It probably won’t happen, but there are scenarios coming out of this weekend’s college football conference championship games and two important remaining Big 12 regular season games that the inaugural four-team NCAA football playoff will be a mess not even Larry the Dr. Pepper vendor could untangle.
In the entire history of college football and its to-this-point mythical national championship, there has been only one champion with more than one loss – the 12-2 LSU Tigers who beat Ohio State 38-24 for the 2007 national title. (Colorado won a share of the title – that is it shared the number-one ranking with Georgia Tech in a season-ending poll – with a loss and a tie in 1990, and should have had two losses if officials at that season’s Colorado/Missouri game had been able to count downs correctly.)
If Arizona, Georgia Tech, Missouri, Iowa State, Wisconsin and Kansas State win their games this weekend, college football will be left with only one one-loss team from the power five conferences – defending national champ Florida State, which would be 12-1, the runner-up in the ACC and a team many in the college football hierarchy probably would like to see miss the four-team playoff altogether due to off-field controversies.
If that happens, the playoff probably would involve a host of two-loss teams, and how they’d be picked is anyone’s guess. Some people want to see that turmoil happen. Others like me, while not fully satisfied with the new playoff system, still would like to see a representative championship, which would involve SEC winner Alabama, ACC winner Florida State and some combination of two of the following three – Big Ten winner Ohio State, Big 12 winner Baylor or PAC 12 winner Oregon – making up the field for the four-team playoff.
While all of that plays out this weekend, beginning with Friday night’s PAC 12 championship game in Santa Clara, CA, dozens of schools will be waiting for Sunday to see where (or if) they’re going bowling. Of local interest, Penn State will be among those waiting and Temple could be if it can win at Tulane on Saturday night to finish 6-6.
The most recent projections by Jerry Palm do not have Temple in the postseason field – it’s not clear to me whether that is based on a prediction that Temple won’t win in New Orleans (the Owls are a four-point favorite according to the Las Vegas line cited in this morning’s Philadelphia Daily News) or because there won’t be enough bowl bids to go around for all of the eligible teams coming out of the weak American Athletic Conference.
Penn State finished just 6-6 and is expected to pick up one of the Big Ten’s minor bowl tie-ins, likely against an ACC school at the Pinstripe Bowl in New York, Dec. 27. Predictions are for the Nittany Lions to match up with 9-3 Duke, which would be a good draw in New York, but I suspect Penn State’s opponent might be a lesser ACC program such as Pitt or Miami, which nonetheless could produce a name matchup (albeit between mediocre 6-6 teams).
My guess is that Temple beats Tulane 27-21 but does not get a bowl bid (the 1990 and 2010 squads were bowl-eligible but did not get selected) while Penn State will take on the Miami Hurricanes in wintry Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.
Here’s a look at the other games of note this weekend:
PAC 12 championship game, Friday, Dec. 5, 9 p.m., Santa Clara, CA., FOX
No. 2 Oregon (11-1, 8-1) vs. No. 10 Arizona (10-2, 7-2)
Honestly, this could not have worked out much better for Oregon, which gets a chance to avenge its only loss of the season, a 31-24 loss at home on Oct. 2 in Eugene, OR. Rich Rodriquez’s Wildcats also topped Oregon by 42-16 last season in Tucson. It’s hard to find a college football player having a better season than Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota (a future Eagle in the dreams of many), who has completed nearly 69% of his passes with an impossible 36 touchdowns against two interceptions. Nick Foles’ alma mater, however, can boast freshman QB Anu Solomon, who nearly matched Mariota for total passing yardage while throwing for 27 touchdowns against seven interceptions. Each team features a 1,000-yard rusher and plenty of other weapons. The best pick here is points and lots of them.
Prediction: Oregon 44, Arizona 34
Saturday, Dec. 6
Big 12 regular season finales: As the Big 12 currently has only 10 members, it is not eligible to stage a conference championship (to be eligible, a conference must be split into two divisions and have a minimum of 12 member schools). Therefore, it schedules concluding regular season games on the same weekend that the other “Power Five” conferences play their championship games. This weekend includes the “Bedlam Series” matchup between Oklahoma (8-3) and Oklahoma State (5-6), but that has no bearing on the national championship playoff. Two other Big 12 games could, however.
Iowa State (2-9, 0-8) at No. 3 Texas Christian (10-1, 7-0), noon, ABC
No. 9 Kansas State (9-2, 7-1) at No. 6 Baylor (10-1, 7-1), 7:45 p.m., ESPN
It all could be academic in the Big 12 by the time the evening rolls around, as TCU is a 34-point favorite at home against sad-sack Iowa State. Baylor won the head-to-head matchup 61-58 on Oct. 11 (that’s the kind of toss-and-catch football they play in the Big 12 these days), but then reduced its profile with 41-27 loss to solid but unspectacular West Virginia. If TCU wins as expected, it should clinch a berth in the playoff. However, other upsets could open a window for Baylor to advance to the playoff as well if it can notch an impressive win over a strong Kansas State, which itself will be hoping to edge into the playoff with an impressive win in Waco, TX, and several upsets elsewhere.
Predictions: TCU 52, Iowa State 10; Baylor 49, Kansas State 41
SEC Championship Game, 4 p.m., Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA. CBS
No. 1 Alabama (11-1, 7-1) vs. No. 16 Missouri (10-2, 7-1)
Missouri just wasn’t expected to be this much of a factor this soon in the SEC, but has advanced to the conference championship in its third year in the league as champion of the weaker western division. It’s relatively low ranking nationally reflects both an inexplicable home field loss 31-27 to dreadful Indiana and a 34-0 whitewashing at the hands of Georgia three weeks later, also in Columbia, MO. The Tigers are led by former Wake Forest QB Matt Mauk, who threw for 22 touchdowns. How much of a game they’ll give Alabama, looking for a fourth national title in six seasons, is a serious question. Alabama lost 23-17 on Oct. 4 at Mississippi, but that state’s two upstarts gradually eliminated themselves from national title talk, the final nail being Ole Miss’ 31-17 upset of Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl Nov. 29. I hope I’m wrong, but there just seems to be an inevitability to Alabama in recent years.
Prediction: Alabama 30, Missouri 17
ACC Championship Game, 8 p.m., Charlotte, NC., ABC
No. 4 Florida State (12-0, 8-0) vs. No. 11 Georgia Tech (10-2, 6-2)
Yes, that’s right, the defending national champs and only undefeated team in division I football is ranked fourth overall, due to a combination of narrow escapes from upsets and off-the-field controversy involving lax law enforcement in Tallahassee, pertaining in particular to quarterback Jameis Winston, also the defending Heisman Trophy winner. A lot of people want the Seminoles to go down – I am torn. I want to see the best possible four-team playoff, but I also really like Georgia Tech, coached by former Navy head coach Paul Johnson, architect of the triple-option offense, which for me is a pleasure to watch in this era of toss-and-catch football.
Prediction: Florida State 34, Georgia Tech 20
Big Ten Championship Game, 8:17 p.m., Indianapolis, IN. FOX
No. 13 Wisconsin (10-2, 7-1) vs. No. 5 Ohio State (11-1, 8-0)
Besides Florida State, the other beleaguered entity in college football this year has been the Big Ten conference, often dismissed as the weak sister of the Power Five, despite its tradition, big-name schools, TV ratings and economic power. But the reality is that Ohio State is playoff-worthy, which it has a great chance to prove if it can beat Wisconsin, so far the monster of the Big Ten title game (now in its fourth year), behind third-string quarterback Cardale Jones, who subs in for J.T. Barrett, who had a huge year replacing Braxton Miller before suffering a season-ending broken ankle in last week’s rivalry game with Michigan. Wisconsin still may be at a disadvantage at QB in this game, but will be a threat nonetheless behind the power running game of Melvin Gordon (2,260 yards rushing, 8.0 yards per carry, 26 touchdowns). His backup, Corey Clement, had 830 yards rushing, 6.5 yards per carry, and nine scores.
Prediction: Ohio State 21, Wisconsin 20
Playoff matchups: Alabama vs. Ohio State, Florida State vs. Oregon