I don’t know if I could call it a more “perfect” world, but in the more practical and popular world of an eight-team playoff, you would have all five conference championship games this weekend conducted with the same goal in mind — to reward the winner with a trip to the College Football Playoff.
In the awkward, unbalanced land of a four-team playoff, there is not a single game in which both teams are competing for a playoff trip. On Friday night, you had Washington and Utah both playing for a Rose Bowl invitation. It’s a fine reward to be sure, but neither team had a chance at the big prize.
In the Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC Saturday, you have teams on one side (Ohio State, Oklahoma and Clemson) working to keep national title hopes alive. You also have Texas (9-3), Northwestern (8-4) and Pitt (7-5) playing for conference titles only because those loss totals have removed any thoughts of the CFP.
And in the SEC, while Georgia is competing for a trip to the Big Four, very few think Alabama will be eliminated even with a loss to the Bulldogs after wearing the No. 1 ranking all season. The Crimson Tide are playing for which seed they get and nothing more.
I’m not lamenting all of this as a Texas alum. The Longhorns lost three times this season and have no business competing in a small chase for a national championship. But if it were understood that all the “power five” conference champions earned those bids in an eight-team field, man, that would put a different spin and add plenty of spice to Saturday’s title matches.
That’s not to say there isn’t plenty at stake at AT&T Stadium Saturday when Texas and Oklahoma meet for a second time in a season for the first time since 1903. The Longhorns’ reward for a 48-45 victory in the Cotton Bowl is to be asked to do it again. That’s a hell of a challenge, but who doesn’t want to take another shot to prove their worth?
Quarterback Sam Ehlinger can rightfully feel he has been disrespected by his OU counterpart this week. Kyler Murray’s initial response to how much he respects Ehlinger’s game was a hearty laugh. Then he added a no comment.
I’m not sure Murray is overly worried about backing up that comment (or lack of one). The young man from Allen is headed for New York next weekend, either to watch Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa be handed the Heisman Trophy or to grab it himself.
In order to beat Oklahoma two months ago, the Longhorns held Oklahoma to 45 points. That’s below the Sooners’ season average. In six games since the Texas defeat, Oklahoma has topped 50 points in every game but one. And that was a 48-47 victory over Oklahoma State.
When I say you can’t stop Oklahoma, I mean you can’t stop Oklahoma. Certainly Texas can’t. But the Longhorns just might outscore them. The Kansas Jayhawks found a way to put 40 on the Norman scoreboard two weeks ago, so who’s to say those Texas wide receivers can’t have just as much fun as Murray’s targets Saturday?
When all the title games are wrapped up late Saturday night, it’s almost a given that something unexpected will have taken place. For now, if the favorites prevail — that would be Oklahoma, Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State — it’s an easy call for the committee to add Notre Dame to that mix and subtract the Buckeyes.
Ohio State just might look like the hottest team in the land after scoring 62 on Michigan and then whatever it does against Northwestern. And some suggest a huge win for the Buckeyes combined with another tight win for OU could cause a flip-flop in their positions. The Sooners were fifth in the latest CFP rankings and Ohio State sixth, but Georgia, rated fourth, figures to be eliminated by Alabama.
Realistically, it’s unlikely the Sooners can win this game and not earn a spot in the CFP. In a system where the committee is forced to use losses to determine death sentences, Ohio State’s 49-20 loss to 6-6 Purdue is much worse than the Sooners’ three-point loss to Texas.
So if Oklahoma figures out how to reverse that score we saw in the Cotton Bowl, Murray’s next game before turning to baseball figures to be in the CFP. It’s not a game Ehlinger can reach this year. That’s not to say he can’t have the last laugh Saturday at AT&T Stadium.
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