Hayes: Watchlist for Championship Weekend
We’ve played an entire season for 1 game of potential destruction.
Or intrigue, depending on how you see it.
By midnight tonight, we’ll have an idea of just how stressful Championship Weekend becomes for the Playoff selection committee.
If USC beats Utah tonight in the Pac-12 Championship Game, the Playoff is all but wrapped up. All it takes is TCU to avoid a blowout at the hands of Kansas State (more on that later) in the Big 12 Championship Game on Saturday, and the top 4 from last week’s poll — Georgia, Michigan, TCU, USC — will move on to the Playoff.
But if USC loses, Ohio State and Alabama are back in the Playoff picture — much to the angst and agita of many. And if USC loses, the Playoff selection committee will be forced to choose between a team that lost twice on the last play of the game (Alabama) and a team that received its 1st and only loss on the last game of the season (Ohio State).
By 22 points. At home.
Don’t think because Ohio State was No. 5 in last week’s poll and Alabama was No. 6 that the teams will be slotted 1 position forward if USC loses — thereby moving Ohio State into the Playoff.
Selection committee chairman and North Carolina State athletic director Boo Corrigan said earlier this week that there isn’t much difference between Ohio State and Alabama, and that the decision to put Ohio State No. 5 was “difficult.”
Translation: If USC loses, all hell breaks loose.
David’s history vs. Goliath
Jeff Brohm is 3-0 vs. Top 3 teams as coach at Purdue. That, everyone, isn’t an anomaly.
All 3 teams — Ohio State in 2018, Iowa and Michigan State in 2021 — were unbeaten and had strong resumes prior to the Purdue game.
Ohio State in 2018 beat No. 15 TCU early in the season and was 3 weeks removed from a thrilling win at No. 9 Penn State. The offense, with Dwayne Haskins, was rolling and averaging 46 points per game.
Purdue held the Buckeyes to 20 points and won by 29.
Iowa began last season with 6 straight wins and was giving up 13 points a game. Purdue won 24-7, and it should’ve been worse.
Michigan State won its first 8 games last season and was playing so well, it began the groundwork to extend the contract of coach Mel Tucker because he was rumored to be a candidate at LSU.
Purdue won 40-29, and like the Iowa game, it should’ve been worse.
“When you play those type of (highly-ranked) teams, you have to have a little luck on your side. You have to play your very best,” Brohm said. “A lot of things have got to go your way.”
The Boilers clearly need help from Michigan, which last season in this spot followed a groundbreaking win over Ohio State with one of its best games of the season in the Big Ten Championship Game against Iowa.
The Wolverines have struggled in multiple games this season against inferior teams. While they have figured out how to reset during the game, there were interesting 2nd halves against Maryland, Iowa and Illinois.
If those 3 can get the game to the 2nd half, so can Purdue. With much more on the line.
Rebuilding a champion
Lincoln Riley took a 4-win team, and the rebuild has USC 1 game from the Playoff.
Sonny Dykes took a 5-win team, and the rebuild has TCU 1 win from the Playoff.
Kirby Smart took the defending national champions — minus 15 NFL Draft picks and 13 defections to the transfer portal; 28 players in all — and made them better than last season without all the hype and hoopla.
The quarterback (Stetson Bennett IV) isn’t a Heisman Trophy candidate and has an uninspiring 16/6 TD/INT ratio.
There’s no elite tailback (Kenny McIntosh and Daijun Edwards each has 600-plus yards rushing).
There’s no elite receiver (Ladd McConkey, with 46 catches at 13.2 yards per catch, isn’t scaring anyone).
A freshman safety (Malaki Starks) leads the defense in tackles, and 2 linebackers who barely played in 2021 (Jamon Dumas-Johnson and Smael Mondon Jr.) are right behind him, and playing as well as anyone on the defense.
Georgia does, however, have the best tight end in the game (Brock Bowers), the best defensive tackle in the game (Jalen Carter) and players coming off the edge who are essentially unblockable.
Meanwhile, LSU has hobbling QB Jayden Daniels (ankle) and an overachieving group that may have finally run out of emotional fuel in last week’s loss to Texas A&M.
What could’ve been
The prevailing thought is TCU must only avoid a blowout to advance to the Playoff.
It wasn’t that long ago that TCU was on the verge of getting blown out by Kansas State before rallying for a 38-30 win.
K-State played 3 quarterbacks in the Oct. 22 game: Adrian Martinez was knocked out of the game on the 2nd series. Will Howard led the Wildcats to a 28-10 lead in the 2nd quarter and was briefly knocked out of the game late in the 3rd quarter.
Jake Rubley, the 3rd K-State quarterback, threw a costly interception on his only throw of the game with the Wildcats trailing 31-28. Two series later, TCU scored again early in the 4th quarter for the final margin.
Howard will make his 3rd straight start for K-State on Saturday, but Martinez (foot injury) could be used in specific down-and-distance situations in the QB run game.
Since Howard took over for Martinez (after another injury) early in the early November win over Baylor, he has 8 TDs (1 rush) and only 1 INT in wins over Baylor, West Virginia and Kansas.
The 18-point lead over TCU in October was built on his play, and another big game (and big win) will lead to more Sunday selection day turmoil for the Playoff committee.
Championship Weekend picks against the spread, brought to you by our friends at FanDuel:
Utah vs. USC (-2.5)
North Texas at UTSA (-8.5)
Kansas State (+2.5) vs. TCU
Toledo (-3) vs. Ohio
Coastal Carolina at Troy (-8.5)
LSU vs. Georgia (-17.5)
Fresno State (+3.5) at Boise State
UCF (+3.5) at Tulane
Clemson (-7.5) vs. North Carolina
Purdue (+16.5) vs. Michigan