College football games, matchups Week 13: Play-in predictions for rivalry week
Dennis Dodd makes his prognostications for the last and most important week of the regular season
The College Football Playoff begins this week.
You didn't see it hyped on a gushing Tuesday night reveal show. The matchups weren't arranged five years ago and announced on a Twitter infographic with breathless acclaim.
They just organically evolved. Call them playoff play-in games. Among them:
- The biggest Iron Bowl since the Kick Six.
- The biggest Michigan-Ohio State game since "The Play."
- The ACC's biggest day since winning the national championship.
- Georgia's biggest challenge since Auburn.
- Wisconsin's biggest challenge since last week.
Some of them are mere tap-ins. (Hello, TCU going to Baylor.) Some will define a legacy. (Hello, Jim Harbaugh, 1-4 against Michigan's biggest rivals.) One of them will not include the Heisman Trophy frontrunner -- at least at the start. (Oklahoma hosting West Virginia).
If the favorites survive, they should give thanks for getting this far.
1. Iron Bowl analysis: Four years ago, I was in Michigan for the Ohio State game. The desk called to tell me former colleague Tony Barnhart had a family emergency. I flew from Detroit to Atlanta and drove to Auburn in the same day to catch Alabama-Auburn. Saturday marks the best Iron Bowl since that Kick Six classic.
This one could be better in terms of impact from an overall historical standpoint. Alabama could lose and still make the playoff. Gus Malzahn could win and still leave for Arkansas (see below). From this point of view, Auburn is playing better than Alabama -- or frankly anyone in the SEC. The Tigers are at home. Anyone who has seen the TIde play this year knows the defense has taken at least a tiny step back.
All the signs are there for another upset. Bama lost five defensive starters from 2016 and is down four linebackers this year due to injuries. Finally, Nick Saban is 0-6 in his career against Auburn teams that have won at least nine games. Auburn 31, Alabama 24 -- and hopefully, this time, they've got enough security to keep people in the stands.
2. Gus Malzahn analysis: It is widely speculated that Auburn's coach could bolt for Arkansas, win or lose. Lose and it's easy. Malzahn will have lost for the fourth consecutive time to Saban. Auburn fans can't tolerate that kind of thing, even if Bama is currently in the middle of what could be called the greatest dynasty of all time.
Gus has lost his athletic director (Jay Jacobs) and, stunningly, only has a contract through the 2020 season. The biggest subtext to the Iron Bowl this week is Malzahn possibly leaving for Arkansas if he beats Bama. The money folks at Arkansas ganged up on AD Jeff Long to get rid of him. Why wouldn't they bum rush Malzahn, Houston Nutt's former offensive coordinator? Who's going to be the first media wag to call Gus the "Springdale 1?"
It may be that, unless Auburn goes to the playoff, ol' Gus is gone anyway. Fascinating.
3. Play-in prognostications: Ohio State is like a petulant teenager. You don't know day-to-day what mood it is going to wake up in. The Buckeyes' defense gave up 30 percent of its yardage this season in the losses to Oklahoma and Iowa. That said, Michigan needs a Sherpa to find the end zone. We'll see if playing at the Big House leads to big things. The Bucks keep their playoff hopes alive with a win. Ohio State 26, Michigan 10
Dabo Swinney said there is "zero difference" between Alabama-Auburn and Clemson-South Carolina. Tell that to the Gamecocks, who were 49-point road kill (56-7) for the Tigers last year. Clemson has the fourth-toughest road to the playoff behind Alabama, Auburn and Georgia. But it's still a tough road getting past South Carolina and Miami. South Carolina finished second in the SEC East with Jake Bentley improving markedly. Lose and the ACC title may be a consolation prize for the Tigers. Clemson 29, South Carolina 21
TCU got by Texas Tech last week without starter Kenny Hill. Earlier in the week, he was "close to probable" for Baylor. This is historically an intense rivalry, but the Bears (1-10) are in Year 2 of rebuilding out of the shambles of the sexual assault scandal. The Frogs clinch a date with Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game with a win. TCU 34, Baylor 17
Miami didn't wake up on time last week. The Canes had to come from behind with the ACC touchdown passing leader, Kurt Benkert of Virginia, throwing for four scores. Wondering how Miami will come out for a noon ET game at Pittsburgh the day after Thanksgiving with their bellies full of turkey and the stands less than full. With a win, the Canes undefeated and keep ACC hopes alive for two playoff teams. Miami 23, Pittsburgh 17
You can bet Georgia has been practicing for Georgia Tech's option since the spring. The Yellow Jackets have won two of the last three but haven't won at home since 1999. A reminder: The Dawgs can't lose again. They've already clinched a meeting with Auburn or Alabama. But will it be only for the SEC title? Georgia 28, Georgia Tech 23
Alex Hornibrook was the difference in the second half last week against Michigan. Things would seem to be easier for Wisconsin at Minnesota. The Gophers have worn down in the second half, averaging 19.8 points in the last five games. In that same timeframe, Wisconsin has allowed only 13 points on average (eight total touchdowns in five game). Pressure, what pressure? P.J. Fleck got an extension this week after going 5-6 in his first season. Undefeated Wisconsin can't trip. A Big Ten title game shot with Ohio State is guaranteed, but that's not what the Badgers are thinking. Wisconsin 26, Minnesota 17
West Virginia was going to be testy for Oklahoma until quarterback Will Grier broke his finger. Enter Mountaineer backup Chris "Chuggs" Chugunov. The news value is watching how long Baker Mayfield sits out after grabbing his nether regions against Kansas. Next year's No. 1 Kyler Murray will start. Oklahoma 40, West Virginia 23
4. The end of the Kevin Sumlin era: I've talked, written and thought about the subject for months since Summy was thrown in front of a speeding bullet train in May by his AD. Things hit a new low (for Texas A&M) this week when the staff found out it is going to be fired coming off the practice field on Tuesday. "It's shitty for it to go down like this," one staffer told Sports Illustrated.
If this is it for Texas A&M's classy head coach, then happy trails, my friend. If the Aggies win at LSU, Sumlin will have assembled six consecutive eight-win (at least) seasons. He will also leave behind the best coaching record at the school in more than 20 years. Sad day when that gets you fired. Oh, and beware Jimbo Fisher or Chip Kelly or whoever comes next. Hope you get enough money to cushion how you may be treated when things go sour.
5. Quick hits: If South Florida upsets UCF in the War on I-4, the Group of Five Golden Ticket (guaranteed New Year's Six) is up for grabs. If the unranked Bulls win, suddenly they enter the picture playing Memphis in the AAC Championship Game. UCF would be eliminated … Boise State and Fresno State play back-to-back games starting this week. If one team sweeps (especially Boise) to become Mountain West champions, that's a factor … The SEC hasn't had more than four coaching changes in any season since 1946. It could have as many as seven this silly season … Make mine turkey breast with mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberries and a toast to my beloved mother-in-law, the late Mary Jane Waugh. We miss you.
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