Starting 11: It’s Still Bama, Clemson, Notre Dame & Michigan

It was a status quo Saturday with Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, and Michigan all winning games by double digits to maintain their clear status as the top four teams in college football.

But at least in the Outkick playoff chase, we did see a shift behind them, I’ve dropped Oklahoma back quite a bit simply because I don’t believe the Sooners are good enough defensively to compete with my top five teams in college football right now.

So after Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Michigan I have Georgia in the fifth spot then Washington State, West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Ohio State as my top nine. I’ve got LSU holding on at number ten.

Let’s dive in and discuss the playoff race and more as we come down the home stretch of the football season.

1. What happens if Georgia upsets Alabama in the SEC title game? 

The SEC continues to roll towards 12-0 Alabama and 11-1 Georgia meeting in Atlanta for the SEC title.

And this remains the biggest potential mushroom cloud for the playoff — what if Georgia upsets Alabama to win the SEC title?

Clearly, 13-0 Alabama, or even 12-1 Alabama with a loss to Auburn and an SEC title game win over Georgia, will make the playoff.

But what happens if Alabama loses to Georgia and both teams finish 12-1?

I think both teams would make the playoff because I don’t think SEC champ Georgia could get left out and I don’t think you could leave out Alabama. The Tide, so far, have won every game this year by 22 or more points. And they haven’t allowed a defensive point in ten quarters now either.

They are unquestionably the best team in college football.

So you’re telling me that if Alabama lost 24-21 to Georgia in the SEC title game they suddenly wouldn’t be one of the four best teams in college football?

That’s insanity.

Right now Alabama would be favored by 8.5 points over Clemson, 14 points over Michigan, and 20.5 points over Notre Dame. Those are the three other “best” teams in college football right now and Vegas is telling us that Alabama would be much better than these teams.

If your goal is to get the four “best” teams how in the world could you leave out Alabama when they would be this big of favorites over the other teams in the playoff?

Put simply, I don’t think you could.

I think if Alabama lost to Georgia it would knock out the fourth team in the playoff and the SEC would get two teams. Yes, that’s even the case if it were 12-1 Michigan, 12-1 Ohio State, 12-1 Oklahoma, 12-1 West Virginia or 12-1 Washington State getting knocked out of the playoff.

Put simply, if you’re a fan of any of these teams you want Alabama to beat Georgia.

2. Michigan and Ohio State should both be 10-1 in two weeks.

Interestingly enough, Michigan desperately needs for Ohio State to beat Maryland next week.

Why?

Because the Wolverines need their win over Ohio State to look as impressive as possible in the event Georgia beats Alabama and we have a tight playoff race.

That’s especially the case because whichever team wins the Big Ten East, either Michigan or Ohio State, will be playing Northwestern in the Big Ten title game.

This means neither Michigan nor Ohio State will get a bump at all from this victory. In fact, all this game will serve to do is potentially knock the Big Ten’s playoff contender out of the playoff.

This is why, as I’ll discuss below in greater detail, I’m not a fan of conference title games.

If you are a Michigan or Ohio State fan you should be rooting like crazy for Alabama to win the SEC title game. Because if that happens the 12-1 Big Ten champ is in the playoff. But if Alabama loses to Georgia then I really do believe the Tide will get in over either Michigan or Ohio State.

3. Clemson will probably play Pittsburgh in the ACC “title” game. 

The Tigers have this left on their schedule: Duke and South Carolina, both games at home.

Then it looks like they will play Pittsburgh in the ACC “title” game.

Really. (The ACC Coastal is a mess so this might not happen but it looks likely assuming Pitt doesn’t lose both of its final two games.)

This is the same Pitt team that lost by 45 to Penn State and by 31 to Central Florida.

Again, why do we need this ACC “title” game other than for money? It’s a complete waste of a game. Clemson is the best team in the ACC, we already know this, it’s why we played the season.

This ACC “title” game makes no sense.

One possible subplot that is unlikely to emerge, but is worth paying attention to: if South Carolina were to beat Clemson and then Georgia beat Alabama, the playoff committee could potentially bump out Clemson for Georgia and Alabama on the grounds that Georgia and Alabama were more impressive against common SEC opponents. (Alabama blew out Texas A&M while Clemson narrowly won and Georgia blew out South Carolina while Clemson would have lost to them.) Again, I don’t think this is likely to happen, but it’s worth paying attention to down the stretch if you’re contemplating all the potential playoff permutations.

The most likely outcome, by a substantial margin, is that Clemson goes 13-0, but if the Tigers stumble, I’m not certain 12-1 gets them into the playoff.

4. Notre Dame is two wins from punching a playoff ticket. 

This is the simplest pathway left to the playoff — beat Syracuse in New York City, which doesn’t look like a cakewalk at all, and beat USC in Los Angeles and you’re into the playoff.

But what if Notre Dame lost one of these games?

Then the playoff committee has a mess on its hands, potentially.

Because could you take 12-1 Big Ten champ Michigan as a playoff team and not take 11-1 Notre Dame that beat them head-to-head?

That’s particularly the case if Notre Dame lost a tough neutral game against Syracuse. The Orange are 8-2 and both of their losses have been incredibly close, late on the road at Clemson and in overtime on the road at Pittsburgh.

I think you’d be hard-pressed to argue that a close loss against a top 15 caliber team ends Notre Dame’s playoff chances.

So what does the committee value? Do they simply put Michigan in because they believe the Wolverines are better and overlook the head-to-head result? I don’t think you can do that, personally. I think head-to-head, as it always does, has to determine a tie or near tie between two team resumes.

I think every playoff vote has to balance two competing criteria: who are the best teams and who are the most deserving teams? Here you might reasonably believe that at this point in the season Michigan is better than Notre Dame, but given the head-to-head win I believe Notre Dame would be the most deserving. The tie goes to the team that won the game.

I don’t think you can put 12-1 Michigan, especially not when Michigan’s Big Ten title game win would be a second victory over Northwestern, the same team Notre Dame just beat too, over 11-1 Notre Dame.

I think you either have to take both of them in the playoff or you have to take Notre Dame over Michigan.

5. West Virginia and Oklahoma are still alive in the Big 12 title and playoff races. 

West Virginia blew out TCU and now has at Oklahoma State and Oklahoma at home left on their schedule.

If the Mountaineers can beat Oklahoma State then they will set up the biggest game in Morgantown since they lost to Pittsburgh in 2007. (Sorry, West Virginia fans.)

If so, Oklahoma at West Virginia on the Friday after Thanksgiving will be a massive Big 12 match up. (Oklahoma plays Kansas and I don’t believe they could possibly lose this team. Maybe not even if they played their third string).

But here’s the potential mess for the Big 12 — the two teams could play in two straight weeks.

We don’t know for sure what will happen, but there are four teams alive for the two Big 12 title spots: Oklahoma, West Virginia, Texas, and Iowa State. (Texas and Iowa State play this coming weekend. The loser of that game will be eliminated from the Big 12 title game mix.)

But all you need to know is this: the Big 12 champ has to be 12-1 to be in the playoff mix. And there are still substantial obstacles to that happening.

In fact, if West Virginia beats Oklahoma State and Texas beats Iowa State then West Virginia would be guaranteed a spot in the Big 12 title game no matter what happened against Oklahoma.

My biggest takeaway here on the Big 12, honestly, is that Oklahoma’s defense is not good enough to win a national title.

At least West Virginia has, at times, shown a decent defense.

We haven’t seen that from Oklahoma at all down the stretch of this season. The Sooners have allowed 48, 46, and 47 points in three of their last five games. That’s just not good enough to be a title contending team.

Somewhere fired defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has to be watching these games saying, “Told ya it wasn’t me.”

The best case scenario for the Big 12 in terms of a playoff scenario? Oklahoma wins out, getting its defense back in working order, and beats Texas soundly in the Big 12 title game to erase the loss earlier in the season.

7. Washington State is still alive for a playoff berth out of the Pac 12.

The Cougars now get to finish out their regular season in Pullman with Arizona and Washington coming to town.

If Washington State wins both these games then the 11-1 Cougars would advance to play — who knows, honestly — in the Pac 12 title game. (Right now Utah, Arizona State, and Arizona are all tied with three losses).

Regardless, yet again we’re going to have a Pac 12 title game that isn’t going to give the Cougars much of a bump in the event they win it.

That’s because it’s totally worthless.

But we’ll talk about that in a moment. In the meantime, if you’re Washington State, here’s what you probably need to happen to make the playoff at 12-1: you want Alabama, Clemson, and Notre Dame to win out and then you need a two (or more) loss champ to emerge from the Big 12 and the Big Ten. Then you’d definitely be in the playoff.

8. Conference title games may well be total wastes. 

Think about it — you’re going to have Michigan or Ohio State against Northwestern. Congrats to the Wildcats on advancing to the title game, but all Michigan or Ohio State will gain from this “title” game is an opportunity to lose to an inferior opponent and cost their conference a playoff spot.

Washington State may well finish the season 11-1. That would make them the unquestioned Pac 12 champion. Yet the Cougars will have to play a vastly inferior Pac 12 South opponent who has lost three games in the conference. Even if the Cougars were to lose they’d still be 11-2 and substantially better than the team that beats them in the overall Pac 12 record.

The ACC title game is going to be Clemson against, probably, Pittsburgh. Yes, that’s the same Pitt team that lost by 45 to Penn State and 31 to UCF. What’s the point of this game? We already know Clemson is the best team in the conference.

Meanwhile the Big 12 title game is definitely going to be a rematch and could exist to ensure the Big 12 champ isn’t in the running for the Big 12 title at all. (The most Big 12 result of all would be a conference title game rematch of West Virginia and Oklahoma in back-to-back weeks with both teams splitting the games and ensuring that the Big 12 didn’t have a playoff representative.)

Only the SEC title game, between Alabama and Georgia, is actually guaranteed to match two top teams who haven’t played already.

I mean, I understand the title games are worth a great deal of money, but wouldn’t it make infinitely more sense to scrap the conference title games and play an eight team playoff instead?

This would also allow you to do away with divisions in college football, which are totally stupid and also limit the number of games your teams had to play, which is supposedly a concern to explain why the playoff only has four teams.

Sure, you might end up with two teams with the same conference record who didn’t play each other, but what’s the harm in sharing a title in this case? If both teams were really good they’d both advance to the playoff and we’d find out which team was better there.

I just think conference title games, in general, are often worthless.

Worst of all, in four major conferences they also provide a landmine game where the team that was clearly the best team all season now has a chance to lose a meaningless game.

9. What’s the biggest mess that could arise for the playoff committee?

Since everyone loves playoff hypotheticals here is the most difficult situation I can imagine: what if every team in playoff contention finishes with one loss. That is the playoff committee ends up with 12-1 Alabama, 12-1 Georgia, 12-1 Clemson, 11-1 Notre Dame, 12-1 Michigan, 12-1 Washington State and 12-1 Oklahoma or West Virginia.

Which four teams do you take from that group?

You’ve got six 12-1 teams and one 11-1 team and you can only take four teams.

Good luck.

I’d personally take Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, and Michigan because I think those would be the four best teams, but leaving out Notre Dame, Washington State, and Oklahoma wouldn’t be very fair either.

And what about Clemson? Could the Tigers get jumped by Notre Dame to avoid the committee taking Michigan over Notre Dame despite the head-to-head loss?

I think this would be the most difficult possible decision the committee would face.

10. Outkick’s National Top Ten:

1. Alabama

2. Clemson

3. Notre Dame

4. Michigan

5. Georgia

6. Washington State

7. West Virginia

8. Oklahoma

9. Ohio State

10. LSU

11. SEC power rankings 1-14:

Okay, before I even try to rank here I feel pretty decent about the top three teams in the SEC and the bottom three teams in the SEC, but after that I’m completely at a loss because teams 4-11 are all effectively equal. Let me explain what I mean, Tennessee has beaten Auburn and Kentucky.

But Tennessee is only 2-4 in conference.

Yet Tennessee didn’t just beat Kentucky, that was a total ass kicking.

I don’t think anyone who watched that game could argue Kentucky is a better team than Tennessee right now.

Similarly the Gators finished 5-3, but got crushed by Mizzou who is only 2-4 in conference. Mizzou is better than Florida is right now. In fact,  I honestly think there’s a strong argument Mizzou is clearly a top five team in the conference and on most weeks would have beaten both South Carolina and Kentucky. But they lost to them.

Then you’ve got South Carolina who finished 4-4, but was never very impressive in any of their wins and never beat a team with a winning record in conference.

Just know that I honestly believe there is virtually nothing that separates number four from number 11 right now.

Hopefully we’ll get a bit more clarity next week and in the week after.

In the meantime, these rankings are the equivalent of the ending of LSU-Arkansas, they just make no sense.

FYI, I demand an investigation into that ending and I didn’t even bet on it. When have you seen a running back give himself up TWICE to allow a team to take a knee and the team then run more plays trying to score.

It was completely nonsensical.

The only thing I can think is someone on that LSU offensive coaching staff had big money on LSU -13 or 13.5 and wanted to get that touchdown to cover.

And maybe the LSU running backs, who were making the smart plays, actually had money on Arkansas.

1. Alabama

2. Georgia

3. LSU

4. Florida

5. Texas A&M

6. Kentucky

7. South Carolina

8. Missouri

9. Auburn

10. Mississippi State

11. Tennessee

12. Ole Miss

13. Vanderbilt

14. Arkansas

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