Column

Fired up about College Football Playoff; about firings, not so much

Another thrilling weekend is overshadowed by coaching turmoil at major programs Nebraska, Florida and Michigan

A thrilling next-to-last football weekend was briefly interrupted Sunday when Nebraska announced it had fired Bo Pelini for winning only nine games, or more, in each of his seven seasons.

"Nine-win Bo," a higher-expectations knockoff slam of "Seven-win Sark," simply didn't cut it in the land of Lincoln.

Someday, "11-win Nick" will be the end of Saban at Alabama.

We can only hope playoff selection committee member Tom Osborne can focus while he considers a late-career comeback to rescue Nebraska from the despair of "low" double-digit win campaigns.

Updates regarding Florida State's sketchy 28-game winning streak were set aside to consider that college football was one news conference in Ann Arbor from having the jobs at Nebraska, Florida and Michigan all open up at the same time Alabama-Birmingham might be shutting down.

This could be as exciting as 2004, when vehicles marked "Notre Dame" and "Florida" chased then-Utah coach Urban Meyer around Salt Lake City.

Meyer eventually opted for the license plate "Sunshine State," then won two national titles.

College athletic directors have a bad habit of stepping all over the running narrative by unceremoniously firing coaches only hours after some of the year's best theatre.

While acknowledging it isn't every year three pillar programs may post job openings, we also don't appreciate these butt-ins during a playoff race building toward its crescendo.

Our b-i-g weekend takeaway is that the Pac-12, counted out more times than Chuck Wepner, may be the only league that has already punched its playoff ticket.

We can now project with the confidence of a newborn fawn that either winner of Friday's Pac-12 title game between Oregon and Arizona will make the playoff.

This is remarkable given the conference's brutal run of luck in the old Bowl Championship Series.

The Oregon part is easy. The Ducks crushed Oregon State on Saturday to finish 11-1. Oregon probably will stay No. 2 behind Alabama on Tuesday in the next-to last College Football Playoff ranking. If the Ducks win the Pac-12, they are in.

The trickier part is Arizona winning the Pac-12.

A few of us, for weeks, have warned prognosticators to not count out any two-loss champion from the powerful Pac-12 South Division.

That team appeared to be UCLA until the Bruins lost to Stanford last Friday.

As one Pac-12 team got knocked out of contention, though, another got knocked in.

Arizona, the only school to beat Oregon, defeated Arizona State to claim the Pac-12 South. The Wildcats displaced UCLA in the top 10 in Sunday polls and could be as high as No. 8 in the selection committee ranking.

It seems reasonable to think Arizona, with a second win over Oregon, would climb into the top four. The Wildcats would have defeated Oregon twice, both times with the Ducks ranked in the top three.

Arizona's chances of bounding over three playoff obstacles — Texas Christian, Baylor and Ohio State — improved as an unfortunate result of Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett's season-ending injury.

It is always heartbreaking to see a star player go down with so much on the line, and the Ohio State news got much sadder Sunday with the reported death of walk-on lineman Kosta Karageorge.

While everyone feels for Ohio State, the playoff committee is charged to apply understood variables into the selection process.

The College Football Playoff protocol handbook states the committee, for the purposes of distinguishing otherwise comparable teams, will consider "key injuries that may have affected a team's performance during the season, or likely will affect its postseason performance."

Ohio State will play next weekend's Big Ten title game against Wisconsin with heavy hearts, and also with backup Cardale Jones at quarterback.

That gives the committee only one game to assess Ohio State as a playoff contender.

Let's assume every team ranked ahead of Arizona, except Oregon, wins next week.

That would likely leave a top three of Alabama, Florida State and Baylor, which would have clinched the Big 12 title with a win over Kansas State.

Baylor would also have the tiebreak advantage of handing Texas Christian its only loss.

Don't be distracted by TCU being ranked ahead of Baylor now. The committee has the advantage of waiting to see whether Baylor defeats a very good, top-10 Kansas State team, while TCU plays hapless Iowa State.

Arizona, as a Pac-12 champion with two wins over Oregon, seemingly would have the edge over non-champion TCU and Barrett-less Ohio State.

And this is the worst-case, best-case scenario for Arizona. The Wildcats' playoff chances would only increase if one, or more, of the top teams lose.

It was almost unfathomable only days ago to think the Pac-12 could clinch a playoff bid before the Southeastern Conference.

Even though Alabama pulled out a wild Iron Bowl win over Auburn, and should remain No. 1 in Tuesday's ranking, it was not a good weekend for the SEC.

Missouri, with ugly home losses this year to Indiana and Georgia, won the SEC East. That means the SEC could get shut out of the playoff if Missouri upsets Alabama in this week's SEC title game.

Fourth-ranked Mississippi State was also eliminated with a loss to Mississippi, on the same weekend the supposedly feeble Atlantic Coast Conference went 4-0 in games against the SEC East.

The SEC's playoff hopes rest with Alabama, but that's also a pretty strong bet.

Arizona's odds are not set in concrete, and the toughest feat, by far, will be beating Oregon a second time.

It is already clear, though, that, as it concerns the Pac-12, the new playoff is better than the old one.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

Twitter: @DufresneLATimes

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