The Big Ten season started this weekend. Ohio State and Michigan, both 11-0, play in Columbus where everything is at stake. It’s the first time since 2006 that they’ve played with unbeaten records.
Both teams weathered scares last week, giving this edition of The Game all-time potential. The Buckeyes have won every game by double digits. Michigan has won 10 of 11 by double digits. A year after the Wolverines finally prevailed by defeating the Buckeyes in the snow, the encore could get even better. (Conditions are around 55 degrees and cloudy with a 40% chance of rain in the afternoon.)
“It’s a playoff game; Both teams could still be considered with a loss, but a win puts them in a prime position,” said Gary Stokan, president of Peach Bowl Inc. and familiar with the playoff selection process. The Peach Bowl hosts one of the semifinals of the college football playoffs.
It also has high stakes in the Heisman Trophy. Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker tore his cruciate ligament, a horrible end to a memorable campaign, and North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye struggled with his team’s loss to Georgia Tech ending their longtime CFP hopes.
Buckeyes quarterback CJ Stroud, now the betting favorite for the award, could be closer to securing the Heisman with a stellar performance against his program’s archrival. Michigan running back Blake Corum, who is struggling with a knee injury, could jump to the top of Heisman’s contenders with his own strong performance.
“It’s the kind of games where you have to step up and have your Heisman moment,” Stokan said. “Everyone is watching, all voters across the country. It’s against a top opponent. That’s why you want to play in Michigan and Ohio State to play big games on big stages.”
Several tremors threatened last weekend, but most of the top teams survived. No. 4 TCU eluded Baylor with a game-winning field goal. No. 6 USC prevailed over rival No. 18 UCLA in a shootout. But Tennessee, who was No. 5, was completely dismantled by South Carolina, ending its CFP bid. North Carolina was also eliminated with its loss.
The remaining hopefuls appear to be No. 1 Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan, TCU, No. 5 LSU, Southern California and No. 8 Clemson. It would take a lot of madness for a No. 7 Alabama, say, to get back into the discussion.
While the Trojans trailed LSU in the latest rankings, they are well positioned. They have No. 15 Notre Dame this week, then probably No. 9 Oregon or No. 13 Washington in the Pac-12 championship. If USC wins, it would have closed with three consecutive ranked wins.
One of Ohio State or Michigan will have a loss, and LSU is a heavy underdog against Georgia in the SEC championship game, so the fourth-place discussion could come down to USC vs. Clemson — if those teams keep winning.“The guiding principles for the selection committee are head-to-head racing, common opponents, a strong schedule and conference championships,” Stokan said. So it’s notable that USC will meet Notre Dame, the team that defeated Clemson 35-14 earlier this month.
Potential playoff movers
This week’s games that could affect the playoff race (game Saturday unless otherwise noted):
■ Georgia Tech (5-6) at No. 1 Georgia (11-0), noon, ESPN: The Bulldogs control their own destiny for the CFP’s top seed. If they are number 1, they would contest their semifinals at the Peach Bowl. After the Chick-fil-A kickoff and SEC championship game, it would be their third time playing in Atlanta this year.
■ No. 3 Michigan (11-0) at No. 2 Ohio State (11-0), Noon, Fox: Finally. The Wolverines and Buckeyes will play with an unbeaten season, Big Ten Championship Game berth and No. 2 seed on the line. This matchup has the potential to be among the most memorable in the legendary rivalry.
■ South Carolina (7-4) at No. 8 Clemson (10-1), noon, ABC: The Tigers are once again the last ACC team after Georgia Tech upset North Carolina last week. Clemson will root against TCU and USC. Before taking on UNC in the conference championship, the Tigers must overcome a South Carolina team that ended Tennessee’s CFP hopes — humiliatingly — last weekend.
Iowa State (4-7) at No. 4 TCU (11-0), 4 p.m. Fox: TCU lives on the edge, but all that matters is that they keep winning. While other high-level teams have faltered, the Horned Frogs have not slipped. They’re a few wins away from their first CFP berth (against Iowa State and Kansas State).
No. 5 LSU (9-2) at Texas A&M (4-7), 7 p.m. , ESPN: The Tigers must defeat the Aggies and then the Bulldogs in the SEC championship game to possibly make the CFP.
No. 15 Notre Dame (8-3) at No. 6 USC (10-1), 7:30 p.m., ABC: The Trojans can build their resume with victories over the Fighting Irish and Ducks or Huskies over the next two weeks. It’s safe to say that USC is pleased with its investment in Lincoln Riley.
About coaching availability:
Auburn continues its search for a new coach, with Lane Kiffin’s name often mentioned there (he denied a report that he would take the job after the Egg Bowl). Georgia Tech’s interim Brent Key did a really good job, grabbing two road wins in the leaderboard, but we’ll see if Tech turns around elsewhere. Other openings include Nebraska, Wisconsin, Colorado and Arizona State.
That provoked this thought: There may not be many coaching jobs available in the premium programs for the next few years. Schools either love their trainers and/or simply invest in one. NFL opportunities or a disastrous campaign could always change things, but it doesn’t appear that many of the most coveted jobs will become vacant in the next few years.
Alabama and Georgia are discontinued. LSU and Florida just hired Brian Kelly and Billy Napier, respectively. Josh Heupel made Tennessee matter again. Auburn is about to hire a new coach.
USC just hired Riley. Notre Dame just hired Marcus Freeman. Oklahoma just hired Brent Venables. Clemson is set with Dabo Swinney. Mike Norvell appears to have FSU trending up, while Miami will likely give Mario Cristobal time.
Ohio State and Michigan are covered (Jim Harbaugh has flirted a lot with an NFL return, however). With Arch Manning coming, there’s a lot of fuss about Steve Sarkisian’s Texas Longhorns. Dan Lanning had a nice debut season with Oregon. The same goes for Kalen DeBoer in Washington.
Maybe one of those coaches is leaving for another program, like Kelly moving Notre Dame to LSU, but it doesn’t seem like there’s going to be much movement in the next year or two. Best job that could be open: How about Texas A&M? Jimbo Fisher needs a big step forward in 2023. He’s already served five years at College Station, and Aggies fans watched as Kelly won the SEC West in his freshman year.