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College Football Playoff plot twists: Clemson back in the mix

Doug Buffington /Icon Sportswire

So long (for now), Louisville.

Welcome back (for now), Clemson.

The first wave of big-time conference games began playing out last weekend, and it gave shape to the College Football Playoff final four.

For now.

This week’s guesses for the CFP’s four semifinal teams have been shuffled a bit, but without a drastic shakeup. There are still 16 unbeaten teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision; plenty of unpredictable football lies ahead of us.

It feels like a roller coaster as it approaches the top of the first drop. You can see what’s ahead. You can brace for it. But you’re not exactly certain how it’s going to feel.

My current favorites:


So Far: 5-0 (defeated Kentucky 34-6. Opened the season by defeating USC 52-6, Western Kentucky 38-10, Ole Miss 48-43 and Kent State 48-0).

Synopsis: Ho-hum. Alabama moved to 2-0 in the SEC with a perfunctory home victory against the Kentucky Wildcats. Outside of the scare at Ole Miss, Alabama hasn’t really been challenged. Freshman QB Jalen Hurts continued to play well, but freshman RB Joshua Jacobs was the real eye-opener with 100 yards in his first start.

Who’s Next: The Crimson Tide (5-0, 2-0 SEC) travels to Arkansas (4-1, 0-1), which eased past Alcorn State 52-10. The Razorbacks gained a 41-38 win at TCU, and their only blemish is a 45-24 defeat against unbeaten Texas A&M. Alabama has nine straight wins against Arkansas, which put up a game effort during the Tide’s last visit to Fayetteville. Alabama escaped that one, 14-13.

Michigan remained unbeaten and in position to create a playoff firestorm. -- Photo by Andy Shippy

Michigan remained unbeaten and in position to create a playoff firestorm. — Photo by Andy Shippy


So Far: 5-0 (defeated Wisconsin 14-7. Opened the season by defeating Hawaii 63-3, UCF 51-14, Colorado 45-28 and Penn State 49-10).

Synopsis: After practically scoring at will during the season’s first four games, the Wolverines were pushed to the max against Wisconsin. Michigan scored two touchdowns, Wisconsin scored one, and that was that. It was the first time Michigan had beaten a top-10 opponent since 2008 (when Rich Rodriguez’s Wolverines also beat Wisconsin). If Michigan’s defense can continue its stingy ways, great things could be ahead.

Who’s Next: The Wolverines (5-0, 2-0) travel to shellshocked Rutgers (2-3, 0-2), which lost 58-0 against Ohio State. Sounds simple, right? Actually, Michigan has horrible memories of Rutgers, which beat the Wolverines 26-24 in 2014 (one of the last straws for Brady Hoke) in a game that featured six lead changes. Last season, Michigan won 49-16 at home.


So Far: 4-0 (defeated Rutgers 58-0; opened the season by defeating Bowling Green 77-10, Tulsa 48-3 and Oklahoma 45-24).

Synopsis: The Buckeyes are 4-0 for the fourth time in coach Urban Meyer’s five seasons. Coming off a bye, it was an academic performance in a 58-0 win against Rutgers. Buckeyes QB J.T. Barrett threw four touchdown passes, giving him a school-record 59 for his career.

Who’s Next: Ohio State (4-0, 1-0) faces Indiana (3-1, 1-0), which upset sinking Michigan State 24-21 in overtime. The offensively formidable Hoosiers have really improved, but Ohio State has won 21 straight games in this series. (The last loss was 1988, the first season of John Cooper’s tenure at OSU.) Last season provided a scare, but Ohio State wiggled free, 34-27.


So Far: 5-0 (defeated Louisville 42-36; opened the season by defeating Auburn 19-13, Troy 30-20, South Carolina State 59-0 and Georgia Tech 26-7).

Synopsis: Clemson, which reached last season’s national-championship game, regained some of its swagger by defeating the high-flying Louisville Cardinals. Tigers QB Deshaun Watson tossed five touchdown passes, and the Clemson defense was just good enough against Cardinals QB Lamar Jackson.

Who’s Next: Clemson (5-0, 2-0 ACC) travels to Boston College (3-2, 0-2) for a Friday night game. The Tigers have won seven of the eight meetings.


No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Clemson (Peach Bowl) — If Alabama and Clemson can put on anything remotely similar to last season’s national-title game — the Crimson Tide held off the Tigers 45-40 — this one will be a doozy. Clemson has the offensive firepower to give a major challenge to Alabama, which is going for its fifth national title in the last eight seasons. We’ll go with Alabama in one heck of a game to be staged in Atlanta. Winner: Alabama.

No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 Ohio State (Fiesta Bowl) — The mere possibility of this is amazing. ANOTHER Michigan-Ohio State game? Yep, it can actually happen. The simple formula is for the Wolverines and Buckeyes to enter the Nov. 26 regular-season finale as unbeaten teams. If an epic battle occurs, the game’s loser won’t lack for luster and could be chosen as a bounce-back candidate in the semifinals. This would be a pretty cool thing to see at least once in our lifetimes, although it represents a major headache for the team that wins the regular-season game. Beating a hated rival twice in five weeks? No easy task. Winner: Ohio State.


No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 3 Ohio State (Raymond James Stadium, Tampa) — Alabama coach Nick Saban twice met Florida coach Urban Meyer in the SEC Championship Game, splitting the results. Meyer’s Buckeyes defeated the Crimson Tide 42-35 in the Sugar Bowl national semifinals to follow the 2014 season, when Ohio State captured the national championship. We’ll continue to give the nod to Meyer over Saban, continuing to grow this coaching rivalry. Winner: Ohio State.


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 International Airport, just a few miles from Raymond James Stadium, is widely praised for its accessibility and convenience. It was twice named “Best Overall U.S. Airport’’ in the Zagat Survey. Not as widely known is the fact that Tampa Bay featured the first commercial airline service. Aviator Tony Jannus flew the inaugural flight of the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line on Jan. 1, 1914 — the first scheduled commercial airline flight in the world using a heavier-than-air airplane.

College Football Playoff plot twists: Clemson back in the mix

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