Skip to main content

Rivalry week set to bring the playoff picture into focus; Punt, Pass & Pork

Punt, Pass & Pork: Looking ahead to rivalry week and its College Football Playoff implications.

We made it. College football’s dullest weekend of the year is over, and its most exciting one will begin on Thursday as we digest turkey and all the side dishes I’ll be ranking a few sections down in this column. Other than Ole Miss getting shelled by Arkansas, not much happened this week to shake up the College Football Playoff selection committee’s rankings. That’s good. A little stability will make the potential chaos to come that much more exciting.

After enduring a Saturday with little on the line, get ready for three days loaded with high-stakes games. Those games fall into three categories.

1. Playoff contenders versus teams that have no shot at making the playoff but are just good enough to completely ruin the contenders’ seasons

The last slice of pumpkin pie won’t even be consumed on Thursday when 9-1 TCU kicks off in Austin against a Texas team that has looked like a completely different beast in the past month. Malcom Brown is playing like the best defensive tackle in country, and the Longhorns barely resemble the ragtag crew that got destroyed by BYU earlier this season. They still struggle on offense, though, and if they can’t move the ball, the Horned Frogs will wear out the Texas defense with the sheer volume of plays they’ll run. But if Tyrone Swoopes can guide the Longhorns to a few scores, cheers could go up in Waco and Columbus by the end of the night.

On Saturday in Tallahassee, Florida will visit undefeated Florida State. The Seminoles squeaked out a 20-17 win over Boston College on a last-second field goal this week, and now they’ll face a team motivated to send its fired coach out with a victory. The last time the Gators visited Doak Campbell Stadium with a fired coach at the helm to face a superior Seminoles squad was 2004, when Florida State dedicated Bobby Bowden Field and Ron Zook went out a winner. The consequences of that loss weren’t so dire; Florida State had two losses coming into the game. If the Seminoles lose this one, they would combine that loss to a mediocre team with a schedule short on quality wins. Unless a few other teams took losses as well, that would push them out of the selection committee’s top four. Like Texas, Florida is decent on defense and one-dimensional on offense. If the ‘Noles keep the Gators floundering offensively, the offense should have the ball enough to wear out Florida’s defense. If not, Waco, Columbus and Fort Worth -- depending on Thursday’s result -- could be cheering. The noise out of Memphis would be Will Muschamp’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, fielding calls offering Muschamp seven-figure salaries to coach the defenses of various teams.

Meanwhile, two SEC rivalry games will feature teams that appear in the selection committee’s top four facing teams that once appeared in the top four and now have no hope of getting back. The Egg Bowl and Iron Bowl will decide the SEC West, and they'll also decide whether Mississippi State and Alabama stay in the playoff hunt. For Alabama, it’s simple: A win over Auburn in Tuscaloosa would give the Crimson Tide the West title and likely keep them atop the rankings. Mississippi State would need to combine a win over Ole Miss with an Alabama loss to win the West, but the Bulldogs (No. 4 in this week’s rankings) should remain on the happy side of the cut line with a victory. Auburn and Ole Miss can win bragging rights and better bowl position, but each would be satisfied with ruining its rival’s hopes.

2. Games that will decide division titles but don’t currently have playoff implications

The Pac-12 has ripped a page from the English Premier League, starting the games that will decide the South Division at the same time on the same day. At 3:30 p.m. ET on Friday, Stanford will kick off at UCLA and Arizona State will kick off at Arizona. The only team that controls its fate is UCLA. If the Bruins beat the Cardinal, they win the South. If they lose, the winner of the Territorial Cup will win the South and face Oregon the next Friday in Santa Clara, Calif., for the Pac-12 title. Since the division winner is guaranteed to have two losses, and since many one-loss contenders are playing losable games, that Pac-12 championship could turn into a semifinal play-in game.

By the time those games start out west, they’ll be in the second quarter in Columbia, Mo. Arkansas might be the hottest team in college football after beating LSU and Ole Miss by a combined score of 47-0 in the past two weeks, but Missouri has something for which to play. A Tigers victory would clinch a second consecutive SEC East title. Meanwhile, Georgia players will watch two teams they destroyed duke it out to decide whether the Bulldogs get to play for the SEC championship. The hogs will be called in Athens if Arkansas wins its third conference game in a row after previously failing to win one since 2012.

On Saturday, Minnesota and Wisconsin will decide the Big Ten West Division title in Madison. The winner will face Ohio State, which faces a dilemma. The Buckeyes just beat the Golden Gophers on a bitterly cold day in Minneapolis. They would likely have an easier time handling them in a warm dome in Indianapolis. The committee would probably look more favorably on a win over Wisconsin, but watching video of Badgers tailback Melvin Gordon tends to send defenders into the fetal position. This, of course, is assuming Ohio State beats Michigan and remains in the playoff race. Everyone assumes Ohio State will beat Michigan in what looks to be coach Brady Hoke’s final game for the Wolverines.

3. The game that has no playoff stakes and won’t decide a division but still counts for something

Virginia Tech and Virginia are each 5-6. Each school’s coach is on the hot seat. They’ll meet Friday at Lane Stadium with a trip to a mediocre bowl on the line. What does that mean? It means things will get weird, and that’s why we’ll watch.

Projected College Football Playoff

I don’t think the selection committee will move any teams this week, but I swapped two because one résumé got better while another got worse.

1. Oregon

The Ducks’ 44-10 rout of Colorado was nothing special for a title contender, but other events on Saturday improved Oregon’s résumé. UCLA, which Oregon beat 42-30 -- and it wasn’t really that close -- in Pasadena on Oct. 11, moved to 9-2 by throttling USC 38-20. Meanwhile, the team that beat Oregon (Arizona) moved to 9-2 by whipping Utah 42-10 in Salt Lake City. That loss looked fluky when it happened because of the 24-point spread, but now it appears the Ducks -- then hobbled by offensive line injuries -- were beaten by a quality foe. Add all this to a Week 2 win over Michigan State (9-2), and Oregon has the best body of work.

2. Alabama

The Crimson Tide’s best win (a 25-20 victory over 10-1 Mississippi State) remains excellent, but their 23-17 loss at Ole Miss on Oct. 4 looks worse after Arkansas -- which nearly beat Alabama in Fayetteville -- smashed the Rebels 30-0. Alabama still has the Iron Bowl and, with a win there, the SEC Championship Game to bolster its résumé. The two teams at the top could flip-flop yet again.

GLICKSMAN: Three thoughts on the playoff race after Week 13

3. Florida State

The Seminoles are what they are. They play games down to the wire. But guess what? They haven’t lost. While I still don’t think Florida State could survive one of its sloppy starts against Oregon or Alabama, the Seminoles have the talent to beat anybody else playing that way. The committee has also dropped the ‘Noles to No. 3, and it could conceivably drop Florida State again after a three-point win over Boston College, although that seems unlikely.

4. Baylor

The Bears handled Oklahoma State 49-28 in the rain in Waco. That’s not a huge achievement this season, but a committee enamored of the game control stat probably respects a wire-to-wire win. Of course, the committee still thinks TCU’s résumé -- read: its victory over Minnesota -- overcomes Baylor’s head-to-head win against the Horned Frogs on Oct. 11. The committee also has Mississippi State ahead of the Bears despite the fact that neither played a quality nonconference foe and Baylor has a superior best win (TCU). I disagree, but I don’t get a vote.

A random ranking

Time to rank the best Thanksgiving side dishes. Hopefully this will be an annual fixture of Punt, Pass & Pork. Warning: No. 1 is the king of all side dishes and will never, ever drop. Its meal control metric is off the charts.

1. Mac and cheese
2. Mashed potatoes and gravy
3. Stuffing or, if below the Mason-Dixon Line, dressing
4. Sweet potato casserole
5. Cranberry sauce (can-shaped)
6. Cranberry sauce (non can-shaped)
7. Green-bean casserole
8. Pillsbury crescent rolls
9. Squash casserole
10. Sister Schubert’s rolls



Play of the week

Of course it looks familiar. Even before then-Boise State coach Chris Petersen and offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin -- now the Broncos head coach -- called a play named Statue on a two-point conversion in overtime of the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma on Jan. 1, 2007, you had run Statue approximately 4,372 times in your backyard or in the street in front of your house. And it never, ever worked. The defense never bought it. But inside the giant Hersey’s Kiss called University of Phoenix Stadium, Statue beat the Sooners, Ian Johnson proposed to Chrissy Popadics and we got another reminder there is indeed magic in this world.