was a nightmare result for Big Blue and every fan has to be in a state of shock that could linger for another decade as a result. Maybe more to the point, there has to be a ton of people wondering if Harbaugh, for all the good work that he’s done with the program, is really the right coach to get Michigan over the hump. It’s not just that he’s 0-4 in the only game that matters; it’s that all those antics in the offseason and stunts to get the Wolverines in the national spotlight on a regular basis will really grate on fans and players if they don’t produce wins. Right now, beating Penn State and Wisconsin in 2016 is the highlight of Harbaugh’s tenure and that’s simply not good enough for as much press as he’s generated.
That’s not to say that Michigan can’t get over this hump, but it will rightfully put the magnifying glass on Harbaugh as he will go about making changes in a few weeks. While there’s a championship-caliber defense in Ann Arbor, the offense has not followed suit. That’s the head coach’s specialty and it’s on him to get it fixed — especially with every available resource at his disposal.
Things may change going forward but for now, Urban Meyer’s smiling face will loom large in the background of everything that goes on with the Wolverines.
3. Texas A&M’s epic win over LSU
To put things in a bit of perspective, I was at the Notre Dame-USC game on Saturday and was able to write a game story, go down to the field, do several rounds of interviews and return to the press box all in the time it took Texas A&M and LSU to play their seven overtimes in College Station.
While there was no doubt a ton of controversy in this one, nobody is really allowed to complain when the final score reads a basketball-esque 74-72 in favor of the Aggies, who finally got past their budding rival a state over to give Jimbo Fisher his first major victory since getting that massive contract. At times you almost had to do a double-take after some of the plays being made to wonder if this wasn’t a MACtion game in disguise because there was a little bit of everything from overturned game-changers to some truly wild conversion attempts.
Let’s also be clear: as much as the back-and-forth made for an entertaining football game, you also have to wonder if it will have lingering effects on both teams. The Tigers, on the cusp of a 10-2 campaign when few expected it and a potential New Year’s Six berth will spend the next few weeks wondering about just how good this team really is and where they go from here with an offense still stuck in neutral despite all those points and a defense that will see some key losses to the NFL draft. Ed Orgeron still proved critics wrong with the job he did in 2018 but losses like this one can sometimes change the narrative and you can bet this will be looked upon as a turning point if LSU regresses over the coming year.
The flip side is that after so many painful collapses, maybe the Aggies will start thinking that life under Jimbo truly is different. There was a point where A&M was driving to go up two scores in the fourth quarter… but wound up allowing a fumble return for a score and giving up a four-play touchdown drive to find themselves in the hole with a snap of the fingers. The team did rally to force overtime and got the job done in the end with a two-point conversion so perhaps that’s a big sign of growth for a fan base and program that has gone through the ringer. Fisher was paid the big bucks to deliver a national title and winning big games against divisional foes that you probably should have lost is a step forward in Year 1.
4. Notre Dame caps off undefeated regular season
As mentioned earlier, I was out at the Coliseum to see Notre Dame cap off a perfect regular season for the second time in seven years as they beat their intersectional rivals by a very deceptive 24-17 final score.
The Trojans naturally did what they have done all season long: start strong, make few halftime adjustments and then allow the other team to take over in the third quarter. It was strange, but it never really felt like the Irish were all that threatened in the game and seemed to just be going through the motions for most of the night on both sides of the ball. While fans on both sides probably would have preferred a blowout, Notre Dame was still able to cap off a 12-0 campaign by celebrating with a strong fan contingent in LA that included a very prominent "Playoff like a champion" banner.
"It's something I dreamed about," QB Ian Book said afterward. "We believe we can win it all. This whole team is confident. That's what we do, work hard. We'll take it day-by-day and see who we have to play."
Book was far from his best in the game but still was the only consistent source of offense for the Irish. He’ll absolutely need to play better and there was a strong sense out of the locker room that all that mattered on Saturday night was coming out with a win — no matter how it comes about.
“It’s hard to win 12 games,” remarked head coach Brian Kelly, who has accomplished the feat three times (Cincinnati in 2009, Notre Dame in '12). “There is so much in social media and so much that can distract you from the process on a day-to-day basis. Our kids did a great job of sticking with it and not getting outside of that.
“But this was the hardest of the three.”
Things don’t get any easier either with Clemson, Alabama or Georgia among those on deck next. This is very much a different caliber of team — it’s far better — than that 2012 edition that got blasted by the Tide and as much as everybody wants to write these Irish off because of results like this one against USC, they will have a shot given the personnel they have and the time off to come up with a few wrinkles for a semifinal.
For now though, the Irish can sit back on championship Saturday and put their feet up as the first team in the playoff.
5. Late Mountain West, Holy War craziness
It probably flew under the radar for some but the Mountain Time Zone did not disappoint on rivalry weekend either.
You can start with the top 25 battle between two really good football teams in Boise State’s 33-24 win over Utah State. The Broncos once again showed why it’s so hard for opponents to win on the blue turf by suffocating the Aggies’ normally prolific offense (nearly doubling their time of possession) and putting up some numbers of their own. Brett Rypien won’t occupy the same place in the BSU lore as some of his predecessors but he may wind up with back-to-back MWC titles if he keeps playing like he has. Mix in a weapon like Alexander Mattison out of the backfield and the 10-2 squad is suddenly playing like the Group of 5 challenger we all thought it would after the Broncos routed Troy early on.
Utah State did battle back and make things interesting late in the game but kudos to the Broncos for fully shutting the door with an exclamation point touchdown to end things and set up another rematch with Fresno State in Boise.
While that was a well-played game, it didn’t quite hold a candle to tale of two halves in the Holy War. Everybody in the state was probably taken aback by BYU jumping out to a 27-7 lead in the third quarter and looking like the far superior team for much of the evening. But then their offense appeared to shift into park in the final 15 minutes — 19 plays, 44 yards — to allow Utah to storm back to win 35-27 in Salt Lake City.
It wasn’t just that the Cougars lost in one of the seemingly rare chances they’ve had against their rivals, it’s that they got the knife twisted at the end with that kind of comeback. It only adds to the misery felt down in Provo with the way things have gone the past few years and will no doubt lead to even more strutting by the Utes, who will certainly be making a point to note they’re playing on Friday night for a trip to the Rose Bowl.
6. Lots of teams vying for most disappointing title
Let’s go back to August and look over the preseason AP Top 25.
There’s Wisconsin, sitting at No. 4 overall with a first-place vote to boot. Miami was No. 8, one spot ahead of Auburn. Stanford was 13th, USC 15th, TCU 16th and Virginia Tech checked in at No. 20, a spot behind No. 19 Florida State. The Coaches Poll wasn’t much better, adding No. 25 Oklahoma State in the mix among other things.
Fast-forward to the conclusion of the regular season and it’s remarkable how just about every one of those teams have disappointed relative to expectations. The Badgers probably easily take the cake, going from a playoff pick to 7-5 after losing to Minnesota on Saturday and getting thumped in the process too. Let’s face it, they do have company though.
Neither the Trojans nor Seminoles even made a bowl game and it’s possible the Hokies join them in that distinction. TCU needed a late rally to get into the postseason and 7-5 was the best the Tigers or Hurricanes could do despite a pair of solid defenses to lean on. Stanford could join them with that same record if the Cardinal fall to rival Cal on Saturday but at least they have a chance at eight wins prior to a bowl.
In short, not great Bob. What’s even wilder is that not a single one of those schools is making a coaching change either (looking especially hard at you, USC).
7. Heisman race tightens
I’ve had Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa in the top spot on my Heisman five below nearly all season but the more games that are being played, the more it feels like the race for CFB’s most outstanding player is tightening up.
This isn’t to say that Tua has been sliding back — he threw for 324 yards and 5 TDs in the Iron Bowl after all — but rather his competition nipping at his heels. Kyler Murray has needed to play basically perfect all season for Oklahoma given the state of the Sooners' defense and may very well wind up with a better year than the No. 1 overall pick in the draft did. And this while mostly splitting his time before August by playing baseball, where he’s a top 10 pick himself.
Add in guys like Dwayne Haskins (41 TDs, 4,003 yards and a potential Big Ten title in his first full year as a starter) and Gardner MInshew (10 wins, completing better than 70 percent of his passes, 36 TDs) and the competition to get to New York — and even win the award — is actually getting a bit interesting after the race was declared all but over a month or so ago.
Stat of the Week
Oklahoma has scored 45 or more points in eight consecutive games, a modern college football record for one season and tied for the longest streak in FBS with Baylor in 2011-12. Three of the eight games were won or lost by three points or fewer.
Tweet of the Week
Mike Leach has to be miserable. Losing to Washington and surrounded by snowflakes.— Mike Finger (@mikefinger) November 24, 2018
Superlatives of the Week
Best player: Chris Olave, Ohio State
Heisman five: 1. Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama), 2. Kyler Murray (Oklahoma), 3. Gardner Minshew (Washington State), 4. Quinnen Williams (Alabama), 5. Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State)
Projected final four: 1. Alabama, 2. Clemson, 3. Notre Dame, 4. Oklahoma
Team of the week: Texas A&M
Honorary Les Miles Goat of the week: Jim Harbaugh
Quote of the week: “Our players saw the movie Creed II Wednesday night after our Thanksgiving dinner. I promise you, I was not in the movie.” — Kirk Ferentz said after he was bloodied by a Nate Stanley helmet in the face while celebrating a win over Nebraska.
Play of the Week
Christian Wilkins! pic.twitter.com/VGQ1ICpVoh— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) November 25, 2018
I’m a voter in the FWAA/National Football Foundation Super 16 Poll and will be releasing my ballot here every week. Here’s my ballot heading into Week 14.
3. Notre Dame
6. Ohio State
11. Washington State
12. Penn State
13. Iowa State
Best of the rest: Utah, West Virginia, Texas A&M, Kentucky, Northwestern, Boise State, Fresno State, Utah State, Army
Utah vs. Washington (Santa Clara, Calif.)
The Utes will have a short week to prepare for a team that beat them earlier in the year at their place and, while they’ve been better the past few weeks, there’s still a bit of mistrust in this group given some of the injuries they’ve suffered. Special teams will be a big factor in favor of the Pac-12 South champs but Washington is a better team overall and gets the nod in what should be a close and low-scoring affair from Levi's Stadium on Friday night.
Texas vs. Oklahoma (Arlington, Texas)
Red River Rematch. What a sight AT&T Stadium will surely be for this one as the home of the actual Cotton Bowl gets transformed like its namesake stadium does in early October. The Longhorns and their head coach have a history of pulling off the upset as underdogs and they should be able to find success offensively against that Sooners defense. Kyler Murray proves to be too much in the end though, as OU wins another high-scoring affair.
Alabama vs. Georgia (Atlanta)
One prediction: Quinnen Williams will have a monster day against the Bulldogs’ interior offensive line. That will help slow down the Georgia rushing attack and put the pressure on Jake Fromm to deliver in a big spot against the Tide yet again. While UGA keeps things close up until halftime though, that Alabama machine keeps on rolling despite an uneven Tua Tagovailoa performance.
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.