Every Friday, NCAA.com will run ‘Third and Long,’ a look at three different questions facing the college football world. This week, our three respondents are Austin Vaughn, Tyler Greenawalt and Craig Thomas.
1. Ohio State was 16th in the first CFP rankings of 2014. Is there team that isn't near the top of this year's first edition, but has a shot at making a similarly improbable run to the Playoff?
Austin Vaughn: Stanford or Utah, although they’d need some help from the Big 12. The Cardinal and the Utes shouldn’t lose another game on their schedules, leaving the two of them 11-1 and facing each other in the Pac 12 championship. The winner of that game should land in the top four, unless there is an unbeaten Big 12 champion. TCU, Oklahoma State and Baylor have some tough games ahead of them, but if any of the three finish undefeated, they secure a playoff spot. However, sorry Oklahoma, a one-loss Big 12 champion would probably be haunted by the absence of a conference championship game, and the spot would go to a 12-1 Pac 12 champion over a 11-1 Big 12 champion.
Tyler Greenawalt: I’m inclined to pick Oklahoma or Oklahoma State, but I’m not so sure an undefeated, or even one-loss, Big 12 team could make the playoff over a SEC, ACC, Big Ten or Pac-12 champion. Therefore, I’m going to go with Florida State, who has a chance to rebound after a devastating loss to Georgia Tech and is currently ranked 16th in the first CFP rankings. Florida State has a chance to prove to the committee that its lone loss was a fluke if the Seminoles can beat Clemson this weekend and Florida at the end of the season, and of course not lose any games in between. The Seminoles need a lot to happen between now and the end of the year besides winning their games, but if Florida State can produce some signature wins in the back-half of its schedule, it has a chance to move up the rankings and possibly make the Playoff.
Craig Thomas: I’d really like to see No. 8 Iowa make some noise, not for any particular football reason -- but because their victory fight song is polka. Also I’d like to see this guy become a national celebrity. You want a real football answer? If somehow Oklahoma State makes through November unscathed (the Cowboys are facing TCU, Iowa State, Baylor and Oklahoma) that should grab the attention of the College Football Playoff committee.
TG: Sitting at No. 5 in the first CFP rankings, Notre Dame has the most to prove in November. Losing to Clemson doesn’t look as bad anymore, especially with the Tigers sitting at No. 1, but the Fighting Irish have a shot to sneak into the Playoff if it they can win out the rest of the season by considerable margins. The next three games on Notre Dame’s slate won’t help its strength of schedule unless the Fighting Irish cruise through Pittsburgh, Wake Forest and Boston College, and a big season finale matchup at Stanford will be the defining moment for Notre Dame to prove to the committee they belong among the top four teams in the nation.
CT: Ohio State needs a signature win against a ranked team. They need a good, old-fashioned, slobber-knocking, decisive victory. There is too much drama at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and Urban Myer can’t be too pleased about it. Now, some of this was his own doing – but only the drama that happened on the field. Ohio State ends the season with Michigan State and Michigan back-to-back. A one-loss Ohio State goes to the Rose Bowl, not the College Football Playoff. What happens if Ohio State beats Michigan State but loses to TTUN?
AV: The Big 12. Like I said above, for the Big 12 to secure a spot in the final four, the conference champion would most likely have to be unbeaten. And, the conference schedule in November is a crucible, boasting five top-15 matchups in this month alone. Many critics have called Oklahoma State the worst undefeated team in college football and would bet that they will finish the season with two or more losses. TCU has been criticized for not being able to easily dispatch unranked teams, and Baylor is without standout QB Seth Russell for the rest of the season. If those teams show off against each other, and No. 15 Oklahoma, no one is gonna put the Big 12 in a corner again.
CT: This is a nice way to cap off a Saturday night of college football. If LSU wins this game, they can silence all the doubters. Is this game this year’s Game of the Century of the Year of the Week? I have a hard time keeping up. Both Bama and LSU love to pound the ball and this could be big things for Derrick Henry and Heisman front-runner Leonard Fournette. Fournette has not been held under 140 yards since last season but last year the Crimson Tide held to under 4-yards a carry.
There is a story Nick Saban likes to tell when he was on a recruiting trip in Youngstown, Ohio. He stopped by a local pub to visit Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops’ uncle, who was also named Bob. The Stoops brothers are legends in their hometown of Youngstown. While he was arguing football with Uncle Stoops, a man robbed the bar with a shotgun. Once the police arrived, the bartender told the cops not to talk to Stoops or Saban because neither man had seen the robbery. They were too involved talking football to pay attention to a man with a shotgun walking out of ‘Talk of the Town’ with a fistful of money.
This is another example of how much Nick Saban loves football. No matter how many tricks the Mad Hatter pulls out, how can you go against a guy this focused?
AV: Geaux Tigers. Les Miles has been fielding impressive defenses in Baton Rouge for a while now and been able to win a lot of tough games on the strength of the defense alone. But, this season is a special one for the Bayou Bengals, who not only boast a strong offense behind Heisman candidate Leonard Fournette, whose reputation precedes him, but the LSU offense is also bolstered by strong play through the air, as well. Quarterback Brandon Harris has racked up over 1,000 passing yards, while averaging 8.5 yards per completion, and the five different Tiger receivers average 15 plus yards per catch. The completeness of this LSU team is too much for Saban’s Tide to roll over, especially on a year where Alabama is vulnerable enough to be exposed by a 6-2 Ole Miss team.
TG: This game has the makings of another LSU-Alabama slugfest we’ve all come to know and love, but I’m going with the Tide. Alabama needs another statement win, and beating an undefeated conference opponent with arguably the top Heisman candidate should be enough to prove to the doubters they still are among the elite teams in the nation. It will all come down to defense for Alabama. Leonard Fournette is unstoppable, but Alabama’s defense has been pretty immovable, at least on the ground. Ranked fourth in total defense, the Crimson Tide also boast the third best run defense in the nation, holding opponents to 78.5 yards a game. Alabama will need to pick it up on offense to match LSU’s but if Alabama can keep the score low it has a chance to knock LSU down a peg.