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By this time next week, the College Football Playoff will be set. Next Sunday, the pairings will be announced.
Clemson will determine if there is any drama.
If the Tigers win the ACC championship game over Notre Dame, the four teams that have been projected to determine the champion — Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Notre Dame — are all but locks, granted the Buckeyes don’t slip up against Northwestern, a significant longshot.
But if Notre Dame can complete a sweep of Clemson, then the playoff committee will have decisions to make. It’s not a crazy scenario, considering the undefeated Irish’s consistency and strength on both sides of the ball.
As long as Texas A&M takes care of business at Tennessee, the Aggies are in good shape. But Florida, even with two losses, can create chaos. The Gators, coming off its last-second home loss to LSU, still have the chance to register the best win of any contender if they stun undefeated Alabama in the SEC championship game, unlikely as that may seem.
That would create an intriguing decision. Texas A&M does have a head-to-head victory over Florida and just one loss, but the Gators would have two significant wins, over Alabama and Georgia, have played two more games and would have a conference title game, which the committee factors in.
And, before you ask, no, USC has no shot, despite what ESPN tried to sell us Saturday night. According to its Football Power Index, USC has a 50 percent chance to reach the playoff. With just five wins in as many games and no top-25 victories, there is no chance. Remember, the playoff committee ranked USC 15th last Tuesday. They aren’t making a 14-spot leap. Cincinnati, without a statement victory, doesn’t have a chance either. Cinderella still doesn’t have a shot in this format.
LSU made life easier on the committee by knocking off Florida, erasing the chance of it having to pass on a potentially one-loss Notre Dame. There is still a slim chance we get drama. But odds are, the big four we’ve focused on for weeks will be the four that will play for a championship.
It was predictable that someone would take a shot at Ohio State playing five regular season games and looking like a good bet to make the playoff as long as it defeats Northwestern in the Big Ten title game. That the person was Florida coach Dan Mullen after his team choked away a home game to dismal LSU is far from surprising.
“I guess the best thing to do would have been to play less games because you seem to get rewarded for not playing this year,” he told reporters, when asked his thoughts of his team’s chances for the playoff with two losses.
Mullen has done a terrific job coaching the Gators, leading them to the SEC East title in his third season. He needs to use some sense. Remember his tone-deaf statement after the road loss to Texas A&M about packing the Swamp in the middle of a global pandemic? Or his actions during a brawl with Missouri that led him to getting fined $25,000 by the SEC?
Now, after his team blew what was supposed to be a layup as a 23-point favorite at home, in part due to cornerback Marco Wilson tossing LSU receiver Kole Taylor’s shoe after an incomplete pass that drew an unsportsmanlike penalty, he’s throwing shade at the Buckeyes after his own team’s shortcomings. Go beat Alabama.
Feel the ‘burn
Gus Malzahn’s seat finally got too hot. After what felt like years of his job status being questioned, Auburn parted ways with him close to the end of his eighth season on Sunday. The buyout of nearly $22 million over the next four years is big, but when you take into account the backward trend of the program, and high expectations at Auburn, the move wasn’t out of left field.
Playing in the rugged SEC West, the toughest division in the country most years, he won 10 games or more just twice. He did beat Alabama three times and led the Tigers to the national championship in his first season. But after losing in the SEC title game to Georgia in 2017, Malzahn went 23-15, failing to finish higher than third in the SEC West.
He’ll get another shot. It was time at Auburn.
- Alabama (10-0) (Last week: 1)
A perfect regular season is complete without one close call. Even Nick Saban’s best teams couldn’t say that.
- Notre Dame (10-0) (2)
The Irish and their fans should send a gift basket to Baton Rouge. LSU’s stunner over Florida likely locks up a playoff spot for Notre Dame, even if they lose to Clemson on Saturday in the ACC title game.
- Clemson (9-1) (3)
The first meeting was a classic, a 47-40 Notre Dame double-overtime victory. But Clemson will be much closer to full strength this time around, adding Trevor Lawrence and defensive starters James Skalski, Tyler Davis and Mike Jones Jr.
- Ohio State (5-0) (4)
The Big Ten decision to allow Ohio State into the conference title game with only five games really shouldn’t be a surprise. The league doesn’t want to be left out of the playoff.
- Texas A&M (7-1) (7)
Beat Tennessee and root like hell for Notre Dame. Your Saturday is simple, Aggies fans. A playoff bid would likely follow an Irish victory.
- Cincinnati (8-0) (6)
The playoff needs the little guy, a Cinderella to spice it up, but it’s not going to happen in its current format. The Bearcats just don’t have the quality win needed to get in.
- Indiana (6-1) (8)
Hoosiers fans should focus on the positives. They enjoyed their best season in decades and are a legitimate playoff contender next year as long as quarterback Michael Penix Jr. returns for his redshirt junior season.
- Iowa State (8-2) (9)
How long has it been since the Cyclones won a league title? 1912 in the Missouri Valley Conference. To repeat that feat they’ll have to displace Oklahoma, the Big 12 champion each of the past five years.
- Coastal Carolina (11-0) (NR)
What a season for the Chanticleers, who will somehow play 12 games amid this pandemic after completing the program’s first perfect regular season, and have a chance to play in a New Year’s Six bowl.
- Georgia (7-2) (NR)
The Bulldogs lost the games that mattered, falling to Alabama and Florida by a combined 33 points, but they seem to have found a quarterback in USC transfer J.T. Daniels.
Dropped out: Florida (8-2) and Miami (8-2)
Heisman Watch (predicted finish)
QB Mac Jones, Alabama
Jones barely had to break a sweat in a 52-3 decimation of Arkansas, and it was enough in my eyes to retake the lead thanks to Kyle Trask’s misstep in Gainesville.
QB Kyle Trask, Florida
The Heisman isn’t out of reach for Trask, even after his three-turnover performance on Saturday. He does need to provide a strong closing argument against Alabama.
QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
Lawrence could be a Heisman finalist for the first time, but he isn’t going to win the award. His two-game absence due to a positive COVID-19 test ruined his chances.
QB Ian Book, Notre Dame
Book has started 32 games at Notre Dame and lost just three times. He’s led the Irish to a pair of undefeated regular seasons. Saturday, with a second win over Clemson, he can really leave a lasting legacy.
WR DeVonta Smith, Alabama
Eighty-three receptions for 1,327 yards, 16.0 yards per catch and 17 total touchdowns. It’s hard to fathom he was considered Alabama’s fourth-most-talented receiver last year.