A funny thing happened on the way to November. A slew of undefeated teams lost the last couple weeks, leaving a fairly clear cut picture, at least if the season ended today, of the College Football Playoff, the initial rankings for which will be released Tuesday. Alabama would play Washington. Clemson would play Michigan. The only undefeated Power 5 schools left. Louisville would have the biggest gripe, though it lost to Clemson, and otherwise did not have the strength of schedule in its favor.
Of course, the season does not end at the beginning of November, but at the beginning of December with conference championships. However, mark Thanksgiving weekend down as the tipping point for the playoff. There will be a few dazzling matchups that should wake you from your tryptophan coma.
Ohio State fans will, of course, want to mention that if the Buckeyes beat the Wolverines later this month, they'll have the inside track to a berth in the CFP. That game is Nov. 26. Auburn fans would just love to ruin a perfect Alabama season in the Iron Bowl. Indeed, the Tigers have played inspired ball recently behind the rushing of Kamryn Pettway. All Pettway has done is rush for 597 yards and six touchdowns over the last three games. No big deal. The date of that game? Also Nov. 26.
Meanwhile, another in-state rivalry could also have playoff implications just one day prior to the above-referenced showdowns. That's right, who would have thought when the schedule came out that Washington vs. Washington State could be about more than just bragging rights? The Cougars are 6-2 and just snuck into the rankings this week. Junior quarterback Luke Falk can really sling it for mercurial and unique coach Mike Leach, who will certainly be good for at least an odd quote or two heading into this game. Leach recently claimed Arizona State was stealing signs from him. And then just last week, unprovoked, Leach explained why he refuses to root for the Chicago Cubs in the World Series:
"Every yuppie with a BMW or some special attachment to its computer or some designer set of jeans is a Cubs fan."
I'll just leave that quote there. In any event, Washington has the hardest schedule remaining of the four unbeaten squads.
Predictions? I'll show you predictions!
Here's an attempt at some random prognostications. As always, should they end up being wrong, you heard them somewhere else.
1. Jabrill Peppers will win the Heisman Trophy. The ground swell will be too much if the Wolverines beat Ohio State, win the Big 12 Championship and get into the College Football Playoff. Peppers has already scored more touchdowns than UM alum Charles Woodson during his Heisman campaign. Also, there's this burning question. Would Jim Harbaugh dare wear khakis to the Heisman Trophy presentation?
2. The Big 12 will be left out of the College Football Playoff once again. Oklahoma is surging, but teams like the Sooners, Cowboys, Mountaineers and Bears will beat up on each other as the season comes to a close, and nobody will stand out above the crowd. No defense, no dominant squad and no conference championship game will doom the Big 12 yet again.
3. Jimbo Fisher is the next coach of the LSU Tigers. There's a lot of unrest around the Florida State program this season, and this is perhaps the most adversity Fisher has faced on the field since becoming the head man in Tallahassee. The Tigers could give him a huge payday, and Fisher could immediately go to battle against the likes of Nick Saban in the SEC.
4. Speaking of Saban, Alabama is going to lose to Auburn in the Iron Bowl. It won't come on a missed field goal returned for a touchdown, though. Both teams should be riding big winning streaks heading into that contest, but will not have played an even halfway decent opponent for at least three weeks prior. That will leave the Tide vulnerable to being smacked in the mouth by the Auburn offense under coach Gus Malzahn. Under fire earlier this season, Malzahn has enjoyed a resurgence, and you can be sure he'll have a few special plays up his sleeve for this matchup.
5. There will be a conference with two teams in the College Football Playoff (ACC or Big Ten). So it could only be Louisville-Clemson, or Ohio State-Michigan. Let's say Washington loses a game (or two) down the stretch. Clemson and Louisville win out. Ohio State beats Michigan in an extremely close affair. No team from the Big 12 is getting in. Depending on the loss, the Huskies would likely be excluded from the playoff, as well. That would leave Alabama, Clemson, one-loss Ohio State, one-loss Michigan and one-loss Louisville. Louisville's only loss would be to Clemson. Michigan's only loss would be to Ohio State. In this scenario, it's possible either the ACC or the Big Ten would have more than one team in the CFP. It could be an historic event despite the playoff being only in its infancy.
Top Games for Week 10
Alabama at LSU
So the Tide don't quite have a cakewalk into their regular-season finale against in-state rival Auburn. This weekend, freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts and company will stroll into Death Valley for a meeting with No. 15 LSU and a healthy Leonard Fournette. The running back who has drawn comparisons to Adrian Peterson only rushed for an LSU-record 284 yards in his last game. Meanwhile, the Tide held Fournette to a season-low 31 rushing yards in last year's 30-16 win in Tuscaloosa. Nick Saban will almost certainly stack the box and force Purdue transfer Danny Etling to try and beat the Tide. The Tigers do have some big-play threats in Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural, but those deep strikes have been virtually non-existent in 2016.
Nebraska at Ohio State
Nebraska is no longer undefeated, having lost at Wisconsin last weekend in overtime. In fact, it's amazing it took this long for someone to hang an "L" on the Huskers. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong has double as many interceptions (6) as passing touchdowns (3) over the last four games. Still, both the Cornhuskers and the Buckeyes have one loss heading into this pivotal conference tilt in Columbus. The Buckeyes have looked pedestrian lately, losing to Penn State and then squeaking by Northwestern. Will the wheels finally fall off for the Buckeyes, or does coach Urban Meyer have a few more motivational tactics in his arsenal? The Ohio State defense will be swarming, but must contain Armstrong and Terrell Newby on the ground. Those two Huskers have combined for seven rushing touchdowns in Nebraska's five conference games. Meanwhile, quarterback J.T. Barrett must show more poise and consistency in throwing the football, something that has evaded the Buckeyes in 2016.