The conference championship games are in the books and the committee has one final decision to make. Alabama, Clemson, and Notre Dame are all locks to make the College Football Playoff after winning their final games on Saturday, but the fourth spot is far less obvious. Wins by Oklahoma, Ohio State, and UCF make the argument just a bit more different than it was last week, and each have their own arguments as to why THEY deserve to take on Alabama.
The Sooners took care of business against #14 Texas in what’s been dubbed the Red River Rematch, winning the Big XII Conference Championship Game 39-27. The final piece of Oklahoma’s resume wasn’t all that pretty as they were down for most of the first half but were able to make it close right until the end. Yet, the rest of the Sooners argument is a strong one. Oklahoma rocks a 12-1 record, getting their only loss of the season in the conference championship game, meaning they only really have 1/2 a loss.
The Sooners also boast the #34 strength of schedule and the #6 strength of record, so solid rankings compared to the other playoff hopefuls. Individually, there is the keystone of the offense: QB Kyler Murray is 7th in the country in passing yards, 4th in completion percentage, 1st in yards per attempt, 2nd in passing touchdowns and passer rating, and even adds 11 rushing touchdowns to it all. He’s a easy Heisman finalist and could walk away with the hardware when they give out the award.
All this production has led to one of the most prolific offensive attacks we’ve ever seen. The Sooners average a whopping 584 yards per game, #1 in the country (40 more than 2nd place), are top 10 in rushing and in passing, #4 in 3rd down percentage, and lead the nation with over fifty points per game. If the game is a shootout, then nobody can keep up with Oklahoma. The problem is if the game stays close.
Oklahoma’s defense ranks #111 out of 130 in yards allowed per game, is #127 against the pass, and #63 against the run despite forcing teams to pass almost exclusively in the second half. They allow 32.8 points per game, #100 in the country, giving up 40+ points against Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Kansas, and West Virginia, a whopping 50% of their conference games and each of their last 4 regular season games. In fact, the Big XII title game was the first time the Sooners have held a team under 40 points since October 27th.
Oklahoma is not a complete team, but the offense, record, and conference championship is a solid argument for the committee to overlook the glaring weaknesses of the Big XII champions.
Northwestern kept things interesting for most of the game, but Ohio State was just too much to handle and the Buckeyes pulled away late, winning the Big Ten Championship Game 45-24. Ohio State had the biggest win of the four hopefuls this weekend, giving them a leg up on Oklahoma in terms of earning the final Playoff spot.
On paper, Ohio State is very similar to Oklahoma. They have the #48 strength of schedule and #5 strength of record (Oklahoma has #34 and #6 respectively). Ohio State has the #2 offense in the country, second only to Oklahoma, the #2 passing offense, and scores over 43.4 points per game. The Buckeyes are also sparked by a Heisman caliber QB in Dwayne Haskins. Haskins leads the country in passing yards (4580) and passing touchdowns (47), is #6 in completion percentage, #8 in yards per attempt, and #4 in passer rating. He’s got just as strong an argument as Bama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray.
On defense, however, Ohio State has been far less consistent. They have the #68 total defense, #82 passing defense, and #61 rushing defense despite leading big in most of their games this season. Ohio State, as a result, is outside of the top-50 in points allowed per game. The Buckeyes have also allowed more plays of 40+ yards than anyone in the power-5 and have given up 31 points in 5 games this season, including 4 of their last 6.
For Ohio State, the argument is that their offense is closer to Oklahoma’s than Oklahoma’s defense is to theirs, and that was proven in their conference championship game. If this argument is successful, the committee will award Ohio State the final Playoff spot. If not, it will most likely go to the team the Buckeyes are so similar to.
Down 24-7 at the end of the first quarter and down 38-21 at the half, UCF put on one of the most impressive halves of football you will ever see to storm back and win 56-41, locking up their second straight American Conference Championship.
The win Saturday afternoon reflects the mood on campus since the injury of Heisman candidate and star quarterback McKenzie Milton: a brutal loss that shook the team early, but the team has an unwavering resilience that eventually overwhelms everything else. The Knights are one of four undefeated teams in all of FBS, which is both their calling card and their greatest argument to the committee. The 2017 “National Champions” have now won 25 games in a row and haven’t lost since the Obama administration, something fans will be quick to tell you.
The Knights’ offense is one of the most balanced units in the country, putting up 261.7 yards passing (#34) and 269.8 yards rushing (#6) per game, good for the 5th best offense in all of college football. UCF uses this balance to score over 43 points per game (8th in the country) and have the #5 3rd down percentage in the nation. To cap it all off, the Knights have scored 31+ points in every single game of the winning streak, including 56 in the AAC title game.
Unlike Oklahoma and Ohio State, however, all of this offense is backed up with a solid defense. Head Coach Josh Heupel has embraced a “bend but don’t break” defense, giving up plenty of yards but allowing fewer than 20 points per game. The Knights are especially good against the pass, using their speed in the secondary and off the edge to hold opponents under 200 yards passing per game.
With all this in mind, you’d figure UCF would be higher up the list. This brings us to the greatest argument against UCF: the Knights strength of schedule, simply put, is VERY weak. It isn’t #40. It isn’t #50. It isn’t even the record for worst strength if scheduled to make the playoffs at #60. UCF sits all the way down at #107 in strength of schedule. Even their strength of record is just #9, one spot below a 3-loss LSU, despite being undefeated.
The committee has shown us before that strength of schedule matters more than almost anything, so UCF’s 2 year wins streak is not all that impressive when you take who they played into account. Still, they ARE undefeated. That has to mean something, right?
In the same stadium, against the same team, with the same lead, Georgia choked yet again and fell 35-28 against the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. With the loss, the argument for the Bulldogs is forced to be that they’re still a far superior team to Oklahoma and Ohio State despite the two losses. It’s not like that’s a crazy argument to make, either.
Georgia’s two losses are to the #1 and #10 teams in the country. Oklahoma’s is to #14 Texas and Ohio State’s is a blowout to 6-6, unranked Purdue. Even with 2 losses, this is still a point for Georgia.
Offensively, the Bulldogs aren’t as flashy as the other teams fighting for the final spot. They boast the #14 offense, boosted by their #12 rushing attack that chews up over 250 yards per game on the ground and propelled Georgia to over 39 points per game this season. Needless to say, this isn’t nearly on par with the other hopefuls.
Out of all the teams fighting for the final spot, Georgia has the best defense by far. They allow just over 300 yards per game (#13 in the country) and have the #15 pass defense despite leading big in almost every game this season. More importantly, Georgia allows just 18.5 points per game, tied for #15 in the country.
The Bulldogs play a more in-the-trenches style of football. It isn’t flashy, but when they dominate both sides of the line of scrimmage, it’s tough to score. Add to this the #26 strength of schedule and #4 strength of record and Georgia does have an argument to be there.
GCSN Playoff Rankings
We’ve had these discussions in the GCSN writer’s room for weeks, including nearly all day Saturday, and these are our official rankings.
- Alabama (13-0)
- Clemson (13-0)
- Notre Dame (12-0)
- Oklahoma (12-1)
- Ohio State (12-1)
- UCF (12-0)
- Georgia (11-2)
- Michigan (10-2)
- Florida (9-3)
- LSU (9-3)
UPDATE: The College Football Playoff Committee has selected Oklahoma for the final Playoff spot, placing Georgia at #5 and Ohio State at #6.
Check back later today for the complete bowl schedule and predictions for the College Football Playoff.
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Photo Credit: College Football Playoff, CBS Sports, NBC Sports