You may or may not agree with the playoff format, but one thing that can't be disputed is the excitement it brings to every week of the college football season. The list of playoff contenders should be whittled further this week, with three games matching one-loss teams and four others where one loss teams face significant challenges. The Big 12 will continue to be more defined, or more muddled, depending on the outcomes Saturday. The Big Ten race, at least in the East, will definitely take shape as Ohio State heads to Michigan State to take on the Spartans. Meanwhile, out west, Oregon travels to Utah in an attempt to put its stamp on the Pac-12 North. And of course, we'll see if Auburn and Alabama can continue to stay alive in their battle to catch Mississippi State in the SEC West.
Thursday (from a previous post):
(21) Clemson (6 - 2) 23 @ Wake Forest (2 - 6) 9: There have been
seasons in the recent past where Wake Forest could have been
competitive in this game, but the Demon Deacons look more like the
Errant Elders. They've managed a paltry 37 points in their four
consecutive ACC losses. Clemson is on a five game wining streak, but
their offense has sputtered in the last two games. They should still
have enough firepower to down the Deacs. The Tigers are still
mathematically in contention for the ACC Atlantic crown, but they'll
need Florida State to drop a couple of conference games. Not likely, but
strange things happen in college football as the season winds down.
UT-Martin (5 - 5) 13 @ (1) Mississippi State (8 - 0) 38: I'm not particularly in favor of how the SEC teams play these cupcake teams in the middle of the conference schedule. This shouldn't be much of a problem for the Bulldogs.
Virginia (4 - 5) 20 @ (1) Florida State (8 - 0) 27: It was Virginia that handed the Seminoles their first ever ACC loss back in the late '90's. The Cavaliers looked impressive earlier in the season, but now have faltered. As long as FSU doesn't look ahead to Miami, they should be able to get past the 'Hoos.
Texas A&M (6 - 3) 28 @ (3) Auburn (7 - 1) 37: The Aggies will be without suspended starting QB Kenny Hill, but they may not lose much effectiveness offensively. Their problem is definitely on the other side of the ball. Auburn has been slowed down, but not stopped very often this season. It will take a heroic defensive effort for A&M to pull the upset.
(4) Oregon (8 - 1) 30 @ (17) Utah (6 - 2) 24: The Ducks are the most impressive non-SEC team I've watched. But Utah has played very well at times, especially at home. This is a tricky one for Oregon, but their speed should win it for them.
(5) Alabama (7 - 1) @ 24 (16) LSU (6 - 2) 23: Talk about your big games! A resurgent LSU team hosts the premier program of the last several years with a playoff berth potentially hanging in the balance for the Tide. LSU lost a Saturday night game to Mississippi State, the effort that vaulted the Bulldogs into national prominence. Since a loss to Ole Miss and a lackluster performance at Arkansas, Alabama has played with renewed focus.
(7) Kansas State (7 - 1) 28 @ (6) TCU (7 - 1) 30: From a rankings perspective, this is the game of the week. The Big 12 is still wide open, with Kansas State, the front runner, with games left at West Virginia and Baylor remaining following this one at TCU. For TCU, with wins already against the top teams in the conference, a victory would be a huge hurdle to cross. This is one of the toughest picks of the season. K-State has done it all year with defense, while TCU has flat outscored people, except when they gave up 61 in a loss to Baylor.
(14) Ohio State (7 - 1) 24 @ (8) Michigan State (7 - 1) 27: From a national standpoint, this may be the highest profile game. With the perceived weakness of the Big Ten, a win by either team positions them for a spot in the conference title game and perhaps a berth in the playoffs. A loss by either team would most likely eliminate them from further playoff consideration. I really like Michigan State's defense, which I think will be the difference in a close contest.
(10) Notre Dame (7 - 1) 27 @ (9) Arizona State (7 - 1) 31: In a premier top ten matchup, the Fighting Irish head to Sun Devil Stadium to take on Arizona State with both teams still in contention for a playoff spot. This is one of many potential elimination games and perhaps the last chance for Notre Dame to impress the committee with a victory over a top ten opponent. The Sun Devils' lone blemish, a blowout loss to UCLA, would look like less of a liability with a win over the Irish. Another very difficult pick, but I'm concerned with the points Notre Dame has given up in recent weeks,
Presbyterian (5 - 4) 6 @ (11) Ole Miss (7 - 2) 38: Why bother? They can add the Methodists and Baptists and still couldn't beat the Rebels. Unfortunately, the Catholics are otherwise occupied in Arizona.
(12) Baylor (7 - 1) 34 @ (15) Oklahoma (6 - 2) 38: The day kicks off in Norman with a dandy. The Sooners are seven points from being undefeated, both losses coming against top ten TCU and Kansas State. I like Oklahoma in this one for a couple of reasons, 1) their schedule has been much tougher than Baylor's and 2) they're playing at home. Baylor is first in scoring, but SMU, Northwestern State, Buffalo, Iowa State and Kansas aren't exactly the SEC West.
(18) UCLA (7 - 2) 27 @ Washington (6 - 3) 20: The Bruins have underperformed this season, but they put together a gem in defeating Arizona last week. Now they head to Seattle to face a dangerous Washington team that has yet to beat a ranked opponent. I don't think that will end this week, with UCLA flexing its newly found defensive muscle.
Colorado (2 - 7) 23 @ (19) Arizona (6 - 2) 34: The Wildcats need to recover from a disappointing loss to UCLA. They should be able to push the Buffaloes around the field and get back on the winning track.
(20) Georgia (6 - 2) 27 @ Kentucky (5 - 4) 21: Georgia's loss to Florida last week opened the door for Missouri to repeat as SEC East champs. But with Texas A&M, Tennessee and Arkansas still to play, a loss for the Tigers is likely. The Bulldogs have to win out in the SEC, not an easy task with Auburn invading Athens next week. This is a clear trap game for Georgia and an opportunity for Mark Stoops to get a signature win and become bowl eligible.
(22) Duke (7 - 1) 30 @ Syracuse (3 - 6) 17: Duke is sitting behind seven two loss teams in the committee's rankings. I would think coach Cutliffe could use that as motivation this week. The Blue Devils control their own destiny in the ACC Coastal and I don't really see anyone left that will challenge this very balanced squad.
(23) West Virginia (6 - 3) 37 @ Texas (4 - 5) 20: The Mountaineers will have to put a tough loss behind them as they head to Austin to take on the Longhorns. Texas beat Texas Tech last week, but scoring against the Red Raiders, well, isn't, you know, very difficult. In fact, the Longhorns helped the Texas Tech points against average by only putting up 34 points. West Virginia should bounce back.
(24) Ga. Tech (7 - 2) 31 @ NC State (5 - 4) 23: Georgia Tech is still in the running for the ACC Coastal crown, but they'll need some help. A tie with Duke by themselves would eliminate the Yellow Jackets, so either the Blue Devils need to lose at least twice or there needs to be a three-way tie for Ga. Tech to have a chance. But first they have to defeat NC State in Raleigh, a team that hasn't really been competitive against winning teams.
(25) Wisconsin (6 - 2) 30 @ Purdue (3 - 6) 16: The Badgers are considerably better than they're 6 - 2 record would suggest. That loss to Northwestern is still a little inexplicable. With the division still up for grabs, I expect to see a dominating performance from Wisconsin.
Louisville (6 - 3) 30 @ Boston College (6 - 3) 24: Both teams are bowl eligible, but this is more about positioning for the future. I have to go with Louisville, although I like the job Boston College has done this season.
Iowa (6 - 2) 23 @ Minnesota (6 - 2) 31: Both of these teams are flying significantly under the radar, yet the winner of this game remains in contention for the Big Ten West crown. That's the good news. The bad news is neither has played Wisconsin or Nebraska. Or is THAT the good news?
Florida (4 - 3) 20 @ Vanderbilt (3 - 6) 13: Florida can become bowl eligible with a couple of wins, but I'm not sure that will be enough to save coach Will Muschamp's job, unless of course the Gators pull off the upset of the year and take down the Seminoles to end the season. Vandy is trying to stay competitive, but it's not working that well.