As September gives way to October, the matchups will pick up steam. The games will increase in urgency. The path to the College Football Playoff will gain more definition.
This week’s guesses for the CFP’s four semifinal teams look familiar, although we’ve shuffled the deck a bit. It’s hard to imagine the status quo being maintained. There are potential surprises around each corner.
So buckle up and enjoy.
My current favorites:
No. 1: ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE
So Far: 4-0 (defeated Kent State 48-0; opened the season by defeating USC 52-6, Western Kentucky 38-10 and Ole Miss 48-43).
Synopsis: It was business as usual for Crimson Tide, which subdued Kent State, the alma mater of Alabama coach Nick Saban, with clinical efficiency. There was much preseason concern about how Alabama would plug holes at the skill positions, and how the defense might need to really step up. Has anyone noticed that Alabama is averaging 46.5 points per game?
Who’s Next: The Crimson Tide (4-0, 1-0 SEC) returns to SEC play — but still gets a relative breather — when it hosts the Kentucky Wildcats (2-2, 1-1). Kentucky is coming off a 17-10 win against South Carolina. Alabama is seeking its 16th straight victory against an SEC East team and is 20-1 against the division since 2009 (losing only against South Carolina in 2010).
No. 2: LOUISVILLE CARDINALS
So Far: 4-0 (defeated Marshall 59-28; opened the season by defeating Charlotte 70-14, Syracuse 62-28 and Florida State 63-20).
Synopsis: It was another routine game for Cardinals QB Lamar Jackson — seven touchdowns this time for the Heisman Trophy favorite — and an expected rout of the Marshall Thundering Herd. Here’s the story of Louisville season: The Cardinals rolled up 59 points at Marshall — and it was their lowest-scoring game so far.
Who’s Next: It’s showdown time in the ACC Atlantic Division as Louisville (4-0, 2-0) travels to Clemson (4-0, 1-0), last season’s national runner-up. The Tigers have been underwhelming so far — perhaps a reflection of vast expectations — but QB Deshaun Watson provides a formidable challenge for the Louisville defense. Since joining the ACC, Louisville has lost a pair of close ones against Clemson (23-17 in 2014, 20-17 last season).
No. 3: MICHIGAN WOLVERINES
So Far: 4-0 (defeated Penn State 49-10; opened the season by defeating Hawaii 63-3, UCF 51-14 and Colorado 45-28).
Synopsis: Well, at least it sounded like a potentially interesting Big Ten Conference opener. It reality, it was another beatdown. The Wolverines quickly dispatched Penn State 49-10 with a 326-yard, six-touchdown rushing attack.
Who’s Next: The Wolverines (4-0, 1-0) host Wisconsin (4-0, 1-0) in a Big Ten Conference game with major ramifications. Michigan hasn’t faced Wisconsin since 2010, the largest scheduling drought for any Big Ten opponent. The home team is 6-1 in this series since 2002. Wisconsin has gotten everyone’s attention in the early season by defeating LSU (16-14) and Michigan State (30-6).
No. 4: OHIO STATE BUCKEYES
So Far: 3-0 (coming off an open date; opened the season by defeating Bowling Green 77-10, Tulsa 48-3 and Oklahoma 45-24).
Synopsis: For the fourth time in coach Urban Meyer’s five seasons, the Buckeyes have a 3-0 start. Meyer is 28-3 in his career while coming off a bye.
Who’s Next: Ohio State (3-0, 0-0) faces Rutgers (2-2, 0-1) in the Big Ten Conference opener. The Scarlet Knights nearly scored a big upset, but fell at home against Iowa, 14-7. That put Rutgers at 4-13 in Big Ten play. After beating Rutgers 56-17 (2014) and 49-7 (2015), Ohio State figures to inflict more conference-play pain on Saturday.
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State (Peach Bowl) — Alabama, going for its fifth national title in the last eight seasons, has been here before. Well, so has Ohio State. Urban Meyer is a big-game coach and a nemesis for Nick Saban, whether it was during the Florida-Alabama matchups in the SEC or the 2014 national semifinal, when the Buckeyes prevailed. We see an upset brewing here. Winner: Ohio State.
No. 2 Louisville vs. No. 3 Michigan (Fiesta Bowl) — Facing Louisville QB Lamar Jackson is enough to worry any defense, but the Wolverines will find a way to get it done, giving Michigan the program’s biggest victory since winning the 1998 Rose Bowl and claiming a share of the national title. Winner: Michigan.
No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 4 Ohio State (Raymond James Stadium, Tampa) — Could there be a more incredible matchup in the final game? College football’s most prominent rivalry for all the marbles? Another Michigan-Ohio State game? Obviously, both teams meet in the regular season finale. We see Michigan winning that one — with Harbaugh breaking through against Meyer — but the one-loss Buckeyes will have enough bounce-back power to still earn a national semifinal spot, even without a Big Ten Conference title. They will get ultimate revenge against the Wolverines. Winner: Ohio State.
WELCOME TO TAMPA
To get you in the mood for a potential trip to Tampa’s College Football Playoff championship game, we will offer a weekly primer on the city’s culture, folklore, cuisine and history.
Tampa is getting its first shot at hosting the College Football Playoff championship game, but it’s far from a big-event novice. Tampa has hosted four Super Bowls, breaking in with Super Bowl XVIII on Jan. 22, 1984 (Raiders 38, Redskins 9). Tampa introduced a Super Host Committee and a corporate tent village, which became expected components of every Super Bowl since. Tampa was also awarded the Silver Anniversary Super Bowl and did a superb job of managing Super Bowl XXV under difficult circumstances with added security due to the Gulf War.