What Is Committee Trying to Say?

Yes, we’ve learned from the last two years not to take too much stock in the playoff committee’s weekly rankings. We should really only care about what it puts up on the final Sunday.

But this year might be different. There seems to be enough from Tuesday night’s reveal of its penultimate rankings to parse what’s in store for college football’s final regular-season weekend. This much we know:

1. Ohio State is a lock: Despite not playing in the Big Ten championship game, the Buckeye have clinched a playoff spot and can rest up and enjoy a bye week. Committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said there’s a wide gulf between Ohio State and Penn State, in spite of the Nittany Lions’ having won head-to-head and claiming a spot in the Big Ten title game.

2. Michigan is much closer than you think: Hocutt must have repeated it a thousand times after Tuesday’s reveal on a conference call that No. 4 Washington and No. 5 Michigan are running neck and neck. In fact, he used “razor thin” to describe the gap between the two teams. The Wolverines throttled Colorado earlier in the season, and if Washington can’t beat the Buffs in similar fashion, it may be in danger of being left out of the playoff.

3. Big Ten title game might be for naught: With Ohio State already a lock and Michigan just outside, are Wisconsin and Penn State really playing for a shot at a playoff spot? Both teams lost to Michigan during the regular season, so would a conference championship trump that? To hear Hocutt talk, it seems that the committee is willing to include multiple at-large teams this year after taking only conference champions in the previous two seasons.

4. Big 12 is toast: By ranking Oklahoma and Oklahoma State at Nos. 9 and 10, respectively, the committee made it clear that neither is getting into the playoff no matter who wins Bedlam and the Big 12 championship. Even with mass chaos ahead of them, these two teams are playing for no more than a Sugar Bowl berth.

5. So just who are still alive?: The committee members will pick four teams out of the pool of the top five plus the Big Ten champion. If both Clemson and Washington win, most likely they’ll stick with the top four. If both Clemson and Washington lose, they’ll take Michigan and the Big Ten champ to join Ohio State and Alabama. They will face a thorny decision if Clemson or Washington loses, but not both. The question comes down to: which Big Ten team takes the last playoff spot?

Game of the Week

Washington (-7) vs. Colorado, Pac-12 Championship, 9 p.m. ET Friday, FOX

It’s the most consequential of the Power 5 championship games this weekend. Washington needs to win, and perhaps impressively, to lock up a playoff spot. Huskies QB Jake Browning will also get one last chance to maybe sway a few Heisman voters, as all the other contenders have the weekend off. For the Buffs, it’s probably Pasadena or bust, as a blowout loss will cause them to cede a Rose Bowl berth to USC.

Also keep an eye on

Wisconsin (-2.5) vs. Penn State, Big Ten Championship, 8 p.m. ET, FOX

Both teams still harbor playoff hopes as the winner may sneak in if things break their way elsewhere. Wisconsin, with losses to both Ohio State and Michigan, and playing in the weaker Big Ten West, may have more to prove. Penn State has made a dramatic turnaround after early season losses to Pitt and Michigan and probably will have a better argument for a playoff spot if it wins.

Upset special

Clemson (-10) vs. Virginia Tech, ACC Championship, 8 p.m. ET, ABC

Despite its No. 3 ranking, Clemson has been the shakiest team among the playoff contenders. The Tigers needed overtime to beat NC State, barely survived both Florida State and Louisville, and lost to Pitt at home. The Hokies are ahead of schedule under first-year coach Justin Fuente and just might have what it takes to pull off a stunner.

Player to watch

Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (-12), 12:30 p.m. ET, FOX

Bedlam will serve as the de facto Big 12 championship game this year, but if the scenario repeats itself in 2007, this would be a totally meaningless game as both teams are guaranteed a rematch in the actual Big 12 Championship Game the following week. Oklahoma’s Dede Westbrook should receive more recognition as the odds-on favorite to claim the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top wide receiver after amassing 1,354 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns this season.


Big Ten Ready to Unleash Big Chaos

“The Game” lived up to its considerable hype, and then some. Not only was Saturday’s epic Michigan-Ohio State showdown turned out to be a double-overtime thriller, it was also by far the most-watched college football this season – garnering a gaudy 10.4 TV rating – and the second most-watched since 2001, topped only by the 2006 edition of the Michigan-Ohio State game.

It also set the selection committee up for a huge headache. How many Big Ten teams can it take for the four-team playoff? One, two, or even maybe three?

Had Michigan won in spite of officiating malfeasance (every close call or non-call went Ohio State’s way, and the Buckeyes were flagged just twice for 6 yards the entire game), most likely the Big Ten would’ve ended up with just one team in the playoff. But now …

Ohio State is a lock for a playoff spot, though it won’t even play in the Big Ten championship game. The Wisconsin-Penn State winner in the B1G title game most likely will get a spot, too. And don’t completely write off Michigan, either, as it still has a chance to back into the playoff if both Clemson and Washington lose their respective conference title games.

If both Clemson and Washington go on to win the ACC and Pac-12, respectively, the committee then must wrestle with whether to exclude either one-loss team in favor of a two-loss Big Ten champion. And then there’s the Big 12 champion – the winner of Bedlam – but its hopes are faint at best.

Regardless what happens in the five Power 5 title games next week, the committee will not have very clear-cut choices. It’ll be its most difficult decision in the three years of the playoff era.

Bowl Update: As of now, 76 teams clinched bowl bids, including 6-7 Hawaii and 6-5 Army, which defeated two FCS teams. South Alabama and Louisiana-Lafayette may still earn bowl bids by winning their respective regular-season finales next Saturday.

But that means at least two and as many as four teams will qualify for bowl games with 5-7 records by virtue of their score on the Academic Progress Report. The next teams on the APR list, with North Texas and Mississippi State already guaranteed bowl bids:

  • North Texas (APR 984)
  • Mississippi State (971)*
  • Texas (971)*
  • Northern Illinois (970)
  • Louisiana-Monroe (967)
  • Cal (960)*
  • Arizona State (960)*

*MSU has tiebreaker edge over Texas on one-year APR (970-968), Cal has edge over ASU (997-990)

<u”>Game of the Week

Ohio State 30, Michigan 27 (2OT): The 113rd edition of college football’s best rivalry was as gripping as it was controversial, with Ohio State pulling out the victory in double overtime after two sensational plays by wide receiver Curtis Samuel. Michigan was victimized by quarterback Wilton Speight’s three turnovers as well as a number of questionable calls. It was the Buckeyes’ 12th win in the last 13 meetings as Urban Meyer improved to 5-0 against his team’s arch rival.

Player of the Week

Adoree Jackson, USC: In perhaps his final collegiate home game, the Trojans’ do-everything defensive back showed why he should be the most serious threat to Louisville’s Lamar Jackson as a Heisman candidate. USC’s Jackson returned a punt 55 yards, a kickoff 97 yards and caught a pass 52 yards, all for touchdowns – in addition to playing his usual shutdown corner. The Trojans routed Notre Dame, 45-27, for their eighth straight victory.

The Weak

In that same game, Notre Dame defensive lineman Jerry Tillery pulled off two despicable acts and somehow was not ejected. First, he used his foot to nudge USC running back Aca’Cedric Ware, who was down on the ground with an apparent head injury – but that went unnoticed by the officials. Later in the game, Tillery stomped on the ankle of USC offensive lineman Zach Banner, and was caught in the act and flagged for a penalty.

The Irish were blown out by the Trojans to cap off a disastrous 4-8 season after being ranked in the preseason top 10. And now there’s a possibility that Brian Kelly won’t return to coach in 2017. Notre Dame’s nightmare of a year can’t end soon enough.

The Weak II

Pitt put up 76 points and Navy 75 and neither was the highest scoring team this week. Middle Tennessee hung 77 on Florida Atlantic while amassing 757 yards of offense. The Syracuse football team scored more points (61) in losing to Pitt than its basketball team did (50) in a loss to South Carolina.

Does anyone play defense anymore?

Projected committee rankings

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

Top Group of 5 teams: Western Michigan, Navy, Temple.

Projected New Year’s Six bowl matchups

Peach Bowl (CFP semifinal) : Alabama vs. Washington
Fiesta Bowl (CFP semifinal): Clemson vs. Ohio State
Rose Bowl – Wisconsin vs. USC
Orange Bowl – Michigan vs. Louisville
Sugar Bowl – Florida vs. Oklahoma
Cotton Bowl – Penn State vs. Western Michigan

Bowling for Losers

Were you not happy that three teams with losing records made it to bowl games last season? (And by the way, they all won and still finished with losing records.)

Well, get ready, as there will be teams with losing records getting into bowl games again this year. Perhaps as many as five or six. Maybe even more.

That’s right, with 40 bowl games and 80 slots available, there simply won’t be enough 6-6 or better teams to fill them all up. Then teams with 5-7 records will have to be considered, the pecking order to be decided by the NCAA’s Academic Progress Report from the 2014-15 academic year.

Yep, whether your team goes bowling or not will all boil down to how many of the players from those schools graduated two years ago. Just as how things worked out for Nebraska, Minnesota and San Jose State last season when they clinched bowl berths despite finishing the regular season with 5-7 records.

The math for the 2016 bowl season is thus: Currently there are 65 bowl eligible teams, 15 short of the 80 bowl slots. There are 18 teams still alive to gain bowl eligibility, but there’s little chance that all 18 teams will win their remaining games to finish 6-6.

Here’s the breakdown:

Likely already eligible (1): Army. The Black Knights are 6-5, but they have two wins over FCS teams and the NCAA only counts one toward the six wins for bowl eligibility. In the event there are fewer than 80 bowl eligible teams, Army will be the first one in.

Likely to gain eligibility (2): TCU and South Alabama. Both teams just need to win one of their remaining two games to reach the six-win threshold. South Alabama was granted a waiver as it can count two FCS wins toward the total because its game last week against LSU was canceled so the Tigers could play Florida. The Jaguars ended up scheduling FCS Presbyterian as its game against the Gators was called off for the same reason thanks to Hurricane Matthew.

Likely to win (8): Indiana, Maryland, Northwestern, North Texas, UTSA, Hawaii, Arizona State and Ole Miss.

Likely to lose (7): SMU, Boston College, NC State, Texas, Southern Miss, Vanderbilt and Louisiana-Lafayette (the latter has to win both of its remaining games).

As things stand, several teams currently 5-6 are in good shape win or lose this weekend. Northwestern, Vanderbilt, North Texas, Boston College, Indiana and Maryland are all high on the APR list. If they do go bowling with 5-7 records, they can thank their former teammates for putting in the time in the classroom.

Game of the Week

Michigan at Ohio State (-6.5), noon ET, ABC

This is shaping up to be the the most important “The Game” since the classic 10 years ago when No. 1 Ohio State edged No. 2 Michigan, 42-39. That game essentially decided the BCS title game participant, though there was nearly a rematch as Michigan finished just percentage points behind Florida for No. 2 in the final BCS standings. There’s a distinct possibility that the Buckeyes may earn a playoff spot this year despite not advancing to the Big Ten title game, as their path is blocked by Penn State even if they defeat Michigan.

Also keep an eye on

Washington (-6) at Washington State, 3:30 p.m. ET Friday, FOX

The Apple Cup will decide the Pac-12 North winner and also the conference’s fate in the playoff. A Huskies victory keeps the Pac-12’s hopes alive to appear in the playoff as they advance to the conference title game. A Cougars win most likely means the Pac-12 will miss the playoff for a second year in a row. Washington has won six of the last seven Apple Cups, including the last three.

Upset special

Wyoming (-3) at New Mexico, 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Boise State is the highest ranked Group of Five team in the most recent committee rankings, but it cannot claim a New Year’s Six Bowl spot unless it wins the Mountain West title game. The Broncos can’t get there unless Wyoming loses the season finale to New Mexico, which at 7-4 is shooting for its best record since 2007, when it finished 9-4.

Player to watch

Florida at Florida State (-7.5), 8 p.m. ET, ABC

A New Year’s Six bowl berth may be on the line for both teams as they’re just outside of the top 12 in the current rankings. Florida State senior defensive end DeMarcus Walker might have to make the difference to keep the Seminoles’ hopes alive. Walker could’ve turned pro after last season but decided to return to school. He has racked up 13 sacks (second in the nation), 13.5 tackles for losses this season and remains a likely first-round draft pick.

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

SEC a Rump Conference Without Bama

If it’s the third weekend of November, it must be Cupcake Saturday in the SEC.

Yep, this is the weekend when SEC teams – instead of playing each other like in all the other conferences – take on overmatched non-Power 5 and often FCS opponents to pad their records and get healthy.

But this year, we decided not to shame the SEC, instead we’ll pity it. Simply put, the once-great conference that dominated college football for nearly a decade is now just Alabama and 13 dwarfs.

Take a look at the latest College Football Playoff rankings. Sure, Alabama is at the top (and deservedly so), but you’ll have to go all the way down to No. 15 to find the next SEC team – Auburn. Meanwhile, there are four Big Ten teams occupying the top eight and four Pac-12 teams in the top 13. Even the woeful Big 12 placed three teams between Alabama and Auburn.

Other than Alabama, every SEC team has at least three losses. And the conference’s legion of apologists (beginning with that four-letter network) can no longer claim that it’s a function of just SEC teams beating each other up. Other than the Crimson Tide’s thrashing of USC in the season opener, no SEC team has beaten a currently ranked nonconference opponent.

The SEC is now a conference of rampant mediocrity, as the first cause of it is coaching turnovers not for the better. While the SEC once boasted future Hall of Fame coaches such as Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Bobby Petrino and Steve Spurrier simultaneously, it is now left with the likes of Butch Jones, Will Muschamp and Kirby Smart at some of its marquee programs.

The other reason for the downfall of the SEC is it’s been bereft of quarterback talent for sometime now. Of the five SEC QBs currently starting in the NFL, only Dak Prescott (a 2016 fourth-round pick who has emerged surprisingly thanks to Tony Romo’s injury) is of recent vintage. Basically the SEC has not produced any top-shelf quarterback for at least half a decade following the likes of Eli Manning, Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford and Cam Newton.

So while Alabama has remained on its lofty perch in the college football pecking order, the rest of the SEC has come crashing down despite its usual abundance of talented recruits. And its scheduling malpractice has now become an issue more than ever before.

The SEC (along with the ACC) has steadfastly refused to play nine conference games as all other Power 5 leagues have moved to do. Most of the teams play up to eight home games and rarely travel out of the SEC footprint. They load up the nonconference portion of the schedule with the usual little sisters of the poor as once again every SEC team was slated to play one FCS opponent this season.

If it weren’t for the hurricane-caused postponement of the LSU-Florida game, we would’ve been treated to eight SEC games featuring a cupcake opponent this Saturday. There are no other conferences that do this as blatantly and consistently – and getting away with it – as the SEC. But now the conference will be paying a price for it.

Most likely there will be no more than two SEC teams in the New Year’s Six bowl lineup this year: Alabama in the playoff and another in the SEC-contracted Sugar Bowl. Whereas it used to overwhelm the bowl season, the SEC (minus Alabama) is now merely an afterthought.

Game of the Week

Oklahoma (-3) at West Virginia, 8 p.m. ET, ABC

The two teams that represent the Big 12’s last best chance at a playoff spot square off in Morgantown, with the winner keeping the conference’s slim hopes alive. Oklahoma will need considerable amount of help even if it wins out to claim the Big 12 title so it must defeat West Virginia and, combined with an Oklahoma State win at TCU, to set up a winner-take-all Bedlam as a last chance to impress the committee.

Also keep an eye on

Florida at LSU (-13.5), 1 p.m. ET, SEC Network

Originally scheduled for the Swamp on Oct. 8, this game was postponed as a precaution for Hurricane Matthew. Both teams had to cancel respective matchups with South Alabama (LSU) and FCS Presbyterian (Florida) to make the makeup happen in Baton Rouge. The Gators must win this game to fend off Tennessee for the SEC East title whereas the Tigers need it to keep their hopes alive for the Sugar Bowl.

Upset special

Washington State at Colorado (-4.5), 7:30 p.m. ET, FOX

The Pac-12’s unlikely division leaders meet in what could be a preview of the conference title game. After stumbling out of the gate with two losses, Washington State is the hottest team in the Pac-12, having won eight straight while averaging 46.6 points per game during the streak. Colorado, on the other hand, has won more conference games this season (six) than its previous five seasons in the Pac-12 combined (five).

Player to watch

Louisville (-14) at Houston, 8 p.m. ET Thursday, ESPN

What was at one point considered a gargantuan nonconference matchup featuring a pair of top five teams has badly lost its luster, thanks to two Houston losses and Louisville’s narrow defeat at Clemson. But besides Lamar Jackson, we’ll get to appreciate Houston’s 27-year-old freshman punter Dane Roy, by way of Australia. The former ice cream salesman won a kicking competition in the Australian Football League’s Grand Final (the equivalent of the Super Bowl) and got to spend some time with Ray Guy before earning a scholarship from the Cougars. Roy punted 11 times in Houston’s 30-18 victory over Tulane last week and is averaging 40.2 yards per punt this season.

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:


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 …



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.

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

Conference Calls Ringing Off the Hook

Last week, San Diego State became the first team to clinch a berth in the conference championship game for the 2016 season after it defeated Hawaii. Of the 10 FBS conferences, eight will stage title games this season, matching respective division champions.

Conference championship games for the four Power 5 conferences – ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC – obviously have playoff implications. That’s especially true this year since the Big 12, the only Power 5 conference not to have a title game, most likely has played itself out of a playoff spot.

In some sense, there’s probably even more at stake for three of the Group of Five conferences with title games – American, MAC and Mountain West. Each conference has at least one team contending for a New Years’ Six bowl slot – and remember, that automatic berth is only guaranteed to a conference champion, regardless of the selection committee rankings.

To break it all down, we present here the most likely and most Armageddon scenarios for each of these seven conference races:


Best case: Clemson needs just one more win to clinch the Atlantic division. Virginia Tech owns the tiebreaker over North Carolina and it can clinch the Coastal with two more wins.

Worst case: Clemson loses to either Virginia Tech or UNC (both with at least two losses), leaving the committee to decide whether to take either Clemson or Louisville (both with one loss but not conference champion) for the playoff or leaving the ACC out entirely.

Big Ten

Best case: Michigan-Ohio State winner takes the Big Ten East and beats Wisconsin a second time in the Big Ten conference title game to claim a playoff spot.

Worst case: Michigan loses to Iowa and Ohio State, allowing Penn State to win the Big Ten East and crowning a conference champion with at least two losses.


Best case: Washington defeats Washington State to win the Apple Cup and then beats the South winner (Colorado, Utah or USC) to claim a playoff spot.

Worst case: Washington loses the Apple Cup, giving the North division to Washington State, leaving the Pac-12 champion with at least two losses and out of a playoff spot.


Best case: Alabama runs the table and cruises into the playoff for a third consecutive year.

Worst case: Alabama loses the Iron Bowl, leaving the SEC champion with at least two losses. Worse yet, the East champion (Florida, Kentucky or Tennessee) pulls the upset in the title game, as the SEC has only a non-champion Alabama with fewer than three losses.


Best case: Navy wins its remaining games to claim the West division and then takes the conference title game (though this could force the committee to postpone its decision on the NY6 bowls an extra week because Navy plays Army a week after the scheduled final selection).

Worst case: None of the contenders in either division finishes the regular season with fewer than three losses, completely taking the AAC out of the NY6 bowl contention.


Best case: Western Michigan runs the table and finishes the season 13-0, grabbing the first-ever NY6 bowl berth for the MAC, regardless of what happens in the other conferences.

Worst case: WMU loses to Toledo in the regular-season finale, leaving no team in the MAC with fewer than two losses, and completely out of the picture for an NY6 berth.

Mountain West

Best case: San Diego State wins out, and, combined with a Western Michigan loss somewhere, lands the NY6 bowl berth with a 12-1 record.

Worst case: San Diego State loses to Wyoming in the MWC title game, leaving both SDSU and Boise State ineligible for the NY6 bowl berth.

Game of the Week

USC at Washington (-8.5), 7:30 p.m. ET, FOX

After losing two of their first three games, the Trojans have made a dramatic turnaround after redshirt freshman Sam Darnold was handed the starting QB job. USC has won five straight and now represents perhaps the most serious threat to Washington’s playoff aspirations. The Huskies have the nation’s second-longest winning streak at 12 games but they can ill afford to have any letdown.

Also keep an eye on

Minnesota at Nebraska (-8), 7:30 p.m. ET, BTN

While everyone has seemingly handed the Big Ten West to Wisconsin, Minnesota will have a say in the matter. In fact, if the Gophers win their last three games, they will claim the division title. Nebraska is reeling after back-to-back losses to Wisconsin and Ohio State after starting the season 7-0.

Upset special

West Virginia at Texas (-2), noon ET, FS1

Charlie Strong might’ve saved his job – for now – with back-to-back wins over Baylor and Texas Tech, but his Longhorns will be facing their sternest challenge yet against West Virginia, the only Big 12 team that still has a flicker of hope of making the playoff. The Mountaineers need to win just to keep pace with the Oklahoma schools for the conference title.

Player to watch

Utah (-5.5) at Arizona State, 9:30 p.m. ET Thursday, FS1

Without much fanfare, Arizona State’s Zane Gonzalez has become the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer among kickers. Gonzalez is 20-for-21 this season and made 6-of-7 field goals from 50 yards or more, including a school-record 59-yarder. His career point total of 475 broke the record set by former FSU kicker Dustin Hopkins and he’s just seven shy of becoming the first college player to make 100 career field goals.