Juliano: Rooting for chaos on college football's championship weekend
On college football's Championship Weekend, two distinctly different extremes are at play. One is extremely dull. If three of the top four teams playing for their conference title - Alabama in the SEC, Clemson in the ACC, and Washington in the Pac-12 - all win their games, the four choices for the College Football Playoff - yes, including Ohio State - will be cut and dried when the selection committee comes on television at noon Sunday.
On college football's Championship Weekend, two distinctly different extremes are at play.
One is extremely dull. If three of the top four teams playing for their conference title - Alabama in the SEC, Clemson in the ACC, and Washington in the Pac-12 - all win their games, the four choices for the College Football Playoff - yes, including Ohio State - will be cut and dried when the selection committee comes on television at noon Sunday.
The other, and much more exciting option, would be for the weekend to resemble a multicar NASCAR pileup. The Crimson Tide appear to be safe even if they lose, but losses by Clemson and Washington bring other teams in play for one of the four coveted berths.
If you listened to selection committee chairman Kirby Hocutt last Tuesday night, he suggested that Michigan was just an eyelash behind Washington for the No. 4 spot. So the Wolverines could get in, which would be strange since the field then would include two Big Ten representatives, neither of which won their conference title.
And what about the winner of Penn State-Wisconsin Big Ten championship game? Both teams lost to Michigan so neither would seem to have the advantage over the Wolverines. But the conference championship has to count for something. Doesn't it?
However, if Clemson and Washington both lose, would the committee be so bold as to elevate Michigan and the Big Ten champion, giving the conference that has been widely acknowledged to be the best in college football this season three spots?
We'll take uncertainty over the humdrum. We'll know which one it will be around midnight Saturday.
Pressure is on
If you wanted to drive Alabama head coach Nick Saban bonkers this week, you suggested to him that his team would make the College Football Playoff field even if it lost the SEC title contest to Florida.
"All I know is that if we play and we play well, we control our destiny in terms of what we do," Saban said in an Associated Press story. "So I'd really rather not have any more questions about, 'Is it OK to lose this game?' It's never OK to lose a game."
The Gators enter with one of the SEC's best defenses, ranking sixth nationally in total yards yielded and fourth in points allowed. But Alabama has the best defense in the SEC, and the country, ranking first in the two categories.
And there's a decent chance that Florida, which has scored just 59 points in its last four games, won't score a point against that defense.
Tigers' return trip?
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has been to the playoff before and he wants to go back. But he says he will feel the same kind of pressure in the ACC championship game that he felt in all the Tigers' games this season.
"There's not a single goal there that says go to the playoff," he said in an AP story. "There's not a goal that says win the national championship. We don't control that. We could go undefeated and somebody could say, 'No, we don't like you at all.' "
Even with quarterback Deshaun Watson, who finished third in last year's Heisman Trophy balloting, the Tigers have struggled to win some games where they were expected to romp. While he has passed for 34 touchdowns, Watson also has thrown 14 interceptions.
Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson won't play any more before the Heisman Trophy balloting ends on Monday. So the question is whether the big advantage he amassed earlier in the season was all but wiped out with losses in his final two games.
We say he shouldn't worry. Jackson is the first player in college football history to throw 30 touchdown passes and rush for at least 20 touchdowns (he has 21). But we acknowledge that some voters still could be swayed by candidates who will play this weekend.
Watson is in that group, as is Washington quarterback Jake Browning, Oklahoma wide receiver Dede Westbrook and Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen.
Hiring minority coaches
The college football coaching carousel will be in full swing after this weekend, and a group advocating for minority coaches wants to see its candidates fill some openings. The National Association for Coaching Equity and Development said a nonbinding pledge signed by programs is not being followed. "It's impossible for minority candidates to even get into the hiring process if there is no formal search for qualified candidates, or a diversified pool of final candidates," the group said in a statement to the Associated Press. Five openings have been filled thus far, all by white men.
Expatriate of the Week
Former Rowan and Delaware coach K.C. Keeler led Sam Houston State to only the second undefeated regular season in program history. The Bearkats, who begin play Saturday in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs as the No. 5 seed, topped the nation in total offense (584.0 yards per game) and scoring (54.2 points per game). After nine seasons at Rowan and 11 at Delaware, Keeler is in his third season with the Huntsville, Texas, school.
Saturday College Football Games to Watch
Oklahoma State at Oklahoma, 12:30 p.m., Fox29: The Sooners are on the fringe of the College Football Playoff race at No. 9 but too much would have to happen for them to make the top four even if they win the game and the Big 12 crown. Cowboys quarterback Mason Rudolph has passed for 3,591 yards.
Alabama vs. Florida at Atlanta, 4 p.m., CBS3: This will be the ninth time in the 25-year history of the SEC championship game that the Crimson Tide and the Gators have played for the title; each has won four times. But the oddsmakers, who have made the Tide a 24-point favorite, don't think it will be close.
San Diego State at Wyoming, 7:45 p.m., ESPN: Good idea to click here during commercials of the Penn State game to see the Aztecs' Donnell Pumphrey, who needs 92 rush yards for 2,000 on the season and 218 yards to break the career rushing record of 6,397 yards held by South Jersey's Ron Dayne.
Clemson vs. Virginia Tech at Orlando, 8 p.m., 6ABC: The Tigers will be seeking a playoff berth, plus a trip for Deshaun Watson to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation, in the ACC championship game. But they'd be wise not to sleep on the Hokies, whose quarterback, Jarod Evans, has thrown for 26 TDs.
College Football Player to Watch
11 Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma, WR, 6-0, 176, R-Sr., Cameron, Texas
Westbrook, who is a finalist for the Biletnikoff (outstanding receiver) and Hornung (most versatile player) awards, is fourth in the nation in average receiving yards (123.1) and tied for fourth in touchdown catches (15), with all of them coming in the last eight games. The transfer from Blinn (Texas) Junior College only got to play two years at the FBS level but he has made the most of it.
Inquirer Top 10
2. Ohio State
7. Penn State
9. Southern Cal