(Image credit: Robert Goddin USA Today Sports)
Written by: Joseph Yun
Conference championship weekend has closed with a bunch of fun yet predictable results. How will the playoff committee holed up in Dallas rank the final six teams that are in contention for four spots? Can anyone stop the inevitability that is the Nick Saban Alabama machine? Will there be an upset or two in the committee’s voting that will shock the sports world? Who will be the contenders for a trip to Indianapolis?
The Final Four
- The stage was set for Alabama’s likely ascension into the top seed after the committee ranked them third heading into the showdown in Atlanta. With the Tide’s dominant victory over a previously indomitable Bulldogs defense, they have completed the process. Nick Saban’s men lifted yet another SEC trophy amidst a run to Indianapolis. The one negative thing that occurred for Alabama is that stud receiver John Metchie likely has a torn ACL, according to reports. If the Tide are indeed ranked number one by the committee, they would be the first team in the brief history of the playoff to be included as a two-loss team.
Big Ten Champion
- The Wolverines definitely earned it with a three in five-game gauntlet featuring road trips to Penn State and Michigan State and a gratuitously exorcising win over archrival Ohio State. As of this writing, they are holding a commanding lead over a hapless Iowa offense in the late stages of the second half. As such, they will be crowned as Big Ten champions. A lot was yet to be determined heading into the weekend and the Wolverines solidified their number two slot with an impressive debut showing in Indianapolis. Could there be a return trip to Lucas Oil Stadium in a few weeks?
SEC Runners Up
- While Georgia was less than impressive dealing with their perennial bugaboo across the state line, they had an undefeated regular season so that has to count for something. The defense is loaded down with multiple future pro-level prospects. The offense just has to catch up and be capable of winning games on their own. Georgia likely slips to third but not fourth because the committee probably loathes forcing a rematch so soon in the semifinal instead of a grudge match in the final.
- Luke Fickell’s guys remain in fourth despite an undefeated record. As a result, they get a date with the surging Crimson Tide to fight for the right to head to Indianapolis. The Bearcats faced Georgia last season in a thrilling Peach Bowl so the run for a natty isn’t a fluke. The committee has no choice but to include a groundbreaking Group of Five team this season. Can the denizens of Nippert Stadium pull off an all-time upset over a likely heavily favored Tide featuring the leading Heisman contender and a charcuterie board of weapons? Interesting note: Fickell may not be available as the Cincy head man if he’s hired elsewhere ala Brian Kelly, however unlikely given the dearth of open Midwest vacancies.
5. Notre Dame
- Notre Dame despite its impressive resume this season and hiring Marcus Freeman as head coach, just misses. The one deciding factor? The head-to-head defeat to Cincinnati earlier this season. The coaching change shouldn’t play a role in their not making it. Still, a prime date in a New Year’s 6 bowl isn’t anything to sneeze at and should get the Freeman administration off and running.
6. Ohio State
Big Ten East Runners Up
- The Buckeyes end up in the sixth spot with a pretty good resume themselves that took a bit of a hit with Oregon fading late in the season. Still, to see their bitter rivals to the North win what is, Ohio State’s birthright has to sting a bit. Regardless of how the results of The Game skewed perception, they had a great season. How many pro-ready stars opt-out of the bowl game? Will Ryan Day continue as coach next season or will the siren songs of the NFL (i.e. nearby Chicago) be too strong to resist?