The Big Ten′s season has led into this weekend. Ohio State and Michigan, both 11-0, play in Columbus with everything at stake. It’s the first time they’ll play with undefeated records since 2006.
Both teams survived scares last week, giving this edition of The Game all-time potential. The Buckeyes have won every game by double digits. Michigan has won 10 of 11 by double digits. A year after the Wolverines finally broke through by outmuscling the Buckeyes in the snow, the encore could be even better. (The conditions will be around 55 degrees and cloudy with a 40% chance of rain in the afternoon.)
“It’s a playoff game; both teams could still be considered with a loss, but a win puts them in prime position,” said Gary Stokan, who’s president of Peach Bowl Inc. and knowledgeable about the playoff selection process. The Peach Bowl will host one of the College Football Playoff semifinal games.
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It also has high Heisman Trophy stakes. Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker tore his ACL, a horrible ending to a memorable campaign, and North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye struggled in his team’s loss to Georgia Tech that ended their long-shot CFP hopes.
Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud, now the betting favorite for the award, could move closer to securing the Heisman with a sterling performance against his program’s archrival. Michigan running back Blake Corum, who’s dealing with a knee injury, could leap into the forefront of Heisman contenders with his own strong showing.
“These are the type of games that you have to step up and have your Heisman moment,” Stokan said. “Everybody is watching, all the voters around the country. It’s against a top-ranked opponent. That’s why you want to play at Michigan and Ohio State, to play in big games on big stages.”
Last weekend threatened multiple shakeups, but most of the top teams survived. No. 4 TCU escaped Baylor on a game-winning field goal. No. 6 USC topped rival No. 18 UCLA in a shootout. But Tennessee, which was No. 5, was completely dismantled by South Carolina, ending its CFP bid. North Carolina also was eliminated with its loss.
The remaining hopefuls seem to be No. 1 Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan, TCU, No. 5 LSU, Southern California and No. 8 Clemson. It’d require a lot of madness for, say, an Alabama (No. 7) to reenter the discussion.
While the Trojans were behind LSU in the latest rankings, they’re well-positioned. They have No. 15 Notre Dame this week, then likely No. 9 Oregon or No. 13 Washington in the Pac-12 championship. If USC wins out, it’d have closed with three consecutive ranked wins.
One of Ohio State or Michigan will have a loss, and LSU is a heavy underdog against Georgia in the SEC Championship game, so the discussion could come to USC vs. Clemson for the fourth spot – if these teams keep winning.
“The guiding principles for the selection committee, they’ll look at head-to-head, common opponents, strength of schedule and they’ll look at conference championships,” Stokan said. It’s notable, then, that USC is facing Notre Dame, the team that beat Clemson 35-14 earlier this month.
POTENTIAL PLAYOFF MOVERS:
This week’s games that could affect the playoff race (game Saturday unless otherwise noted):
Georgia Tech (5-6) at No. 1 Georgia (11-0), noon, ESPN: The Bulldogs control their own destiny for the CFP’s top seed. If they’re No. 1, they would play their semifinal contest at the Peach Bowl. It would be their third time playing in Atlanta this year, following the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff and SEC Championship game.
No. 3 Michigan (11-0) at No. 2 Ohio State (11-0), noon, Fox: Finally. The Wolverines and Buckeyes will play with an undefeated season, Big Ten Championship game berth and No. 2 seed on the line. This matchup has the potential to be among the more memorable in the storied rivalry.
South Carolina (7-4) at No. 8 Clemson (10-1), noon, ABC: The Tigers are once again the last ACC team standing after Georgia Tech upset North Carolina last week. Clemson will root against TCU and USC. Before facing UNC in the conference championship, the Tigers need to get by a South Carolina team that ended Tennessee’s CFP hopes – in humiliating fashion – last weekend.
Iowa State (4-7) at No. 4 TCU (11-0), 4 p.m., Fox: TCU is living on the edge, but all that matters is that it continues winning. As other top-ranked teams falter, the Horned Frogs haven’t slipped up. They’re a couple of wins away from their first CFP berth (vs. Iowa State and Kansas State).
No. 5 LSU (9-2) at Texas A&M (4-7), 7 p.m., ESPN: The Tigers need to defeat the Aggies and then the Bulldogs in the SEC Championship game to potentially make the CFP.
No. 15 Notre Dame (8-3) at No. 6 USC (10-1), 7:30 p.m., ABC: The Trojans can bolster their résumé with victories over the Fighting Irish and Ducks or Huskies in the next two weeks. It’s safe to say USC is happy with its investment in Lincoln Riley.
On coaching availabilities:
Auburn continues its search for a new coach, with Lane Kiffin’s name often linked there (he denied a report that he’s set to take the job after the Egg Bowl). Georgia Tech’s interim Brent Key has done a really nice job, earning two ranked road wins, but we’ll see if Tech turns elsewhere. Nebraska, Wisconsin, Colorado and Arizona State are among the other openings.
That provoked this thought: There might not be many coaching jobs available at the premium programs in the next couple of years. Schools are either thrilled with their coaches and/or just invested in one. NFL opportunities or a disastrous campaign could always change things, but it doesn’t appear many of the most coveted jobs will open in the next couple of years.
Alabama and Georgia are set. LSU and Florida just hired Brian Kelly and Billy Napier, respectively. Josh Heupel has made Tennessee matter again. Auburn is about to hire a new coach.
USC just hired Riley. Notre Dame just hired Marcus Freeman. Oklahoma just hired Brent Venables. Clemson is set with Dabo Swinney. Mike Norvell seems to have FSU trending up, while Miami likely will give Mario Cristobal time.
Ohio State and Michigan are covered (Jim Harbaugh has flirted plenty with an NFL return, though). With Arch Manning coming, there’s buzz around Steve Sarkisian’s Texas Longhorns. Dan Lanning has had a nice debut season with Oregon. The same goes for Kalen DeBoer at Washington.
Perhaps one of these coaches leaves for another program, like Kelly switching Notre Dame for LSU, but it doesn’t seem much movement is likely in the next year or two. The best job that might open: How about Texas A&M? Jimbo Fisher needs a major step forward in 2023. He’s already had five years in College Station, and Aggies fans watched Kelly win the SEC West in Year 1.