College Football Week 14 Preview – Who Is Going to the Playoffs?
It’s Championship Week, with conference titles and playoff bids on the line. Here are the big question marks for the last week of college football’s regular season.
Will the Big Ten Get Two in the Playoff?
With No. 2 Ohio State knocking off then–No. 3 Michigan last week, it’s all but certain the Buckeyes will be in the Final Four despite not technically winning their own division. But the bigger drama could come in the Big Ten title game where No. 6 Wisconsin will battle No. 7 Penn State for not just the conference championship, but a possible playoff spot.
The selection committee has routinely said it would place heavy emphasis on both conference titles and strength of schedule. So the question becomes, what would the committee do with a two-loss Big Ten champion who played a much tougher schedule than, for example, a one-loss Washington out of the Pac-12? With a win, the Nittany Lions would have signature victories over both Ohio State and the Badgers. If Wisconsin wins, they would have an equally impressive resume with wins over LSU, Nebraska and Penn State.
If Washington takes the Pac-12 title (more on that in a minute), the committee could have an interesting quandary on their hands.
Can the Colorado Defense End Washington’s Title Hopes?
Fourth-ranked Washington can make a big playoff statement with its first conference title since 2000, but the Huskies will have to get past the resurgent Colorado Buffaloes, who are seeking their first conference championship since winning the Big 12 in 2001.
Washington quarterback Jake Browning, the Pac-12 player of the year, has worked himself into the Heisman discussion after throwing for over 3,100 yards and a 40/7 touchdown-to-interception ratio. However, he’ll face his toughest test of the season against a Colorado defense that leads the conference in both passing and total defense. The No. 8 Buffs have given up just 13 passing touchdowns while recording 15 interceptions.
While much of the focus will understandably be on the matchup of Browning against the C.U. defense, the contest on the other side of the ball is equally intriguing. Colorado runs the ball more than any other team in the Pac-12 (averaging 48 carries for 201 yards per game). And while the 4.2 yards per carry average won’t wow anyone, the Buffs will need to stay committed to the run to keep Washington’s offense off the field and protect quarterback Sefo Liufau, who has been hurt several times this season. Washington leads the conference in rush defense, but the Buffs’ offensive line has given up 27 sacks this season. Washington ranks second in the conference in sacks (36), so allowing this to become a passing showdown will not help Colorado’s chances.
Can Florida Shock the World?
Almost everyone already has Alabama carved in stone as the top seed in the playoffs and even a loss in the SEC championship game is unlikely to knock them out of the Final Four. But Florida could put a speed bump in the Tide’s road to the national title in this week’s SEC championship game.
Let’s be honest: Florida winning here is a long shot. Vegas has them as 24-point underdogs. Florida ranks 114th nationally in total offense while the Crimson Tide boasts the nation’s best defense, which has not given up a touchdown since October 23. It’s entirely possible that streak will continue this week. But if Florida can hold on to the ball, get a few turnovers and breaks to go their way and...
Ah, who am I kidding? This Alabama team may go down as the best in college history. Florida’s just playing to not be embarrassed.
Will Bedlam Live Up to the Name?
Strange things can happen in rivalry games, and nowhere has that been truer than in the recent years of the Oklahoma–Oklahoma State matchup. Going back to 2001, the lower-ranked team has won this game five times and the game has gone to overtime twice in the last four years. This season, the stakes are as high as ever as the Bedlam matchup will serve as a de facto Big 12 title game, with the winner having a slight glimmer of hope to make the playoff.
After a slow start that saw them get blown out by Houston and Ohio State, the No. 9 Sooners have rolled off eight straight wins by an average score of 49-30. QB Baker Mayfield leads the nation in yards per attempt (10.9) and quarterback rating. Both he and receiver Dede Westbrook (123.1 receiving yards per game and 15 scores in his last eight games) are getting some late Heisman buzz as they’ve moved Oklahoma steadily up the rankings.
However, the Sooner defense leaves a lot to be desired (91st nationally), and No. 10 Oklahoma State boasts a pretty stout offense of its own. The Cowboys rank 14th nationally in scoring and have scored at least 31 points in seven straight games. With so much at stake, expect this to be another high-scoring Bedlam shootout that comes right down to the wire.
Can Clemson Punch Its Ticket?
Besides Alabama, No. 3 Clemson is the only team that truly controls its own destiny and can punch its ticket into the playoffs with a win over No. 23 Virginia Tech in the ACC title game. After a slow start to the season, Tiger quarterback Deshaun Watson has ignited as the quarterback we are used to seeing, completing 71 percent of his passes and throwing 27 touchdowns in conference play.
Clemson leads the conference in passing, scoring and total defense and will face a Hokie offense that has put up at least 34 points in eight of its nine wins this season. However, Virginia Tech hasn't faced a defense of this caliber and will be unlikely to match that total.
On paper, Clemson is clearly the better team and should advance to the playoffs. But the potential game-changer could be turnovers that give the Hokies a short field. Clemson has turned the ball over 23 times this season (107th nationally) and can’t afford those kind of mistakes against a talented Hokie offense.