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Playoff clarity: Final four looks easy to predict — for now

John Korduner/Icon Sportswire

The College Football Playoff seemingly has order.

It is arranged in waves.

There are the four 9-0 teams from Power Five conferences — Alabama, Michigan, Washington and Clemson — that seem to have done all the right things.

There are a pair of 8-1 teams — Ohio State and Louisville — that have built impressive resumes and could have solid arguments, even when compared to an unbeaten team.

There are four 7-2 teams — Wisconsin, Auburn, Oklahoma and Penn State — that could win out, capture conference titles and possibly sneak into the semifinals if the right amount of chaos occurs.

Here are my current favorites:


So Far: 9-0 (Defeated USC 52-6, Western Kentucky 38-10, Ole Miss 48-43, Kent State 48-0, Kentucky 34-6, Arkansas 49-30, Tennessee 49-10, Texas A&M 33-14 and LSU 10-0).

Synopsis: Alabama has won 21 straight games. It throttled LSU 10-0 by allowing only 125 yards (just 25 in the second half) and six first downs. Seemingly, there’s only one remaining question mark: Should Alabama’s defense rank among the best units in recent memory? It’s going to take a lot — a perfectly played game and probably some other circumstances — to unseat the Crimson Tide.

Who’s Next: The Crimson Tide (9-0, 6-0 SEC) host Mississippi State (4-5, 2-3) on Saturday. The Bulldogs pulled the weekend’s stunner by upsetting Texas A&M 35-28. Alabama has won eight straight in the series.


So Far: 9-0 (Defeated Hawaii 63-3, UCF 51-14, Colorado 45-28, Penn State 49-10, Wisconsin 14-7, Rutgers 78-0, Illinois 41-8, Michigan State 32-23 and Maryland 59-3.)

Synopsis: It was Michigan’s third victory this season by a 50-point margin. The Wolverines crushed Maryland behind the career-best 362 passing yards of QB Wilton Speight.

Who’s Next: The Wolverines (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten) travel to Iowa (5-4, 3-3) on Saturday. The Hawkeyes have lost two straight games, including a 41-14 decision at Penn State.


So Far: 9-0 (Defeated Rutgers 48-13, Idaho 59-14, Fresno State 41-3, Arizona 35-28, Stanford 44-6, Oregon 70-21, Oregon State 41-17, Utah 31-24 and California 66-27.)

Synopsis: Washington continued to take care of business in the Pac-12 by handing California its first home defeat of the season. The Huskies, behind QB Jake Browning, are putting up video-game offensive numbers, but are heading into their most difficult stretch.

Who’s Next: Washington (9-0, 6-0 Pac-12) hosts USC (6-3, 5-2) on Saturday. The Trojans, one of the nation’s hottest teams, have won five straight games after a 1-3 start.

Playoff pathfinders: Clemson running back Tavien Feaster during 1st half action between the Clemson Tigers and the Syracuse Orange on November 5, 2016, at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, SC. (Photo by Doug Buffington/Icon Sportswire)

Playoff pathfinders: Clemson running back Tavien Feaster during 1st half action between the Clemson Tigers and the Syracuse Orange on November 5, 2016, at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, SC. (Photo by Doug Buffington/Icon Sportswire)


So Far: 9-0 (Opened the season by defeating Auburn 19-13, Troy 30-20, South Carolina State 59-0, Georgia Tech 26-7, Louisville 42-36, Boston College 56-10, N.C. State 24-17, Florida State 37-34 and Syracuse 54-0;)

Synopsis: After sweating out games against N.C. State and FSU, the Tigers had an easy time with Syracuse, limiting the Orange to 277 yards and winning their first ACC shutout since last season’s 58-0 victory at Miami.

Who’s Next: Clemson (9-0, 6-0 ACC) can clinch the ACC Atlantic Division title by defeating the visiting Pittsburgh Panthers (5-4, 2-3) on Saturday. It’s the first ACC game between the two schools, which haven’t met since the 1977 Gator Bowl (Pittsburgh won 34-3).


No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Clemson (Peach Bowl) — What an attractive semifinal for Atlanta. It’s a rematch of last season’s championship game, when the Crimson Tide prevailed 45-40, despite the electrifying performance of Clemson QB Deshaun Watson. The dual-threat QB angle will keep it interesting, but Alabama seems to be chasing history, along with a national title. Winner: Alabama.

No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 Washington (Fiesta Bowl) — It sounds like an old-school Rose Bowl matchup, but it’s a couple of brand-name programs that are recapturing some former glory. The Wolverines and Huskies can put up some points, so this could become a memorable shootout. Winner: Michigan.


No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 2 Michigan (Raymond James Stadium, Tampa) — Alabama would be shooting for its fifth national title in the past eight seasons. Michigan would be shooting for its first national title since it shared the 1997 crown with Nebraska. It’s Nick Saban vs. Jim Harbaugh. Lots of subplots, but only one logical conclusion, at least from where we sit. Winner: Alabama.


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.

Florida is blessed with great beaches on every part of the peninsula, but the Tampa Bay area’s Clearwater Beach was voted this year as America’s No. 1-rated beach by the TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards.

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