You can go ahead and start ignoring the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches Top 25 polls starting this week. That's because the first College Football Playoff rankings will be out Tuesday night, and those are all that matter in terms of finding out which teams will make the national semifinals and a New Year's Six bowl game.
Alas, I doubt there's much drama in the first rankings as they are surely going to mirror the top four teams in the polls: Alabama, Michigan, Clemson and Washington. There's no question the Tide will be No. 1, but the next three could be in any order. Doesn't really matter as if all four teams win out, that will be your Final Four.
The Tide are +135 favorites to repeat as National Champions and they come off a bye week. Alabama has a huge one Saturday at No. 15 LSU as a 7-point favorite. Those Tigers also come off a bye week and have been playing vastly better offensively since firing Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron -- one of the reasons Miles was so squarely on the hot seat entering this season was his five-game losing streak to Nick Saban. If interim coach Ed Orgeron can pull off the upset on Saturday, he probably gets the interim tag taken off unless the Tigers then flop the rest of the way.
Last season, LSU was unbeaten and ranked fourth when it visited No. 7 and one-loss Alabama. You may remember that Leonard Fournette was the Heisman Trophy betting favorite at the time but he was held to 31 yards on 19 carries in the 30-16 loss. That started LSU on a three-game skid that almost got Miles fired last year. Meanwhile, Derrick Henry took control of the Heisman race with 210 yards and three touchdowns on 38 carries. This is Alabama's final true road game and, I believe, its only realistic chance of losing until the playoff. No, I don't think No. 11 Auburn wins in Tuscaloosa and the SEC East champ has no shot in Atlanta.
No. 2 Michigan is +500 to win it all and was pushed a little by Michigan State on Saturday but ended a three-game skid in the series with a 32-23 victory -- not coming close to covering the ridiculous 24-point spread. The Wolverines should have little trouble this week at home vs. Maryland (+30).
No. 3 Clemson won at Florida State for the first time in 10 years, 37-34 in a great game. Deshaun Watson kept his Heisman hopes alive with 430 yards of offense, including the winning 34-yard TD pass to Jordan Leggett with 2:06 to go. Clemson, now +700 to win it all, is a 26-point home favorite this week vs. Syracuse and has no ranked teams left on the schedule before the ACC title game. The No. 4 Huskies won 31-24 at No. 17 Utah on a punt-return TD with 3:25 left. Washington, +700 for the national title as well, is -15.5 this week at Cal and has one ranked team left on the schedule: the Apple Cup at No. 25 Washington State to close the season. The Cougars are overrated, though.
Here are a few Week 10 opening lines that caught my eye. Rankings from AP poll and games Saturday unless noted.
No. 12 Oklahoma at Iowa State (+21): ESPN Thursday night game. The Big 12 was a big-time loser in Week 9 as unbeatens Baylor and West Virginia were upset by Texas and Oklahoma State, respectively. So now it's looking likely that the only chance the conference has to reach the playoff is Oklahoma, and that's going to be quite difficult considering the Sooners already have two nonconference losses. But OU is the only team without a loss in conference. This could be a bit of a trap game as the Sooners finish the season vs. No. 13 Baylor, at No. 14 West Virginia and vs. No. 22 Oklahoma State. But OU will be favored in all those unless Baker Mayfield gets hurt. The Big 12 really has not had a good few weeks. The conference looked silly when deciding two weeks ago not to expand, and then last week made the perplexing decision not to split into divisions next year when the conference championship game will return. Divisions could have made it possible to avoid having the championship game participants playing twice during a short period of time as cross-division games could have been scheduled for earlier in the season. For example, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State could play back-to-back weeks next year if they finish 1-2. Something similar happened in the Pac-12 in 2012 when UCLA and Stanford met back-to-back weeks. The pick: Iowa State.
Georgia at Kentucky (+2.5): Could Kentucky actually win the SEC East? Take a look at the standings. With a win Saturday and a Florida loss at Arkansas, which is very possible, the Cats would temporarily move into first in the division, although UF would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Gators also still have a tough trip to LSU, so it's not out of the question that Kentucky could take the East with the implosion by preseason favorite Tennessee. UK coach Mark Stoops probably has saved his job with a three-game winning streak and Kentucky would get bowl-eligible with a win here. The Cats haven't played in a postseason game since the 2010 season. The first year under Coach Kirby Smart hasn't gone as planned at Georgia as the Dawgs have lost four of five and might not get to a bowl game if they lose this one. UGA had just 164 yards in Saturday's 24-10 loss to Florida. Kentucky has lost six straight in this series. The pick: Georgia.
No. 23 Virginia Tech at Duke (+11.5): This is the Hokies' final ACC road game , and if they win this they would be favored against Georgia Tech and Virginia in Blacksburg and thus in good shape to win the ACC Coastal Division and face Clemson in the conference title game in Orlando. Last week's game at Pitt was the Hokies' toughest remaining game and they won that 39-36. Despite an ankle injury, Jerod Evans threw for a career-high 406 yards and two scores, and three Tech wide receivers topped 100 yards in the same game for the first time in school history. Joey Slye tied the school and ACC records by making six field goals. Duke has been dealing with some major injuries all season, and now the collegiate career of leading rusher Jela Duncan is over. He tore his Achilles' tendon celebrating a touchdown in Saturday's 38-35 loss to Georgia Tech. Duncan, a senior, finishes the season with 450 yards and a team-high six touchdown runs. The pick: Virginia Tech.
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