For very many years, college football fans clamored for a Playoff. The NCAA, in all of their infinite wisdom, finally said, “Sure! Oh, but only four teams can participate — after all, we can’t make this too fair!”
So now this time each year for college football fans, Tuesday nights have become as important as Saturday afternoons. Because while most battles get settled on the field over the weekend, Tuesday is when the College Football Playoff rankings are announced, and we find out how a committee has ordered the best college football teams in the country. And this week, more than ever before, there are likely to be a bunch of angry fans.
We know for certain of two teams that will be in the Big Four. Ohio State (9-0) has coasted all season, drubbing a bunch of subpar opponents. Wisconsin was their toughest test so far, and the Buckeyes thumped them 38-7. Ohio State still has Penn State and Michigan on the schedule, but those two increasingly look less formidable than they did a few weeks ago. Nobody is mentioning Ohio State QB Justin Fields as a Heisman front-runner, but for what it’s worth the kid has almost 1,900 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and 1 interception. One interception!
Of course, the reason Fields isn’t in the Heisman mix is because LSU quarterback Joe Burrow has his Tigers rolling. LSU is currently 9-0, and have scored wins against a handful of ranked, quality teams, from Texas to Auburn, most recently getting a W while putting up 46 points in Tuscaloosa.
After those two teams? Welcome to chaos.
To be fair, Clemson probably deserves to be in the mix of locked-in teams, since they are the defending champs and are currently 10-0. At the same time, Clemson’s toughest opponent yet was Texas A&M, who stinks, and who Clemson beat by 14. Clemson’s closest game was against North Carolina, who was within 1 point and inexplicably decided to not try and tie the game and win it in overtime; instead they lost in regulation. After that their strength of schedule is basically a wasteland populated by faded IPTAY stickers being blown through the air.
Then things get spicy. As I see it, there are six other teams in play for the fourth spot. Oklahoma (8-1) was looking good until the Sooner Schooner flipped over, literally and figuratively, and at this point I’m not sure how they get back into the mix. Utah (8-1) and Oregon (8-1) are both chilling out West, and will likely face off in the Pac-12 championship game, but even with one eliminating the other, they’re both likely dunzo. Minnesota is 9-0, which includes big wins over teams such as Penn State and well, that’s it. But they can stamp their own ticket if they beat Ohio State in the Big 10 Championship game.
This leaves two teams, Georgia and Alabama. Each of them are 9-1. Alabama has really only played one tough team, which was LSU, and they lost at home. UGA has beaten a few good teams (Florida, Notre Dame) but lost to South Carolina(!).
So which team will get the nod? LIke I said, it’s chaos out there. Luckily for Bama, Nick Saban can make order out of pretty much anything.
This week Alabama plays poor Mississippi State, who find themselves in an even worse position than they usually find themselves each week. Then Alabama plays Western Carolina, and then Auburn. To have a shot at making the Final Four, Alabama has to win all three of these games and win them convincingly. And they will.
The nightmare scenario, of course, is if Alabama wins out; UGA wins out (they play at Auburn, home against Texas A&M, and then at Georgia Tech); LSU wins out (at Ole Miss, home against Arkansas, then at Texas A&M). And then somehow UGA beats LSU in the SEC Championship game. You’d have three elite teams from the SEC, where as you know it just means more, each with one loss. Alabama would have a loss to LSU, LSU would have a loss to UGA, and UGA would have a loss to South Carolina (LOL).
This is where it would come down to the human element — which team would the voters favor — and this is where Nick Saban knows how to work things. Here’s my guess: Saban, who is usually unusually prickly with the media, will at some point in the next few weeks come out and make an appearance on a high-profile network that will be friendly toward him — let’s guess ESPN. He’ll start arguing his case for Bama, trying to spread the word that despite all the injuries Alabama has been through this season, they deserve to be among the top four teams.
(It is true that Alabama has had a lot of injuries this season. It is also true that Alabama’s roster is almost entirely filled with 5- and 4-star recruits, so even Alabama’s backups are better than most team’s starters.)
For all his grumpiness and frumpiness, Nick Saban understands how to get things done. Whether it’s recruiting or roster management or hiring/firing assistant coaches or getting red fricking lights installed in the football stadium, you put a task in front of him and he will top-down manage his way into completing that task. This is what has made Saban one of the greatest college coaches of all time, if not THE greatest.
This season he has a different job than most years: Get Alabama into that Final Four. Excuses may fly elsewhere, but not in Tuscaloosa. This just wasn’t their year? Yeah, right. This is a franchise built to win a title every single year, and coming up short is not a valid answer. Usually they get in by winning. This year, they’ll have to get in by arguing. And there is no finer advocate to have on your side than Nick Saban.
So while we wait to see how some of these scenarios play out on the field thanks to conference championships and closed-door committees, for Alabama to make it to the College Football Playoff, all they can do is win out and wait while Saban does his thing.
And for the rest of us, just sit back and watch the master do work.