My College Football Playoff final four has not changed — believe it or not.
We were close to some upheaval, but the Clemson Tigers and Ohio State Buckeyes escaped in overtime.
Maybe those close shaves made the Tigers and Buckeyes look shaky in the eyes of others. For me, it was merely the survival tactics always needed by championship teams.
It would be a stretch to suggest that these four teams can go the distance. With seven weeks of football still remaining, anything can (and will) happen, but for at least another week, my four national semifinalists have maintained their unbeaten records.
There are still 11 unbeaten teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision — and plenty of excellent one-loss squads — so we’re a long way from settling this issue.
My current favorites:
No. 1: ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE
So Far: 7-0 (defeated Tennessee 49-10; opened the season by defeating USC 52-6, Western Kentucky 38-10, Ole Miss 48-43, Kent State 48-0 and Kentucky 34-6 and Arkansas 49-30).
Synopsis: The Crimson Tide are getting more impressive by the week. After their 10th straight win against the Tennessee Volunteers — by the most lopsided margin in the series since 1906 — it’s going to take a monumental effort to topple the Tide. Alabama’s offense has more weapons that anticipated, but it also has 11 non-offensive touchdowns.
Who’s Next: The Crimson Tide (7-0, 4-0 SEC) hosts the Texas A&M Aggies (6-0, 4-0) in one of the season’s showcase games. Alabama has three straight wins against Texas A&M since 2012, when QB Johnny Manziel led an epic 29-24 upset win in Tuscaloosa.
No. 2: OHIO STATE BUCKEYES
So Far: 6-0 (defeated Wisconsin 30-23 in overtime; opened the season by defeating Bowling Green 77-10, Tulsa 48-3, Oklahoma 45-24, Rutgers 58-0 and Indiana 38-17).
Synopsis: The Buckeyes were ripe for an upset, trailing by 10 points at halftime in a frantic prime-time atmosphere at Wisconsin. It’s going to take a lot to defeat Ohio State. The Buckeyes are 34-1 in their last 35 Big Ten Conference games.
Who’s Next: Ohio State (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) travels to Penn State (4-2, 2-1). The Buckeyes have won four straight games in the series.
No. 3: MICHIGAN WOLVERINES
So Far: 6-0 (defeated Rutgers 78-0; opened the season by defeating Hawaii 63-3, UCF 51-14, Colorado 45-28, Penn State 49-10 and Wisconsin 14-7).
Synopsis: Michigan had a bye week, more time to contemplate the domination of a 78-0 win against Rutgers.
Who’s Next: The Wolverines (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) host Illinois (2-4, 1-2), which got its first Big Ten Conference win under coach Lovie Smith, a 24-7 win against Rutgers.
No. 4: CLEMSON TIGERS
So Far: 7-0 (defeated N.C. State 24-17 in overtime; opened the season by defeating Auburn 19-13, Troy 30-20, South Carolina State 59-0, Georgia Tech 26-7, Louisville 42-36 and Boston College 56-10).
Synopsis: Somehow, Clemson is still unbeaten. It needed a 33-yard missed field-goal attempt by N.C. State on the final play of regulation, giving Clemson an opportunity to win in overtime. Tigers QB Deshaun Watson, playing much better after a slow start, just knows how to win.
Who’s Next: Clemson (7-0, 4-0 ACC) has a bye week before traveling to Florida State (5-2, 2-2) on Oct. 29.
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Clemson (Peach Bowl) — It’s a rematch of last season’s College Football Playoff championship game, won by Alabama 45-40. Clemson has waited a year for this opportunity. Even though Watson will again pose a formidable challenge, Alabama is too seasoned to falter at the semifinal stage. Winner: Alabama.
No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Michigan (Fiesta Bowl) — Many people feel Ohio State-Michigan is college football’s greatest rivalry. We won’t argue that point. Let’s simply enjoy the possibility of this game being played twice within just a few weeks. You get the feeling that Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines are here to stay and could be an annual contender for the national championship. This season, though, victory will belong to the Buckeyes. Winner: Ohio State.
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 2 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. Alabama is shooting for its fifth national title in the past eight seasons, but we’ll continue to give the nod to Meyer over Saban in this fiery coaching rivalry. 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 in the city’s culture, folklore, cuisine and history.
Tampa is known as the “Cigar City.’’ In 1929, at the height of the industry, factories in Ybor City’s Latin Quarter rolled about 500 million cigars.