With the half way point in the season disappearing quickly in our rear view mirror, talk at Ninety Nine Yards HQ has turned to what the Play Off Committee’s Championship Play Off Final Four might look like.
Always a great source of bar room debate, witty repartie has been replaced with heated argument as the 99 Yards College football team tries to second guess the Committee’s first vote on 30 October. We thought it would be a good (for that read really bad) idea to hang our colours to the mast and commit our final four predictions to print. So here goes, there is nowhere to hide……
#1 Alabama (8-0)
Does anyone think there’s a better team in College Football than Alabama? Even if you’ve only a passing interest in the game they’re inextricably linked with success. This year’s team is no exception, even being described as the best team Nick Saban has ever had. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is having a season for the ages. The defence is averaging just 15 points a game. The knock on them so far has been strength of schedule (or lack of) but they turned over ranked Texas A&M with ease. They passed their toughest test to date against a resurgent Tennessee with flying colours. After this weeks bye they face a fierce LSU Tigers team with play off aspirations of their own. They finish up the campaign with Auburn visiting Bryant-Denny. Those Tigers are looking to rediscover their bite, and could be extra motivated to finish the season with an upset.
#2 Clemson (7-0)
There is genuine potential in this Clemson unit to go through the season unbeaten. Sure, they don’t have the stiff test of schedule down the stretch that would catch the eye of the selectors but it’s hard to argue with going unbeaten (don’t tell UCF of course). The team are adamant that the Kelly Bryant/Trevor Lawrence QB controversy is firmly behind them and Lawrence has the arm to drive the team to the playoffs. Travis Etienne at running back gives the offence a serious ground and air double threat. Another Lawrence, Dexter, leads a top level defence which I’ve mentioned in previous articles. That unit looked like one of the most dominant defences around in sweeping NC State in week 8. Arguably their toughest game remaining is at Boston College but they swept the Eagles 34-7 last year.
“Offence wins games. Defence wins Championships” might be an over used cliche in the world of football but in their week 7 defeat of Georgia, the Tigers may just have shown why it’s true. In shutting down Jake Fromm and the Georgia offence they put themselves truly back in the playoff picture. Sure, they have to face Alabama. The Crimson Tide have to roll in to Baton Rouge and although it’s been a happy hunting ground for them (LSU’s last win was November 2010) the games have always been close. QB Joe Burrow can win games with efficient play both with his arm and his legs to compliment highly rated running back Nick Brossette. On defence, Greedy Williams leads a stellar secondary which could cause trouble for any team in the league.
#4 Ohio State (7-1)
So we presumed Ohio’s toughest schedule test was already behind them with the highly entertaining and close fought victory in Happy Valley over Penn State. Then came Purdue and the biggest upset in week 8. Dwayne Haskins had been on fire up to that game stacking up 28 touchdowns and over 2300 yards. The Boliermakers made the offence look very one dimensional. Other than in the fourth quarter they struggled to move the ball. With Nick Bosa pulling out for the season they need someone to step up on defence. That being said I believe their destiny is still in their hands. They have a relatively easy slate before the crucial final game of the regular season against Michigan, which could be a case of win and in for both sides.
I have Florida, Michigan and Notre Dame all on the outside looking in should the selection committee rule out Ohio State based on the Purdue defeat. The AP poll has them down as far as 11. There’s a long way to go. I suspect, however, we shall see Alabama and Clemson battling it out on January 7th for the National Championship.
So let me start off with a couple of bold predictions. 1. I don’t think UCF unbeaten or not makes it to the Play Off’s. Let me get that off my chest. 2. Ohio State’s defeat to Purdue last weekend is a knock out blow for the Buckeyes. It’s been a funny year in Columbus but the performance and more importantly the timing was awful and I don’t think they recover. And looking at their last four games I don’t think they navigate those without another defeat. Particularly against Michigan who have a real point to prove. #GoBlue.
So who does make it through?
#1 Alabama (8-0)
I agree totally with @ojhodgkinson, Alabama have been the runaway stand-outs this season. While they still have to negotiate LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn in three of their last four games, it would be nothing short of an earth shattering upset if they weren’t the first seed come 30 October.
#2 Clemson (7-0)
It pains me to say but I cannot see the Tigers being beaten in their run in. Trevor Lawrence is now steering the ship and that outstanding defence will take them in to second spot. South Carolina in the final game of the regular season could be a difficult hurdle, but an unbeaten Tigers going in to the last game have all the mo-mentum.
#3 Notre Dame (6-0)
The Fighting Irish are literally a law unto themselves. An independent school, to some degree their schedule is their own. This contributes to a long running but healthy debate as to the credibility of the South Bend schedule, with that much touted phrase “body of work” raising its head time and time again. But, with a remaining schedule of Navy, Northwestern, Florida State, Syracuse and USC, an 11-0 Notre Dame side would be irresistible to the Play Off Committee. If I’m honest I see the Northwestern game being the toughest hurdle to overcome. Get through that and games against very disappointing Florida State and USC teams are very winnable.
#4 Florida (6-1)
I think Dan Mullen has done a great job down in the Swamp this year. He has rebuilt confidence and has made Feleipe Franks a winning quarterback again. Now saying all of this, Florida moving up to #4 takes some doing. They are currently ranked in the AP & Coaches polls at #9. But, bear with me! Florida’s run-in is Georgia, MIssouri, South Carolina, Idaho and Florida State. On the assumption that they can overturn Georgia in their next game (which I think they can), then the remaining games are very, very winnable. That would make Florida 10-1. Which I think would get them in. Controversial, yes. Far fetched, absolutely. Mouth watering? Oh my that’s finger lickin’ good!
So the question then is who will be National Champion in January? Well I wonder if the College Football world secretly wants a Alabama v Notre Dame championship game. While I think Florida would have the game to beat Clemson, they wont be matched up if the rankings above work out. Alabama would meet Florida and Clemson would meet Notre Dame. In current form I cannot see any of the three overturning the Crimson Tide.
photo credit : sbnation.com