By Ryan Decker
This weekend the college football world will have our fullest attention.
Friday and Saturday’s major games, including seven conference championship games with at least one ranked team involved, will have direct implications on the College Football Playoff picture.
Eight of the Top 10 teams in the country will be in action. Here are the top storylines heading into the weekend, and the games with the biggest implications.
- No. 17 Western Michigan attempts to stay undefeated
Western Michigan (12-0) is in the midst of the best season in program history.
Not only is this the first time the Mustangs have won more than nine games in a single season since 2008, but with a win Friday night over Ohio, Western Michigan has the chance to go undefeated in a season for the first time since 1941.
A win Friday also guarantees WMU a New Year’s Six bowl game appearance, which would also be the first in program history.
- Pac-12’s Playoff spot on the like in No. 8 Colorado v. No. 4 Washington
Fans of the sport that follow the same line of thinking must be thrilled by the Pac-12 Conference Championship game, which features both teams.
Not only is it a nice change of scenery for the conference – first time in the game’s short history that neither Oregon nor Stanford will be playing – but it will be an important appetizer for Saturday’s slate of championship games.
A victory for Washington should secure the conference’s place in the College Football Playoff.
“If Washington wins the Pac-12 title game on Friday, it should be in the playoff, plain in simple.” – Matt Calkins, The Seattle Times
However, as Calkins points out, a Huskies victory on Friday still doesn’t necessarily secure the Pac-12’s spot in the Playoff.
And a win by the Buffs completely knocks out the conference’s national title hopes.
- Big 12 Championship – Can Oklahoma sneak into a Playoff spot?
If you’ve listened to just about any college football analyst this year, you’d assume that the Big 12 had no chance at sending a team to the College Football Playoff.
Even just two weeks ago, when a pair of AP Top 10 teams battled in Morgantown, it appeared a bleak, bleak chance it would happen. The game didn’t appear to have CFP implications.
Lo and behold the conference still has a dog in the hunt.
A lot would have to happen for the higher-ranked Sooners to sneak into one of the four coveted Playoff spots, but the chaos has been especially high over the last couple weeks, directly aiding the Big 12’s chances. A repeat performance this weekend by the ‘Controllers of Chaos’, whomever it/they may be, could possibly give one of the four most prized possessions in the sport to the conference that no one gave a shot to get one.
- Will Big Ten Championship game produce a Playoff team?
Heading into the season most would’ve laughed at you if you said that the winner of the Big Ten Championship game wouldn’t be included in the College Football Playoff. If you were to say that now, though, you may be right.
With its win over Michigan in “The Game” last Saturday, No. 2 Ohio State appears to be a lock for the Playoff, despite not appearing in a conference championship game. Alabama, even with a loss in the SEC title game, stands a better-than-average chance at playing in one of the two semi-finals.
Sixth-ranked Wisconsin has been the class of the Big Ten West division since the start of the decade, appearing in now four of the six conference championship games since its inception in 2011. No. 7 Penn State, on the other hand, hasn’t won at least a share of the conference title since 2009, and hasn’t won the conference outright since 1994.
The two meet at Lucas Oil Stadium Saturday.
Despite the game being played between a pair of Top 10 teams in the College Football Playoff Rankings, it’s not a sure thing either the Badgers or the Nittany Lions will receive an invitation to the dance. Both could be left out.
Why? Both teams already have two losses on the year.
Wisconsin’s close losses to Michigan and Ohio State look much better than Penn State’s loss to Pitt early in the year and blowout loss to Michigan.
With Penn State being just 1-1 against the Buckeyes and Wolverines, and Wisconsin losing to both, it’s hard to make a definitive argument for either getting into the College Football Playoff over Ohio State and/or Michigan.
But that’s for the committee to decide.
- Can Alabama and Clemson stay in the title picture?
Top-ranked Alabama appears to be the only team truly locked into a playoff spot. That sentiment has been echoed across the country, including on Mike & Mike on Tuesday morning by hosts Mike Greenburg and Mike Golic, as well as by guest and fellow ESPN personality Danny Kanell, and by another guest that appeared on the show that day.
No. 3 Clemson has arguably been the best team in the ACC all year – withstanding an early-season test from Auburn, beating Louisville in one of the most entertaining games of the year, as well as downing Florida State. Sure the loss to Pitt doesn’t look good, but when every team in the nation other than the Crimson Tide have a loss, the Tigers didn’t lose much ground.
A win by both on Saturday in their respective conference championship games likely claims two of the four playoff spots. A loss by one or both could open the floodgates.
For the sake of argument, say Florida pounds Alabama into the ground. The Tide lay the biggest egg in recent history, and lose by at least two touchdowns. Or, a few hours later, Clemson is upset by the Hokies in Orlando.
Neither result is likely. Alabama is a whopping 24-point favorite; Clemson is favored by a touchdown, extra point and a field goal.
But it could happen. That’s why you play the game and everything isn’t just decided on paper.
- WVU v. Baylor – the highest highs and the lowest lows (and everything in between)
After the Cowboys and the Sooners battle in Bedlam, but before the rest of the conference championship games kickoff, there will be a game taking place in Morgantown, West Virginia that doesn’t have anything to do with the playoffs.
But for the fans of each of the two schools playing in said game, it’s almost nearly as important.
Baylor started the season a perfect 6-0, somewhat putting all the off the field offseason distractions behind it. However, an ensuing five-game losing streak, along with other negative press about the program, once again has created a bleak outlook for the Bears.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Mountaineers are sitting pretty.
Dana Holgorsen has led a team that many picked to finish the season with no more than six wins to its ninth victory of the season last weekend in Ames. This means there’s a lot on the line in WVU’s final game of the regular season.
With a win, No. 16 West Virginia can clinch its first 10-win season since 2010 under the late Bill Stewart. It would also further the mark of the best season for the Mountaineers under Holgorsen, and would add a seventh tally in the win column against conference opponents – two more than WVU has registered in any other season since joining the Big 12.
Baylor, though, is having its worst season since 2010.
Looking even further ahead, a win gives the Mountaineers a chance to have their first 11-win season since 2007.