I spent the weekend in Knoxville to watch the Georgia-Tennessee match with my boys. It was my first visit to Neyland Stadium, with all three boys, and despite the game outcome it was an unforgettable experience for all three.
My first grader asked me, “Are there half the Americans in the stadium right at the moment, dad?”
As we entered the stadium, he said, “There’s so much orange, daddy.” “How is this possible?”
It is one of the most rewarding parenting experiences. It takes you back to your earliest fandom days, before you became a cynical and jaded adult. I still remember my first SEC football game well — UCLA at Tennessee on September 14th 1985. I was six years of age when the game ended in an 26-26 tie.
I’m confident my own kids will remember this day for the rest of their lives.
You never forget your first big college football game. You just don’t.
The final result of the game? Georgia pretty much guaranteed itself a playoff spot with the win and Josh Heupel, who should finish 7-5 at Tennessee in year one, saw that he needs to have some better horses if he’s going to compete for sixty minutes with the top teams in the country.
The first quarter was at least enjoyable.
Okay, let’s get on to the Starting 11.
1. Georgia is in playoff. Who else joins Bulldogs there, Georgia?
My current playoff four would be:
4. Ohio State
That’s pretty much everyone’s top four right now.
But what’s interesting is this, who else is out there if some of these teams stumble? That’s especially the case because we really have three spots still up for grabs and not that many teams with good resumes.
Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are both still one loss Big 12 teams, Cincinnati is probably going to finish undefeated, but doesn’t appear to have much juice with the playoff committee. Then we have three one loss Big Ten teams — Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan.
Notre Dame is also a potential finisher at 11-1.
Why do I raise all of these issues — which I’ll unpack below? — because there’s a decent chance that before all is done some two loss teams could end up in the playoff mix.
2. What can Fan Duel national titles tell us about the way that oddsmakers are breaking down playoff race?
Here’s the top 13 title contenders.
As you can see, the odds of winning drop dramatically after the top three.
Ohio State +350
Oklahoma State 50-1
Notre Dame 80-1
Wake Forest 100-1
Michigan State 100-1
Although Georgia is almost certain to make the playoffs, the three remaining spots for the playoff are open. There are at least ten other teams that could be in a playoff situation if all goes well.
So let’s break all this down.
3. Let’s start with the Big Ten.
Ohio State is currently playing the best Big Ten football. The Buckeyes are undefeated in conference play, crushing most opponents, and finish with the state of Michigan on the schedule — the Spartans at home on Saturday and then at Michigan in two weeks.
If the Buckeyes win both games then they’ll be in the Big Ten title game against, most likely, Wisconsin.
Michigan State finishes at Ohio State, then at Penn State at home.
Michigan finishes at Maryland, then at Ohio State at home.
So it seems like the Big Ten East will be heading down to Ohio State University at Michigan in just two weeks. But things could get wild.
What if Michigan State defeats Ohio State this weekend? Then the Buckeyes are probably out of Big Ten title contention — Penn State would have to upset Michigan State — but they could still ruin Michigan’s season.
The Badgers’ play suggests that Wisconsin could win the upset regardless of who emerges from Big Ten East. If any Big Ten East team loses, it could mean that no Big Ten team will be able to get into the playoffs.
It is possible to have zero playoff teams, but it is possible for the Big Ten to still have two playoff teams. How would that happen? If Michigan State and Michigan won, Michigan State would win the Big Ten title game. Michigan would be left behind at 11-1.
Michigan State beating Wisconsin to win Big Ten title is 12-1 Michigan State is certain to be in the playoff. But, Michigan, at 11-1, could also make the playoff.
With two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Big Ten could end the season with either one or zero playoff teams.
However, Ohio State wins the most likely Big Ten playoff route.
If the Buckeyes win out, no matter what else happens, thanks to the Oklahoma loss, There is now no scenario where 12-1 Big Ten champ Ohio State isn’t in the playoff.
4. Who plays in Big 12 title games? Is the Big 12 still alive in playoff race?
First, the Big 12 remains alive in the playoff race. I believe that Oklahoma State or Oklahoma would both be 12-1 Big 12 champions to reach the playoff. But, frankly, I’m not that optimistic anyone finishes 12-1, which means a playoff spot may not materialize either.
At 6-1, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma State are tied at the top. Baylor lurks at 5-2.
Oklahoma finishes at Oklahoma State and Iowa State.
Oklahoma State finishes at Texas Tech — what a win for the Red Raiders yesterday — and with Oklahoma.
Baylor finishes at Kansas State and Texas Tech.
According to me, the most likely outcome is a rematch with Bedlam in Big 12 title games on back-toback week.
If Baylor wins and Oklahoma State wins, it would be Baylor and Oklahoma State in the Big 12 title match.
The only way Oklahoma State doesn’t make the Big 12 title game is if the Cowboys lose out and Baylor wins out.
There are many possible outcomes. If, and it’s a big if, either Oklahoma or Oklahoma State can finish 12-1 I still feel like there’s a very good chance the Big 12 champ will make the playoff.
5. Can Oregon win the Pac 12 table?
Oregon plays Utah, and then they play Oregon State.
There’s a strong chance the Pac 12 title game will be Oregon against Utah, a rematch of the game that will be played this coming weekend. (So many of these title games are rematches, which is why I’d rather have an expanded playoff, personally, than conference title games.)
This is important, however, because Oregon could lose to Utah this weekend, then come back to beat Utah in Pac 12 title games. Is Oregon still the Pac 12 champ?
I believe Oregon, the 11-2 Pac 12 Champion, would still have a good chance of making it to the playoff if they win over Ohio State and cancel out any potential loss to Utah. Oregon would have a stronger playoff resume, if the Ducks lose on the road to Utah and then win the Pac 12 title over them, than if they beat Utah this weekend and then lose to them in Pac 12 race.
If you are looking for a playoff contender that no one is talking to, how about Utah running the table and finishing 11-2 with a Pac 12 title? Utah could be in contention for the playoffs depending on the outcome of the other title games.
My point here is, a two loss playoff team isn’t out of the equation at all.
In fact, with Oklahoma’s loss, it became far more likely of a reality.
6. Could Alabama lose to Georgia, but still qualify for the playoff at 11-2?
It could happen.
The Tide’s easiest route to the playoff is to win. Alabama would be the number one seed if it was crowned the 12-1 SEC champ. (12-1 Georgia would be second in this scenario).
The conventional wisdom has been that if Alabama loses the Tide has no chance at the playoff, but I’m not sure that’s true if you analyze the playoff board.
What if there is some chaos in the conference title game? Georgia is our only guaranteed playoff spot. Let’s say Ohio State gets upset by Wisconsin and finishes 11-2 with a Big Ten title game loss. Let’s also say the ultimate Big 12 champ has two losses. Let’s say that Utah or Oregon are the 11-2 Pac 12 champs. Let’s also say we have a two loss ACC champ, either Wake Forest or Pittsburgh for instance.
Then you’ve got a bevy of two loss teams.
Also, you might have Notre Dame at 1 and undefeated Cincinnati.
Who are your top four playoff players?
After Georgia isn’t it essentially a complete toss up? And, by the way, this isn’t a crazy scenario, this wouldn’t even require that many upsets in order to happen.
In this scenario, I feel like your four-man playoff might be:
3. 11-2 Alabama
4. 11-2 Oregon (edging out the 11-2 Ohio State who beat them head-to-head).
5. 11-2 Ohio State
6. 11-1 Notre Dame
7. Two loss Big 12 champ
8. Two loss ACC champ
9. Big Ten champion Wisconsin loses three
But all of this is just an educated guess because if I’m Notre Dame I’m arguing we beat the Big Ten champ — Wisconsin in this scenario — and our only loss was to an undefeated Cincinnati team.
My point here, there’s a very real chance of playoff chaos this season and two loss teams look like they could end up in the mix.
Now, to be fair, it’s also possible there’s zero controversy at all.
Your playoff is easy if Alabama defeats Georgia, Oregon, and Ohio State. This would be your four:
4. Ohio State
But I’m increasingly of the opinion that two loss teams may well end up in the mix.
7. What should Cincinnati do to make it to the playoffs?
b. Root Georgia for victory
c. Root for any other conference champ to lose two or more.
The committee has made it clear they aren’t taking Cincinnati over a one loss conference champ. But would the Bearcats be able to take on two losing teams? This seems much more likely. So if you’re a Bearcats fan you should be rooting for Georgia to win out — because the Bulldogs are in already — and for every other conference to crown a champ with two or more losses.
8. What about the ACC champ, though?
Right now, your ACC championship match would be Wake Forest vs. Pittsburgh.
Although Wake Forest is not being watched by many people, the Demon Deacons still have two road games remaining: at Clemson or at Boston College.
If Wake wins both these games and then beats Pitts in the ACC title game, wouldn’t 12-1 Wake Forest have to be in the playoff mix too? Especially if, as I’m laying out, there’s a great deal of two loss team chaos also?
Keep your cool.
9. Texas has lost five Big 12 games consecutively, the latest being a home loss to thirty.–point underdog Kansas.
Immediately after Kansas scored their fans — credit to any Jayhawk fans that made the trip for this game — began chanting, SEC, SEC, SEC, the same thing Baylor’s fans did after beating Oklahoma.
Texas is not coming back, but what appeared to be a promising season one for Steve Sarkisian turned out to be a complete disaster.
Florida let Samford, SAMFORD!!, hang fifty points in the Swamp. After the win, it was celebrated like this.
Something is rotten in Gainesville and I’m not sure how to solve the issue. But it doesn’t feel like Dan Mullen is the answer right now.
10. My Outkick National Top Ten
4. Ohio State
5. Michigan State
8. Notre Dame
9. Oklahoma State
11. SEC power rankings 1-14
3. Ole Miss
4. Mississippi State
5. Texas A&M
12. South Carolina
Source: Fox News