It is down to crunch time in college football and for those that don’t follow the sport all that closely there are essentially just 6 teams across the country that control their own destinies as far as the national championship playoffs are concerned. They include Georgia and Alabama from the SEC, Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State in the Big Ten, the PAC-12’s Oregon, with Cincinnati sitting just on the outside looking for a little help.
In fact, barring a huge upset in the next couple of weeks, Georgia is probably already in even with a loss in the SEC championship game. And even with a loss already, Alabama would also appear to be pretty much a lock if the Tide wins the SEC title over the Dawgs. What could be very interesting is whether the committee that decides these things still puts Alabama in the playoff with two losses if they were to lose the SEC title game to Georgia. Certainly wouldn’t rule it out. Oregon also looks to have a clear path to the playoff if they can run the table; however, the Ducks have a real challenge this week when they play at #23 Utah, the team that they’ll likely also play in the conference championship game in three weeks.
The one conference that is still very much in play is the Big Ten, or at least the Big Ten East where Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State, each with one loss, all have a shot if they can run their respective tables. In fact, the road to the Big Ten championship very much runs through Ohio State which hosts Michigan State this week and then plays at Michigan in their annual rivalry game Thanksgiving weekend.
#7 MICHIGAN STATE (9-1) at #4 OHIO STATE (9-1); Noon ET; ABC … Okay, so everybody figures that next week’s game at Michigan will be the ‘real’ Big Ten East championship game, figure that NFL scouts will still be tramping in numbers to Ohio State as the Buckeyes have one of the best overall draft classes for 2022 that features one of the best 1-2 WR combinations in the country in Garrett Wilson (#5, 6-0, 195) and Chris Olave (#2, 6-0, 190), both of whom have top 15-20 potential for the upcoming draft. The Buckeyes also have two of the fastest rising players in this draft class in OT Nick Petit-Frere (#78, 6-5, 315) and safety Ronnie Hickman (#14, 6-1, 205), both of who could also get significant first-day interest. The Buckeyes also feature one of the better defensive fronts in college football which includes DE Zach Harrison (#9, 6-5, 265) and DT Haskell Garrett (#92, 6-2, 300), both of whom also at least some have first-round potential.
At the same time, other Ohio State players to watch include massive RT Dawand Jones (#79, 6-7, 360), veteran G/T Thayer Munford (75, 6-5, 320) RB Master Teague (#33, 5-11, 225), TE Jeremy Ruckert (#88, 6-4, 250), and CB Cam Brown (#26, 6-0, 190). How far Ohio State goes through the final month of the season, though, could come down to how well redshirt freshman QB C.J. Stroud (#7, 6-2, 220) handles the pressure of the job; so far, he’s been more than up to the job as he’s second in the country in passing efficiency and remains very much in this year’s Heisman debate.
Michigan State doesn’t have anywhere near the potential draft talent as Ohio State, but the Spartans have their own legit Heisman candidate in RB Kenneth Walker (#9, 5-10, 210). While he’s still thought of as more of a mid-to-late second day candidate at this time, Walker, a Wake Forest transfer, leads the country in rushing yards per game with almost 150 per outing and has an outside shot at a 2,000 yard season. Walker, though, is probably the Spartans only legit Top 100 type prospect, but MSU does have several likely third-day candidates such as DE Jacub Panasiuk (#96, 6-4, 250), safety Xavier Henderson (#3, 6-0, 200), WR/PR Jayden Reed (#1, 6-0, 195) and P Bryce Baringer (#99, 6-0, 215), who is 3rd in the country with an average kick of just under 50 yards per try. The Spartans also feature a big, experienced offensive line that includes RT AJ Arcuri (#76, 6-6, 320) and C Matt Allen (#64, 6-3, 315), although again both are more third-day type prospects.
#3 OREGON (9-1) at #23 UTAH (7-3); 7:30 PM ET; ABC … Needless to say there’s a ton on the line for Oregon when they play at 23rd ranked Utah early Saturday evening. However, the ‘real’ reason to watch this one is the chance to take another look at Ducks’ DE Kayvon Thibodeaux (#5, 6-5, 260), the consensus top-rated prospect overall for the 2022 draft. Thibodeaux, who was just named a finalist for this year’s Bednarik award, given annually to college football’s best defensive player, was banged up , was banged up much of the early part of the season, but still has 6 sacks despite barely playing in 6 full games.
However, with all due respect to Thibodeaux, Chuck Bednarik, and the committee that votes on these things, a pretty good case can be made the #5 hasn’t necessarily even the best defensive player on his own team so far this fall. That honor could just as easily have gone to sophomore LB Noah Sewell (#1, 6-2, 255), who has been terrific this year posting a team-leading 79 tackles as well as 3 sacks. And yes he’s the brother of former Ducks’ OT Penei Sewell, a top ten pick at the 2021 draft. The NFL will have to wait at least another year for little bro as he’s a true soph.
And with all due respect to Thibodeaux, Chuck Bednarik, the committee that votes on these things, and Sewell the younger, a pretty good case can be made that neither of the Ducks’ have actually been the best defensive player in the conference. Indeed, that honor could just as conceivably have gone to Utah LB Devin Lloyd (#0, 6-3, 235) who has been dominant this fall, posting 84 tackles, including 7 sacks and 13 other tackles for loss, while picking off three passes. Lloyd isn’t going to go as high as Thibodeaux, but has a very good chance to be the first linebacker off the board this coming April somewhere in the middle of the opening round.
Meanwhile, the Ducks do have several other possible pro prospects including dual-threat QB Anthony Brown (#13, 6-3, 225), RB Travis Dye (#26, 5-10, 190), CB Mykael Wright (#2, 5-11, 185), WR Johnny Johnson (#3, 6-0, 200), C Alex Forsyth (#78, 6-3, 305) and SS Jordan Happle (#32, 6-0, 210), but for the most part they are more third-day types. Same story for the Utes who have a couple of veteran safeties in Vonte Davis (#9, 6-0, 195) and Brandon McKinney (#28, 6-0, 200), a pair of late-round, free agents types, but for the most part, like the Ducks, the Utes are a very young team that could be good for some time.