All hail the backloaded schedule! After eleven typically chaotic (if not entirely satisfying) weeks, we have finally arrived at the three weeks that will reveal all. Okay, not all, but a whole lot. Strangely, the most interesting stuff is happening in the conferences that are the most playoff-desperate.
Big 12 Madness! – Would it be too much to ask if next year, we could just skip the preliminaries and boil the conference down to a two-week tournament? (Okay, we’ll make it a three-week affair, with Texas and K-State playing the 3 and 4 seeds on the road.) Anyway, welcome to the Big 12’s end-of-year round robin where, as we’ve said before, America’s purest conference (until they can recruit some new members) determines one true one-loss champion that sits on pins and needles while the playoff committee decides its fate.
Baylor @ Oklahoma State – In case the Big 12 was wondering how it really ended up out of the last playoff and might miss again this time, we’re eleven weeks into the season and Baylor – The Good Lord’s Gift To Offense – hasn’t beaten anybody. OSU, on the other hand, whomped TCU, which hasn’t beaten anybody better than Minnesota. The Pokes then went out and proved their bona fides by punking the dynamo that is Iowa State…on the road! (Nope, no sarcasm here. None at all.)
TCU @ Oklahoma – Meanwhile in Norman, the Sooners have, of course, beaten Baylor which, of course, is down to a true freshman QB and hasn’t beaten…well, you get the point. Luckily, they get to prove their mettle against a TCU team which isn’t down a quar…never mind.
The Pac-12 “Special” – Lookee here! Three teams pretty much control their fate in the South (okay, so Utah needs Oregon to beat Southern Cal) while the North isn’t quite as over as you think it is. And the winner gets the greatest prize you can imagine: a trip to The Granddaddy Of Them All…which has been reduced to a consolation prize this year but whatever. Anyway, here we go…
USC @ Oregon – It’s this year’s Pac-12 Game Of The Year!!! It’s a preview of the P12 Championship Game! Or maybe it’s just a game between two really disappointing teams, one whose quarterback is down a finger and one that’s just down a coach. In Eugene, with Vernon Adams seemingly back on track, here’s guessing the CH For HC train comes screeching to a halt. The game also matters because…
Cal @ Stanford – Stanford doesn’t have the North wrapped up as much as you think they do. Oh sure, Cal shouldn’t be able to stop Christian McCaffrey, but they can score all day, and a mistake here and a mistake there could make things awfully interesting, particularly since a Cards loss would leave the door wide open for Football’s Fashionplates from Eugene.
UCLA @ Utah – Meanwhile back in the South, UCLA’s defense looks like a MASH ward, their O.C. makes decisions stranger than a punk rocker’s hair choices, and the Bruins are coming off of a horrific loss on Senior Day. Anyway, they still control their fate, and while the Utes should blow them back to Westwood, the Bruins are strangely good away from home while Utah is coming off an equally depressing loss. To the loser goes a heaping helping of late November ennui.
And…around the three conferences that are pretty much locked (or not locked) into playoff spots:
North Carolina @ Virginia Tech – Kinda weird to think about it, but the Heels actually have an outside shot at the playoff, assuming they slide past two .500ish opponents and then help Clemson do the ultimate job of Clemsoning in the ACC Championship. (Okay, so that’s not going to happen, but give us some poetic license here.) On the other hand, the Hokies just might come out a little focused, what with this being Beamerball’s last home game and all.
Michigan State @ Ohio State – Woohoo! It’s git serious time in the B1G. Sparty’s been playing with fire for a while now (and got burned in Lincoln) while the Bucks have been playing a lot better than the national media’s been giving them credit for. Add in some wear and tear on Connor Cook, plus a little home horseshoe advantage, and tOSU should be a couple weeks away from grinding down Iowa to earn a return playoff trip.
Michigan @ Penn State / Northwestern @ Wisconsin – Welcome to the Big Ten undercard! They’re two solid games if you like old school football, so tune in to see who earns a berth in a second-tier bowl game and who gets relegated to the dregs of December.
LSU @ Mississippi – And now, we have rumors about The Hat “coaching for his job” the next two weeks. There are two ways to think about this Tigers fans: either go back and read everything we’ve written about Georgia this year or simply ponder the next six words: Mike Archer, Curley Hallman, Gerry DiNardo.
Mississippi State @ Arkansas – The Hogs think they’re on the verge of turning into an SEC West power. They’re not, but they think they are. The Dawgs are out of the CFP rankings for the first time ever, and with Dak three games from graduating and rumors that Dan might leave heating up, times are a little sketchy in Stark Vegas. Whatever happens, Cowbell Nation should be happy for the next couple Saturdays.
Charleston Southern @ Alabama – Just a brief reminder of what the rest of America hates about God’s Gift To College Football, er, the SEC. Sure, most of the Big 12 powers haven’t beaten anybody, but playing an FCS school in November? Seriously? The Tide should be banned from the playoff just for this annual bit of horsebleep scheduling.
Memphis @ Temple – If you’re thinking 2015, the game doesn’t mean much any more, not with Memphis suddenly irrelevant in the AAC West. If you’re thinking 2016, you have to wonder if the Justin Fuente dream train won’t slow down a whole bunch if the Tigers lose for a third time.