It is a little over half way through the 2018 college football season and it is time to take stock of what we have seen. Well, that is, in my way of viewing things.
First, let’s eliminate the flops – Arkansas, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss, as usual. And let’s eliminate the mediocre – Auburn, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Florida. That leaves us with Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Kentucky at the top of the heap in the Southeastern Conference. After this weekend, one of those four will be gone and three will still lay claim to good seasons even if they have one or two losses.
My prediction is Alabama and Georgia will play for the SEC title in Atlanta and that Alabama will win. That will place Alabama in the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year and with a big advantage over whoever the other three teams selected are – my guess right now, provided Alabama wins out, will be Clemson, Michigan, Notre Dame and the Tide.
If, however, Alabama loses to LSU and wins out the rest of the way, the four teams become LSU, Clemson, Notre Dame and Alabama. Alabama would still have the advantage over the other teams in this scenario.
Provided the final four are Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Michigan then Alabama faces Michigan while Clemson and Notre Dame are in the other game. Alabama versus Clemson, again, for the title. If LSU slips in with Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame, then Clemson plays Alabama while Notre Dame and LSU battle for the second spot. Alabama bears LSU for the title.
Sounds like a good plan either way – to me. If by chance the University of Central Florida goes undefeated, it will still not make the playoffs. If Alabama does not make the playoffs, I predict the Crimson Tide will play UCF in the Sugar Bowl and beat UCF’s brakes off.
But, everything is subject to change because that is the way college football is these days. There are some dominant teams in college football year-to-year, but with scholarship limitations and the transfer rule everyone in the Top 10 of the polls is pretty much equal.
Here is my safe prediction for the college playoffs, whatever SEC manages to make the final four will win. Yes, I am an SEC homer.
The best teams that will not make the playoffs? How about Ohio State, Penn State, UCF and Georgia? That is how I see it at this point.
Here is another prediction. Neither Urban Meyers nor Gus Malzahn will be fired. Oh, the pressure is on both of them, but I do not see it happening. First, Meyers is only out if he resigns. His record of success – and a two-loss season is still a successful one – is too strong to let him go. As for Gus, well, Auburn is just stuck with a mediocre head coach with an elite coach’s contract. Auburn would be crazy to pay up a staggering $39 million to buy out his contract. The Tigers would have been a much different team had they retained a running back that opted for the NFL and not had so many injuries on the offensive line. Auburn will be better next season and Auburn will realize that before forking over the dough.
Speaking of coaches, I think there are a couple of SEC coaches who will definitely be considered for National Coach of the Year honors – Mark Stoops of Kentucky and Ed Orgeron of LSU. Who would have thought these two guys would be coaching one-loss teams at this point of the season? Not me. I thought LSU would be lucky to win seven games and Kentucky six games at best. If Orgeron’s Tigers beat Alabama this weekend, I think he is a lock for the award. If he loses to Alabama and wins out from there, he is still the favorite. But, let Kentucky beat Georgia, also this weekend, and win out with LSU losing to Alabama by a large margin, then Stoops is the favorite. A guy on the outside looking in is Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell. And do not overlook Josh Heupel at UCF.
Finally, the Heisman Trophy is basically a two-quarterback race, in my opinion, between Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama and Dwayne Haskins of Ohio State. Both will be in New York for the ceremony with one other guy to be named later – and with no chance of winning the trophy. Tagovailoa has put up numbers that merit his winning the trophy – leading an undefeated team, 2,000-plus yards passing, completing over 70 percent of his passes, no interceptions and a ton of touchdowns (25). But, Haskins has over 2,800 yards passing, has completed over 70 percent of his passes and has thrown more touchdown passes (30) than Tagovailoa. Of course, Tagovailoa rarely plays past the first series or two of the second half. He has not played in the fourth quarter so far. Haskins has played into the fourth quarter and has a pair of big come-from-behind victories over TCU and Penn State. He does, however, have a loss and has thrown five interceptions. My prediction right now is for Tagovailoa to win the Heisman. But with a poor showing or two, Haskins takes over the favored spot.
That is what I see right now. Will it hold up? We will all begin to see things shaping up over the next few weeks. Most of the questions may be settled this weekend – or may be not.
Mark Clark is a local sports writer for The Citizen of East Alabama.