November and college football go together like turkey and dressing. The sport’s very origins trace to this month back in 1869, when Rutgers hosted Princeton and won a 6-4 contest more closely resembling a rough soccer match (or an Alabama-LSU game) than a modern football game. In all those 145 years, with all those wonderful seasons, college football has never had a November like this one. This month will be one to remember because the big-time schools are vying for a trip to the first ever college football playoff, and the calendar has blessed us with five full November football Saturdays to sort out the contenders.
Here is what we know about the playoff picture as of now. The four playoff teams will all come from the so-called “Power Five” conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC). Four of those conferences crown their champions with a title game, while the Big 12 winner is determined solely by regular season record. The playoff selection committee (now a group of twelve since Archie Manning recused himself for health reasons) will name the four semi-finalist teams on Sunday, December 7, 2014.
Here is an analysis of the conference races, followed by a prediction for the playoff.
ACC: Unbeaten Florida State can wrap up the Atlantic Division by beating Miami this week or Virginia the next. The Seminoles have perhaps the smoothest path to the four-team playoff. Their toughest Coastal Division opponent would be Georgia Tech, but the Yellow Jackets need to win out and have Duke lose two of its last three games.
Big Ten: Ohio State throttled Michigan State on the road and looks to be the class of the conference. Nebraska may come out of the West Division, but it’s tough to see anyone in this league beating the Buckeyes.
Big 12: This conference may be the league to garner two playoff spots. TCU has a favorable schedule, but if Baylor wins out the Bears would get the nod due to a head-to-head win and a conference championship. If both finish with only one loss, how will the committee keep either out of the playoff?
Pac-12: Arizona State from the South and Oregon from the North appear on a collision course to the conference championship clash, which would likely become a de facto play-in game to the final four.
SEC: Alabama’s Houdini-like escape of LSU propels the Tide into a showdown with top-ranked Mississippi State this weekend in Tuscaloosa. It would appear Bama and State are the only SEC teams with a chance to make the playoff, but each also has to finish the season with rivalry games in the Iron Bowl and Egg Bowl. That is not an easy road.
Playoff Projection: Mississippi State vs. Baylor; FSU vs. Oregon.
Around the Nation
The SEC features Mississippi State at Alabama. State wins the West with a victory, while the Tide would control its destiny by washing away the Bulldogs. Georgia hosts Auburn in the South’s oldest rivalry, while Missouri continues a quest for a second consecutive East Division title on the road at Texas AM. In the ACC, Florida State takes its talents to South Beach to play Miami, and Clemson goes to Atlanta to face surging Georgia Tech. The Big Ten West will shake out this week when Nebraska plays at Wisconsin, and Ohio State visits impressive Minnesota.
Note – this column originally appeared in The Blitz (Volume 4 Issue 12; Nov 11-15 2014)