aNewDomain — One of the best things about the new College Football Playoff is that it gives fans the closest thing they’ll see to crowning a true national champion. The much-maligned Bowl Championship Series, which fortunately took its final post-game Gatorade bath after the 2013 season, paled by comparison to what we now have.
Instead of two teams, we have four that will earn a spot in the postseason tournament. Some fans would rather see a 16-team free-for-all the way the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) decides its title-holder. But sometimes, less is more. Entering this week’s action, the teams ranked 15th, 16th and 17th in the Bowl Playoff standings were North Carolina, Navy and Northwestern. All have serious-enough faults to preclude them from playing for the national title. North Carolina, of course, has a chance to prove its worth in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship against No. 1 Clemson next Saturday. More on that later.
So who is going to make the four-team field? Glad you asked. Here, we present the teams with the best shot at raising the title trophy in January and a few that will be left on the outside.
The Tigers secured their spot atop the polls by beating Notre Dame and Florida State, games they were fortunate enough to play at home. Barely scraping by underachieving rival South Carolina on Saturday won’t knock Clemson from its lofty perch, mainly because the Tigers are one of only two remaining unbeaten teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, what we all used to call Division I.
There’s still one more hurdle to clear for Clemson and quarterback Deshaun Watson: the aforementioned North Carolina in the ACC title game. A pro-Tar Heels crowd will no doubt be gathered in Charlotte, North Carolina as the home state team tries to make an incredibly unlikely run at the postseason tournament. The Tar Heels are dogged by their season-opening loss against what turned out to be a disappointing South Carolina team.
Like Clemson, Alabama has one more game to win to secure its spot. The Crimson Tide has a date with Florida to decide the winner of the Southeastern Conference on Saturday. A Gators upset seems incredibly unlikely given their stumbles down the home stretch (inexcusably close wins against Vanderbilt and Florida Atlantic and a 25-point loss to rival Florida State).
The Crimson Tide has bounced back from a Week 3 defeat against Ole Miss to beat four teams that were ranked in the top 17 when they played them. Fueled by a punishing defense and a late Heisman Trophy contender Derrick Henry, Alabama looks like a lock to be shooting for another national title. The Tide won the title in the 2009, 2011 and 2012 seasons.
A blowout win over rival Oklahoma State on Saturday night in the de facto Big 12 title game surely locked up a spot in the tournament for the Sooners. Since Oklahoma’s regular season is over, the Sooners don’t have to worry about stumbling in a championship conference game and winding up relegated to simply a bowl game with no shot at finishing No. 1.
The one blemish on Oklahoma’s resume is an inexplicable midseason loss to Texas but the Sooners’ play of late has made that a distant memory. Of course, had Notre Dame beaten Stanford on Saturday, we would have had a juicy debate. The luck of the Irish ran out when the Cardinal stormed back in the final 30 seconds to kick a game-winning field goal.
Big 10 Championship Game winner
Iowa (12-0) and Michigan State (11-1) have what amounts to a play-in game when they meet for the conference title in Indianapolis this weekend. Iowa was fortunate to not play Michigan, Michigan State or Ohio State in the regular season. The Hawkeyes’ only wins over ranked teams at the time came at Wisconsin and Northwestern in a span of three weeks. A victory over the Spartans would solidify their spot in the final four.
Michigan State got here by knocking off then-unbeaten Ohio State in its penultimate game. The Spartans’ lone defeat was a one-point loss at Nebraska on a controversial last-minute TD pass. Michigan State has three victories over teams ranked in the top 12, so the Spartans have earned their shot at the postseason.
Just out of the field
Big 10 Championship Game loser: Iowa or Michigan State will have to settle for a Rose Bowl berth.
Ohio State (11-1): The Buckeyes made a strong pitch by routing rival Michigan on Saturday but that loss to Michigan State looms large.
Stanford (10-2): Barring a couple of conference title game upsets, the Pac-12 won’t have a team in the final four. The Cardinal has some business of its own to settle in Saturday’s Pac-12 title game against USC.
Notre Dame (10-2): A late-game facemask penalty against the Irish in the Stanford loss helped the Cardinal move down field for its game-winning field goal. Notre Dame’s two defeats this season came by a combined four points.
Baylor (9-2): The Bears could beat Texas 100-0 this weekend and still remain on the outside looking in. Late-season losses to Oklahoma and Texas Christian killed those hopes.
North Carolina (11-1): First off, it’s hard to see the Tar Heels beating Clemson on Saturday. If that happens, North Carolina will have to do it in convincing fashion to sway the selection committee.
One week to go to decide four teams who will play for a single title. A season of more than three months comes down to one weekend. It’s going to be a great Saturday for couch potatoes.
Photo of Deshaun Watson by: The Associated Press.
Photo of President Obama and the 2009 national title winning Alabama football team by: Lawrence Jackson.
Photo of Urban Meyer by: Adam Glanzman.