College Football Playoff Race Heats Up Heading into Final Weekend

By Sean McQuilkin

As the college football season winds down, what a season it has been. There has been a lot of parity this season, as this could be the first season in the playoff era to include a team with two losses in the playoff, and the first season since 2007 that a team with 2 losses has a chance to play for the national championship. That team this year would be the Auburn Tigers. The Tigers are 10-2 this season, with their two losses coming by a combined 12 points, including a loss to the current number 1 team, the  Clemson Tigers. Auburn had to beat Alabama on the last weekend of the season for the chance to play for the SEC championship. This was the first conference (and regular season) loss for the Crimson tide since September 19, 2015, a whopping 22 games. The Crimson tide are now on the outside looking in for the playoff, given that they did not win their conference, much less their division, and they have a weak strength of schedule. Auburn will face the Georgia Tigers in the SEC championship in a de facto playoff game, as the Bulldogs only have one loss, which was to the Auburn. This is the seventh time the SEC championship has come down to a rematch, and the team that won the regular season matchup is 5-1 in such games.

The Clemson Tigers are trying to become the second team to reach 3 playoffs in the playoff era (since 2014). This is the second consecutive season the Tigers finished 11-1 in the regular season, coincidentally, they lost both games ranked as the number 2 team in the country, and lost the games by a combined 4 points. This Clemson team is lead by junior Kelly Bryant, the heir to Deshaun Watson at quarterback, Bryant has been effective in his first season at the helm for the Tigers. Clemson will face the Miami Hurricanes in the ACC championship game, another de facto play in game for the playoff. The Hurricanes are coming off a 24-14 loss on Black Friday to the 5-7 Pittsburgh Panthers, a game where the Hurricanes could have grabbed the number 1 ranking (would have been their first since 2002) but choked it away, much as 10-1 West Virginia did in 2007 (also ranked number 2, playing a 4-7 Pittsburgh team), now the Hurricanes need to win convincingly to make the playoff, as they are ranked number 7.

Oklahoma is in line to make their second playoff, lead by Senior Baker Mayfield, the Sooners have been scoring at will against teams, and have already beat the team (TCU) they are facing in the Big 12 championship. They won that game 38-20, scoring all 38 points in the first half. Oddly enough, both of these teams lost to 7-5 Iowa State. Mayfield is the front runner to win the Heisman, leading the pack with 4097 yards, 37 touchdowns, and only 5 interceptions. Oklahoma is win and in to the playoff, since they are 11-1, with their best win being over then number 2 Ohio State in Columbus. TCU needs a miracle, since they have two bad losses. This is the first Big 12 championship game since 2010, after the conference lost 4 schools, dropping them below the required amount of 12 teams. After having 11-1 TCU and 11-1 Baylor being shut out of the playoff in 2014 in favor of teams that had played in a conference championship.

The Big 10 championship is considered by some to be a play in game, despite Ohio State’s number 8 ranking. Wisconsin is undefeated, but is getting no respect in the polls. The only major undefeated team left, they are 12-0 and have won convincingly in all of their games, how are they have a played a relatively weak schedule. However, it is not easy to go undefeated, especially in a power conference. Ohio State, despite getting obliterated by a less than average 7-5 Iowa team. They lost 55-24. They also got dominated from start to finish by Oklahoma, losing 31-16. Ohio State is favored by a touchdown, despite not being dominant like Wisconsin, and having their starting quarterback coming off surgery on Sunday. Wisconsin has a powerful running game, lead by true freshman Jonathan Taylor who has 1806 rushing yards, and 13 touchdowns. Wisconsin also relies on play action a lot, which Ohio State struggles with (Iowa ran it a lot, and as mentioned above, they lost 55-24). A team that loses by 46 points and has two losses in the regular season has no business being in the playoff, however don’t be surprised if the committee puts them in, just based on their name.

The last meaningful championship game (albeit not towards the playoff), is the AAC championship game between Memphis and Central Florida, teams ranked 20 and 14 respectively. Despite being undefeated, Central Florida’s strength of schedule is considered too weak, despite it being very close to Alabama (Central Florida could win their conference, have more wins, more top 25 wins, and a better strength of schedule, but still miss the playoffs), The committee does not like small conference teams. Anyways, this game should be more exciting than the first time they met, a 40-13 UCF victory. These teams are first and second in scoring per game, with UCF averaging 48 points per game, while Memphis averages 47. The winner of this game will secure the “New Year’s Six” bowl bid, awarded to the highest ranked non power 5 team. They’ll be placed into either the Cotton, Fiesta, Peach, or Orange Bowls, where they’ll get a chance to take down an overrated power team (Boise State beat Arizona in 2014, and Houston beat Florida State in 2015)

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