Luicci's College Football Plus: How Does Utah Compare To Oklahoma-Baylor Winner?

Tom Luicci

Five questions

Q. If Ohio State, LSU and Clemson all win their conference championship games as expected – all three are favored to do so – are we looking at Utah vs. the Oklahoma-Baylor winner for the fourth playoff spot?

After all of the hand-wringing, speculation and debate, it’s really that simple now if the top three teams in the College Football Playoff Rankings take care of business.

Here’s the stickier issue: How to separate them. Utah has the advantage now because of its current position in the rankings at No. 5, meaning if it beats Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game on Friday the Utes will likely be in. But should they be? The combined record of the teams they’ve beaten is 60-72 and they have not beaten a team this year with at least eight wins; the four teams they defeated with winning records are all 7-5. Would beating 10-2 Oregon get them over the top? No one disputes the dominance of Utah’s defense. But they’re almost like an old Group of 5 school pleading their case: Is manhandling bad to mediocre teams enough?

Oklahoma stacks up much better with Utah than Baylor does based on schedule, with the Sooners earning their 11-1 record at the expense of teams that are a combined 67-65. They own two impressive road wins as well – over 11-1 Baylor and 8-4 Oklahoma State. Like Utah, their one loss (Kansas State) was to an 8-4 team (the Utes lost to USC). Baylor’s schedule leaves it in the most likely position to be on the outside looking in with a win, since the combined record of their opponents is 57-72. But they have defeated two eight-win teams, which is more than Utah can claim, and their lone loss was to an 11-1 team.

All signs point to Utah with a victory over Oregon. But Oklahoma can make a compelling argument with another win over 11-1 Baylor.

Q. Are Ohio State and LSU in the playoffs even if they lose in their conference championship games?

If body of work means anything – and it’s supposed to mean everything – try finding two more worthy teams than Ohio State and LSU at 12-1. A Buckeyes’ loss to Wisconsin would have far less impact on the playoffs than an LSU loss, since Georgia and the Tigers would both be in if the Bulldogs pull off an upset on Saturday. That would leave Utah and the Oklahoma-Baylor winner out. At this point, a loss by either Ohio State and/or LSU will only impact their seeding.

Q. What under-the-radar coaching job this season has been the most overlooked?

Remember Jim McElwain, the former Colorado State and Florida head coach? In his first season at Central Michigan he took a team that was 1-11 last year (and 0-8 in the MAC) to an 8-4 season and a spot in the conference championship game opposite Miami of Ohio. The remarkable turnaround was capped with a 49-6 victory over Toledo last week that will send the Chippewas to the league title game for the first time since 2009.

Q. Was that a collective sigh of relief from the College Football Playoff Committee that they no longer have to deal with Alabama?

It sure sounded like it. Had Alabama not committed 13 turnovers, suffered two pick sixes, generally played sloppy football and not missed a 30-yard field goal to tie with two minutes to play (how does Nick Saban never have a great kicker?) in the 48-45 loss at Auburn, the Playoff Committee was headed for some real controversy a week from Tuesday. That’s not the case anymore, with the Crimson Tide taking their soft schedule and eye-test argument with them back to Tuscaloosa, where they will await a meaningless bowl assignment.

Q. What does it mean for Rutgers now that the school has hired Greg Schiano again as its head coach?

It probably means three more years of rebuilding and trying to rise from the (Chris) Ash-es disaster, with the hope of someday being at Indiana’s current level (8-4 and bowl-bound). Let’s be realistic here: Rutgers is never passing division foes Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State in the same year. The Scarlet Knights can’t even compete with bad Michigan State and Maryland teams. But Schiano’s return provides hope to what had been a lifeless program and a chance to believe competitiveness will eventually replace embarrassment. Hard to believe that it took two full months after Ash was fired and an attempt to by the AD to sabotage Schiano’s hiring the first time around to get Rutgers to where it needed to be all along. But it is Rutgers.

On the rise

Louisiana (10-2)

Ragin Cajuns set program records for victories and conference wins in winning 10 of their final 11 and six straight since a 17-7 loss to Appalachian State. They get a rematch with the Mountaineers in the Sun Belt championship game.

Memphis (11-1)

Beating Cincinnati clinched the American West and gave the Tigers a school record for victories. Now they get to do it all over again on Saturday in the AAC title game against those same Bearcats. A win almost certainly means a Cotton Bowl spot.

Indiana (8-4)

Hoosiers needed to work double overtime to beat pesky Purdue but doing so had its rewards: The program’s first eight-win regular season and first winning Big Ten record since 1993.

On the decline

North Carolina State (4-8)

After consecutive nine-win seasons Wolfpack took a big step back this year, losing their final six games and finishing 1-7 in a weak ACC. Losing the finale 41-10 to rival UNC rubbed salt in the wound.

Akron (0-12)

The nation’s only winless team finished in fitting, non-competitive style with a 52-3 home loss to Ohio. That capped the school’s first winless season since 1942 and left the Zips with a 17-game losing streak.

Maryland (3-9)

Fortunately for the Terps they’re in the same division as Rutgers, so their ineptitude is partially obscured. The finished losing nine of 10 – remember when they beat Syracuse 63-20 in game two? – and scored 161 points over the final 10 games after scoring 142 in the first two.

Who’s hot

Bryce Perkins, QB, Virginia

It took an otherworldly performance for the Cavs to end their 15-game losing streak to Virginia Tech and the senior delivered, rushing for 164 yards and two TDs and passing for 311 yards and a TD.

Lynn Bowden, QB, Kentucky

The converted wide receiver set an SEC record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 284 and four touchdowns on just 22 carries as the Wildcats ran roughshod over rival Louisville in a 45-13 romp. Bowden only needed to pass twice, completing one.

J.K. Dobbins, RB, Ohio State

A special performance by a special player, with Dobbins rushing for 211 yards and four TDs as the Buckeyes put Michigan in its place once again in a 56-27 rout.

Who’s not

Elijah Moore, WR, Mississippi

Seriously? Crawling like a dog and then pretending to urinate like one after catching a TD pass with four seconds left to get the Rebels within a point of Mississippi State? The ensuing 15-yard penalty resulted in a 35-yard PAT that was missed in a 21-20 loss. Selfish. Thoughtless. Inexcusable.

Kellen Mond, QB, Texas A&M

He came into the LSU game leading an offense averaging 419.6 yards per game, then went 10-of-30 for 92 yards with three interceptions while finishing with minus-eight yards rushing in a 50-7 loss. Wasn’t LSU’s defense supposed to be suspect?

Carter Stanley, QB, Kansas

A week after throwing for 328 yards and three TDs with no interceptions against Iowa State the senior managed 92 passing yards with three interceptions and minus-four yards rushing in a 61-6 home loss to Baylor.

Playing it forward

The top games of the coming week (all times Eastern)

FRIDAY

Utah vs. Oregon, 8 p.m., ABC, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.

Pac-12 title game is a must-win for the 11-1 Utes to make the playoffs. Ducks, 10-2, represent the best team Utah has faced this year.

SATURDAY

Baylor vs. Oklahoma, noon, ABC, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

A rematch of the thriller these two 11-1 teams staged during the regular season, this time with the Big 12 championship at stake (and maybe a spot in the playoffs to the winner).

Georgia vs. LSU, 4 p.m., CBS, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta

Tigers, 12-0, look to be a playoff lock regardless of what happens in the SEC title game here. Injury-riddled Bulldogs need to win to earn a playoff spot.

Virginia vs. Clemson, 7:30 p.m., ABC, Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.

Clemson takes a 27-game winning streak into the ACC championship game as it looks to repeat as national champions. Cavaliers are the seventh different team in seven years to win the ACC’s Coastal Division.

Ohio State vs. Wisconsin, 8 p.m., Fox, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis

Had the Badgers not inexplicably lost to 6-6 Illinois this rematch would carry much bigger implications. No. 1-ranked Buckeyes dominated in a 38-7 romp when the teams met in the regular season.

Story Lines

1. What is going on with college football these days? Players pretending to pee like a dog in the end zone after making a touchdown catch, punches being thrown everywhere, skirmishes and scuffles, taunting, kickers blowing kisses to opposing fans after a game-winning field goal?

Let’s not excuse this nation-wide behavior last week to rivalry week, as so many talking heads seemed inclined to do. This is more than just the emotion of the moment seeping into college football. It’s childish behavior and a complete absence of sportsmanship and respect. Georgia will be without WR George Pickens for the first half of the SEC championship game because he thought he was Mike Tyson in the end zone.

Here’s one solution: Any player who throws a punch – stupid as that is since players wear helmets – sits out a full game. As for Mississippi WR Elijah Moore pretending to urinate like a dog after a touchdown catch, with the ensuing penalty resulting in a 35-yard missed extra point that led to a 21-20 loss, it wasn’t even original. Odell Beckham Jr. did the same thing with the Giants – which is part of the reason he is now with the Browns. Moore’s family must be proud.

2. The Heisman race looks to be an Ohio State-LSU showdown, with the Buckeyes offering up QB Justin Fields, RB J.K. Dobbin and DE Chase Young against Tigers’ QB Joe Burrow, an ex-Buckeye. Fields has been phenomenal, with 37 touchdown passes to just one interception to go along with 10 rushing TDs. Dobbins just seems to show up big in every game that matters: 211 yards and four TDs in the rout of Michigan being the latest example. Young may be the best player in the country from an NFL scout’s perspective, but he has missed three games – two to suspensions and the one against the Wolverines, when he was barely noticeable. Is that enough? Burrow, meanwhile, keeps doing things in the best conference that no QB has ever done. He set the SEC record for passing yards in a season (4,366 and counting) and his 44 TD passes are tied for the most in conference history. Try finding a bigger difference-maker in all of college football. LSU is 12-0 in large part because it revamped its offense to take advantage of Burrow’s skill set. There’s not a better offense in the country now.

Tom Luicci was the national college football and basketball writer for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. from 1979-2014.

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