GameDay Final: Ohio State is the best bet to stop Alabama in the CFP – ESPN

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Sometime on Monday, members of the College Football Playoff selection committee will gather in Grapevine, Texas, to start discussing which four teams should occupy the top four spots in their latest rankings.

They’ll weigh several factors when debating the teams, like won-loss records, strength of schedule, conference strength and nonconference victories.

But with only one week to go before the committee selects the four teams that will actually compete in the playoff, let’s propose that the committee add this to its selection criteria: Who can beat No. 1 Alabama?

Brutus Buckeye celebrated among a sea of Buckeyes fans after Ohio State’s thrilling win over Michigan. Joe Maiorana/USA TODAY Sports

Now, I know what you’re thinking Alabama fans (nobody!), but humor me for a minute.

After 13 weeks of action, the CFP picture remains as muddled as ever. In fact, No. 2 Ohio State’s 30-27 win over No. 3 Michigan in two overtimes might have been the worst thing that could have happened to the selection committee.

If No. 7 Penn State beats No. 6 Wisconsin in next week’s Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis, can the committee really pick Ohio State and not select Penn State, which won the Big Ten and beat the Buckeyes? Sure, it can. In the past, the committee has said that a nonconference champion has to be “unequivocally better” than conference champions.

“I think we’ve proven ourselves with our strength of schedule and how we played,” Buckeyes defensive end Sam Hubbard said. “It doesn’t really matter if we go to the Big Ten championship game. What we’ve done speaks for itself.”

But bypassing a conference champion for a team that didn’t even win its division might set a dangerous precedent. And if Penn State defeats Wisconsin, and the committee then decides to take both the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions, is it going to leave out potential ACC champion Clemson or potential Pac-12 champion Washington to select a second Big Ten team? That would go over like political discussion at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

Alabama’s defense turned in another dominant performance, this time in a win over Auburn. John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports

Only one thing appears clear as we’re headed toward more college football postseason controversy: Alabama is clearly No. 1. The Crimson Tide won their 24th consecutive game on Saturday, beating No. 13 Auburn 30-12 in the Iron Bowl. The Tide, the only remaining unbeaten team from a Power 5 conference, will play No. 15 Florida in next week’s SEC championship game in the Georgia Dome.

How dominant has the Crimson Tide been this season? The Alabama defense didn’t allow a touchdown in four November games, and none of its opponents (LSU, Mississippi State, Chattanooga and Auburn) drove inside the Tide’s 10-yard line.

So as the committee begins its latest deliberations, it should seriously consider which of the other playoff contenders are best equipped to stack up with the Crimson Tide.

With that in mind, here are the top contenders:

1. Ohio State: If you’ve been watching Alabama’s Nick Saban and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer for the past decade or so, it sure seems like it’s their world and college football only lives in it.

For much of this season, it seemed like Saban and Meyer were headed for another collision course that would have some impact on which team won a national title. No matter the offenses, decade or opposition (hello, Jim Harbaugh), Saban and Meyer seem to be just so much better than everyone else.

The Buckeyes weren’t supposed to be back so soon after losing more than a dozen players to the NFL draft. But Meyer and his staff have done a tremendous coaching job and once again have their team in position to make the playoff.

2 Related

The last time Meyer and Saban squared off, the Crimson Tide were the No. 1 seed in the inaugural playoff in 2014. The No. 4 Buckeyes stunned the Tide 42-35 in the semifinals at the Sugar Bowl, despite having Cardale Jones, a third-string quarterback, making his second career start. Ohio State went on to beat Oregon 42-20 in the CFP National Championship Game to give Meyer his third national title.

2. Clemson: The Tigers nearly knocked off the Crimson Tide in last season’s CFP National Championship. Clemson had a 24-21 lead in the fourth quarter, but then Alabama scored and Saban called for an onside kick. It was the turning point in the Tide’s 45-40 victory.

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson hasn’t been as sharp, and Clemson’s defense hasn’t been as fierce this season, but the Tigers seem to be hitting their stride at the right time. Watson threw for 347 yards with six touchdowns in a 56-7 rout of South Carolina. If the Tigers beat Virginia Tech in next week’s ACC championship game in Orlando, they should make the playoff.

3. Washington: Alabama routed USC 52-6 in its Sept. 3 opener. Washington lost to the Trojans 26-13 on Nov. 12. No contest, right? Maybe not.

The Huskies have the Pac-12’s most efficient quarterback (Jake Browning), a dynamic runner (Myles Gaskin) and a receiver (John Ross) who can stretch defenses vertically. Of course, Washington was pushed around by USC’s defense, and Alabama’s defense is much better. But Washington coach Chris Petersen pulled off a couple of the biggest upsets of the BCS era as Boise State’s coach.

4. Michigan: The Wolverines’ chances of making the playoff were dramatically reduced by their loss at Ohio State. But if Clemson, Washington and/or Penn State were to fall in their respective conference championship games, the Wolverines might still have a pulse with the committee.

There’s no shame in falling by three points in double overtime on the road against the country’s No. 2-ranked team. The Wolverines might even remain in the top four, for now. Michigan dominated Ohio State for much of the game and was on the wrong end of a couple of officiating calls late. But if the aforementioned teams win this coming weekend, the Wolverines will probably have to settle for a New Year’s Six bowl game.

If the Wolverines somehow sneak into the playoff, though, they might be equipped on defense to slow down the Tide. They pressured Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett throughout Saturday’s game, sacking him eight times and knocking him down often, and he never seemed comfortable standing in the pocket. Barrett is a junior and has played on plenty of big stages. How might Alabama freshman Jalen Hurts respond under such pressure?

Playoff teams after Week 13

1. Alabama: The Crimson Tide will undoubtedly remain No. 1 in the selection committee’s rankings after winning their 24th consecutive game, 30-12 over rival Auburn in the Iron Bowl. Freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts completed 27 of 36 passes for 286 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The Crimson Tide play No. 15 Florida in next week’s SEC championship game in Atlanta.

2. Ohio State: Even if the Buckeyes didn’t win the Big Ten East and won’t play in the Big Ten championship game, they seem to be a pretty safe pick to be one of the four teams in the playoff. Along with their 30-27 victory in two overtimes over No. 3 Michigan, the Buckeyes won at Oklahoma and Wisconsin and blasted then-No. 10 Nebraska by 59 points. The selection committee will have a much easier decision if Penn State doesn’t win a Big Ten title.

3. Clemson: The Tigers rudely welcomed first-year South Carolina coach Will Muschamp to the in-state rivalry by blasting the Gamecocks 56-7 at Death Valley. After struggling earlier this season, Clemson’s offense seems to be firing on all cylinders now. Quarterback Deshaun Watson fired six touchdowns, including three to Mike Williams. The Tigers will play Virginia Tech in next week’s ACC championship game in Orlando.

4. Washington: The Huskies should be the biggest beneficiary of Michigan’s loss — as long as they take care of business in next week’s Pac-12 championship game against Colorado. Washington routed No. 23 Washington State 45-17 in Friday’s Apple Cup, putting together its most complete performance in over a month. As long as Washington wins the Pac-12 and finishes 12-1, it should be in good shape for one of the four spots in the playoff.

Next four in contention

Jim Harbaugh was not happy with the officiating during Michigan’s loss to Ohio State. Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

1. Michigan: The Wolverines aren’t completely out of the playoff race after their two-overtime loss at Ohio State, but they’re probably going to need a couple of teams ahead of them to fall in conference championship games. The Wolverines have head-to-head victories over three other contenders, beating Colorado by 17 points, Penn State by 39 and Wisconsin by 7, which should help their cause.

2. Wisconsin: The Badgers rallied from a 10-point deficit at the half by outscoring Minnesota 24-0 in the second half of a 31-17 victory. Wisconsin clinched the Big Ten West and will play Penn State in next week’s Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis. It was the Badgers’ sixth consecutive victory and their 13th straight win over the Gophers.

3. Penn State: The Nittany Lions continued their breakout campaign under coach James Franklin by defeating Michigan State 45-12, their eighth consecutive victory, to end the regular season with a 10-2 mark. It’s Penn State’s first 10-win season since 2009 and the first time they beat Michigan State and Ohio State in the same season since 2008.

4. Oklahoma: The Sooners still need a lot of help to get into the top four. They had the weekend off as they prepare for next week’s showdown against No. 10 Oklahoma State in the Bedlam game. They’ll finish the season with a nine-game winning streak and second straight Big 12 title if they knock off the Pokes. OU has defeated OSU in 11 of their last 13 meetings and 13 of the last 17 under coach Bob Stoops.

Heisman candidates

Lamar Jackson turned the ball over four times in Louisville’s loss to Kentucky, but it’s still hard to imagine him being overtaken in the Heisman Trophy race. Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY Sports

1. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville: Jackson played poorly for the second week in a row, but at this point it seems he’ll win the Heisman by default. He had four turnovers in the Cardinals’ 41-38 loss to Kentucky, including a fumble with 1:45 to go, which set up the Wildcats’ winning field goal. He threw for 281 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions and ran 25 times for 171 yards with two scores.

2. Dede Westbrook, WR, Oklahoma: Can Westbrook close the gap on Jackson with a monster performance in next week’s Bedlam showdown against rival Oklahoma State? He leads the Sooners with 70 catches for 1,354 yards and 15 touchdowns. All but 17 catches and 154 receiving yards have come in the last eight games.

3. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson: Watson passed for six touchdowns in the Tigers’ rout of South Carolina, becoming the third player in ACC history to be responsible for at least 100 touchdowns in his career. He’s 29-3 in his Clemson career and can win his second ACC championship next week against Virginia Tech.

4. Jake Browning, QB, Washington: Browning completed 21 of 29 passes for 292 yards with three touchdowns in the Huskies’ 45-17 rout at Washington State. It was his eighth game with three touchdowns or more this season. So far, he’s completing 65 percent of his passes for 3,162 yards with 40 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Best moments

1. Kansas State’s players carried coach Bill Snyder off the field after his 200th victory at the school, a 34-19 win over rival Kansas.

2. Derek Mason earned the right to dance after seeing Vanderbilt to its sixth win with a 45-34 victory over Tennessee.

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