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As Playoff Picture Comes into Focus, Semi-Final Sites Should be Adjusted

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Arizona v UCLA Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Clemson has officially completed a 9-1 regular season and will have an open date this weekend before playing Notre Dame in the ACC’s biggest championship game ever.

Given all the hubbub the Big Ten caused when they initially cancelled their season, and the calls by many for the other conferences to join them, we have many reasons to be grateful for the football we’ve enjoyed so far. Now, as contending teams wrap up their regular seasons and play conference championships over the next two weeks, it appears there are seven teams still vying for playoff contention. Here’s what each team needs to make the playoff:

Alabama: Alabama closes their regulation season with Arkansas and then play Florida in the SEC Championship. They likely just need to go 1-1 in their final two games.

Notre Dame: The ACC (rightfully) cancelled Notre Dame’s game against Wake Forest. The Irish just need a respectable performance against Clemson in the ACC Championship game to make the playoff.

Clemson: The Tigers simply need to beat Notre Dame and they’re in.

Ohio State: The Buckeyes are undefeated and have a quality win over Indiana, but it was a close one and their other four opponents have a combined record of 8-18. In my initial draft of this article I had written that “they need to avoid a COVID-19 cancellation against Michigan and then beat Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship game and they should be in.” Now things are more complicated as Michigan cancelled the game on them. Fortunately, Michigan didn’t wait until the last minute. The Big Ten should find a way to get Ohio State another regular season game. Otherwise they should change their 6-game minimum for a conference championship appearance. There’s little doubt that they’re one of the four best teams, but sitting at 5-0 there’s plenty of doubt that they’re one of the four most deserving.

Texas A&M: The Aggies hope to play Ole Miss this weekend and then make up a game against Tennessee on championship weekend. Wins in those games would push them to 9-1. They need to do that and then have two of the following to happen to have a chance of cracking the playoff field:

  • Florida loses to LSU or Alabama and does not jump them.
  • Notre Dame beats Clemson and knocks the Tigers out.
  • Ohio State loses a game or does not officially win the Big Ten.

Florida: The Gators control their own destiny, but must beat Alabama to get in.

Cincinnati: If the Bearcats can beat the Tulsa Golden Hurricane in the AAC Championship game, they’ll be 9-0 (their regular season matchup with Tulsa that was set for 12/12 has been cancelled). Even still, their playoff hopes may be dead as the Committee dropped them to No. 8 behind two-loss Iowa State this week. To have any shot at the playoff, they’ll need to beat Tulsa and have three of the following to happen (and even still I sense the committee may take a two-loss Clemson or Florida over Cincinnati):

  • Florida loses to LSU or Alabama and drops behind them.
  • Notre Dame beats Clemson and knocks the Tigers out.
  • Ohio State loses a game or does not officially win the Big Ten.
  • Texas A&M loses to either Ole Miss or Tennessee.

College Football Playoff Projection:

Sugar Bowl:
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Notre Dame

Rose Bowl:
No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Ohio State

This is probably the “chalk” prediction, but I don’t foresee The Gators upsetting Alabama or the Irish beating Clemson again. The biggest spot where this prediction could go wrong is with Ohio State potentially not winning the Big Ten. The conference should find them a replacement game for Michigan. Maryland is set to play Rutgers on December 12th. It feels unfair to take a game away from Rutgers, but making up the previously cancelled Maryland/Ohio State game is far more important. If they can’t work something out for OSU this weekend, they should and likely will change the six game minimum rule that would otherwise bar them from the Big Ten Championship Game. If they don’t, a 6-0 non-champion Ohio State team shouldn’t get it (but they probably would anyway). Share your playoff predictions in the comments section below!

Semi-Final Venues:

Clemson has never played in a Rose Bowl. Normally, I’d be excited to go, but with all the safety protocol, events aren’t quite as fun (not a complaint, just a candid observation). For the Rose Bowl though, that calculation won’t be relevant as it - along with the Sugar and Fiesta Bowls - won’t have any fans in the stands this year. (The Orange, Peach, and Cotton Bowls will have limited capacity.)

After watching the fiasco with Florida State unfold and hearing about the significant travel expenses and then watching Clemson play in an empty Lane Stadium, I can’t help but wonder if the Playoff semi-finals should be moved from their usual venues.

Changing venues isn’t completely unheard of. During WWII, it was recommended that the Rose Bowl be cancelled because such large crowds on the West coast could be target for a Japanese attack. Rather than cancelling the game, Duke hosted the game in Durham on January 1st, 1942. The Oregon State Beavers defeated the Duke Blue Devils 20-16. Likewise, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the 2006 Sugar Bowl was moved to Atlanta, where West Virginia beat Georgia.

If the Sugar Bowl ends up being played between Alabama and Notre Dame, would playing outdoors in Nashville make more sense than playing indoors in an empty stadium in New Orleans? For the Rose Bowl, wouldn’t almost any site east of the Mississippi make more sense than an empty stadium on the West Coast? Perhaps Knoxville, TN, or Lexington, KY? Either of those site would be much closer to all seven of the playoff contenders than Pasadena, CA.

In a year when everyone wants to minimize costs as budgets are squeezed and avoid travel as COVID-related safety is prioritized, it simply makes no sense to make teams fly so far to play in front of empty seats. These bowl games should find locations that will be cheaper and safer for the teams to travel to and allow them to generate a whatever small amount of revenue they can from limited fan attendance

Of course, it is unlikely things change this late in the planning, but it sure would be more fun to watch the game with at least some fans cheering them on. No matter, I’ll be grateful to watch football however it is served to me and hope to see the Tigers play in Miami for the National Championship, where fans will be present.