Surprise! Committee Pulls a Fast One

The biggest surprise from the College Football Playoff committee this year is that there were no surprises.

While there were rampant speculations on who might be the fourth team in the four-team playoff, at the end the committee stuck to the script, picking the four Power 5 teams with one or fewer losses for the field. And the rest of the New Year’s Six bowl games also fell in line exactly as how we projected Saturday night …

No one should have any beef with these decisions, really. Penn State, at No. 5, has two losses, including a 39-point beatdown by No. 6 Michigan, which actually has a stronger case than the Nittany Lions. The Big 12 is left out of the playoff for the second time in three years, leading its commissioner Bob Bowlsby to howl. But it has no real argument, either (more on that later).

Now that we’ve had three years of the playoff, just exactly what have we learned from the committee in its decision making?

The truth? Nothing. The members make their calls not any different from how voters in the polls or knowledgeable pundits make theirs. Conference championships are important – until they’re not. Head to head matters, until it’s not. The “13th data point” is relevant, until it’s irrelevant.

For the first time, a non-conference champion is picked for the playoff, and Ohio State’s inclusion was a slam-dunk. The Buckeyes are ranked third by the committee only for cosmetic reasons – so they’ll wear white uniforms against Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl, but they’re favored by Vegas.

Washington’s inclusion was the least certain, but after its 41-10 demolition of Colorado in the Pac-12 Championship Game, the Huskies secured the final spot. Committee chairman Kirby Hocutt admitted that UW’s weak nonconference schedule (ranked 127th out of 128 FBS teams) was a concern, but at the end its work in conference play was enough to hold off the Big Ten champion Penn State.

Let’s face it, despite all the statistical information and all the game footage at their disposal, the committee members are no more than knowledgeable fans. It’s a waste of time trying to make much more out of that.

USC is back: For the first time since the Pete Carroll era, USC is in a BCS/NY6 bowl game. The Trojans will be making their record 34th appearance in the Rose Bowl, the first time they’re in the Granddaddy of Them All since after the 2008 season. USC also keeps alive another amazing streak, as it’s played in a Rose Bowl during every presidential administration since Herbert Hoover in 1929. The Trojans just made it before Barack Obama leaves office.

SEC is hollowed out: While Alabama continues to be the undisputed most dominant program in college football under Nick Saban, the rest of the SEC has fallen off a cliff. The SEC only got a second NY6 bowl because contractually the Sugar Bowl had to pick a team from that conference. Auburn, at No. 14 and with four losses, is ranked lower than any other Power 5 participants in NY6 bowls, and actually ranked lower than even the Group 5 rep Western Michigan in both the AP and Coaches polls.

Row the Boat: Western Michigan became the third different G5 conference champion to appear in an NY6 bowl, joining Boise State (Mountain West) in 2014 and Houston (American) in 2015. The MAC champions are the only other undefeated FBS team besides No. 1 Alabama. Win or lose in the Cotton Bowl, it’ll probably lead to a big job for coach P.J. Fleck, who’s in his fourth season at the helm of the Broncos and just turned 36 last week.

Game of the Week

Penn State 38, Wisconsin 31: The Big Ten Championship Game was “only” for a Rose Bowl berth, but turned out highly entertaining nonetheless. The Nittany Lions overcame turnovers and questionable decisions by coach James Franklin that dug them in a 28-7 hole before storming back to win their first conference title since 2008, before the Jerry Sandusky scandals came to light and the ensuing NCAA sanctions. It’ll be Penn State’s first BCS/NY6 bowl appearance since losing the 2009 Rose Bowl to USC, 38-24.

Player of the Week

Samaje Perine, Oklahoma: The Sooners didn’t make the playoff, but Oklahoma did win their second consecutive Big 12 title and clinch a trip to the Sugar Bowl, beating Oklahoma State in Bedlam, 38-20. Perine was the workhorse, carrying the ball a career-high 37 times for 239 yards as Oklahoma rolled up 629 total yards to pull away late.

The Weak

We seem to have all figured out how the committee works, except the Big 12. Commissioner Bob Bowlsby is demanding to know why his conference is left out of the playoff for the second time in  three seasons.

That’s easy, Bob. Oklahoma was beaten badly by Ohio State, at home, and also lost to Houston. The Sooners had no case, nor did any other Big 12 teams.

The Big 12 rushed to add a championship game starting in the 2017 season despite not expanding and not putting its 10 teams in two divisions. In this year’s case, Bedlam would’ve been a totally meaningless affair as both teams would’ve been assured of a berth in the Big 12 title game a week later.

This conference cannot disband soon enough.

— Samuel Chi is the managing editor of RealClearSports.com and proprietor of College Football Exchange. Follow him on Twitter at @ThePlayoffGuru.

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It’s Time for Charlie Strong to Go

The Charlie Strong era at Texas is over. If not today, tomorrow, it’ll be soon. No later than right after Thanksgiving.

The Longhorns’ unthinkable 24-21 overtime loss to Kansas on Saturday sealed the deal, if the die wasn’t cast before. Losing to the lowly Jayhawks in many ways is worse than losing to an FCS team. At least an upset by an upstart, lower division program would be a shock. A loss to Kansas just makes you numb.

Let’s begin with the historic nature of the loss. It was the Jayhawks’ first win over Kansas since 1938, when FDR was in his second term as president. It snapped the longest losing streak in FBS (nine), the longest conference losing streak in FBS (19), and the longest losing streak to FBS teams (23).

After the game, Strong all but admitted it was over. The press conference was painful to watch, to say the least.

Charlie Strong is a good man. He’s a good coach. And he had great intentions when he arrived in Austin. He recruited well. He got the kids to play hard. And he cleaned up a country club culture that had permeated the Longhorns program in the latter part of the Mack Brown era.

But Strong simply was just a bad fit at Texas in much the same way Rich Rodriguez was a bad fit at Michigan when he was at the helm in Ann Arbor from 2008-10. The boosters never fully got on board with Strong. He was not a splashy hire. And he simply didn’t win enough.

Strong never found an offensive identity for his team in his three seasons in Austin. He finally has a top-shelf quarterback in freshman Shane Buechele, but his emergence is not going to be enough to save Strong’s job. But more problematic, the defense, which is what made Strong’s reputation, has gone from mediocre to woeful. The Longhorns gave up at least 34 points in six games this season, at least 45 in four.

With only TCU remaining in the regular season, Strong will need to win that game just to get Texas bowl eligible. His three-year mark of 16-20 will make him the first Texas coach since Jack Chevigny (1934-36) to finish with a losing record.

With Houston’s Tom Herman just down the road and available, it’s almost inevitable for Texas and its influential boosters to want to make a move, sooner than later. Herman is young (41), runs an exciting offense, and has proved his chops in big games as victories over Florida State, Oklahoma and Louisville over the last two seasons can attest.

As for Strong, he’ll land on his feet. This isn’t a man being run out of town because of scandals, turning a blind eye to player misbehavior or NCAA violations. It won’t be a surprise to see Strong return to the SEC, where he spent a considerable amount of time as an assistant, or get a job at a place like Cincinnati or Purdue.

But at Texas, it was just a bad marriage. It’s time for both parties to move on.

Game of the Week

Wyoming 34, San Diego State 33: The Aztecs drove 99 yards in the game’s final 1:07 and scored a touchdown on the last play when Quest Truxton caught a 23-yard pass that was initially ruled incomplete. But San Diego State decided to go for 2 to win the game and the pass attempt was snuffed out. The Cowboys’ thrilling win snapped the Aztecs’ 17-game conference winning streak (longest in the nation) and kept their hopes alive to win the MWC Mountain Division, setting up a rematch with San Diego State in the title game.

Player of the Week

Sefo Liufau, Colorado: In a matchup of Pac-12 division leaders, Colorado scored the game’s final 17 points to hold off Washington State. Senior quarterback Liufau outdueled the Cougars’ Luke Falk, passing for 345 yards and running for another 108 and scoring three TDs. The Buffs need to defeat Utah to claim the Pac-12 South title next week and make an unlikely appearance in the conference title game, against the winner of the Apple Cup.

The Weak

Make no mistake, the Big Ten’s inclusion of Rutgers in 2014 was nothing more than a money grab, designed to reel in cash for the BTN from the New York metro market. It certainly wasn’t for the Scarlet Knights’ football prowess. This season, Rutgers has lost to Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State by a combined score of 224-0 after the Nittany Lions’ 39-0 rout Saturday. Rutgers gained a total of 382 yards and gave up the equivalent of 1.3 miles.

Projected committee rankings

1. Alabama, 2. Ohio State, 3. Michigan, 4. Clemson, 5. Washington, 6. Wisconsin, 7. Penn State, 8. Oklahoma, 9. Colorado, 10. Louisville, 11. Oklahoma State, 12. USC, 13. Florida, 14. Auburn, 15. Florida State.

Top Group of 5 teams: Western Michigan, Boise State, Navy, Houston, San Diego State

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: Florida vs. Oklahoma

Orange Bowl: Louisville vs. Penn State

Cotton Bowl: USC vs. Western Michigan

What Exactly Changed Saturday Night?

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:

Winners

Big Ten

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.

Ohio State

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.

Selection committee

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 …

Losers

Louisville

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.

Oklahoma

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.

Pac-12

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.

The Weak

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

Selection Committee’s Job Easy, For Now

On Tuesday, the selection committee will reveal its first rankings of the 2016 season. At first glance, it should be pretty easy to determine which four teams will land in this year’s College Football Playoff.

Alabama, Michigan, Clemson and Washington are the only undefeated teams from Power 5 conferences and they should take up the four playoff spots (more on that below). Western Michigan, as the only other unbeaten team, should claim the Group of Five’s spot in the New Year’s Six bowl lineup.

But only if the season ended yesterday.

There are still five more weeks to go in the season and each of the top four teams – with the exception of Clemson – still faces its stiffest test yet. Alabama must get through LSU and Auburn, Michigan has to visit Ohio State, and Washington hosts USC and travels to the Palouse for the Apple Cup, and that’s all before their respective conference championship games.

Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt replaced Arkansas’ Jeff Long as the committee chairman. On Tuesday he’s going to spin his own yarn about why the rankings are how they are. He might borrow from Long’s book with jargons such as “game control” and “quality loss,” or he might invent his own. But the initial rankings – or any of them before the Dec. 4 final rankings – don’t matter.

Unlike voters in the AP and coaches polls, the committee takes a fresh look at the teams each week as its members discuss how they should be ranked. The weekly shows are merely programming fillers that provide lots of talking points, but nothing more.

We learned that from the first season of the CFP.

Game of the Week

Washington 31, Utah 24: Of the remaining unbeaten playoff contenders, the Huskies probably were the most untested. But after winning a gritty road game against the Pac-12 South co-leaders, those doubts should subside some. Heisman candidate QB Jake Browning played a controlled if unspectacular game, but it was the Huskies’ special teams that made the difference at the end, breaking a 24-24 tie late on Dante Pettis’ 58-yard punt return with 3:25 left.

Player of the Week

Saquon Barkley, Penn State: The Nittany Lions’ resurgence has been both sudden and surprising. After losing to Pitt and getting blasted by Michigan, coach James Franklin was on the hot seat. But he has turned things around quickly as Penn State has won four straight, including an upset of Ohio State. Sophomore running back Barkley has been the Lions’ workhorse as he ran for 207 yards and caught three passes for 70 more in their 62-24 rout of Purdue.

The Weak

How does this continue to happen? Never mind the idiot players who value preening than their teams’ welfare, but how do the officials still not pay attention? We’re talking about players so anxious to drop the ball to celebrate a score that they can’t bear the thought of carrying the ball all the way across the goal line.

This idiocy has already happened a couple of times this season, and nearly a dozen times over the last few years, but it continues and the officials keep missing it, even with the help of replay. Oregon’s Pharaoh Brown apparently was about to score on a 72-yard pass reception when he flung the ball before crossing into the end zone. The play was so blatantly obvious that almost all TV viewers saw it immediately.

Except the guy who was standing 3 yards away and the Pac-12 replay crew that was supposed to review all scoring plays. The touchdown stood as Oregon took a 7-0 lead en route to a 54-35 win over Arizona State.

Projected Committee Ranking

1. Alabama, 2. Michigan, 3. Clemson, 4. Washington, 5. Louisville, 6. Ohio State, 7. Texas A&M, 8. Wisconsin, 9. Nebraska, 10. Florida, 11. Auburn, 12. Oklahoma, 13. Penn State, 14. Baylor, 15. Western Michigan.

Projected New Year’s Six bowl matchups

Fiesta Bowl (CFP semifinal): Michigan vs. Clemson

Peach Bowl (CFP semifinal): Alabama vs. Washington

Rose Bowl: Colorado vs. Wisconsin

Sugar Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma

Orange Bowl: Louisville vs. Ohio State

Cotton Bowl: Nebraska vs. Western Michigan

What’s Next in Realignment Game?

To almost no one’s surprise, the Big 12 decided to stay put with 10 teams after possibly extracting some extra cash from its television partners.

So does that mean we have peace for our time in college football?

Hardly. As the Big 12’s dog-and-pony show concluded on Monday with a press conference, the most unbelievable statement came from Oklahoma president David Boren. He declared that the the 10 teams from the Big 12 are committed to stay together for the long haul.

If you believe that, I have a bridge on the south end of Manhattan I’d like to sell you.

In many ways, the Big 12 pretty much authored its own demise eight years hence with its decision not to expand. Texas and Oklahoma, about the only two valuable properties in the conference, will be busy flirting elsewhere over the next decade. Monday’s decision merely delays the next round of realignment until the current TV and grant-of-rights agreements run out after the 2024-25 season.

What will happen next?

It’s almost without question that Texas has its eyes set on the Big Ten – and vice versa. It’s a good fit culturally and athletically. The Longhorns will have to ditch their namesake TV network, but since it’s bleeding money annually for ESPN, that’s probably not a deal-breaker by that point.

Oklahoma most likely will end up in the SEC, with Oklahoma State in tow as a package deal. Kansas might join Texas in the Big Ten, even with its weak football program. It has a powerhouse basketball team, can deliver a decent sized market (Kansas City, Mo.) and has the best academic profile after Texas in the Big 12 as a member of the Association of American Universities.

The ACC will probably poach some combination of UConn, Cincinnati and West Virginia, taking one or two of these teams. If independence proves to be a flop in the playoff era, Notre Dame might swallow hard and finally become a full member of the ACC.

That creates three 16-team super conferences, along with the Pac-12. With a floundering network and increasing revenue gap between it and the Big Ten, SEC and ACC, it’s doubtful that the Pac-12 will be in position to create its own 16-team conference, especially considering the slim pickin’s of the leftovers. Likely it’ll stand pat as it is unless it wants to scoop up lower-profile schools such as San Diego State or UNLV.

More probable than not, the remaining Big 12 schools (Kansas State, Iowa State, Texas Tech, TCU and Baylor) as well as BYU will be picked up by either the American Athletic or Mountain West. These two won’t become power conferences, but may have slightly better access to a revamped playoff system after the current CFP deal expires following the 2025 season.

Is your head done spinning yet? It’s OK. It’ll be a few years before the next expansion/realignment show kicks in gear.

Game of the Week

Texas A&M at Alabama (-17.5), 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

This is supposed to be the middle part of Alabama’s three-game “gauntlet” but the truth is that’s just hype. The Crimson Tide are head and shoulders above everyone else in the very mediocre SEC and they probably won’t face much resistance from the unbeaten Aggies on Saturday for more than a half. Until the playoff, it doesn’t appear anyone has a legitimate chance of knocking off the defending national champion.

Also keep an eye on

TCU at West Virginia (-5), 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2

The Mountaineers passed their road test with flying colors in Lubbock a week ago, but this will be their sternest challenge to-date in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. WVU is 1-3 against the Frogs and has never beaten them in Morgantown since both teams joined the Big 12 in 2012. But this year the Mountaineers might finally have the defense to squeak one out against a pretty ordinary TCU team.

Upset special

Ole Miss at LSU (-5.5), 9 p.m. ET, ESPN

Is there really any reason for either team to be ranked? The SEC has eight ranked team in the latest AP poll but none of them has beaten a single ranked team in a nonconference game. But somehow these SEC teams continue to play and beat each other while staying ranked. Both of these teams’ best games of the season to-date are in fact losses, with Ole Miss losing to Alabama and LSU beaten at Wisconsin.

Player to watch

BYU at Boise State (-7), 10:15 p.m. ET Thursday, ESPN

No doubt BYU is crushed by the Big 12’s decision not to expand as it’s easily the most attractive program not currently in a Power 5 conference. The Cougars must put that disappointment aside to face the most formidable team outside of the Power 5. If they want to pull off a victory on the blue turf they will have to ride their senior running back Jamaal Williams, who’s second in FBS with 942 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.

Big 12 Expansion Show Finally Ending

Maybe, just maybe, we’ll finally have some resolution to the absurd Big 12 Expansion Show sometime Monday afternoon.

It’ll probably turn out to be much ado about nothing.

After nearly a year of wringing their hands about adding to the 10-team conference, Big 12 officials most likely will announce in a Monday press conference (6:30 p.m. ET) that their expansion plan has been tabled, for now and indefinitely.

The entire process, through various leaks and public posturing – especially by the conference’s two flagship schools, Oklahoma and Texas – may play out like an elaborate blackmail scheme. At the end, the conference’s TV partners ESPN and Fox probably decided it’s better to ante up to nip expansion in the bud than adding unattractive teams into their inventory.

The only other possibility – though a remote one – is that Houston and BYU are added as football-only members. BYU, once viewed as the frontrunner for expansion with the backing of Oklahoma, saw its prospects took a significant hit when the school’s Honor Code was derided by LGBT groups. Further, BYU’s no-Sunday play policy presents a considerable scheduling issue for all non-football sports.

Even without adding teams, the Big 12 will host a conference title game starting next season, thanks to an NCAA rule change that no longer requires divisions or 12 teams to stage the game. The title game will give the Big 12 an opportunity to be on equal footing with other Power-5 conferences, both as a “13th data point” as per the playoff selection committee and also be part of the conversation on the final Saturday of the regular season.

If the Big 12 decides to table expansion indefinitely, it’s likely that no realignment will take place until at least the middle part of the next decade. All Power-5 conference members (except the SEC) are tied through grant-of-rights agreements for at least the next 10 years and those make it unlikely for anyone to make a move.

This should come as welcome relief for two conferences in particular – the American Athletic and Mountain West, which are the prime targets for Big 12 expansion. Perhaps after Monday, college athletics will finally have some stability for the first time since the late 2000s when the expansion craze began.

Playoff Watch

All 11 undefeated teams remain unbeaten after the weekend though a couple (Ohio State and Clemson) survived close calls. For the most part the playoff picture stays unchanged from last week, with this pecking order:

1. Big Ten: Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska
2. SEC: Alabama, Texas A&M, Florida
3. ACC: Clemson, Louisville
4. Pac-12: Washington
5. Michigan-Ohio State loser
6. Big 12: Baylor, West Virginia

For the Group of Five teams, Boise State remains the frontrunner to claim the New Year’s Six automatic bowl berth after surviving a late comeback by Colorado State. Western Michigan is next, followed by a quartet of one-loss AAC teams (Navy, Memphis, Houston and South Florida).

Game of the Week

Ohio State 30, Wisconsin 23 (OT): The top-10 matchup at Camp Randall lived up to the billing as the Buckeyes’ superior athletes finally made the plays in the second half and overtime to overcome an early deficit. But Wisconsin, having lost a pair of close games to Michigan and Ohio State, perhaps isn’t done in having a say in deciding the Big Ten title as it’s still on track to claim the Big Ten West with another shot at the Michigan-Ohio State winner in the conference title game.

Player of the Week

Alabama Defense/Special Teams: For the seventh consecutive game this season, Alabama scored a non-offensive touchdown – in fact, that streak dates back to last year when the Tide scored on defense or special teams in both of their playoff victories. Ronnie Harrison’s pick-six and Eddie Jackson’s punt return opened the floodgates in Alabama’s 49-10 rout of Tennessee. The Tide’s 11 non-offensive touchdowns are more than South Carolina has scored all season.

The Weak

With a chance to upset unbeaten Clemson on the road and etch a signature victory for his program, NC State coach Dave Doeren decided to go conservative at the end of the game, running out the clock to kick a field goal when he had a chance to move closer or perhaps to score a touchdown. Wolfpack kicker Kyle Bambard, who had already missed twice earlier in the game, ended up shanking the potential game-winner from 33 yards out at the end of regulation as the Tigers survived in overtime, 24-17.

The Rankings

1. Alabama, 2. Michigan, 3. Ohio State, 4. Washington, 5. Clemson, 6. Texas A&M, 7. Louisville, 8. Wisconsin, 9. Nebraska, 10. Boise State, 11. West Virginia, 12. Baylor, 13. Utah, 14. Florida, 15. Western Michigan.

Playoff Is Already Better Than BCS

Is the College Football Playoff better than the dearly-departed Bowl Championship Series?

In a word, hell yes!

Do you hear all the jostling and politicking for a playoff spot by the coaches and athletic directors? No? Because it’s not happening, not yet anyway. That in itself is already a huge improvement over the BCS era.

Ten years ago this week, I launched BCSGuru.com because I was frustrated by the media’s and public’s ignorance of the BCS standings formula and how it worked. Over time, I became an expert at projecting the standings, with an overall accuracy of over 95 percent. I correctly predicted the two teams that would meet in the BCS title game every year until the demise of the BCS after the 2013 season.

In latter part of the BCS era, politicking and jockeying were a necessity because two-thirds of the standings were controlled by the voters, who in fact determined the final matchup every year. The computers served as mere distractions and window dressing, as they proved to have no influence over who got picked for the title game.

The smartest thing the CFP, now in its third year of existence, has done is to ditch the polls. While you may have objections to a dozen people sitting in the room deciding who should make the four-team playoff, this model is infinitely better than what essentially became mob rule in the BCS era.

The CFP committee members won’t meet for another three weeks, which also allows them to see the totality of the season’s picture better when they do get together. That’s also a huge upgrade from the BCS era when the voters started their year with preseason polls and stubbornly stuck to them even when facts on the ground no longer aligned with their preconceived notions.

So the best thing about the CFP is that it renders college football (mostly) politics-free. And in this contentious election season, that’s a not-so-small favor we can all be thankful for.

Game of the Week

Alabama (-13) at Tennessee, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

The Third Saturday in October is a rivalry that’s noted for its streaks. After ending a 12-game skid against Florida in The Third Saturday in September, Tennessee hopes to do the same to its nine-game losing streak to Alabama. But this is a much taller order considering that the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide have steamrolled every opposition this season while the Vols are coming off a heartbreaking OT loss to Texas A&M. Tennessee has gone 5-1 and reached its top-10 ranking by rallying from double-digit deficits four times, but don’t expect that to happen against Nick Saban, who’s never lost to the Vols since he arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007.

Also keep an eye on

Ohio State (-10.5) at Wisconsin, 8 p.m. ET, ABC

By now everyone is expecting the Michigan-Ohio State showdown in late November to decide the Big Ten’s playoff representative, but Wisconsin will have a lot to say about all of that. After hanging close with Michigan in a 14-7 loss, the Badgers represent the only realistic challenge for the Buckeyes before their date with the Wolverines. Wisconsin also most likely will win the Big Ten West, meaning win or lose Saturday, it might get another shot at the Michigan-Ohio State winner in the conference championship game.

Upset special

Nebraska (-3.5) at Indiana, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2

Even though Nebraska is 5-0 and may challenge Wisconsin for the Big Ten West title, it can ill afford to look past Indiana. Coming off a 38-17 loss at Ohio State, the Hoosiers are a gritty group that can grind it out with anyone. With games against Wisconsin and Ohio State in back-to-back weeks still coming up, the Cornhuskers must handle all their business against underdogs to have any shot at a trip to the Big Ten title game.

Player to watch

West Virginia (-1) at Texas Tech, noon ET, FS1

Pat Mahome II’s namesake father was a 12-year veteran in Major League Baseball as a pitcher, but even he must have been impressed at how much his kid quarterback is throwing for Texas Tech. In last week’s 44-38 loss to Kansas State, the younger Mahomes aired it out 62 times for 504 yards. He leads the nation in passing yards with 2,274, just ahead of his former teammate Davis Webb (now at Cal). To hand West Virginia its first loss of the season, Texas Tech will need Air Mahomes to chuck it around with all his might.