Jim Harbaugh

Sorry, there is no conspiracy against Michigan.

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh was not happy with the officiating in The Game this weekend, and legions of Wolverines fans are calling foul and suggesting there is a conspiracy theory against their team.

There are not many more things as ridiculous as the idea that ESPN has it out for Michigan. Not when Jim Harbaugh drives ratings and page views. Not when Michigan is one of the top brands in the sports world. Not when an 11-1 Michigan would be a ratings bonzanza for ESPN and the College Football Playoff. Just stop it with the Michigan conspiracy theories. That is never going to be the case.

Alabama is in. So is Ohio State. Most likely. Probably. Maybe?

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 26:   Ohio State Buckeyes fans celebrate after defeating the Michigan Wolverines at Ohio Stadium on November 26, 2016 in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
COLUMBUS, OH – NOVEMBER 26: Ohio State Buckeyes fans celebrate after defeating the Michigan Wolverines at Ohio Stadium on November 26, 2016 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

There are two spots in the College Football Playoff I feel are pretty much locked in. I expect Alabama to be the top seed in the College Football Playoff because I see no way they lose in the SEC Championship Game against Florida this Saturday. At 13-0 as SEC champion, I’m putting Alabama as the No. 1 seed in Sharpie. With their season done at 11-1, I am reasonably confident the Ohio State Buckeyes are in despite not winning their own division and thus not being able to compete for the Big Ten championship. That leaves for some interesting discussions to be had over the next week. Is Ohio State going to be the first non-division champion in the College Football Playoff? I say yes, and here is why.

Ohio State will end its season with an 11-1 record. The lone loss was on the road against a Penn State team that might finish in the top 10 regardless of what happens this week in the Big Ten Championship Game. There is even a chance the lone loss will come against the Big Ten champion (I’ll get to that later on), which makes the loss look even more respectable. The wins will include triumphs over a potential two-loss Big 12 champion on the road (Oklahoma), a top-five-caliber Michigan team in double overtime and a victory on the road against a Wisconsin team that could either win the Big Ten or finish in the top 10. That’s a pretty darn good body of work for my money. So for me, regardless of what happens this weekend, I have Ohio State in.

But could Ohio State follow in the footsteps of TCU and drop out of the top four in the final week? There are a couple of scenarios which could lead to that. It starts with Alabama, Clemson and Washington all winning their conference championships to likely secure playoff spots. It then throws in the possibility of a Penn State Big Ten championship game victory. I expect the Big Ten title game to be a close one, but what if the Nittany Lions pull away from Wisconsin for a double-digit victory? Even with two losses, how could the selection committee honestly look over this comparison?

  • Penn State would be Big Ten champion in Ohio State’s conference
  • Penn State would be division champion in Ohio State’s division
  • Penn State beat Ohio State head-to-head

If the selection committee gives weight to a conference championship, then Penn State could nudge Ohio State out of the playoff field entirely. If they do, then Ohio State heads to the Rose Bowl as a consolation prize, which ain’t all that bad either.

How the College Football Playoff Committee can get off easy

STATE COLLEGE, PA - OCTOBER 22: Garrett Sickels #90 of the Penn State Nittany Lions celebrates after a sack on 4th down in the fourth quarter during the game against the Ohio State Buckeyes on October 22, 2016 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
STATE COLLEGE, PA – OCTOBER 22: Garrett Sickels #90 of the Penn State Nittany Lions celebrates after a sack on 4th down in the fourth quarter during the game against the Ohio State Buckeyes on October 22, 2016 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

The College Football Playoff selection committee has been fortunate to get off pretty easy during its first two years in existence (and yes, I think they got off easy with deciding between Ohio State and TCU/Baylor two years ago), but this could be the year the committee is faced with some sticky situations. Obviously, this whole Ohio State enigma is in place. The committee could have gotten off easy with Michigan winning in Columbus this past weekend, but now things get a little dicey.

So what is the selection committee hoping will happen to avoid any criticism?

  • Alabama wins the SEC
  • Clemson wins the ACC
  • Washington wins the Pac-12
  • Wisconsin wins the Big Ten

That makes the job a little easier, as Alabama, Clemson and Washington would be locks. You can then get off easy with choosing Ohio State due to having a better record and a head-to-head victory over Wisconsin in the regular season (in Madison, mind you).

What is the ultimate disaster scenario for the committee?

  • Virginia Tech wins ACC
  • Colorado wins Pac-12
  • Penn State wins Big Ten
  • Oklahoma State wins Big 12

Hoo boy, things get fun if all of this happens. If Clemson and Washington are knocked out, the ACC is out, but could Colorado slide in? Do you take three Big Ten teams with Ohio State, Big Ten champion Penn State and a Michigan team that demolished the Nittany Lions? Do you look at Oklahoma State as a one-loss Big 12 champion? Notice I didn’t mention the scenario in which Alabama loses to Florida in the SEC championship because A) it’s not going to happen and B) one-loss Alabama is still in as far as I’m concerned.

All I want to see is the selection committee squirm a little bit. Is that too much to ask?

Tom Herman and Texas seems too good to be true

HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 10: Houston Cougars head coach Tom Herman walks the sidelines as he coaches against the Lamar Cardinals in the second quarter at TDECU Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Houston, Texas. Houston won 42 to 0.  (Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX – SEPTEMBER 10: Houston Cougars head coach Tom Herman walks the sidelines as he coaches against the Lamar Cardinals in the second quarter at TDECU Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Houston, Texas. Houston won 42 to 0. (Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)

With LSU calling Tom Herman’s bluff over the weekend (more on LSU in a moment), the Texas Longhorns were able to move swiftly to hire Herman just hours after making a firing of Charlie Strong official. It almost feels like a match made in Heaven for the Longhorns. Texas needs an offensive coach with a gift for getting the most out of quarterbacks (which Herman has done at Ohio State and Houston) and they got the hottest name in the coaching carousel this season. Herman has more wins against top five teams this season than any coach, which is truly something special. My only fear about this is how many times has the perfect hire actually paid off as expected?

Nick Saban at Alabama and Urban Meyer at Florida and Ohio State may be the exception to the rule. Will Herman live up to the hype in Austin, or will we find out that rebuilding Texas is actually harder than it has ever been? Texas wanted Herman, and now they have him. I have high hopes for this combination, but Texas had plenty of rungs on the ladder to climb to get back to the top of the Big 12.

Did LSU settle for Ed Orgeron?

BATON ROUGE, LA - OCTOBER 01:  Derrius Guice #5 hugs head coach Ed Orgeron of the LSU Tigers after a touchdown against the Missouri Tigers at Tiger Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
BATON ROUGE, LA – OCTOBER 01: Derrius Guice #5 hugs head coach Ed Orgeron of the LSU Tigers after a touchdown against the Missouri Tigers at Tiger Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Speaking of LSU, they removed the interim tag from Ed Orgeron’s title following a season-ending victory over Texas A&M. Was that because of a win over the Aggies on Thanksgiving, or was it more because Herman tried playing LSU for a more lucrative contract than he’d get at Texas?

Over the weekend, it was reported Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher turned down LSU. Strike one. Then came word LSU was turned off by Herman’s bargaining. Strike two. So it feels as though LSU settled for the coach they know absolutely wanted to be in Baton Rouge, and maybe that’s just fine. But do you fire Les Miles to hire a guy who walked out on USC before a bowl game because he knew he wasn’t getting the head coaching job in Los Angeles? Well, LSU did.

LSU fired Les Miles months ago to get a head start on the coaching search and ended up hiring Orgeron. By all accounts, Orgeron is a players coach, which can be fine. But is Orgeron going to be a guy who takes LSU forward from where Miles managed to go? For their sake, I hope so. I have a feeling we’ll be right back to looking for a new coach within a few years though.

Boxscore of the Week: Pitt 76, Syracuse 61

Yes, this was a football game. Screen shot via ESPN.com.

When I saw this score crawl across my ticker while watching some other games on Saturday, I thought I was looking at a basketball score in the wrong place. I immediately thought Jim Boeheim was going to have a postgame tirade! But no, this was actually a football game between the Pitt Panthers and Syracuse Orange.

If there is one thing Pitt needs to work on before 2017, it will be the defense. Holy cow, is Pitt’s defense bad. (Syracuse’s is obviously worse.) They just gave up 61 points to a team averaging 22 PPG this season. Pitt has potential to do some big things in the ACC, but let’s get that defensive specialist of a coach, Pat Narduzzi, to maybe fix Pitt’s defense first, OK?

Group of Five Situation: And then there were three

The Mountain West Conference had an opportunity this past weekend to jump right back into the Group of Five New Years Six conversation, but went 0-for-3 when it counted most. Boise State’s loss at Air Force knocked the Broncos out of contention for the Mountain Division and the entire New Years Six conversation at the worst possible time. That is because Wyoming got boat-raced by New Mexico on Saturday. Meanwhile, San Diego State was trounced by Colorado State. Maybe Wyoming and San Diego State took it easy, knowing they were already set to play for the MWC championship this week. But I find that hard to believe with home-field up for grabs as well as a chance to stay on the radar for the New Years Six.

Nope. Not any more. The MWC is out of the running for a second straight season. We are now down to three final contenders: Western Michigan, Navy and Temple.

Western Michigan took care of business once more to put the finishing touches on a 12-0 regular season. All that stands between P.J. Fleck and his Broncos and a 13-0 record is Frank Solich and Ohio in the MAC Championship Game this week. Beat Ohio and Western Michigan is likely to be rowing the boat right to the Cotton Bowl. But don’t sleep on Navy, a more marketable brand with a larger following and a team that has been on fire over the past month.

Navy hosts Temple for the American Athletic Conference this week in Annapolis, and a win by the Midshipmen should give the committee something to think about even with two losses this season. Navy will have far more impressive wins (9-3 Houston, 8-4 Memphis, 9-3 Tulsa, 9-3 Temple…. heh, I didn’t even mention Notre Dame) than Western Michigan (6-6 Northwestern, 9-3 Toledo, 6-6 Central Michigan, 7-5 Eastern Michigan, 8-4 Ohio) this season. As well as Western Michigan has played, it is a conversation worth having.

But what about Temple? Don’t overlook what Matt Rhule has done in Philly. If the Owls beat Navy on the road, Temple can sneak into the New Years Six if their old MAC nemesis Ohio can help them out with an upset in the MAC Championship Game, and teams have been upset in the MAC Championship Game before. Temple has the longest shot here, but they are officially in the running.

This pretty much sums up the season-ending thoughts for Virginia

I like Bronco Mendenhall and still think Virginia is going to do some good things with the Cavaliers. His first season did not go well at all, and it is clear he has a long way to go to turn things around with the program. After getting trucked by Virginia Tech in the final game of the regular season, Virginia’s equipment truck got into a little bit of a jam on the way home.

Random Bowl Thought

Miami (Ohio) started the season 0-6 and ended the year one Ohio loss away from winning the MAC East Division. You better believe I’ll be plugged into whatever game the RedHawks play in as they hope to end the year with a winning record against all odds. They deserve a trip to the Bahamas (Bowl) in my book.

My Top Four

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

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

The College Football Playoff does not start today, so here is my final projection before all the games that matter have been played:

  1. Alabama
  2. Washington
  3. Penn State
  4. Ohio State

Whoa, what? So let’s spill the beans on a couple of my conference championship game predictions this weekend.

As you can probably guess, I have Virginia Tech taking down Clemson in the ACC championship game this week in Orlando. So Clemson is out, leaving the door wide open for the two-loss Big Ten champion, which I am thinking might be Penn State. Penn State has to have a healthy Saquon Barkley for this to happen, but the Nittany Lions have an edge on Wisconsin through the air, so getting by Wisconsin is feasible. And with a head-to-head victory over Ohio State (and Ohio State essentially blocking Oklahoma thanks to their head-to-head win), I think James Franklin sneaks his team into the playoff. Once in the field, I think the committee would then give Penn State the higher seed above Ohio State (as well as Washington) due to owning a conference championship.

That also helps potentially balance the first-round matchups by having Alabama challenged by Ohio State in a rematch from two years ago rather than pin Penn State against Alabama. I think Ohio State gives Alabama a tougher game than Penn State would. Plus, a non-division champion should have the toughest draw in the first round anyway. But shouldn’t the top-seed have the easiest draw (Penn State)? Who cares? This is all about maximum TV ratings, and Alabama-Ohio State will give a boost to the semifinals after a horrible showing last season. The championship game will do just fine regardless of the matchup as long a sAlabama or Ohio State are in the title game.

Mailbag: Can Oklahoma crash the playoff party?

We got a few questions worth exploring for the mailbag this week. Let’s dig in with some quick answers.

Oklahoma has not lost since getting turned upside down by Ohio State on their home field back in September, and the Sooners are likely to wrap up the Big 12 title without losing a conference game. There is no question they are finishing the season on a high note with a handful of terrific offensive weapons worthy of Heisman Trophy consideration (Dede Westbrook, Baker Mayfield).

But the Big 12 is not particularly strong this season and the Sooners lost a game to Ohio State. There is simply going to be too much ground to make up to jump high enough in the rankings without some serious help, but where is that going to come? Alabama isn’t going to lose to Florida. Ohio State, with a better record and a head-to-head win against Oklahoma, isn’t likely to drop below a red-hot Sooners squad. A two-loss Big Ten champion has an extra game and the edge by having a better opponent in their final game than Oklahoma. Can Oklahoma count on both Clemson and Washington losing?

The Sooners probably need a 45-point win to make any argument worth considering if the pieces fall into place. Otherwise, Oklahoma should prepare to take on Auburn in the Sugar Bowl.

I love bowl games and will make an attempt to watch just about all of them, if I can. I personally don’t care if 5-7 teams are playing in them (remember that 5-7 teams were 3-0 in bowl games last year), but I understand the sentiment here. Bowl games are supposed to be rewards for a good season, and ending the year with a losing record even with a bowl victory should never be considered a success. I personally don’t really care, and anything that gives free swag to more student-athletes that are not being paid otherwise is fine by me.

That said, bowl games are pricey and there are more than enough operating at a deficit. But as long as they keep drawing TV viewers, it may not matter. We’ll see some bowl games come and go, but every time one bowl game fades away, another will pop up in its place. Bowl games are like H.Y.D.R.A. Cut off one, two more take its place.

Nope. I cannot explain this. I am a strong proponent of goal line cameras in every stadium, but I also feel there should be a moving camera that is fixated on the first-down line. Why not use pylon cam technology to put one on the official first-down marker? In this day and age, something like this should never be an issue.

That said, J.T. Barrett got the first down.

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 NBCSports.com's College Football Talk, Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Host of the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher Radio and iHeart Radio. FWAA member and Philadelphia-area resident.