Previewing college football Championship Week
The word “meltdown” doesn’t quite suffice.
No, what Ohio State did on Saturday against Michigan requires something more. This wasn’t just a loss to the rival Wolverines at home as a nine-point favorite. The Buckeyes were outcoached, outplayed and obliterated with seemingly everything on the line.
Did I mention they were outcoached?
Oh, and Michigan was essentially without running back Blake Corum, its Heisman candidate, who made a cameo early on but didn’t do much with his injured knee. It didn’t matter. Michigan totaled 530 yards of offense despite a slow and uninspiring start, and Jim Harbaugh conquered Ryan Day for the second consecutive season.
We don’t have enough words to cover just how bad of a loss this was, so let’s get to the point.
A Big Ten Championship? Nope.
A Heisman for C.J. Stroud? Nope.
The College Football Playoff? Extremely unlikely, but you never know.
It was only one game, but The Game was so much more. And while Ryan Day is 33-2 in Big Ten games as head coach, the two losses -- both to Michigan -- are tremendous in scale.
Day had a very rough day on Saturday. He punted when he shouldn’t have. His defense, which he hoped to retool in this offseason, was torched. The Ohio State defensive line, which started off hot, eventually caved in.
I picked Ohio State to win the national championship before the season began. I also picked Stroud to win the Heisman, which felt like it was in good shape before Saturday morning. I did these things because I thought what plagued this team in last year’s game had been addressed. Clearly, very clearly, they were not.
The end result is another long year for Ohio State. And for Day, who has won the vast majority of the games he’s coached, one can’t help but wonder what another loss in this rivalry could mean for his future.
The Appetizer: Football Tidbits and Observations
1. We also need to talk about Michigan, of course. Not terribly long ago, Jim Harbaugh was on the hot seat. Heck, he even took a pay cut to stay at the school he loves. He has since lost only two games and beaten Ohio State twice. He’s also made the playoff both years. (Yes, Michigan is a lock now.) For as conservative as Day was, Harbaugh took chances. He threw the ball deep, let his running back (who converted from defense) throw a pass and applied constant pressure knowing that it would be required. And, for the second year in a row, his team made the Buckeyes quit. Remarkable.
2. The College Football Playoff is, once again, somewhat straightforward. Georgia and Michigan are locks, period. TCU, if it plays tough against Kansas State, will be in. USC is the only remaining intriguing, although that intrigue could be gone by Saturday. If the Trojans win the Pac-12 Championship Game, they’re in. Ohio State is warming in the bullpen for chaos, although it needs help to get there after such a brutal loss. A USC loss and a TCU loss would certainly throw some drama into the mix, but there aren’t a ton of chaos options remaining.
3. Speaking of USC, the Heisman is over. As of late Saturday night, USC QB Caleb Williams was -3000 to win the award; on Sunday, he was -2500. A few weeks ago, he could have been yours at around 10/1. Ohio State’s loss and Corum’s injury have really opened things up on the award front. Oh, and Williams was dazzling against Notre Dame, scoring four touchdowns and creating a slew of incredible plays with his legs. He even posed for the Heisman on the sideline, which feels appropriate.
4. Matt Rhule is a solid hire at Nebraska, although we’ll see what happens now. Given how far Nebraska has fallen, you must consider the addition of Rhule an enormous win. With that being said, it’ll be curious to see how this impacts recruiting and when the momentum of the program changes. Rhule isn’t flashy, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But renovating this program will take time and patience.
5. The Silly Season, college football’s incredible coaching carousel, has lost its mind. As I write this on Sunday morning, many things are transpiring. We will tackle it all in the coming weeks. If you’re wondering why it’s happening earlier and quicker than it used to, the answer is simple: The transfer portal. Free agency in college football, which is what we have, has made it more important to hire a coach earlier than before. It’s getting weird out there, and it might only get weirder.
6. Clemson’s loss was months in the making. Full transparency, I bet the Tigers as two-touchdown favorites against South Carolina. I thought the talent would be too much at too many positions. The secondary, however, was a mess, and the Tigers stayed to the script. Kudos to Shane Beamer, who is about to be paid. And R.I.P. to Clemson’s playoff run.
7. I’m curious what Florida State QB Jordan Travis decides about his future. Travis was excellent against Florida, scoring three touchdowns and delivering some magical moments with his legs in the win. He could declare for the draft, although it would make a great deal of sense for him to come back next year. If he does, he’ll likely be pretty high up on the Heisman odds board. There is a ton of talent, and the program feels like it’s ready to take another step.
The Buffet: The Five Best Games of the Weekend
1. Pac-12 Championship: No. 4 USC (-2, 67) vs. No. 12 Utah
It’s a small number, which makes some sense given how the first matchup between these two teams unfolded. USC jumped out to an enormous lead, Utah stormed back and the Utes ultimately won the game. The Trojans still covered, and they have done a bunch of that lately. They are 5-2 ATS in their last seven games, which includes an impressive showing against Notre Dame on Saturday. Utah has covered the spread in three of the past four, and the one loss was a hard-fought game at Oregon. This game will be played in Vegas, so elements and home field won’t be an issue. I have a slight early lean toward Utah, although I’ll feel this one out throughout the week.
2. Big 12 Championship: No. 3. TCU (-2, 61.5) vs. No. 13 Kansas State
In terms of pure fun, this is the game you want to watch. These two teams played in Week 8, and TCU ultimately won by double digits and covered the 3.5-point spread. In that game, however, the Wildcats were up early before blowing the lead late. (This is TCU, after all.) Since that result, Kansas State has gone 4-1 SU and ATS. The Horned Frogs, still unbeaten, have lost just two games against the spread all year. While they have played in tight games, they demolished Iowa State on Saturday. Kansas State, meanwhile, took care of Kansas with ease. Like Utah, the dog feels incredibly live. K-State is no joke.
3. SEC Championship: No. 1 Georgia (-16.5, 50.5) vs. No. 11 LSU
LSU’s dream season came to a crashing halt at Texas A&M. While it didn’t impact the Tigers’ spot in the conference title game, it was a jarring step back for a team enjoying plenty of love from the College Football Playoff committee. They lost outright as a double-digit favorite, and the bid for a playoff spot is now over. Georgia didn’t lose, although it did start off slow against Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs failed to cover the 36.5-point spread, although they made a run at it in the second half. With a playoff spot all but locked up, one can question just how motivated Georgia will be entering the conference championship. One could also wonder just where LSU is now after such an odd outcome. Weird game, weird stakes.
4. Big Ten Championship: No. 2 Michigan (-16.5, 50) vs. Purdue
We have talked plenty about what happened in Michigan-Ohio State on Saturday, although we can go deeper. In the past six games, unbeaten Michigan has covered the spread four times; like Georgia, however, the Wolverines are already playoff bound. Could that potentially mean a letdown against Purdue is imminent? The Boilermakers have won seven of their past nine games, although they have covered the spread in only two of their past five. These two teams did not meet earlier in the season, and the matchup is at least somewhat intriguing. Based on what we saw on Saturday, it’s safe to assume Corum won’t be much of a factor. This will be a tough one to handicap and size up.
5. ACC Championship: Clemson (-7.5, 61.5) vs. North Carolina
A few weeks ago, this game had juice. Now? Well, it will decide a conference … and that's it. That’s not to say it’s not important, but a College Football Playoff team will not emerge from this outcome. The Tigers lost outright as a 14.5-point favorite. North Carolina lost outright in double OT to NC State as a 6.5-point favorite. The Tar Heels have lost two straight games and failed to cover the spread in three of the past four. Given Clemson’s secondary issues, however, QB Drake Maye must be licking his chops. Still, the Tigers have the athlete advantage at a ton of positions on the field although quarterback isn’t one of them. Despite the issues, Clemson still feels like the play.
Last Call: Parting Shots on Other Games of Note
American Athletic Championship: No. 18 Tulane (-2.5, 57.5) vs. No. 22 UCF
UCF got the best of this matchup during the regular season, winning outright as a one-point underdog. After the Knights struggled against South Florida as a 20-point favorite, however, one can’t help but wonder how difficult it will be to repeat. Oh, and don’t forget that this game will be at Tulane. That could be a big factor.
Mountain West Championship: Boise State (-4.5, 51.5) vs. Fresno State
Well, these two teams are hot after looking less than ideal earlier in the season. The Broncos have covered the spread in six of eight; the Broncos have covered the spread in five of seven. There will likely be points in this one, assuming the weather cooperates in Boise.
Sun Belt Championship: Troy (-7.5, 48) vs. Coastal Carolina
What the heck happened to Coastal Carolina last week? James Madison blasted the Chanticleers, and Troy is no joke. Coastal will have to turn it around quickly after that. Tall order.