In the past few days, the college football world has been buzzing about a number of topics regarding the coaching carousel. Chip Kelly’s return to coaching at UCLA was certainly a fun topic of conversation. The fallout of the attempt to hire Greg Schiano at Tennessee was a hot mess that is still playing out at a time we continue to monitor the flights of coaches and school officials between one campus and another. They don’t call this the silly season without reason, after all.
The coaching carousel is a necessary evil in college football because the coaches being hired and fired dictates the direction of a program. The conversation can lead down a rabbit hole of nastiness and unpleasantness from fan reactions to blowhard media types praising or ripping the decisions made by school officials. But it must be discussed, analyzed, and broken down from as many angles as possible. Unfortunately, we get a little caught up in the madness sometimes and lose sight of the game itself. And this week, we have quite a lineup on the college football calendar with conference championship week upon us.
And let me tell you, this could be one conference championship weekend for the ages. In fact, a weekend like this has only been seen once before in the AP poll era.
4 games matching top-10 teams. Only second time in 81-year history of the AP poll that's happened.
Will be fun. https://t.co/SaB7ApH2Zd
— Ralph D. Russo (@ralphDrussoAP) November 28, 2017
The ACC, SEC, and Big Ten championship game all pit top 10 teams against each other for their respective conference championships using the College Football Playoff rankings. The Big 12 championship game could join that group if the selection committee’s rankings on Tuesday night elevate TCU into the top 10 as the AP top 25 did this week. With eight top 10 teams in four conference championship games, we have ourselves the ingredients for a bit of an expanded playoff field, some will say. In part, that is a fair assessment.
Auburn and Georgia will collide in the SEC Championship Game, the first to be played in the new Mercedes-Benz Dome in Atlanta. It will be a rematch of a game handedly won by Auburn just a few weeks ago, but the winner is practically guaranteed to get one of the four available spots in this year’s College Football Playoff. Georgia would end the year 12-1 as the SEC champion, which qualifies as a virtual lock in the playoff era coming out of this conference. Auburn would become the first two-loss team to play in the playoff but that would be because they beat two teams ranked No. 1 by the committee in November, and a second win against a Georgia team the committee rightfully respects as much as they do is a nice final push into the playoff should Auburn win.
In the ACC, a similar scenario is on the line for Clemson and Miami. Even though Miami just lost the day after Thanksgiving on the road against a mediocre at best Pittsburgh team, it is expected the Hurricanes could make up for it with a win against the team that may be ranked on top of the College Football Playoff selection committee’s rankings. It helps that the committee has respected Clemson as much as they have this season, even during times when it felt as though the committee overvalued Clemson compared to other playoff contenders. The defending national champions enter the ACC championship game with just one loss. Whether Clemson or Miami, a one-loss ACC champion is also practically a lock for a playoff spot almost any season. That will be the case once again.
The ACC and SEC are the only two games that appear to guarantee the champion will be going to the playoff regardless of the outcome. But the Big 12 and Big Ten can also be viewed as playoff games in a sense. In the Big 12, a win by Oklahoma over TCU would essentially clinch a playoff spot for the Sooners. A win by TCU may not have a similar outcome, however, and the Horned Frogs may be lined up for a spot in the Fiesta Bowl as the Big 12 champion to take on the Pac-12 champion. The Pac-12 is not going to get a team in the playoff, and with the Rose Bowl reserved as a semifinal game, the Pac-12 champ has to go somewhere else; the Fiesta Bowl feels like the best fit to me. So the stakes are still high in the Big 12 championship game. It’s playoff or bust for the Sooners and Baker Mayfield.
The Big Ten serves up the most interesting situation because of the team involved. On one sideline is an undefeated Wisconsin that has scrapped their way up the rankings all season in spite of not having a signature marquee win to rely on. The Badgers have played through the criticism and set the stage for their entry to the playoff under one simple condition; win and they’re in. There are not enough earths in the multiverse to comprehend a world in which an undefeated Big Ten champion would not be included in a four-team College Football Playoff, no matter what you think about Wisconsin (and by the way, they’re pretty good).
But what if Ohio State wins?
The debate between what to do with a two-loss Ohio State with the Big Ten championship is one that has been brought up for a few weeks now. Now that the scenario is now officially in play, it deserves a little looking ahead to debate whether or not you should take a two-loss conference champion over a one-loss team without a conference or division championship. Sound familiar? It should, although this year is quite different from a year ago.
Alabama fans will be rooting hard for Ohio State to win the Big Ten championship this season because it is one of two ways Alabama can reach the playoff this season. If Oklahoma wraps up the Big 12 title, then Alabama needs Ohio State to win because the Crimson Tide is expected to have enough on their playoff resume to stay ahead of Ohio State. But that is largely based on Ohio State having two double-digit losses including one at home to the probable Big 12 champion and a blowout loss on the road against Iowa. Those two losses hold Ohio State back against Alabama even though the Buckeyes would have two wins against top 10 teams while Alabama’s best win will be against an LSU team hovering in the middle of the top 25 at best. But we can save that debate for later.
The basic theme of this weekend’s conference championship games? Just win, baby. That should go without saying entering the conference championship games, but with playoff spots on the line in four of the five power conferences and each team winning its conference feeling it has an argument to make for playoff consideration, we have ourselves the best conference championship weekend of the young College Football Playoff era.