Sunday, July 15, 2018
Colleges

Jones: College Football Playoffs first four may very well be the final four

Go ahead, Alabama, and book those hotel rooms.

Clemson, feel free to make those dinner reservations at Bern's.

Washington, you might want to reserve a flight.

And Michigan? Do all of the above.

All four are in line to make the College Football Playoffs, and two are coming to Tampa for the national championship game Jan. 9.

The first CFP poll comes out tonight, and it looks as if those will be the top four teams — the only undefeated teams left from Power Five conferences.

Bet on all four making the playoffs. Then again, betting on all four to make the semifinals is a fool's game.

Last year, of the four teams named in the first playoff poll (Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, LSU), only Clemson and Alabama made the final four.

In 2014, of the four teams named in the debut poll (Mississippi State, FSU, Auburn, Ole Miss), only FSU made the final four. And the Seminoles didn't reach the title game.

So there's a real good chance, based on history alone, that none of the top four teams in the poll will actually make it to Tampa for the big game.

But that's on paper.

On the field, as unlikely as it seems, I'm taking the top four schools.

Here's why, team by team:

Alabama

No one is beating Alabama. No one. I know it's college football and anyone can beat anybody, but nobody is beating Alabama. The Tide plays at LSU on Saturday and that's always a scary game, as is the Iron Bowl against Auburn. But Alabama will be home for that one and is probably going to get Florida in the SEC Championship Game. Forget it. Alabama isn't losing this season. To anyone. Might as well print up the national championship T-shirts now.

Michigan

Jim Harbaugh's crew really hasn't played a top-notch team with the possible exception of Penn State, and I'm still not convinced that Penn State is all that great. Besides, Michigan beat the Nittany Lions by 39. Last weekend, Michigan State hung a little closer than expected, but it was still a nine-point victory. The big showdown will be against Ohio State, and that likely will be akin to a college football quarterfinal. Ohio State might not be as tough as first thought after losing to Penn State and struggling at home against Northwestern. This is Michigan's spot to lose, and it won't.

Clemson

Sometimes you wonder how Clemson is undefeated. The Tigers should have lost to North Carolina State. They nearly lost to Louisville, and they were on the ropes against Florida State. But they survived, and very little stands between them and the ACC Championship Game. Even there, they will be favorites against, probably, either North Carolina or Virginia Tech. Somehow staying unbeaten gives Clemson that team-of-destiny feel. It also has the experience of reaching the championship game a year ago. Clemson gets through again.

Washington

The best-kept secret in college football. The Huskies play out west, so they don't get the attention of, say, Michigan. They play in the Pac-12, so they don't get the respect of, say, Alabama. But you should pay attention to that 8-0 record, which included a 44-6 demolition of Stanford, a 70-21 mauling of Oregon and an impressive 31-24 win at then-No. 17 Utah on Saturday. All that's really left is a home game against USC and a final regular-season game at Washington State. Chris Petersen, the former Boise State coach, will have the Huskies prepared for a trip to the semifinals.

Final analysis

No Big 12 team in the final four. No more than one team from any conference. And, lastly, no surprises. The first four comes out today. It has a great chance to be the final four.

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