Depending on what team you root for, we are either at the home stretch of the season (like the ACC), hitting the middle of the season (like the SEC or Big 12) or just starting out (the Big Ten). Or if you are a fan of the Pac 12, you are still waiting for the season to start. That in itself makes this the craziest college football season of our lives.
College football fans always like to say that every game matters. With limited schedules, next to no non-conference games and the staggered starts to the season and that slogan is more meaningful than ever. So with eight weeks until the College Football Playoff selection committee picks the four teams that will battle, it is a good time to see which games may matter the most. Here are twenty games remaining that will help determine the College Football Playoff.
In just the second week of the Big Ten schedule, we may have the conference's two best teams facing off. Ohio State is the heavy favorite to not only win the league but to get into the College Football Playoff. Penn State just lost a close game at Indiana but still has an outside chance to win the Big Ten title -- especially if they can win this game. Ohio State has won seven of the last eight in the series but three of the last four were decided by three points or less.
BYU is climbing the rankings but they really haven't played any big names. This game at Boise State is their best opportunity to show off how good they are. Sure, the Broncos are playing a limited schedule and we're not sure if this would be an eye-opening win for the Cougars but it is all BYU has. If the Cougars go undefeated and can blast Boise State on the Smurf-turf then it gives them some sort of chip to play in the College Football Playoff if things in the Power 5 get crazy.
The Florida-Georgia rivalry will be played on its latest date in nearly 30 years. Both the Gators and Bulldogs have already lost a game this season but they still are in the mix to get into the playoff. Winning this game will go a long way to determining the SEC East champion and who would likely get to play Alabama in the title game. Two physical teams playing for two tough-minded coaches with quarterbacks that have great stories. Interestingly, each team has gone on alternating three game winning streaks over the last 12 years. Georgia has won the last three games.
This will no doubt be the biggest conference game in Notre Dame's history. It is also the biggest test for Clemson during the regular season in their quest to win their third national championship in five years. Clemson's exciting offense against the Irish's physical rushing attack will make for an interesting contrast of styles. Aesthetically this could be the best game of the year: powerful Clemson playing in South Bend in November where a spot in the ACC championship is on the line. This is quite possibly the biggest regular season game remaining.
Could this game really help determine a spot in the College Football Playoff? Yes, it could. The Big 12 is in a bit of flux this year and could have a non-traditional champion (namely, one of these two teams). Sure, will it be difficult for a team that lost to Arkansas State ... like the Wildcats managed to do ... to play for a national championship but going 9-0 in the Big 12 goes a long way. Oklahoma State is on track to do the same thing and looks like the best team in the conference. This game begins a stretch where the Cowboys play four of five on the road.
Cincinnati proved a lot by spanking SMU and putting everyone on notice that they are a contender for a playoff spot. There are still some landmines left on the schedule and their matchup with the Cougars could be the biggest. Houston's only loss was to BYU but they've put up over 37 points per game this season and quarterback Clayton Tune has had three 300-yard games already. Big offense versus big defense.
This matchup last season was as big as it gets as LSU downed 'Bama, 46-41, which vaulted them into serious national championship contention. This game won't be as highly anticipated due to the Tigers struggling out of the gate this year but it still is a big trap for the Crimson Tide. If LSU coach Ed Orgeron puts any purpose on the rest of this season it would be to beat Alabama in Baton Rogue.
This game looked a little better a few weeks ago when the Vols looked like a contender, but it still is a big game. The Aggies have already beaten then-No. 4 Florida but was beaten soundly by Alabama. While the rest of the season features no opponent that is currently ranked, traveling to a reeling Tennessee will be a test. The Vols have a stout offensive line and good enough defense to cause A&M some problems. Texas A&M's likeliest route to a playoff spot will be to win out their games and hope Alabama blasts the SEC East champ in the title game. A&M would then hope to receive a second SEC playoff bid.
The Bedlam Series will feel a bit different this season as Oklahoma State is the team with national championship aspirations while Oklahoma is the one looking to spoil their rival's fun. The Cowboys' last win in this series was six years ago, which was also in Norman. This year's game should be a shootout as Oklahoma State brings in Heisman candidate Chuba Hubbard while Oklahoma still brings in a high-octane offense. Should be an emotionally charged game.
Last season, Utah was so close to getting into the playoff and believe they could sneak in with a big season in 2020. USC feels that they can be the best team in the Pac 12 after winning five of their last six games of the regular season last year. USC will need to run the table this year to get into the playoff which means this pre-Thanksgiving showdown at Utah will be key. When healthy, Kedon Slovis is one of the better quarterbacks in college football and he will need to play really well against a usually tough Utes defense if the Trojans want a shot at a national title.
The winner of this one could find themselves playing Clemson in the ACC championship game. Notre Dame can afford to lose their November 7th showdown with Clemson if they go down to Chapel Hill and beat the Tar Heels. The Tar Heels could still make their way into the playoff if they can win this game over Notre Dame and then beat Clemson (or the Irish again) for the ACC title. This will be an interesting contrast of styles as North Carolina has an explosive offense while Notre Dame uses defense and ball control to squeeze out wins.
The Iron Bowl may be the best rivalry going right now. Not only do they typically play games with a lot on the line but either team can win this game no matter who is better. Alabama is clearly the better team this season but we've seen Auburn pull out upset wins over a top-ranked 'Bama recently. Bo Nix will need to have a huge game to pull off the upset this time around. These two programs have split their last twenty meetings but the Tide have won five of the last six in Tuscaloosa.
As I mentioned earlier, Penn State still has a path they can get to the playoff if they can get past Ohio State. The Wolverines have a tough schedule, relatively speaking, down the stretch -- facing Wisconsin and Penn State before traveling to Ohio State to end the season -- which could set up one of the best resumes in the country if they win. This should be a defensive fight that goes down to the wire. A win by Michigan could set up their showdown with Ohio State in a couple weeks.
While most of the attention in the Big Ten will be on the East division, this game could determine the West division champion. Wisconsin is in a bit of a transition as they are in the post Jonathan Taylor era but the program simply plows along. Minnesota was one of the most pleasant surprises in 2019 and, despite their loss to Michigan, is stocked for another run at a Big Ten title. Wisconsin ended that dream in their meeting last year but the Gophers won the last time the two met in Madison. The winner will likely be the frontrunner to play in the conference championship game.
Clemson's last four games of the regular season are tough and their matchup with Virginia Tech is the finale. The Hokies have the nation's fourth best rushing offense, led by running back Khalil Herbert, that has put up 168 points in their first four games. Clemson will have their hands full with a bit of a trap game in Blacksburg.
Tulsa put a scare into Oklahoma State to open up the season and possesses one of the best defenses in the country. So does Cincinnati, which will make this regular season finale an absolute slugfest. These two teams could be fighting for a spot (or both spots) in the AAC championship game and the Bearcats could have a College Football Playoff berth on the line.
It is difficult to know where the power in the Pac 12 lies. Their season doesn't start until November 7th and they will play just six league games until the championship game on December 18th. Oregon seems to be the one team that has a shot at sneaking into the playoff, though that may be a long shot as the league has missed the last three College Football Playoffs. The Ducks' matchup with Washington in the regular season finale could provide that shot as they are projected to be two of the best teams in the conference and the only two Pac 12 schools to make it to the playoff.
With a shortened season, the Ohio State-Michigan game could hold more meaning than usual. Many feel that the Buckeyes are good enough to make the playoff despite not starting their season until late October, so every game is a must-win. Michigan has lost the last eight meetings in this rivalry and 15 of the last 16 so there is pressure in Ann Arbor to finally win this game. And, who knows, maybe Michigan will be in a position to get into the playoff with a victory. They've already beaten Minnesota soundly and would have played Penn State and Wisconsin before the big game.
Let's just lump all the conference championship games into one spot. At this point, it is tough to know if all of them will be meaningful but we surely know the SEC, ACC and Big Ten title tilts will go a long way into determining three or all four of the College Football Playoff spots. We could have Clemson-Notre Dame, Alabama-Georgia and Ohio State-Wisconsin on this day with all six teams able to play their way into clinching one of the four playoff spots. There could be some crazier matchups that could see teams not even in these games waiting to see if they can still make it into the playoff (more on that in a second). With everyone playing with a smaller resume and next to nothing differentiating the relative power among the conferences and this can be a wild weekend of games that could act as playoff games of sorts.
Just hear me out. This weekend, the Big Ten and Pac 12 will have a full slate of games to go along with their conference championship games which could provide for some interesting scenarios. What if, say, Ohio State loses a close game at Penn State during the season but plays Wisconsin or Minnesota during championship weekend but not in the championship game? Three of the last four College Football Playoffs featured a team that did not play in a conference championship game so there is a chance that someone playing in one of these "other" games can work their way into the playoff.