Which team would win a hypothetical matchup between LSU and Ohio State?
Ahead of college football’s Week 14, there are only a handful of scenarios remaining for which four teams could compete for a national championship. Some of them depend on Saturday’s games, while others could play out based on the conference championship matchups in a couple weekends.
Currently, LSU and Ohio State are in a battle for the No. 1 seed, while undefeated Clemson looks like the third lock for the playoff. But that fourth spot, should the top-3 teams win out, is up for grabs among teams like Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, Baylor and Utah.
So before the final regular-season games for the College Football Playoff contenders, For The Win spoke with ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit about the varying scenarios, the top teams’ chances and the Heisman Trophy race.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
1. If LSU and Ohio State played each other this weekend, who would win?
Oh man, how about this: If they played 10 times, I think it would be 5-5.
I think LSU’s offense up to this point has been prolific. It’s been as good as I can remember seeing. This year, if you were to ask me to look back at Thanksgiving about what’s been the pleasant surprise, I would not just say LSU; I would say LSU’s offensive style, their quarterback — who I think’s going to win the Heisman in Joe Burrow — the approach by their head coach, Ed Orgeron. They’re attacking every game, they’re not taking a conservative approach offensively, which they’ve been known for for years and years.
That being said, Ohio State offensively and defensively, has been — I think you could argue along with Clemson — the most complete team in the country as far as every week. So that would be a tough one.
Neutral site, I don’t know what Vegas would say. I hope we get a chance to see that game play out because it would be a fun championship game.
2. If LSU, Ohio State and Clemson are the first three playoff teams, which one gets the last spot?
This weekend will have a big impact. But if Georgia beats LSU, which would be, obviously, a major upset, I think Georgia would be in, and Ohio State would move up to No. 1, Clemson would move to No. 2, Georgia would be at No. 3, and I think LSU would still be the fourth team. That would be the easy answer.
If LSU, Ohio State and Clemson were to win out, that eliminates Georgia, you’ve got Alabama at No. 5 without going to an SEC championship game. And then you’ve got Utah. Oregon might be out, but Utah is not. And I think Utah holds a trump card. If they beat Colorado and ultimately go to the Pac-12 championship and beat Oregon, I think Utah will leapfrog Alabama. And, if Georgia loses to LSU, I think Utah would end up being the fourth team to go.
I think Alabama’s only chance is to win, and they’ve got to be dominant for the committee to throw out the metrics and just say: “We think Alabama’s better than Oklahoma [and Utah].” With all that being said, I think it’s really setting up for eventually Utah or Oklahoma to go by Alabama if the top three keep winning.
3. Do you think Oregon’s loss to Arizona State this weekend hurt Utah’s chances?
Not at all, no. Here’s the thing with Utah: A lot of people east of the Rockies, if I asked them to name one player on Utah’s team, they couldn’t. So it’d be easy to look at Utah and not necessarily give them much credit or the benefit of the doubt because they play in a conference that most people don’t respect and most people don’t watch. So when you see Utah up there, you’re like, “Utah? Why are they up there?”
People don’t respect that brand, and I think that’s unfortunate because Kyle Whittingham is an incredible coach, and they’ve got a great team this year. If their only loss is on the road on a Friday night against USC, and they end up being Pac-12 champs, no way they’ll leave Utah out if they’re 12-1.
4. ESPN’s Allstate Playoff Predictor updates each team’s chance to make the playoff weekly, and it seems largely accurate. But have you ever seen a percentage on there that was a bit puzzling?
Right now is one. This week, Utah is at nine percent to make the playoff. You’ve got the main three up there with Ohio State, Clemson and LSU at 86 percent or higher. Then there’s a pretty good drop to Georgia and Alabama. Oklahoma is ironically at 12 percent.
This is subjective analysis. Everybody can weigh in on this. The only thing that matters is what the committee thinks. And if you follow what the committee has done, it’s interesting that our Allstate Playoff Predictor has Oklahoma at 12 percent and Utah at nine percent, because to me, I’ve really felt that they’ve sent us a loud message that they don’t necessarily respect the Big 12. If you go back to last week’s [College Football Playoff] rankings, Oklahoma after beating Baylor, they only moved up one spot to No. 9. Baylor was all the way down at No. 14 with one loss.
If Utah keeps winning, and they win a conference championship, I just don’t know what Oklahoma has to do to climb. And personally, I don’t see Oklahoma getting by Utah if Utah keeps winning. And the only reason I say that is based on the first few weeks with the way the rankings have shook down and how they’ve really sent a message: They’re not impressed by the Big 12.
5. Realistically, could Chase Young win the Heisman? Should we start calling it the best offensive player award if defensive players aren’t often finalists?
I remember when Ndamukong Suh was dominating every week in ‘09 and he ended up making it to New York City, and you could have made a pretty strong case for him that year that he deserved serious consideration.
Chase Young, I think if he didn’t have a two-game suspension and miss the Maryland and Rutgers games, who knows how many stats he could have had in those games? I think 20 sacks was very realistic for him, which is unheard of.
For the first seven, eight, nine weeks, everybody was talking about Burrow, Jalen Hurts, Chase Young, Justin Fields, Tua [Tagovailoa]. It’s almost like we’re at the point where it’s Joe Burrow, last man standing, and then everybody else. Most people are going to put Joe Burrow in that No. 1 spot with two weeks to go, but who are you going to put at two and three?
Do you penalize Chase Young because he was suspended for two games? Do you recognize how he handled that situation and how forthcoming he was? Do you forgive him for that and keep him on your ballot? I have no idea. But one thing’s very clear. If you’re asking if the Heisman Trophy is supposed to go to the most outstanding player in college football, I don’t know how Chase Young can’t be on a ballot.