Sure, talk about the College Football Playoff started to heat up just about as soon as the 2020 season finally started, as the margin for error to get into the four-team field is so small, but this week may prove to be especially pivotal in determining which squads get there.
Here are four reasons why.
Clemson-Notre Dame square off
Perhaps given their respective rankings, it’s obvious why the Saturday evening matchup between the No. 1-ranked Clemson Tigers and No. 4-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish is such a huge contest, as the winner will certainly be in great position with a strong victory on their resume.
That said, what if the two sides meet again in the ACC championship game (usually independent Notre Dame joined the conference in full for just this season because of COVID-19) and the team that loses Saturday wins that one and they both finish with one loss heading into bowl season? That could certainly muddy the CFP waters, depending on what else happens around the country.
The Tigers are the favorites this weekend, but undoubtedly there’s the wild card of being without starting quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who will be on the sideline but not play after testing positive for COVID-19 last week.
The “Conference of Champions” has infamously gotten just two of 24 bids in the history of the CFP, but with its season starting this weekend, hope is revived that a team can make it.
The Oregon Ducks are once again the favorite to win the conference, and they’re ranked No. 12 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll this week even though they haven’t played yet. They’ll be starting a new quarterback (it’s expected to be Tyler Shough, although an announcement won’t be made) with Justin Herbert now in the NFL when they kick off against the Stanford Cardinal on Saturday evening.
The USC Trojans are also in the AP Top 25, as they sit at No. 20, with their first opponent Saturday morning being the Arizona State Sun Devils. Beside the Ducks and Trojans, the Utah Utes, the Washington Huskies, Sun Devils and Cal Golden Bears received votes in this week’s poll.
That’s indicative of the idea once again that the Pac-12 could have a bunch of good teams this season, but will it have any that are great enough to get into the CFP?
BYU gets challenge in Boise
Ranked No. 9 in the AP poll this week, the BYU Cougars still have a ways to go before they’re widely seen as a real contender to get into the CFP, although the talk has gotten louder as they’ve cruised their way to a 7-0 record so far against inferior competition.
The Cougars will get their stiffest challenge of the season Friday when they travel to play the 21st-ranked Boise State Broncos. As much of a longshot as the CFP is at this point, a loss would all but completely knock BYU out of the conversation for good.
A win would be excellent on the resume, and it would represent the Cougars passing their obstacle on the path of trying to go undefeated. It would also keep them well in the conversation for a New Year’s Six bowl (they’ll still likely have to jump the 6th-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats to get a berth).
Another top-10 matchup
While Clemson-Notre Dame is the headliner this weekend, there’ll be another matchup between Top 10 teams, as the 5th-ranked Georgia Bulldogs will face the 8th-ranked Florida Gators in an SEC clash.
In a conference that has four teams ranked in this week’s top eight (the Alabama Crimson Tide are No. 2 and the Texas A&M Aggies are No. 8), it’s going to be a battle to determine which team (teams?) are in the top four at the end of the regular season.
The Crimson Tide cruised past the Aggies on Oct. 3 and beat the Bulldogs two weeks later, but Saturday is the last game between two of the four teams, presumably until two of them end up squaring off in the SEC championship game. The contest will determine who wins the SEC East, and thus who will be on course to face the Crimson Tide in the conference championship game.