While much of the American sporting world has turned its attention to the NFL today (or, in my case, the CFL’s Grey Cup), thousands and thousands of college football fans are still either celebrating rivalry wins or groaning about losses that will have to stay with them for an entire year.
And for a guy who didn’t have a stake in any of yesterday’s heavyweight battles, it was fun to just plop down at ringside and watch how things unfolded.
And what did I learn?
For starters, Clemson (11-1) might just be the best team in the Football Bowl Subdivision – again. While the Tigers’ 34-10 win over South Carolina was expected, only those who watched saw just how dominating it was.
The Gamecocks have improved under Will Muschamp, and entered the contest with an 8-3 record, home field advantage and a real hope they could avenge last year’s 56-7 beat down.
Oh, the score line was better this time around, but there was never a moment when the defending national champions were threatened (unless you count the threat posed by some idiot fans who threw projectiles from the stands at Williams-Brice Stadium.)
You’ll likely never see a more dominating 24-point victory.
“I do think we’re starting to play our best football, I really do,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who picked up his 100th career victory last night and has led his team to four road wins over Top 25 foes this year. “And that’s where you want to be as you get to the final stretch.”
The Tigers should be ranked No. 1 in Tuesday’s College Football Playoff rankings, and a win over Miami (10-1) in Saturday’s ACC Championship Game in Charlotte will lock down the top seed in the playoffs and a Sugar Bowl berth.
On the other hand, if the Hurricanes – ranked No. 2 in the recent playoff standings but upset by Pitt on Friday – beat Clemson, they’ll be the ACC reps in the CFP.
Although Clemson was No. 3 and Oklahoma, No. 4, in last week’s playoff poll, there is a chance Oklahoma (11-1) could surge to the top of the heap come Tuesday.
It’s all subject to the whims of a selection committee, after all.
The Sooners crushed West Virginia on Saturday, 59-31, and are riding a seven-game winning streak.
All that stands in the Sooners’ way of a playoff trip is a win over TCU in the Big 12 Championship Game on Saturday.
In the teams’ regular season meeting on Nov. 11 OU won, 38-20.
Meanwhile at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the Iron Bowl had the feel of a play-in contest, and in terms of the SEC Championship Game, it was exactly that.
With Auburn (10-2) beating top-ranked and previously unbeaten Alabama (11-1), the Tigers won the SEC West and will face Georgia (11-1) on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
If the Tigers defeat the Bulldogs for the second time this season, you have to figure the committee will award them one of the four available playoff spots.
“This time of year, very few teams are playing their best football and we’re doing that,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said after his team’s 26-14 win. “We must continue doing that moving forward. Playing Georgia, we know they’re going to have a chip on their shoulder. We’re playing our best football right now and we need to continue to do that.”
One of Auburn’s regular season losses was to Clemson in the second week of the season, a 14-6 defensive showcase.
“We’re a completely different team,” Malzahn said. “I’m not taking anything away from Clemson. They’re a great team, and I think everyone sees that. They were No. 2 when we played them. We’ve played two No. 1 teams now. Back in September, we were still trying to figure out our identity. We had a new quarterback, new coordinator and you saw us getting better and better.”
Shortly after the loss to AU, Alabama boss Nick Saban was already lobbying for the Crimson Tide to make the CFP.
“I think this team deserves the opportunity to get into the playoff by what they’ve been able to accomplish and what they’ve been able to do,” Saban said. “Certainly not in this game, but I think the team we played tonight is a very good football team, probably one of the best teams in the country. We’ve won 11 games, and not many teams have been able to do that.”
Another football Final Four berth for UA is possible, of course, but I’m not sure there would be much enthusiasm for it outside Tuscaloosa.
Bama’s biggest wins coming into the game were against a three-loss LSU team and a four-loss Mississippi State squad. The Tide had a chance to prove it was the best in the West and it failed to do that.
As for Georgia, which dismantled Georgia Tech, 38-7, its path to the CFP is simple.
Beat Auburn, avenging its 40-17 loss from Nov. 11, and the Dawgs are one-loss SEC champs and playoff bound.
But what about Wisconsin, 31-0 winners over Minnesota on Saturday?
The Badgers (12-0) are the last unbeaten team left in the FBS, but were on the outside looking in at the CFP coming into the final week of the regular season, ranked No. 5.
They’ll be in the top four this Tuesday, though, and will stay in if they beat Ohio State (10-2) in the Big Ten Championship Game.
A Buckeye win, though, gives another two-loss team a puncher’s chance at reaching a national semifinal.
Ranked No. 9 in the CFP, it’s unclear how much ground Urban Meyer’s charges will make up this week after a 31-20 conquest of Michigan. If they can top Wisconsin on Saturday, they’ll at least be in position to bitch and moan if they’re left out of the playoffs.
And Meyer loves to bitch and moan.
My crystal ball tells me Clemson will beat Miami and I have a feeling Georgia will edge Auburn in the rematch. I’m also counting on Oklahoma to top TCU.
If those predictions hold, three of the CFP spots will be secured.
However, I’m not sold on Wisconsin. I expect Ohio State to win that clash on Saturday, even if quarterback J.T. Barrett is forced to miss the game due to a knee injury.
If that happens – and Auburn also finishes off a two-game sweep of Georgia – would there then be a pair of two-loss teams in the playoffs?
Or, would Alabama sneak back in, denying the Buckeyes a berth and making Meyer subject to spontaneous human combustion?
Fortunately, we’ll find out a week from today.
And if Championship Saturday is anything like Rivalry Weekend, it’ll be another great day to be at ringside.