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The prospect of two teams from the same conference advancing to the same playoff loomed from the very start of this era. It was inevitable. Just a couple years earlier, the SEC monopolized the national title game. And naturally, the SEC broke through first, with Alabama and Georgia playing in the national title game three years ago.
The possibility of the four spots being taken by just two conferences never came to mind. Now, it’s pretty close to coming to fruition.
It could happen because Notre Dame entered an awkward, one-year marriage with the ACC, because Clemson will be the clear favorite to win the upcoming rematch with Trevor Lawrence in action. It could happen because no Big 12 team has fewer than two losses, because the Pac-12 doesn’t have a team that’s played more than three times or is ranked inside the top 20.
It could happen because the committee remains elitist, undervaluing every undefeated Group of Five team (Cincinnati, BYU, Coastal Carolina, Marshall) because of lesser strength of schedule, largely out of each respective program’s control.
It could happen because of a technicality, because of a late Big Ten start and a COVID-19 outbreak, which could result in No. 4 Ohio State playing too few games to be eligible for its league title game and/or be considered for the playoff.
A conference championship isn’t a prerequisite for a playoff berth — Ohio State and Alabama have both bucked that notion in the past — and avoiding a title game can actually be advantageous. While No. 6 Florida is likely to see its hopes die against No. 1 Alabama in the SEC Championship, No. 5 Texas A&M will avoid that landmine, sit at home and count on being handed a controversial gift.
The groundwork was laid Tuesday night, as committee chair Gary Barta revealed Texas A&M was considered for the No. 4 ranking.
“At the end of the day, the committee decided that Ohio State was a better team,” Barta said.
Ohio State is the better team. Cincinnati is a more deserving team. Even BYU would probably take down the underwhelming Aggies, who’ve beaten just one ranked team and rarely looked worthy of a playoff berth.
Despite a soft closing schedule, Texas A&M could still slip up. Don’t be surprised if AUBURN (+6) simplifies the situation by taking down the Aggies, just as they’ve done the past three years.
- Ohio State (-21.5) over MICHIGAN STATE
- Syracuse (+33.5) over NOTRE DAME
- Indiana (+14.5) over WISCONSIN
- COASTAL CAROLINA (+10) over Byu:
- TENNESSEE (+17.5) over Florida
- West Virginia (+7) over IOWA STATE
- Iowa (-13.5) over ILLINOIS
- Vanderbilt (+35.5) over GEORGIA
- Clemson (-21.5) over VIRGINIA TECH
- DUKE (+15.5) over Miami
- Baylor (+21.5) over OKLAHOMA
- LSU (+28.5) over Alabama
Ohio State (-21.5) over MICHIGAN STATE
The Buckeyes have won the past three meetings by an average of 29.7 points and need a dominant showing even more this year, given their suddenly shaky playoff standing.
Syracuse (+33.5) over NOTRE DAME
Even in this historically bad season — which includes trips to Clemson and North Carolina — the Orange have not suffered a beating of more than 30 points. The Irish may be the No. 2 team in the country, but they’re also the team that struggled to find interest against Duke, Florida State, Louisville and Georgia Tech.
Indiana (+14.5) over WISCONSIN
Michael Penix Jr.’s season-ending injury lowers Indiana’s offensive ceiling, but the Hoosiers defense — recording a nation-best 2.7 interceptions per game — could end the program’s 10-game losing streak to the Badgers. If Indiana could fluster Heisman contender Justin Fields, Wisconsin freshman Graham Mertz is in trouble. After completing 20 of 21 passes with five touchdowns in his debut, Mertz completed 55.5 percent of his passes in the next two games, with three interceptions.
COASTAL CAROLINA (+10) over Byu:
For obvious reasons, this ranks among the worst seasons in the sport’s history. But the fact that one of the most compelling games of the year can be booked a few days prior to kickoff is as remarkable as the Chanticleers’ 9-0 start. Even against a more impressive undefeated opponent, Coastal is too balanced to get blown out.
TENNESSEE (+17.5) over Florida
The Vols have lost five straight, failing to cover the spread each time. The Gators have won five straight games by an average of 22.6 points and have won their past two meetings with Tennessee by a total of 57 points. Contrarianism isn’t always attractive.
West Virginia (+7) over IOWA STATE
More than half of the Cyclones’ games have been decided by seven points or less. The underrated Mountaineers and their seventh-ranked defense will make Iowa State sweat again, having covered five of their past six games.
Iowa (-13.5) over ILLINOIS
In the shadow of Northwestern and Indiana’s surprise seasons, the Hawkeyes have quietly won four straight games by an average of 24 points.
Vanderbilt (+35.5) over GEORGIA
And put me down for some side action: Sarah Fuller will score at least two points.
Clemson (-21.5) over VIRGINIA TECH
Of course Trevor Lawrence threw for 403 yards in his first game in more than a month. The country’s best player will make the most of his time left at college. The fun stops next year in Florham Park.
DUKE (+15.5) over Miami
The ACC decided to scrap Clemson and Notre Dame’s respective postponed games rescheduled for next week, giving the Irish a spot in the conference title game. The one-loss Hurricanes — who haven’t won a game by double-digits since Oct. 17 — have virtually no hope of getting to the ACC Championship, needing Clemson to fall to Virginia Tech.
Baylor (+21.5) over OKLAHOMA
The Bears have taken a predictable step back from last year’s surprise 11-win season, but former LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda has the 2-5 team playing hard. Despite meetings with Iowa State and Texas, Baylor has yet to lose a game by more than 11 points this season.
LSU (+28.5) over Alabama
Since 2003, only one game in the rivalry has been decided by more than 24 points. Strangely, it came just two years ago, when the Crimson Tide shut out Joe Burrow in a 29-0 win. One year later, he ended LSU’s eight-year losing streak to Alabama and completed one of the greatest seasons in the sport’s history. The future isn’t as obvious as it seems.
Best bets: Ohio State, Iowa, Indiana
This season (best bets): 90-82-2 (15-20-1)
2014-19 record: 772-756-13