Five things we're keeping an eye on entering the second half of the 2017 season
Could two teams from the same conference make it into the College Football Playoff?
Saturday taught us college football is still the best game in the world. Just when we were settling in for Alabama-Clemson III,. And that's only halfway through the season. While we're digesting the first half, here are five things to look forward to in the second half of the 2017 season.
1. Doubling up in the College Football Playoff: When the commissioners began seriously considering expansion of the BCS about 10 years ago, they determined it would be the best teams -- not necessarily conference champions -- playing for it all. At the halfway point, that leads to the possibility of two teams from the same conference getting in the top four.
The most likely scenario is an undefeated No. 1 Alabama losing the SEC Championship Game to an unbeaten Georgia, which would probably be ranked No. 2 at that time. Nick Saban was asked about this possibility last year. It did not go over well.
In that scenario, which three one-loss conference champions would look better than Alabama? The loser of the Alabama-Georgia game described above would have to fall to No. 5 to be out of it. But would it?
The second-most likely scenario is in the Big Ten. That would be Ohio State winning out and beating undefeated Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. At that point Penn State at 11-1 might look better for the playoff berth than Wisconsin at 12-1 after losing its final game to the Buckeyes. The Badgers would have beaten only one ranked team, maybe (Michigan on Nov. 18).
In a season where there is a clear division between the top teams and everyone else, the possibility of two teams from one conference getting in is looking more and more likely.
2. Coaching carousel: Believe it or not, Friday marks two months until the first early signing day (Dec. 20). What impact this will have on coaches being fired during the season is yet to be known. Regardless, athletic directors will have to weigh having the new guy in place by this time. That should put additional pressure on coaches at Tennessee, Missouri, UCLA and Texas A&M, among others. Can they even make it through the season?
3. Heisman Trophy jumble: The locals called for Ohio State's J.T. Barrett to lose his job after the Week 2 loss to Oklahoma. Since then, JTB has thrown 18 touchdowns with no interceptions, the best stretch of his career. Statistically, this might be the best season of his career. His 21 touchdowns are tied for the national lead. But consider the competition during the current five-game winning streak: Army, UNLV, Rutgers, Maryland and Nebraska are a combined 15-17.
We'll find out about Barrett and Ohio State in the second half when they play Penn State, at Iowa, Michigan State and at Michigan. No player has ever finished in the Heisman top five and three years later challenged for the Stiff Arm. Barrett could be the first.
For now, the Halfway Heisman contenders:
4. Notre Dame rebound: There are only four teams that don't have the possibility of playing a conference championship game. Notre Dame is one of them (along with other independents Army, Massachusetts and BYU). That matters this year with ND having playoff hopes. Off to a 5-1 start with perhaps the best-looking loss in the country (one point to Georgia), the Irish will be sitting idle on Dec. 2 when most of the conference championship games are played.
Will it matter? There are also few teams with tougher second-half schedules. Starting Saturday vs. USC, five of the Irish's six remaining opponents have been ranked at some point this season. They have a combined record of 31-6.
5. Five coaches who will have better jobs after this season: Speaking of getting new coaches in position ahead of that early signing period, here's five who may be gone so quickly to new locales they may not even coach their team's bowl game.
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