Which four schools will make it to the College Football Playoff the last week of December? I begin with Clemson and Alabama, thus joining everybody else with an opinion.
I can only guess how many times Nick Saban has studied his low Tide (16-44) vs. Clemson in last season’s final. Obviously, he thirsts for a rematch. And he may be rewarded.
Who will join the Big Two is a bigger puzzle. Leading candidates include Ohio State and Michigan of the Big Ten, Oklahoma and Texas of the Big 12, Oregon and Washington of the Pac-12, Georgia and Florida of the SEC and independent Notre Dame.
I’m predicting Michigan and Washington will join Clemson and Alabama.
Admittedly, Michigan is a risky choice. Part of my reasoning focuses on the committee, which has snubbed the Big Ten conference the last two years. That’s bad business. The Big Ten produces huge TV ratings, and that means more money for the colleges in the next contract. Barring a performance meltdown, I cannot see the conference being snubbed a third straight season.
The easy selection is Ohio State. The Buckeyes buried Michigan last year 62-39. But there are three reasons I’m looking elsewhere in the Big Ten.
No one knows if Ryan Day is as good a coach as Urban Meyer was, especially on game day. Urban stepped away a perfect 7-0 against “that team up north,” as Woody Hayes always referred to Michigan.
This year’s showdown will be played at Ann Arbor, and Jim Harbaugh is counting on senior QB Shea Patterson and an excellent offensive line to give him his first victory (0-4) against Ohio State
Dwayne Haskins is now a Washington Redskin quarterback, which means Day is counting on Georgia transfer Justin Fields to keep the Buckeyes atop the Big Ten and a return to the Final Four.
As for the final team, it boiled down to Oklahoma, Texas, Oregon and Washington. The schedule – and two more transfer QBs – led me to the Huskies of the Pac-12.
Coach Chris Petersen and his team lost their opener a year ago to Auburn 21-16 at Atlanta. This year Washington opens against Eastern Washington followed by California and Hawaii. All three games will be played at Seattle, and that signals a strong start for transfer QB Jacob Eason. Because of an injury his sophomore season at Georgia, Eason never regained his job from Jake Fromm. There’s no shame in losing out to Fromm, and Eason has something to prove back in his home state.
Oregon is led by QB Justin Herbert, a future NFL first-rounder. But guess what? This season the Ducks draw the Auburn Tigers on Aug. 31 at Arlington, Texas. Their rivalry game against Washington will be played at Seattle. The schedule works against the Ducks as it does against Texas. The Longhorns host LSU early September, and that’s a tall order for a team replacing three offensive-line starters.
The last school I eliminated was Oklahoma. I have tremendous respect for Lincoln Riley’s program in Norman, but I’m not convinced Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts is a good fit for the Air Raid attack orchestrated by Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray the last four seasons. There’s enormous pressure on OU’s offense to score enough to overcome a very average defense. But if Hurts blossoms, the Sooners will be in the Final Four argument.
So who wins the championship? Roll Tide! Alabama avenges last year’s debacle. Nick Saban wins his sixth national championship, and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa also hoists the Heisman. As usual, it’s a good time to be in Tuscaloosa.