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The final weekend of college football is upon us, and we still don’t have a clear indication on who will be the four participants in the inaugural college football playoff.
Alabama, Oregon, and Florida State probably control their destiny going into the weekend. Each team is favored to win their conference championship, and there’s no disputing that each team is worthy of playing for a national title.
What happens if they all lose, though?
It’s not as if they aren’t playing quality opponents.
Florida State plays Georgia Tech, a team fresh off a victory over instate rival Georgia. The Yellow Jackets’ triple-option offense averages 333.8 rushing yards per game, and is incredibly difficult to prepare for. They will be the best team Florida State has played all season.
Meanwhile, the Ducks faces Arizona in the Pac-12 championship. The Wildcats beat them in Eugene earlier this season. Arizona is among the hottest teams in football, and their offense is one of the few explosive enough to keep pace with Oregon. This game could go either way.
The easiest path to the playoff probably belongs to Alabama, which is ironic given the strength of their regular-season schedule. Nevertheless, the Crimson Tide aren’t exactly blowing out opponents. They probably should’ve fell to LSU in Baton Rouge, and Mississippi State played with them from start to finish. Last week, they were trailing Auburn going into the fourth quarter.
Odds are not all three teams will lose, but one or two could, and that’s all it would take to send the selection committee into total anarchy.
If one of the top four loses this weekend, Baylor and Ohio State stand to gain the most. Neither is safe from defeat, however. Kansas State is definitely good enough to knock off Baylor, and Wisconsin is a slight favorite over the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship. A scenario that sees Oregon, Baylor, and Ohio State lose opens the door for Arizona to claim the final playoff spot. The Wildcats are currently No. 7 in the playoff rankings.
In years past, you could count the number of teams vying for a national championship on one hand. Now, because of a four-team playoff, the list of scenarios is endless.
Get your popcorn ready. It’s going to be one heck of a weekend.
Last Week: 5-0
Season Record: 52-20
No. 7 Arizona vs. No. 2 Oregon
Time/TV: 9:00 PM EST Dec. 5, FOX
Outlook: As stated, Arizona is still in the playoff race. A Wildcats’ victory plus losses by Ohio State and Baylor opens the door for a two-loss team to make the playoff. With a résumé that includes a Pac-12 championship and two wins over Oregon, Arizona would have the most compelling case. That said I’m picking the Ducks to win this game. It’s far from a sure thing, but quarterback Marcus Mariota is playing at a much higher level than he was when these teams met in October. Look for a lot of yards and points from both teams. The difference will be turnovers. Arizona forced two in Eugene. They’ll get none on Friday night.
Oregon 42 Arizona 35
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 16 Missouri
Time/TV: 4:00 PM EST Dec. 6, CBS
Outlook: The west decided the SEC Championship. The east was weak this season, with Missouri beating zero teams currently ranked in the top 25. Their last two wins have come in unconvincing fashion against Tennessee (6-6) and Arkansas (6-6). Meanwhile, Alabama has three victories over teams in the top 25. They beat LSU in Baton Rogue at night, and Auburn and Mississippi State in Tuscaloosa. Behind receiver Amari Cooper’s explosiveness and running back T.J. Yeldon’s toughness, they’ll beat Missouri in Atlanta.
Alabama 38 Missouri 21
No. 9 Kansas State at No. 6 Baylor
Time/TV: 7:45 PM EST Dec. 6, ESPN
Outlook: Baylor probably controls its destiny, even if the selection committee currently ranks TCU No. 3. The Horned Frogs are the better team, in my view, but the committee is not about to set a precedent where they break a tie by picking the team that loss the head-to-head matchup from earlier in the season. In addition, TCU plays Iowa State this week, so I suspect victories by Baylor and Florida State over top 15 teams will hold more sway over the committee. For any of this to matter, though, Baylor needs to beat Kansas State. Quarterback Bryce Petty, who is coming off a concussion, hasn’t dominated as he did a year ago. Something has just been off about him. It hasn’t been a big deal because Baylor keeps winning, but it’s going to catch up to them this week. Kansas State is a well-coached team that plays well on both sides of the ball. They’re offense is averaging 36.6 points per game, and they have a defense that held Auburn to 20 earlier in the year. Keep an eye on receiver Tyler Lockett. He didn’t play when these teams met a year ago. He’ll make the difference on Saturday night.
Kansas State 28 Baylor 21
No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 11 Georgia Tech
Time/TV: 8:00 PM EST Dec. 6, ABC
Outlook: It’s a complete joke that Florida State is No. 4, especially after the SEC went 0-3 against the ACC last week. Look, the Seminoles have played with fire all season. Their average margin of victory is just four points over the last three weeks. Nonetheless, it seems to me that the selection committee is allowing the media’s opinion to influence them. The media is punishing Florida State because they aren’t winning in the convincing fashion they did a year ago. Last year doesn’t matter. All that matters is the scoreboard at the end of the night, and Florida State has yet to lose this season. Are we really about to place a one-loss Baylor ahead of the Seminoles if they lose to Georgia Tech this week? We might be heading in that direction, as the Yellow Jackets are no pushover. They’re actually scoring more points per game (37.2) than the Seminoles (34.6) are. Turnovers will be crucial, as quarterback Jameis Winston has thrown an interception in nine games this season. He has to protect the ball because Georgia Tech isn’t going to fall over itself as Florida did a week ago. While the Seminoles aren’t playing like the best team in football, I’d still take their roster over any other in the nation. Look for them to rise to the occasion, and escape with a narrow victory.
Florida State 34 Georgia Tech 31
No. 13 Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Ohio State
Time/TV: 8:17 PM EST Dec. 6, FOX
Outlook: Is a one-loss Ohio State more worthy than Florida State is of making the playoff? If Baylor and Florida State both lose, then final playoff spot will come down to whether Ohio State puts up enough style points against the Badgers. That’s going to be hard without quarterback J.T. Barrett. It took about a month for the Buckeyes to transition from Braxton Miller to Barrett. Now, they have to make the transition from Barrett to Cardale Jones in a week. They also have to do so against one of the best defenses in the Big Ten. Running back Melvin Gordon III receives the notoriety in Madison, but their defense has been just as crucial in their 10 wins as he has. The Badgers allow 16.8 points per game, which is the fourth best in the country. A third string quarterback is not going to overwhelm them, no matter how much speed is around him. Another area of concern for the Buckeyes is their run defense. Minnesota ran for 219 against them three weeks ago, and Indiana ran for 281 against them two weeks ago. Wisconsin matches up well with Ohio State even with Barrett in the lineup. Without him, the scale tips in their favor.
Wisconsin 27 Ohio State 20