USA TODAY US Edition
Playoff picture clearer for now
So it is finally set. That little meeting we’ve all been awaiting remains two weeks off. But Alabama and LSU are safely headed toward a showdown of unbeatens in Tuscaloosa.
Which means the run-up will be filled with so much hype, you cannot even imagine. Oh, and also that there will be much talk about “what if.” As in: What if Alabama/ LSU loses a close game, then wins out – would that team still get into the College Football Playoff ?
(But if we’re going to play that game, Ohio State and Penn State play Nov. 23; if they’re both still unbeaten going in, why not two Big Ten East teams in the Football Four? The answer, from parts down South: “SEC! SEC! SEC!”)
It remains unlikely. But the idea picked up steam with the pratfall by Oklahoma, which lost at Kansas State. The only good news on a very bad day for the Sooners: a fourthquarter comeback prevented a blowout, which would probably have ended their hopes. As it is? They’re waaaaaay outside the Football Four bracket – and the Southeastern Conference’s dream of two teams inside it is a little less improbable.
But wait, what’s that out West? Oregon and Utah are in the race, too. November could be a lot of fun, all over. As always, remember we pick the bracket as if the season was over today.*
1. Ohio State: We keep saying it, but they keep proving it.
After the Buckeyes turned a supposed showdown with Wisconsin into a laugher, here goes again: This is the nation’s most complete team. JK Dobbins, Justin Fields – the offense is terrific – but pay special attention to the unblockable Chase Young, who is the chief wrecking ball for a very fast, very mean defense.
2. LSU: Finally, someone slowed down the Tigers’ offense. But LSU’s defense – which, let’s be honest, has been an issue – was very good in beating Auburn. Now we get two weeks of hype before a trip to Tuscaloosa.
3. Alabama: No Tua? No trouble – at least not against Arkansas, which wasn’t even a speed bump for ’Bama. Now we get two weeks of hype before LSU – and all sorts of worrying about whether Tagovailoa will be full speed on that surgically repaired ankle.
4. Clemson: Welcome back, Tigers, to the Football Four. Like we kept saying, you just need to win. In the Atlantic Coast Conference, this seems likely. The latest victim was Boston College.
5. Penn State: The Nittany Lions are good, and they’re unbeaten. And after swamping Michigan State, they look very much like a legitimate Football Four contender. Can Penn State keep rolling to set up a showdown Nov. 23 in Columbus, Ohio? Stay tuned.
6. Oregon: It took a last-minute drive and a field goal by a freshman kicker as time expired to get past Washington State. But the Ducks (and the Pac-12, too) are very much alive in the Football Four chase.
7. Georgia: The Bulldogs’ path is simple, but there’s likely just one: Win out. Up next: Florida in Jacksonville, Florida, where the winner remains alive and the loser is finished. It didn’t help that South Carolina got pasted by Tennessee.
8. Florida: The Gators’ path is the same as their rival’s: Win ’em all. The annual neutral-site matchup will be a Top 10 showdown and a Football Four eliminator, all at once.
A Few More After That***
Utah: The other one-loss Pac-12 team, Utah does not control its destiny in the Pac-12 South (that’s Southern California, with the head-to-head result against the Utes). But fueled by one of the nation’s best defensive fronts, Utah has a shot at the Football Four.
Oklahoma: The Sooners’ Football Four hopes are on life support, but there remains a faint pulse. The bigger problem: What about that performance against Kansas State inspires confidence in Oklahoma running the table?
Minnesota: Are the Gophers for real? We still don’t know, but after blowing out Maryland they’re 8-0.
Baylor: Are the Bears for real? We don’t know, but after taking the weekend off, they’re the Big 12’s last unbeaten. *The season is not over today. **Don’t be worried that your team sits just outside the cut. This is a weekly snapshot. And what do we know, anyway?
***See the previous note, but it’s OK to be slightly concerned or very angry. But what do we know, anyway?