Contenders, too many, present themselves for playoff

Staff Writer
Buckeye Xtra
DISPATCH MUG headshot Rob Oller

Welcome to early October, when we begin to wonder if the big bomb finally drops on the College Football Playoff, creating college football Armageddon. It only takes five undefeated teams, vying for four playoff spots, to produce a mushroom cloud of controversy.

Twelve ranked teams remain undefeated. Unfortunately — I enjoy chaos — the threat will dissipate as most of the unbeatens lose this month and next. Winning every regular-season game is exceedingly difficult, happening only twice the past five years: 12-0 Florida State in 2013 and 12-0 Central Florida in 2017. And even if a team escapes unscathed, the conference championship game can get in the way.

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Except for Notre Dame, which brings us to the doomsday scenario. Let’s say Ohio State, Clemson, Alabama/Georgia, Oklahoma and Notre Dame all win out. Who gets left out? Adding another wrinkle, the Southeastern Conference championship game between Bama and Georgia ends in something close to a stalemate. Does the loser still make the playoff? And what if unbeaten LSU somehow shocks Bama on Nov. 3 then wins out?

Time to sort it all out, beginning with the Buckeyes, who should exit Saturday’s home game against Indiana 6-0 unless the Hoosiers pull a 2017 Iowa (don’t bet on it). That leaves Minnesota, at Purdue, Nebraska, at Michigan State, at Maryland, Michigan and, presumably, the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis.

Ohio State should be favored in every game, and the only real worry is Michigan, although Purdue and Michigan State could be tricky on the road. Penn State showed how best to defend OSU — blitz Dwayne Haskins Jr. — but the Buckeyes adjusted with screens. Disaster averted. Pre-playoff prediction: 13-0

Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are most intriguing among playoff contenders, if only because no conference championship game stands in their way. But the remaining schedule is no cakewalk. Challenges remain Saturday night at Virginia Tech and next month at Northwestern, against Syracuse in South Bend and at Southern California. If Notre Dame navigates that minefield it is playoff bound. And should be. Prediction: 12-1

Oklahoma. The Sooners have the Red River Showdown on Saturday against ever-improving Texas, plus games at TCU and West Virginia. Coach Lincoln Riley will have OU prepared in every game, but I see a loss somewhere. Prediction: 12-1

Clemson. The Tigers seem a weaker playoff link, except they always seem to find a way to win (Note: Remember when “Clemsoning” was a thing, describing the Tigers’ propensity to implode? That tag is long gone). Coach Dabo Swinney also has a nice safety net in quarterback Chase Brice, who rallied the Tigers past Syracuse last week while subbing for an injured Trevor Lawrence. Those insurance policies come in handy as the nicks and bruises add up. Still, the eyeball test says Clemson drops one along the way. Prediction: 12-1

Georgia. Kirby Smart is sitting on a gold mine in the Peach State, which benefits from being the big Dawg in a heavily populated football state where the only other program of significance is Georgia Tech. And the Yellow Jackets have not been much of a factor the last decade. But the Bulldogs have only played one ranked team (No. 24 South Carolina), which sets them up for a wake-up call when playing top-15 opponents LSU, Kentucky and Auburn. If they make it past that, say hello to Alabama in the SEC championship game. Which means good-bye. Prediction: 11-2

LSU. In the words of coach Ed Orgeron, “Whir gawn git nixt mouth justly kept security opinion.” We think that translates to “We’re going to get a month of juicy competition,” but we’re never sure with old Marble Mouth. Come to think of it, we’re not clear on the Tigers, either. What we do know: Joe Burrow is the most popular quarterback in the nation, with two large fan bases pulling for him, and LSU won’t get past Alabama on Nov. 3. Prediction: 9-3

Alabama. Nick Saban criticized Alabama students for not showing up to last week’s game against Louisiana (here’s a thought, Nick, stop scheduling high school teams), which is his way of creating necessary tension for a team expected to sail through to the national championship game. The Crimson Tide is deeper than ever but maybe lack the dynamic playmakers of the recent past? Except at quarterback, where Tua Tagovailoa likely wins the Heisman Trophy. Prediction: 13-0.

If my picks hold, I like Ohio State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Alabama to make the playoffs. But Central Florida lurks at 4-0 with a manageable remaining schedule. Colorado is 4-0 out West and, well, I think having five or six undefeated teams come selection time would be delicious fun. Like the Fourth of July in December. Kaboom.


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