PROFESSOR TOM LUICCI/Playoff Perspectives

TMG expert emeritus brings the season into final focus

Five questions

Q. Has it come down to Ohio State and Oklahoma for the fourth and final playoff spot?

Probably – but not definitely. Alabama is in, win or lose to Georgia in the SEC championship game (don’t even bother trying to debate that). Clemson will be in by beating 7-5 Pitt in the ACC title game. Notre Dame is in as well. If the Tide handles Georgia on Saturday, then the fourth spot is up for grabs between Ohio State and Oklahoma, assuming both win their league championship games. If Georgia somehow upsets Alabama, the SEC will get two teams in along with Clemson and Notre Dame.

Just don’t ask what happens if Alabama wins and Ohio State and Oklahoma both lose.

Q. Does unbeaten UCF have any shot at a playoff spot?

The playoff committee will be watching closely to see how the Knights respond against Memphis in the AAC championship game without star QB McKenzie Milton, who suffered a gruesome-looking leg injury in the victory over USF. Milton was reported to have undergone successful surgery but he’s a spectator now. And UCF was no cinch to beat the Tigers even with him. The Knights defeated Memphis 62-55 in OT in last year’s AAC title game and then rallied for a 31-30 victory over the Tigers during the regular season this year.

Q. If it comes down to Ohio State and Oklahoma for the fourth playoff spot, how does the committee separate the two?

It’s not going to be an easy decision. Both have star quarterbacks and dazzling offenses. Ohio State was impressive when it mattered the most, routing No. 4-ranked Michigan, 62-39, on Saturday. The Sooners haven’t beaten a team ranked that high. In non-conference play Ohio State defeated Oregon State (2-10), TCU (6-6) and Tulane (6-6) compared to FAU (5-7), UCLA (3-9) and Army (9-2) for the Sooners. Army should be viewed as a quality win, except OU needed OT to win 28-21 at home. The Sooners’ only loss was a “good” one – 48-45 to 9-3 Texas – and Lincoln Riley’s squad can avenge that on Saturday. The Buckeyes’ loss was a bad one – by 29 points to 6-6 Purdue. Oklahoma also gets the better, high-ranked opponent in its title game. Good luck splitting those hairs.

Q. Which Power 5 coaches did the best and worst jobs this year?

With the regular-season virtually complete (there are some makeup games still to be played) there’s enough body of work to form an opinion on which coaches earned their pay and which ones didn’t this year in the Power 5 conferences.

So here goes:

ACC

Best job: Dino Babers, Syracuse

Why: Picked for last in the Atlantic Division in a preseason poll, the Orange went 9-3 overall and 6-2 in the league.

Worst job: Bobby Petrino, Louisville

Why: There’s a reason he got fired.

BIG TEN

Best job: Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern

Why: Wildcats lost to Akron early, then went 8-1 in Big Ten play to win the West Division by three games.

Worst job: Chris Ash, Rutgers

Why: He went 0-9 in league play for the second time in three years when every other Big Ten team won at least two conference games.

BIG 12

Best job: Matt Campbell, Iowa State (barely beating out Baylor’s Matt Rhule)

Why: Cyclones can finish 8-4 overall with a win over Drake in a makeup game this week – no small thing at ISU.

Worst job: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

Why: His team was talented enough to beat Texas and West Virginia but staggered to a 6-6 finish with a high-powered offense.

PAC-12

Best job: Mike Leach, Washington State

Why: Despite the loss to Washington, the Cougars won 10 games with a first-year QB – and were fun to watch.

Worst job: Clay Helton, USC

Why: Whenever the Trojans suffer their first losing season in 18 years it’s a bad job by the coach.

SEC

Best job: Mark Stoops, Kentucky

Why: He made football matter again at Kentucky, which won nine regular-season games for the first time since 1977.

Worst job: Chad Morris, Arkansas

Why: The only winless team in SEC play was 2-10 overall – the program’s fewest wins since 1952.

Q. Have LSU and Texas A&M stopped playing yet?

The highest-scoring game in FCS was wildly entertaining, with all of the requisite plot twists and great plays you would expect in a 74-72, seven overtime game won by the Aggies. The strangest twist of all, though, was the reversal of an LSU interception in regulation that looked to seal the victory for the Tigers – and resulted in a Gatorade bath for coach Ed Orgeron. The interception was negated when it was determined by replay that Aggies’ QB Kellen Mond had a knee down as he tried to reel in an errant shotgun snap. So he was ruled down before throwing the interception and eventually the Aggies had one second put on the clock for a final play to force a tie and OT. Mond’s 19-yard TD pass on that final play of regulation set the stage for the OT marathon.

On the rise

Fresno State (10-2)

Bulldogs have posted back-to-back double-digit wins for the first time since 1988 and 1989 and now travel to Boise State for the MWC title game.

Baylor (6-6)

An impressive job by Matt Rhule in his second year in Waco, getting the Bears bowl eligible with Saturday’s 35-34 victory over Texas Tech after going 1-11 last year.

Temple (8-4)

After an 0-2 start that included a loss to Villanova, Owls rebounded by winning six of their final seven and three straight, beating Maryland, Cincinnati and Houston along the way.

On the decline

Mississippi (5-7)

The 38-3 home loss to Mississippi State capped a 1-7 year in SEC play that ended with five straight losses.

Florida State (5-7)

Seminoles had been to a bowl game every year since 1982. They won’t be going to one after Saturday’s 44-14 home loss to Florida. First-year coach Willie Taggart is already on the hot seat for 2019.

Navy (3-9)

A rare bad year for the Midshipmen, who let a victory escape in a 29-28 loss to Tulane last Saturday. The only way to salvage a lost season is by beating Army in the finale.

Who’s hot

Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama

The next Heisman winner (again, no debate allowed) was dazzling in the 52-21 rout of Auburn, throwing for 324 yards and five TDs and rushing for another score.

Eric Dungey, QB, Syracuse

Hobbled all week by a back injury, he joined Jim Brown as one of just three players in Orange history to account for six TDs in a game, throwing for three and running for three in a 42-21 rout of BC.

Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington

Think he enjoys facing Washington State? He rushed for 170 yards and three TDs in the Huskies’ 28-15 snow-filled victory, a year after going for 192 yards and four TDs against the Cougars.

Who’s not

Billy Crocker, Defensive Coordinator, Connecticut

Resume update alert. Huskies officially set FBS records for most yards allowed per game (617.4, or 7,409 overall) and points allowed per game (50.41, or 605 overall) this year.

Will Grier, QB, West Virginia

The best game of his career (539 passing yards and four TDs and another rushing TD) was marred by two lost fumbles that Oklahoma’s defense returned for touchdowns in a 59-56 loss.

Don Brown, Defensive Coordinator, Michigan

We know he’s a defensive genius, but has he ever seen a crossing pattern before? Brown’s vaunted defense allowed 62 points and 567 yards to Ohio State – and five TD passes by Dwayne Haskins.

Playing it forward

The top games of the coming week

Texas vs. Oklahoma, Noon, ABC (Arlington, Texas)

Sooners look to avenge their only loss and state their case as a playoff team in the Big 12 championship game. Longhorns can get to 10 wins with a victory.

Alabama vs. Georgia, 4 p.m., CBS (Atlanta)

SEC title game appears to hold more significance for 11-1 Georgia than 12-0 Alabama, which appears to be playoff-bound win or lose.

Memphis vs. UCF, 3:30 p.m., ABC (Orlando)

Unbeaten Knights will look to continue to make their longshot playoff case in the AAC championship game, despite the loss of star QB McKinzie Milton.

Fresno at Boise State, 7:45, ESPN

Mountain West championship game matches two 10-2 teams on the hideous blue turf.

Northwestern vs. Ohio State, 8 p.m., FOX (Indianapolis)

Buckeyes will look to follow up their impressive rout of Michigan with another big performance to strengthen their playoff case in the Big Ten title game.

Story Lines

1. You’d think with all of the spread offenses and the emphasis on passing these days that 2,000-yard rushing seasons would go the way of the straight-on placekicker. Turns out the opposite is true. There’s a chance that two players – Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor and Memphis’ Darrell Henderson – could top the 2,000-yard rushing mark when bowl games are factored in (as they now are). That would make five straight years of at least one 2,000-yard rusher at the FBS level.

Of the 30 overall 2,000-yard rushing seasons in FBS history 15 have occurred since 2000. Taylor, with 1,989 yards, should easily eclipse the 2,000-yard plateau in the Badgers’ bowl game. Henderson, with 1,699 yards, has some work to do – but has two games to do it: the AAC championship game and a bowl game. Marcus Allen in 1981 was the first to reach 2,000 yards rushing and Barry Sanders’ 2,628-yard rushing season in 12 games in 1988 (the NCAA didn’t allow bowl yardage to count in the overall total until 2002) looks to be unbreakable (especially since Sanders also rushed for 222 yards in the bowl game). Mike Rozier holds the record among 2,000-yard rushers with his 7.81-yards per carry average, but Henderson is currently averaging 8.6.

2. Twitter hot takes are becoming more dangerous – and embarrassing – for college football media types who often fail to understand a basic concept: the games are four quarters and 60 minutes (or longer if you’re LSU and Texas A&M). Consider the three remarkable comebacks on Saturday:

  • UNLV staged the biggest comeback in school history in a 34-29 victory over Nevada, rallying from a 23-0 second quarter deficit.
  • Utah, trailing 20-0 at halftime and 27-7 in the third quarter, scored 28 unanswered points (21 in the fourth quarter) in a 35-27 victory over BYU.
  • Arizona State, trailing by 19 entering the fourth quarter, pulled out a 41-40 win over rival Arizona State.

So as tempted as you may be to Tweet out something snarky or something you think is irresistibly clever before the game is over (not that we asked for your "opinion"), remember that premature tweeting can wind up being a huge embarrassment. You “national” guys know who you are.

Tom Luicci was the national college football and basketball writer for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. from 1979-2014.

Comments