Playoff Picture Week 11: Heavy Lies the Crown

Undefeated teams seem to be dropping like flies around the college football world, and now we are down to just six left in major college football.  Five of those six are power five teams, and Houston continues to roll and hope for some help to sneak into the playoff.  With the second committee rankings set to come out tomorrow, let’s take a look at how this week’s playoff picture shapes up.

Orange Bowl (#1 vs. #4)- Clemson vs. Alabama

Clemson QB Deshaun Watson (Photo Courtesy of Bart Boatright/GreenvilleOnline.com)
Clemson QB Deshaun Watson (Photo Courtesy of Bart Boatright/GreenvilleOnline.com)

The top four seems to be pretty much a consensus decision at this point, although the order will vary.  Clemson has been the best team in college football so far this season with strong wins now over Florida State and Notre Dame.  The dominant performance over Appalachian State will also be undervalued by just about everybody, but should be noteworthy.  Deshaun Watson has largely flown under the radar, at least as far as Heisman conversations are concerned, but he is having a strong season at the helm for the Tigers.  Watson has completed nearly seventy percent of his passes for 2,233 yards, 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions.  He also has nearly 500 rushing yards and four scores on the ground.  As Clemson continues winning, look for the Deshaun Watson Heisman train to gain steam nationally.

Alabama was the weekend’s biggest winner on Saturday.  Not only did they knock off LSU, they also took the lead in the SEC West standings with Ole Miss’s loss to Arkansas.  The Crimson Tide now controls its own destiny, and the narrative is starting to feel familiar.  Last year the Tide suffered a disappointing early loss to the Rebels only to bounce back, win out and make a run to the SEC championship and a playoff berth.  As a matter of fact, they ended up with the number one overall seed in the inaugural playoff.  They probably still need help to secure the one seed again, but the other two goals aren’t just possible, they seem likely.  Derrick Henry is another Heisman hopeful who moved his way up the watch list over the weekend with a 38-carry, 210-yard, three-touchdown performance.

Cotton Bowl (#2 vs. #3)- Ohio State vs. Baylor

cardale-jones

Unlike last season, Cardale’s “fill-in” performance for J.T. Barrett this season was pretty unremarkable.  He passed for a touchdown and rushed for a touchdown, but only threw for a mere 187 yards on 22 attempts.  Part of that is due to the fact that the Buckeyes didn’t need anymore than that, and Jones did have 65 rushing yards (most of which came on a 38 yards touchdown run).  This Buckeyes team continues to not live up to the preseason expectations that came with being a defending champion who returned almost all of its significant pieces.  However, Ohio State only needs to look to last year’s team to note that as long as they keep winning they don’t have to live up to expectations until December and January.

Jarrett Stidham looked very good in his first career start for the Bears on Thursday night, despite a mere 31-24 victory over Kansas State.  It also doesn’t hurt that his primary target, Corey Coleman, is on pace for one of the greatest receiving seasons of all time.  Coleman and the rest of the dynamite receiving corps make life easy for Stidham, who replaces the injured Seth Russell.  Plenty of people will continue to question Baylor’s defense and debatable non-conference schedule, but the Bears’ back-loaded schedule will give them every opportunity to prove that they are a playoff team, and even potentially a top seed.

Rose Bowl- Iowa vs. Stanford

Photo Courtesy of Reese Strickland/USA TODAY Sports
Photo Courtesy of Reese Strickland/USA TODAY Sports

Nothing really changed for either of these teams this weekend.  Iowa put together yet another ho-hum win over Indiana last weekend.  The Hawkeyes are still undefeated, but they wouldn’t crack the top four until they won the B1G championship game over Ohio State, or whomever else they would play.  With Minnesota, Nebraska, and Purdue left on the regular season schedule look for the Hawkeyes to continue to hover in the 5-10 range in the committee rankings as long as they can avoid an upset.

Kevin Hogan and Stanford are a prime example of how damaging one lapse in the college football season can be for a team.  The Cardinal lost on opening weekend to a Northwestern team that they are better than.  Hogan also torpedoed any Heisman hopes he might have had on that afternoon by being the primary reason why his team lost the game.  He, and his team, have bounced back from that dismal afternoon and have reeled off eight straight wins including Saturday’s thrashing of Colorado.  Oregon, Cal, and Notre Dame loom for the Cardinal and a one-loss Stanford with wins over USC, UCLA, Notre Dame, and whoever the Pac-12 South champion ends up being would have a pretty strong playoff resume.

Sugar Bowl- Oklahoma State vs. Florida

MIKE_GUNDY

Two of the biggest surprises of the season could potentially square off in the Sugar Bowl should things hold pat.  Oklahoma State came into this season after 2014’s 7-6 campaign with pretty much nobody having much of an idea on how good this team would end up being.  I thought they could end up being anywhere from 5-7 to about 9-3, but now it looks like even that wide range was too narrow as the Cowboys are already sitting at a perfect 9-0.  Mike Gundy is a legitimate coach of the year candidate and the Mason Rudolph-J.W. Walsh quarterback duo has worked as well as any two-QB system since Tim Tebow and Chris Leak.  Baylor and Oklahoma still lay ahead for the Pokes though so Oklahoma State can’t really afford a letdown game the rest of the way, unless it comes next week against Iowa State maybe.

The Gators also came into the season with modest expectations, but Jim McElwain has done “Coach of the Year” caliber work in Gainesville this season aside from that unfortunate sideline tirade directed at Kelvin Taylor.  Florida didn’t exactly come on like “gangbusters” right out of the gate with narrow wins over ECU, Tennessee and Kentucky, and they really tempted fate against the Vols.  Then, they blew out Ole Miss in “The Swamp” and thoroughly handled Missouri before losing a tight one to LSU, blowing out Georgia in Jacksonville and tempting fate yet again against Vanderbilt.  Florida has already wrapped up the SEC East, and if pretty much every ESPN personality alive is correct in his belief that a one-loss SEC champion is a “playoff lock” then all of Florida’s hopes and dreams are still within grasp.

Fiesta Bowl- Houston vs. Oklahoma

Photo Courtesy of Brett Deering/Getty Images
Photo Courtesy of Brett Deering/Getty Images

Like the rest of the top tier Big XII teams, there is no rest for the Sooners any time soon.  Oklahoma closes out the regular season with three consecutive games against Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State.  The Sooners have kind of laid low since the typical Stoops choke job against Texas, but they are still a strong team with playoff hopes still on the table.  Trying to figure out exactly how good this team is, and almost any Big XII team so far, right now is next to impossible with their wildly fluctuating play and the meat of their schedule still ahead.  If they are as good as their talent level, reputation and best performances suggest, then we might the Sooners just might outperform preseason expectation for the first time in what feels like a century.

Houston stayed perfect with a win over Cincinnati on Saturday, but were arguably hurt by Memphis falling to Navy.  It is true that Memphis’ loss opens up the AAC West for Houston more, but Houston also plays the Tigers this coming weekend and a win over “undefeated” Memphis would have looked better than a win over “one-loss” Memphis.  Based on the initial committee rankings, the Cougars are facing an uphill battle to make the playoffs even if they win out, but they are currently the only Group of Five team that controls its own destiny for the automatic New Year’s Six bid at stake.

Peach Bowl- North Carolina vs. Navy

Navy QB Keenan Reynolds (Photo Courtesy of Ed Szczepanski/USA TODAY Sports)
Navy QB Keenan Reynolds (Photo Courtesy of Ed Szczepanski/USA TODAY Sports)

The AAC currently has four teams in the AP and Coaches’ poll Top 25, which is the same number as the SEC and Big XII.  At the same time, it still doesn’t feel very likely that they would end up with two New Year’s Six teams barring some chaos, but Navy looked very impressive on Saturday.  Keenan Reynolds is now tied with Montee Ball as the NCAA’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns and should break the record against SMU on Saturday.  The Midshipmen have been great in their first season in a conference, and are still very much alive in the SEC West race.  If Navy could win their remaining games, then a New Year’s Six berth would be a good way to reward the brave men and women who attend, and attended, the Naval Academy and serve our country.

North Carolina’s season arc has followed a nearly identical path as Stanford’s yet the Tar Heels have still yet to sniff the rankings.  Why?  That wasn’t rhetorical.  I seriously have no earthly idea why this team wouldn’t be in the Top 25.  Yeah, yeah I know they lost to a bad South Carolina in the first college game of the season, but look at what they have done since then!  And look, I haven’t been on the Tar Heels’ bandwagon for very long at all.  I predicted them to go 4-8 heading into the season, wondered aloud if Larry Fedora might get fired, and Gene Chizik is their defensive coordinator (remember I’m an Alabama fan).  All of that being said, I can’t deny that they are on fire right now and deserve much more consideration than they are getting at the present time.

1. Clemson Tigers

2. Ohio State Buckeyes

3. Baylor Bears

4. Alabama Crimson Tide

5. Houston Cougars

6. Oklahoma State Cowboys

7. Iowa Hawkeyes

8. Florida Gators

9. Oklahoma Sooners

10. North Carolina Tar Heels

11. Navy Midshipmen

12. Michigan Wolverines

13. Stanford Cardinal

14. Temple Owls

15. Toledo Rockets

16. Wisconsin Badgers

17. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

18. Utah Utes

19. Memphis Tigers

20. TCU Horned Frogs

21. Mississippi State Bulldogs

22. LSU Tigers

23. Boise State Broncos

24. Appalachian State Mountaineers

25. Michigan State Spartans

First Five Out: Marshall Thundering Herd, Florida State Seminoles, Bowling Green Falcons, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, USC Trojans

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