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College football preview: Rivalry games may sort out playoff picture

A number of games this weekend could scramble the College Football Playoff races going into next weekend's conference championship contests.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, quarterback Shea Patterson and the rest of the Wolverines will take on rival Ohio State.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, quarterback Shea Patterson and the rest of the Wolverines will take on rival Ohio State.Read moreTony Ding / AP

Rivalry Weekend in college football is sure to sort out, or further scramble, the College Football Playoff picture heading into next weekend's conference championship games.

While plenty is happening, our attention is focused Saturday on the Horseshoe in Columbus, where Michigan will try to stay on its path to one of the four CFP spots by defeating Ohio State for the first time in the now-four-year Jim Harbaugh era.

A compelling issue in this game is determining what happens to Ohio State and how the CFP selection committee judges the Buckeyes should they lose, especially how they compare against Penn State, a team they've already defeated.

In some eyes, the Buckeyes were disrespected by the committee this week when undefeated Central Florida jumped over them as the No. 9 team, with Ohio State remaining 10th after narrowly defeating Maryland, 52-51, in overtime. The Nittany Lions loom just two spots away.

Rob Mullens, chair of the selection committee, said Tuesday night that "while UCF may not have the depth of talent of Ohio State, the committee thought they're playing more as an all-around team after Week 12."

Mullens said the Buckeyes' "quality road win" over Penn State helps their full resume, but he said every team has a "clean sheet" from week to week so the committee can discuss all the merits of each team being considered in what spot.

That raises a question: Should Ohio State lose to Michigan and Penn State wins, would the committee dare jump the Lions over the Buckeyes despite the head-to-head result?

If that happens, and Michigan should win out Saturday and next week against Northwestern in the Big Ten championship game, would the Rose Bowl committee pick the higher-ranked PSU team at 9-3, or a 10-2 Ohio State squad?

Of course, all bets are off if Ohio State beats Michigan. It's doubtful the Buckeyes would make the CFP even if they did win the conference championship, and that would knock Penn State out of the New Year's Six … unless, of course, all heck broke loose in other conference title contests.

Lots to chew on there. Good luck trying to figure this all out.

No fun for Meyer

The lead in this Associated Press story caught our attention: Urban Meyer doesn't seem to be having much fun these days.

It has been an unsettling season for the Ohio State coach. It began last July when he claimed he didn't know about a domestic abuse charge against former assistant Zach Smith. Meyer eventually was suspended for the first three games of the season, and his later statements and explanations didn't exactly clear the air. He also has suffered from headaches caused by an arachnoid cyst in his head.

On the field, the Buckeyes have struggled defensively, allowing 49 points in a loss to Purdue and 51 last week in defeating Maryland. TV cameras caught many pained reactions from Meyer last week, not helping speculation that health issues could force him to step down at the end of the season, something he has denied.

Fortunately for Meyer and the Buckeyes, quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. and the offense have been excellent for most of the season, and will be a major test for Michigan's No. 1 defense.

Games in focus

So what other games have the most impact on this Saturday?

How about the Notre Dame national tour concluding the regular season in Los Angeles against Southern California? A win by the Fighting Irish would allow them to relax and hear their name called on Dec. 2 in the top four of the final CFP rankings. They shouldn't be totally eliminated if they lose to the Trojans since they have defeated both Michigan and Northwestern, the likely opponents in the Big Ten championship game.

Then there is Alabama hosting Auburn in the Iron Bowl. Nick Saban would hate to admit it, but the Crimson Tide probably would still make the playoff with a loss Saturday or against Georgia in the SEC title game. If the Tide and the Bulldogs each finish with one loss, it could be another CFP in which half the field consists of SEC representatives.

Certainly, the Bulldogs have to hold up their end with a win over Georgia Tech, and the Yellow Jackets' wishbone will have their fans in Athens on the edge of their seats.

Pitt won’t look ahead

Life is good in Pittsburgh. The Panthers climbed into the No. 24 spot in both the CFP standings and the AP poll, and have impressed with their strength of schedule. Three of their four losses have come against Notre Dame (No. 3), Central Florida (No. 9) and Penn State (No. 12).

They'll get a shot at No. 2 Clemson next week in the ACC championship game but not before their season finale at Miami. Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi deflected all questions about Clemson and joked to reporters, "You guys keep relaying that stuff around, I'll have to brainwash our kids in the meeting room."

"We're not talking about it," he said. "If we aren't focused [on Miami], we'll get smacked in the mouth real hard, and the next week won't matter."

Expatriate of the week

Pitt center Jimmy Morrissey, a redshirt sophomore who starred at La Salle College High School, underwent ankle surgery earlier this week and will miss the rest of the season. The 6-foot-3, 300-pound Huntingdon Valley resident started 23 consecutive games for the Panthers but was injured late in last Saturday's win over Wake Forest.

"Jimmy has been tremendous for us this year, both as a player and a leader," Narduzzi said. "We all share his disappointment. … Jimmy will be back next year better than ever."

Games of the week

Michigan at Ohio State, noon, Fox29: The Wolverines have lost six straight to the Buckeyes, including an 0-3 record since Jim Harbaugh took over as head coach. Whether they can win in Columbus for the first time since 2000 depends on their ability to neutralize OSU quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr.

Georgia Tech at Georgia, noon, SEC Network: The Bulldogs' final tune-up before their SEC championship duel against Alabama is a dangerous one because of the No. 1-ranked rushing offense produced by the Yellow Jackets' wishbone. Georgia is no slouch on the ground, either, sparked by St. Joseph's Prep grad D'Andre Swift.

Auburn at Alabama, 3:30 p.m., CBS3: Eleven years ago to the day the Tigers defeated the Crimson Tide. Alabama hasn't lost to an unranked team since, bringing a streak of 81 consecutive wins into Tuscaloosa, and you know Nick Saban and Tua Tagovailoa want to finish an undefeated regular season.

South Carolina at Clemson, 7 p.m., ESPN: The Tigers don't want to lose any momentum in their drive to the College Football Playoff, a path that includes next week's ACC title game against Pittsburgh. Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley will need time to throw against Clemson's front four.

Notre Dame at Southern California, 8 p.m., 6ABC: A win completes the undefeated Fighting Irish's resume for the CFP selection committee, which should be enough for a semifinal spot. The Trojans need a win to extend their season to a bowl, and to save the job of head coach Clay Helton.

Star watch

Quinnen Williams, Alabama, NG, 6-4, 295, R-So., Birmingham, Ala.

Williams is the anchor of a defensive line that has helped the Crimson Tide rank in the top 10 in the nation in points allowed (13.1, third) and total defense (282.1 yards, seventh). He has made 15 tackles for loss with 55 overall tackles, 34 of them unassisted.

Williams is a finalist for three national honors: the Bednarik Award, the Outland Trophy and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy.