4-Down Territory: Playoff Campaign Enters the Final 2-Weeks
Happy Thanksgiving, a feast of football awaits........We are in the final two weeks of the Campaign to make the 4-team playoff. And while the debate will go on, this weekend may come down to not only the prime candidates but also some “down-ballot” games that will impact the balance of power as the committee studies the relative strengths of each candidate.
First Down: SEC/ACC Matchups: One of the great things the SEC and ACC have worked out is allowing season-ending intra-state rivalries to continue. It means lots of in-state excitement, packed stadiums and a fun weekend of rivalry games. For Clemson these games could boost their argument if a 1-loss conference champion can get in over a one-loss Big Ten or SEC team (LSU upsetting UGA)…..Georgia Tech (5-6) at #1 Georgia (11-0) 12:00 Saturday ESPN: Tech upset UNC last weekend and Georgia had a less-than-stellar outing at Kentucky. That should get the Bulldogs completely focused which is bad news for the Rambling Wreck. Georgia’s defense should be the difference in this one……..South Carolina (7-4) at #8 Clemson (10-1) 12:00 ABC: While the South Carolina offense got the attention last week in the blowout of Tennessee, it was the play of some very good defensive backs that slowed Tennessee’s heretofore explosive offense. This game is a dangerous one for Clemson and they will need to play better offensively than they have to date to hold serve here……#25 Louisville (7-4) at Kentucky (6-5) 3:00 SEC Network: While not quite as big as a basketball tilt between these two schools, this game is growing in importance in the Bluegrass State. Two mobile quarterbacks with “point guard” ball passing and running skills will look to light up the scoreboard. A win here for Louisville helps Clemson……Florida (6-5) at #16 Florida State (8-3): The Gators stumbled at Vanderbilt last weekend and that has them stumbling into Tallahassee where the Seminoles are rolling behind quarterback Jordan Travis. A win here by the Seminoles makes Clemson’s win over FSU look even better—especially since FSU already has a win over LSU too.
Second Down: The Pac 12: Without looking can you tell me which conference has the most teams ranked in the College Football Rankings? That would be the Pac 12 with 6 teams among the top 25. That seems to indicate that the committee values the depth of the Pac 12 and that’s seems to bolster the case for USC should they win out. Also the Pac 12 has 6 of the 29 top-rated QBs in the country, the best of any conference. And one could argue that if USC and UCLA were in the Big 10 now, that Caleb Williams and Dorian Thompson-Robinson would be the most dangerous QBs in the Big 10 now……#18 UCLA (8-3) at Cal (4-7) FRIDAY 4:30 Fox: UCLA QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson showed incredible toughness fighting through an injury to nearly score the upset of USC last weekend. They won’t need a super-human effort to get this win, but this is an important game to help the conference’s playoff hopes……#9 Oregon (9-2) at #21 Oregon State (8-3): Oregon's path to the Pac 12 title game is simple—win and they’re in. Trojan fans should be rooting for the Ducks because that creates a Top-10 match-up as their closing argument should they enter that game off a win this weekend. The Ducks played excellent defense last week against Utah and they will need that same effort to win The Civil War……#13 Washington (9-2) at Washington State (7-4) 10:30 ESPN: If Oregon falls at Oregon State this becomes must-see TV. Washington is on a 5-game winning streak that includes a sweep of Oregon and Oregon State. UW QB Michael Penix has had his best year after a few injury-marred seasons at Indiana. The Huskies are throwing it 40+ times per game and getting great results…….#14 Utah (8-3) at Colorado (1-10) 4:00 Pac 12 Network: Utah should make short work of the Buffs which will then free Colorado up to move on with their coaching search,
Third Down: More Big Games: FRIDAY: #19 Tulane (9-2) at #24 Cincinnati (9-2) 12:00 ABC: For both of these teams this is a win-and-you’re-in the AAC title game. The loser has to root for USF to upend #22 UCF…..FRIDAY Baylor (6-5) at #23 Texas (7-4) 12:00 ESPN: This is a big game for Texas and the trajectory of the program. A win here keeps them alive for the Big 12 title game, but they need Kansas to pull an upset over Kansas State. Last week Baylor threw a huge scare into TCU before falling just short……NC State (7-4) at #17 UNC (9-2) 3:30 ABC: This is another “down-ballot” game to watch. Clemson fans will be rooting for the Tar Heels to come into the ACC title game with 10 wins and ranked in the Top 15. Can the NC State defense match the performance of Georgia Tech last week against UNC? Given how the Wolfpack offense has fallen off because of injuries they will need a big defensive day…..Nebraska (3-8) at Iowa (7-4) 4:00 BTN: If Iowa wins they make the Big 10 title game. If they lose, it gets very complicated for the Big 10 West. Iowa’s defense should carry the day in this one….Auburn at #7 Alabama (9-2) 3:30 CBS: This game is never a given for either team. But Alabama Coach Nick Saban has been talking about refocusing the program and that could spell trouble for Auburn. The Tide is light years ahead at QB and that matters most in this one……SATURDAY #5 LSU (9-2) at Texas A&M (4-7) 7:00 ESPN: LSU is having the season everyone thought Texas A&M might have and A&M is having the kind of season everyone thought Vanderbilt might have. LSU Jayden Daniels has been fantastic down the stretch and he should carry the day on Saturday…..#10 Tennessee (9-2) at Vanderbilt (5-6) 7:30 SEC Network: This one got suddenly very interesting. With the injury to Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker, Joe Milton becomes the man of the hour…….Kansas (6-5) at #12 Kansas State (8-3) 8:00 Fox: A win by K-State gives TCU a potentially Top 10-caliber opponent next week to help their case for a playoff spot……Michigan State (5-6) at #11 Penn State (9-2) 4:00 FS1: There has been a lot of New Year's-6 bowl chatter in Happy Valley this week, but the Nittany Lions have to win first. No one should think this is a gimme. Michigan State went into Illinois and beat #16 Illinois a few weeks ago. And over the past 4 years Mel Tucker has won 4 road games against ranked opponent--tied for best in the country with Nick Saban. If MSU can protect QB Payton Thorne he has WRs that can do some damage. Also, because Penn State likes to substitute and get multiple blitz looks on defense, look for MSU to go no huddle like they did against Indiana the week before when they racked up 540+ yards on 90 plays. MSU's defense has been solid rushing the passer but they've had trouble getting INTs. On offense PSU has struggled on 3rd downs. If MSU's defense can continue that trend and get some turnovers it could be a good day for Sparty.
Fourth Down: More Contenders: Iowa State (4-7) at #4 TCU 4:00 Fox: TCU has found different ways to win the past few weeks—none more entertaining than their last-second mayday field goal to win at Baylor. Iowa State has had their troubles this year but they have consistently played well on defense. For TCU style points no longer matter. The playoff committee has shown respect to the Big 12 so it certainly looks like an undefeated Big 12 Champ would get in……#15 Notre Dame (8-3) at #6 USC (10-1) 7:30 ABC: Given Notre Dame’s dominance of the four ACC teams they defeated and a better-than-expected showing at Ohio State earlier this year, a USC win here would mean a lot. Should USC win here and next week against a Top-10 opponent it is hard to see how they do not get in the playoff. From a talent standpoint USC has one of the best offenses in the country. On defense they’ve relied on an active secondary that has snagged 18 INTs. For Notre Dame, their defense has been very good, and forced teams to play patiently. But Caleb Williams’ running and passing skill set is at a higher level than they’ve seen this year…..#3 Michigan (11-0) at #2 Ohio State (11-0) 12:00 FOX: This is consistently the most-watched regular-season college football game every year and that will likely continue this year. Last year Michigan was more physical than Ohio State which caused OSU Coach Ryan Day to make toughness an emphasis. Have they closed that gap enough? That would have been the question of the day except for…the health of the Ohio State running backs and Michigan running back Blake Corum. If this becomes a game where teams have to rely on the passing game, then it is advantage Ohio State. The Buckeyes have a talented group of WRs but TE Cade Stover has been a sneaky-good addition to their attack. If this becomes a street fight game in the trenches, then it is probably advantage Michigan. The winner has an inside track to the playoff, the losing team will need help.