Takeaways from Week 12 of the college football season:
1. It seems to have dawned on most analysts that Ohio State, the current No. 2 in the playoff rankings, likely will make the four-team field as long as it defeats Michigan on Saturday in college football’s regular-season game of the year. Even if Penn State beats Michigan State to win the Big Ten East and block Ohio State’s path to the league title game, the Buckeyes should be OK.
At least, that’s the growing consensus … which, mind you, could be misguided. The Buckeyes would be the first non-conference champions to make the playoff, in Year 3 of its existence.
At this point, this is all I’m willing to take to the bank: Alabama will be in the playoff as long as it doesn’t lose to both Auburn in the regular-season finale and, a week later, Florida in the SEC title game. And Clemson will be in if (and only if) it beats South Carolina on Saturday and then either Virginia Tech or North Carolina in the ACC title game.
That’s it, folks. And though I don’t think there’s any real chance of Alabama losing twice, it’s hardly impossible. Clemson? Anyone who watched Virginia Tech rally to beat Notre Dame in Week 12 knows the Tigers have a lot of green left in their putt.
All of which is to say, this playoff business is very far from being settled.
2. Ask yourself this: If Ohio State were, say, Indiana with the exact same résumé — and coming off a not-so-impressive 17-16 victory over three-win Michigan State — wouldn’t it need to win the Big Ten to get into the playoff?
Don’t even bother answering. It’s obviously a yes.
3. But let’s stop speculating at least long enough to look at a game — make that The Game — that’s definitely going to happen. Yes, Michigan at Ohio State. If the No. 3 Wolverines win, they’ll go to the Big Ten title game and we’ll all forget about the Buckeyes (and Nittany Lions) for a while. Ohio State is favored by roughly a touchdown, in part because Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight is recovering from a collarbone injury and might not play.
To anyone (and there are many) saying the Wolverines can’t win without Speight, please stop — you’re being ridiculous. Ohio State hasn’t played one iota better than Michigan this season. This would be a dogfight if 52-year-old Jim Harbaugh lined up under center. And doesn’t anyone remember then-backup quarterback Tyler O’Connor and Michigan State going to Columbus and wrecking the Buckeyes’ playoff hopes in 2015?
4. Who’s the Big Ten coach of the year, anyway? Penn State’s James Franklin? Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst? Harbaugh? Ohio State’s Urban Meyer? Still too close to call.
5. Out of the running by just a scosche: Illinois’ Lovie Smith. A riveting affair, the Illini’s 28-0 loss at home to Iowa was not.
6. Yo, Pat Fitzgerald, what were you thinking?
Bad: Trailing 15-6 after scoring a third-quarter touchdown at Minnesota, Northwestern went for two — fine decision — but came nowhere close to converting on a basic handoff up the middle. Seriously, that’s the two-point play the Wildcats spent all week drawing up?
Worse: Still down nine late in the third and facing a fourth-and-short at the Minnesota 13, Fitzgerald eschewed a field goal attempt. The fourth-down play was stopped.
7. Speaking of Minnesota, we’ve now seen a Gophers player ejected for targeting on seven different occasions this season. Get a clue, coach Tracy Claeys. Teach your guys better.
8. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson was sacked 11 times in Thursday’s blowout defeat at Houston. He’ll still win the Heisman Trophy, but his team was exposed as a playoff pretender.
9. No one has ever been done more than Charlie Strong is done at Texas after Saturday’s humiliating defeat at Kansas. Come to think of it, maybe Notre Dame’s Charlie Weis in 2009 was more done.
10. Notre Dame will finish with its first losing record since the 3-9 debacle of 2007 (Weis’ third season). Brian Kelly will finish with his first losing record since his MAC days at Central Michigan.
Other than that, everything with the Irish is totally awesome.
Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.