This is the South. The South rules college football. (Of the past 10 national champions, eight hailed from the SEC and a ninth from the ACC. Two of the past three title games have matched SEC and ACC.) For the next 17 days, the South will not — repeat, will not — be the epicenter of our One True Sport.
The three biggest games remaining on the college grid sked:
— Michigan at Ohio State, Nov. 26.
— Minnesota at Wisconsin, same day.
— The Big Ten title tilt in Indianapolis, Dec. 3.
The College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday underscored what many among us thought: There’s a very good chance two Big Ten teams will crack the final four. As is, four Big Tenners are among the top eight. Ohio State is No. 2 to Michigan’s No. 3, meaning one will eliminate the other. Wisconsin is No. 7 to Penn State’s No. 8, and if each wins its final two regular-season games — and each should — they’ll play for the Big Ten championship.
If Penn State beats Wisconsin, it will have another signature victory to place alongside its upset of Ohio State. If Wisconsin beats Penn State, it will have a third S.V. to go with wins over LSU and Nebraska. I’m not absolutely certain the Nittany Lions would jump ahead of Louisville (No. 5 at the moment) if they become Big Ten champs; I’m pretty sure the Badgers would.
Regarding the Cardinals: The belief remains as it was when the first set of rankings were revealed — Louisville is a good-looking team that has no clear path to the playoff. Unless Clemson loses to Wake Forest on Saturday, U of L cannot play for the ACC title. Even if it wins in Houston on Thursday and beats Kentucky on Nov. 26, the Cards will finish 11-1 with only one move-the-needle victory, that over Florida State (which has since lost twice more) on Sept. 17.
Washington is No. 6. The fourth-biggest game left is the Huskies’ date with Washington State the day after Thanksgiving. Should U-Dub win in Pullman — and that’s no given; the men of Mike Leach are 8-2 — it will play for the Pac-12 title, which would become the fifth-biggest remaining game.
If Colorado, which is No. 10, beats Washington State and Utah these next two weeks, it will win the Pac-12 South. If it beats Washington/Washington State for the conference title, it will have a modest claim for playoff inclusion. But the Buffaloes have two losses — at Michigan, at USC — and really only one solid win (at Stanford). It’s not a lock that a once-beaten Pac-12 champ would make the CFP over a twice-beaten Big Ten titlist (meaning Wisconsin or Penn State); it would be a shock if a twice-beaten Pac-12 champ did.
As for the Big 12: I still don’t see a way any team from that conference makes it, not even a two-loss Oklahoma. Here’s how highly the committee values the Big 12: Once-beaten West Virginia is ranked No. 14, behind six two-loss teams and one three-loss team.
Even if Alabama loses a game, which it won’t, it will make the playoff. Even if Clemson loses another game, which it shouldn’t, it will make the playoff. There’s half your field. Barring a major upset — Rutgers or Michigan State over Penn State, Purdue or Minnesota over Wisconsin — and assuming Ohio State beats Michigan in Columbus, the Big Ten championship will become a playoff play-in, even with the Buckeyes sitting at home.
As much weight as the CFP places on being a conference champ, Ohio State can beat Michigan — the Buckeyes would then have victories over Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Nebraska and the Wolverines — and not have to worry. They’d surely be the No. 2 seed without having to risk a loss in Indy. I’d imagine Urban Meyer would take a win over Harbaugh and let it ride.