College Football Mailbag: Kerry Miller Answers Your Questions from the B/R App

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystNovember 21, 2019

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney
Clemson head coach Dabo SwinneyStreeter Lecka/Getty Images

What are the odds of two SEC teams getting into the College Football Playoff? What about two Big Ten teams?

Is Clemson guaranteed to reach the playoff if it gets to 13-0?

Could Tua Tagovailoa come back to Alabama next year?

We're glad you asked.

Earlier this week, the B/R mobile app asked you to submit your best college football questions for our experts to answer. If you missed that notification and want to have your question featured in a future mailbag, keep an eye out for that alert next week. (It typically goes out Tuesday afternoons.)

The interaction doesn't stop there, though. Comment on this article in the app and tag me (@KerranceJames), and I'll do my best to respond to all of you. Most people in this sports writing business abide by a strict #NeverReadTheComments mantra, but I say bring 'em on. Let's have some fun.

From B/R App


Could a one-loss conference champion finish ahead of Clemson? Absolutely.

Could enough one-loss conference champions finish ahead of Clemson so that the Tigers miss the playoff? Absolutely not.

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No. 4 Georgia is the most likely candidate to bypass No. 3 Clemson, but for the Bulldogs to become a one-loss SEC champ, that means No. 1 LSU would have at least one loss and no conference title. Have to believe a 13-0 Clemson would be ranked ahead of LSU in that scenario.

Similar situation for No. 8 Penn State, as the Nittany Lions would saddle No. 2 Ohio State with a loss and keep the Buckeyes from even playing in the Big Ten Championship Game. Maybe that'd be enough for PSU to jump all the way ahead of Clemson, but it would likely drop Ohio State behind the Tigers.

No matter how shaky Clemson looks in its last two games, though, as long as it wins, it's not going to fall behind No. 9 Oklahoma or the Pac-12 champion (likely No. 6 Oregon or No. 7 Utah).

Thus, the only way the Tigers could miss the cut with a 13-0 record is if Georgia and Penn State win their conferences and the selection committee inexplicably puts two one-loss conference champions and two one-loss runners-up ahead of Clemson. And there's just no way that will happen.

From B/R App


I don't know about this "blocking" theory. If Oklahoma had looked dominant in its road win over Baylor, it could have jumped both Penn State and Utah to get to No. 7. Instead, it laid a gigantic egg in the first half and had to make a feverish comeback to keep its playoff dream alive. Not much of a positive statement.

But I am going to take this opportunity to complain about Utah's resume again.

Utah's stats are great. The Utes are 10th in the nation in yards per play (6.94) and fifth in that same category on defense (4.28). That's a net of 2.66 yards per play, which is better than every team except for Ohio State (3.74), Clemson (3.60), Oklahoma (3.38) and Alabama (2.97). Considering those were the four projected playoff teams until a few weeks ago, that's impressive company for Utah to keep.

Zack Moss isn't putting up Chuba Hubbard or Travis Etienne numbers, but he has been an excellent running back for several years. Tyler Huntley is quietly having a wildly efficient season with the fifth-best passer efficiency rating in the nation (190.1). And were it not for Ohio State's Chase Young, more people would be talking about Bradlee Anae as one of this year's best defensive linemen.

The problem is the Utes have done all this against a schedule that simply looks out of place in the playoff debate.

Penn State has wins over No. 13 Michigan, No. 17 Iowa and a 7-3 Indiana team that had to have been in the conversation for a spot at the tail end of the Top 25. The Nittany Lions' lone loss came on the road against No. 10 Minnesota.

Oklahoma has beaten No. 14 Baylor, No. 22 Iowa State and Texas, which was No. 19 last week.

Minnesota has only the one aforementioned quality win over Penn State, but hey, that's better than Utah's best wins over Washington, Washington State and BYU.

Moreover, Penn State plays at Ohio State this week, Oklahoma wraps up its regular season at No. 21 Oklahoma State and Minnesota hosts No. 12 Wisconsin to finish the regular season, while Utah will continue to fluff its feather-light schedule against 4-6 Arizona and 4-6 Colorado.

The best thing going for Utah might be that the CFP rankings started when they did.

It had just picked up a road win against Washington and had a lot of momentum. Meanwhile, Oklahoma had lost its most recent game to Kansas State, and the jury was still out on undefeated Baylor and Minnesota. The Utes were clearly a step behind the Top Seven (Ohio State, LSU, Alabama, Penn State, Clemson, Georgia and Oregon), but they had lost much earlier than the Sooners and deserved to be ranked ahead of all the multiple-loss teams.

And maybe this is the "blocking" our friend is alluding to, but the selection committee won't drop Utah for no good reason. It said the Utes were the eighth-best team in the nation two weeks ago, and the only game they have played since then was a 49-3 blowout of UCLA. If it penalized Utah for its strength of schedule now, it would be like acknowledging they never looked at its strength of schedule in the first place.

Without a breakdown of votes like we have with the Associated Press poll, there's no way for us to know just how wide the gap is between any two teams in the eyes of the selection committee. But I think there is a chasm separating Utah from the Top Six and very little standing between the Utes, Nittany Lions and Sooners.

As far as the debate for No. 8 is concerned, based on quality of wins, you could argue Oklahoma deserves to move ahead of Penn State. After all, the Sooners won their road game against a previously undefeated team. Penn State did not.

However, Oklahoma's loss to Kansas State is much more of a problem than Penn State's loss to Minnesota. It should work itself out this week, though, as Penn State will acquire its second loss and fall out of the picture or definitively belong in front of Oklahoma (as well as Alabama, Oregon and Utah) by beating Ohio State.

From B/R App

The odds of two SEC teams finishing in the Top Four equal however likely you think it is that Georgia beats LSU in the SEC Championship Game*. Texas A&M could throw a serious wrench into the equation by pulling off a road upset of either the Bulldogs or the Tigers in the next two weeks, but if an 11-1 Georgia beats a 12-0 LSU, they should both get in.

*Technically, this matchup isn't official yet. Georgia has locked up the SEC East, but in the extremely unlikely scenario that LSU loses home games to Arkansas and Texas A&M and Alabama wins at Auburn, the Crimson Tide would win the SEC West. But the Tigers should eliminate that possibility by destroying the 2-8 Razorbacks this weekend.

Without beating LSU, though, Georgia isn't getting in.

There's still a path for No. 5 Alabama to finish in the Top Four, but the Crimson Tide need to win at No. 15 Auburn and hope for some sort of perfect storm during conference championship week. If LSU and Ohio State take care of business while Clemson and Oklahoma lose, that would probably do the trick. But their odds are somewhere around 10 percent at best, even though they're the first team in line right now.

And there's simply no scenario in which No. 11 Florida or Auburn makes it.

As far as biggest upsets are concerned, Georgia better watch its step against the Aggies, Ohio State doesn't have a gimme left on its schedule, and Oklahoma seems to be in a constant state of needing to perform miracles on offense to make up for its porous defense. Even Clemson's getting to 12-0 doesn't feel like a sure thing, considering South Carolina already messed up Georgia's season.

From B/R App


Yes, he will declare, but I have no idea about the second part.

Tagovailoa was the No. 1 quarterbackand often the No. 1 overall pickon virtually all mock drafts a week ago. But now he's had a substantial surgical procedure on three different body parts in less than a year.

At what point do NFL teams start to question his durability, as if that wasn't already a concern?

He's expected to make a full recovery and should be able to start throwing again by spring, but is there any chance he'll participate in the scouting combine, which begins in late February?

If not, how many of the perfectly capable quarterbacks in this year's draft class will bypass Tagovailoa on draft boards?

Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert probably will, and that might be enough to bump Tua into the second round, considering the Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins are the only teams all but guaranteed to pick a quarterback. If some combination of Jake Fromm, Jacob Eason, Jalen Hurts and Jordan Love also moves ahead of Tagovailoa by dominating the combine, that'll be even worse for the soon-to-be-former Alabama quarterback.

But no matter the draft prognosis, he's gone. Maybe he would contemplate a comeback if Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields were not in next year's draft class, but there's no point in risking further injury in college to be no better than the third quarterback on the 2021 draft board anyway.

From B/R App


It's possible. It might even be likely.

To an extent, it depends on what happens in the other four conferences. If Clemson loses to South Carolina or whatever comes out of the ACC Coastal Division, that would drastically increase the likelihood of two Big Ten teams making the playoff. Similarly, a loss by Oklahoma in the next two weeks or by one of the two Pac-12 contenders before their conference championship game would help Minnesota and Ohio State.

But even if the favorites in the other leagues do their thing and we're looking at 13-0 LSU, 13-0 Clemson, 12-1 Minnesota, 12-1 Ohio State, 12-1 Oklahoma and 12-1 Oregon, there's still an argument for two Big Ten teams to get in.

I believe Minnesota would almost be a lock, even though the Golden Gophers are merely No. 10. They've already beaten Penn State, and they would acquire wins over Wisconsin and No. 2 Ohio State. Neither Oklahoma nor Oregon would have three wins anywhere near that impressive, so the Gophers should finish ahead of both.

The only realistic argument for sending a 12-1 Minnesota to the Rose Bowl instead of the playoff would be if two SEC teams get in with Georgia beating LSU in the SEC championship and if the committee decides that the head-to-head win over Ohio State isn't enough to vault the Golden Gophers ahead of the Buckeyeswhich would be frustrating for college football fans outside of Columbus, Ohio, but not terribly surprising.

That's because one big factor that seems to be flying under the national radar is that Ohio State has one of the toughest remaining schedules in the nation, hosting Penn State before "The Game" at Michigan.

Add those wins to a resume that already includes a blowout of Wisconsin, a road blowout of a solid Indiana team and a nonconference schedule consisting of three teams that have already become bowl-eligible (including a 42-0 win over No. 19 Cincinnati), and you've got one heck of an argument for Ohio State to move ahead of LSU for the No. 1 spot before conference championship week.

That could be huge if the Buckeyes were to lose to Minnesota in the Big Ten title game while LSU loses to Georgia in the SEC championship. In that scenario, it would be Georgia and Clemson in the top two spots, maybe Minnesota at No. 3 and one heck of a debate between LSU, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Oregon/Utah for the last spot.

Would the committee really drop the Buckeyes all the way from No. 1 to No. 5 for that loss, though? Hard to imagine.


Kerry Miller covers college football and men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.