First & 20: Things got easier for the CFP committee

Anthony Gimino

November 29, 2015 at 1:51 pm.

Nov 28, 2015; Stillwater, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) runs the ball for a touchdown in the second half against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Boone Pickens Stadium. The Sooners defeated the Cowboys 58-23. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 28, 2015; Stillwater, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) runs the ball for a touchdown in the second half against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Boone Pickens Stadium. The Sooners defeated the Cowboys 58-23. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Now, the math is easy.

The College Football Playoff selection committee will never be able to make five conference champs go into four spots, but a wild two days of games over the holiday weekend made the equation about as simple as possible.

–Oklahoma, whose regular season is over at 11-1, is the Big 12’s one true champion after walloping Oklahoma State 58-23. The Sooners are in.

–Also in: the winner of the Big Ten title game between 12-0 Iowa and 11-1 Michigan State.

–No. 1 Clemson is in if it beats one-loss North Carolina in the ACC championship game.

–And Alabama merely needs to beat punchless Florida in the SEC title game to be the only team to make a repeat appearance in the 2-year-old playoff.

The selection committee was spared the anguish of considering independent Notre Dame, which lost on a last-play field goal to Stanford late Saturday night, suffering its second loss. The Irish are good enough to play with anybody in the country but will have to settle for an at-large spot in a New Year’s Six bowl — Peach or Fiesta.

Speaking of Stanford, the Cardinal are clearly on the outside as they head to nearby Santa Clara to play USC in the Pac-12 title game. With two losses, Stanford needs chaos. And by chaos, we mean losses by either Clemson or Alabama, or both.

Let’s consider that chaos. A loss by the Tigers or Tide brings Ohio State, Stanford and North Carolina into the mix.

Ohio State’s case: The Buckeyes just throttled Michigan, finally looking like the No. 1 team we’ve known lurked inside them all season. Based on previous CFP rankings, we know the committee values the “eye test” when talking about Ohio State, whose only loss came on a last-play field goal to Michigan State.

Stanford’s case: The Cardinal would be a conference champ, and the committee could heavily weigh that in a comparison to Ohio State, which didn’t win its division. Stanford’s win over Notre Dame is also better than any Buckeyes’ victory.

North Carolina’s case: The Tar Heels would have the best win in the country — beating No. 1 Clemson — and be on a 12-game winning streak. Now the case against them: Their one loss came against woeful South Carolina, and two of UNC’s wins came against teams from the FCS.
As for Florida? If the Gators somehow score enough to beat Alabama, they would be a two-loss SEC champ. In many cases, that would be playoff-worthy. But a team that needed overtime to beat FAU and then lost 27-2 to Florida State wouldn’t really be able to mount much of a complaint if excluded.

Chaos prediction: The committee could not ignore Ohio State.

10 things we think we learned in Week 13

1. LSU came to its senses. Tigers athletic director Joe Alleva let Les Miles twist in the wind all week as rumors swirled about the coach’s impending ouster while, presumably, the school tried to entice Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. But when the second part didn’t happen, and the first part blew up in Alleva’s face due to public support of Miles, the school announced Saturday night that the Mad Hatter wasn’t going anywhere. Now who is on the hot seat, Mr. Alleva?

2. Connor Cook is healthy. The Michigan State senior quarterback, who sat out because of a shoulder injury while the Spartans upset Ohio State a week earlier, returned to complete 19 of 26 passes for 248 yards and three touchdowns in a 55-16 wipeout of Penn State. He’s lookin’ good heading into the Big Ten title game vs. Iowa.

3. Texas A&M needs to grow up on offense. The Aggies have some breathtaking young skill players, and perhaps we should emphasize young. Coach Kevin Sumlin’s vaunted attack fizzled this season, with Texas A&M scoring only one touchdown in each of its final three SEC games (Auburn, Vanderbilt, LSU) and managing only one offensive TD in two other league games (Alabama, Ole Miss).

4. USC’s Clay Helton is still making a case. The Trojans’ want to make a home-run hire (see No. 10 on this list), but what if Helton is simply the right guy at the right time? The interim head coach won five of his six Pac-12 games and is one win away from taking USC to the Rose Bowl. In any case, Helton will be viable for numerous openings across the country.

5. Illinois takes a half-measure. Nothing at all against Bill Cubit, who stepped in a week before the season opener for fired Tim Beckman, but bringing him back on a two-year contract creates a tough situation for everyone. Illinois is a mess right now — with an interim chancellor and no permanent AD — so the school essentially punted its coaching search. Good luck recruiting.

6. Samaje Perine for the half-Heisman? The Oklahoma sophomore running back was quiet in the first half of the season as the coaches figured out how to use him in new coordinator Lincoln Riley’s Air Raid offense. Mission accomplished. Perine averaged 7.4 yards per carry and 145.2 yards per game in the final six regular-season games, with 12 touchdowns. The Sooners rediscovered they are really good at running the ball, averaging 300 rushing yards in the seven games since losing to Texas.

7. Keep dancing, Frank Beamer. If you haven’t seen it, find the video of the 69-year-old Virginia Tech coach dabbing in the locker room. It ain’t pretty, but that is what happiness looks like when your team beats rival Virginia in its final game, becoming bowl eligible and giving the retiring coach one more game.

8. College football needs a schedule coordinator. The championship games in the Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC are all scheduled to kick off within 15 minutes of each other Saturday, beginning at 7:45 p.m. ET. Fans, runs your errands in the morning.

9. Losing teams will make the postseason. There are 80 open spots in the bowl parade, and only 75 of them have reached .500 to become eligible. Kansas State, Georgia State and South Alabama can get there this weekend, but that would still leave at least two openings for 5-7 squads. Four are likely, as those two Sun Belt teams will be underdogs.

10. Chip Kelly will be coaching in college next season. It’s not hard to discern that his flight path with the Philadelphia Eagles puts him on a course to return to college, perhaps in a conference he knows well. Neither party would be doing its job if it didn’t see if there was a comfy fit between the former Oregon head coach and USC.

5 top Heisman candidates

1. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama. Congratulations, Derrick. Those 271 yards on 46 carries against Auburn just punched your ticket into a very exclusive club.

2. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson. The sophomore ran for 114 yards, passed for 279 and accounted for four touchdowns in a win over South Carolina. He’s completing almost 72 percent of his passes, and has reached triple digits in rushing in three of the past four games.

3. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State. He ran for 183 yards against Florida’s tough D, and his average of 7.9 yards per carry is unmatched among major conference backs with more than a handful of attempts.

4. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma. He returned from a concussion suffered a week earlier to lead the Sooners over Oklahoma State, making a highlight play by throwing a lead block on a 66-yard change-of-direction touchdown run by Joe Mixon. Mayfield is third nationally in passing efficiency.

5. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford. He was mostly bottled up by Notre Dame (94 rushing yards), but he is still averaging 252.9 all-purpose yards per game — a stunning 52 more than the second-place guy. He deserves a spot at the Heisman festivities.

5 best Week 14 games

1. Michigan State vs. Iowa (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, Indianapolis, FOX). Iowa’s best attributes are run blocking, quarterback decision-making and turnover margin. Not sexy, but if the undefeated Hawkeyes beat Michigan State for all the Big Ten marbles, don’t worry about their lack of prettiness, embrace what would be an amazing story.

2. Alabama vs. Florida (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, Atlanta, CBS). We’ll just go ahead and set the over-under number for the Gators’ total yards at 225. But if Florida comes up with a couple of turnovers, Alabama’s collars could begin to tighten in the SEC title game.

3. Clemson vs. North Carolina (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, Charlotte, N.C., ABC). Tar Heels quarterback Marquise Williams has the elusiveness to turn nothing into something against the rock-solid Tigers’ defense. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson made his first career start vs. UNC early last season, passing for 435 yards and six TDs.

4. Stanford vs. USC (Saturday, 7:45 p.m., Santa Clara, Calif., ESPN). Stanford won 41-31 in Los Angeles on Sept. 19, but that USC team was coached by Steve Sarkisian. The Trojans are more of a run-first outfit under interim coach Clay Helton and will try to match the Cardinal’s power and ball control.

5. Houston vs. Temple (Saturday, noon ET, Houston, ABC). The Cougars’ super offense goes against the Owls’ excellent defense, and the winner of the American Athletic Conference title game will earn the Group of Five’s berth in a major New Year’s bowl. Film Room Review

Analyst Rob Rang’s five prospect takeaways for this week. Players listed including position, school, year (Height, weight and current overall rating and by position).

5. C Austin Blythe, Iowa, 6-2, 290, Sr. (#284, #8): Blythe struggled at times with the burst of Nebraska defensive tackle Vincent Valentine, but he also used his natural leverage advantage and strength to lock onto Nebraska’s defenders. Blythe plays with good knee bend to hold up to bull rushes, slides well laterally and carries dynamite in his stands to pop defenders.

4. RB Derrick Henry, Alabama, 6-2, 242, Jr. (#32/#2): The Heisman frontrunner could prove one of the more polarizing prospects should he declare for the 2016 NFL Draft. Many big backs have struggled against the greater speed of the NFL. However, Henry also showed why he could be successful while rushing for 271 yards against Auburn, using his light feet to bounce runs outside and showing the vision and patience to find creases with the burst to plant his foot and explode upfield.

3. DB Desmond King, Iowa, 5-11, 200, Jr. (#9 CB in Class of 2017): Suspended for the first quarter against Nebraska for being late to a team meeting, King displayed the steady coverage and physicality in run support once he entered the game that has many scouts projecting a successful move to safety at the next level.

2. QB Kevin Hogan, Stanford, 6-4, 218, Sr. (#179/#12): The comeback victory over Notre Dame was the type of performance NFL scouts were hoping to see from Hogan, a four-year starter with the size, mobility and arm talent to work with. Hogan has an elongated throwing motion and a reputation for struggling in big games, but he was spectacular against the Irish, completing pro-caliber passes requiring touch and velocity.

1. LB Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame, 6-3, 240, Jr. (#6/#2): He was all over the field against Stanford, helping limit Heisman hopeful Christian McCaffrey to “just” 113 all-purpose yards. Smith might be the nation’s most forceful tackler, generating incredible power to knock ballcarriers back. Smith is every bit as fast and fluid as he is powerful, slipping by (or leaping over) would-be blockers in the running game and dropping effectively in coverage.