Monday, November 13, 2017

The Groundwork For the End

By Jonathan Lowe

This weekend didn't serve up the armageddon that promised to be. Yes, two of the top three teams in the country lost. However, one storied program made certain that an instance that last happened on New Years' Day of 1966 (thank you, ESPN) stayed a distant memory. Some intriguing storylines did come out of a chaotic Saturday, though. With less than three weeks until Championship Saturday, there's some items we can "guesstimate" on before the College Football Playoff selections are finalized.

The Comeback of a Program

If one thing is prevalent from the run of this system, it's the resurgence of programs with glorious pasts. So far, eight programs have been a part of the three playoffs. Clemson emerged as a national champ three decades removed from the other title. Washington is continuing to return to a contention status they haven't truly seen in about 25 years. Michigan State has become a very good program with the capacity to become a great one.

This season, the mantle has been held up by two programs. Until Saturday, the baton was being carried by Georgia (and it still might with some help). By Sunday, it had been passed to Miami. The Hurricanes last won it all 15 years ago. For the Bulldogs, that number stands at 37. Each of these teams has a chance to end their respective droughts ... but both have little to no room to falter.

Is Alabama Already a Lock?

After surviving a major scare at Mississippi State, the Tide will reassume its role as the nation's top team. There is still work to be done to set this notion into concrete. However, let's look at the scenarios where you might see this bit a crimson represented among the last four contenders:

* Simply, they win out and finish with a 13-0 record and an SEC Championship.
* They fall short of an SEC title, losing to 11-1 Georgia in a nail-biter.
* They lose the Iron Bowl to Auburn, but the Tigers get beat by Georgia in the Atlanta (remember Ohio State last year?)

Unless the Tide find some weird way to lose to Mercer this coming weekend, I don't know if there's any way to keep them out of either the Rose or Sugar Bowls. Clemson or Miami could eliminate the other (ACC Championship). Oklahoma will probably face Oklahoma State or TCU in the Big XII Championship. Wisconsin isn't a shoo-in to win its final three games. The Pac-12 doesn't have a team with less than two losses. If there are other candidates, let me know.

The Yin and Yang of the Good and Bad

One of the most fascinating, and frustrating, things about sports is that you never really have it figured out. Sure, we have our predictions. Sometimes, they turn out to be correct. But, even when those projections become reality, it's rarely ever "clean." That's not how events and campaigns in this industry work. Case in point, let's look at Wisconsin.

The Badgers are undefeated, 10-0 for the first time in program history. However, they could not have had two different outlooks over the last two weeks, and none of it was under their control. Bucky drubbed Indiana to get to 9-0. But, on that same Saturday, Penn State fell at the gun to Michigan State, while Ohio State got taken to task at Iowa. Due to the Wisconsin not showcasing a schedule worthy of a national title contender, they needed every highly-touted team they could run into down the stretch. The PSU and OSU losses meant that the best the Badgers could hope for was a 10-2 opponent in the Big Ten championship game. For the joy of winning, the outlook wasn't great.

Then, this past Saturday happened. You knew there would be carnage due to the matchups. But how much, and involving whom? A Big XII contender lost (TCU). A second top-seven contender lost (Notre Dame). The bonus would come if one of the two SEC bigwigs went down. 'Sconi got one (Georgia) and very nearly got the other. The Badgers did their part, running away from that dangerous Hawkeye squad. Outside of Madison, though, this weekend couldn't have gone much better for a contending force.

A Contending Cinderella of a Spoiler?

How do you classify Auburn? The Tigers were seen as a fringe contender when the season got underway. Then, they lost to Clemson in Week 2. The Tigers worked their way back into that fringe contention category midway through the season. Then, they lost to LSU. Once again, the Tigers fought their way back to the verge of contention. This time, they put together an effort that could be the start of an historic run.

With a victory against Georgia, Gus Malzahn's team can lay claim to defeating one top-ranked team. If everything holds through this coming Saturday, they'll have the opportunity to defeat another team ranked No. 1. When's the last time that happened? So, what do you call Auburn? They haven't become a top-flight contender until ... well ... now.

On the other hand, this team has Power Five pedigree and has been ranked all season. This means they aren't a Cinderella. I guess you'd have to see them as the ultimate spoiler. What better scenario to ruin your rivals' chances than putting yourself in one of the coveted four spots?

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