So, about this past weekend, Big Ten…

Well, now what?

Big Ten’s rough weekend leaves College Football Playoff door open for Big 12, Pac-12

Embed from Getty Images

Through the first three years of the College Football Playoff, the ACC, Big Ten, and SEC have been represented each season. After Saturday’s results, the Big Ten appears in serious jeopardy of joining the big 12 and Pac-12 as being a power conference missing out on the postseason championship bracket.

Ohio State, a week after coming back against then-No. 2 Penn State, laid an absolute egg on the road at Iowa. It was the second loss of the season for Ohio State, who had lost earlier in the year to Oklahoma, and that puts the Buckeyes in quite a difficult spot to make a push for the playoff. Elsewhere in the Big Ten East, Penn State took a loss for a second straight week, this time at Michigan State. Ohio State and Penn State had been the Big Ten’s top playoff contenders and now they each have two losses. No playoff team in this short history of the playoff has had two losses.

So the pressure is now on Wisconsin to keep the Big Ten’s playoff hopes alive. Wisconsin’s playoff resume has been critiqued in a negative way so far, compared to the resumes of other playoff contenders right now. The Badgers, however, are doing what needs to be done to have a shot at the playoff. But finishing the season undefeated appears to be mandatory at this point for Wisconsin. One loss could be all that is needed to knock Wisconsin down and out, even if the Badgers end the season 12-1 with the Big Ten championship.

This time last week, I felt there was still a shot at landing two Big Ten teams in the playoff. Needless to say, I no longer feel that way. It’s amazing how much can change in one week. I had Ohio State and Penn State in the playoff and now they are more likely to be playing in the Citrus Bowl and Outback Bowl.

With the Big Ten in scramble mode, the door is a bit more open for the Pac-12 and Big 12 to land a team in the playoff. But those conferences face some of the same hurdles the Big Ten may have. There are no undefeated teams left in either conference, and the possibility of a conference champion with multiple losses still remains for each. The Pac-12 was already seemingly out of the running according to the playoff committee, but Washington still has a shot at winning another Pac-12 title with one loss and some good wins down the stretch. In the Big 12, it may be down to Oklahoma and TCU, each with one loss and about to face each other this weekend.

Baker Mayfield the new Heisman front-runner

Embed from Getty Images

Speaking of Oklahoma, this past weekend may have seen Baker Mayfield jump to the front of the Heisman Trophy race on the perfect day. Mayfield exploded in a 62-52 victory over Oklahoma State, giving him a second road win against a ranked opponent. And he did so on a day when other Heisman candidates failed to have a dynamic day. Saquon Barkley, Bryce Love, Mason Rudolph, J.T. Barrett, and the latest rising candidate, Khalil Tate all had losses, while Notre Dame running back Josh Adams was limited due to an injury. The stars aligned for Mayfield to seize the Heisman race on Saturday, making him the new leader ticketed for New York.

The stats and wins speak for themselves at this point. Mayfield is a baller. Even in the one game Mayfield’s Sooners lost (vs. Iowa State), Mayfield played well with 306 passing yards and two touchdowns without an interception. The only question I have regarding Mayfield and the Heisman Trophy is how many Heisman voters are going to factor in character concerns? From his past legal issues to flag-planting antics at Ohio State, and his pregame trash talking, Mayfield may rub some high-and-mighty Heisman voters the wrong way, while a player like Saquon Barkley or Bryce Love may be viewed in a more positive light. And you know there are some Heisman voters out there who take that sort of thing into consideration because they will always voice their opinions on such issue.

Get ready for some Heisman voters to quote the Heisman Trophy’s mission statement that “recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.”

Among those who have gone that route are Herschel Walker, a Heisman Trophy winner himself who previously refused to vote for Jameis Winston. Other voters spoke out against voting for Johnny Manziel and Cam Newton. Will Mayfield face similar hurdles from some voters? Potentially, but his play on the field speaks quite loudly at this point and there are not too many candidates leading their team to a possible conference championship and playoff spot beside Mayfield (and Notre Dame’s Adams).

It’s been a while since Miami vs. Notre Dame meant this much

Embed from Getty Images

You’ve seen the 30 for 30 feature on the Notre Dame-Miami rivalry in the 1980s. Unfortunately, the two teams have not both played at that high of a level since those glory days — until now. This Saturday, Miami hosts Notre Dame in a game that carries heavy national title implications for the first time in a generation. This should be fun.

Notre Dame cracked the first College Football Playoff rankings and it is pretty evident that if the Irish take care of their business, they’ll be playing in their first playoff. Miami was down the rankings with an inferior strength of schedule, but a big win over Virginia Tech and some key losses in the Big Ten should push the Hurricanes up the rankings Tuesday night. Regardless of what the rankings look like, the significance of this week’s matchup are clear. Win, and you stay in the playoff chase. Lose, and you have some trouble.

Of the two, Miami may be able to afford a loss more than the Irish because the Hurricanes are still on track to play in their first ACC Championship Game, and a 12-1 Miami would be in the runningn for a playoff spot. A 10-2 Notre Dame would have to settle for another New Year’s Six bowl game.

Clemson is set for another ACC title run

Embed from Getty Images

Clemson has successfully passed all of their major road tests this season after a second-half comeback against NC State this past weekend. The Tigers already went on the road and kicked butt at Louisville and Virginia Tech, and are now poised to make their return to the ACC Championship Game for a third straight year. With just one conference game remaining, against struggling Florida State, Clemson is primed and ready to play for the ACC championship, where they likely will face Miami.

This is great for Clemson. I still think Oklahoma should be ranked ahead of Clemson when the new playoff rankings come out, but the Tigers could have an easy path to the ACC title game, and a win against Miami could be just the right ingredient for a final push to the playoff, especially if the Hurricanes top Notre Dame this weekend.

Can Auburn throw a wrinkle in the SEC?

Auburn is the wild card in the SEC right now. With regular season games left at home against Georgia and Alabama, the Tigers are the biggest hurdle left for both the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide en route to a possible undefeated season. Auburn looked good on the road against Texas A&M, even after losing running back Kamryn Pettway to an injury. The Tigers still have a shot at winning the SEC too, although that will likely require beating both Alabama and Georgia, and then beating Georgia a second time in the SEC championship game.

If any team has the schedule to play into the College Football Playoff with two losses, it is Auburn. It may be a reach, but is entirely a scenario worth discussing.

USC is not going away

Embed from Getty Images

Hey, remember USC? When they lost at Notre Dame, 49-14, a few weeks ago you probably wrote them off entirely from the playoff discussion. You were not alone. That was USC’s second loss and the Trojans had been flirting with a handful of disasters up to that point. But USC has been storming back in a big way after that loss with a 48-17 win at Arizona State and a 49-35 win this weekend against Arizona.

The Trojans now sits comfortably atop the Pac-12 South Division with just 5-5 Colorado and 4-5 UCLA remaining on their schedule. USC looks like they will be heading to the Pac-12 Championship Game with a 10-2 record, and a win over a potentially one-loss Washington would present an interesting question for the playoff committee.

It may be too late to save Sam Darnold’s Heisman campaign, but if you slept on the Trojans a few weeks ago, it may be time to give them another look.

FAU and FIU are each going to bowl games

Embed from Getty Images

Florida and Florida State are still scratching and clawing their way to bowl eligibility, but there are already five schools from the state ready to make postseason plans. Lane Kiffin has FAU eligible for postseason play and in line for a possible run to the Conference USA championship in his first season with the Owls. And while Lane Kiffin is certainly the easy coach to spotlight in the conference, you may have missed that Butch Davis also has FIU bowl-eligible this season.

This will be the first time both FAU and FIU are going to a bowl game in the same season. The two schools have combined for four bowl games before this season. And if FAU and FIU each go to a bowl game while Gators and Seminoles stay home, that would be interesting.

Miami, UCF, and South Florida are also going bowling this season. And there could be three conference champions in the state too.

Group of Five Update

While Lane Kiffin has FAU on pace for a Conference USA championship, you can forget about seeing Kiffin lead the Owls into a New Year’s Six bowl game. The New Year’s Six bowl spot reserved for the top Group of Five conference champion still appears to be the AAC’s to lose. For now, Scott Frost has the UCF Knights sitting atop the ladder with an undefeated record after a good hard-fought win at SMU. Until UCF loses, it’s their spot to lose.

  1. UCF
  2. Memphis
  3. Toledo
  4. South Florida
  5. Houston

Boise State and Fresno State are each just off the radar for now, in that order.

If the College Football Playoff started today…

I’m not ready to make any drastic changes to my playoff field if the postseason started today. I’m still going Georgia ahead of Alabama, which the committee agreed with last week. And I still think Notre Dame legitimately belongs in the playoff field. But the committee had Clemson in last week, and I went with Oklahoma. I’m sticking with that right now if the playoff started today.

  1. Georgia
  2. Alabama
  3. Notre Dame
  4. Oklahoma

I still think there are some changes that will go down this season, though. I may as well start with Georgia, who I have losing to both Auburn in the regular season and to Alabama in the SEC championship game. That would entirely eliminate the Bulldogs from the playoff. It also puts Alabama firmly on top, followed by a surging Clemson on the strength of an ACC championship win over Clemson.

But I have Notre Dame winning at Miami this week to stay in the playoff running. And if they do that, I think they can finish the season without another loss. And I think Oklahoma hangs around as Baker Mayfield leads the Sooners to the big 12 championship. I’m just not sure the committee will see enough from Oklahoma to move them ahead of teams the committee says they are already chasing.

  1. Alabama
  2. Clemson
  3. Notre Dame
  4. Oklahoma

Maybe the Big Ten and Pac-12 can work out their own side playoff.

About Kevin McGuire

Contributor to Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Previously contributed to Host of the Locked On Nittany Lions Podcast. FWAA member and Philadelphia-area resident.