Notable action from week 11
- Bama is winning games on pure talent alone. Nick Saban, Bill O’Brien and Pete Golding are not outcoaching anyone. Looking just at power five opponents, and excluding Vanderbilt, who has Saban outcoached? With as much of a talent advantage as Bama has, I will define outcoaching someone as winning by 3-4 touchdowns.
- So we’re excluding Utah State, Vanderbilt and UL-Monroe. You don’t get credit for that.
- Texas: got outcoached by Sark
- Texas A&M: got outcoached by Jimbo even though Bama won. That game should never have been as close as it was. I know Bama was playing with a backup QB, but so was A&M.
- Tennessee: outcoached by Heupel
- LSU: outcoached by Brian Kelly
- Ole Miss: outcoached by Kiffin
- The only games where you could argue that Bama’s coaching staff outcoached the other team:
- Mississippi State
- Bama is the most penalized team in the country and they’re still favored by the referees. They get away with murder out there. They should be the most penalized team in the country by a massive margin.
- You just look at the plays Ole Miss was running and succeeding on, and it was almost all scheme. They’d run these receiver comeback routes down the sideline where they’d get a guy in single coverage, and he would be running a go route, but the ball would be deliberately thrown behind him, and he would know to backtrack and come back for the ball. It was such a clever way to manufacture yardage and win those one-on-one battles against the more talented Bama cornerbacks.
- The College Football Nerds were talking about this game and they brought up a great point. If you switched the players–so you gave Nick Saban Ole Miss’ players and gave Lane Kiffin Bama’s players–what would the score have been? They said Kiffin would’ve won by multiple scores. I agree. He outcoached Saban in that game, he just didn’t have the personnel.
- So this 30-24 Bama win over Ole Miss does nothing for me. I still think Bama is a mess, I think Saban has lost his edge, and I think this will be his last season as head coach at Alabama–by choice. I don’t think he’s got it anymore.
- And the people saying “Bryce Young has nobody to throw to”—that’s because Bama doesn’t develop talent anymore. They have plenty of elite receiver recruits on the roster, they just haven’t developed them.
- Vanderbilt beat #24 Kentucky. Ends a 26 game conference losing streak for Vandy. They last won an SEC conference game back in 2019, when they beat Mizzou 21-14 at home. I think it’s becoming pretty clear that Kentucky isn’t a very good team.
- Oregon lost at home to Washington 37-34. Michael Penix is a really good quarterback and had an incredible game, but there was a controversial decision by Oregon to go for it on fourth down deep in their own territory with very little time remaining. Their running back slipped behind the line. It was at their own 34, they just needed a half a yard, there was about a minute and a half to go, and the score was tied 34-34.
- Now, Oregon had 312 rushing yards on 6.1 yards a carry. They would probably have gotten that if their back didn’t slip and fall on the play. But he did slip, and Washington got the ball with tremendous field position. They ended up gaining about 10 yards on their ensuing drive and kicked a 42-yard field goal to go up 37-34 with 51 seconds left.
- There’s no guarantee that Oregon would’ve been able to stop Washington from getting into field goal range if Oregon had just punted on 4th down instead of going for it. Washington was moving the ball well all game. But Oregon would’ve had a much better chance than they did giving Washington the ball at the 33. That’s just obvious.
- I thought it was a catastrophic blunder by Dan Lanning going for it on 4th down. It’s just way too risky, even if you have been running the ball well all game long. Because, I don’t know, something crazy could happen–like your running back could slip and fall behind the line of scrimmage, or something like that.
- So Oregon is out of the playoff. They are not getting in. I didn’t think they deserved to get in after losing 49-3 to Georgia in week 1. I thought that right there disqualified them, no matter what they did the rest of the season. But now they’re officially out with two losses.
- TCU beat Texas 17-10 in Austin. I thought Texas would win but they are really kind of broken on offense right now. Quinn Ewers looks like he’s regressed quite a bit recently. He was just 17/39 passing for 171 yards, no TDs and one INT.
- Texas is not a good team. They may have been good early on but they’re not good anymore. They got respect because they almost beat Alabama, but Alabama isn’t that good.
- The SEC championship is finalized: it will be Georgia vs. LSU. I think Georgia will be just too much for the Fightin’ Tigers but it should be a good game.
- 8 ranked teams lost on Saturday in total: Oregon, UCLA, Ole Miss, NC State, Tulane, Texas, Illinois and Kentucky.
- UCLA’s loss was even more head-scratching the Oregon’s. At least Oregon lost to a good team. UCLA lost at home to Arizona. That’s just embarrassing. Arizona is not a good team. But then again, this is the same UCLA team that barely beat Georgia State at home earlier in the season.
The new CFP rankings:
My top ten:
- Ohio State
- Penn State
I would have Clemson at #11. I just think Utah is better than they are and would win on a neutral site.
So my rankings are pretty close to the committee’s, only I have Tennessee ahead of TCU. I think Tennessee would beat TCU on a neutral field. I am not doing my rankings by “most deserving,” I’m just going by who I think are the best teams.
The question mark for me is Michigan. I have them at #4 because I think Tennessee would be a terrible matchup for them. Tennessee can defend against the run and throw the ball extremely well. I think Tennessee would beat Michigan on a neutral field.
I also think TCU would stand a great chance against Michigan as well. Michigan is so hard to figure out because they have played absolutely nobody other than Penn State, and they got that game at home. I just think Michigan hasn’t seen an offense anywhere close to the caliber of the other teams in the top-10, and I don’t know how Michigan would handle it. Their defense is not as good as it was last year, no matter what anybody says. You do not lose Aidan Hutchinson, David Ojabo and Dax Hill all in the first round and somehow get better. (Yes, I know Ojabo was a second round pick, but he would’ve been a first-rounder had he not torn his Achilles at his pro day a month before the draft).
I could see Michigan being as low as #7, with TCU, LSU and Alabama all ahead of them.
Best wins of the season by top-10 teams:
- Georgia: 5 Tennessee, 12 Oregon
- Ohio State: at 11 Penn State, 18 Notre Dame
- Michigan: 11 Penn State
- TCU: 15 K-State, 22 Okla. State
- Tennessee: at 6 LSU, 8 Alabama
- LSU: 8 Alabama, 14 Ole Miss
- USC: at 25 Oregon State
- Alabama: at 14 Ole Miss
- Clemson: at 19 Florida State
- Utah: 7 USC
Georgia has probably the two best wins of anyone, although their Oregon win from week one looks a little less impressive now that Oregon has lost twice. For a while it was looking like Oregon would win the Pac-12 and challenge for a playoff spot. Now they look like a good-not-great standard fare Pac-12 team.
Tennessee has a road win over LSU and a home win over Alabama. That’s a highly impressive resume, but the thing that ruins it is their non-competitive loss to Georgia. They never had a chance in that game. And, plus, Alabama just isn’t Alabama anymore. Tennessee’s win over Bama lost a lot of its shine when Bama struggled with Texas A&M, and then later lost to LSU.
Is Brent Venables Already a Failure at Oklahoma?
Another L for the Sooners. This time on the road at West Virginia–admittedly a tough place for Big 12 teams to play, but OU had a 20-13 lead in the 4th quarter in this one. There were chances to win and they couldn’t capitalize.
So now Oklahoma is 5-5 on the season, and just 2-5 in conference play. The best they can hope for now is to just make a bowl game of some sort and have that to hang their hats on. This is a team that started the year ranked in the top-10.
They started 3-0 against their non-conference opponents, but when conference play started, they faceplanted.
However, I guess I would say that a positive takeaway–if you could call it that–is that their earlier losses were mostly blowouts: 55-24 against TCU, 49-0 against Texas.
Now they’re losing close: 38-35 against Baylor, 23-20 against West Virginia. I guess you could say that’s progress?
They can salvage some bit of hope from their season by beating Oklahoma State in the Bedlam game this weekend, and then they’re at Texas Tech to close it out.
But the disappointing season has people already concluding that Brent Venables isn’t the guy, he’s a coordinator and not a head coach, they’re totally screwed, etc.
I’m not going to say that. There have been a lot of coaches that started out poorly in new jobs and wound up having great careers:
- Kirk Ferentz, Iowa, 1999: 1-10
- Nick Saban, Alabama, 2007: 7-6
- Les Miles, Oklahoma State, 2001: 4-7
- Kirby Smart, Georgia, 2016: 8-5
- Bear Bryant, Texas A&M, 1954: 1-9
- Bear Bryant, Alabama, 1958: 5-4-1
- Brian Kelly, Central Michigan, 2004: 4-7
- Jim Tressel, Ohio State, 2001: 7-5
I think it’s way too early to panic on Venables. He had to basically turn that program completely over with all the transfers and Lincoln Riley’s sudden departure. It was always going to be a much heavier lift than most people assumed.
You look at all the names on the list above, and those turned out to be successful head coaching tenures. Even the all-time greats like Nick Saban and Bear Bryant had tough first seasons. Not everyone is going to be Urban Meyer, who went 12-0 his first season at Ohio State.
Can Michigan Throw the Ball?
Nobody ever says anything bad about Michigan except for Ohio State fans.
If you read this site you know I despise Michigan. Cannot stand them. And at the core of that is the fact that they’re the most overrated program in the history of college football and yet act like they’ve never lost a game to anyone ever. They act like they’re Alabama. They’re unbelievably entitled, arrogant, condescending and above all completely delusional. They haven’t won a real National Championship since the Truman administration, and yet they act like they own everyone.
So you will hear criticism of Michigan on this site. Maybe a little more than is warranted, but I feel I’m fair when it comes to not only them but every team in college football. I try to leave my emotions at the door when I dissect these teams. This is why I normally use stat-based and objective power ratings to rank teams. I try to keep emotion and bias out of it as much as I can.
Now there hasn’t been much to criticize Michigan about this year as they’re 10-0 and probably going to be 11-0 going into the game against Ohio State.
But if there’s one area where they can be criticized it’s their passing game with JJ McCarthy. Or rather, their lack of a passing game.
Against Nebraska last weekend, McCarthy was 8/17 for 129 yards and 2 touchdowns. He only completed 8 passes!
Now I know he didn’t need to throw because their run game was so dominant. And it has been all year. Against Nebraska they ran it 49 times for 264 yards, and threw it 20 times for 148 yards. Their backup Davis Warren came in and went 2/3. (I was wondering what happened to Cade McNamara but it turns out he had knee surgery and is out for the year.)
This is the major question about Michigan: are they hiding McCarthy because they don’t need his arm at all, and they plan to unleash him when it really matters—like against Ohio State? Or does he not get to throw the ball because he really isn’t that good at it and they just don’t trust him at all?
Nobody knows the answer just yet and we probably won’t find out until the Ohio State game, when presumably McCarthy will have to make some plays with his arm in order for Michigan to win that game.
But it seems awfully risky to basically hold a quarterback completely under wraps until your biggest game of the season. JJ has not had a significant number of reps as a passer for him to be reasonably expected to be ready to throw 25-30 times or more against Ohio State.
The only time they’ve ever really unleashed him was the Indiana game as you can see. And he did pretty well in that game. But he’s completed fewer and fewer passes with each passing week since that game. 28, then 17, then 15, then 13 and now finally just 8 pass completions against Nebraska.
You’d figure Harbaugh would be trying to get him some in-game reps against teams they have no risk of losing to. Just so he’s ready to go against Ohio State and doesn’t have rust to shake off.
It’s possible they are trying to keep him completely under wraps and not put anything on film that Ohio State could study and game plan for. That’s entirely possible, and even likely. Similarly, lots of Ohio State reporters and talking heads think Ohio State is purposely playing a vanilla and basic offensive game in recent weeks as to not put anything on film.
But Michigan is playing a dangerous game if this is what they’re doing. Not only are they not giving JJ McCarthy the proper in-game experience and reps he needs to be effective in a big game, running Blake Corum 25-30 times a game is risky as well. There’s a chance he could get injured running the ball as much as he does.
He’s not Derrick Henry–he’s not some 6’3″ 250 behemoth made of vibranium. He’s 5’8″, and they’re running him into the ground.
It leads me to believe they’re doing this not because they want to, but because they have to. If JJ McCarthy could throw the ball and take the pressure off of Corum, so Corum doesn’t have the run the ball 25-30 times a game, I think Michigan would be doing that. They would be more balanced on offense if they could be.
So I think there’s more to this than simply Michigan is trying to put as little game tape as possible out there of JJ McCarthy. I think there are some genuine questions about his ability to throw the ball and lead them to a victory with his arm. He’s been touted as the best Michigan QB of the Harbaugh era—a dynamic, explosive, playmaker—but they’re not treating him as such. They’re treating him like they’ve still got the training wheels on for him.
It may well be the case that they just don’t need him at all because their run game is so dominant. And they might just roll into Columbus and steamroll Ohio State on the ground like they did last year in Ann Arbor. I think Michigan threw the ball like 5 times in the second half of that game. They just didn’t have to throw it at all. They were unstoppable running the ball.
But what if someone stops or at least slows down their run game? What are they going to do then?
It may not be Ohio State. What if Michigan beats Ohio State again, wins the Big Ten championship, and goes to the playoff. Are they going to be able to run the ball 35-40 times a game and control the clock against a team like Georgia? Or Tennessee? I don’t think so. I think they’ll prove to be fatally one dimensional if they make it to the playoff. And JJ McCarthy will not be able to beat either of those teams with his arm. It’s way too much to ask. Georgia and Tennessee are too good against the run and they will score way too many points for Michigan to be able to keep up.
Need I remind anyone what happened when Michigan played Georgia last year in the playoff? Georgia held them to 91 yards on 27 rush attempts. That game was 34-3 Georgia before Michigan added a sad garbage time touchdown and 2 point conversion late in the 4th quarter. Michigan got absolutely walloped. And last year’s Michigan team was better than this one.
Ohio State is going to be selling out to stop the run against Michigan. The gameplan is not a secret. Everyone knows what’s going to happen. Michigan is going to try to pick up right where they left off last year: just running the ball down Ohio State’s throat because Ohio State is soft and incapable of stopping the run until proven otherwise. Michigan will make Ohio State prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they can stop the run. And Ohio State’s plan is to stop the run at all costs and dare Michigan to win the game through the air.
If you think Michigan is capable of doing that, that’s fine. You can believe it. But you’re not basing that belief on anything but hopes and dreams. You have no tangible, concrete proof that Michigan can throw the football if needed.
I certainly don’t think Michigan will be able to count on running all over Ohio State again. I think it’ll be a much different animal playing them in their building, and I think Ohio State will be going all out to stop the run. Michigan will definitely have a trick up their sleeve when it comes to exploiting Ohio State’s aggressiveness towards stopping the run, and that’s where McCarthy comes into the plan. He will have to hit some big throws on play action, and on second or third and short when they have the freedom to either run or pass.
It will probably decide the game for Michigan—whether they can do this or not.
The larger issue here, and the reason I have significant doubts about JJ McCarthy’s ability to beat Ohio State or any playoff-caliber team with his arm, is that Jim Harbaugh is not a “QB whisperer.”
It is long past time to bury that ridiculous narrative.
Until proven otherwise, all Michigan QBs under Harbaugh are the Exact Same Guy.
Wilton Speight, Cade McNamara, Shea Patterson, John O’Korn, Jake Rudock, and now JJ McCarthy–all the same guy.
There was a stretch in the early 2010s where Michigan had Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner, and they had some actual athleticism and gravitas at the QB position.
But since Harbaugh took over in 2015, it has just been the same exact guy year after year–some game manager white dude who hands the ball off and throws picks when he’s finally thrust into a situation where he has to pass the ball to win.
You expect me to believe JJ McCarthy is different because he was a five star recruit? I’ll have to see actual proof.
Jim Harbaugh doesn’t develop quarterbacks. He just doesn’t. They come to Michigan from high school and don’t get much better.
I’ll put it this way: if you were a five-star high school quarterback, and you had offers from all the best programs in the country, and you were basing your decision first and foremost on which program is most likely to be able to develop you into an NFL quarterback, would you consider going to Michigan, given the track record of quarterbacks there under Harbaugh?
Unless your parents went to Michigan and you were raised as a Michigan die hard and it has been your lifelong dream to play quarterback for Michigan, you would not choose Michigan.
You wouldn’t even give them consideration, probably.
You’d be looking at USC with Lincoln Riley, Ohio State with Ryan Day, Tennessee, Texas with Sark, Bama obviously, Georgia as well even though they’re not really known as a “QB-driven program.” You’d be looking at Clemson because of Trevor Lawrence and DeShaun Watson (although they have not developed DJU at all and he was a 5-star).
You would not be seriously considering going to Michigan and putting your future in Jim Harbaugh’s hands. Think about this year’s Michigan team through the eyes of a 5-star high school quarterback: they have a 5-star QB starting for them, but they don’t let him throw, and all they do is run the ball.
Why would you want to play in that system if your goal is to win the Heisman and get drafted first overall into the NFL?
You would not want to. You would not want to play for Harbaugh.
He hasn’t developed any quarterback ever.
“What about Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick in San Fran!?”
Think about what those two guys were most known for when they were playing for Harbaugh. Imagine their signature plays, or their signature moments. Does it involve passing the ball? Alex Smith had that one big throw to Vernon Davis against the Saints in the playoffs. But I remember that QB run TD he had in that game even more. And I remember Colin Kaepernick for running for 180 yards against the Packers in the playoffs. That was not Harbaugh “developing his QBs.” That was Harbaugh having athletes at QB. When people talk about a coach being a “QB whisperer” or a renowned QB developer, they’re not talking about having QBs who can run; they’re talking about coaching QBs who can throw.
None of Harbaugh’s QBs have ever been prolific passers. Not a one.
“But what about Andrew Luck?!”
Does anyone seriously believe, after the past 10 years, that it was Harbaugh that turned Andrew Luck into Andrew Luck?
No way. Andrew Luck was generational. All Harbaugh did was recruit him–and after seeing how big of a nerd Andrew Luck is, could you picture him going to any college but Stanford? I feel like Luck picked Stanford, not Harbaugh.
And even if we grant that Harbaugh is 100% responsible for turning Andrew Luck into Andrew Luck (which he most certainly is not), that was back in 2010. That was Harbaugh’s last year at Stanford.
What quarterback has he developed in the 12 years since 2010?
Not a one.
And so I hope you’ll forgive me for being skeptical of the idea that JJ McCarthy is some elite, prolific passer.
More likely, he’s the latest in a long line of quarterbacks that Jim Harbaugh completely fails to develop.
“But McCarthy is just a sophomore!”
CJ Stroud was a sophomore last year and he was incredible. And Stroud played way less as a freshman (in 2020) than McCarthy did last year when McCarthy was a freshman.
Face it: Harbaugh is not a quarterback developer. He’s not a “QB whisperer.”
For a decade now we’ve seen that his teams are built around running and defense. That’s his hallmark. That’s how his teams were built with the 49ers in the NFL, and it’s how all of his teams at Michigan have been built.
Since Harbaugh came to Michigan in 2015, his program has sent a grand total of 8 offensive skill players (RB, WR, TE) to the NFL that were drafted:
- 2016: none
- 2017: Amara Darboh, WR; round 3, pick 106
- 2017: Jehu Chesson, WR; round 4, pick 139
- 2017: Jake Butt, TE; round 5, pick 145
- 2018: none
- 2019: Zach Gentry, TE; round 5, pick 141
- 2020: Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR; round 6, pick 187
- 2021: Nico Collins, WR; round 3, pick 89
- 2021: Chris Evans, RB; round 6, pick 202
- 2022: Hassan Haskins, RB; round 4, pick 131
Not one offensive skill player drafted in the first or second round. Michigan has sent plenty of defenders and offensive linemen to the NFL, but very few offensive skill players.
Face it: Harbaugh is not an offensive guy; he’s not a QB whisperer at all.
It’s very much possible to win that way. They beat Ohio State last year and threw the ball 5 times in the second half.
It’s a much different story when Michigan goes up against an elite SEC team in the playoff, of course–that’s where Harbaugh really gets exposed.
But he can win the Big Ten without a quarterback.
If Ohio State is historically bad on defense, then absolutely Michigan can beat them and win the Big Ten. We’ve seen it happen.
I just don’t think Michigan can bank on that happening every year.
Ohio State’s reaction to last year’s Michigan game was to go out and hire the best defensive coordinator in the country. When Ryan Day hired Jim Knowles and gave him a salary of $1.9 million a year, I think he was sending a loud and clear message to Michigan specifically: Never. Again.
Never again will you run all over us like that. Never again will you embarrass us like that.
I am not saying Ohio State is going to shut down Michigan’s run game this time around, but you are not going to see Michigan run for 300 yards against Ohio State again. Ohio State cannot let that happen–it is unacceptable. Ohio State fans will run Ryan Day out of town on a rail if that happens again. They expect to beat Michigan every single year, and when Michigan wins, it’s like the sky is falling there. So Ohio State is going to be ready for that game. They are going to sell completely out against the run and force Michigan to pass to win the game.
I’m not saying Ohio State will win the game for sure, but if they do lose, it will not be because they couldn’t stop the run. Any other reason for losing a game is fine, just not getting steamrolled by the Michigan run game again. That would be an unforgivable sin in the eyes of Buckeye nation–because it happened last year, you knew Michigan was going to try to do it again this year, and you still couldn’t prevent it. That would be an unforgivable sin, and Ryan Day is fully aware of that fact.
But as we went over, this is not the only reason Ohio State will be determined to stop the run. Other than Ryan Day knowing his ass is grass if they can’t stop the run again, the reality is it’s just the best possible way to try and beat this Michigan team. You have to force JJ McCarthy to throw the ball. Michigan doesn’t trust his arm, and so if you can put them in a situation where they can’t just run the ball 35-40 times, and instead have to throw 35-40 times, they are up shit creek without a paddle.
So I expect Ohio State to sell out to stop the run. I expect them to have better success against the run this year than last year.
Which means Michigan will have to win a different way, and that means throwing the ball.
And I don’t think they can do it.
Okay, now comes the part where we go over the CFP scenarios as the regular season nears its end.
Let’s recap our top-25:
Of those teams, I would say the following are alive for the playoff currently:
- Georgia (10-0)
- Ohio State (10-0)
- Michigan (10-0)
- TCU (10-0)
- Tennessee (9-1)
- LSU (8-2)
- USC (9-1)
- Clemson (9-1)
The following teams are not in playoff contention:
- Alabama (8-2): two losses, cannot win their conference.
- Utah (8-2): Two losses, won’t get in even if they win their conference.
- Penn State (8-2): Two losses, can’t win their conference.
- Oregon (8-2): Similar to Utah. Two losses, won’t get in even if they win their conference.
- North Carolina (9-1): This is the least talked-about and least respected 9-1 team in the country for sure. They should in theory be alive for the playoff, but the committee clearly does not respect them at all. And the committee does not really respect Clemson, either. It’s the ACC–it’s a terrible conference and I think the committee is determined to exclude it from the playoff no matter what.
- Ole Miss (8-2): They’ve lost to the two best teams they’ve played. No chance here.
And then obviously every team below Ole Miss can’t make the playoff. They all have at least two losses. Better luck next year.
So of the teams still alive, this is what their remaining schedules look like:
LSU is the only two-loss team that can make the playoff, and this would only happen if they beat Georgia in the SEC Championship. And even then, I am not sure if they’d get in. They probably would get in, but they still do have two losses, and a two loss team has never made it, so it’s not a certainty.
The simplest playoff scenario, and the one I believe is the most likely, is this:
- Georgia beats LSU in the SEC Championship and secures the #1 seed at 13-0
- Winner of Ohio State/Michigan wins the Big Ten and secures the #2 seed at 13-0
- TCU wins out, wins the Big 12, secures the #3 seed at 13-0
- Tennessee wins out, finishes 11-1, secures the #4 seed as an at-large team, non-conference champion. They get in on the strength of their wins over Alabama and LSU
However, even if this scenario–UGA, OSU and TCU all going 13-0–plays out, there are still some questions that would need to be resolved and issues that could possibly complicate things:
- The score of the Ohio State-Michigan game. If one team wins in a blowout, that’s easy. The loser is finished. But if it’s a close game, and say Michigan loses at the very end at Ohio State, then Michigan could be alive for an at-large bid. They would lose out to Tennessee in this comparison, though, because Tennessee has a stronger resume. Tennessee’s wins over Alabama and LSU would trump Michigan’s lone win over Penn State.
- How badly Georgia beats LSU in the SEC Championship game: What if Georgia wins like 42-10 or something similar? If they just beat the brakes off of LSU, that might take a little bit of the shine off of Tennessee’s win over LSU. At that point the narrative would switch up on LSU and be more like, “They barely scraped by the worst Bama team in 13 years, won that crappy SEC West division, and got smashed up by Georgia.” However, I still think in this scenario, Tennessee’s resume beats Michigan’s. If it was a question of which of those two 11-1 non-conference champs is more deserving of a playoff spot, then the advantage would still be Tennessee, even if Georgia destroys LSU in the SEC Championship game.
- What if Ohio State loses to Michigan close, in OT? Ohio State has a stronger resume than Michigan, and I think most people believe Ohio State would beat Tennessee on a neutral field. So I don’t think it’s so cut and dry that Tennessee would get in over Ohio State if they’re both 11-1 non-conference champions. I think Ohio State would get in over Tennessee, especially if Notre Dame beats USC and continues rising up the rankings. Ohio State is a huge brand, and I think if the committee has a way to justify putting them in over Tennessee, they’ll do it.
- So Tennessee should be rooting for Ohio State to win in a blowout over Michigan. Tennessee would much rather be compared against Michigan for a playoff spot. If Ohio State wins over Michigan something like 38-17, that’s beneficial to Tennessee.
- But if Michigan wins 23-20 or something like that, that’s bad for Tennessee.
- USC wins out: If USC wins out, meaning they beat UCLA, beat Notre Dame, and then win the Pac 12 Championship over presumably Utah or Oregon, how could you keep USC out? They would have one loss, just like Tennessee, only USC would be a conference champion, and that matters. Plus, let’s say the Pac 12 Championship game is between USC and Utah, and USC wins. USC would then have not only won their conference, but avenged their only loss, which was to Utah on the road and it was an extremely close game. I don’t think USC gets left out in that scenario. I think Tennessee is the team on the outside looking in if USC is 12-1 and Pac 12 Champions.
- So Tennessee should be rooting for UCLA this weekend, and if that doesn’t work, then Notre Dame next weekend. Tennessee needs USC to lose again. There will be three ripe opportunities for that to happen over the next three weeks, but if USC goes 3-0 over these next three weeks and wins the Pac 12, I think Tennessee is screwed.
- USC is the only Pac 12 team that can make the playoff as they’re the only Pac 12 team with one loss. UCLA, Oregon, Utah and Washington all have two losses already. So Tennessee basically needs anyone but USC to win the Pac 12.
- Clemson wins out: I don’t think a 12-1 ACC Champion Clemson is as big a threat to Tennessee as a 12-1 Pac 12 Champion USC would be, because I think the committee really hates the ACC this season. But it wouldn’t be crazy for Clemson to get the nod over Tennessee. Clemson is a big brand, and they would have a conference championship, which Tennessee will not have. I think we all believe Tennessee would beat Clemson head to head, but the playoff is not entirely about putting the best four teams in. There’s an element of “most deserving” in there as well. I still ultimately believe Tennessee would get the nod over Clemson, though. Clemson just doesn’t have any truly quality wins on their resume, while Tennessee has two.
Now let’s go over some complications that would throw this whole thing into chaos:
- LSU beats Georgia in the SEC Championship: Assuming it’s close, I think Georgia still gets in. Hell, Georgia got blown out by Alabama in the SEC Championship game last year and still got in. The issue here for Tennessee is that LSU would probably get in. The SEC Champion has never not made the playoff, and even though LSU has two losses, I think they would still get in to the playoff if they were to beat Georgia and win the SEC. LSU would then have wins over both Bama and Georgia in one season, and that’s nothing to brush off.
- In this scenario, you’d have the Ohio State/Michigan winner and Big Ten Champion getting the #1 seed, you’d have undefeated TCU probably getting the #2 seed, and then Georgia and LSU as the 3 and 4 seeds. I’m not sure about the order, but Georgia would probably be 3 and LSU would be 4.
- TCU doesn’t go undefeated: This would create an opening for a lot of teams–the loser of the Ohio State/Michigan game, Tennessee obviously, Clemson, USC, and it even creates a possibility of there being three SEC teams in the playoff. If LSU beats Georgia and they both get in, then you have the Big Ten Champion, there’s still a possibility that Tennessee could get in as well if USC doesn’t go undefeated.
- Or, if the Ohio State-Michigan game is close, you could end up with two SEC teams and two Big Ten teams.
I think it might be easier to lay out some possible playoff scenarios, and then work backwards from there.
Possible playoff outcomes:
- Georgia, Ohio State/Michigan, TCU, Tennessee: Georgia wins the SEC, winner of Ohio State/Michigan gets in, TCU wins out, USC loses a game, and Tennessee gets the fourth spot.
- Georgia, Ohio State/Michigan, TCU, USC: Georgia wins the SEC, Ohio State/Michigan winner wins the Big Ten, TCU wins out, USC wins out.
- Ohio State/Michigan, TCU, Georgia, LSU: LSU beats Georgia and they both get in, Ohio State/Michigan winner gets the #1 seed, TCU wins out.
- Ohio State/Michigan, Georgia, LSU, Tennessee: The three SEC team scenario. Winner of Ohio State/Michigan goes undefeated, LSU beats Georgia in the SEC Championship, TCU loses a game, USC loses another game, Clemson gets left out by the committee in favor of Tennessee.
- Ohio State, Georgia, Tennessee, Michigan: Ohio State beats Michigan super close, Georgia wins the SEC, TCU loses a game, USC loses another game, Clemson gets left out.
- Michigan, Georgia, LSU, Ohio State: Michigan beats Ohio State super close, LSU beats Georgia super close, TCU loses a game, USC loses another game, Clemson gets left out. The semifinal would be rematches. This would kinda suck.
- Ohio State/Michigan, TCU, LSU, USC: I am not sure if this would or could happen, but if LSU beats Georgia, and both TCU and USC win out, would the committee really put Georgia in over either or one of them? Perhaps if LSU beats Georgia convincingly, like by 2-3 touchdowns or something. But it’s still difficult for me to see Georgia missing out in any way.
- Georgia, Ohio State/Michigan, Tennessee, Clemson: Georgia beats LSU, but then TCU loses a game and/or fails to win the Big 12, and USC finishes with two losses and/or fails to win the Pac 12. That’s how Clemson gets in, I think. It’s not actually that crazy of a scenario, come to think of it. There would, of course, be a debate between Clemson and the loser of the Ohio State/Michigan game, and while Clemson would have the advantage of winning the ACC, Clemson had better hope it’s not Ohio State, because Ohio State beat Notre Dame while Clemson lost by three touchdowns to Notre Dame. So I don’t think Clemson is winning that argument against Ohio State. Against a non-conference champion and one-loss Michigan, Clemson could win that argument, but name me one win Clemson has that’s better than Michigan’s win over Penn State. Clemson may have played a better schedule than Michigan overall, just in terms of the average team they’ve played (Michigan will really suffer for their non-conference schedule of Colorado State, Hawaii and UConn), so it wouldn’t be an open and shut case. Actually, the more I think about it, the less convinced I am the committee would choose Michigan over Clemson in this scenario. But the committee has always had Michigan ranked above Clemson, so I think that’s kind of them tipping their hand on which team they prefer.
Once I got through these 8, my brain started hurting and I could not juggle all these different permutations of possible playoff fields at the same time–which ones I’ve gone over and which ones I hadn’t, etc.
It’s kind of a futile effort to try and game all this out. So I will just declare here which playoff scenario I think is most likely. My playoff prediction, if you will:
- Georgia will win the SEC Championship and get the #1 seed. LSU has been a nice story this year, but I don’t think they have a chance against Georgia.
- Ohio State/Michigan winner gets the #2 seed. Assuming they both win this weekend, and assuming whoever wins their matchup wins the Big Ten Championship against whichever team crawls out of the West, this will be the #2 seed.
- TCU gets the #3 seed. I think they will somehow finish undefeated. At Baylor, then home against Iowa State. In the Big 12 title game, I think they’ll prove too much for Kansas State and their backup QB. So I actually do think TCU finishes 13-0.
- Tennessee: They’ll finish 11-1 and the committee is signaling that Tennessee is right there on the cusp of being a playoff team. They’re just waiting for someone in the top-4 to lose to move Tennessee back up into playoff position. And there’s no real way for Tennessee to drop in the rankings, I think. Maybe if they barely beat South Carolina and Vanderbilt? I don’t even think that would cause the committee to drop them. I think the committee has made up their mind on Tennessee and really values Tennessee’s wins over Alabama and LSU. Obviously things can change if USC goes 12-1 and wins the Pac 12, but there is a strong SEC bias in the committee that dates back a long time, and it’s not likely to change this year.
So that’s what I’ve got for my playoff prediction.
If USC goes 12-1 and wins the Pac 12, beating UCLA, beating Notre Dame and either avenging their loss to Utah or beating Oregon in the Pac 12 title game, that could change the calculus and vault them over Tennessee, who really doesn’t have any more opportunities to get signature wins.
I’m kind of torn here. I don’t think Tennessee’s season should be over just because they committed the unforgivable sin of losing on the road against the defending National Champions.
But then again, I think if USC goes 12-1 and wins the Pac 12, they deserve a chance to compete for a championship.
Someone is going to get unfairly left out.
The only real solution here is a 12-team playoff, but that’s a few years away.