Things change fast in college football. Sure things become nothings. Outsiders become insiders. Long-range postseason planning is a fool’s errand.
The College Football Playoff game of musical chairs is creeping toward its conclusion, and Georgia and Clemson still have seats. Each may be situated more comfortably than they were a few days ago despite their most uninspired conference wins of the season.
The big news Saturday was that the Big Ten all but took itself out of the playoff chase with Ohio State and Penn State stumbling into two-loss territory.
Pinning conference hopes on Wisconsin isn’t instilling much confidence considering the Badgers have yet to face a ranked opponent.
Last week the notion of the Southeastern Conference claiming half of the playoff seats seemed like the conceited fever dream of a conference with an overinflated opinion of its depth. But then the Big Ten shrank its chances and every other Power 5 conference is skating perilously close to anointing a champion with enough deficiencies to leave Georgia and Alabama standing far enough above the field to both get in.
Conference cannibalism threatens to consume the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12, potentially leaving all three outside looking in and quickly conspiring to get the ball rolling toward an eight-team playoff when the contract runs out to ensure that at least their conference champ could get in no matter how many losses it has.
The Atlantic Coast Conference isn’t out of the woods yet either, with both Clemson and Miami needing to avoid any hiccups.
Notre Dame, meanwhile, is in the process of destroying commissioner John Swofford’s dream of ever getting the Irish to see a need in full football affiliation. That all hope of that ever happening may rest in the hands of the ACC’s biggest expansion disappointment Saturday is a great irony.
Since Georgia and Clemson are such key players in this year’s playoffs sweepstakes, it seems appropriate to keep a weekly eye on the November Nuttiness (ESPN patent pending). If you had to guess on the final four today, it looks like the selection committee’s first instincts were correct – only the seeding order to be determined.
There’s a long month to go, however, and Saturday might be the biggest yet for filling in the playoff puzzle, with a six-pack of high-impact matchups that could reshuffle the landscape.
No. 1 Georgia at No. 10 Auburn: Among the biggest assets Kirby Smart inherited from Mark Richt – aside from Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Lorenzo Carter, Roquan Smith, et al – is a mentality of dominance in the oldest rivalry in the Deep South. The Bulldogs are 11-4 against Auburn since 2001 after being 5-13-1 the previous two decades. It took two undefeated Tigers teams, a deflected “prayer” and a late field goal for Auburn to barely win anything at all.
“What would any game in the past against Auburn have anything to do with this game?” Smart said. “The past doesn’t affect the present. The present will affect the present. What we do in the present matters a lot.”
No. 3 Notre Dame at No. 7 Miami: Catholics vs. Reformed Convicts. Richt has changed the culture and enthusiasm in Miami since taking the reins.
He could do his former program a huge favor by upending the Irish, who appear dialed in to steal a playoff spot since that 20-19 loss to Georgia.
Coming off its most substantial win of the season against Virginia Tech to take command in ACC Coastal, 8-0 Miami needs an upset win in front of a sold-out stadium to finally impress the committee.
“This is why I came back to my alma mater,” Richt said.
No. 8 Texas Christian at No. 5 Oklahoma: If not for Big 12 spoiler Iowa State, this might already be a de facto play-in game. As it stands, the conference playoff hopes likely rest on Oklahoma winning this and a potential Bedlam or Horned Frogs rematch in the conference title game.
Florida State at No. 4 Clemson: This was circled as the game of the year in the preseason before the Seminoles lost their star quarterback and apparently the will to try anymore in the kickoff loss to Alabama.
“Florida State is as good as anybody out there, and that will probably prove to be the case by the end of the season,” Dabo Swinney said before the Seminoles were forced to scramble to reschedule during ACC championship weekend its hurricane-cancelled game against Louisiana-Monroe in hopes of attaining bowl eligibility.
Clemson has already yielded its head-scratcher to Syracuse and survived N.C. State, so a summary dismissal of the ’Noles will have the Tigers in the same position as last season.
No. 12 Washington at Stanford: The Pac-12’s slim hopes of being represented cling to the Huskies running the table and a lot of outside help.
No. 25 Iowa at No. 9 Wisconsin: After a stunning 55-24 undressing of Ohio State last week, the Hawkeyes could expose the last shred of Big Ten dignity this week.