Heading into conference-championship weekend, the College Football Playoff, as of now, consists of No. 1 Alabama (12-0), No. 2 Ohio State (11-1), No. 3 Clemson (11-1) and No. 4 Washington (11-1).
But believe it or not, there is a scenario in which three Big Ten teams could make the playoff.
“It would involve Clemson and Washington losing those championship games, and then it would be a debate,” CBS Sports senior college football writer Dennis Dodd said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “And don’t forget that Colorado would have a claim as an 11-2 Pac-12 champion (that), at that point, (would have) beaten three ranked teams – one of them in the top five – in three consecutive weeks. Is it a long shot? Yeah, I think it’s a long shot, but you can’t discount what they’ve done. Then you’d have the Big Ten champion and you’d have Michigan who’s sitting on the couch making a claim.”
Especially if that Big Ten champion is Penn State, which beat Ohio State and has won eight straight games, including five straight by an average of 30.2 points. Not bad for a program that barely finished above .500 each of the last two seasons.
“I think James Franklin deserves some National Coach of the Year love,” Dodd said. “Back-to-back 7-6 seasons, and then to do this is quite an improvement. He’s done it at two places now: Vanderbilt and resurrecting Penn State out of the ashes. Saquon Barkley, that defense, it looks like old times at Penn State. To be here in his third year contending for not only a Big Ten title, but a spot in the playoff, I think there’s something to be said for that. James Franklin has to go down – and nobody’s saying this – as one of the better coaches in the country. Penn State is mentally tough.”
Hurting the Nittany Lions, however, is a loss to Pitt and a 39-point debacle in Ann Arbor in September.
“There’s still that stink bomb at Michigan, which has to be a mitigating factor,” Dodd said. “You can’t mention one without the other. I’m not going on a stump that the Big Ten champ should be in or that Michigan and Ohio State should be in. But after that, it’s really muddled. And by the way, if everybody wins, if the favorites win on Saturday, you’re looking at the football four right now.”
Looking at the coaching carousel, meanwhile, Oregon has parted ways with Mark Helfrich, who is two years removed from playing for a national title. The Ducks went 4-8 this year, losing eight of their final 10 games following a 2-0 start.
“Oregon’s at a crossroads,” Dodd said. “I never thought I’d say this, but I don’t know how good a job that is right now. They can pay whoever they want, but there’s no obvious candidate. When P.J. Fleck emerges as maybe the favorite, he’s 35 years old, and he’s guided Western Michigan to an undefeated season. But do you want a guy like that – and I don’t mean to disparage him – but a MAC coach coming and taking over this air-craft carrier, which is a flagship school for not only the state, but for a brand, the largest sports-apparel company in the world next to Adidas? They need a game-changer. They need a charismatic, innovative coach like Chip Kelly. Is P.J. Fleck the guy? I don’t know.”
Dodd believes that USF’s Willie Taggart could be option for Oregon. The 40-year-old led the Bulls to a 10-2 record, with their only losses coming against Florida State and at Temple, both of which are 9-3.
Still, is Taggart ready for an elite program? We may soon find out.
“There’s no obvious guy out there,” Dodd said. “Dan Mullen coming off a 5-7 season, I think he’s really, really good, and I think they might end up with him. But it’s just a bad time for Oregon to be hiring a coach.”