First and 20: Chaos reigns in CFP selections

Anthony Gimino

November 20, 2016 at 11:53 am.

Nov 19, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA;  Ohio State Buckeyes celebrate a win over the Michigan State Spartans after a game at Spartan Stadium. Photo Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 19, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes celebrate a win over the Michigan State Spartans after a game at Spartan Stadium. Photo Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The College Football Playoff selection committee has had it easy in its first two seasons, with by-the-chalk conference champs and four easily-slotted teams.

Perhaps this season’s down-the-stretch chaos will turn into similar clarity, but this is the year in which the committee might have to order a few more pots of room-service coffee to figure it all out. With two weeks to go, we’ve got nine teams in the running (so long, Louisville).

1. Alabama. The Tide is the nation’s only team with margin of error. A loss to Auburn or a loss to Florida in the SEC title game would cost the Tide seeding but not an actual playoff berth.

2. Ohio State. Having barely survived another knee-capping attempt by Michigan State, the Buckeyes need to beat Michigan and have the Spartans knock off Penn State to win the Big Ten East. Worst case scenario for an 11-1 Ohio State — Penn State wins the Big Ten. The committee wouldn’t — couldn’t? — jump the Buckeyes over the Nittany Lions. Could it?

3. Michigan. Just win. Beat Ohio State, win the conference title game … but do it with backup quarterback John O’Korn.

4. Clemson. The Tigers have rival South Carolina to wrap up the regular season and then the ACC title game against North Carolina or Virginia Tech. Win, win and in.

5. Washington. Strength of schedule will hound the Huskies until the end. They finish at Washington State, whose resume took a hit with a loss at Colorado on Saturday. Best-case scenario: Utah beats Colorado (which allows USC to win the Pac-12 South) and U-Dub gets a chance to pay back its only loss in the conference title game. Even then, would the committee prefer, say, 11-1 Ohio State, a non-champ with a superior resume?

6. Wisconsin. The 9-2 Badgers can clinch the Big Ten West with a win over Minnesota. With any luck, they would get Michigan or Ohio State in the conference title game, avenging one of their defeats while ending the season on a seven-game winning streak.

7. Penn State. The title two-step is beating never-say-die Michigan State at home while Ohio State beats Michigan. Would a Big Ten championship be enough for Penn State, which suffered both of its two losses early before its defense got healthy? Gotta say yes, given that the Big Ten has been the nation’s best conference.

8. Oklahoma. The Sooners are doing what they can, winning 56-28 at West Virginia and having a chance to run the table in the Big 12 when they host Oklahoma State on Dec. 3. Chaos elsewhere is a must to boost the Sooners’ chances, because the Big 12 has done Oklahoma exactly zero favors in a weak, weak year.

9. Colorado. Definitely the longest shot on the list, but the surprising — no, make that shocking — Buffs handled Washington State, can win the Pac-12 South by knocking off Utah on Saturday and could get Washington in the league title game. Colorado in the four-team playoff? Feels like Butler making the basketball Final Four.

10 things we learned in Week 12

1. Charlie Strong is done. There is plenty of room somewhere in college football for a good guy who does it the right way, but there isn’t room at Texas for a coach who has gone 16-20 and loses to Kansas in his third season.

2. Ed Orgeron isn’t going to be the head coach of LSU. Perhaps it’s too simple to reduce it to this, but when Orgeron’s running back went the wrong way and the Tigers couldn’t punch it in from the 1 on the final play vs. Florida, the LSU administration was absolved from any pressure to keep Coach O.

3. Oregon’s Mark Helfrich might survive. The Ducks pulled off a 30-28 upset at Utah for their embattled coach, whose savior could be true freshman quarterback Justin Herbert. Oregon (4-7) won’t get to a bowl, but the program’s foundation might not be hopelessly broken.

4. The best story of the season is Joe Thomas Sr. The 55-year-old walk-on at South Carolina State — the father of Packers linebacker Joe Thomas Jr. — played on Senior Day, rushing four times for minus-1 yard. He then used his AARP card at an early buffet.

5. No, the season’s best story is Pitt’s James Conner. The running back came back from a 2015 knee injury — and cancer — and he has rushed for 945 yards and 14 touchdowns, setting the ACC career touchdowns record on Saturday.

6. The service academies are rocking. Navy is 8-2 and is the champ of the American Athletic Conference’s West division. Army is bowl eligible for just the second time since 1996. Air Force is 8-3. If undefeated Western Michigan stumbles, hold off on awarding the Group of Five’s big-bowl spot until the Navy plays Army on Dec. 10.

7. Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver is the nation’s best non-QB true freshman. If there was any lingering doubt, he erased it with two sacks, three tackles for loss and two pass break-ups against Heisman-leading Lamar Jackson on Thursday night. Oliver has 19.5 tackles for loss.

8. Tennessee thinks rushing defense is overrated. The injury-wracked Vols have allowed more than 400 rushing yards in their past two games — and won both. Four of their past five SEC foes have gained at least 350 on the ground. Tennessee won’t win the SEC East, but not having to play Alabama again is a good thing, yes?

9. The easiest All-American call is Zane Gonzalez. Arizona State’s senior kicker booted a 50-yard field goal Saturday, making him 7 of 8 this season from 50-plus.

10. Easiest job in sports is Tom Herman’s agent. The bottom line on his next contract just went up with Houston’s win over Louisville. Take your pick of jobs, Tom. Choose wisely, my friend.

5 top Heisman candidates

1. QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville. A stinker of a game in a loss to Houston brought the rest of the Heisman field back into the play, but Jackson still has the nation’s best resume.

2. QB Sam Darnold, USC. He has led the Trojans to seven consecutive victories and is the hottest quarterback in the Conference of Quarterbacks. He threw for 267 yards and two scores against a very good UCLA defense in a 36-14 victory in the crosstown rivalry.

3. QB Jalen Hurts, Alabama. He’s the hot-shot quarterback on the nation’s undisputed No. 1 team, and here’s the key thing — he has big stages left against stout defenses: Auburn and the SEC title game against Florida.

4. QB J.T. Barrett, Ohio State/LB Jabrill Peppers, Michigan. Only one of these guys will be on a winning team Saturday. Side bet: Heisman invite to the victor?

5. Some running back. Take your pick: D’Onta Foreman of Texas (the nation’s rushing leader), San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey (No. 3 in FBS career rushing) or Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, who has been reminding us in the past month that, when healthy, he’s still Christian McCaffrey.

5 games to watch in Week 13

1. Michigan at Ohio State (Saturday, noon ET) — Urban Meyer vs. Jim Harbaugh, Round 2. And it’s for a whole bunch of marbles.

2. Washington at Washington State (Friday, 3:30 p.m. ET) — This will be the biggest Apple Cup since … well, in a long, long time — as the winner takes the Pac-12 North.

3. Michigan State at Penn State (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET) — The title-seeking Nittany Lions will have to earn every inch against Sparty, whose disappointing 3-8 season has left just one goal — wreck somebody else’s dream.

4. Utah at Colorado (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET) — We’ve been trying to tell you. The Buffs aren’t a fluke. They can win the Pac-12 South but they’ll have to prevail in the first “Rumble in the Rockies” that really means something.

5. Auburn at Alabama (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET) — It’s the Iron Bowl. That should be enough. If not, totally worth it to see two national top-seven defenses trade haymakers.