The four programs (Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma) that have dominated the College Football Playoff era have combined to claim 17 of the 24 semifinal spots, yet they have never all reached the semifinals in the same season.
Though Clemson, Alabama and Ohio State are heavy favorites to win conference titles again, Oklahoma’s two losses already this season ensure at least one spot will be up for grabs.
And the Sooners’ in-state rival has the clearest path to the playoff.
Looking to become the first Big 12 team besides Oklahoma to reach the playoff — and to end the Sooners’ five-year reign atop the league — Oklahoma State is the only undefeated team remaining in the conference.
Currently No. 6 nation, the Cowboys’ highest-ranked scheduled game comes next week against No. 16 Kansas State. The teams directly above Oklahoma State are likely to fall, with Notre Dame facing Clemson — maybe, twice — and Georgia needing to reach the SEC title game just to get another shot at Alabama.
Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State’s head coach since 2005, has been in even stronger positions in the past. A 2011 double-overtime loss to Iowa State, a 27-point underdog, is all that stopped the Cowboys from playing in the national championship. In 2015, Oklahoma State started 10-0, but didn’t win another game that season.
For so many years, Oklahoma State was carried by its offense. From 2015-18 under coordinator Mike Yurcich, the Cowboys averaged at least 36.8 points, peaking at 45 points per game in 2017. Without him last year, the team averaged 30.5 points. This year, Oklahoma State is averaging just 28.5 points, but its defense has finally done its part, giving up 12 points per game.
Unfortunately, the success is predicated on having not yet played a top-50 offense. And now, Gundy has to prepare for a Texas offense, which is averaging 45 points per game under Yurcich, in his first year as Longhorns coordinator.
Defense is not the Cowboys’ forte. Now, offense isn’t, either. Take Texas (+3.5).
(Home team in CAPS)
Boston College (+31.5) over CLEMSON
In five ACC games this season, the Tigers have won just one game by more than 28 points. Motivation is harder to find at the top of the mountain.
KENTUCKY (+14.5) over Georgia
Stetson Bennett’s starting job is at risk after he was intercepted three times against Alabama. The former walk-on could find more trouble against a Wildcats defense that has nine interceptions in the past three games.
Memphis (+6.5) over CINCINNATI
The Bearcats lost three games last season. Two came against Memphis. The Tigers’ sixth-ranked offense is capable of continuing the Bearcats’ lengthy losing streak in the series.
MICHIGAN (-24.5) over Michigan State
In his first game with the Spartans, Mel Tucker became the first Big Ten coach to lose to Rutgers in nearly three years. It’s almost as if hiring someone with a 5-7 lifetime record and making them one of the 15 highest-paid coaches in the country wasn’t the best idea.
GEORGIA TECH (+19.5) over Notre Dame
Notre Dame has been staring at its date with Clemson since its shotgun wedding with the ACC took place. Don’t expect the best of the Fighting Irish — who’ve produced three no-shows in five games — with the biggest game of the season looming.
AUBURN (+3) over Lsu
If you have confidence in either team, you haven’t watched enough of either team. Take the points in a battle between two of the most unpredictable underachievers in the nation.
Indiana (-10.5) over RUTGERS
Greg Schiano can only claim so much credit. Seven giveaways aren’t coming his way again. Just a 17th-ranked opponent with its highest spot in the polls in 27 years.
ALABAMA (-31.5) over Mississippi State
Since throwing for 623 yards and five touchdowns against LSU, K.J. Costello has thrown for 644 yards, one touchdown and 10 interceptions in three games. State star running back Kylin Hill’s opt-out will only make the Air Raid even more impotent.
PENN STATE (+11.5) over Ohio State
Following its controversial loss to Indiana, Penn State will be ready for another high-stakes battle with the Buckeyes. No Big Ten team has been tougher for Ohio State to defeat. Penn State, since its 2016 upset win, lost a pair of meetings by one point, then trailed by four in the fourth quarter of last year’s road game.
Arkansas (+12.5) over TEXAS A&M
Sam Pittman shouldn’t have had to wait so long for his first head-coaching job. The 58-year-old rookie has done the SEC’s most impressive work this season, with an incorrectly ruled fumble the only thing separating the Hogs from three straight wins, following a 20-game losing streak.
Missouri (+13.5) over FLORIDA
If the Gators end up playing for the first time in three weeks, it’ll come after a total of 37 team members contracted COVID-19. Fortunately, Dan Mullen’s recent wish to “see 90,000 in the Swamp” won’t come true.
VIRGINIA (+6.5) over North Carolina
The Tar Heels’ home-road splits remain our guide. Three games in Chapel Hill have led to three North Carolina covers. Two games on the road have resulted in two Tar Heels failures.
Best bets: Texas, Boston College, Indiana
This season (best bets): 56-44-1 (10-10-1)
2014-19 record: 772-756-13
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