Penn State QB Trace McSorley
Championship week is here, and the College Football Playoff is close to being set.
Who will survive the final weekend of the season, and will chaos strike one day prior to Selection Sunday?
Bleacher Report experts Adam Kramer, Barrett Sallee, Christopher Walsh, Greg Couch and Michael Felder break down the final week of the season in this week’s edition of expert picks.
Washington wide receivers Dante Pettis (front) and John Ross (back)
Yes. While Washington appears to have the weakest resume of the assumed playoff favorites, a win over a Top 10 team to close out the season would all but guarantee a spot in the playoff. The bigger question is how the committee would view Colorado if it pulled off the upset.
But Washington is in with a win. It’ll be a one-loss Power Five team, and a conference championship should be good enough during a year filled with two-loss contenders.
Although it shouldn’t be as easy as counting the losses, the Huskies have looked like one of the best teams in football throughout much of their schedule. The committee will reward them as such if they win.
I want to pick the upset, because Colorado has been so much fun this season and is getting better every week. But I can’t. Not against this Washington team, which has the outside offensive weapons in John Ross and Dante Pettis to have success, a defense that is underrated and a playoff spot sitting there waiting to be occupied. Colorado will still get a New Year’s Six bowl berth, but Washington will win a fun, tight, wildly entertaining Pac-12 Championship Game on Friday night.
The Buffaloes are a sound team with a strong secondary, so there shouldn’t be a repeat of the numerous big plays that Washington quarterback Jake Browning and the offense made early on against Washington State last week. Colorado closed its regular season with back-to-back home victories against ranked opponents, but the Huskies have too much talent. Washington will win and head to the playoff.
If this is a question about who the playoff committee wants, then yes, Washington would get a spot with a win. But the Huskies aren’t going to win. Colorado is one of the top teams in the country with an excellent defense and quarterback in Sefo Liufau who is running people over and rarely throwing the ball to the wrong team. Washington’s physical offense against Colorado’s defense will be fun to watch. Is there a path for Colorado to get to the playoff?
Yes. I love the Buffs. They’ve been my favorite team to watch all year. But the Huskies will pull out the win at home to claim the Pac-12 title and, more importantly, a playoff spot. The most interesting aspect of this game will be Ralphie’s secondary against the Washington passing attack. All of those guys can play, and one extra play out of Ross will be the difference.
Wisconsin LB T.J. Watt
This is a difficult game to pick and one that is intriguing for so many reasons. But Wisconsin’s defense will put one final exclamation mark on a brilliant year with a conference championship.
That’s not to say the offense won’t factor in. After a lackluster showing against Minnesota in the regular-season finale, the offense will have to be better to win this game. It will be, although this feels like a contest that will be close and defense-heavy.
Wisconsin will eke out a win and wait to see what happens.
Give me Wisconsin in an ugly, old-school defensive slugfest that will come down to the wire.
The Badgers defense has been so successful getting pressure this year with four (or five, at most) and will present problems to a Penn State offensive line that, while improved, will have one of its toughest tests of the season.
Wisconsin will force a couple of mistakes that will give its offense good field position, and it will do enough to get a big win in the Big Ten Championship Game.
This is a coin-flip game, which, considering the state of the Nittany Lions going into the Minnesota tilt at the beginning of October, is a huge compliment to Penn State. This team was 2-2 and coming off a 49-10 loss to Michigan.
Fans who haven’t been watching Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley will have a fun time discovering him, as he’s a flat-out gamer. Both teams have injury concerns, as Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook (head) and Penn State running back Saquon Barkley (foot) were both sidelined last week.
I’m going with the Badgers by a field goal because of their defense, but I won’t be surprised if the game goes into overtime.
The truth is that most people, including the playoff committee, will think Ohio State won the conference title when it beat Michigan. But in the consolation matchup—the Big Ten title game—Penn State will win. Wisconsin’s ceiling is higher than Penn State’s, but the Nittany Lions have so much momentum and are more consistent. The winner gets into the playoff.
Wisconsin will win this game. A world of respect to what Penn State has accomplished this season, but the Badgers are a nightmare to play against. With D’Cota Dixon and Leo Musso serving as one of the nation’s top safety tandems, it will be tough for the Nittany Lions to create points. The Badgers will claim a Big Ten title two years removed from being destroyed by Ohio State.
Florida QB Austin Appleby
Perhaps I would feel differently if Florida’s injury report wasn’t the length of a phone book. Or perhaps not.
I no longer say “never” when talking about the results of football games and handicapping how 18- to 22-year-old human beings will react. But it would take something extraordinary for Florida to win this matchup. That’s not exactly stating the obvious.
It has been a month-plus—a month-plus—since the Alabama defense gave up a touchdown. That is incredible and somewhat alarming. It’s a testament to how good this group has been.
This is what Florida is up against. It is also what every other team is up against.
Goodness gracious, no.
Alabama is the clear-cut best team in the country, but it’s far from an unbeatable juggernaut. The problem for Florida is it doesn’t have the pieces to stress the Crimson Tide in any way. It doesn’t have a downfield passing game it trusts, an offensive line that can protect the quarterback or big-bodied wide receivers who can turn 50-50 balls into 75-25 balls against the somewhat undersized Alabama cornerbacks.
The Tide will keep it ultra-conservative, not take any risks and wear down the Gators, a lot like they did against LSU—which didn’t pose an offensive threat either.
Florida’s offense is struggling, and Alabama’s defense hasn’t given up a touchdown since playing Texas A&M on Oct. 22. Nick Saban, who has still never lost to one of his former assistant coaches, got annoyed Monday when he was asked if Alabama felt it could still make the playoff even with a loss, calling it a “big game.”
“If we don’t win this game, maybe we throw a stink bomb out there, maybe we don’t get in the playoffs. I don’t know. … It’s never OK to lose a game.”*
No. Alabama will get into the playoff win or lose and could take this as a practice game if it wanted to. But you don’t mess with momentum in college football. The boldest I can go with this prediction is that Florida, despite its offense and Alabama’s historically great defense, will find a way into the end zone twice.
No. Not at all. Unlike everyone else who works in college football, I don’t think Alabama is the greatest team ever. But it’s a heck of a lot better than Florida. The Gators can’t score, and if you can’t score you don’t even move Alabama’s pulse. This game should be a demolition that we can all turn off in the middle of the third quarter to do Florida the favor of not watching the end of its destruction.
*Quotes obtained firsthand
Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield (left)
This game has quietly taken a back seat to interest elsewhere, and the end result of the contest will not be known until all championship games have taken place.
The winner will take the Big 12. That winner will be Oklahoma, and this will be a big deal. A lot of what happens next will depend on the optics of the victory.
Let’s say Oklahoma wins convincingly by multiple touchdowns. Let’s also say, in this dream Big 12 scenario, Clemson and Washington both lose. Would the selection committee take Oklahoma over Colorado? Or Wisconsin? Or, well, Michigan?
The winner of this game will no doubt be in the conversation. But more will be necessary.
If Oklahoma wins, it will still be hard for the Sooners to elbow their way into the playoff, since they’re blocked by Ohio State by virtue of the head-to-head loss.
But here’s the kicker: Oklahoma State will spring the Bedlam upset and make things more interesting. The Pokes should have only one loss based on the Central Michigan “loss” that should never have happened. What’s more, they actually should have a leg up on Penn State thanks to a head-to-head win over Pitt—which beat Penn State.
Does that land them a spot in the playoff? It would probably take a Clemson and/or Washington loss to make that a possibility, neither of which will happen.
Oklahoma is the hot team, having won eight straight games, while the passing combination of Baker Mayfield to Dede Westbrook has possibly become the best in college football. Oklahoma State has won seven straight, but its games have been tighter.
Oklahoma won last year’s matchup 58-23 and has the advantage of being home this time. This might be the de facto Big 12 championship game, but the chances of the winner getting into the playoff are still slim, as it might need two upsets to get a semifinal invitation.
I can’t see a path for Oklahoma State to get into the playoff or even the discussion. Even if Clemson were to lose the ACC title game, Oklahoma State would stay behind at least one team from the SEC, two from the Big Ten and one from the Pac-12.
Oklahoma still would have a shot at being picked over the Pac-12 champ if Colorado beats Washington, though that’s not how I’d pick it. The Sooners have more respect than Colorado. That said, Oklahoma State is going to win the game, and the Big 12 will be left out of the playoff.
The winner won’t get into the playoff. But what interests me? If the Pokes win, how do we discuss a team that lost to Central Michigan because the Chippewas received an extra play? There hasn’t been a ton of vocal discussion of that point, and I wonder if booster T. Boone Pickens and head coach Mike Gundy will load up their media guns to push that narrative if Oklahoma State wins.
Virginia Tech QB Jerod Evans
While Virginia Tech’s performance has been up and down, Hokies quarterback Jerod Evans could play well enough to win. Virginia Tech also has some fascinating athletes who could push this Clemson defense. The Hokies are a skilled team, and this won’t be a cakewalk for the Tigers.
With that said, if the Clemson from last Saturday shows up—and it’s worth noting that it played a South Carolina team it should have looked great against—the Tigers will beat Virginia Tech and make the playoff.
Deshaun Watson is looking more like Deshaun Watson. Mike Williams looks like some sort of superhuman at wide receiver. The defense is still young and loaded. It hasn’t always been easy, but this team is gifted. It will be fascinating to see how it handles a capable opponent with so much on the line.
Yeah, Virginia Tech is a threat.
The combination of Evans and receiver Isaiah Ford presents problems to almost everybody. The problem is that it will be hard for the offensive line to give Evans enough time to find weapons downfield due to Clemson’s terrifying front seven.
The Hokies will have some success, but Watson will be too much for the defense. The junior signal-caller for the Tigers will make one final push for the Heisman Trophy as he guides his team to its second straight playoff appearance.
Clemson’s passing combination of Watson to Williams is heating up at the right time. Last week, Watson tied his career high with six touchdown passes—three to Williams—against South Carolina. Williams has topped 100 yards in four of the last six games. Virginia Tech’s Evans has thrown just five interceptions and leads his team in rushing with 713 yards, but he will have to outduel Watson for the Hokies to have a chance.
Clemson is starting to look a lot more like we expected. With Virginia Tech, it’s hard to get past that loss to Syracuse in mid-October. In spite of the drop in Watson’s play this year—not counting this past week—he might have won the Heisman Trophy on Saturday when Lamar Jackson threw his third interception of the day in a loss to Kentucky.
Watson will have to throw some interceptions for Virginia Tech to be a threat. Take Clemson by 17.
When Evans is hot at quarterback, he has weapons to make plays and bother the Clemson secondary. So yes, the Hokies are a threat. However, Clemson will cut Watson loose, and that means all sorts of problems for the Hokies defense. It is tough to stop the run, run-pass options and passes against the Tigers offense given the bevy of weapons. Clemson will get the win and a second trip to the playoff.
Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck
I absolutely love, love, love that we get to talk about some #MACtion here. And the answer is yes.
Ohio, which has had a nice year, won’t keep up with Western Michigan. Look for wideout Corey Davis to add yet another big game to his brilliant collegiate career.
In the bigger picture, this game will send Western Michigan to a New Year’s Six bowl game. It will represent the Group of Five, which is a big deal.
In the even bigger picture, someone is going to pay head coach P.J. Fleck. Maybe it’s Western Michigan for a year or two more. Maybe it’s Purdue. Maybe it’s Oregon. He seems destined for big things.
Yes, and in the process, Western Michigan will earn a New Year’s Six bowl berth as the top-ranked Group of Five champion.
This Broncos team has been so much fun to watch, as veteran quarterback Zach Terrell and Davis have proved to be one of the best tandems in the sport. Western Michigan will top Ohio with authority and move on to a major bowl. Fleck might have a decision to make about his coaching future, depending on what big jobs open up (if any).
Yes. Ohio has a good defense, ranking 31st in total defense and 22nd in scoring defense, but Davis has already set the career FBS record in yards receiving with 5,061. Terrell has 30 touchdown passes compared to one interception (yes, one, that’s not a typo) to go with a 71.7 completion percentage. Meanwhile, Ohio is coming off a 9-3 victory over Akron. If its offense doesn’t play better, this could be a rout.
Against Ohio? Yes. Ohio has lost to Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan. Western will make the geographic sweep. It’s too bad Western Michigan couldn’t have played Iowa or some nationally ranked team. It would have been fun to see. It just shows that not all major teams are major, and that Western Michigan’s two wins over Big Ten teams Northwestern and Illinois don’t count for much.
Yes. Fleck, who somehow might be waiting for another year to get hired because it seems teams think he doesn’t even deserve an interview for a big gig, is going to finish the drill. His team plays focused football and goes out and takes wins. The MAC title game will be Western Michigan’s 13th victory as it gets set for a major bowl game.
Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett
Yep. It’s happening. The selection committee deemed Ohio State worthy leading up to this final week, and a win over a Top Five team—no matter the “controversy” attached—will be enough to put the Buckeyes in the playoff.
This is a big deal. Not because Ohio State isn’t deserving, but because it’s something new.
Up until now, all eight teams to make the CFP have won their conference. That is about to change.
I will say this: While this will be different, it sends a message that could have a positive impact on the sport. It will encourage teams to play up out of conference, as the Buckeyes did. That’s a good thing for the health of the sport and that first month of the season.
Is it taking some of the spotlight off winning a championship game? Absolutely. Wisconsin or Penn State could have a legitimate beef that the winner should be in. And perhaps it will be. But it won’t come at Ohio State’s expense.
Scroll down to Felder’s section to find about the real reason why Ohio State will be in.
But from a purely football standpoint, yes, Ohio State will—and should be—in ahead of Penn State, even if the Nittany Lions win the Big Ten.
Losses matter, and Penn State has one more than Ohio State. It came against an out-of-conference foe, Pitt, early in the season. Meanwhile, a young Ohio State team beat the brakes off a better out-of-conference opponent, Oklahoma, early in the campaign.
Ohio State is in, no matter what happens elsewhere. Penn State’s bigger issues are how the committee views the Pac-12 champion and, as mentioned on the Bedlam page, a “two-loss” Oklahoma State if those two teams win this weekend.
The more I think about this, the more I believe the Buckeyes have already locked up a spot. Ohio State’s only loss was against a good team on the road; otherwise, it took care of business while playing in the conference that has three other teams ranked in the Top 10. Granted, the committee is going to be in a bind regardless, especially if Penn State wins the Big Ten Championship Game, but the one-loss designation gives it a clear-cut line to draw.
If so, Clemson and Washington are looking at win-and-in, while the Big Ten champion will need an upset. With an Alabama win over Florida, you’re looking at semifinals of No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Washington in the Peach Bowl and No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
Yes. Done deal. The winner of the Big Ten title game will get in, and the loser will have three losses and be left out. The Buckeyes and Alabama are already a lock no matter what happens. And frankly, Ohio State deserves it. The Buckeyes don’t have any bad losses, they have some great wins and they even scheduled Oklahoma.
Sure, go ahead and put the Buckeyes in. Spare me the head-to-head, strength-of-schedule and resume discussion. Money matters. Other than Alabama, no team that is capable of being considered for the playoff is a bigger money draw than Ohio State. So with that in mind, after a week off, put the Buckeyes in the playoff. They make financial sense, and that’s all that counts when you can make the math work.