Halftime Sports

Recapping a Monster Weekend in College Football

November 14, 2016


via Wikimedia

After the dust settled on Saturday night, we were left with a much murkier picture of the College Football Playoff standings. #2 Clemson stopped getting away with it as the Tigers fell on a last second field goal to Pittsburgh, #3 Michigan met a similar fate against Iowa in a 14-13 result, and #4 Washington fell victim to the annual cannibalization of the Pac-12 in a 26-13 loss to USC. Nick Saban’s Alabama army of death continued its march with a 51-3 throttling of Mississippi State, but the plot thickens after the #1 team in the College Football Playoff Rankings. With that in mind, let’s sort out the contenders for the coveted remaining three spots in the Playoff.

Clemson

Ah, good ol’ Clemsoning is back. Despite a record-setting day from phenom QB Deshaun Watson (580 yards passing, 3 TDs), the Tigers fell at home to 6-4 Pittsburgh, hardly what the Playoff Committee would deem a “quality loss.” However, because Clemson beat division rival and fellow playoff contender Louisville, they have an inside track to the ACC Championship Game and, barring any shenanigans against Wake Forest or South Carolina, should cruise into Orlando with just one loss. After that, it’s simply a question of dispatching either Virginia Tech or North Carolina, neither of which inspired much confidence in their respective losses to Georgia Tech and Duke this week. Despite the head-scratcher against the Panthers, Clemson will safely make it into the Playoff due to victories over the triumvirate of Auburn, Florida State, and Louisville, provided that they don’t..um, Clemson it one more time. (Sorry Dabo, the term applies here.)

Conclusion: Win and they’re in.

Michigan

The Wolverines certainly didn’t do themselves any favors on Saturday, as they failed to establish any momentum through the air or on the ground and came up short on several key 4th quarter conversions. Junior Jabril Peppers, Michigan’s proverbial Swiss Army Knife, couldn’t break off one of his trademark sparkplug plays, and quarterback Wilton Speight was rendered useless by Iowa’s pass rush and secondary. Now, Michigan hopes of returning to the promised land rest on the mammoth November 26th matchup against hated Ohio State. If the Wolverines win out, they win the Big Ten East because of the head-to-head tiebreaker they hold against Penn State. Then, it’s simply a matter of taking care of business in the Big Ten title game. Conclusion: Win and they’re in.

Washington

The fault lines in this country have been exposed once more, as it is clear that we are more divided than ever before. Wait, we’re talking about football here, right? Fair or not, there is a perception that the Pac-12 simply does not stack up to the rest of College Football’s Power Five conferences, and there is some evidence to support that belief. Washington’s non-conference schedule is 128 according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, more than a few rungs below the likes of Ohio State and Louisville, the other one-loss teams that Washington will be competing with. The good news for Huskies fans is that their team has the opportunity for two more ranked wins before the CFP is finalized. The bad news is that it may not be enough by itself. The Huskies are going to need some help to erase the stink of Saturday’s loss to the Trojans, possibly in the form of an unexpected slip-up from one of the aforementioned contenders.

Conclusion: Win and they’re in…if Ohio State or Michigan loses in the conference title game AND a committee member is a closet Huskies fan/Mark Emmert steps in to assist his alma mater.

Ohio State

These Buckeyes won’t miss out on the Playoff because of style points. Urban Meyer’s program has notched back-to-back 62-3 massacres of Nebraska and Illinois, the former of which was a trendy upset pick going into the matchup. By the eye test and even on the basis of strength of victory, the Buckeyes are a clear Playoff team. However, that loss last weekend to Penn State looms large, as it means that the Buckeyes cannot make the conference title game without a Nittany Lions’ loss to Michigan State and Rutgers (which, if you’ve watched either play this year, is less likely than a billionaire demagogue with gold-plated toilet seats becoming a champion of the Working Class. Sorry, too soon?). If the Buckeyes beat Michigan AND Penn State loses one more conference game, then the Buckeyes are a definite lock for the postseason. However, there is a possibility that the Buckeyes make the playoff without playing the conference title game. Consider this scenario: Ohio State beats Michigan and Penn State loses to the Big Ten West champion, which will most likely be Wisconsin. In that case, Ohio State will have one loss to the Badgers’ 2 AND own the head-to-head tiebreaker. If it seems complex, then good, because I don’t know if I understood half of what I just said. This is where the pedigree of OSU Football may score some extra brownie points with the CFP committee, if I’m wearing my tinfoil hat.

Conclusion: Win and they’re in…if Penn State loses to MSU/Rutgers or if Penn State loses in the B10 Conference Title Game.

Louisville

The Cardinals took care of business on Saturday, blitzing Wake Forest in the 4th quarter to avoid the upset bug that had infected the rest of college football. Louisville clearly benefitted from the instability at the top of the rankings, but still need to hope for some chaos to solidify any chance at the Playoff. Even though one can make a good argument for Louisville as one of the top four teams in College Football, the Cardinals have trailed Ohio State in both CFP polls and will not play in the ACC Title game unless Clemson Clemsons it again. Furthermore, the CFP committee is unlikely to grant two playoff spots to the ACC, and Clemson owns the advantage over Louisville because of the head-to-head result. Lamar Jackson is the most exciting player in college football and it will be a shame to leave him off the biggest stage, but I’m afraid that’s the way it will be. Sorry Cards’ fans. At least you have basketball again this year!

Conclusion: Win and they’re in…if Clemson Clemsons it.

Penn State

What a turnaround for the Nittany Lions. After a 49-10 beatdown loss against Michigan on September 24th, Penn State has rattled off six straight wins, including the electric victory over Ohio State. Now, this is where it gets tricky. If Penn State takes care of business against Michigan State and Rutgers, its playoff fate will hinge on the Ohio State-Michigan showdown on the 26th. If Ohio State wins, Penn State wins the Big Ten East and goes to Indianapolis to face Wisconsin. If the Nittany Lions then win that, they will have a very good case to make to the Playoff Committee. My own feeling is that they won’t be able to make up for loss to Michigan and won’t leapfrog Louisville, but stranger things have happened.

Conclusion: Win and they’re in…with a Michigan loss and a decisive win in the Conference Title Game (wouldn’t hurt if Louisville lost one more either).

Wisconsin

The Badgers have put together a really nice campaign in what was predicted to be a rebuilding year. The biggest knock on Wisconsin at the moment is that they’ve lost to both Michigan and Ohio State, though there is hardly any shame in losing the way they did. It’s pretty simple for Wisconsin: if they beat Purdue and Minnesota and then win the Big Ten Title Game against presumably Ohio State or Wisconsin, then they’re into the playoff. If, however, they face Penn State in the title game, then it would be tough to make a case for the Badgers over Ohio State or Louisville.

Conclusion: Win and they’re in…with a win over Ohio State/Michigan in the B10 Title Game

That wraps up this week’s postmortem of Saturday’s festivities. With any luck, I won’t have to revise every single prediction this time next week. (But then again, where is the fun without the chaos?)


Santul Nerkar
Santul is the Voice's former executive culture editor and Halftime Sports editor. Follow him on Twitter @SantulN to become one of his rare few followers.


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