By Andrew Holman | Sports Editor
Who’s in? Who’s out? The college football world has been waiting to find that out since the season kicked off on Aug. 26 and that time is rapidly approaching.
The penultimate CFP Rankings have been released and they feature No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide, No. 2 the Ohio State Buckeyes, No. 3 Clemson Tigers and No. 4 Washington Huskies.
Barring a stunning loss at the hands of the Florida Gators, the Alabama Crimson Tide seems to be the only sure lock in the CFP field. Even if the Tide lost to the Gators, it would still be tough for the selection committee to keep it out. The Crimson Tide has spent every week at No. 1 since the CFP Rankings were first released in Week 10.
True freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts is having about as good of a rookie campaign as head coach Nick Saban could have asked for. Hurts has accounted for 33 total touchdowns and has been quite the dual-threat for the Tide. Hurts has accumulated 2,454 yards through the air and has rushed for another 840 yards on the ground heading into the SEC title game.
Quarterback was the big question mark for Saban’s team heading into the year, but now that Hurts is a proven winner, Alabama is solid at just about every position on the field. Its closest margin of victory was a 48-43 win over Ole Miss.
That’s the big concern, however, for the Tide. The SEC had a down year this season, and it’s tough to tell how much Alabama was really tested this season. What happens when it faces a team like Ohio State? Will it still look like far and away the best team in the country? Doubtful.
Unfortunately for Alabama, there is a pretty good chance it will have to take on the Buckeyes of Ohio State after it defeated Michigan 30-27 in double overtime to win The Rivalry for the fifth consecutive year. Although they won’t be playing in the conference title game, the win over the Wolverines solidified the Buckeyes as the best team in a Big 10 Conference that is looked at as the best in college football in 2016.
Ohio State has relied on a young, but formidable secondary that includes Malik Hooker, Gareon Conley and Marshon Lattimore just to name a few. And the Buckeyes have depended on their overall stout defense to keep themselves in playoff contention.
The only thing holding them back at this point is the tendency for the offense to become stagnant at times. They have all kinds of weapons at their disposal but tend to rely too much on J.T. Barrett’s legs rather than taking advantage of the talents of guys like Curtis Samuel.Ohio State’s résumé consists of a pair of impressive road wins over No. 9 Oklahoma and No. 6 Wisconsin as well as a come from behind win in The Horseshoe over No. 5 Michigan. Their lone blemish is a 24-21 loss in State College to No. 7 Penn State, which most likely won’t be enough to keep them out of the CFP.
Yes folks, this means a long awaited knockdown, championship fight between the Tide and the Buckeyes may be on the horizon.
Who’s Probably In?
The Clemson Tigers will enter the ACC Championship game versus Virginia Tech at 11-1 and with wins over No. 12 Florida State, No. 13 Louisville and No. 14 Auburn.
Therefore, Clemson is a virtual lock to make the CFP if they win the ACC Championship. It’s hard to envision head coach Dabo Swinney and his Tigers would slip up against the Hokies like they did to Pittsburgh, but it could happen.
However, with this likely being DeShaun Watson’s final season before he darts for the NFL, the Tigers will likely be a focused bunch heading into the battle with Virginia Tech. And if they win, they are certainly in.
Leading the list of contenders is Washington, who currently holds that coveted final spot in the CFP Rankings.
But the Huskies will have to defeat the No. 8 Colorado Buffaloes in the Pac-12 conference championship in order to hang onto that spot. That will not be an easy task considering the Buffaloes boast the Pac-12’s top defense, which allows just 323 yards per game. If the defense can frustrate Heisman candidate Jake Browning enough, Colorado could very well knock Washington out of the CFP.
In fact, in a battle between two tough defenses, I believe Washington will become a bit shaky under the pressure of CFP implications and will suffer a tight loss to the upset-minded Buffaloes.
With Washington out of the mix, the door is wide open as to which team claims that final spot. The three teams worthy of taking the No. 4 spot would be the Michigan Wolverines, Wisconsin Badgers and the Penn State Nittany Lions. After the Big 10 Championship Game, only Michigan and the winner of Wisconsin versus Penn State will remain in contention.
Being that Michigan beat both of these teams head-to-head though during the season and none of the three have a résumé that compares to the Buckeyes, I believe the committee would rightfully give Michigan the nod.
Michigan versus Ohio State in back-t0-back games with a berth in the CFP Championship on the line sounds pretty good to me. It would instantly become the most important matchup in the two teams’ bitter, historic rivalry.
Moral of the story — stay tuned. It’s going to be an entertaining finish to the end of the 2016-17 college football season.
No. 1 Alabama 23 | No. 4 Michigan 21
No. 2 Clemson 17 | No. 3 Ohio State 34
Championship: No. 1 Alabama 23 | No. 3 Ohio State 24