The College Football Playoff countdown is heading into Week 11.
The first set of rankings will be unveiled Nov. 24. There are only five regular-season weeks left, and the CFP selection committee will announce the playoff pairings Dec. 20.
This weekend has already been impacted by COVID-19. Three SEC games involving ranked teams have been postponed. There are no matchups between ranked teams this weekend, but there are 13 games involving teams ranked in the AP Top 25.
Every week, Sporting News surveys the landscape looking for Heisman contenders, coaches on the spot, upset alerts and other trends. With that in mind, get ready for Week 11.
USC’s Kedon Slovis could be a late-runner for the award. Slovis hit 40 of 55 passes — or 72.7 percent — with 381 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in the Trojans’ season-opening victory against Arizona State. He can pad those totals against Arizona. If the Trojans win the Pac-12 and slip into the CFP, then Slovis will be a finalist, too.
Slovis, like everyone else, is playing catchup to the front-runnner. Ohio State’s Justin Fields is that guy after a strong three-game start in which he has passed for 908 yards, 11 TDs and zero interceptions.
Fields is 72 of 83 — an astounding completion percentage of 86.7. Texas’ Colt McCoy set the FBS single-season record (minimum 150 attempts) at 76.7 in 2008. If Fields breaks that record, then it would be hard to see anybody else winning the award. That field, however, has a chance to catch up with the Buckeyes not playing this week because Maryland had a COVID-19 outbreak.
Coach on the spot
Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh is the obvious answer here. The Wolverines are 1-2 and underdogs at home against No. 13 Wisconsin. This might be the most-watched game of the weekend because of the fallout in Ann Arbor.
A loss would all but ensure a .500-at-best season for Michigan, and the questions about Harbaugh’s job status heading into 2021 will reach the same levels Brady Hoke faced in 2014. Keep in mind that the Wolverines are 2-0 against Wisconsin at Michigan Stadium under Harbaugh.
That’s why Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst faces some pressure here, too. The Badgers already missed two games because of a COVID-19 outbreak. Any loss likely eliminates the Badgers from the Playoff given that they are only playing a max of seven games. Graham Mertz should have success against Michigan’s pass defense, which ranks 103rd in the FBS. The Badgers cannot afford to be rusty after a two-week layoff.
No. 9 Miami remains alive in the ACC championship mix, and D’Eriq King is coming off a 430-yard, five-TD performance against N.C. State. So why are the Hurricanes 2.5-point underdogs against a Virginia Tech team that just lost to Liberty?
That’s one of those “Vegas knows” lines that makes us antsy, and the Hokies have scored 35 or more points in all but one of their seven games this season. Virginia Tech won the last meeting in a 42-35 shootout. We still like Miami for the victory, but it’s going to be close.
Will No. 9 Indiana get caught looking ahead to No. 3 Ohio State? The Hoosiers already swept Penn State and Michigan, and adding Michigan State to that list would be impressive. The Spartans have won three of the past four meetings in the series, and it depends on which Mel Tucker team shows up at home.
The SEC schedule faces its first huge logistical test after a weekend in which four games were postponed.
The matchups between No. 24 Auburn and Mississippi State and No. 5 Texas A&M and Tennessee can be played on Dec. 12. No problems there. Missouri will not be able to play No. 12 Georgia because the Tigers already have Vanderbilt on the schedule.
No. 1 Alabama has an opening, but LSU will play No. 6 Florida on Dec. 12, a game that had already been postponed. One option for the SEC would be for neither Florida nor Alabama to play LSU if the SEC championship game has already been decided.
That would be a controversial decision given the Playoff preservation, but why should the Gators or Crimson Tide have to play LSU if the divisions are wrapped up? That is a question that will be asked in full force over the next few weeks.
Think about it …
The SEC won’t be where it stops. There are only 14 games involving ranked teams this week. SN detailed earlier this week the fact that there are more undefeated teams in the independent and Group of 5 ranks than there are in the Power 5. A look at unbeaten teams that have played multiple games:
|No. 1 Alabama (6-0)|
|No. 3 Ohio State (3-0)|
|No. 10 Indiana (3-0)|
|IND IN CONFERENCE|
|No. 2 Notre Dame (7-0)|
|No. 8 BYU (8-0)|
|No. 22 Liberty (7-0)|
|GROUP OF 5|
|No. 7 Cincinnati (6-0)|
|No. 15 Coastal Carolina (7-0)|
|No. 16 Marshall (6-0)|
|San Jose State (3-0)|
|Kent State (2-0)|
|Western Michigan (2-0)|
|Central Michgan (2-0)|
COVID-19 promises to play in the role in the rest of the season, which makes the idea of a one-time eight-team playoff that much more attractive. MLB and the NFL expanded their playoffs, and the NHL altered its playoff format this season. Need proof college football can adapt? ESPN’s “College GameDay” is at The Masters this weekend.
Will it happen? That’s doubtful. The CFP appears to be in get-the-season-in-and-get-out mode, and that likely means a standard four-team Playoff with the usual blue-bloods. If that happens, however, then the New Year’s Day Six absolutely should welcome more than one Group of 5 team if they go undefeated.
Watch this movement grow over the next five weeks, especially if COVID-19 outbreaks continue to ravage the schedule.