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Around CFB: Breaking down the contenders for the fourth playoff spot

December 3, 2019
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Unbeatens Ohio State, LSU, and Clemson should have clinched places in the College Football Playoff’s four-team field.

Even though all have conference championship games to play, they could lose and probably still be in. The precedent has already been set.

In 2016 Penn State won the Big Ten championship, but Ohio State, which the Nittany Lions defeated 24-21, went to the playoff and was promptly throttled by Clemson. But Ohio State had only one loss that season. Penn State had two. That shows that two-loss teams will be omitted from playoff consideration.

That leaves four one-loss “Power Five” teams — Oklahoma, Baylor, Utah, and Georgia — vying for the final spot in the playoff. Each could make a compelling argument for CFP inclusion. Here’s a look at each team’s case and why it is or isn’t valid.

Lia Musgrave, TexAgs
The only blemish on the resumé of Kirby Smart’s Georgia Bulldogs is a home loss to South Carolina.

Georgia
The case: Currently ranked fourth, the Bulldogs have beaten Notre Dame, Florida, and Auburn. No other contender can match that resume. A victory over LSU in the Southeastern Conference championship game should result in the SEC having two teams (Georgia and LSU) in the playoff.

The rebuttal: Georgia lost to South Carolina (4-8). Besides, a loss to LSU would be the Bulldogs’ second loss and eliminate them.

Oklahoma
The case: The Sooners defeated Baylor (11-1) and Oklahoma State (8-4). Defeating Baylor in the Big 12 championship game rematch would solidify OU as the conference’s best team.

The rebuttal: OU lost to Kansas State (8-4) and had to escape Iowa State, Baylor, and TCU. More than half of OU’s victories were over opponents that finished with losing records.

Baylor
The case: A Big 12 championship game victory would avenge the Bears’ only loss.

The rebuttal: Baylor’s schedule is even softer than OU’s. The Bears probably played the weakest non-conference schedule in the nation. Like OU, more than half of Baylor’s victories are over opponents with losing records. Baylor needed overtime to defeat TCU (5-7) and Texas Tech (4-8).

Utah
The case: A victory over Oregon (10-2) in the Big-12 championship game would be an impressive as any win the Big 12 teams have. Utah beat BYU (7-5), which is better than any of the Big 12 teams’ non-conference opponents. The Utes’ only loss is to USC (8-4). Just six opponents have losing records, and none of those victories were close. Seriously, that’s a plus?

However, history shows postseason committees, polls and rankings have always been kind to Oklahoma.

The rebuttal: Perhaps the Pac-12 isn’t as strong as the Big 12. But if the debate comes down to the strength of the Big 12, Utah seemingly would be in a good position.

The thought here is a one-loss Utah would deserve the final playoff spot if Georgia loses. However, history shows postseason committees, polls, and rankings have always been kind to Oklahoma. If OU finishes with one loss — and Georgia loses — look for the Sooners in the field.

Heisman Watch (If my ballot was due today)

1. Joe Burrow, LSU, QB: Burrow closed the regular season by throwing for 352 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 50-7 victory over Texas A&M. He’s second in the nation in passing with 4,366 yards and has thrown 44 touchdown passes for the undefeated Tigers.

2. Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma, QB: Hurts threw a touchdown pass, ran for a touchdown and caught a TD pass in leading the Sooners over Oklahoma State 34-16. Hurts is third in the nation with 4,564 yards of total offense. He’s rushed for 1,217 yards and passed for 3,347. He’s thrown 31 touchdown passes and has rushed for 18 scores.

Lia Musgrave, TexAgs
Burrow seemingly had his Heisman coronation on Saturday night in LSU’s 50-7 victory over Texas A&M.

3. Chase Young, Ohio State, DE: Though Young did not register a sack in a 56-27 win over Michigan, he was credited with two quarterback pressures. He leads the nation with 16.5 sacks, has 19.5 tackles for loss, has forced six fumbles, and has blocked a kick.

4. Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin, RB: Taylor was held to just 76 yards rushing, but rushed 2 touchdowns and caught a 28-yard pass for another TD in a 38-17 victory over Minnesota. Taylor is second in the nation with 1,761 rushing yards and has run for 20 TDs.

5. Justin Fields, Ohio State, QB: Despite completing just 14 passes, Fields threw for 302 yards and 4 touchdowns in the victory over Michigan. He’s passed for 2,654 yards and 37 touchdowns with only one interception.

Predicted Playoff Participants

1. LSU: If LSU wins the SEC championship over No. 4 Georgia, the Tigers will have the best resume’ in the nation. Heck, they probably already do.

2. Ohio State: The Buckeyes may be the country’s most complete team. Their schedule isn’t as demanding as LSU’s, though.

3. Clemson: The Tigers strangely have been blamed for playing in a weak conference. Well, when playing weaker teams, the results should be blowouts. No opponent has stayed within 28 points of Clemson since September.

4. Oklahoma: A Big 12 championship victory over Baylor should open a spot for the Sooners in the playoff field. But an Oregon win over Utah in the Pac-12 title game would certainly help.

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Discussion from...

Around CFB: Breaking down the contenders for the fourth playoff spot

1,199 Views | 2 Replies | Last: 11 days ago by letmeinnow
UTExan
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I wouldn't drink the OU koolaid. The Utes are extremely physical this year and their improvement since USC is remarkable. They are on a mission: recall how they should never have been on the same field as Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl according to the analysts.
“... the reason life works at all is that not everyone in your tribe is nuts on the same day.
Anne Lamott
letmeinnow
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AG
You might want to edit your review of your Utah piece. I think they play in the Pas 12, not the Big 12.
Otherwise, great write up as usual.
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