On a freight train leaving town, not knowing where I’m bound …
Mama Tried – Merle Haggard 1969
Merle might not have known where he was bound, but a few college football fan bases should start checking the rail lines for tickets to Atlanta and Phoenix. Or, at least planning New Year’s Eve parties around tailgating and televisions. At the halfway point of the season, the college football playoff picture seems clear as a freight train whistle on a lonely night. Welcome back to The Campus Game. It’s been a while.
College Football Playoff Picture – Win and In
In order of likelihood, these unbeaten teams will make the playoffs by winning out …
Alabama – the Tide rolled and then Nick Saban mildly trolled a talented, if dinged up, Tennessee team Saturday and looked every bit the nation’s best team in the process. Bama tends to lose a game along the way every year, and the latter part of the season includes home games with unbeaten Texas A&M, scrappy Mississippi State, and improving Auburn along with a road trip against nothing-to-lose LSU. An SEC title game against Florida or a rematch with Tennessee would follow.
Ohio State – the Buckeyes survived overtime to come from behind and beat Wisconsin on the road Saturday night. OSU travels to Penn State this week, and hosts unbeaten Nebraska in early November, but all signs point to a mammoth showdown with Michigan on November 26th at the Horseshoe along the banks of the Olentangy. Winner moves to Big Ten title game, and loser is still very much in the playoff picture.
Michigan – speaking of the Wolverines, anybody dispute that college football is the sport most driven by coaching? Jim Harbaugh’s squad has played one close game this season (a 14-7 road win over rugged Wisconsin), and probably will not face a stiff challenge until the season finale at Ohio State. I hope it’s cold, with rain or snow, and that Harbaugh-Urban Meyer channel Bo and Woody.
Clemson – the Tigers were lucky to get out of Death Valley with an overtime victory against NC State this weekend. The Wolfpack missed a chip shot field goal at the end of regulation, and the Pack outplayed Clemson much of the game. A road trip to FSU on October 29 is the biggest hurdle to a return CFP trip.
Washington – I think Huskies coach Chris Petersen is outstanding and so is his defense this season. The remaining schedule is difficult (trips to Utah and rival Washington State), but if the Pac-12 is going to get a team in the playoff, UW is the best bet.
Texas A&M – the Aggies had the week off to prepare for a trip to Alabama; if A&M gets past the Tide the schedule sets up nicely with a trip to Miss State the only remaining road game. Home games against Ole Miss (Nov 12) and LSU (Nov 24) pose the biggest threat … other than Alabama.
Slowly Fading Out of Sight
These unbeaten teams probably won’t stay that way long.
Nebraska – road trips to Wisconsin and Ohio State dampen Husker hopes, but a Big Ten West title seems reasonable.
Baylor – Bears have been impressive, and everybody likes Jim Grobe, but with trips to Texas, Oklahoma, and West Virginia … well, as the late, great Sam Mrvos used to tell us in PE classes at Georgia “it’s feasible, but not possible” or something like that.
West Virginia – see Baylor above. Mountaineers must win a Big 12 gantlet of TCU, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, and Baylor among others. Unlikely. The Big 12 is probably odd conference out of the playoff picture.
Boise State – even if the Broncos win out (and they still face pretty good squads in BYU, Wyoming, and Air Force), a bid to the playoff should not be in play barring multiple upsets in Power 5 conference championship games. An opportunity to play in one of the big bowls is more probable.
One Loss Possibilities
The top tier teams can afford to lose a game (maybe even two) and remain in playoff contention because there are only three once-beaten programs from Power 5 conferences still harboring playoff possibilities.
Louisville – the Cardinals should win out (although the Nov 17 trip to Houston is a challenge) and with only a close road loss to Clemson on the resume, pose a real threat to make the playoff.
Florida – the Gators have quietly lost only once (at Tennessee), but have beaten nobody of note and must travel to Arkansas, LSU, and FSU. That’s asking a lot. One more conference loss tilts Tennessee toward the SEC title game.
Utah – the only blemish for the Utes is a close loss at Cal, and they get to host conference favorite Washington on Halloween weekend, but the entire remaining schedule is scary (@UCLA; UW; @Arizona State; Oregon; @Colorado).
Before the season I picked FSU, Notre Dame, and Tennesse (along with Ohio State) to make the playoff, so you should obviously put serious money down on these predictions.
Peach Bowl: Alabama (1) vs. Michigan (4)
Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State (2) vs. Clemson (3)
Despite All My Sunday Learning … to the bad I kept on turning.
OK, now about Notre Dame and Georgia.
Nah, the wounds are still too fresh.
Maybe next time …