College football games, matchups for Week 9: Chance to make a big-time impression –

These things will work themselves out.

That’s what we’ve been told for years when any hint of BCS or College Football Playoff conflict emerged.

Like an elder patting a child on the head, we’ve been calmed of our playoff Armageddon fears year after year. We mention this because the first College Football Playoff Rankings of the 2017 season will be released Tuesday.

Week 9 marks the last chance for teams to make a good impression on the CFP Selection Committee. Well, not really. Tuesday’s unveiling will be the first of five overwrought, overhyped, specifically programmed regular-season selection shows meant to sell us the process — along with a lot of Matthew McConaughey Lincoln commercials.

As the season winds down, the debate, rancor and speculation will ratchet up. Meanwhile, CFP officials tell us the playoff will sort itself out.

Fat chance.

In the only major sport where humans still manipulate the matchups this close to a championship game, there’s plenty of room to ask …

  • Will the SEC or Big Ten can get two teams in?
  • Can Georgia and/or Alabama “afford” to lose between now and Dec. 2 and still get in the Football Four?
  • Is the Pac-12 already out of it?
  • Does it matter that UCF is only playing 11 games (because of Hurricane Irma)?
  • Does it matter that Notre Dame is only playing 12 (because of independence)?

Things will work out? Perhaps. They didn’t in 2002 and ’03, consecutive years during which Nebraska and Oklahoma lost their final regular-season games by a combined 54 points and still played for the national championship.

TCU is still wondering how it dropped from No. 3 to No. 6 in the first CFP three years ago after winning its final game by 53 points.

Last season, Penn State became the first Power Five conference champion of the CFP era not to play in a semifinal.

As mentioned, don’t get too wrapped up in Tuesday’s rankings. There will still be five weeks to go. But if you must know, here is one educated guess at the top four if this week’s favorites win.

  1. Alabama
  2. Georgia
  3. TCU
  4. Wisconsin

And now, onto the Week 9 storylines …

1. Big Ten playoff: I can’t judge Ohio State based on the past five games. The winner of Penn State-Ohio State probably wins the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions go in as the nation’s No. 1 defense. I’m having a hard time imagining J.K Dobbins (and others) running it consistently. That puts it on J.T. Barrett, which is probably what James Franklin wants. I picked Ohio State but mostly because The Shoe is a living, breathing thing that is likely to eat up the Nits.

2. Cocktail Party I: The week started as a simple rivalry game for Florida. Now it’s an accusation bordering on an investigation coated with a lot of confusion. The Florida administration is upset Jim McElwain can’t substantiate death threat claims. McElwain says he’ll reveal the source(s) of the threats if things become “unmanageable.” Then there was this confusing McElwain tweet featuring the coach’s family and Nebraska gear. Forget about the Gators for moment, where is McElwain’s head at vs. Georgia?

2. Cocktail Party II: In the game itself, Kirby Smart has to beat Florida, doesn’t he? Georgia has way more to lose than Florida, mostly because it has way better talent. The Dawgs are having their best season in a dozen years. The SEC East, SEC and a CFP berth are still at stake. Oh, and the Dawgs are a prohibitive two-touchdown favorite. Smart seems to have his team focused. Asked this week about the prospect of the SEC getting two teams in the CFP, he said, “I’ve been watching Florida film for seven days.”

3. Cyclone warning: We love new meat. You should, too. They’re calling this the biggest game at Iowa State since 2005. That year, in a game delayed by a tornado, the Clones beat No. 22 Colorado. This is bigger. In the first game between ranked teams in 15 years at Jack Trice Stadium, No. 6 TCU comes strolling in. Win and the Cyclones are tied for the Big 12 lead. Win and coach Matt Campbell collects a $500,000 bonus. Things are spinning way too fast. Stop the Cyclone I want to get off.

4. Domer dominance: Without the ACC agreement, the odds of Notre Dame playing NC State on Saturday are lower than getting through an ND tailgate sober. The teams have met twice (2003, ’16). The Irish are still looking for their first touchdown in the series. Since ND has scored 38 touchdowns this season, something tells me that streak is about to end. A win over a third ranked team will make an impression for the Irish in the first CFP Rankings.

5. Badgers ballin’: No, Wisconsin hasn’t played anyone. That won’t change Saturday when the Badgers (7-0) are expected wipe the floor with Illinois. What do you do with them? For now, put Wisco in the top four of the CFP.

6. Sumlin solution: Kevin Sumlin is making it really hard on his Texas A&M haters. The one coach who we know started the season on the hot seat is 5-1 since the epic collapse against UCLA. The Aggies have played Alabama tougher and closer than anyone this season. With a presumed win this week over Mississippi State, A&M will be 6-2 heading into the final month of the season with a 9-3 finish entirely possible. What do you do, then, Tony Buzbee?

7. Remember Lamar Jackson? His numbers are almost identical at this point to last year’s Heisman season.   The difference is the Cardinals have already lost three games, the athletic director (Tom Jurich) who brought the old coach back has been fired. Who could blame that old coach (Bobby Petrino) the AD brought back if he is looking around?

For the record … Jackson through eight games in 2016: 996 rushing yards, 16 touchdowns, 2,522 passing yards, 22 touchdowns — total offense: 439 yards per game. Jackson through as many games in 2017: 868 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns, 2,478 passing yards, 17 touchdowns — total offense: 419 yards per game.

8. Quick hits: Consider that more than half the SEC’s coaches at the moment are all but gone or on the hot seat: Ole Miss, Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida, Texas A&M, Missouri, Auburn. Talk about instability … Nothing says rivalry like a 98-pound bronze pig. That’s what’s at stake in Minnesota-Iowa. The battle for Floyd of Rosedale is one of the best under-the-radar rivalries in the game … Is the 2018 No. 1 overall draft choice playing in Oklahoma State-West Virginia? … If you’re not fired up about Chattanooga-Samford this week, turn in your fan card.


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