Hello, Big Ten/college football fans!
Time for my first "College Football Playoff" projection for the 2021 season.
It's good to have a full season after last year's COVID-19 nightmare of a season.
This season is certainly not lacking in drama with Top 25 upsets lacking in drama. All four of last year's Playoff teams, Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, and Notre Dame, have already lost a game. Yesterday's game between Illinois and Penn State went nine overtimes before Illinois pulled the upset. I am afraid to write these, check back at the end of the season and watch four different teams make the Playoff than the four I projected.
I will go by conference:
Since this is Off Tackle Empire, I have to start with the Big Ten.
A few weeks ago the Big Ten had five Top 10 teams. Since then, two of them not only lost but lost at home to unranked teams. I'm ticked off at Iowa since they knocked me out of the Big Ten Survivor Pool at Off Tackle Empire (although I probably would've taken Penn State this week too:)
Next week is the all Michigan battle between the Michigan Wolverines and the Michigan State Spartans. Both teams are undefeated. In six seasons, Jim Harbaugh is just 3-3 vs. his in state rivals including losing last year in Ann Arbor. The winner will take a big step towards winning the Big Ten East Division but both teams still have to play the four time reigning Big Ten champion Ohio State Buckeyes. Michigan State has to travel to Columbus. Michigan hosts Ohio State but Harbaugh's 0-6 vs. OSU and Ohio State has won eight games in a row and 15 of the last 16 vs "the team up North".
Ohio State got off to a horrible start, barely beating a Minnesota team that lost this year to Bowling Green (Bowling Green????) and then lost to a Pathetic 12 team Oregon. Since then Ohio State has been dominant, winning its last four games by huge margins (although it could be the competition too). I'm convinced if Oregon played Ohio State now that OSU would win. But could that lost keep Ohio State out of the Playoff if both teams win their conferences and finish with one loss? Would it be better for the Big Ten's Playoff chances if the Michigan-Michigan State winner beat Ohio State for the Big Ten East and win the Big Ten? After Iowa's loss to Purdue, all of a sudden Wisconsin is right back in the Big Ten West race and hosts Iowa in Madison on Saturday. Right now Iowa and Minnesota lead the West and Wisconsin still has to go to Minnesota. But come on, Bowling Green?
Big Ten Championship Game Prediction: Ohio State over Wisconsin
The hilarity of the 2021 college football season can be summarized by this photo seen at yesterday's College Gameday. Alabama was beaten by a Texas A&M team that was beaten by Mississippi State on the exact same Kyle Field a week ago.
The defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide are certainly not out of the Playoff hunt but they have no room for error. Alabama still has to travel to its in state rival Auburn Tigers for the Iron Bowl and Auburn has beaten Alabama in Auburn three of the last four times they've played there (2013, 2017, and 2019). Also in the SEC West race is Texas A&M and believe it or not Mississippi or as they call themselves, "Ole Miss". Is it just me or does Ole Miss sound like something you call an old lady? Why would any man want to be proud to say they go to "Ole Miss"? And if Mississippi is "Ole Miss", why isn't Mississippi State "Ole Miss State"? Yeah I don't get the SEC.
Over to the SEC East, the Georgia Bulldogs are the current #1 team in both polls. They've pitched a shutout in two games and haven't allowed more than 13 points in any one game. Georgia probably could afford to lose a game and still make the Playoff but probably would love the #1 seed and the closer site (in this case, the Orange Bowl). They certainly would rather that Auburn win the Iron Bowl as they have owned Auburn recently (five in a row, eight of nine) as compared to Alabama (six in a row for Alabama including two SEC Championship Games and won national championship game, Georgia last won in 2007).
If you're the Big Ten, the nightmare scenario is Alabama beating Georgia for the SEC Championship and both teams having a strong chance of making the Playoff.
SEC Championship Game Prediction: Georgia over Auburn (yes, I said Auburn)
The Oklahoma Sooners are 8-0 for the first time since 2004. I find that stat surprising in that it has been that long and because of the way they've been playing this year. They were shut out in the first half of yesterday's game vs. KANSAS! In their first game vs. Tulane played in their home stadium (was a Tulane home game but moved because of a hurricane), they won by 5 points vs. a 1-6 team.
The Sooners are certainly a threat to the Big Ten as an undefeated Okie will definitely be picked over a one loss Ohio State team (if you assume Ohio State is the Big Ten champ). But Oklahoma has a tough schedule ahead of them with one loss Baylor and Oklahoma State on the road along with two loss Iowa State. Oklahoma has often blown home games including last year vs. Kansas State. Oklahoma will probably be favored to win every remaining game and probably will win the Big 12 championship but I'd say there's a good chance at least one team will beat Oklahoma this year. With Oklahoma State losing yesterday, I see the pressure off them when the Sooners head to Stillwater during Rivalry Week and that will be their "Super Bowl" (and the fact that Oklahoma is leaving for the SEC will make Oklahoma State want to beat them, as well as everyone else in the Big 12 other than Texas, even more). I'd still bet Oklahoma will win the Big 12 like they have the past four years. But one loss should be enough to send them out of the Playoff.
Big 12 Championship Game Prediction: Oklahoma over Oklahoma State
The Pac-12 is living up to my familiar nickname for it, the "Pathetic 12" this year. This year, not one but two Pac-12 teams lost to FCS teams in "buy" games (Washington to Montana and Arizona to Northern Arizona). They are also 5-5 vs. the Mountain West Conference and 0-4 vs. BYU. They do have two wins over the SEC but one is vs. doormat Vanderbilt so they don't really count. But when it comes to the College Football Playoff, you really only need one team and the Pac-12's Oregon Ducks are that team. They've won the Pac-12 the last two years. This year the Ducks got that signature win at Columbus over Ohio State early. But since then they haven't been the same, losing at Stanford, and winning close the last two weeks. In the October 17 polls, Oregon ranks #10 while the Ohio State team that they beat ranks #5. The CFP rankings don't come out until November 2 but if the coaches and writers are any indication Oregon might still be left out behind Ohio State despite beating them. In 2016, Penn State beat Ohio State only to miss the Playoff while OSU made it. On the other hand, that year Penn State had two losses to Ohio State's one. Could the Playoff Committee leave a one loss Oregon out in favor of a one loss Ohio State that lost to them? Will it matter? Oregon still has to travel to Utah. In 2019, Oregon looked like they had a decent chance to make the Playoff but lost a late November game at Arizona State. Could Utah be that game this year? Utah has not lost a home game this year. The Pac-12 has not had a Playoff team since Washington in 2016. Could this be their year?
Pac 12 Championship Game Prediction: Oregon over Utah
The American Athletic Conference is home to the second ranked team in the country, the Cincinnati Bearcats. Cincinnati finished the regular season unbeaten last year and is undefeated this year including wins at Indiana and at Notre Dame. The Bearcats will try to become the first non Power 5 conference team to make the Playoff. Last year they were left out by a pair of one loss ACC teams, Clemson and Notre Dame (Alabama and Ohio State were both undefeated). SMU is also undefeated in the AAC but has to travel to Cincinnati on Nov. 20 and also to one loss Houston next Saturday night.
Cincinnati and Houston do not play in the AAC regular season. Cincinnati does not play a road game vs. a team with a winning record the rest of the way. But Navy has only one win and the Bearcats only beat them by a touchdown. Assuming Cincinnati doesn't lose in the regular season, they'll host the AAC Championship game vs. the winner of the SMU/Houston game. It will be very interesting to see if the CFP Committee respects Cincinnati the same way the polls do. Last year, the polls ranked the Bearcats 6th behind one loss Clemson, Notre Dame, and Texas A&M. But the CFP Committee ranked them 8th behind the same teams, a two loss Oklahoma, and a THREE loss Florida!
Of all the teams in college football, I feel strongest that Cincinnati will finish unbeaten (easiest schedule). Their problem isn't winning games, it's impressive the corporate suits.
AAC Championship Game Prediction: Cincinnati over Houston
One team I can guarantee won't be in the Playoff this year will be the Clemson Tigers. They have lost two games in the ACC and three overall. They are also now two games behind Wake Forest (yes, I said Wake Forest!) in the ACC Atlantic Division.
Wake Forest is still undefeated but still has to go to Clemson this year (they are down but still unbeaten at home). Pittsburgh is leading the Coastal Division but lost to Western Michigan (what's with the MAC this year?). An undefeated Wake Forest will certainly get Playoff consideration but right now the highest ranked ACC team is Wake (#16 AP/#15 Coaches) so even an undefeated WF could be left out, even over one loss teams Ohio State, Oregon, Georgia, and Alabama. A one loss Pittsburgh team has no chance of making the Playoff after losing to a three loss Western Michigan team.
ACC Championship Game Prediction: Pittsburgh over Wake Forest
College Football Playoff:
Orange Bowl: #1 Georgia (13-0) vs. #4 Oregon (12-1)
Cotton Bowl: #2 Ohio State (12-1) vs. #3 Cincinnati (13-0) - Battle of Ohio?
Rose Bowl: Michigan State (11-1) vs. Oregon State (9-3) - I have Utah winning the Pac-12 South but losing to Oregon twice so they'll have five (5!) losses. Oregon State hosts Arizona State so they'll have the "tiebreaker" among second place Pathetic 12 teams.
Sugar Bowl: Alabama (10-2) vs. Oklahoma (12-1)
Peach Bowl: Kentucky (11-1) vs. Pittsburgh (12-1)
Fiesta Bowl: San Diego State (13-0) vs. Notre Dame (11-1)
Citrus Bowl: Michigan (10-2) vs. Mississippi (10-2)
Outback Bowl: Iowa (10-2) vs. Texas A&M (9-3)