When the phrase “go west young man” was popularized in the 1850s it symbolized the American quest to conquer the continent. This belief in a manifest destiny – that the young nation was destined to settle lands from sea to shining sea – became a rallying cry of sorts for pioneers plodding through prairies, across plains, and over mountains. Within three decades, the wild, wild, west was all but tamed.
This college football season is a long way from being settled, but fans looking toward the first college football playoff in just a few months might do well to follow the same directive as those pioneers of yore. Go west, whether within a conference or on an actual map, to find the main contenders for the four playoff spots.
Let’s take a look at the college football playoff landscape. The Eastern Seaboard, particularly the northeast where the sport originated, is not even in the national conversation. From Maine to Miami, no contenders appear likely to emerge from the first coast.
In the ACC, the Florida State Seminoles (from the panhandle in western Florida by the way) appear a legitimate threat to reach the playoffs and earn a chance to defend their national title. But, the Noles have not played well. FSU might be able to sustain one loss and slip into the playoffs, but with a relatively weak schedule, that scenario is risky.
Moving to the SEC, the westward theme stays intact. The West Division plays each other this week, and the biggest threat to the conference landing a team in the playoffs is the very real possibility that these teams simply devour each other. It is difficult to envision a team getting through this division unscathed. In the SEC East no teams look of championship caliber. Georgia is limited at quarterback and in the secondary, South Carolina is flighty, Florida’s offense is too pedestrian. So, no SEC East team makes the grade.
The Big Ten is much maligned, but should Michigan State, Ohio State, Nebraska, or Wisconsin somehow win out, any might generate some playoff support. The Cornhuskers or the Badgers would have to be the team to keep the westward theme going – so no dice.
As we move toward the left coast, the Big 12 and the Pac-12 have the most direct routes to the championship foursome. Baylor plays at Oklahoma on November 8. Barring an upset along the way, the winner should be playoff bound. The Big 12 has no championship game making its champion’s road to the playoff very direct. On the Pacific coast, UCLA travels to Oregon on October 11th, and the winner has a leg up in the playoff race.
Around the Nation
The best weekend of the first half of the season is upon us. Out west, Arizona plays at Oregon in a great Thursday night pairing, while Arizona State heads to LA to face USC. The bloodletting begins in the SEC West with three terrific games. Alabama visits Ole Miss to see if the Rebels are real contenders. Texas A&M travels to Starkville to play surging Mississippi State. LSU tries to get back into the race on the plains of Auburn. Oklahoma at TCU might be interesting in the Big 12, and Baylor at Texas always packs emotion. In the Big Ten, Nebraska visits Michigan State in a huge conference tilt. Finally, Stanford travels to Notre Dame in a nice intersectional rivalry.
Note – this column originally appeared in The Blitz (Volume 4 Issue 6; Oct 2-4 2014)