Sports fans are prone to hyperbole, but it's safe to say this is the biggest weekend of college football in years. There are six games that will have a direct impact on the College Football Playoff rankings, which will be released on Sunday.
Starting with the Pac-12 Championship Game between Arizona and Oregon on Friday, the first round of college football's new postseason format figures to become a jumbled mess by the time the last game ends on Saturday night.
While the selection committee has generated its share of controversy, no one can say that what's happened has provided any less drama. If anything, what the committee has done only makes Championship Weekend more impactful, as teams are looking to make one final impression.
Until that fateful moment arrives on Sunday, here's how the current playoff rankings look and the best possible matchups for the semifinal playoff games.
Ideal Playoff Matchups
Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Florida State
It's only fitting to start with a matchup that would take place if things stand pat this weekend. The selection committee came under fire for dropping Florida State, which is the defending national champion and is undefeated heading into the ACC Championship Game, down a spot.
As George Schroeder of USA Today wrote, it seems the committee has gotten lost in all of the outside metrics and forgot the most basic principle of sports is winning:
The selection committee will determine 'best' teams using several criteria — you know, like 'game control' (which Florida State hasn't exactly exhibited) — but winning has to remain the most important factor. An undefeated Power Five conference champion isn't getting left out of the field unless there are at least five undefeated teams from Power Five conferences. Beat Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship — even in another tight squeeze — and the Seminoles should be in the field.
If you look at the actual performance, there's a case to be made that Florida State might not even deserve to be ranked ahead of teams like Baylor or Ohio State. But the Seminoles have won all their games, and if that continues, there's no way they will be left out of the playoff.
Despite the uproar around Florida State's drop, the committee might have done the Seminoles a favor in a conspiracy theory from Andrea Adelson of ESPN.com:
When Jeff Long talks about Florida State, it is almost like he is playing Lingo Bingo. Maybe all those fancy catchphrases like 'game control' and 'eye test' count against Florida State because the committee is trying to set up more appealing AND geographical semifinal matchups.
Dropping Florida State to No. 4 means a semifinal in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans against No. 1 Alabama. That is the dream matchup everybody wanted to end last season, a delicious pairing between mentor Nick Saban and mentee Jimbo Fisher.
While the committee certainly wouldn't admit to doing that, who cares if that's the reason? It provides fans with a matchup between college football's most high-profile quarterback (Jameis Winston) and its most high-profile school (Alabama).
By the way, the Seminoles (2013) and Crimson Tide (2011-12) have combined to win the last three national championships.
Given Florida State's erratic play this year, it seems unlikely the Seminoles would advance past the semifinals. Of course, their ability to walk that tightrope means it would be foolish to discount them.
There's also the question of how Alabama quarterback Blake Sims will fare on the big stage. He finished the game against Auburn nicely, but the first-year starter looked awful early with three interceptions.
Nick Saban said after Alabama's win over Auburn that Sims has a tendency to try doing too much when the spotlight is the brightest, via Alex Scarborough of ESPN.com:
"Sometimes, it's a big game, and he starts putting a lot pressure on himself, and he gets a little anxious," Saban said. "I don't think he really processes and makes as good of decisions when he gets like that."
A showdown against the defending national champions in the Sugar Bowl isn't exactly an under-the-radar stage where you can hide flaws. Sims can't afford another bad game like the one he had against Auburn if Alabama wants to win a championship.
The ideal first step in that process would be a matchup with Florida State in Atlanta on January 1.
Rose Bowl: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Baylor
Since no one wants to see chalk hold this weekend, it's only fair that we get a shakeup in the top four. Depending on your perspective, which really means anyone who isn't a TCU fan, Baylor already has a claim to be one of the top four teams.
After all, the Bears defeated the Horned Frogs earlier this season. There might be an argument that TCU's overall body of work is better, but to ignore what Baylor did when the two teams met is illogical, which pretty much sums up committee chairman Jeff Long's rationale, via Jerry Hinnen of CBSSports.com:
We look at their losses. Baylor's loss is against a West Virginia team that's outside the top 25, and TCU's is against Baylor, who is No. 6 ... We look at many, many different things. Overall, the evaluation -- the human evaluation -- of this is what this committee is designed to do. And I think they've done that in this case with TCU and Baylor.
Hope isn't lost for Baylor, though. Based on the current playoff rankings, Baylor has the second-hardest matchup of the top playoff contenders, going up against No. 9 Kansas State. Only Oregon, which takes on No. 7 Arizona, has a more difficult task.
With a win against another Top 10 team, as well as the head-to-head win over TCU, Baylor will have fulfilled its duty to get in the College Football Playoff. This also assumes that Ohio State loses to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.
For the record, TCU also plays this weekend, though, it's got the easiest task of all the contenders against 2-9 Iowa State. Barring a miracle, the Horned Frogs will end the year 11-1 in a tie with Baylor for the Big 12 championship.
It then becomes an examination over the body of work. Don't be surprised if the selection committee listens to the feedback about the Baylor-TCU controversy and changes it if both teams get to 11-1.
This leaves us with Oregon as Baylor's opponent. The Ducks have proven themselves to be one of the two best teams in the country, getting better as the season has gone on. The final test for Mark Helfrich's team will be against an Arizona team that's defeated it in each of the last two years.
A win against the Wildcats in the Pac-12 Championship Game secures Oregon's spot in the playoff, though, it will wait to see if Alabama loses before knowing if it's as the No. 1 or 2 team.
In addition to being the right matchup if everything plays out correctly this weekend, an Oregon vs. Baylor matchup would be one of the most exciting games imaginable.
Everyone knows about the Ducks' high-powered offense, ranking fourth in the country with 45.9 points per game, but Baylor actually leads the nation in scoring (49.8). This is a game that could legitimately draw an over/under of 100 and exceed it.
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While the postseason-bound Tennessee Volunteers are waiting to hear where they'll play their bowl game, it's time to take a look back at some of the top moments for the team in 2014.
The Vols entered the season with a huge range of expectations. Final records ranging from 4-8 to 8-4 all seemed reasonable based on how well the freshman would play and the overall difficulty of the SEC.
For example, few could have expected the Ole Miss Rebels would be as strong as they were when Tennessee played them, but that loss was offset by playing a South Carolina team with one of its worst defenses in recent history.
Missouri also proved that its success in 2013 was no fluke, as it repeated as SEC East champions for the second year in a row.
Overall, Tennessee's season was a roller coaster for the coaches, players and fans. Just when it seemed the Vols were a lock to become bowl eligible, the team would get blown out in SEC play while an upcoming opponent would play extremely well.
Despite the constant setbacks and porous offensive play, the Vols managed to make the best out of a difficult schedule and hit the .500 mark for the first time since 2010.
Here are five of the best moments from a statistically average but ultimately program-changing season for the Vols.
Charlie Strong's first season in Austin did not end with the record Texas fans would have liked to see. But many of the Longhorns showed significant progress in 2014, especially the defense.
The Texas defense was the laughingstock of the Longhorns in 2012 and 2013. But the unit as a whole is part of the reason the Longhorns saw success in Strong's first year as head coach.
The statistical rankings show how much the defense has improved.InterceptionsPassing Yards AllowedRushing DefenseRed Zone DefenseScoring DefenseTotal Defense2012 No. 26 | 15 INT No. 36 | 212 YPG No. 88 | 192 YPG No. 115 | 91 PCT No. 73 | 29 PPG No. 67 | 404 YPG 2013 No. 82 | 10 INT No. 53 | 224 YPG No. 83 | 183 YPP No. 92 | 87 PCT No. 57 | 26 PPG No. 68 | 407 YPG 2014 No. 16 | 15 INT No. 13 | 186 YPG No. 65 | 162 YPG No. 29 | 77 PCT No. 32 | 23 PPG No. 26 | 348 YPG
The offense did not experience the same improvements as the defense in year one of the Strong regime, but anyone who expected to see increased numbers from the group was setting themselves up for failure.
It's very rare for an offense to be successful when the offensive line features first-year starters at every position, there is no depth or rotation on the line and a first-time starting quarterback—who admitted he never expected to start a game for his team—is under center.
But that's the hand that was dealt to the Texas offensive coaches.
With the regular season in the past, it's time to take a look at some of the most impactful players for the Longhorns in 2014, counting down from an honorable mention to the best overall player on the roster.
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Despite all that Urban Meyer's been through in the past two weeks—really, the past three months—there the Ohio State head coach sat in the bowels of Lucas Oil Stadium, mere inches from where he was famously photographed embodying defeat a year ago. But as he fulfilled his media obligations on the eve of the Big Ten Championship Game, Meyer hardly appeared shaken, carrying the quiet confidence that took him to the top of the college football mountain.
"For me to say I didn't think about that when I walked in here—I did," Meyer said on Friday. "But then I moved on quickly."
The pressure of a 24-game winning streak became too much for the Buckeyes to overcome in the conference championship game a year ago, Ohio State falling 34-24 to Michigan State. But the Buckeyes' circumstances were certainly different back then, although in a way, they were the same.
The Buckeyes aren't favored this weekend as they were during their last trip to the Circle City, the season-ending broken ankle suffered by quarterback J.T. Barrett helping make Wisconsin a four-point favorite, per Odds Shark. For just the fourth time in the Meyer era, Ohio State finds itself as an underdog, despite spending the 2014 regular season as the class of the Big Ten.
"I didn't know that," Meyer insisted earlier this week of his team's underdog status.
But while the Buckeyes are expected to lose in the conference championship game—just as they did a season ago—they still have just as much on the line. A win over the Spartans last season would have clinched Ohio State the chance to play for the national championship, and a victory in Indy this year could very well land the Buckeyes in the first-ever College Football Playoff.
That, however, will be easier said than done, with Ohio State facing the Badgers' second-ranked defense with a quarterback who at one point was listed as third on the Buckeyes' depth chart in Cardale Jones. When star quarterback Braxton Miller went down two weeks prior to the start of the season with a torn labrum, the reins of the OSU offense were handed to Barrett, a redshirt freshman who hadn't played in an actual game in nearly two calendar years.
And even after the Buckeyes suffered a loss to Virginia Tech in the second week of the season, Barrett managed to lead Ohio State on an unlikely charge back into the national title picture. The Buckeyes' victory over Michigan last weekend moved their record to 11-1 on the season, their spot in the Big Ten title game clinched a week earlier.
But Barrett's season-ending injury has loomed over the Ohio State program, as has the tragic disappearance and death of walk-on defensive lineman Kosta Karageorge. Add defensive end Noah Spence's failed appeal for reinstatement, thus ending his college career, and it's been a whirlwind two weeks in Columbus, a microcosm of a Buckeyes season that hasn't been short on storylines.
"It's been a tough week," Meyer admitted. "I told our players, you add in the fact you lost your Heisman preseason candidate the beginning of the season, we didn't have our offensive captains play the first four or five games of the year. I said you shouldn't be in this situation.
"You have to really reflect upon how that happened. There is not good fortune, the ball didn't bounce your way. We don't believe in that. We believe in an extremely close team, an extremely close team that leans on each other in tough times."
And maybe Meyer's telling the truth, that he doesn't believe in bad luck and that he's just going to roll with the hand he was dealt. But that won't stop him from using it as a motivating factor, as the Buckeyes prepare for their biggest game of the season.
"Every red flag is up, every excuse is out there to not play well, to not win a game, to lose a game," Meyer said on Monday. "You have some really good built-in excuses. To overcome the incredible tragedy that happened last night, this is a real challenge. We're going to watch it very closely. I can tell you this: extremely close team that does a lot of things together and cares about each other."
On its third option at quarterback and with all Ohio State's been though this season, one gets the sense that the Buckeyes are playing with house money, and Meyer knows it. Ohio State has every reason to lose, but still so much is on the line, and despite all of the obstacles it's faced, Meyer likes where his team stands.
"There's been a high energy. There's a lot of energy with our team right now. Very positive," Meyer said. "This team's been through a lot. And they keep grinding. And they keep winning."
Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com and recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.
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Talk surrounding the Big Ten Championship has started and ended with the starting quarterback for Ohio State, but for Wisconsin, the objective remains very much the same: finding a way to beat the Buckeyes and secure a Big Ten Championship.
How can the Badgers accomplish that feat? Well, the task looked a lot more difficult with Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett healthy, upright and on his way to a historic season with 34 touchdowns through the air and another 11 on the ground.
But to take a page straight out of the John Madden playbook, you win by scoring more points than the other team, and by that line of thinking, what the Badgers must do on offense hasn't changed.
The star player for Wisconsin is running back Melvin Gordon, a name that Big Ten country will be happy to soon see paired with an NFL team after what he's done to nearly every opponent over the past few seasons.
Gordon is averaging just a hair under eight yards per carry in 2014, and his worst game against a Big Ten opponent was rushing for 122 yards and three scores on Maryland. He has five games this season with over 200 yards on the ground, including three out of the last four games. Oh, and there's a 408-yard, four-score outing against Nebraska.
Needless to say, the Badgers can not only win by rushing the ball, it's the only way to secure a victory. Quarterbacks Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy have combined to throw for just 1,774 yards with 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
The impressive aspect of Wisconsin's offense is that even without balance, the Badgers have maintained an identity en route to a 10-2 record. Smashmouth football isn't just being physical and running the football, it's trampling all over teams even when they know what's coming.
Checking in with the Ohio State defense, you'll see a unit that ranks 40th against the run, allowing a modest 145 yards per game. However, the Buckeyes allowed over 200 yards on the ground to both Minnesota and Indiana. The Golden Gopher's David Cobb had 145 yards and three scores against Ohio State, and Tevin Coleman piled up 228 yards and three touchdowns.
Even in a win over Michigan State, the Buckeyes allowed Jeremy Langford to rush for 137 yards and three touchdowns. While Urban Meyer would love to see balance from his defense, he knows where the focus should be against the Badgers, via Austin Ward of ESPN.com:
When you do devote so much time to pass defense and actually think from the back end first, at times you’ll give up some rush yards. What we want to do is be flexible enough to do both. But this is as good of a rushing team as there is in the country, so we have to devote some more personnel to stopping the run.
It doesn't take a genius to work out the equation of what could happen when Ohio State faces the best running back in college football, so as we've become accustomed to seeing, the Badgers will run the ball early and often and see where it gets them on the scoreboard.
Moving to the other side of the ball is where things can get tricky. Barrett was a Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterback for the Buckeyes, and what we know of new starter Cardale Jones comes from high school game tape and stats (mostly) accumulated in garbage time.
On the season, Jones is 10-of-17 for 118 yards and a pair of scores, but he's also rushed for 206 yards on just 26 carries. He's 6'5", 250 pounds, so a way-too-early comparison to Cam Newton might be appropriate.
But as is the case with any new player under the spotlight for the first time, you've got to make him uncomfortable and keep him from doing what normally comes easiest, which is running ball.
Regardless of a player's passing ability at the high school level, college football is completely different in every way imaginable, so while Jones has been able to get his feet wet, he hasn't faced a defense that will get a week to game-plan for his strengths and weaknesses.
In short, Wisconsin needs to test his arm and force him to throw the ball down the field. Ohio State isn't likely to come out and throw the entire playbook out there, and the safe idea is to attempt to establish the run between Jones and Ezekiel Elliott with short passes mixed in.
If you ever wonder why coaches appear to be conservative earlier in games, it's because they're looking for the easiest possible route to victory. If running the football is working and you can score points without risking throwing the ball behind a new signal-caller, why would you try anything else?
The danger for the Badgers is that if the Buckeyes are indeed able to run the ball early on, it could spell major trouble. Barrett had some advice for Jones on how to approach the biggest game of his young career, via Austin Ward of ESPN.com:
Don't try to do it all yourself. We've got a great offensive line; they've gotten better since Week 2. The offense as a whole, we've just gotten better offensively from Week 2. He doesn't have to do it all by himself. We've got a great group of receivers ... and we can hand it off to the running backs, so you don't have to win the game.
The best-case scenario is stopping Jones and Elliott early, forcing Urban Meyer to look farther down on his call sheet and take some chances.
Taking chances is something you'd hope to avoid with a player who hasn't earned trust, and that's when the Badgers should have opportunities to force turnovers and create game-changing plays on defense.
Anyone pretending to have an elegant solution for how the Badgers can score on offense is lying: The answer has been and will continue to be Melvin Gordon running the football. He's the very best at what he does, and the style works well behind a dominant offensive line.
Coaches don't ask for advantages, but facing Jones at quarterback should be one of them if Wisconsin can crowd the line of scrimmage, make him uncomfortable and keep him confused about why guys aren't wide open like they were in high school.
The Buckeyes will have a similar game plan on defense, but the Badgers have proven they can beat opponents even when they gear up to stop the run. Ohio State hasn't had to face a defense without a tested signal-caller to keep it in check, and therein lies the key to a Wisconsin victory on Saturday night.
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When Nebraska hired Mike Riley as head coach, many Cornhuskers fans questioned why Arkansas' Bret Bielema wasn't lured to Lincoln.
Well, Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman put those thoughts to bed with this amazing YOLO tweet:
Chancellor Perlman nailed it—you don't want a coach who might bolt at the next opportunity.
We already know though, Chancellor Perlman knows that's the motto. YOLO.
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