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  • For some teams, reaching the playoff is as simple as winning out. Others need ... a little more help. After a Week 10 slate that brought some clarity to the season's home stretch, here's the path forward for all 10 teams that can still dream of a national title. Plus, thoughts on the second Power 5 head coach firing of the week, meat boards in Mid-City New Orleans and the rest of this week's Punt, Pass & Pork.
By Andy Staples
November 04, 2018

We’ve reached the final 10. Barring all-hell-breaks-loose chaos that would make the 2007 season look tame, there are 10 FBS teams with real—or even really slim—chances to make the College Football Playoff. So let’s examine what each team needs to do to make the bracket.

ACC

Clemson (9–0)

Remaining games: at Boston College, vs. Duke, vs. South Carolina, vs. TBD in ACC Championship (if qualified).

How to get in: The Tigers just need to keep winning and they’ll be one of the top two seeds. It doesn’t seem anyone in the ACC can slow Clemson now that it has reached playoff mode. This week’s trip to Boston College doesn’t fit the profile of Clemson’s random ACC losses in the past two years. Syracuse (2017) and Pittsburgh (’16) were not considered threats. The Orange didn’t make a bowl last year, and the Panthers were 5–4 when they headed down to Clemson. BC is still in contention for the ACC title and could potentially knock Clemson out of the ACC title game by beating the Tigers. Conversely, Clemson could clinch the Atlantic by beating the Eagles. So don’t expect Clemson players to assume this will be easy.

Big 12

Oklahoma (8–1)

Remaining games: vs. Oklahoma State, vs. Kansas, at West Virginia, vs. TBD in Big 12 Championship (if qualified).

How to get in: The Sooners have the clearest path to the Big 12 title game, but that path may require them to beat West Virginia twice in eight days. Here’s how that doesn’t happen. Iowa State wins out, which includes a win against Texas that would hand the Longhorns their third conference loss. Assuming Oklahoma and West Virginia won their previous two games, that would create a scenario where the Sooners could essentially choose their title game opponent based on the result of their Black Friday game in Morgantown. (That also assumes Iowa State beats Kansas State the day after Black Friday.) The Sooners would automatically choose the Cyclones in this scenario, because that would keep their playoff hopes alive.

It will be interesting to see what happens if three spots are filled and a one-loss Big 12 champ (either Oklahoma or West Virginia) are matched against a one-loss Big Ten champ (either Michigan or Ohio State) and/or a one-loss Washington State with a Pac-12 title.

In that scenario, one-loss Michigan probably gets the nod if the Wolverines win the Big Ten. If Ohio State emerges as a one-loss Big Ten champ, then the Big 12 champ will have an excellent argument. Oklahoma probably would get the spot. It would be curious to see what the committee would do with a West Virginia team that had its best non-conference game (at NC State) canceled by a hurricane. But that would be a West Virginia team that just beat Oklahoma twice in eight days.

West Virginia (7–1)

Remaining games: vs. TCU, at Oklahoma State, vs. Oklahoma, vs. TBD in Big 12 Championship (if qualified).

How to get in: I covered most of the Mountaineers’ scenarios in the Oklahoma section, but the gist is they need to just keep winning. There is a possibility they could get a rematch against Iowa State or Texas in the Big 12 title game if they win their last three. That would require Oklahoma to lose to Oklahoma State or Kansas. (So, Oklahoma State.) It also would require Texas or Iowa State to win out. If that title game opponent is the Cyclones, a chance to avenge their only loss could be attractive to the Mountaineers. But given how thoroughly Iowa State shut down West Virginia’s offense, the Mountaineers may not want to see Iowa State again.

Big Ten

Michigan (8–1)

Remaining games: at Rutgers, vs. Indiana, at Ohio State, vs. TBD in Big Ten Championship (if qualified).

How to get in: The Wolverines should be in if they win their next four games. A one-score loss at Notre Dame in the season opener is nothing to be ashamed of, and a 12–1 Michigan with a Big Ten title would have an impressive collection of wins against teams with winning records. That seems to be a key metric for the committee, and if Michigan went 12–1, the following opponents should have winning records for the season: SMU (the Mustangs are 4–5 but just beat Houston and close with UConn, Memphis and Tulsa), Northwestern (maybe twice), Wisconsin (maybe twice), Michigan State, Penn State, Ohio State. Add Purdue if the Boilermakers come out of the Big Ten West instead of Northwestern or Wisconsin.

Ohio State (8–1)

Remaining games: at Michigan State, at Maryland, vs. Michigan, vs. TBD in Big Ten Championship (if qualified).

How to get in: The Buckeyes should be able to get in if they win out, but their 29-point loss at Purdue could become a problem if they find themselves matched up for the No. 4 spot against a team that doesn’t have a blowout loss on its résumé. (So far, the closest thing from any team on this list is Georgia’s 20-point loss at LSU.)

Here’s the thing about that loss. If Ohio State hasn’t fixed the defensive issues that helped cause that loss, the Buckeyes probably won’t win the remainder of their regular-season games. Michigan State or Michigan (or both) will beat them. So a 12–1 Ohio State—which will have a better defense because the Buckeyes can’t get to 12–1 without one—probably would be as capable of competing against the No. 1 seed as any other potential one-loss Power 5 champ. If No. 1 is Alabama, though, it may not matter who gets the No. 4 spot.

Pac-12

Washington State (8–1)

Remaining games: at Colorado, vs. Arizona, vs. Washington, vs. TBD in Pac-12 Championship (if qualified).

How to get in: The Cougars, playing in the weakest Power 5 conference with a weak non-conference schedule, would need help. They’d need Notre Dame to lose, and probably twice. Let’s say Notre Dame loses to Syracuse but beats Florida State and USC. Would a 12–1 Washington State with a loss at USC beat out an 11–1 Notre Dame with wins at Michigan and at USC?

Washington State probably also would need the Big 12 to produce a two-loss champ. Given the way that league’s championship game works, that’s a distinct possibility. Of course, for any of this to matter, the Cougars also would have to win the Apple Cup. They haven’t done that since 2012, but they should be favored this time.

SEC

Alabama (9–0)

Remaining games: vs. Mississippi State, vs. The Citadel, vs. Auburn, vs. Georgia in SEC Championship.

How to get in: This is the simplest one of all. Just keep annihilating everyone.

But Alabama probably could also get in even if it didn’t go undefeated. If the Tide lost to either Mississippi State or Auburn, they could beat Georgia in Atlanta and make the playoff as a one-loss SEC champ. And if Alabama wins out in the regular season and loses a classic against a one-loss Georgia, it’s possible both SEC title game participants would make the playoff. No conference title game loser has ever made the playoff, but the committee would have a tough time leaving out the Tide in that scenario in favor of some other one-loss team.

Georgia (8–1)

Remaining games: vs. Auburn, vs. Massachusetts, vs. Georgia Tech, vs. Alabama in SEC Championship.

How to get in: The Bulldogs can get in by winning their next four games. But this team is not as good as the team that came within a play of winning the national title last year. Georgia will have to grow up a lot in the next few weeks if the Bulldogs hope to hang with Alabama in Atlanta.

Last year, Georgia took its biggest steps in late November. So that’s possible, but it still seems unlikely against a better Alabama team than the one the Bulldogs faced last year.

Independents

Notre Dame (9–0)

Remaining games: vs. Florida State, vs. Syracuse in New York, at USC.

How to get in: The Irish are in if they go undefeated.

What’s interesting is what happens if they lose. If they drop a tight one to Syracuse at Yankee Stadium in their most losable remaining game, that loss could be coming against a 10–2 or 9–3 team. How would the committee handle a 12–1 Big Ten champ Michigan with a loss to Notre Dame against an 11–1 Notre Dame? What about a 12–1 Ohio State that also has a win against Michigan but also has a 29-point loss at Purdue?

Most people in the Power 5 leagues are rooting against the Irish because their admission to the playoff would take money out of the pockets of at least two leagues. But if they do get in, it could cause enough crying that certain Power 5 leagues might give more serious consideration to an eight-team playoff.

Group of Five

UCF (8–0)

Remaining games: vs. Navy, vs. Cincinnati, at South Florida, vs. TBD in American Athletic Conference Championship (if qualified).

How to get in: SI college football editor Eric Single wanted me to spin some sort of ultimate chaos scenario that put a two-loss Boston College into the playoff. But if such a scenario unfolds, the committee should just slot an undefeated UCF at No. 4. (Assuming UCF is undefeated. Obviously, any loss eliminates the Knights.)

If this milder brand of chaos happened, UCF would probably find itself playing Alabama in the ultimate put-up-or-shut-up game. Every question would get answered.

What would need to happen? A two- or three-loss Big 12 champ. A two- or three-loss Pac-12 champ. The West champ winning the Big Ten title game. This scenario should produce a playoff bracket that looks like this:

No. 1 Alabama vs. 4. UCF in the Cotton Bowl
No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl

All those things I described above are possible. Too bad the committee wouldn’t have the guts to do this if it all came to pass.

A Random Ranking

The No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 30 years ago this week was “Kokomo” by The Beach Boys. (From the delightfully ’80s movie Cocktail.) Here are the top 10 Beach Boys’ songs—none of which are “Kokomo”.

1. “God Only Knows”
2. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”
3. “Good Vibrations”
4. “Barbara Ann”
5. “Surfin’ USA”
6. “Help Me, Rhonda”
7. “I Get Around”
8. “Sloop John B”
9. “In My Room”
10. “Fun, Fun, Fun”

Projected Playoff

1. Alabama (9–0)
Last week: 1
Last game: Beat LSU, 29–0
Next game: Saturday vs. Mississippi State

Nick Saban thanks everyone outside the Alabama fan base for their BAMA AIN’T PLAYED NOBODY sentiments. It made it easier for him to motivate his turbo-charged demolition machine to pulverize LSU. Everyone in Starkville would appreciate if you’d stop saying that stuff now.

2. Clemson (9–0)
Last week: 3
Last game: Beat Louisville, 77–16
Next game: Saturday at Boston College

College GameDay is coming to Chestnut Hill in November. The question is whether the home team can put up a fight against a Clemson team that seems to have found itself while escaping Syracuse at home last month. Since that game, Clemson has won its past four by a combined score of 240–36. Hopefully, the Eagles will put up a better fight.

3. Notre Dame (9–0)
Last week: 2
Last game: Beat Northwestern, 31–21
Next game: Saturday vs. Florida State

A visit from the Seminoles looked like a pretty scary prospect for the Fighting Irish back in August. That isn’t the case anymore. Florida State should struggle to block the Irish defensive line. The real drama will come from the fact that all three of Notre Dame’s final opponents will be in season-maker mode when they face the Irish.

4. Michigan (8–1)
Last week: 5
Last game: Beat Penn State, 42–7
Next game: Saturday at Rutgers

The Wolverines look like the best team in the Big Ten by a decent margin after crushing Penn State. They also look like the Big Ten’s safest bet to make the playoff. Obviously, Michigan would have to beat Ohio State for the first time since 2011 to make that happen. So we’ll withhold any further rat poison until the Wolverines prove they can do that.

Big Ugly of the Week

This week’s honor goes to Alabama redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, who absolutely dominated LSU on Saturday with 10 tackles (3.5 for loss, 2.5 of those sacks). “He’s gotten better each and every game,” Alabama safety Deionte Thompson said. “It’s just a blessing to have him up there causing havoc.”

This is what makes Alabama so different from other programs. The idea that a team could upgrade from first-rounder Da’Ron Payne seems impossible, but that’s what Alabama has done. The Tide will probably lose Williams after this season, but there’s probably another first-rounder waiting his turn. “We just keep producing them,” Thompson said.

Three and Out

1. In completely unsurprising news, David Beaty was fired at Kansas on Sunday after going 6–39 in nearly four seasons. Beaty and his staff will finish the regular season with the Jayhawks.

The writing was on the wall for Beaty when Kansas fired athletic director Sheahon Zenger and replaced him with former Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long. Long’s mandate was to make the football program better.

Despite the record, the next coach should inherit a better situation than Beaty did. Charlie Weis had bombed out the program with poor junior college recruiting, leaving the Jayhawks with about half their available scholarships filled. The next coach will have plenty of work to do, but the depth shouldn’t be as dire.

Kansas and Maryland are the two jobs open in the Power 5 so far, but there should be a few more openings in the coming weeks.

2. Florida coach Dan Mullen took considerable heat this weekend for the following quote after the Gators’ 38–17 loss to Missouri.

This probably isn’t the best thing to say after getting smoked by Missouri at Homecoming. The way most businesses work is that the customer spend increases as the product gets better.

In fairness to Mullen, he has made the product at Florida better. The Gators’ roster still isn’t as good as its record, and that’s a sign Mullen and his staff are doing what they were hired to do. But Mullen was in Starkville for the past eight years, so he probably doesn’t fully grasp the underlying ennui caused by seven or eight years of a product Florida fans consider unacceptable. The empty seats were well-earned, and Mullen’s Gators will have to earn getting the butts back into the seats.

On Saturday, Mullen pulled quarterback Feleipe Franks after Franks went 9 of 22 for 84 yards. He replaced Franks with Kyle Trask, who went 10 of 18 for 126 yards with a touchdown. He did not use freshman Emory Jones—the player all those fans are excited to see—because the plan is to redshirt Jones.

Jones can play in two more games and still redshirt. Common sense suggests those two games would be against Florida State and in the bowl game, but that doesn’t mean Jones would start either one. Florida probably will play against South Carolina and Idaho using some combination of Franks and Trask, and more than likely one of those two will start against Florida State in a game the Gators need to win for recruiting purposes.

After Saturday’s loss, Mullen left the door open for a new starter (Trask). But he also didn’t close the door on Franks. “We’ll see how they perform this week,” Mullen said. “If there’s a drastic change, we’ll make a change.”

3. Pop quiz, hotshots: Name the only team in the Pac-12 South in full control of its division title hopes. [We’ll pause now to let you consult the standings and the various tiebreaker scenarios.]

Still need a hint? Here you go.

That’s right. Following a 38–20 win against Utah, Herm Edwards and his Arizona State Sun Devils can win the South by winning their remaining games (vs. UCLA, at Oregon, at Arizona). At 4–3 in Pac-12 play, Utah, USC and Arizona all have more wins than 3–3 Arizona State. But the Sun Devils have beaten the Utes and the Trojans head-to-head and will face the Wildcats for the Territorial Cup on Nov. 24 in their regular-season finale.

Nothing about the Pac-12 makes much sense, so the idea of any team closing the season with five consecutive conference wins—as Arizona State would have to do—seems far-fetched. The Trojans have the easiest path to 6–3 in league play, with conference games remaining against Cal and UCLA, but because of the head-to-head meeting, they’re out if either Arizona State or Utah finishes 6–3.

What’s Eating Andy?

At some point each week on my SiriusXM show with cohost Jason Horowitz (Monday through Friday, 1–4 p.m. ET on Channel 84), we have an unofficial segment called Jason Tries To Get Andy To Care About The ACC Coastal. It usually goes like this. Jason tries to talk up Duke or Virginia or Pittsburgh, and I just remind him that some team that finishes 5–3 in ACC play is going to wind up getting peeled off the heel of Clemson’s boot.

Sunday, Morgan Moriarty at SBNation attempted to catalogue the aggressive mediocrity of the Coastal. Of course, Saturday was a sad day in that division. North Carolina’s loss to Georgia Tech gave the Tar Heels their fifth conference loss and eliminated the possibility of the 4–4 Coastal quantum singularity that will open a portal to another dimension.

What’s Andy Eating?

When I learned I’d been pulled off a game because one team playing in it had suddenly become less interesting (by losing) and moved to the Alabama-LSU game, a flurry of texts ensued between myself and my fellow college football writers. The hotel rates in Baton Rouge were outrageous, and none of us wanted to stick our companies with a massive bill when quite reasonable rates were available an hour away in New Orleans. Oh, and it also meant we got to spend a Friday in New Orleans.

At first, the texts touted dirt-cheap rates in the Warehouse District. Restaurants and bars were an easy walk, and the night probably wouldn’t end until close to sunrise. Then the tone changed. I finally accepted that I’m now the old guy when I sent this text to another writer.

I’m staying in Metairie. I’m going to bed after dinner.

The text I got back, from a writer with a toddler who gets less sleep than I do, was telling: I’ll switch to that hotel.

Three of us went this route. But I decided that if I’m going to be the old guy and go to bed after dinner the night before covering an Alabama-LSU game, there is one requirement: That dinner must be epic. And it was.

Toups’ Meatery is in the thriving Mid-City neighborhood of New Orleans, and I probably never would have found it had I stuck to the usual spots closer to the Mississippi River. As its name suggests, it exists to thrill carnivores. I struggled with the menu, because I wanted everything. And while I’ll have to come back to try the fried quail or the lamb neck, one appetizer featured a huge swath of the menu in one shot.

Andy Staples

The Meatery Board was loaded with house-made pastrami, hog’s head cheese, house-made spicy sausage and grilled pineapples. With it came a metal mug filled with pork cracklins. These were not the glorified pork rinds I wrote about last week. These were juicy, freshly roasted chunks of skin and fat that sizzled every time a bite unlocked a pocket of molten goodness. I would have been satisfied with just a meal of these and a Toups’ Manhattan. That cocktail uses the traditional Manhattan recipe, but with bourbon that has been aged in former tabasco sauce barrels. That gives the drink one hot kick before the chilled liquid slides down the throat.

Andy Staples

I probably hit the Meatery Board—and the pickle plate, with its spicy dills and perfect pickled beets—too hard, because I stood no chance when my entree arrived. I ordered the double cut pork chop. The descriptor fails to capture the majesty of this hunk of pig. It’s more like a pork standing rib roast. It’s about five inches thick with three rib bones holding all that meat together. Every edge was gloriously charred, and the marbling ensured that every bite oozed juice. Usually, that section of the pig is too lean to cook a piece that big and still make it moist. Through ingredient sourcing, technique or (most likely) a combination of the two, Chef Issac Toups has solved this quandary. The result is a dish that makes people yell What is that as it passes by their table.

Andy Staples

I didn’t finish that pork chop. I ate the rest for breakfast. A younger Andy would have polished it off and then spent overstuffed hours waddling to different bars and drinking deep into the night. Not this old guy, though. I fell asleep to the dulcet tones of Arizona’s win against Colorado. After that meal, the ultimate nap was the perfect dessert.

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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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Eagle (-2)
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