The final week of college football’s 2015 regular season will prove to be somewhat anticlimactic. The top two teams ranked by the playoff selection committee are expected to romp to easy victories. Another team (Oklahoma), idle this week, is just about assured of a berth. That leaves us with just the Big Ten title game that serves as a playoff play-in.
But there is still a slight chance for drama if either Clemson or Alabama suffers a shocking upset loss on Saturday. There could be considerable chaos if both teams lose combined with a Stanford loss to USC in the Pac-12 title game.
Aside from that, a few New Years’ Six bowl spots are also still up for grabs. So while the committee members probably don’t have to agonize over their final decision, they’ll still need to pay attention to the 10 games on national TV this week:
(Rankings by selection committee)
Game of the Week
ACC championship (Charlotte): No. 10 North Carolina vs. No. 1 Clemson, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
Top-ranked Tigers are not quite a prohibitive favorite to win this game, meaning that a Carolina upset remains a reasonable possibility. Perhaps this is why ABC/ESPN picked this championship showdown to be on network television and consigned the Pac-12 title game played at the same time to cable.
A Clemson loss will shake up the top of the standings and allow either Stanford or Ohio State to claim the final playoff spot … or, depending on the score, give the long-shot Tar Heels a surprising berth in football’s version of the Final Four.
Other games the committee will be watching
Texas at No. 12 Baylor, noon ET, ESPN
Pac-12 championship (Santa Clara, Calif.): No. 7 Stanford vs. No. 20 USC, 7:45 p.m. ET, ESPN
Big Ten championship (Indianapolis): No. 4 Iowa vs. No. 5 Michigan State, 8 p.m. ET, FOX
The Big Ten championship game will serve as a de facto quarterfinal of the playoff, with the winner moving on to the four-team tournament. The Hawkeyes are one of just two unbeaten teams in FBS (along with Clemson), but they will come in as an underdog against a Spartans team riding high with two last-second victories over their two arch rivals Michigan and Ohio State.
The Pac-12 championship probably has no more on the line than a Rose Bowl berth, but as “consolation prizes” go, it doesn’t get any better than that. That’s especially the case for USC, which has endured another tumultuous fall with an in-season firing. If the newly-minted Trojans coach Clay Helton can lead his team to Pasadena, he would’ve done more than just save the season.
The last NY6 bowl slot is slated to go to the Big 12 runnerup, which will be designated by the conference’s tiebreaker. If Baylor takes down Texas – as expected even with a third-string QB – it’ll be going to the Sugar Bowl. But if beleaguered Longhorns coach Charlie Strong can pull off an upset, Oklahoma State will be headed to New Orleans.
Also keep an eye on …
AAC championship: No. 22 Temple at No. 19 Houston, noon ET, ABC
The Group-of-5’s race for the NY6 automatic berth comes down to this one game to decide the America Athletic champion. Both Houston and Temple stumbled late in the season, but a win will secure a berth in either the Peach Bowl or the Fiesta Bowl.
SEC championship (Atlanta): No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 18 Florida, 4 p.m. ET, CBS
The dearth of quality teams in the SEC is best illustrated by Alabama’s underwhelming resume. The Tide’s best win this season is over No. 21 LSU, far worse than any other playoff contestants’ signature victories. Also, the best win by an Alabama opponent was Texas A&M’s victory over Arizona State, a 6-6 bottom dweller in the Pac-12.
But the selection committee remains starry eyed about ‘Bama namely because … it’s ‘Bama. And if the Crimson Tide crush the overmatched Gators, who virtually do not operate an offense, they might be rewarded with the top seed in the playoff.
The committee seems to believe Alabama and Oklahoma are the two best teams in the nation, so it’ll try hard to avoid matching them up in the semifinals of the playoff. The Tide will give the committee members every excuse they need to rearrange the final rankings.
Last week’s Despicable Meet: Maryland 46, Rutgers 41.