J. Brady McCollough examines the 25 biggest storylines in college football heading into the season. The third installment looks at the season’s biggest games.
With hundreds of games to be played over the course of 15 weeks, it could be viewed as a foolish endeavor to pick a handful of contests that will most help the College Football Playoff committee fill up the bracket.
But that’s the nature of having a four-team tournament field made up of representatives from five conferences, one of which does not feature a team ranked in the top 10 of the preseason coaches’ poll released Thursday (hello, Pac-12).
With the “Conference of Champions” unlikely to produce a legitimate playoff contender, at least based on data on hand, the other four conferences can feel confident in their champion having an argument for one of the coveted slots — unless this is one of those years when the Southeastern Conference’s top two teams have an undeniably superior resume to a Big Ten or Big 12 champ.
It would be a shock, given its soft schedule, if defending national champion Clemson, ranked No. 1 in the preseason by the coaches for the first time in school history, does not win the Atlantic Coast Conference and punch its ticket.
From there, it would also be a surprise if Alabama and Georgia don’t meet in the SEC championship game in Atlanta with a playoff spot on the line.
Things would have to be pretty ugly in the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 for the Alabama-Georgia loser to be inserted into the playoff a day later.
Oklahoma and Texas are preseason top-10 teams and have their Red River Rivalry game at the Cotton Bowl on Oct. 12. The winner gets a leg up and improved seating on the hype train, but it’s likely that the Sooners and Longhorns will meet again in the Big 12 championship game at AT&T Stadium, which would receive much more weight than the first matchup.
Texas beating LSU in Austin on Sept. 7 will go a long way toward affirming what the Longhorns did in handling Georgia in last year’s Sugar Bowl, turning that first meeting between Texas and Oklahoma into a mid-season, top-five tilt.
Ohio State and Michigan begin the season ranked No. 5 and No. 7, respectively, in the coaches’ poll, setting up the potential for another high-stakes edition of The Game on Nov. 30 at the Big House.
The Wolverines were positioned for a playoff berth in 2016 and 2018 but fell to the Buckeyes in Columbus each year, keeping Jim Harbaugh’s program from national relevance beyond the headlines created by its eccentric head coach.
The winner in Ann Arbor should have a realistic shot at securing the fourth and final playoff spot.