By Steve Silverman
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College football is rarely perceived as a top-of-mind sport in New York City.
After all, there are no major college football powers in the tri-state area – sorry, Rutgers – and fans are far more invested in the pro teams.
However, college football is not just an afterthought, and this has been one of the most memorable seasons the sport has had in at least a decade.
If you are just joining the party now, you are coming at the right time. This weekend’s conference championship games will determine the final participants in the College Football Playoff.
With the conference title games on tap, Clemson (11-1), Auburn (10-2), Oklahoma (11-1) and Wisconsin (12-0) are in the top four spots in the rankings and would be participating in the CFP if the season ended today.
Alabama (11-1), the best team in college football for the large majority of the season, is No. 5, on the outside looking in after losing to Auburn on Saturday.
If all the teams ranked above the Crimson Tide right now win Saturday, the assumption is that Bama would not get a chance to play for the national title. But that might not be correct.
The CFP committee is charged with naming the four teams that will fight for the national championship. They are not bound to have any particular conference represented when they make their selections. The only thing they must do is put the four best teams in the playoff.
Here’s how it is likely to play out: Clemson should be able to get the best of Miami (10-1) in the ACC championship. The Tigers had one fluky loss to Syracuse earlier this season, but coach Dabo Swinney knows how to prepare a team for a big game, and his players are the reigning national champions.
Quarterback Kelly Bryant is not Deshaun Watson, but he is an accurate passer who can come through when the game is on the line, and running back Travis Etienne (720 yards, 7.4 yards per carry and 12 TDs) is dangerous and explosive.
After beating Georgia (11-1) and Alabama at home in November, Auburn has moved into the No. 2 spot despite two losses. However, the Tigers are a much better team than they were earlier in the season. Sophomore quarterback Jarrett Stidham has connected on 202 of 295 passes (68.5 percent) for 2,682 yards with 16 touchdowns and four interceptions.
Auburn should torment Georgia once again in the SEC title game.
Wisconsin is a 5½-point underdog to Ohio State (10-2) in the Big Ten championship game, even though the Badgers are undefeated and the Buckeyes have two one-sided losses on their résumé. Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett, who has 33 touchdown passes and nine more TDs on the ground, is a remarkable quarterback and better than Wisconsin QB Alex Hornibrook. Despite undergoing minor knee surgery Sunday, Barrett will play in the title game, Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said.
The Badgers, however, have a game-changing running back in Jonathan Taylor (1,806 yards, 13 TDs) and a powerful defense. The Buckeyes may have the glitz and glamour, but Wisconsin is the better team.
Oklahoma, led by Heisman Trophy front-runner Baker Mayfield, takes on TCU (10-2) in the Big 12 title game. The Sooners have already beaten the Horned Frogs and should do it again.
So, with all four of the top teams winning, the pundits believe that the committee would not change the rankings.
Does anybody on that panel truly believe that Alabama is not one of the four best teams in the nation?
Jalen Hurts is a sensational quarterback who has thrown for 1,940 yards with a 15-to-1 TD-to-interception ratio and has also run for 768 yards and eight scores.
Running backs Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough are both powerful runners who can dominate. The Crimson Tide also have a game-changing defense featuring defensive back Ronnie Harrison (68 tackles, three interceptions) and defensive lineman Raekwon Davis (59 tackles, 6½ sacks).
That defense should make the difference for the committee.
Oklahoma has an explosive offense that is averaging 45.3 points per game. The defense, however, is not good. The Sooners have allowed 31 points or more in five games, and they gave up 41 points to Baylor and 52 points to Oklahoma State.
That’s not good enough, and, even if they win this weekend, the Sooners should not be ranked ahead of Alabama when the final rankings are announced Sunday.
Look for Auburn, Clemson, Wisconsin and Alabama to get into the playoffs as the top four teams, in that order.
That would set up Auburn meeting Alabama in one semifinal, and Wisconsin taking on Clemson in the other. Alabama should get revenge on the Tigers, while the Badgers should upset Clemson.
Then look for Alabama to ruin Wisconsin’s undefeated season and win its fifth national championship in nine years.
Please follow Steve on Twitter at @Profootballboy