Don’t worry, I’m not gonna quote the lyrics from “Closing Time.” But I will tell you that for the College Football Playoff, this weekend is that point where the bar stools get turned over, the lights come up and the stragglers are ushered out.
This weekend’s top four teams did not change, and there is no guarantee that they will before Monday. But we are down to the unofficial quarterfinal round with the four remaining Power Five championship games (Oklahoma beat Oklahoma State in the unofficial Big 12 title game last week) and eight teams still alive.
– THEY’RE IN (for now): (1) Clemson, (2) Alabama, (3) Oklahoma, (4) Iowa – Dabo Swinney and his crew has one last shot to keep “Clemson-ing” from becoming a real word. If they beat North Carolina in the ACC Championship Game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte — not as easy as it may have seemed a few weeks ago, by the way — the Tigers will hold onto the number one seed and make their plans to spend New Year’s Eve in Miami at the Orange Bowl.
Alabama, to many people’s chagrin, is still alive and well. Hate it or love it, the Crimson Tide are 4-1 against teams that are currently ranked or were previously ranked in the CFP Top 25. If they beat Florida in the SEC Championship Game, Nick Saban will be in the (2) vs. (3) matchup at AT&T Stadium in Dallas. Mix in the narrative of defensive coordinator Kirby Smart coaching potentially his last few games — he’s been reported to be the next head coach at Georgia — and there’s another great chapter waiting to be written in Tuscaloosa championship lore.
Oklahoma is idle this weekend, and they’re all but locked in position to play in the Cotton Bowl against Alabama. The last time the two teams met in that stadium, Bob Stoops became “Big Game Bob” again and the Tide got rolled by the Sooners. But this time there’s more at stake besides Stoops’ reputation and Saban’s catalog of excuses for his team if OU advances.
The fourth golden ticket will be handed out in Indianapolis, assuming Alabama doesn’t slip up against Florida in Atlanta (more on that later). If Iowa beats Michigan State, they’re in. No questions asked. They might have had an easier road to the Big Ten Championship Game being the West Division champion, but staying undefeated renders most contrary arguments moot. There was a time when Upper St. Clair native Kirk Ferentz was considered one of the hottest names in the coaching ranks and a possible candidate to move up to the NFL. Getting into the playoff may finally get people talking about him again.
– KNOCKING ON THE DOOR: (5) Michigan State, (10) North Carolina – Michigan State was my preseason favorite to win the Big Ten, mainly because of Mark D’Antonio’s defense and quarterback Connor Cook. His injured shoulder healed well enough to beat Penn State last week, but Iowa is 21st in the nation in total defense (six spots higher than Sparty), and don’t expect the Hawkeyes to take it easy on him.
North Carolina has the same mission Ohio State had last year: overcome an early season loss that became an ugly mark on their resume (South Carolina) and win their conference championship game to make the playoff in the season’s last weekend. To date, the Tar Heels are the only team in the race that hasn’t faced a single team that was ranked either currently or even previously in the CFP Top 25. But knocking off the number one team in the land should cure what ails them.
– HELP NEEDED: (7) Stanford – The Cardinal kept themselves alive by beating Notre Dame on a field goal at the gun in Palo Alto last week, but now there are two teams still standing in their way to the playoff: USC and Alabama. Stanford has to win the Pac-12 Championship Game at Levi’s Stadium and then hope Florida knocks off Alabama in the SEC title game. Being one of the two teams with two losses playing this weekend puts them in a tough spot, but not the toughest. That belongs to…
– SLEEPER AGENT: (18) Florida – Nobody needs chaos to ensue more than the Gators. They can’t just beat Alabama to have a shot; they have to destroy them, similar to Ohio State’s 59-0 steamrolling of Wisconsin in last year’s Big Ten Championship Game. And even then, they’ll need more help: Stanford has to lose to USC and North Carolina has to beat Clemson.
But let’s stay there for a second. What if Florida, USC and North Carolina all win their conference championship games? Will a blowout win give Florida an edge over the Tar Heels if they only squeak by to win the ACC? Does (8) Notre Dame enter the discussion again? Does (6) Ohio State get another chance to sneak in? That would be the only scenario where the committee might be filibustering, arguing and slogging through re-votes while holed up in their Grapevine, Texas bunker for the weekend.
Time’s up, folks. Don’t forget to tip your bartenders and waitresses.