NEW YORK, N.Y.- The
stage is finally set. After months of deliberation and debate, the four teams that
will make up the College Football Playoff are set. LSU, Ohio State, Clemson and
Oklahoma will all battle it out to hoist the national championship trophy.
The College Football Playoff is in its sixth season and while
there have been some exciting games and a few shocking outcomes, we’ve yet to
have all three games come down to the wire, pit equally talented teams against
each other and have us all walk away feeling like we saw the best three games
of the year. Blowouts have unfortunately been commonplace, but this year’s
field sets up in a way that could go against the norm. The 2020 Playoff has all of the necessary
ingredients to produce the best one we’ve ever seen in its short existence.
All four teams provide household names even the casual
college football fan is familiar with: Joe Burrow. Chase Young. Justin Fields.
Jalen Hurts. Trevor Lawrence. Each quarterback has their own case of being the
best in the country to go along with the best overall player gives both
semifinal matchups a real sexiness. In fact, all four Heisman Trophy contenders
are playing in the Playoff: Burrow, Young, Fields and Hurts. This is the first
time in the six years of the Playoff that every Heisman finalist is on one of
the final four schools remaining.
On top of the great quarterback play, stars fill out every roster of the four teams. Oklahoma has the best receiver in the country in CeeDee Lamb while LSU, Ohio State and Clemson own three of the deepest receiving corps in the country. Isaiah Simmons has emerged as the next great Clemson defensive star while Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray might be the most athletic, sideline to sideline linebacker in the country. Whether it’s at running back, defensive back or offensive line, each team is loaded, providing for must-watch matchups all over the field.
Photo courtesy of Heisman.com
Because players cycle in and out every three or four years,
coaches become the face of programs. Having four big time coaches competing
against each other adds an intriguing angle to an already exciting Playoff
field. No coach has had the success that Dabo Swinney has had these last five
years, posting a .944 winning percentage, making the Playoff all five years and
winning two national titles. Ed Orgeron is the most eccentric and viral coach
you can have, as his weekly press conferences and pregame entrances flood
social media every week. He’s captivated the Bayou crowd and made them believers.
Both Lincoln Riley and Ryan Day were tasked with the impossible: replacing a legend at their school. Riley, since taking over for Bob Stoops, has led Oklahoma to the Playoff all three years and has coached three Heisman Trophy finalist quarterbacks, with two of them winning the award. Day, in succeeding Urban Meyer, has the Buckeyes at 12-0 for the first time since Meyer led an NCAA sanctioned Ohio State team to a 12-0 record in his first season, when they were ineligible for postseason play. All four teams boast successful, rock-star like coaches that will be fun to watch scheming against each other.
The rankings perfectly align these four teams to test what
each does well and because of that, provides the two best matchups we could
have asked for this season on paper. LSU and Oklahoma have two of the most
explosive offenses in the country, as the Tigers and Sooners come in with the
top two offenses in terms of yards per game. Both can score at will, as the
Burrow-led offense owns the third best scoring offense, while the Hurts-driven
Oklahoma offense is fifth in scoring. Both defenses have shown improvement, but
sometimes struggle as holding down the opposing offense. This could lead to offensive
explosion, as we may see a game reminiscent of the Georgia-Oklahoma 2018 semifinal
that saw the Bulldogs win 54-48 in 2 OT’s.
On the flip side, Ohio State and Clemson have proven to be
the two most balanced teams in the country. Ohio State is the best scoring
offense in the nation, while the Tigers aren’t too far behind at fourth. Each
team’s defense has been stout as well, with the Buckeyes owning the third best
scoring defense while Clemson sits at the top in college football. You can
breakdown every position for these two teams and neither has a significant edge
over the other. This Ohio State-Clemson matchup in the Fiesta Bowl will be
significantly more competitive than the last time these two teams matched up in
the Fiesta Bowl, as the Tigers bulldozed the Buckeyes 31-0.
Any way you look at these two semifinal games, it’s hard to look back and think we’ve had as exciting and balanced of matchups in the history of the College Football Playoff. While it’s widely regarded that LSU, Ohio State and Clemson are in a class of their own compared to Oklahoma, the Sooners have the elite scoring ability to keep this an exciting game. From the superstar names on the field to the brand names of the schools involved to the head coaches squaring off against each other to the even strengths on the field, we are primed for the three most exciting and well-played games the Playoff has ever seen. Is it December 28th yet?
While the rest of the College Football world gets ready to watch conference championship games and prepare for the playoffs, fans of Alabama are in an unfamiliar position.
Saturday’s brutal loss against Auburn eliminated the Tide from their fifth straight College Football Playoff appearance. Entering this season, they were the only program that advanced to the playoff in each of the four seasons since its inception. Despite showcasing an explosive offense that figured to feature at least four first-round picks in the 2020 NFL draft, Alabama fans find themselves with a strange feeling entering the offseason.
First off, let us give significant props to Mac Jones. Widely considered an afterthought by the “elite” media, Jones showed heart, poise, and talent that made fans of the Yellowhammer state damn proud. Despite giving Auburn 14 points, Jones recovered while showing fearlessness and grit in a hostile, intimidating environment. Each time after committing game-changing mistakes, Jones spit in the eye of unbelievers by following up his errors in judgment with touchdown drives.
The Auburn defense was among the best in the nation this season. No team had scored more than 23 points entering the Iron Bowl. Alabama, with their backup quarterback, almost doubled that number (45). Throw in a missed chip-shot field goal, a touchdown called back for holding and a pick-six at the one-yard line, and the case certainly could be made that a Mac Jones led offense could have hung 60 (actually 59) on the Tigers vaunted defense.
Jones was not the reason Alabama lost on Saturday. Neither was one of the most egregious violations of the spirit of the replay rule, which awarded Auburn with an additional three points at the half.
Alabama’s glaring weakness was a very mediocre defense, which failed to cover up their flaws with creative game plans. If Tosh Lupoi didn’t survive the Tide’s defensive implosion against Clemson in the 2018 National Championship (allowed 44 points and 482 total yards), then Pete Golding shouldn’t be granted back access to Alabama’s campus (allowed 34 points, 382 total yards and 5-13 on third-down).
A few significant questions face Nick Saban and the Tide heading into Bowl season. The first obvious one is whether Tua is coming back. If I put on my prognosticating cap, I would bet on him returning.
The first reason for Tua’s return would be to prove he can still play. I do not see an NFL team risking a first or second-round pick on a player coming off a dislocated hip. Even if Tua’s recovery and rehab go the best they could go, NFL teams will remember the way a hip injury ruined the career of the greatest athlete to come from the state of Alabama (Bo Jackson).
The second reason is that Tua needs to prove he can stay healthy for a full season. Despite video-game numbers in his time at Alabama, Tua has failed to complete a season while being the full-time starting QB.
Switching the narrative to Tua’s camp, losing the certainty of being a top-five pick (which he was projected to be entering this season), will cost him a huge payday. By showing the NFL that he still possesses 90 percent of his athleticism and all of his talent, Tua will quickly regain that top-five status, if not the first selection.
HOW WILL SABAN HANDLE RECRUITING?
Let’s not pretend that my creative mind is anywhere near the brilliance of Saban’s. However, if I once again put on my prognostication cap, expect Saban to take a long look at defensive Jucos.
Alabama already has the second-best recruiting class for 2020, trailing only Clemson by a small margin. The number 3 (CB Nadab Joseph) Juco already has narrowed his choice to Alabama and an unknown. The number 4 (CB Brian George), 7 (S, Tray Bishop), and 8 (DT, Josh Ellison) are still undecided. Bringing in experienced defensive players will add to the Tide’s already impressive class of incoming freshman, returning players from injury and the youngsters that suffered through this season.
The bottom line for Alabama fans is that all is still well. Professor Nick is still running the show, and you also might get Tua back for another shot at the Heisman and a National Championship.
NEW YORK, N.Y.- For fans of both Michigan and Ohio State,
this past Saturday etched the latest chapter to a storied rivalry, although the
result was all-too-familiar for Wolverine fans. The latest edition of “The
Game” saw the Buckeyes run through Michigan 56-27. The result was a historical
one for Jim Harbaugh, although not in a way Michigan fans would be proud of.
Harbaugh’s career record against the school he is paid to beat is now 0-5, becoming
the first coach on either side of this rivalry to lose their first five games.
The outgoing, brash head coach is being fairly criticized
for talking a big game and not being able to back it up against the best competition.
But the blame shouldn’t stop at Harbaugh. This problem goes beyond him and
extends to the entire football program, athletics department and University.
Ohio State has made this anything but a rivalry, winning
eight consecutive games and 15 of the last 16. The inability to beat their
hated rival has been a problem for the maize and blue for almost two decades. The
last four Michigan head coaches all have losing records against the Buckeyes,
including the legendary Lloyd Carr. In fact, Gary Moeller was the last head
coach to have a winning record against the scarlet and gray, going 3-1-1 from
On the flip side, excluding Luke Fickell’s interim season, only one Ohio State coach since 1950 owns a losing record against “That Team Up North,” as John Cooper went a forgettable 2-10-1 from 1988-2000. In that same time frame, Michigan has had five coaches with losing records to Ohio State.
Both schools view this game as their Super Bowl. The
difference is that Ohio State prepares for this game 24/7, 365, while Michigan prepares
like it’s just another opponent. Buckeye quarterback Justin Fields, who’s brand
new to this rivalry after transferring from Georgia, stated it best postgame when
he said “I think we take this rivalry more serious than they do. I think it
just means more at Ohio State.”
Herein lies the main issue at heart: There are more
important things to Michigan than beating Ohio State in football. Striving to
be the best public university in the nation is extremely important to Michigan.
So is maintaining a pristine academic reputation. Beating Ohio State is up
there, but not the biggest priority. This has allowed the Buckeyes to gain an
upper hand in recruiting, which has been the biggest reason for the domination
the last 25 years.
Harbaugh’s biggest flaw since taking over has been allowing the talent gap between the two schools to increase, as the Buckeyes have outclassed the Wolverines in every aspect the last few seasons. There should also be legitimate concern that the former Michigan quarterback is ignorant when it comes to recognizing the weaknesses of his team. When asked if there’s a talent, preparation or coaching gap between the two schools after Saturday’s game, Harbaugh responded by stating, “I’ll answer your questions, not your insults,” before crediting Ohio State for simply playing better.
The issue is right in Harbaugh’s answer, or should I say,
lack there of. There is a legitimate gap in all three phases. Ohio State has
nine more five-star and 11 more four-star recruits than their rival, something
Michigan can’t allow to happen. This goes back to the buy-in, as the Buckeyes
have used every resource possible to collect as much talent to Columbus.
Changes for Michigan need to start with recruiting, with efforts
focused on building a team to specifically stop Ohio State. For years, the
Wolverines have lacked defensive speed. This has to be an emphasis moving
forward or else Michigan fans should get accustomed to crooked numbers being
hung on the scoreboard.
While the outlook looks bleak for those in Ann Arbor, they have the ability to turn things around and become competitive with their biggest roadblock to the College Football Playoff. But it doesn’t start with Jim Harbaugh. It starts above him with the buy-in from the athletics department and administration to not only have this program continue to stay a consistent winner, but enter into that elite level that the Buckeyes have risen to since Urban Meyer was hired. If the buy-in isn’t there, then get used to having this conversation on the last Saturday in November for years to come.
As the calendar turns to Thanksgiving, the College Football Playoff became a little brighter after this weekend’s games.
Georgia will earn a place in the playoff only if they beat LSU in the SEC Championship Game. However, the Bulldogs might find themselves staring from the outside depending on the Iron Bowl outcome.
If Alabama beats Auburn big on Saturday (by 20 or more), they should move ahead of Georgia. Winning a weak SEC East should not be enough to keep the Bulldogs holding the final playoff spot.
SEC COMMON OPPONENTS MATTER THIS YEAR
Georiga owns victories over top-10 teams Florida and Notre Dame along with a win over #13 Auburn. On the surface, that looks very good. However, they won each by seven points or fewer. That is not impressive enough to counter an ugly loss at home to a 4-8 (after they lose to Clemson) South Carolina team.
The three-time defending SEC East champion could have padded their resume with an impressive win over Texas A&M (ranked #24 in ESPN/Coaches Poll & AP Poll, but unranked in College Football Playoff rankings) at home. Kirby Smart watched his team hold on for dear life in a six-point triumph, despite being outgained by the Aggies by 64 yards in the second half.
Jimbo Fisher should fire whoever analyzes game tapes. After watching Auburn light up Georgia for 238 yards and 14 points in the 4th quarter the previous week, it was apparent the Bulldogs struggle when facing a hurry-up offense. Georgia’s stout defensive line gets gassed when not being able to sub out. Seeing how effective being aggressive was for Wildcats, I was dumbfounded watching Kellen Mond take his sweet time during the Aggies potential go-ahead drive in the final quarter. Mond paid the price for the lack of aggression, as Tyler Clark sacked him to destroy their drive.
Alabama’s only win over a ranked team was on October 12 at College Station over a #24 Aggies opponent, which kills them. They don’t have that one big win like they had in 2017 when they defeated #3 Florida St. in their season-opener (Seminoles finished 7-6 that year in Jimbo Fisher’s final season). However, an impressive showing against rival Auburn Saturday should tilt the pendulum in their direction.
Alabama-Georgia Common Opponents
Play at Auburn 11/30
W, 21-14 (+7) at Auburn
W, 47-28 (+21) at Texas A&M
W, 19-13 (+6) at home
W, 35-13 (+22) at home
W, 42-13 (+29) at Tennessee
W, 47-21 (+26) at South Carolina
L, 20-17 OT (-3) at home
PAC-12 BLEW THEIR BEST CHANCE, BUT MIGHT STILL HAVE A SAY
Heading into Saturday night, things looked very hopeful for #6 #Oregon and #7 #Utah. If both teams won out, it would have been hard to keep the Conference Champion (they will play each other) out of the playoff.
If Georgia wins out, they will clinch the final spot (assuming Clemson, Ohio State & LSU hold serve). However, if Georgia loses to LSU, that will open the door to either Alabama, Oklahoma (assuming both wins out), and the PAC-12 champ.
Oregon had the better case if they won out; however they were eliminated Saturday with their loss at Arizona State. Oregon’s loss also impacts Utah, who now take over the reins as the most attractive candidate in the Pac-12. Assuming Oregon drops out of the top 10 (a probable assumption) that affects Utah since a one-loss Pac-12 champ will no longer be victorious over a top-10 opponent (which they would have if Oregon and Utah won out their regular seasons).
Alabama holds destiny in their own hands (assuming Georgia losses to LSU). If they pummel War Eagle Saturday, they will have the best resume of the other one-loss teams, whoever they are. Beating Auburn by ten or fewer might not be enough to convince the committee they deserve a spot over a Power-5 Conference Champ.
NEW YORK, N.Y.-
What a weekend it was in college football. Two of the initial top four teams in
the College Football Playoff went down, including Minnesota upsetting Penn
State and LSU defeating Alabama in the “Game of the Century.” The big question
after that SEC clash was: “Where will Alabama land after this loss? Are they
still deserving of staying in the top four?”
Ultimately Georgia was slotted fourth this week while the Crimson Tide slipped to fifth to the dismay of many. The committee got it right this week, as they valued impressive wins by Georgia over a close loss to the top team with Alabama.
There is a growing notion that a “good loss” can actually
boost your resume when it comes to arguing your case to be one of the final
four teams. This can absolutely be true when the sole loss can be paired with a
few solid wins. When the biggest brag about a team’s resume is that they lost a
close game at home to the number one team in the nation, that shouldn’t trump
having wins over ranked opponents.
The biggest indictment for Georgia was their home loss to
South Carolina, a team that beat the ‘Dawgs with their third string quarterback
and likely will finish the season 4-8. An inexcusable loss for sure, but one
game doesn’t tell the entire story of their season. The Bulldogs own two top-10
wins this season, defeating No. 7 Notre Dame at home and No. 6 Florida in
Jacksonville. Two wins over highly ranked opponents should definitely outweigh
a brutal loss.
Alabama’s resume on the other hand is completely different. They have the best loss by far of any one-loss team when they fell to now top ranked LSU. Outside of that, they have nothing else to lean on. The Tide did beat Texas A&M when the Aggies were ranked No. 24, but have since fell out of the rankings. The only chance ‘Bama has left of notching a ranked win will be in the Iron Bowl at Auburn, who could have three losses if the Tigers fall to Georgia this weekend.
Alabama’s ranking will be a hot button topic for the rest of
the season because of their resume, or should I say, lack there of it. Owning
the best loss is helpful, but can only take you so far, especially when teams
behind the Tide have opportunities to pad their resumes. Oregon and Utah,
should they win out, will face each other in the Pac-12 title game and the
winner will own a conference title and a win over a top 10 team, neither of
which Alabama can claim. Minnesota still has two ranked opponents left on their
schedule in Iowa and Wisconsin plus gets a shot at most likely Ohio State in
the Big Ten Championship should the Gophers make it. Penn State has a chance to
avenge its loss by traveling to Columbus to play the Buckeyes next week.
Oklahoma and Baylor play each other this weekend and most likely again for the
Big 12 title, helping to boost one of their resumes.
Since the College Football Playoff has been implemented, two teams have made it without winning their own division: 2016 Ohio State and 2017 Alabama. The common dominator with both were their big wins throughout the season as the Buckeyes captured three wins over ranked opponents, including No. 3 Michigan while ‘Bama opened the season with a win over third ranked Florida State and tallied two other wins over ranked opponents. Their impressive victories were the reason they made the final four in those respective seasons, not their “good losses.”
This may seem like I’m just picking on Alabama, but the
truth is you could insert any team with the Tide’s resume and the argument
would be the same. I understand the eye test is a big component of what the
committee factors in when they are judging teams, but the body of work can’t be
ignored either. Wins have to matter in college football. If they don’t why are
we even playing the games?
If you are a fan of SEC Football (and who isn’t) once again, you get a marquee matchup in the middle of your Saturday. Last week, the SEC East enjoyed the spotlight as Georgia and Florida battled in the “World’s Largest Cocktail Party.” This week the West takes center stage as two undefeated rivals decide who will represent their division in the SEC Championship.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL POLLS & CFB STANDINGS DIFFER
LSU enters the “Game of the Century: Part Deux” having the better resume and took over the top spot from Nick Saban’s crew after their win over #9 Auburn on October 27. That win marked the Bayou Bengals third this season over a top-10 opponent.
On Tuesday, the first College Football Playoff Standings** created controversy, as Ohio State, currently ranked #3 in the AP Poll, received the top spot. The AP #1 LSU dropped to #2, while Alabama fell to third.
The Crimson Tide finally get their chance to post a win on their 2019 season resume as they prepare to play host on Saturday. With a win, rammer jammer will have something LSU doesn’t have, a win over a top-five team.
RIVALRY IS ONE-SIDED
Alabama enters winners of eight straight in this matchup. Both teams faced a similar scenario in 2011 when undefeated teams (ranked 1-2 in the AP Poll and BCS Standings) met in Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Tigers benefitted from three Cade Foster missed FG, including one in OT, resulting in a 9-6 LSU victory.
The Tide, however, got their revenge on LSU later that year when the BCS committee awarded them a spot in the National Championship despite not winning their division. Nick Saban’s crew held LSU to 92 total yards and five first downs (outgained them 384-92) in a 21-0 washout to secure his second National Championship at Alabama.
The Tide’s victory in the 2011 National Championship started a trend that has seen them blank the Tigers three times during their current eight-game win streak.
LSU OFFENSE POISED TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
The Tigers enter Tuscaloosa ranked first in the SEC and fourth overall in the nation in total yards per game (536.0). Heisman Trophy candidate QB Joe Burrow leads the nation in completion percentage (78.8), ranks second in passing TD (30), and third in both passing yards (280.5) and QB rating (204.5).
Burrow benefits from tossing the ball to the SEC top receiving tandem in Justin Jefferson (819) and La’Marr Chase (749), who rank 1-2 in the conference in receiving yards. If you crowd their WRs, LSU can beat you with their running game as well. Clyde Edwards-Helaire 8 rushing TD is only one behind SEC leader Kylil Hill from Mississippi St., while his 5.9 rushing YPC ranks tied for 5th in the conference. To steal a line from the 1969 Dustin Hoffman & Mia Farrow, “John & Mary,” – “This is not your mother’s LSU offense.” This LSU team possesses a lethal attack, one which Alabama has never faced before in this rivalry.
LSU DEFENSE HAS BEEN OFFENSIVE
On the flip side, the LSU defense has been their weakness. If LSU were Daniel LaRusso, Nick Saban would be telling his team to “sweep the leg” when referring to their defensive unit.
The Tigers allowed 31 points allowed 31 offensive points and 374 yards to Vanderbilt. Vandy is only averaging 248 yards per game & 10 PPG (40 total) in their other four SEC games this year (both last in conference). Against the Gators, LSU allowed 457 yards. Florida averages just 348 YPG in their other five SEC games. The Gators featured five drives of 75 yards or more against the Tigers. Florida has only eight other possessions of that length in their other five SEC games combined.
In addition, LSU will be missing leading sack artist Michael Divinity Jr., who left the team for the remainder of the season due to undisclosed reasons.
ROLL TIDE KEEPS ROLLING ON OFFENSE
While LSU offense is light years ahead of its predecessors, the same can goes for Alabama. Tua Tagovailoa’s status remains the biggest question for the Tide. Earlier on ESPN College Gameday, Saban addressed Tua’s status.
“He’s practiced well all week long. In the short area he’s been really, really good. He feels good about it. … If he feels good in pregame and we don’t have a setback I think he’ll be able to play.”
-Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban on Tua’s status vs LSU (via ESPN College Gameday)
Last week Mac Jones filled in just fine for Tua, passing for 235 yards while completing 18-22 passes in Alabama’s 48-7 rout. The Tide’s offense ranks second in the nation in PPG behind Oklahoma, averaging 48.6 PPG. They rank ninth in the country and second in the SEC in total offense (506.6).
ALABAMA’S OFFENSIVE UNIT UNDERRATED?
While that question might sound funny, a closer looks show the Tide win by an average of 33.3 PPG (second in CFB behind Ohio State’s 40.4). If they played closer games, perhaps their offense would be even more explosive and Tua’s numbers, even more, Heisman worthy. A big reason why he did not win the award last season was because he did not play in the fourth quarter in over 3/4 of the Tide’s games. This season, Tua has only led three drives in the fourth quarter., severely squashing his overall numbers.
Despite rarely seeing time in the final quarter, Tua ranks fourth in the nation and second in the SEC with 27 TD passes. He ranks second behind former teammate Jalen Hurts and first in the SEC in QB rating (212.4). His 11.2 yds per completion and 74.7 completion percentage both rank second in the nation (yds per completion ranks 1st in SEC).
While LSU features a pair of certain first-round draft choices at WR, the Tide’s trio of Devonta Smith, Jerry Jeudy, and Henry Ruggs III will join them.
The 2017 National Championship Game hero Smith, is tied with LSU’s tandem for the SEC lead with nine TD receptions. Jeudy is right behind them with eight, while Ruggs III has six. Ruggs III 19.7 YPC ranks second in the conference, while all three rank in the top 10 in the SEC in receiving yards.
The Tide’s rushing offense should not be ignored either. Despite not playing as big a roll this season, Najee Harris is tied for 5th in the conference in YPC, averaging 5.9. He has also picked up the pace of late, averaging just under 100 rushing YPG (97) in his last five games.
Every national writer and prognosticator that I’ve spoken to loves LSU today. While others laugh at Alabama being the underdog, I feel most in the media have already given this game to LSU. To that, I say one thing.
Alabama 45-35 over the Tigers.
**The defending National Champions Clemson, despite not losing since the 2017 National Semifinals, received what amounts to a CFB Playoff version of a “bitch slap” by being left out of the playoff. By doing so, the committee served a warning that the rest of the the top five conferences should heed. By essentially being escorted into the playoff as a result of a weak conference, Clemson became the poster boy for scheduling tougher non-conference games.