Championship Week Viewing Guide: Could Ohio State Still Make the College Football Playoff?

By George Eisner on December 4, 2021 at 8:35 am
Albert Cesare | The Cincinnati Enquirer
Albert Cesare | The Cincinnati Enquirer

With Ohio State off for now, let's take a look at a host of other college football matchups from around the country we’ll have our eyes on this Saturday.

NoonersSarah Phipps | The Oklahoman

Photo: Sarah Phipps | The Oklahoman

No. 9 Baylor vs. No. 5 Oklahoma State, 12 p.m. on ABC

The first meeting between these two teams back at the start of October was one of the featured primetime games in the Week 5 Viewing Guide. Mike Gundy and the Cowboys held off the Bears at home by 10 points back then, which now leaves Oklahoma State in the difficult position of having to beat the same team twice if the school wants to claim its first Big 12 title in a decade.

Both of these teams play similar styles of football, with run-heavy focuses flanked by sound defense. In comparing the performances of these teams against preseason-darling Oklahoma, Baylor actually did a much better job of corralling the Sooner offense, but Oklahoma State found superior success when it came to scoring the football — on offense and special teams.

  • Root for: Baylor
  • Why: Ohio State no longer controls their own fate in the grand scheme of the College Football Playoff. But there remains a specific set of results today that could trigger reasonable consideration from the committee with respect to the Buckeyes earning the fourth and final spot. Oklahoma State winning would presumably send the Cowboys to the Playoff barring Georgia losing to Alabama. However, Baylor pulling the upset and avenging the loss from earlier this season would not necessarily vault the Bears ahead of Ohio State in the eyes of the committee.

    Put another way, should Georgia hold on to the number one overall seed, it would be a much harder sell for Playoff viewers to watch a ground-control Baylor team that lost to 5-7 TCU slam repeatedly into Georgia's defense. Choosing that scenario over the Bulldogs matching up with the electric Buckeye offense — a meeting the college football universe has openly craved all season — would be a costly mistake for all involved. 

Kent State vs. Northern Illinois, 12 p.m. on ESPN

W I L D C A R D   of the   W E E K

Rocky Lombardi — aspiring Draco Malfoy impersonator and quarterback for the Huskies — has more wins as a starter versus Jim Harbaugh than C.J. Stroud. Let that sink in for a moment before knocking the final Wildcard of the Week matchup that features the first MAC-tion recommendation from the Viewing Guide all season.

After transferring away from Michigan State in the offseason, Lombardi underwhelmed for Northern Illinois in the early stages of 2021 — including a woeful encore performance against Michigan that saw him throw for only 46 passing yards. But Lombardi turned the Huskies' season around after that defeat on their way to winning their next five games before meeting with the Golden Flashes for one of the Mid-American Conference's games of the season that ended in a 52-47 victory for Kent State.

With the over/under set at 74.5 following a combined 99 points from these teams on a Thursday night at the start of November, this MAC Championship rematch figures to be an exciting alternative to the slugfest taking place in the Big 12 today.

AfternoonersKirby Lee | USA TODAY Sports

Photo: Kirby Lee | USA TODAY Sports

Four Conference Crowns on the Line

The peaks of the Mountain West, Sun Belt, Southeastern, and American Athletic Conferences are all on the line in the afternoon window. An ex-Michigan man, Florida's next fearless leader, the reigning national champions, and a former Buckeye head coach each have dreams of new titles dancing in their heads. 

  • Utah State vs. No. 19 San Diego State, 3:30 p.m. on FOX
    Brady Hoke is just a game away from completing his comeback away from the Wolverines. After washing out at Michigan towards the beginning of the Urban Meyer era at Ohio State, Hoke now finds himself on the doorstep of a conference title in the Mountain West with a San Diego State team that leans on defense and lost only once this season to a Fresno State squad that won nine games of its own.

    Utah State is the undeniable underdog, but the Aggies enter this game with fairly good momentum. They have won six of their last seven games and have returned victorious on every road trip this season. Although Mountain West rules technically permit the top team at the end of the regular season to host the conference title game, the Aztecs will need to play this game in the suburbs of Los Angeles due to the construction of their new stadium.
  • Appalachian State vs. No. 24 Louisiana, 3:30 p.m. on ESPN
    H A Z A R D   W A R N I N G
    Louisiana head coach Billy Napier has already agreed to take the open coaching job at Florida that Dan Mullen vacated following the Gators' spectacular implosion. His departure looms over a team that already defeated Appalachian State by four touchdowns in mid-October.

    In contrast to the unceremonious exits of Lincoln Riley and Brian Kelly this week, Napier is trying to conduct his own departure with class even with its certainty in no doubt. Shortly after the news went public that he would be leaving, Napier made his feelings about the program and plans for the immediate future transparent for all involved. He expressed gratitude for how the Ragin' Cajuns have worked to build their success, and pledged to be on the field for the championship today in writing their final chapter together.

    Despite the power moves that have taken place this week and will continue to take place over the years to come, loyalty matters in football. That faith in commitment can motivate players — and even people beyond the sport — to perform incredible feats. Napier should run the Mountaineers off the field this afternoon on his way to Gainesville, but the Sun Belt also has a way of providing weird entertainment in unlikely circumstances.
  • No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 3 Alabama, 4 p.m. on CBS
    The Crimson Tide had to manage not having Jameson Williams around last week after an ejection for targeting, which made moving the ball exceptionally difficult for their offense until the most desperate of moments. Alabama did not score a touchdown until Bryce Young dropped in a 28-yard pass to Ja'Corey Brooks with less than 30 seconds remaining to steal an Iron Bowl win from Auburn.

    The Tide have failed to win their last three games against SEC West opponents by double digits, and now must surmount one of the most complete college football defenses of all time if they want to make the College Football Playoff. Young was having a fairly horrific day prior to Bama's 97-yard drive in the waning moments of the game, having taken seven sacks and finishing with a completion percentage of less than 50 percent.
    • Root for: Georgia
    • Why: This should be the most obvious of the rooting interests for Buckeye fans today. A win for Alabama cancels out the shortcomings of the Tide's last three SEC games, while also confirming Young will win the Heisman Trophy over C.J. Stroud and the field. Worse yet, the rest of Georgia's sparkling resume will likely keep them from falling further than the fourth or possibly third seed depending on their margin of defeat in the event of a loss.

      The Bulldogs steamrolling the Tide is the best scenario for Ohio State fans today. A Georgia blowout would not only drop Bama from Playoff consideration, but also leave the door open for Stroud to win the Heisman Trophy pending another disaster performance from Young early in this game.
  • No. 21 Houston vs. No. 4 Cincinnati, 4 p.m. on ABC
    Once upon a time, Brady Hoke was responsible for Michigan's most recent win over Ohio State. That came at the hands of Luke Fickell, the first Buckeye head coach to finish a non-vacated season with a losing record since John Cooper in 1988.

    A decade later, both coaches now hunt for conference title glory on championship weekend, but Cincinnati desires an even greater objective. A win today would cement a perfect record heading into the evening's playoff deliberations, and an unblemished resume for the Bearcats would likely make them the first non-Power 5 team to definitively crack the College Football Playoff since Ohio State won the first edition in 2015.

    But Cincy has also regularly flirted with disaster this season, and Houston is no slouch of an opponent. Fickell's crew has had a slew of fickle performances against inferior opponents in the first halves of games this season, most recently finishing the first quarter of their Thanksgiving hangover game against Eastern Carolina down 3-0. The Cougars are on an 11-game win streak since dropping their season opener to Texas Tech, having not lost an AAC game all season. That makes today's game the only meeting between opponents with undefeated records in conference play.
    • Root for: Houston
    • Why: Sorry Fickell, this is strictly business.

      Cincinnati deserves to make the Playoff if they win their championship today. It would be a deeply inspiring conclusion to the rise of a program that has undoubtedly provided hope to others beyond the Power 5 that they too will merit CFP consideration one day. But unfortunately, the Bearcats stand in the way of Ohio State's only remaining title hopes. Anyone that desires to see the Buckeyes take the field again this season needs to swallow their Queen City pride and support Houston. 

      Want to root for an Ohio team today? The Golden Flashes are on at noon.

PrimetimeJunfu Han | USA TODAY Network

Photo: Junfu Han | USA TODAY Network

No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 13 Iowa, 8 p.m. on FOX

A shame it has to end this way.

Not much that needs to be said about this one. The Wolverines took control of the Big Ten East for the time being after their biggest win in recent memory last weekend, and now seek to firmly announce their return to the pantheon of college football with their first conference title in nearly two decades.

They will face an Iowa team that needed a 19-point fourth quarter comeback last weekend versus Nebraska to put themselves in a position to qualify for a trip to Indianapolis. Ironically, the Huskers play much better than their 3-9 record — while the Hawkeyes play much worse than their 10 wins would indicate — but as has been the case all season, neither team could get out of their own way.

  • Root for: Michigan
  • Why: As fans of a team not playing football on Championship Saturday, let's pause for a moment and consider the situation. While it would be undeniably funny to see Harbaugh stumble at the finish line against one of the most fraudulent offerings the Big Ten West has served up in recent memory, it would be much better for everyone involved with Ohio State if Michigan wins their first outright Big Ten Championship since 2003.

    A conference title-caliber Wolverines team reflects as a much better element on the resume of the Buckeyes when comparing losses among Playoff candidates. Even if the other teams in front of Ohio State fail to fall out of consideration, a trip to the Rose Bowl to play Utah in the Battle for Urban's Pride would be a much more favorable experience for Buckeye players, their families, and TBDBITL than going to some other soulless New Year's Six destination.

The College Football Playoff Tomorrow (Hopefully)

  1. Georgia
  2. Michigan
  3. Notre Dame
  4. Ohio State

A first round featuring the Ohio State offense and Georgia defense pairing of season-long dreams, plus one of the highest stakes Michigan-Notre Dame games ever and the first since 2019 for a rivalry that no longer meets annually.

Perhaps most significant of all — should the Buckeyes pull off the upset and be the first team to take down the Bulldogs, a potential rematch with the Wolverines in the National Championship would be in the cards.

On the Radar for Next Season

  • Opening Night Backyard Brawl: West Virginia vs. Pittsburgh — Thursday, Sept. 1st
  • Non-Con GotY Candidate: Georgia vs. Oregon — Saturday, Sept. 3rd
  • Buckeyes:
    • Notre Dame vs. Ohio State — Saturday, Sept. 3rd
    • Ohio State vs. Penn State — Saturday, Oct. 1st
    • Michigan vs. Ohio State — Saturday, Nov. 26th
View 117 Comments