Path To CFP

By Patrick Wareham

With Holy Cross out of the national title conversation with a 34-21 loss to Lehigh, it’s time to shift focus to the contenders who made the most of their Week 11 matchups in college football.  Kidding.

Where to even begin?  The latest Saturday perfectly encapsulated the 2017 season in one day.  A week where we thought we had answers heading into the final stretch has only left college football fans with even more questions.

The Playoff Committee clearly expressed their confidence in a Georgia Bulldog team by surprisingly placing them atop the rankings for the past two, ahead of Nick Saban’s unbeaten Alabama.  Up to this point, Georgia had steamrolled its competition, tallying wins over Notre Dame and Mississippi State.  However, their showdown with 10th-ranked Auburn was the team’s first marquee game in hostile territory since its win over the Irish in the season’s second week.  Running back Nick Chubb has been Georgia’s catalyst all season long, however the Tiger defense targeted the ground attack, limiting Chubb to a season low 27 yards and forcing freshman quarterback Jake Fromm to try and beat them through the air.  Fromm’s inexperience showed, and the Bulldogs were embarrassed 40-17, losing for the first time this season.  Georgia still controls its destiny, having clinched the SEC East last week, and it will certainly earn a Playoff spot should it defeat Auburn or Alabama in the SEC Championship.

Alabama survived a scare at a very good Mississippi State, scoring a last second touchdown to win 31-24.  FPI gives the Crimson Tide a 41 percent chance to win the conference, followed by Georgia at 38 percent, and rounded out by Auburn at 21 percent.  Both teams play inferior opponents in Week 12 (Auburn plays Louisiana-Monroe; Alabama plays Mercer) as the rivals gear up for the Iron Bowl at Auburn the following week—a matchup that will have playoff implications.

Wisconsin helped itself in a big way, handily beating No. 20 Iowa, a team that just one week ago dominated Ohio State into submission.  The Buckeyes themselves caused experts to scratch their heads this week by bouncing back to crush rival Michigan State.  The Spartans were coming off a big home win over Penn State, and the defeat all but ended their hopes at a conference title, needing Ohio State to lose both of their remaining games.  The Big Ten, which early in the season hoped to feature two teams in the Playoff, must now hope for Wisconsin to win out.  Should the Badgers drop one game, even it comes in the conference title game, the Big Ten is looking at a grim reality of failing to place a team in the top four at the season’s close.

Oklahoma appears to have solidified its place in the top four in a rout over No. six TCU.  With no Big 12 title game looming, the Sooners will roll into the Playoff should they take care of their two remaining unranked opponents.   

With all that said, the game with the largest playoff implications featured old foes Notre Dame and Miami, meeting for the first time in five years.  The seventh-ranked Hurricanes came into the game undefeated, but were listed as the underdogs against 8-1 Notre Dame.  All doubters were quickly silenced as they rolled to a 41-8 trouncing over their rival, ending the Irish’s chances at competing for a title.  The win came as the team’s second consecutive victory over a top-15 team, having beaten Virginia Tech the week before.  Playing in primetime on ESPN, the U made an enormous national statement heading, as it marches towards its ACC Championship showdown against fourth-ranked Clemson.  If you think Week 11 was crazy, buckle up, because these last three weeks are going to be a wild ride.

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