College Football and Dynasties Don’t Mix

Even the great Nick Saban couldn’t get it done.

The hardest thing to do in sports just might be building a lasting dynasty in college football. In pro sports, repeats are not at all unusual, even three-peats. In college basketball, before the one-and-done era, teams frequently claimed back-to-back titles — heck, UCLA won seven in a row.

But in college football, even with change of the times, one thing remains constant: Championships are elusive, even for the best in the business.

This year’s Alabama team was all set for a dynastic run. The Tide rolled into Monday night’s College Football Playoff title game 14-0, on a 26-game winning streak, during which they were rarely challenged. They got up to a 14-0 lead and their opponent, Clemson, looked dispirited and dejected. Saban’s second consecutive title and fourth in six years appeared assured.

Then Deshaun Watson intervened. The Clemson quarterback, harried and harassed much of the game, came alive in the fourth quarter, directing three lengthy Tigers drives. He managed to extract three touchdowns from the Alabama defense in the final 15 minutes alone, the last on the game-winning 2-yard throw to Hunter Renfrow with 1 second left to give the Tigers an improbable 35-31 upset victory.

Clemson’s dramatic knockout of Alabama was very much reminiscent of the 2006 Rose Bowl, when Vince Young led Texas to a 41-38 victory over a USC team that was on a quest to win an unprecedented third straight national championship. Young’s virtuoso performance short-circuited the Trojans dynasty — they never returned to the national championship/playoff since. The same fate probably will not befall Crimson Tide, but this loss will haunt Saban for some time just as that Rose Bowl loss forever dogged Pete Carroll.

That USC team, led by back-to-back Heisman winners Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush, had won 34 in a row and was set to become the first team in the poll era (since 1936) to win three consecutive national championships. The Trojans’ defense wasn’t as stout as their teams from the previous two years but their offense was as dynamic as college football had ever seen. But against Texas, they let a 12-point, fourth-quarter lead slip away, the most pivotal moment being a fourth-and-2 that they failed to convert with 2 minutes to play that would’ve sealed the victory.

The men responsible for that fourth-and-2 call — an unsuccessful off-tackle run by LenDale White — were fatefully involved in Monday night’s dynasty killer once again, and on the wrong end of it.

Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian were the co-offensive coordinators under Carroll in 2005, and together they called plays for the Trojans. Kiffin would’ve been calling the plays for the Tide against Clemson, but he was prematurely “mutually parted” by Saban just a week before the game. In stepped Sarkisian, who took over the play-calling on short notice after spending the season as an offensive “analyst” on Saban’s staff.

Certainly Monday night’s outcome cannot be blamed on Sark, short notice or not. With a barely functioning quarterback — ‘Bama’s Jalen Hurts for much of the night didn’t look like a true freshman, but a high school senior — Sarkisian’s offense put up 31 points on Clemson. This game was lost on defense — Saban’s specialty, just as the 2005 title game was lost on defense — Carroll’s specialty.

Watson, reprising the role of Young, led Clemson on fourth-quarter drives of 72, 88 and 68 yards against the vaunted Alabama D, the last in just 2 minutes and 6 seconds, with one single second to spare. A year ago he tore up the Tide in a 45-40 loss with 405 passing yards. This year he somehow topped that with 420 passing yards.

The victory gave Clemson its first national title since 1981, and denied Saban a record-tying sixth championship, something he would’ve shared with Alabama’s legendary Bear Bryant. Just as the Tigers’ previous national title was won under a coach from Alabama — Danny Ford — this championship was corralled by another Tide grad, Dabo Swinney.

Few will shed tears for Alabama, of course. Ever since Saban’s arrival in 2007, the Tide have won their embarrassing share of titles, both of the SEC and the national variety. With another top recruiting haul coming to the Tuscaloosa campus — likely Saban’s fifth straight No. 1 class — Alabama should have ample opportunities to collect more hardware down the road.

Alabama should. But this goes to the ephemeral nature of sustained dominance in college football. Even the best of the best can’t manage to Win Forever (as coined by Pete Carroll). And Saban will rue the one that got away for a very long time.

Our final rankings: 1. Clemson, 2. Alabama, 3. USC, 4. Washington, 5. Penn State, 6. Ohio State, 7. Oklahoma, 8. Florida State, 9. Michigan, 10. Wisconsin.

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

Just Who Is Steve Sarkisian?

Lane Kiffin is making all sorts of news after he was fired by Nick Saban even though he quit first. But let’s face it, he’s gone (to Florida Atlantic) and is old news by now. Instead, let’s focus on who’s more important at hand – his successor.

No one has ever faced the unique kind of pressure for Monday night’s College Football Playoff championship game that awaits Steve Sarkisian, immediately installed as Alabama’s offensive coordinator after Kiffin was summarily dismissed on last Monday. Sark will have less than a week to coach up the Tide’s anemic offense to keep up with Clemson’s.

So just who is Steve Sarkisian?

That almost seems like a dumb question. He’s been the head coach at USC and Washington. He was the offensive coordinator during the Trojans’ dynasty run in the 2000s under Pete Carroll. He played quarterback under the legendary LaVell Edwards at BYU. Sark is not exactly an unknown quantity in college football circles.

The problem is that in some ways he’s too much like Kiffin, still one of his best pals. He and Kiffin ran the USC offense together under Carroll after Norm Chow’s departure. He succeeded Kiffin as the Trojans’ head coach. Heck, Al Davis even offered him the Raiders’ job first before he turned it down, leading to Kiffin’s disastrous 20-game stint in Oakland.

And then he followed Kiffin to Alabama after Sarkisian was unceremoniously dumped by USC midseason in 2015 (just like Kiffin was in 2013) as a result of his drinking problem coming to a head. He was widely seen as Kiffin’s eventual successor when he was scooped up by Saban in 2016, and he became just that.

But this is where Sark is different from Kiffin. He’s a more sober (pardon the pun) playcaller than his buddy Lane – at least he will be for Monday night’s game. It’s something even Kiffin readily acknowledged.

“The best way I would describe it without details is that Sark’s personality will work a little bit better than mine with Coach (Saban),” Kiffin said before the Peach Bowl and being prematurely dumped by Saban. “I’m not saying it’s a bad thing at all. I would say that Sark just manages people better than I do at times.”

This doesn’t mean Sarkisian isn’t the same offensive coaching mind as Kiffin. It’s just that he’s more likely to comply with Saban’s wishes to be more conservative offensively, more risk-adverse, especially with a freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts who has a severely limited repertoire.

Sarkisian is highly unlikely to do anything razzle dazzle against a Clemson defense that shut out of Ohio State in its semifinal game at the Fiesta Bowl. More likely, he’ll hand the ball repeatedly to sophomore running back Bo Scarbrough and use Alabama’s stout offensive line as a bludgeon until the Tigers crack.

If the Tide offense simply can’t keep up with Deshaun Watson and a Clemson attack that hung 40 points on them in last year’s championship game, Sarkisian will get some blame – but most of the blowback will fall on Saban for making a drastic switch less than a week before the title game rematch. If Alabama comes away with a victory in any fashion, however, Sarkisian will get his due, given the circumstances.

That’ll go a long way toward his rehabilitation, professionally at least, if not personally. Like Kiffin, he had reached the mountaintop of his craft as the head coach at USC only to see everything crumble to pieces with an uncertain way back. But again like Kiffin, having been picked up by Saban as a reclamation project, he may be on course for redemption.

Make no mistake, Saban didn’t hire Kiffin and Sarkisian as pure charity cases. He knew his offense needs an upgrade and he was able to hire two talented minds back-to-back. Kiffin helped Alabama to three consecutive SEC titles by grooming a new starting quarterback each year. And Sarkisian was paid a mere $35,000 this season as an “analyst” before being summoned to take over for Kiffin.

Thus, Sark has a great opportunity to rebuild his reputation with all eyes on him Monday night. He should thank Saban, but especially his good friend Kiffin, for this unexpected fortune.

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

The Best and Worst of Bowl Season

Forty bowl games are now in the books for the 2016-17 season, with only the College Football Playoff championship game still to come. And just when you thought it was pretty ho-hum with a bunch of “meaningless games” …

Then the Granddaddy happened. Of course it’s the Rose Bowl that gave us the best setting for the most memorable game, despite a game-time temperature of 55 degrees (brrrr!) that was the coldest since the 1974 game.

As for the rest of the bowls, sure, there’s been more interesting news off the field than on it, such as top prospects sitting out games to protect their pro futures, player shoplifting at the bowl game’s namesake store, and Lane Kiffin getting fired even though he quit first.

So, from the picture-perfect ending in Pasadena to the empty stands mostly everywhere else, here’s our nifty summary of this bowl season:

Best game: Rose Bowl. This isn’t even close. USC somehow managed to out-Penn State in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Nittany Lions 17-0 to pull out a dramatic 52-49 victory on Matt Boermeester’s 46-yard field goal at the gun in the highest-scoring Rose Bowl game in history. Despite not being a “playoff” game, the Rose Bowl actually had the most expensive tickets and is expected to earn the highest TV rating of all bowl games.

Best game (non-Rose Bowl edition): Orange Bowl. Anything involving Jim Harbaugh was bound to be entertaining and this game did not disappoint. Michigan fell behind early and looked out of it entering the fourth quarter but rallied to take the lead with just over a minute remaining. But a long kickoff return set Florida State up for the winning play just seconds from the end of regulation in a 33-32 Seminoles victory.

Worst game: Citrus Bowl. Some shine came off the game when LSU running back Leonard Fournette decided to skip the game to protect his pro future – a first-round selection in the NFL Draft – but it still had Heisman winner Lamar Jackson. Well, the Louisville quarterback was sacked eight times and the hapless Cardinals lost their third straight game in an ugly 29-9 defeat against LSU.

Best conference: ACC. Other than Louisville, the ACC had a banner season in the bowl games, with Clemson advancing to the CFP title game and Florida State upsetting Michigan in the Orange Bowl. The ACC finished with an 8-3 record, with two more wins than any other conference.

Worst conference: Big Ten. The MAC might’ve gone 0-6, including a loss by Western Michigan in its New Year’s Six bowl appearance, but the Big Ten was billed as the best conference most of the season and placed four teams in NY6 games. But the B1G didn’t live up to the hype, limping to a 3-7 bowl record, including 1-3 in the NY6 games.

The rest of the conference standings:

  • SEC 6-6
  • Big 12 4-2
  • Pac 12 3-3
  • Sun Belt 4-2
  • C-USA 4-3
  • Mountain West 4-3
  • American 2-5
  • Independents 2-0

Best coaching move: Nick Holt, Western Kentucky. As the interim coach with Jeff Brohm having moved on to Purdue, the former defensive coordinator didn’t hold back and emptied the playbook – including a fake victory formation kneel down that went for a 53-yard gain right before the half. The Hilltoppers went on to a 51-31 rout of Memphis in the Boca Raton Bowl. For the record, interim coaches went 3-2 in bowl games, with Baylor and South Florida also winning while Houston and Temple lost.

Worst coaching move: Chuck Martin, Miami (Ohio). The RedHawks could’ve gotten the MAC to a winning start when they had Mississippi State on the ropes late in the game. But instead of driving for a game-winning touchdown, Martin chose to go conservative, calling plays to concede 3 yards while in the red zone, only to see Nick Dowd’s 37-yard field goal attempt blocked in a 17-16 loss in the St. Petersburg Bowl.

Best performance: Sam Darnold, USC. Are you ready for the Heisman hype, for 2017? All Darnold did was throwing for 450 yards and a Rose Bowl-record five touchdowns to lead the Trojans to a scintillating comeback against Penn State. USC won nine straight to end the season and, with the redshirt freshman quarterback returning, will be a sure-fire pick as a playoff contender for 2017.

Worst performance: Ohio State. It was an epic fail in all phases of the game, and especially shocking coming from an Urban Meyer team. The Buckeyes were outclassed in every way by Clemson in a 31-0 beatdown in the Fiesta Bowl that was also a CFP semifinal game. Ohio State’s losing margin was the second largest of the bowl season – only Central Michigan’s 55-10 loss to Tulsa in the Miami Beach Bowl was worse.

Best fight: This battle in the bathroom between a Miami fan and West Virginia fan during the Russell Athletic Bowl had a little of everything, including a nifty reference from the movie Road House.

Who says bowl games are “meaningless?” Even a mere urinal is worth fighting for!

Can Anyone Stop Alabama?

Does Washington really have a chance?

That’s on the minds of fans everywhere, as the third edition of the College Football Playoff draws near. On New Year’s Eve, Washington will take on defending champion Alabama in the Peach Bowl while Ohio State and Clemson face each other in the Fiesta Bowl to determine who’ll play for the 2016 national championship.

On paper and in betting parlors, the Alabama-Washington game appears to be a mismatch, as the Tide are favored by 14 points. Other than one close encounter with Ole Miss early in the season, Alabama has scarcely been challenged in breezing to a 13-0 record and the SEC title. It routed Rose Bowl-bound USC by 46 points in the season opener.

This is in fact only the second undefeated squad in Nick Saban’s 21-year career as a college football head coach (the other was the 2009 Alabama team that won the national title). And it’s probably his finest, despite starting a true freshman at quarterback and having to replace a Heisman Trophy-winning running back.

Washington, on the other hand, is new at this. The last time the Huskies were national title contenders, neither the BCS nor the playoff existed. Under the legendary Don James, Washington was a beast in the old Pac-10 and won a share of the national championship in 1991. But since then, the Huskies have not been relevant until the arrival of Chris Petersen three years ago.

(James, coincidentally, launched Saban’s coaching career by hiring him as a grad assistant on his Kent State staff after the young defensive back finished his playing career, all the way back in 1973.)

Petersen, who oversaw the rise of Boise State as a pesky upstart in a non-Power 5 conference, is building another powerhouse but this time with much more talent at his disposal. The Huskies won their first Pac-12/10 title since 2000 with a stout defense and a well-balanced offense. But do they have enough to slow Alabama to have a chance, in a hostile environment in Atlanta that’ll be like a home game for the Crimson Tide?

Probably not.

Not with the Huskies missing their two best linebackers – Azeem Victor and Joe Mathis – both lost for the season because of injuries. And not with quarterback Jake Browning having a late-season slump, a disastrous script against an Alabama defense that might be among the most opportunistic in college football history.

Prediction: Alabama 38, Washington 14

The other playoff matchup should be much more entertaining. It’ll be the second time in four seasons with Ohio State facing Clemson in a postseason game, as the Tigers won the Orange Bowl, 40-35 after the 2013 season. It’s also a matchup between two teams that advanced to the national title games in the first two years of the CFP, with Ohio State winning the championship in 2014 and Clemson narrowly losing to Alabama last year.

And by the way, there’s also this bit of history: Clemson was the last team Woody Hayes faced as a coach. On Dec. 29, 1978, the legendary Ohio State coach ended his career ignominiously when he punched Clemson linebacker Charlie Bauman on the sideline after Bauman’s interception sealed a 17-15 Gator Bowl victory for the Tigers.

Chances are, Urban Meyer won’t be punching anyone in this game, win or lose, as he’ll be busy devising ways to slow down Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, who nearly singlehandedly defeated Alabama in last year’s national title game.

But this year’s Clemson team isn’t as good as the 2015 edition, as it’s lost significant amount of talent on defense. And it had to scrape by several games – especially against Louisville, Florida State and North Carolina State – just to get into the playoff.

It’s the same case for the Buckeyes, who lost the likes of Ezekiel Elliott and Joey Bosa from last year’s team – it’s still a mystery how that team lost to Michigan State and didn’t make the playoff. Ohio State again failed to win the Big Ten this year, but nevertheless made the playoff thanks to a controversial double-overtime victory over Michigan.

This edition of the Buckeyes will have trouble containing Watson and the high-octane Clemson offense. If it cannot create turnovers to help out an offense that sputtered late in the season, Ohio State will end up 0-3 all-time against Clemson in bowl games.

Prediction: Clemson 34, Ohio State 24

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.

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