CFP Chase: Assessing contenders after Week 14
We have arrived at the season’s final edition of College Football Playoff chase.
By this time next week all of the conference championship trophies will be handed out and the CFP semifinals will be set, as will the New Year’s Day 6 bowl games.
We are losing one very big component of our listings: Alabama is done. The only team to make all 5 of the previous Playoffs won’t make it 6 in a row after the Crimson Tide lost at Auburn 48-45 on Saturday.
But the SEC is still alive and well with 2 candidates: West Division champion LSU and East winner Georgia. Those two will meet Saturday in Atlanta in the SEC Championship Game and the winner will be an obvious CFP semifinalist. Undefeated LSU is likely in even with a loss (we’ll get to that).
The other 2 unbeaten teams remaining in FBS, Ohio State and Clemson, can punch their tickets by winning their respective championship games.
There is no more separation of categories between “prime-time players” and all the others in our CFP contenders list since, in our view, there are only 7 teams left vying for the title. They are the only Power 5 teams in the country with either zero losses or 1 loss.
This is our take on how we think the committee will rank these contenders Tuesday.
It was a surprise to many that the CFP voters jumped the Buckeyes over LSU for No. 1 last week. Will the Tigers go back on top if they rout Georgia and OSU just squeaks past Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game? For now the guess is that a 29-point victory on the road against then-No. 13 Michigan will be good enough to keep OSU at No. 1 this week — and that the Buckeyes will stay there with a B1G title game win, even if their foe is nowhere near as impressive as LSU’s opponent, UGA.
Just win and you’re in, LSU. Or lose and you’re probably in. Whether they are No. 1 or No. 2, one thing seems clear: No team in the country has better quality wins than LSU. That early win over Texas looks less impressive every week, but that’s not true of the win over Florida. And as for the victory at Alabama perhaps losing a bit of luster after the Iron Bowl? Well, that result made LSU’s win over Auburn more impressive so it works both ways. And a win over Georgia would cement LSU’s résumé even more.
In a way this is the team with the most pressure. Ohio State and LSU play ranked teams in their title conference games. There’s already talk that LSU or OSU could make the CFP even with a loss on Saturday; in fact LSU seems extremely likely to do so. Clemson, in the very weak ACC, has no such cushion even as the defending national champs. A 27-game winning streak would mean nothing to the CFP if the Tigers lose to a 3-loss, currently unranked Virginia squad this weekend for the ACC title.
This is the simplest entry of the 7. If the Bulldogs beat LSU in the SEC Championship Game, they’re in the CFP. If they lose, they’re out. No debate, no controversy, no complications. Kirby Smart’s team would most likely rise to No. 3 with a victory over LSU, if Clemson and Ohio State hold serve. Or perhaps UGA even jumps Clemson for No. 2? Either way, under that scenario the Dawgs and Tigers would renew a dormant rivalry: Georgia and Clemson met 59 times from 1902 to 2014.
The Utes trailed Colorado after the 1st quarter on Saturday but pulled away for a 45-15 victory to clinch the Pac-12 South Division. Utah will play in the league title game for the 2nd year in a row, continuing the mostly under-the-radar success of coach Kyle Whittingham’s program. The Utes were No. 6 in last week’s CFP rankings and with Alabama’s loss they will likely rise to No. 5 or, at worst, stay put (see below) heading into their Friday night Pac-12 title game against Oregon.
The Sooners escaped from Bedlam with a 34-16 victory over rival Oklahoma State on Saturday. Will the fact that Oklahoma beat a ranked foe on the road by 18 points be enough for the CFP committee to vault the Sooners past Utah for the No. 5 spot in this week’s rankings? The answer to that could be absolutely critical as far as which team gets into the Playoff and which program gets to be this year’s aggrieved “We should been there!” No. 5 team when the final rankings are released next Sunday.
We admit it: We killed the Bears too soon. It seemed logical: Baylor was undefeated yet only No. 13 on Nov. 16, when Oklahoma erased a 28-3 deficit to defeat the Bears 34-31 in Waco. But Baylor defeated Texas the following week and suddenly rose 5 spots in the CFP, to No. 9. With No. 5 Alabama and No. 8 Minnesota losing Saturday, Baylor should be No. 7 this week. Can the Bears beat the Sooners in the rematch for the Big 12 title and pull off a miracle run to the Playoff two years after going 1-11?
Dropped out: Alabama