Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
If your high school French is a bit rusty, let me help you out here. It means that despite all the upsets on Saturday, Alabama is still No. 1, by a country mile (or kilometre).
Teams ranked Nos. 2, 3 and 4 by the playoff committee all lost on Saturday, yet the standings probably won’t change that much, with two of those three teams still staying in the top four, in control of their playoff destinies. It’s not that the losses didn’t hurt, but unlike in the BCS or bowl eras, these November defeats won’t prove fatal.
The big winner of the weekend was Alabama, which clinched the SEC West title, rendering the Iron Bowl largely meaningless. The Crimson Tide are also the only undefeated Power 5 conference team and there appears little doubt that they’ll sail into a third straight playoff, poised to defend their national championship.
There are other winners and losers Saturday night, though maybe not in the way you think:
Michigan’s loss was the gain of all the top teams in the Big Ten. No fewer than four Big Ten teams will be ranked in the top 10, maybe even the top seven, with Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State also in the mix. Since the Big Ten champion will come from these four teams, it’s guaranteed to be in the playoff.
On the face of it, the Buckeyes might’ve been a big loser because of Michigan’s loss. Ohio State now cannot win the Big Ten East and therefore go to the conference title game unless Penn State also loses a game (unlikely since the Nittany Lions play Rutgers and Michigan State to close out the season). But Ohio State is now in position to become the first at-large team to make the playoff if it can beat Michigan and finish 11-1 – no matter who wins the Big Ten title.
The results Saturday dramatically reduced the pool of teams that could be considered for a playoff berth. Basically, Alabama (win or lose the SEC championship), the Big Ten champion, Clemson (if it wins the ACC championship) and either Ohio State or the Pac-12 champion will be in the playoff. Which brings us to the …
The Cardinals are probably the biggest losers on Saturday, despite their come-from-behind win over Wake Forest. Now unless those Demon Deacons upset Clemson next week, there is virtually no shot for Louisville to make the playoff. There is no chance that the committee would take two at-large teams for the playoff field and the Cardinals aren’t jumping Ohio State.
The Sooners are probably the Big 12’s best – and maybe only – hope to make the playoff field, and their slim hopes just took another hit. Because it already has two losses, including one at home to Ohio State, there’s zero chance for Oklahoma to win a playoff bid over an at-large Buckeyes, even if it takes the Big 12 championship.
Washington’s loss to USC has significantly damaged the Pac-12’s only chance to make the playoff. Because of their lackluster nonconference schedule, the Huskies were already a borderline choice for the playoff even if they had gone undefeated. As things stand now, Washington will need help even if it wins the conference – otherwise the Pac-12 will miss the playoff for a second straight year.
Game of the Week
Iowa 14, Michigan 13: There’s something about Kinnick Stadium at night that haunts Michigan. In 1985, when Jim Harbaugh was the Wolverines’ junior quarterback, his second-ranked team was beaten on a last-second field goal in a 12-10 loss. History repeated itself Saturday when the now-Michigan coach’s third-ranked team was beaten on a last-second field goal.
Player of the Week
Sam Darnold, USC: Maybe it’s a little too late for the Trojans to win the Pac-12 title or contend for a playoff spot now, but there is no doubt that they have once again become a juggernaut with this redshirt freshman quarterback at the controls. Darnold led USC to a 26-13 upset of Washington in a game that really wasn’t that close as he completed 23 of 33 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns. USC has won six straight, something it hasn’t done since the Pete Carroll-era.
This is a bit tongue-in-cheek, so don’t take it so literally. Mount Union’s NCAA record 112-game winning streak was snapped in a 31-28 loss to John Carroll. The loss also snapped a 98-game home winning streak of the Purple Raiders, who have appeared in the Division III title game in each of the last 11 seasons, winning five. Keep in mind the streak was for the regular season only, but the only team that’s beaten Mount Union during the time of the streak was Wisconsin-Whitewater, doing so six times in the D-III title game.
Projected committee rankings
1. Alabama, 2. Ohio State, 3. Michigan, 4. Clemson, 5. Louisville, 6. Wisconsin, 7. Penn State, 8. Washington, 9. Oklahoma, 10. Colorado, 11. Utah, 12. Oklahoma State, 13. West Virginia, 14. Florida State, 15. USC.
Top Group of 5 teams: Western Michigan, Boise State, San Diego State, Navy, Troy.
Projected New Year’s Six bowl matchups
Fiesta Bowl (CFP semifinal): Ohio State vs. Clemson
Peach Bowl (CFP semifinal): Alabama vs. Wisconsin
Rose Bowl: Washington vs. Michigan
Sugar Bowl: LSU vs. Oklahoma
Orange Bowl: Louisville vs. Penn State
Cotton Bowl: USC vs. Western Michigan