Pick-6: The biggest college football storylines I'll be following in Week 12
As shocking as the initial Playoff rankings were, the redo Tuesday night was … predictably calm. Order and common sense were (mostly) restored. Sorry, Tim Brando.
There are several more games today that will impact the 3rd set of rankings, which will be released at 7 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN.
These are the 6 storylines I’ll be watching most intently today in and around the SEC (while waiting on Joe Burrow to break LSU’s single-season passing yards mark. He needs 150 more.)
1. Auburn holds the key to the 4th Playoff spot
It almost never works out this perfectly, but No. 4 Georgia, No. 5 Alabama and No. 6 Oregon all play (or have played) Auburn.
The Tigers beat Oregon in the season opener, in Bo Nix’s first career game. I said it then and I’ll continue to say it: It’s difficult for a league to claim 1 of the 4 Playoff spots when its champion loses to the 4th-best team in another league. That’s Oregon’s hurdle.
That’s also Georgia and Alabama’s opportunity. Both already are ahead of Oregon.
The committee picked Georgia over Alabama for No. 4. I don’t see how, but I’m not going to waste much energy on it, either.
Both play Auburn at Jordan-Hare. If Georgia loses today, I think its Playoff hopes are done, even if it beats unbeaten LSU in the SEC title game. I’d still take 1-loss LSU and 1-loss Alabama over a 2-loss Georgia team. …
… As long as Alabama pounds Auburn in Jordan-Hare on Nov. 30. And even though Auburn could have 3 losses entering the Iron Bowl, those 3 losses would be to SEC teams ranked in the top 10 at the time of kickoff.
Oregon’s only hope? Auburn beats both. Or Auburn blasts Georgia and stays within 1 score of Alabama.
2. Why Georgia’s Playoff hopes are on the line today at Auburn
All together: There hasn’t been a 2-loss team in the Playoff.
True. Auburn would have been the first, in 2017, but the Tigers lost Round 2 to Georgia in the SEC title game.
Among the myriad Playoff scenarios discussed this week was the prospect of a 2-loss Georgia beating LSU in the SEC title game and making it.
Here’s the big difference between the 2017 Auburn team that would have made it with 2 losses and this Georgia team.
That Auburn team lost at No. 3 Clemson by 1 score without its best offensive player, Kerryon Johnson. It later lost at LSU by 3. It offset those 2 losses by beating No. 1 Georgia by 23 and No. 1 Alabama by 12. It entered the SEC title game No. 2 in the Playoff poll. Had it beaten Georgia again, it obviously would have been in the Playoff.
This Georgia team hasn’t done anything remotely close to that. Yes, it beat then-No. 7 Notre Dame by 6 points at home — but Michigan blasted the same Irish team by 31 just a month later. And it beat then-No. 7 Florida by 1 score.
You’ve also probably heard that Playoff teams have overcome a loss to an unranked team in the regular season.
It’s true. But there’s a catch: Only twice has a Playoff team has lost to a team that didn’t make a bowl game.
In 2015, Oklahoma lost to Texas (which finished 5-7), but the Sooners closed by beating No. 6 Baylor, No. 18 TCU and No. 11 Oklahoma State (by 35) to finish 11-1. Oklahoma lost in the Playoff semifinal.
In 2017, defending champion Clemson lost to Syracuse (which finished 4-8), but the Tigers closed with 3 wins over Top 25 teams in the final month and blitzed No. 7 Miami 38-3 in the ACC Championship Game. Clemson also lost in the Playoff semifinal.
Georgia lost to a South Carolina team that is all but guaranteed to finish no better than 5-7 and possibly 4-8. It’s a horrible blemish. Still, if they beat Auburn today, the Dawgs are in good shape. But if they lose a 2nd game, they won’t face another ranked team until the SEC title game. Unless they blow out LSU by 20 in the SEC title game, their closing stretch won’t be as impressive as Oklahoma or Clemson.
I can’t see the Playoff committee punishing Alabama for losing 1 game to the No. 1 team in the country by 5 points by taking a team with 2 losses, especially if Alabama blows out Auburn to close the regular season.
3. How deflated is Penn State?
It’s worth watching because if Indiana, which has 1 victory over Penn State in series history, upsets the Nittany Lions today, that will remove much of the shine off Minnesota’s home win last week over Penn State.
Minnesota needs Penn State to keep going, to whip Indiana and push Ohio State to the brink, if not cause utter chaos in the East.
This is the best Indiana team in years. I’m fully aware of how relative that statement is, and I’d feel better about a potential upset if the Hoosiers still had their starting quarterback, but this is the year of the backup.
A lot is riding on this game for the Hoosiers. They haven’t had a winning record in Big Ten play since 1993. They have 4 wins. One more victory ends that skid, but they also face Michigan next week before closing at Purdue. The Boilermakers’ only motivation might be spoiling IU’s bid. That’s plenty, by the way.
Will Penn State be caught looking ahead? I doubt it, but I’m interested to find out.
4. Same token, Georgia needs Notre Dame to whip Navy
The Irish have 2 losses. The last thing Georgia needs is for another non-Playoff contender to beat the Irish worse than they did.
It wouldn’t matter so much, but that’s the Dawgs’ nonconference calling card, the only thing keeping them ahead of Alabama.
5. Is Baylor a legitimate threat?
I don’t think so, but we’ll have actual answers tonight. The undefeated Bears host Oklahoma.
A loss ends either’s slim Playoff hopes.
6. Can Minnesota handle prosperity?
The lighthouse is shining firmly on the boat, now. No more sneaking up on anybody. The Gophers got the respect they coveted and jumped to No. 8 in the Playoff ranking after holding on to beat Penn State.
Today, they’re at Iowa, which has 3 losses — all to ranked Big Ten teams.
Nobody on Minnesota’s roster knows what it’s like to beat Iowa.
Can the Hawkeyes make it 5 in a row today, at home?