Very rarely am I wrong. Three or four times a day, tops. That being said, I was wrong – very much so, in fact – about two predictions I made for this year’s college football season.
- Michigan wouldn’t stand a chance against Ohio State.
- Clemson would win the ACC. ACC = Another Clemson Championship.
So here’s what I didn’t know when I made those predictions:
- Jim Harbaugh can flat out coach when his back is against the wall, as it certainly was this season because another loss to the Buckeyes would have cost him his job. There was talk that Michigan’s loss last year to Ohio State was the final straw, but apparently the powers that be got together and decided that this year they really, really, really meant it.
- Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei was totally incapable – the word “hapless” comes to mind – of filling the shoes of the departed Trevor Lawrence. I made the same mistake after quarterback Tim Tebow graduated from the University of Florida and expected John Brantley to step in and keep the Gator offense humming – rather than being little more than a deer in headlights.
However, things turned out for the best this season and many of us got our wish anyway: Ohio State and Clemson won’t be in the playoffs. (Notre Dame, either!) That being said, here’s how the conference championships played out:
In the Pac 12, after losing to Utah 38-7 two weeks ago, Oregon vowed that they would do better when they met again to decide the conference championship. Whether or not they were successful depends on your interpretation of “better.” Utah – 38, Oregon – 10. For those that see the glass as half full, putting 10 points on the board is certainly better than only putting up seven. With the two top dogs of the Pac 12 both having three losses, they kissed their playoff hopes goodbye. Note to Miami: Oregon says if you want Mario Cristobal, you can have him. (Miami is in the process of “pulling off a Tuberville” – shopping for a new coach when they haven’t gotten rid of the one they already have.)
After Pittsburgh beat Wake Forest, 45-21, the playoff committee decided that ACC – After Careful Consideration – the ACC would also not have a representative in this year’s playoffs. Their rationale is pretty simple and makes perfect sense: if Clemson doesn’t win the conference, the committee doesn’t want any part of it.
If your team has the ball, first and goal on your opponent’s 1-yard line, a very short list of who you don’t want calling the play: Oklahoma State head coach Mike “I’m a Man” Gundy. That being said, Baylor survived that very situation – twice – in the fourth quarter to preserve a 21-16 victory over Oklahoma State, winning the Big 12 title. The good news: Baylor avenged their regular season loss to the Cowboys. The bad news: Baylor lost to TCU in the regular season – so no playoffs for the Bears or the Big 12, either.
If you’re keeping score at home, that means three of the Power Five conferences – Pac 12, ACC and Big 12 – will be sitting out the playoffs this year. (As will Notre Dame.)
So who’s in?
In the Big 10, Michigan had to do little more than go through the motions in their conference championship game against Iowa, winning handily 42-3. Head coach Jim Harbaugh’s team will enter the playoffs as the #2 seed and will meet the #3 seed in one of the semifinal games – that definitely won’t be Notre Dame because, as we established several weeks ago, they already lost to Cincinnati. A one-loss Fighting Irish team does not a playoff team make (scripture, I believe).
As for Cincinnati, they finished the season undefeated at 13-0 after winning the AAC conference championship, defeating Houston, 35-20. It is time for the Bearcats – and I’m taking the liberty of speaking on behalf of all the Power Five conferences, none which include Cincinnati – to either put up or shut up, because they will enter the playoffs as the #4 seed. Cincinnati will play in one of the semifinal games against the #1 seed, the champion of the SEC.
Alabama’s toughness gained from a season of winning close games was part of what separated them from previously undefeated Georgia in the SEC championship game. A Heisman-worthy performance from Alabama quarterback Bryce(man) Young didn’t hurt, either: an SEC championship 421 passing yards for three touchdowns, and another 40 yards and one touchdown on the ground. Final score: Crimson Tide – 41, Bulldogs – 24. As expected, Alabama will be the #1 seed in the playoffs, and Georgia will go in as the #3 seed – setting up the possibility for a rematch in the National Championship. While the victory served as a confidence booster for the Crimson Tide, the loss was certainly a confidence (or maybe I should say cockiness) killer for the Bulldogs.
So now, after 14 weeks, we’re down to the final four on Dec. 31:
#2 Michigan versus #3 Georgia in the Orange Bowl
#1 Alabama versus #4 Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl
The two winners will play for the National Championship on Jan. 10 in Indianapolis. Don’t be surprised if Nick Saban is wearing his eighth ring the next morning.
Scott Ludwig lives, runs, and writes in Senoia. His latest book, SOUTHERN COMFORT is his second collection of 101 columns. His first, SOUTHERN CHARM, and all of his other books can be found on his author page on Amazon. He can be reached at email@example.com