For those of you who love the sport of football like I do, November is the absolute best month for entertainment. The contenders are separated from the pretenders and each week is more of a thrill ride than before. While I’m very excited about my Arizona Wildcats college basketball season, talk to me about it after the college football regular season.
This week I’m going to answer four tough football-related questions starting with a local one…
FIRST DOWN: Is ASU’s Todd Graham back on the hot seat after his team’s poor play the last few weeks?
You bet he is. The Sun Devils’ defense was as red hot as the QB play in Tucson during the middle of October…but USC derailed ASU’s high hopes on October 28th. Since then ASU struggled to beat a weak Colorado squad at home before giving up 44 points to an unimpressive UCLA squad on Saturday night.
Just think, 16 days ago ASU was playing for the lead in the Pac-12 South division. Now they’re hanging on by a thread to bowl eligibility having to beat either Oregon State in Corvallis or UofA in Tempe to achieve a .500 record.
If somehow Graham’s team loses out, his nearly $13 million buyout will be paid for by a large donor and the football team will be looking for a new leader. I have no doubt about that. Beat Oregon State and lose to UofA, Graham’s tenure might also be in peril. Win the next two weeks and there’s a 100% chance he’ll be in good graces with the athletic administration and back next season as ASU’s coach.
One thing that doesn’t help Coach Graham’s status is the emergence of Khalil Tate and the success of Rich Rodriguez’s offense in Tucson. While misery loves company, that isn’t the case down south.
SECOND DOWN: After this weekend’s chaos, who’s going to be in the College Football Playoff?
After Auburn’s thrashing of Georgia and Miami’s complete beat down of Notre Dame, only eight teams realistically remain as contenders for the CFB Playoff final four. With the Pac-12 completely out of play (due to Washington’s surprising loss at Stanford on Friday night), here is how things might shake out in the other four major conferences:
-If Alabama beats Auburn, they’re almost certainly in regardless of what happens against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. If Auburn beats the Crimson Tide and defeats Georgia in a rematch the following week, they’re also 100% in. Georgia now needs to win out including the SEC Championship Game or they’re almost definitely out. A 30 point loss to the Tigers did them absolutely no favors with the playoff committee.
-After their dominant win over TCU, Oklahoma would be in the playoff by beating Kansas, West Virginia, and either TCU / Oklahoma State in the conference’s championship game. If they slip up, they’re in grave danger of landing in the Fiesta or Cotton Bowls. It would be interesting to see what would happen if the Sooners lost again and Ohio State won out considering the Sooners beat the Buckeyes in Columbus earlier this season.
-First of all, Miami…wow. I thought the Hurricanes would beat Notre Dame but I didn’t see a 41-8 final! My parents’ alma mater is for real! The Clemson-Miami ACC Championship Game on December 2nd is essentially a quarterfinal matchup for the playoff. Barring a surprising defeat of either in the next two weeks, this can be set in stone. The loser is likely out barring a ton of chaos.
-Wisconsin is 100% in if it beats Michigan, Minnesota, and likely Ohio State (championship game). If it slips up, considering its weak schedule, the Badgers will instead go to the Fiesta, Cotton, or Orange Bowls. Ohio State needs to win out and look really impressive in doing so…and it would also help greatly if Alabama runs the table and Oklahoma loses once again.
What I Think Will Happen:
Auburn beats Alabama but loses to Georgia in the SEC Championship Game…so both the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs represent the SEC in the Playoff. Clemson beats an undefeated Miami team to make their third straight final four appearance. Oklahoma wins out and Ohio State beats Wisconsin in the Big 10 Championship Game. The Big 10 gets left out and the outcry for an eight team playoff grows louder and louder.
THIRD DOWN: Which team has the best chance to upset Philadelphia in January and represent the NFC in the Super Bowl?
The Vikings, Rams, and Saints all sit one game behind the Eagles each at 7-2 with the Seahawks and Panthers (playing tonight) at 6-3.
Minnesota has a solid combination of offense and defense but I worry about the QB play from either Case Keenum or Teddy Bridgewater, who hasn’t taken an NFL snap due to injury in more than 1,000 days.
LA has a dynamic offense having scored at least 27 points in all but one game this season. But their schedule is about to get difficult with games at Minnesota, vs. New Orleans, vs. Philadelphia, and at Seattle in the next month. They very well might win the NFC West but I’ll fade them at will come playoff time.
I don’t trust Carolina’s offense to peak anytime soon so I’ve narrowed down the candidates to two teams: New Orleans and Seattle.
The Saints have won 7 in a row and after thrashing the Bills 47-10 in Buffalo on Sunday, their offense looks borderline unstoppable. Think about this…future Hall-of-Famer Drew Brees had ZERO touchdown passes on Sunday despite his team scoring 47 points. Instead New Orleans racked up SIX rushing touchdowns. When’s the last time we saw a New Orleans team win in dominating fashion by NOT throwing the ball all over the place? With running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara seemingly gaining chunk yardage at will, the Saints are built for January.
As for Seattle, I hate to count out Russell Wilson in the postseason but the Seahawks’ secondary might be an issue with star cornerback Richard Sherman now lost for the season.
Assuming both teams remain healthy and intact, I’d be surprised if we didn’t see a New Orleans – Philly matchup in the NFC Championship Game on January 21st.
FOURTH DOWN: Which of the 5-4 teams has the best chance to make the playoffs? (Excluding 4-4 Miami who plays on Monday night in Carolina)
Right now Buffalo (AFC) and Dallas, Detroit, Green Bay, Atlanta (NFC) are slightly above .500 and remain in the playoff picture. But this question is all too easy.
Buffalo is currently the #6 seed in the AFC by a half game over Miami and a full game over Baltimore and Oakland. If there’s ever going to be a golden opportunity for the Bills to break their 18 year playoff drought, this is it.
Dallas (Ezekiel Elliott) and Green Bay (Aaron Rodgers) are without their best offensive weapons until at least Week 15 so it’s hard to imagine them staying in the playoff race for much longer. Detroit is incredibly inconsistent and I wasn’t impressed watching them seriously struggle to beat Cleveland on Sunday.
Atlanta is the other interesting case. It’s clear the Falcons are mired in a Super Bowl hangover as well as the transition to two new coordinators. They just don’t look sharp as they did in 2016. If Atlanta can win next Monday in Seattle, I’ll be a true believer in their chances…but until then the Falcons’ next best shot might be in 2018.