In the craziest season ever in college football, we hit the holiday stretch and find ourselves with teams and conferences juggling schedules and trying to save as many games as possible as Covid-19 still is impacting the season.
In recent years, Alabama and LSU would be one of the marquee games of the season. Now there is a chance that game won't be played. The Tigers are dealing with another outbreak of the virus and the SEC is not sure if one its biggest games on the schedule will be played. And that is just one of three SEC games not being played this weekend,
And as teams maneuver their way through the season, just how many remain in the hunt for the national championship and be a playoff team. Here's a look at what's left in each conference:
ACC: Notre Dame(1) won the biggest game of the year beating Clemson. The Irish are at BC and North Carolina the next two weeks. The Tar Heels could present a challenge but Brian Kelly's team has a strong chance of going 11-0 and making the conference title game. That game could be a rematch with Clemson(2). With Trevor Lawrence back, the Tigers are off before playing at struggling FSU, host Pitt and end the regular season at Virginia Tech. They should be 10-1 and meet Notre Dame again. The biggest question is if Clemson wins a close game, would the playoff committee still consider Notre Dame as one of their four teams? My feeling is yes. What about Miami? The Canes may win out and be left out. Miami needs a regular season loss by Clemson to get to the title game and that doesn't seem likely.
Big XII: No one. Oklahoma State is the only league team with one loss and may lose at Oklahoma next weekend.
Big Ten: If Ohio State(3) wins out, they are in. The Buckeyes get unbeaten Indiana(4) at home next week. Should the Hoosiers pull off the major upset in Columbus, they would be a contender for make the final four. The west side of the conference features unbeaten Northwestern and Wisconsin. It would be a surprise if either runs the table.
Pac 12: Oregon(5) is ranked 11th and could win all six of their regular season games and a conference title, but would the Ducks be left out if they only had seven games on their resume verses an 11-1 Notre Dame or a 9-1 Texas A&M team with an only loss to Alabama. USC rallied to beat Arizona State last week and is ranked 20th. That is a long road to move up and be part of the discussion and the feeling is the Trojans are not that strong and are not likely to run the table.
SEC: Alabama(6) is ranked number one for the 13th consecutive season and the Tide are a lock for the playoffs if they win out. Florida(7) controls its destiny for the playoff if they win out. Texas A&M(8) is a playoff contender. The Aggies lone loss was to Alabama. Should Jimbo Fisher's team win out, they would be a team that could get in with an Alabama win in the conference title game.
Others: Cincinnati(9) could be the playoff buster. The Bearcats face UCF next week in Orlando and play three straight road games to end the season. They would need a few upsets elsewhere and the resume may be shaky when compared to the teams listed above.If they win out, they would have wins over Army, SMU, Memphis, UCF and Tulsa- but would that be good enough? Unlike UCF in 2017 or 2018, there appears to be a more favorable media position on Cincinnati. Those UCF teams faced media criticism about their strength of schedule and the Bearcats are avoiding that in a season dealing with Covid-19. They also have benefitted in the polls when the Big Ten and Pac 12 originally decided to not play and Cincinnati got poll respect. The same can be said for BYU(10). The 8-0 Cougars play North Alabama and San Diego State. They should be 10-0 and their national brand may put them in the mix. They too have a more favorable media view than UCF a few years back but is there a ranking ceiling? BYU scrambled to put a schedule together and their best win is Boise State- who used a 3rd and 4th string quarterback. Liberty and Coastal Carolina are great stories and both are unbeaten. Neither has a shot to make the playoffs and, in fact, they play against each other in the final game of the season.
So we are down to 10 teams in the mix for four playoff spots. And here's a scenario to consider: if Alabama and Ohio State win out, they are in. And if Clemson beats Notre Dame in the ACC title game, they would be in. The fourth spot may indeed come down to an 11-1 Notre Dame, an unbeaten Oregon, Cincinnati or BYU.For Gator fans, the patch is simple but challenging. Florida needs to win them all and they are in. Of course that means beating Alabama. But heck, this is 2020 and no one knows what's going to happen.
Final thought: It's impossible to tickle yourself.
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