It’s Rivalry Week! There’s no lack of drama as we head into the final Saturday of the 2021 regular season. And, of course, the Coaching Carousel rolls on.

Overreaction: A lot of fans will be too excited over their team’s next head coach, and a lot of fans will be too angry over their team’s next head coach.

When I say the statement above is an overreaction, I don’t mean it in the context that it’s untrue. It’s absolutely true. I simply mean that many, maybe even a vast majority of fans will overreact to the choice based on whatever pre-existing expectations they held.

It’s not an understatement to say that hiring the right coach can make all the difference in the chances for your program’s success (and that really pertains to any college sport, not just football). It’s nearly impossible to tell, at least from an outsider’s perspective, whether a coach will have success or not. Home run hires have often ended up being duds (for example, Tom Herman at Texas), and some very underwhelming hires have worked out quite well (see: Dabo Swinney, Clemson).

So what is the formula for finding the right coach for your school? Even if such a formula exists, it’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all. Each school has different criteria and (within reason) expectations. Are you in a location where you can realistically recruit a lot of local HS talent? Maybe you lean more towards the guy who can close the deal with recruits and their families. Are you far away from a significant talent pool? You’ll certainly want a guy who can identify and develop players who get overlooked by the recruiting services. Do you have a large and self-entitled contingent of boosters who want access in exchange for their money? You’ll probably want to look at a guy who is willing to do the weekly luncheons and summer golf outings. Don’t have many boosters to please? A guy who just wants to coach and simply win games will suffice.

Don’t underestimate cultural fit either. A coach who has spent his whole football life in the Deep South will probably be a fish out of water at a place like USC or Washington.

And when you are flashing the dollars at your candidate of choice, don’t forget to set aside a big chunk of cash for him to hire a good staff. You can’t expect him to do it all by himself, or with guys who are willing to work at below-market rates based on your expectations.

I could go on and on about this subject. At some point after the season I’m sure I will. For now, if you are a fan of a team with a head coaching vacancy, I simply suggest that when the hire is announced that you take a measured, patient approach. Don’t throw a Twitter tirade, but don’t book your New Year’s Six bowl travel plans either. He hasn’t coached a game yet. Just have a zen moment. After all, it’s completely beyond your control anyway, right?

Recalibration: The Big Ten is still Ohio State, and then everyone else.

Sorry, Michigan. You’ve had a nice bounce-back season. But I’m afraid I have to level with you….it’s going to be the same old story when you play Ohio State Saturday. The Buckeyes have had your number eight straight times and 15 of the past 16. They are peaking at just the right time, having destroyed ranked teams back-to-back by a combined score of 115-38.

It was easy to write them off after some struggles on both sides of the ball, especially defense, at the beginning of the season made them look very ordinary. Then when they appeared to get things right, they were still just feasting on bad opponents. Then came the games against good-not-great Penn State and a feisty, but not good Nebraska team. The outcome of both of those games was in doubt until very late. Once again, they looked anything but elite. We wondered what would happen when they had to play giant-killer Purdue, followed by #7 Michigan State? Question answered.

The Big Ten is a strong conference this year. Still a little behind the SEC, but very strong. Five teams currently in the Top 16, three more pretty good squads in Penn State, Purdue and Minnesota. And for what it’s worth, the best 3-8 team in the country in Nebraska. But no one has beaten the Buckeyes in conference play since 2018. No one else has won the conference title since 2016. Until someone slays the king, it’s still Ohio State & Co. in the B1G.

Odds and Ends

The penultimate CFP rankings were released Tuesday. As I see it, there are 8 teams that have some degree of a chance to make the Playoff. Let’s talk scenarios.

#1 Georgia, barring a once-in-a-generation upset against Georgia Tech, is in, no matter the outcome of the SEC Championship Game against Alabama.

#2 Ohio State needs to win out, against Michigan and either Iowa or Wisconsin, to lock up a spot. A loss in either game would leave them in a precarious spot in which they’d need several other outcomes. I’d say it’s not impossible they could still get in, but probably not likely.

#3 Alabama is an interesting case. The Iron Bowl against Auburn is probably a must win. Lose that game and it’s tough to see the scenario where they get in, even if they defeat Georgia next weekend. It’s not exactly the same precedent, but 11-2 Big Ten Champion Penn State was passed over for a Playoff berth in favor of 1-loss Ohio State in 2016. On the other hand, defeat Auburn then lose a close game to Georgia could leave an opening for the Tide as a 2-loss team to get in. They may need a little help in that scenario though. That the committee dropped them below Ohio State is (to me) an indication they have some questions over how the Tide have played of late.

#4 Cincinnati is in a spot similar to Ohio State. Win out and they should be a lock. Lose one of their last two and they risk getting leapfrogged by another 1-loss team. An interesting question is, would the committee favor a 1-loss Notre Dame over 1-loss Cincinnati with the Bearcats’ earlier head-to-head win? Precedent goes both ways on that. Oregon stayed on top of Ohio State, despite some shaky showings, until the Ducks got their second loss. On the flip side, Michigan jumped over Michigan State just one week after losing to the Spartans. A more interesting question is a possible 1-loss Big 12 champ. See more on that below

#5 Michigan must win out. Unlike Alabama, and maybe Ohio State, I don’t think there would be a case for them as a two-loss team.

#6 Notre Dame was done in by a schedule that ended up being weaker than it looked headed into the season. With only a game against 3-8 Stanford left, and sitting at home while other contenders play on Championship Weekend, they have no upcoming opportunities to impress the committee. A scenario that gets them in has to start with Cincinnati losing two of their final games. Then they also need one of three scenarios: Alabama to lose its remaining two games, or the Big Ten Champion having two losses, or the Big 12 Champion having two losses. In other words, the Irish have to hope attrition does in 2 or 3 other teams.

#7 Oklahoma State has an interesting scenario ahead of them. They potentially have the opportunity to post wins against two Top 10 teams the next two weeks. None of the other contenders can say that. They play #10 Oklahoma Saturday, and if they win they play current #8 Baylor for the Big 12 Championship (it would help OSU significantly if Baylor beats Texas Tech Saturday). Accomplish that feat and I think they definitely move ahead of Notre Dame. It would also put them ahead of the Michigan/Ohio State loser. Would that jump them all the way ahead of Cincinnati? That’s a huge question. I don’t think that would happen, but I would not completely dismiss the notion based on the Cowboys’ tougher schedule.

#10 Oklahoma has by far the longest of shots. Beat Oklahoma State and they get a rematch with the Cowboys for the Big 12 title. Since Oklahoma State would drop in the rankings, probably somewhere in the upper-teens, a second win for the Sooners would look less impressive. They have to root for Cincinnati to lose at least once, and maybe twice, plus a two-loss Big Ten Champion and probably a two-loss Alabama. But a long-shot is still a shot.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled coaching carousel talk.

This week saw Dan Mullen get the axe at Florida. Consider that job to be in the top echelon of openings, along with LSU and USC.

Take Penn State’s James Franklin off the list of possible candidates for a high-profile opening. He just signed a 10-year extension that guarantees $80 million. It also calls for a $12 million buyout if he leaves for another job before the end of next April, then $8 million through the remainder of the 2022 calendar year. I can’t fathom any school thinks highly enough of him to pay that price.

Franklin’s Nittany Lions take on Michigan State Saturday. Sparty’s Mel Tucker is reportedly working on an extension of his own that would pay him $95 million over the next 10 years. So that game will feature $175 million and two decades in contractual obligations standing on the sidelines. Franklin and Tucker’s combined record over the past two seasons is 22-16. Timing is everything, isn’t it?

The questions surrounding whether Mario Cristobal can get Oregon over the top and into the Playoff will continue after an ugly whooping at Utah. To be clear, there are no rumblings coming out of Oregon that anyone is unhappy with him, for now. But at some point even winning Pac-12 titles may no longer be enough.

I have a hard time imagining Dave Aranda will still be coaching at Baylor next season.

Despite an ongoing NCAA investigation for major recruiting violations, on top of coming up short of the Pac-12 South title, it actually sounds like Herm Edwards will survive at least one more year at Arizona State.

Playoff Expansion Thought of the Week: Oregon’s loss to Utah means they still have not clinched the Pac-12 North Division. If they lose to Oregon State on Saturday, and Washington State beats Washington Friday, the Cougars would be the North champ (it would be the Beavers if they win and Wazzou loses). This means you could potentially see 7-5 Washington State playing 9-3 or 8-4 Utah (depending on their result against Colorado) for the Pac-12 Championship. This is Exhibit A for those who think Power 5 champions do not automatically deserve a Playoff berth in a 12-team world.

I think the Heisman Trophy is down to a 2-man race between Ohio State’s CJ Stroud and Alabama’s Bryce Young.

Today (Wednesday) marks three weeks until the early NLI signing period begins, which goes from Dec 15-17. Much like coaching hires, it’d be wise not to overreact to whatever recruits your team signs, or does not sign.

Game of the Week

#2 Ohio State at #5 Michigan

Noon ET, FOX

Spread: Ohio State -8.5

I sort of tipped my hand on this one up above.

The Buckeyes possess the most potent passing attack this side of….well, nowhere. Or is it everywhere? Whatever. They have no equal. Their offense is #1 in EPA in both per game and per play average (25.15 and .338, respectively). While they are the most prolific passing offense since LSU in 2019, they are no slouches in the run game either, averaging 5.8 YPC as a team, and more to the point their top back, TreVeyon Henderson, averages 7.3 YPC on 1,098 total yards.

Can Michigan slow down that attack? Looking at last week, the Wolverines did hold a relatively potent Maryland passing attack to 178 yards, 129 yards below their season average. But they also allowed a weak Terps running game to rush for 181 yards. So this would suggest the Buckeyes can probably run the ball when they choose to.

But that’s not who the Buckeyes are. They throw the ball. Michigan is #8 in the country allowing just 178 passing yards per game. They also allow only 10.66 yards per completion, #10 in the nation, so they aren’t giving up explosive plays, which is what Ohio State feasts on. Even opponent-adjusted metrics like SP+ and FEI rate Michigan’s defense as 9th best in the country. Suffice to say, this is the toughest defense Ohio State has faced all season, including Oregon’s defense that held them to 28 points in a loss.

So who do I like? Ohio State. Don’t ignore the numbers, but do take them with a grain of salt. My eyeballs tell me Ohio State is on a roll. My history bias reminds me Michigan finds ways to lose in the biggest games under Jim Harbaugh. Prove me wrong, Wolverines.

My Pick: Ohio State -8.5

We Still Have a Shot!

#10 Oklahoma at #7 Oklahoma State

7:30pm ET, ABC

Spread: Oklahoma State -4

Add the Bedlam Game to a list of rivalries that might be on death row in the expansion/realignment era. Doesn’t sound like anyone at Oklahoma State plans to go out of their way to keep it going once the Sooners depart for the SEC. So we get Texas/Texas A&M back, but lose Bedlam. Oh well.

It’s been quite a while since this game meant so much for both teams. 2011 was the last time both came in ranked in the Top 10. If Oklahoma State wins, they will play Baylor in the Big 12 Championship Game. If Oklahoma wins it’ll be a rematch next week.

For Oklahoma State, there would appear to be a path into the Playoff if they win Saturday and next week. Assuming Baylor beats Texas Tech Saturday, that would set the Cowboys up for two back-to-back wins over Top 10 teams. Would that be enough to put them ahead of Cincinnati? Or maybe a 2-loss Alabama? Who knows.

Oklahoma’s path to the Top 4 is far more narrow, if not non-existent. Oklahoma State probably drops out of the Top 10 with a loss, and the second win just wouldn’t carry as much weight for the Sooners.

Oklahoma has thoroughly dominated this series, both overall and in recent years (won 16 of 18). Once again, I’m going with history.

My Pick: Oklahoma +4

Save Room For Some Egg Bowl

#9 Ole Miss at Mississippi State

7:30pm ET, ESPN (Thursday)

Spread: Mississippi State -1.5

This almost ended up a game between two ranked teams. However, Mississippi State decided to play Tennessee State last week, and despite a 55-10 win they dropped from #25 to unranked.

This is another under-the-radar rivalry game, plus it’s the best game on Thanksgiving (if the NFL isn’t your thing). Besides, when you have Lane Kiffin and Mike Leach, even the press conferences should be entertaining.

A bit surprised MSU is the favorite here, but it’s in Starkville on a short week. Still, I like the Rebels.

My Pick: Ole Miss +1.5

My Top 12

2Ohio State
6Notre Dame
7Oklahoma State
8Ole Miss
12Michigan State

I swear I made that list before the CFP rankings were released Tuesday night. Great minds simply think alike.

Whatever your plans may hold, hope you all have a happy and safe Thanksgiving. Be careful with those turkey fryers!

Mike Lowe
Mike Lowe

College Football Analyst

Mike is a Baltimore native living in Portland, OR since 2007. He currently runs his own business specializing in video production and online marketing. Prior to that he was a legal technology consultant, worked for 9 years at Johns Hopkins University and served 6 years in the Air Force. He also enjoys travel, food, beer, and is a volunteer at the Oregon Humane Society.