WINSTON-SALEM, NC – NOVEMBER 19: Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney leads the team onto the field prior to the game between the Clemson Tigers and the Wake Forest Demon Deacons on November 19, 2016, at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem, NC. (Photo by Brian Utesch/Icon Sportswire)

The regular season is about to draw to a close with the College Football Playoff picture beginning to come into focus. At the same time, the coaching carousel is getting oiled up and ready to run at full speed with rumors heating up around the country.

We have a lot of ground to cover in this edition of our college football commentary, so let’s get right to it.

College Football Playoff Contenders and Pretenders

This past weekend saw the Playoff hopes and dreams for a few programs retired. Louisville getting demolished on the road Thursday night by Houston brought an end to any thought about the playoff for the Cardinals, even with the Heisman Trophy front-runner in quarterback Lamar Jackson. West Virginia had been crying about being disrespected with one loss, but learned they still have a way to go in order to earn that respect with a rough home loss to Oklahoma. Utah had an outside chance to make a playoff push, but lost on a last-second touchdown by Oregon, and this ain’t the same old Oregon we’ve seen in recent years folks.

So three teams saw their path to the College Football Playoff reach a dead end. Who is left standing in actual Playoff contention, and which teams should you not waste too much time considering for the playoff the next two weeks?

TUSCALOOSA, AL - SEPTEMBER 10: Eddie Jackson #4 of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts with Reuben Foster #10 after returning an interception for a touchdown against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
TUSCALOOSA, AL – SEPTEMBER 10: Eddie Jackson #4 of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts with Reuben Foster #10 after returning an interception for a touchdown against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

CONTENDERS: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State, Washington, Colorado

The Big Ten race is still crowded and the conference may stand a chance to get two teams in the Playoff, but Alabama is as close to a lock as we have for sure. Alabama can probably suffer a loss this week or next and still get in (although two losses out of nowhere sinks the Tide, and perhaps the entire SEC). For Clemson, win out and they should be in. Same probably holds true for Washington, although that is not quite as strong a given. If Ohio State wins this weekend and Penn State plays for the Big Ten championship, the Buckeyes will probably be in as well. Then it boils down to a two-loss Big Ten champion or Pac-12 champion Washington or Colorado.

PRETENDERS: Florida, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State

Florida doesn’t stand a chance of beating Alabama in the SEC championship game next week in Atlanta, so they’ll be out. Oklahoma is in position to run the table in the Big 12, but taking a two-loss Big 12 champion Oklahoma over Ohio State isn’t likely given a head-to-head matchup, and Penn State could have the edge, thanks to a victory over Ohio State and an extra win. Wisconsin wouldn’t have a win over Ohio State, but the Badgers did take the Buckeyes into overtime on their home field, while Oklahoma was dominated at home by Ohio State. And this committee doesn’t seem to respect the Big 12.

Oklahoma State does have one chip to play, and that is the controversial loss earlier in the season to Central Michigan, which led to the Big 12 and MAC each releasing statements confirming the final play of the game that led to a game-winning touchdown for the Chippewas never should have unfolded the way it did. At 10-2, the committee may consider Oklahoma State as an 11-1 team if they can beat the Sooners on the road. But once again, the Big 12 has not had a particularly strong year and the committee has noticed that.

The coaching carousel is about to be in full operation

Buckle up, because it is about to be a bumpy ride. As is traditionally the case, the last few weeks of the college football regular season transition right into coaching rumor season. This season’s edition of the coaching carousel should be a wild one with Baylor, LSU and Purdue among those on the market and the expectation Texas is going to be joining them. The two could get in a bidding war to lure Tom Herman away from Houston, in which case Texas has the pockets to place the highest bid. As much as I am a fan of Charlie Strong and have defended him as the Longhorns head coach, losing to Kansas was the last straw and it has become very clear there may be no saving Strong now in Austin.

We have already had two coaching changes made official with FIU bringing Butch Davis back to the coaching world and Fresno State hiring Jeff Tedford. That leaves Baylor, Georgia State, LSU and Purdue left with official vacancies. More will come in the next couple of weeks, but the fun part of the carousel is seeing which schools unexpectedly come on the market. After Tom Herman, who are some other coaches you should expect to be on the move? Here are a few worth watching:

P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan – Fleck is young and full of energy. He can light a fire for a program in need of one, but is his Row the Boat mantra one that can fit in at every program? Probably not. That’s why a school like Purdue would seem to be a great fit for Fleck in my book. But do you leave Western Michigan for Purdue? If Purdue makes a solid offer, yes.

Matt Rhule, Temple – Rhule is on the verge of having Temple play for a second straight conference championship, which is remarkable given Temple’s history. Rhule revived the efforts done by Al Golden that tapered off under Steve Addazio. Could Rhule end up replacing Addazio again, this time at Boston College?

Willie Taggart, USF – Why should you be following Taggart this year? Because he has proven capable of turning two programs around. Taggart went from winning two games at Western Kentucky in 2010 to back-to-back winning seasons and a bowl berth the next two years. At USF, the progress has been steady, starting with two wins with the Bulls in 2013 and improving the win total each successive season. USF could win 10 games this season.

Lane Kiffin, Alabama – Yes, the time to welcome back Lane Kiffin to the coaching game is now. After a few years as an understudy with Nick Saban, Kiffin could be the next branch off the Saban coaching tree. The hope is he has learned from his past mistakes at Tennessee and USC in his time as an offensive coordinator. Maybe Kiffin shouldn’t jump right back in for a big-time job, but instead get his feet wet again as a head coach at a Group of Five program in need. Houston would seem to be an interesting spot once Herman leaves, now that Fresno State (Kiffin’s alma mater) is off the board.

Chip Kelly, San Francisco 49ers – I have said it before and I will say it once more. Come home, Chip. All can be forgiven.

Boxscore of the Week: No. 19 Tennessee 63, Missouri 37

Screenshot via

I am not sure I have ever seen a team put together 740 yards of offense with 42 first downs and lose by 26 points. Has that ever happened before Saturday? Leave it to a former Big 12 team to pull off a feat more likely to occur in the Big 12. This performance by Missouri was very Texas Tech-ish. The difference was four turnovers, which led to 14 points, a missed Tennessee field goal and a chance for the Vols to run the clock out in the second half. Not ideal for Missouri, who drops to 3-8. Wasn’t Tennessee’s defense supposed to be awesome this season?

Group of Five Situation: Wyoming clears the road for Western Michigan, but here comes Navy!

Wyoming edged San Diego State Saturday night in dramatic fashion. The win kept Wyoming in front of Boise State in the Mountain West Conference Mountain Division standings with one game to go, meaning there is a decent chance the Broncos will be locked out of the conference title game. That leaves Boise State out of contention for a spot in the New Years Six. It also likely removes San Diego State from the conversation as well, while putting Wyoming on the radar with two good, quality wins against the Aztecs and Broncos.

In the same week, Houston was also locked out of the race despite having two top five wins against Oklahoma and Louisville. That is because Navy clinched the American Athletic Conference West Division on Saturday. The Midshipmen are now a serious contender for the New Years Six bowl spot, as they will likely host Temple or USF in the AAC championship game (to be determined this week).

Despite two losses, Navy could come out of the best Group of Five Conference with the conference crown and a win against Houston and better wins overall than anything Western Michigan has strung together. But would it be enough for the selection committee to push a two-loss AAC champ ahead of an undefeated MAC champion? Prepare for a number of debates about that.

I fall in line with suggesting Navy is the better team and thus the better option for the Group of Five’s reserved seat in the New Years Six bowl lineup. If Navy were to play WMU on a neutral field, I’d like Navy’s chances. Navy would also easily be a better team to market and sell tickets, and let’s not pretend that doesn’t matter. Is that fair to Western Michigan? Of course not. The Broncos have been dominant this season and have played really well. It’s not their fault the rest of the MAC has stunk this season. I see Navy as a serious threat to Western Michigan, which means Broncos fans should be big fans of three-loss Temple this week (and next).

The FCS Playoff Bracket is Set

North Dakota State has won the national title five straight years. Can they do it a sixth consecutive time? If you have not watched any FCS football this year, now is as good a time as any to start. Here is your bracket for this year’s playoff.

Random Bowl Thought

A USC-Michigan Rose Bowl would be bonkers.

My Top Four

If the College Football Playoff started today, here is how my top four would look:

  1. Alabama
  2. Ohio State
  3. Michigan
  4. Clemson

The College Football Playoff doesn’t start today, so here is how I project the final four to look when it is finally set in place:

  1. Alabama
  2. Clemson
  3. Ohio State
  4. Wisconsin

At least, that’s how I feel about it today. This could very well change in the next hour or so, so hit me up on Twitter to see what I think at any given time. Bottom line, I think a two-loss Big Ten champion has the edge over Oklahoma, and I think the committee may struggle to push a Pac-12 team in front. But who knows. This is all a guessing game at the very best. There is no statistical data that can predict how a selection committee will come to a decision. None.

Mailbag: Is Penn State once again a “Tier 1” program?

I received a number of questions this week (thanks!), but here is one from Jeff on Twitter:

The short answer to this is simply “No.” However, I would not try to say this is all a mirage at this point. Penn State was fortunate to get a lucky break in their home game against Ohio State, but what has happened since has been a mixture of fortunate scheduling (Purdue and Rutgers) and an offense that is continuing to improve with players that have skill and athleticism at key positions, most notably at running back.

Penn State fans have every reason to be excited about playing into the division picture the way they have and there would be absolutely nothing to apologize for if things do go the Nittany Lions’way. Penn State is on the right track, and the way this season has evolved could have a way of speeding up the process to build a stronger program.

But allow me to share my response to a question I received about Penn State two years ago following the hiring of James Franklin:

“Penn State will play for a Big Ten championship within two years of being eligible for postseason play, and with the Nittany Lions likely to be coming out of the tougher of the two divisions it is certainly a realistic expectation they will be a favorite to win a Big Ten Championship game. I think in the next four or five years, Penn State will be a Big Ten champion, which could very well place them in the College Football Playoff.” –, January 31, 2014

This is actually the third year Penn State is eligible for postseason play. Little did I know at the time I wrote that response that Penn State’s final two years of a postseason ban would be lifted. Alas, one year off the mark worked out OK for Back to The Future II and the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series, so I’m willing to say I may have been right in this instance as well.

Submit your questions in the comment section below and I’ll attempt to satisfy you with my answer in next week’s column, or send you into a fit of rage. You can also tweet your questions to me on Twitter (@KevinOnCFB).

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.

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