Monday, November 12, 2018

Is Clemson/Alabama IV Inevitable?

By Steve Brenna

We're two weeks into November, and another college football season is getting down to the nitty-gritty. We're in year five of a College Football Playoff format that was designed to make the hunt for the national title about more than the two highest-ranked teams in the country. Yet we're now in year four of the Alabama Crimson Tide, the Clemson Tigers, and everyone else that thinks they might have a shot.

Granted, Alabama has dominated the landscape for over a decade now, and aren't nearly as fun to talk about as they once were. A recent gag story on one of ESPN's daytime talk shows about Alabama's chances of beating a 28.5-point spread against the Buffalo Bills tells us all we need to know. Alabama is a minor-league professional team, and comparing them with other NCAA teams is almost as ridiculous as a comparison with the Bills.

Then there are the Tigers, who are now 50-4 over the last four seasons, and appear to be a shoo-in for their fourth consecutive trip to the semifinals. With Florida State as a relative non-threat in the ACC over the past four seasons, Clemson is barreling its way to a fourth straight conference championship if they can (somehow) manage to get past Duke and South Carolina. And then (somehow) pull a rabbit out of the hat against whichever Coastal division juggernaut they'll face in the ACC title. Right now it would be 6-4 Pitt.

I'm sure Dabo Swinney is shaking in his holy boots. Basically, it would take divine intervention to prevent Clemson from heading to the semis at 13-0.

So the talk returns to the Tide, who will have a bye this coming week against The Citadel before squaring off against Auburn in Tuscaloosa. While there is always a chance things could go sideways in the fire and fury of The Iron Bowl, it's highly likely they will head into the SEC title game against Georgia as the top ranked team in the country.

Assuming the Bulldogs don't stumble in their bye week scrimmage against UMass this week, or against rival Georgia Tech (whom they've defeated in 14 of their last 17 meetings), the SEC championship will be the Dawgs shot to secure a return trip to the semifinals. Michigan currently sits as the highest-ranked one-loss team in the country, but faces a major test with a showdown against Ohio State looming on the last game of the regular season.

If the Wolverines can win against the Buckeyes, and then go on to defeat Northwestern in the Big 10 title game, the window could open for both Georgia and Michigan to reach the semis, with the Tide being left out. But that's only IF Georgia can beat Alabama to win the SEC. So, what are the odds of that?

An early projected line from the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook has Alabama favored by 13½ over Georgia, which really comes as no surprise. 'Bama has trampled any and every team in their path, with a 22-point victory over Texas A&M in week four currently their "closest shave" of the season thus far.

Meanwhile, Georgia was beaten handily by an LSU squad that Alabama suffocated in Week 9. Tennessee and Missouri are their other two mutual opponents (prior to the Iron Bowl), with Georgia topping the Vols and Tigers by 26 and 14 points, respectively, while Alabama defeated them by 37, and 29.

Georgia is a good football team. Alabama is just, well, Alabama. They're on a different level, and have been for years. That said, the only realistic scenario I see that could prevent Alabama and Clemson from taking the top two seeds in the CFP would be an SEC title game upset by the Bulldogs.

Let's say that doesn't happen. Let's say Clemson and 'Bama capture their respective conference titles, and Notre Dame takes care of business against Syracuse and USC and finishes the year 12-0. Easy, top three undefeated teams in the country (sorry UCF, you may need to win 30 straight to crack the top 10) are in. Georgia would be out, and the remaining contenders for the fourth spot would be Michigan, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Washington State.

We can probably just knock Washington State out right now, with a weak non-conference schedule and a weak Pac-12, I don't see an Apple Cup victory over Washington and a Pac-12 crown putting them over the top.

Either Oklahoma or West Virginia will be knocked out by virtue of a head-to-head matchup in the season's final week, and the committee has always seemed to shun the Big 12. So that leaves us with the Big 10 champion in the catbird seat. Yes, even with an embarrassing loss against Purdue, can't you just see 'ole Urban and the Buckeyes sliding in to the fourth spot if they win out?

But do we see the Irish or the Buckeyes having the firepower to win semifinal games against the two big bullies of college football? How about Michigan? Hard to say, and I just assumed a whole bunch of stuff. Maybe all of it happens. Maybe none of it. Maybe UCF files a petition with the NCAA that forces them to put a team with back-to-back undefeated seasons in the playoff.

Or maybe Alabama and Clemson just crush everyone, and we get Clemson/Alabama IV at Levi's Stadium in January.

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