It’s hard to believe we’re already halfway through the 2021 college football season, but here we are.
College football schedules are typically back-loaded, though, meaning the biggest and best games of the season are saved for the end. While we have already seen some heavyweight non-conference bouts, like Georgia-Clemson and Oregon-Ohio State, most of the important conference games are still yet to be played.
In this post we’ll go over the biggest games coming up that will shape the playoff picture, as well as some key stats about the teams in the hunt.
Let’s start with a quick look at the current National Title odds as well as the Heisman odds through 6 weeks:
Georgia is favorite, no surprise there. And despite the loss to A&M, Bama is right there behind Georgia. There’s a bit of a drop-off between Bama and Ohio State, but Vegas likes Ohio State despite the fact they already have a loss on their resume. Next is Oklahoma at +1500, then Iowa at +2000. Clearly Vegas isn’t buying Iowa as the #2 team in the nation. Cincinnati has the same odds as Iowa, and then Michigan is +3000.
So obviously Bama is still alive and in the hunt. But while they and Ohio State both have 1 loss already, the difference is that Bama’s is a conference loss. They have to be perfect from here on out in order to make it to the SEC Championship Game, and then they’ll have to play Georgia. If Bama loses to Georgia, even if it’s close, they’re not getting in to the playoff. No 2-loss team has ever made the playoff.
It would take some serious chaos for a 2-loss Bama squad to make the playoff. For one, they’d have to lose to Georgia in like triple OT in the SEC Championship. And they’d need a lot of other teams to lose games as well. There are currently 12 undefeated teams in the top-25, and 8 in the top-12. Most of those undefeated teams will play each other in the coming weeks, meaning the number of undefeated teams will go down very soon, but right now it feels like there are pretty good odds that Georgia, Cincinnati and Oklahoma go undefeated, so that’s 3 playoff spots right there. Assuming the Big Ten teams don’t beat each other up too badly, the Big Ten Champ will get in. And those are your 4 teams right there. A 2-loss Bama squad will not jump a 1-loss Big Ten Champ.
But it would not be a surprise at all if Bama does in fact run the table. This is Bama we’re talking about here. But this is not a typical Bama defense, though. For the first time since Saban’s inaugural season in Tuscaloosa, 2007, the Tide D is allowing more than 20 points per game, 22.0 to be precise. That ranks 43rd nationally.
Of course Bama can overcome it because their offense is explosive, but Bama is not the invincible juggernaut they were last season.
Now the Heisman race:
Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ole Miss’ Matt Corral are co-Heisman favorites, followed by CJ Stroud of Ohio State. As good as Corral is, typically the Heisman goes to someone on a highly-ranked team, and I don’t know if Ole Miss will be good enough to warrant Corral getting the Heisman. Stroud, however, could vault to the top of this list if he has great games against Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan.
It’s a shame Jordan Davis, Georgia’s monster defensive tackle, isn’t getting more respect in the Heisman race. The Georgia defense is the best unit in the country, and he’s the anchor of it. But alas the Heisman has become primarily a QB award with occasional interruptions by running backs.
Okay, now on to the stats that tell us who these teams and players truly are:
- Michigan leads the nation in fewest turnovers per game with just 0.3. Oregon is just behind them at 0.4.
- Ohio State leads the nation in total offense, averaging 562.7 yards per game. They’re second in the nation in average yards per offensive play at 8.5, with Coastal Carolina taking the top spot at 8.9. Coastal and Ohio State are the only two teams averaging more than 8 yards per play. The third-best team behind them is Western Kentucky at 7.6 yards per play, followed by Michigan State at 7.5.
- Georgia leads the nation in total defense, allowing just 203.5 yards per game and just 3.6 yards per play. The next closest team to them is Wisconsin, which allows 217.8 yards per game and 3.9 YPP. Iowa and Cincinnati are also playing great defense right now, ranking 8th and 12th in total defense respectively. The Hawkeyes and the Bearcats are also 1 and 2 respectively in the nation in forced turnovers per game, averaging 3.3 and 3.0.
- Cincinnati is only allowing opponents to complete 48% of their passing attempts, best in the country. Georgia is 3rd-best with a 50% opponent pass completion rate. Georgia is only allowing opponents to run for 2.2 yards per carry, 3rd best in the country.
- If you still need more proof that Georgia is the best defense in the nation, they’re only allowing 5.5 points per game. That is absurd. They’ve pitched 2 shutouts already, including against an Arkansas team that was ranked #8 in the nation when the game was played. The most points a team has scored on Georgia so far is 13, and that was South Carolina in week 3.
- Clemson, Cincinnati, Iowa and Penn State round out the top-5 scoring defenses, and Michigan is 9.
- Coastal Carolina’s Grayson McCall is leading the nation in passer rating, at a whopping 234.3. He also leads the nation in adjusted yards per attempt at 15.7, and has the best completion rate at an astounding 79.8%. CJ Stroud of Ohio State is 3rd with a 191.2 passer rating. He’s also 2nd in adjusted yards per attempt at 12.3 Ole Miss’s Matt Corral is 6th with a 182.4 passer rating, Liberty’s Malik Willis, who is apparently moving up NFL Draft boards lately, is 7th at 176.2. SMU has crept into the top-25, and is led by Tanner Mordecai, who has the most passing TDs in the nation with 26. He’s also 8th in passer rating at 175.5. Alabama’s true freshman QB Bryce Young is 9th with a 173.9 passer rating.
- Auburn running back Jarquez Hunter leads the nation in average yards per rushing attempt at a very impressive 9.9, however he only has 47 carries on the season. Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker leads the nation in rushing yards with 913 already, and is averaging a healthy 7.1 yards per carry on 129 attempts. Walker may be the best running back in the nation.
- Ohio State’s TreVeyon Henderson, despite being a true freshman with only 70 total carries on the season, is tied for 4th in the nation in rushing TDs with 9, is 4th in the nation in yards per carry at 8.7, and still manages to rank 13th in total rushing yards with 612. Henderson is #1 in the nation in average yards per attempt from scrimmage (so rushing + receiving) at 9.9. I tried to tell y’all about this dude early in the season. He’s an absolute monster.
- Texas’ Bijan Robinson, who a lot of pundits are saying might be the best player in the nation despite being a true sophomore, is 3rd best in rushing yards with 789. He’s also got 8 TDs and averages 6.3 yards per carry, plus he’s 12th among running backs in receiving yards with 169 and a sizable 15.4 yards per catch.
- USC’s 6′ 5″ junior wide receiver Drake London is having a major breakout year and is improving his draft stock significantly. He leads the nation in receptions with 64 already. His 832 yards are 2nd best in the nation behind Memphis’ Calvin Austin, who has 857.
- As far as the nation’s leading receivers go, not many of the guys on the list play for highly-ranked teams with realistic playoff chances. Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson is 13th in receiving yards with 546, Alabama’s Jameson Williams (who transferred from Ohio State in May) is 24th in receiving yards with 510. Ohio State’s Chris Olave is 30th with 494 yards.
Those are some notable stats that I wanted to highlight.
Now let’s get into the biggest games remaining on the schedule that will have the greatest impact on the Playoff hunt.
Circle Your Calendar
I’ll go through each team’s schedule in the top 25 and highlight the most important games remaining:
- Georgia: The first half of Georgia’s schedule was the hard part, consisting of Clemson, Arkansas and Auburn. They play Kentucky tomorrow, and it might actually turn out to be the toughest game on their schedule overall, which no one expected before the season began. Georgia is a -21.5 favorite in that game, of course, but in most years playing Kentucky is basically a free win. After the Florida game, Georgia is basically home free and locked in to the SEC Title game.
- 10/16 (tomorrow) vs. #11 Kentucky
- 10/30 vs. #20 Florida (neutral site game, played in Jacksonville)
- Iowa: Iowa has no more ranked teams remaining on their schedule, thanks to the fact that they play in the much weaker side of the Big Ten, the West division. However, Wisconsin is always tough, and Nebraska, while they’ve lost a lot of tough games this year, has looked much improved and is hungry for that first big, signature win under Scott Frost.
- 10/30 at Wisconsin
- 11/26 at Nebraska
- Cincinnati: There’s only one remaining ranked team on Cincy’s schedule, and it’s the upstart SMU Mustangs late in the season. Cincy should be healthy favorites in that game, however, and they get it at home.
- 11/20 vs. #23 SMU
- Oklahoma: Oklahoma State is the only remaining ranked team on the Sooners’ schedule, however, Baylor was ranked for several weeks this season and could give the Sooners some problems. Other than those two games, it’s a very favorable schedule for OU.
- 11/13 at Baylor
- 11/27 at #12 Oklahoma State
- Alabama: Because Alabama has already played and beaten both Florida and Ole Miss, and they don’t play Georgia at all this year, they have relatively smooth sailing going forward. They still have Arkansas, and while Arkansas got destroyed by Georgia, Arkansas did handily beat Texas A&M, the team that just beat Bama. And while Auburn hasn’t looked great this year, the Iron Bowl rivalry can never be taken for granted.
- 11/20 vs. #17 Arkansas
- 11/27 at Auburn
- Ohio State: Things are going to get crazy for Ohio State starting on October 30. Ohio State is fortunate they get 2 of their 3 biggest games at home, and only have to travel for the Michigan game.
- 10/30 vs. #7 Penn State
- 11/20 vs. #10 Michigan State
- 11/27 at #8 Michigan
- Penn State: Same situation as Ohio State–the schedule really heats up starting on October 30. Unlike Ohio State, Penn State will have to play 2 of their 3 biggest games on the road.
- 10/30 at #6 Ohio State
- 11/13 vs. #8 Michigan
- 11/27 at #10 Michigan State
- Michigan: Michigan also has to play 2 of their 3 biggest games on the road, however they are fortunate to get Ohio State at home.
- 10/30 at #10 Michigan State
- 11/13 at #7 Penn State
- 11/27 vs. #6 Ohio State
- Oregon: Oregon has already played and beaten Ohio State, the toughest team on its schedule. Other than that game, it has a pretty easy schedule overall and doesn’t get any harder going forward. They play no teams that are currently ranked, and do not play Arizona State this year. Oregon is the clear favorite to win the Pac-12, but they don’t really have any more opportunities for signature wins to offset the loss to Stanford. It also doesn’t help that the Ducks barely squeaked by 1-4 (now 1-5) Cal at home last night.
- 10/23 at UCLA
- 11/27 vs. Oregon State
- Michigan State: Sparty has been impressive under new head coach Mel Tucker, but shit is about to get real for them very soon here.
- 10/30 vs. #8 Michigan
- 11/20 at #6 Ohio State
- 11/27 vs. #7 Penn State
- Kentucky: No one expected Kentucky to be 6-0 at this point. They’ve had to beat both Florida, who was #10 at the time, and LSU, to get here. Now comes the biggest test of the season at Georgia. Nobody expects Kentucky to win, but if they somehow do win, they have no more ranked teams on the schedule after that.
- 10/16 at #1 Georgia
- Oklahoma State: 5-0 Oklahoma State has already beaten two teams that were ranked at the time this year, Kansas State and Baylor, and now they have two more ranked teams standing between them and an undefeated season. Texas tomorrow will be the toughest team they’ve played thus far, and then it’s the annual Bedlam rivalry with Oklahoma for the final game of the season. The interesting thing is, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are the only two remaining unbeaten teams in the Big 12, and thus they are in first and second place in the conference. The Big 12 doesn’t have divisions, so its conference title game is just the top two teams in the standings at the end
- 10/16 at #25 Texas
- 11/27 vs. #4 Oklahoma
- Ole Miss: Ole Miss has already played the two toughest teams on its schedule, Bama and Arkansas, but they still have a few notable games remaining. The road game against Auburn won’t be easy, and they oddly host non-conference Liberty on November 6. Liberty features Malik Willis, one of the best QBs in the country and who some mock drafts right now have as the #1 QB off the board in the 2022 NFL Draft. That’ll be an interesting game. Texas A&M is the only ranked team remaining on Ole Miss’ schedule.
- 10/30 at Auburn
- 11/6 vs. Liberty
- 11/13 vs. Texas A&M
- Notre Dame: The hard part is over for Notre Dame. They have no ranked teams left on the schedule. USC is a rivalry game, as is Stanford, but Notre Dame should be healthy favorites in all their remaining games. I put Stanford on this list just because they beat Oregon.
- 11/13 vs. USC
- 11/27 at Stanford
- Coastal Carolina: Coastal has by far the easiest schedule of anyone in the top-25. They should go undefeated.
- Nobody really, but I guess if I had to choose one game it would be at App State on 10/20.
- Wake Forest: It’s been an easy schedule for Wake thus far, and it’ll be fairly easy going forward. They’ve played no ranked teams, and no team on their remaining schedule is ranked, either. Clemson will be tough, but this is not the same Clemson team we’ve grown used to over the past 5-6 years.
- 11/20 at Clemson
- Arkansas: It was a brutal first half schedule for Arkansas, as they had to play Texas, Texas A&M, Georgia and Ole Miss, but it gets a bit easier going forward, although by no means would I say it’s an “easy” remaining schedule. Arkansas’ schedule overall is easily in the top 4-5 in the nation in terms of difficulty.
- 10/16 vs. Auburn
- 11/20 at #5 Alabama
- Arizona State: No additional ranked teams on the schedule.
- 10/16 at Utah
- 11/6 vs. USC
- 11/20 at Oregon State
- BYU: BYU doesn’t have any ranked teams left on the schedule. However, Baylor was ranked at one point this year and could give BYU a game, especially since it’s on the road.
- 10/16 at Baylor
- 11/27 at USC
- Florida: I know LSU isn’t great this season, and they might be in the process of giving up on Coach O, but they have a lot of talent on that roster, and Death Valley is a very hard place to play. This is a huge rivalry game and whatever you think about Coach O’s impending firing, LSU will get up to play Florida. All those players on LSU have a good reason to play hard, and it’s because a lot of them can still make it to the NFL despite the fact that their playoff hopes are dead. Nobody wants to put any bad tape out there. On the road at LSU is a very loseable game for UF. And then of course UF has the Georgia game at the end of this month.
- 10/16 at LSU
- 10/30 vs. #1 Georgia
- Texas A&M: This is a pretty brutal schedule. The SEC West and the Big Ten East are by far the two strongest divisions in college football. A&M has already played Arkansas, Alabama and Mississippi State, but they still have to play Auburn, Ole Miss on the road, and LSU on the road. As I said about Florida’s game at LSU, despite the fact that LSU is having a down year, that’s a loseable game.
- 11/6 vs. Auburn
- 11/13 at #13 Ole Miss
- 11/27 at LSU
- NC State: Just as we all thought before the season, the November 13 game between NC State and Wake Forest is the marquee matchup in the ACC.
- 11/13 at #16 Wake Forest
- SMU: It all comes down to whether SMU can challenge Cincinnati.
- 10/30 at Houston
- 11/20 at #3 Cincinnati
- San Diego State: They almost lost last night in double overtime to San Jose State, but remain unbeaten. Fresno State isn’t ranked but they’ll be a tough opponent, as they were ranked fairly recently and have beaten UCLA this season. Boise State, while they aren’t great this year, is always a tough team.
- 10/30 vs. Fresno State
- 11/26 vs. Boise State
- Texas: The Big 12 is a very weak conference, but there are still several loseable games on Texas’ schedule remaining.
- 10/16 vs. #12 Oklahoma State
- 10/30 at Baylor
- 11/16 at Iowa State
One common date that pops up over and over and over on this list is October 30. There are so many big-time matchups that will take place two Saturdays from now. Just to recap, you have Georgia-Florida, Ohio State-Penn State, Iowa-Wisconsin, Michigan-Michigan State, and Ole Miss-Auburn as the most important. The whole college football landscape could be shaken up that day.
And then of course in late November, you typically have rivalry games as each team’s final game of the regular season.
The important thing here is that a lot of these currently undefeated teams will play each other. Let’s go over that real quickly:
- Michigan and Michigan State play each other on 10/30, meaning one of them can’t go undefeated.
- Oklahoma and Oklahoma State play each other in the final game of the season, meaning only one of them can go undefeated.
- Cincinnati and SMU play each other, so someone’s getting a loss.
- Georgia and Bama will probably play each other, meaning either Georgia’s getting their first loss or Bama is getting their second.
- Iowa will probably play in the Big Ten Championship against either Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan or Michigan State. Let’s say Michigan goes undefeated in the regular season, beating Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State. They’d meet Iowa in the conference championship, and then one of them would have to lose that game.
I am certain that we will see additional upsets that we haven’t even mentioned here, though. This is college football we’re talking about. The unpredictable happens all the time. That’s why I almost feel like this whole article is somewhat pointless, because one big upset could change everything.
Like what if Kentucky beats Georgia? That ruins everything I’m about to go over.
So that’s why I have to preface this next part with the acknowledgement that this isn’t what I truly believe is going to happen going forward, but rather what I believe is most likely to happen. It’s a fool’s errand to try to predict how the college football season is going to play out, but because I have an unhealthy obsession with sports–college football in particular–I’m going to try to do it anyway.
Now I want to go over some possible outcomes we could see for the 4 teams in the playoff at the end of the season. Again, this is going to be heavily based off of assumptions, and we know upsets will happen so a lot of these assumptions will be rendered moot, but humor me here.
The “Clean” Scenario
This represents the simplest and least chaotic situation for the playoff. It’s simply the top-4 teams remaining undefeated. Georgia wins out and wins the SEC and gets the 1 seed, Iowa wins out and wins the Big Ten and gets the 2 seed, Cincy wins out and wins the AAC and gets the 3 seed, and Oklahoma wins out and wins the Big 12 and gets the 4 seed.
This would be the most open-and-shut scenario. No debate about it. It would mean Georgia has beaten both Kentucky and Alabama, Iowa has beaten whichever of the 4 teams comes out of the Big Ten East (Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State), Cincy has gone undefeated, and Oklahoma has beaten Oklahoma State.
A 1-loss Pac-12 Champ Oregon would obviously have some gripe about being left out, but they’d also really not have much of a leg to stand on given that the 4 teams ahead of them would be undefeated. They’d probably focus their complaints on Cincinatti, though, as Oregon would say they went on the road and beat Ohio State, plus they won a Power Five conference while Cincy won a G5 conference. There would probably be some controversy there, but I think ultimately an undefeated Cincinnati gets in over a 1-loss Oregon. Cincy did go on the road and beat a top-10 Notre Dame team.
This is the clean scenario: Georgia, Iowa, Cincinnati and Oklahoma. It could absolutely happen, too. With the exceptions of possibly Iowa in the Big Ten Championship, and Georgia in an SEC Championship against Bama, all 4 of those teams should be favored in every game from here on out.
The “Chaos” Scenario
The most interesting scenario would be Bama beating Georgia in the SEC Championship. Assuming they both only have 1 loss, they probably both get in to the playoff. Georgia has looked like the best team in the nation all year, and unless they get absolutely shellacked by Bama, I could see them still getting in to the playoff even if they lose the SEC Championship Game.
This would create a ton of chaos in the playoff picture. If Cincinnati goes undefeated, they’re probably in. We haven’t seen the CFP rankings (those come out starting next week), but regardless of whether or not you think Cincy is actually good, they’re ranked #3. If they’re ranked inside the top-4 in the CFP rankings, that means the committee deems them worthy of a playoff spot. It means all Cincy has to do is go undefeated and they’re in.
So that’s 3 teams.
The final playoff spot would be a logjam. You have right now FIVE Big Ten teams that have a realistic chance at it: Iowa, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State. Obviously only one of them can win the conference, but imagine this scenario: Iowa goes undefeated in the regular season and makes the Big Ten Championship game. Let’s say Ohio State runs the table and wins the Big Ten East and goes to the Big Ten Championship. If Ohio State beats an undefeated Iowa in the Big Ten Championship game, and the game is close, then Iowa would have an argument to still make the playoff just like Georgia. Nobody thinks Iowa is as good as Georgia, but on paper it would be the same situation as if Georgia runs the table but loses to Bama in the SEC Championship game.
Or what if Michigan runs the table and goes into the Big Ten Championship game undefeated. In that scenario, Michigan would have beaten Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State and be ranked probably #3 in the country, or maybe even #2. If they were to lose close to Iowa, who’d be ranked #2 or #3 assuming they run the table, they’d still have an argument to make the playoff given their resume to that point. They’d have 3 top-10 wins.
Then you have Oklahoma. If they go undefeated and win the Big 12, how are you going to keep them out? We all assume a 1-loss Big Ten Champ would get in over an undefeated Oklahoma just because the Big Ten is a way better conference than the Big 12, but it’s not a certainty. Oklahoma is an elite program; it would be very hard to keep them out of it.
If Oklahoma State, who is currently undefeated, runs the table, beats Oklahoma in the Bedlam game on November 27, and then wins the Big 12, they’d then be in the same situation as Oklahoma outlined above.
And then we have Oregon. If Oregon runs the table and wins the Pac-12, they’d be a 1-loss Power 5 conference champ with a road win over Ohio State. If Ohio State wins the Big Ten, how could you keep 1-loss Oregon out of the playoff? I know Ohio State has looked a lot better since that game against Oregon, and Oregon has looked a little bit worse (plus they lost star running back CJ Verdell for the season), but there’s no way you could give Ohio State the nod over Oregon if they’re both 1-loss conference champs.
So in the chaos scenario, we’d have Bama, Georgia, Cincinnati and then one of either Iowa, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, Oregon or Oklahoma State.
And this is all to say nothing of Coastal Carolina, who I know we’re not really taking seriously right now, but they will probably finish the season undefeated. They’re ranked 15th right now, but as the teams ahead of them all play each other, Coastal will move up in the rankings. I don’t know how high they’ll get because they really don’t play anybody significant to impress the committee, but merely by virtue of teams ahead of them losing games, they’ll move up in the rankings. In a chaos scenario, Coastal would be in the conversation for a playoff spot. They won’t get it, but they’ll be in the discussion.
Ultimately, in the chaos scenario, I think when the dust settles we’d have Bama, Georgia, Cincinnati and whoever wins the Big Ten, assuming they only have 1 loss or are undefeated.
The Most Likely Scenario
Okay, so we’ve gone over the clean scenario and the chaos scenario, but what is most likely to happen this season?
Well, as we can see from above, a lot of it will hinge on what happens when Georgia and Alabama play each other in the SEC Championship Game. We can’t just assume Georgia is going to win that game. Georgia hasn’t beaten Alabama since 2007.
Would anyone really be surprised if Bama beats Georgia in the SEC Championship game? I wouldn’t, personally.
That’s why I think the chaos scenario is very much in play here. It could absolutely happen. I’d almost go as far as to say it will probably happen. It would be such a Bama thing to do. Bama won the National Title in 2017 despite Georgia winning the SEC and Bama not even playing in the conference title game–and they beat Georgia in the National Championship game! We’ve literally seen something just like this chaos scenario happen before.
All that needs to happen is for Georgia and Bama to win out–something that Vegas favors heavily. Right now, according to ESPN’s CFP playoff predictor, Georgia has at least an 81% chance to win each of its next 6 games: 95% to beat Kentucky, 81% to beat Florida, 98% to beat Mizzou, 88% to beat Tennessee, >99% to beat Charleston Southern, and 94% to beat Georgia Tech. It also says Bama has no less than an 80% chance to win out: 82% to beat Mississippi State, 89% to beat Tennessee, 94% to beat LSU, >99% to beat New Mexico State, 88% to beat Arkansas, and 80% to beat Auburn.
And, on top of that, it says that if Georgia wins out but loses the National Championship game, they still have a 93% chance to make the playoff.
The next team we’ll take a look at is Cincinnati. They’re given a 90% chance by ESPN to make the playoff if they finish undefeated and win their conference. And they have an 82% chance to win each of their remaining 7 games: 90% to beat UCF, 97% to beat Navy, 90% to beat Tulane, 94% to beat Tulsa, 94% to beat South Florida, 82% to beat SMU, and 91% to beat East Carolina.
So Cincinnati is heavily favored to get a playoff spot.
Our final team is Ohio State.
I know Ohio State looked pretty rough to start the season, especially their defense, but they are really coming along right now. They have the best offense in the nation, and their quarterback CJ Stroud is now 3rd in the Heisman race according to Vegas. TreVeyon Henderson is a stud at running back, they have the best receiving corps in the nation–I think if there’s any team out there that might be able to score points on that Georgia defense, it’s Ohio State.
Now, Ohio State has only played 1 good team this year, Oregon, and they lost that game. But they now look like a different team. They still have to play Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan, so their schedule gets way tougher from here on out. Plus, if they win the Big Ten East they’ll probably meet Iowa in the Big Ten Championship, so in order to make the playoff, Ohio State will have to beat 4 teams that are currently ranked in the top-10.
If they do that–and it’s a big “if”–and manage to get into the playoff, they have a real shot to win the whole thing.
But, just like the idea of Bama winning the SEC despite having a loss already, wouldn’t you say it still somehow feels like 1-loss Ohio State is the favorite to win the Big Ten right now? Bama owns the SEC, Ohio State owns the Big Ten. The Playoff Predictor has Ohio State at least 58% favored to win out: 90% next week against Indiana, 79% to beat Penn State, 76% to beat Nebraska on the road, 94% to beat Purdue, 82% to beat Michigan State, and 58% to beat Michigan on the road.
Given how close Iowa and Penn State were in their game last week, and given that ESPN gives Ohio State a 76% shot to beat Penn State in Columbus, if Ohio State meets Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game, I’d guess ESPN’s FPI system would give Ohio State something like a 65-70% chance to win that game on a neutral field. Maybe even greater odds because the Iowa-Penn State game was so close even with Penn State’s starting QB being knocked out of the game for more than half of it.
It’s going to be very hard to do, but the most likely scenario in the Big Ten is that Ohio State runs the table and wins the Conference with just that one loss to Oregon. They’d have a 98% chance of making the playoff at that point. Because they’d have played a significantly tougher schedule and have racked up 4 high-quality wins, they’d probably get the nod for the fourth and final playoff spot even over an undefeated Oklahoma. It’s because the Big Ten is a much stronger conference than the Big 12. I think the committee would reward both the name brand of Ohio State and the fact that they played one of the toughest schedules in the nation. Their remaining schedule is ranked #1 nationally in terms of difficulty.
If Georgia beats Bama, then I think undefeated Oklahoma gets in to the playoff over 2-loss Alabama. I know most people would still think Bama is the better team, so Bama could somehow beat out Oklahoma in that scenario, but the name brand of Oklahoma would probably get them in over a 2-loss Bama.
But I’m operating off the assumption that Bama beats Georgia here, because I kinda think it’s gonna happen.
So my four playoff teams as of now are Georgia, Cincinnati, Ohio State and Alabama.
How would they be seeded? Well, if Bama beats Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, and Ohio State beats Iowa in the Big Ten Championship game, that would mean the two undefeated teams that are currently ranked 1 and 2 would go down, and Cincinnati would be the only remaining unbeaten team.
Would the committee give Cincinnati the #1 overall seed? I doubt it even if they’re undefeated.
They’d probably just give it to SEC Champion Bama. That’s the safest move.
I don’t know that Cincy can be any higher than #3 in the playoff seeding, to be quite honest. They’re probably going to put a 1-loss Big Ten Champ ahead of them.
So I’d have Bama #1 and Ohio State #2.
Then it’s between Georgia and Cincinnati for the #3 spot, and I think this is the biggest dilemma for the committee: do you set up the Bama-Georgia rematch in the semifinal, meaning literally just 27 days after the SEC Championship between them, or do you make both teams earn their way to a rematch in the National Championship Game?
The real question is, does the committee want an all-SEC National Championship Game again like we saw in 2017?
I don’t think so. While Georgia is probably a better team than Cincinnati and more deserving of the #3 spot than Cincy, I think the committee would rather see either a Bama-Ohio State National Championship or a Georgia-Ohio State National Championship.
Ratings and national interest play a role in the playoff committee’s decision making. They do not want the sport to be continually dominated by the SEC. It’s a big part of the reason they want the playoff to expand to 12 teams: to give more teams a shot at the title, and to maintain interest in the sport outside of just the deep south.
Ohio State is a ratings draw no matter what, and the committee would prefer to have Ohio State in the National Championship vs. an SEC school instead of two SEC schools.
This is why I think they’d give Cincy the #3 seed and Georgia would get the #4 spot.
They’d set up the immediate rematch between Bama and Georgia in the semifinal, and then you’d have the Battle of Ohio in the other semifinal game.
I’d have Ohio State beating Cincinnati and then Georgia getting revenge on Bama. I know I picked Bama to win the SEC Championship, but I think Georgia would win the rematch.
So my current tentative National Championship prediction is Georgia vs. Ohio State.
While I think Ohio State is going to be capable of winning that game, Georgia has looked like the best team in America this season. Their defense is just ferocious.
The Dawgs have been knocking on the door for years now, and I think this is the season they finally break through, beat Bama for the first time since 2007, and get that elusive National Championship for the first time since 1980. Given the way that Georgia has recruited at an elite level under Kirby Smart, and been a perennial top-5 program since Smart’s arrival in 2016, it’s bound to happen sooner or later. It feels like Georgia’s year.
The interesting thing is that this year’s National Championship Game will be played in Indianapolis, which means that it would be Ohio State, rather than the SEC team, playing in a virtual home game. Usually it’s the Southern team that has the crowd advantage at in these so-called “neutral site” postseason games, given that they’re frequently held in either Atlanta, New Orleans or Florida.
Indianapolis, though, is the site of the Big Ten Championship Game, and just about 2.5 hours from Columbus. Ohio State would have pretty close to a home-field advantage in that game. That matters in college football.
Obviously a lot of Georgia fans would still make the trip north, but Ohio State would have the majority of the fans in the stands given the proximity to Ohio.
While this factor does give me some pause and make me reconsider my pick a bit, I still think Georgia would win the game. Their defense is just so good. I’m going to predict Georgia opens up as a -5.5 point favorite.
But Ohio State absolutely could win the game. If their defense keeps improving, they have the talent and the bodies to be able to slow the Georgia offense, which has been somewhat middling this year, ranked only 50th nationally in total yards. But that’s the big “if,” because I don’t think Ohio State’s defense is currently good enough to completely stonewall the Georgia offense. Georgia will be able to put up points on the Ohio State defense, and while Ohio State has an elite offense, they have not and will not play a defense quite like Georgia’s all season long. The high-flying Ohio State offense might run into trouble against a defense that can keep up with them.
But if Ohio State gets up in the game, whether due to a big play or a turnover or something, Georgia is not a team that is built to play from behind and make a comeback.
Halfway through the season, it looks like Ohio State is the best offense in the country and Georgia is the best defense in the country.
This is the National Championship game we deserve: the two best units in the country going head-to-head.
If you want me to predict a final score, I’ll say 34-21 Georgia. I just don’t think the Ohio State defense will be able to take advantage of the fact that Georgia’s offense isn’t particularly special. In a matchup that will be strength vs. strength, the real deciding factor will be “weakness” vs. “weakness.”
Do I have any reservations about all of this?
Yes, and they’re all based on gut feelings I have about the season. I’ll go over a few of those now:
- My gut feeling is that Bama isn’t that great this year, at least compared to last year’s Bama squad. I could absolutely see them losing another game before the SEC Championship, and I could absolutely see Georgia just beating them straight up in the SEC Championship Game. But I’m going against my gut feeling because I have learned to never, ever doubt Alabama, even when they look relatively weak (for their standards). My gut tells me Georgia is better, but my experience tells me to never bet against Nick Saban.
- My gut feeling is that Iowa has no shot of winning the Big Ten Championship even though they’re ranked #2 have already beaten Penn State. This is coming from an Iowa alumni. I don’t think Iowa would win a rematch with Penn State, nor do I think they could beat Ohio State or Michigan. I’d love to see it happen, but I don’t think so.
- My gut tells me Oklahoma is fraudulent.
- My gut also tells me that Michigan State is fraudulent.
- My gut tells me that Ohio State’s season can go one of two ways from this point: either they run the table and get to the National Championship, or they lose 2-3 more times because their defense hasn’t actually improved over the past few weeks. Their defense has looked way better as of late, but that could just be a product of playing teams like Tulsa, Akron, Rutgers and Maryland. If it’s not actually much better than it was when they played Oregon, then they will lose multiple games going forward. Because Oregon beat them and Oregon really does not look like that great of a team. They barely beat 1-4 Cal at home last night.
- My gut tells me Michigan is actually good this season, but my experience tells me they’re fraudulent once again. They may have beaten Wisconsin pretty good, but they also barely beat both Rutgers and Nebraska. Michigan’s “big” non-conference win this year is Washington, who they beat 31-10, but Washington sucks. They don’t have Chris Petersen anymore, and they’re currently 2-3 on the year with a 13-7 loss to freaking Montana.
I just wanted to get all that out there on paper so I can have an excuse when my predictions fall apart.