Each week of the season, I will be a one-man College Football Playoff selection committee, picking the four teams that should be in the bracket if Selection Sunday were today. Call it Forde’s Fab Four, and call it an invitation to debate and discuss.
PEACH BOWL: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Washington
The Crimson Tide was flair-less but effective Saturday, beating a lousy Kentucky team in workmanlike fashion, 34-6. Leading rusher Damien Harris, battling an ankle injury, had just two carries. Freshman backup Joshua Jacobs continued to impress, with 100 yards on 16 carries, as the ‘Bama youth movement continues. Outside of giving up 43 in the annual Crazy Mississippi Game, Alabama hasn’t allowed more than 10 points in a game this season. It was a tumultuous week for the Tide, which saw starting linebacker Tim Williams arrested for carrying a gun without a permit and touted quarterback Blake Barnett transfer. (Coach Nick Saban handled both situations poorly, suspending Williams for all of a half and lamenting Barnett “quitting” on his team. No surprise.) Next for Alabama: at Arkansas Saturday, beginning a challenging three-game gauntlet. The following week the Tide is at Tennessee, then hosts Texas A&M. The latter two are unbeaten.
The Huskies are one of two new names in the bracket, validating their credentials with a 44-6 annihilation of undefeated Stanford on Friday night in Seattle. That boosted Chris Petersen’s team ahead of Louisville and Michigan – barely. The rest of the resume is relatively modest, but mauling defending Rose Bowl and Pac-12 champion Stanford was a statement win. Washington had twice the yardage of the Cardinal, did not turn the ball over and controlled the game throughout. The Huskies lead the nation in turnover margin (plus-11) and their 11 fumble recoveries are four more than the next-best in the country. Washington hasn’t trailed in the second half of a game this season. Next for the Huskies: at Oregon, which has been their nemesis this century. Washington has lost 12 straight to the Ducks, and last year was the only one decided by single digits.
FIESTA BOWL: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Clemson
The Buckeyes remain unbeaten and unchallenged after hammering faux Big Ten opponent Rutgers 58-0. Quarterback J.T. Barrett had four more touchdown passes, giving him 14 on the season to go with three rushing scores. But the big story has been Ohio State’s young defense, which has surrendered just 37 points this season – and 14 of those are attributable to a kickoff return and a pick-six. Ohio State’s three-touchdown win at Oklahoma gained some more currency when the Sooners won at TCU Saturday. Next for the Buckeyes: home against Indiana, which upset Michigan State but has not beaten Ohio State since 1988.
The other new entry is Clemson, which knocks out Louisville after winning a thrilling, 42-36 shootout in Death Valley Saturday night. The Tigers have not been a polished product this season, but played their best game of the year against the Cardinals. They hit them with a 28-point third quarter, lost the lead, then regained it in the final half of the fourth quarter with the kind of poise and guts that was a trademark of Clemson’s run to the College Football Playoff championship game last year. The Tigers now have won 19 in a row at home and 19 straight regular-season games – and Florida State’s loss to North Carolina unsprings the potential of a three-way tie in the Atlantic Coast Conference Atlantic Division, which strengthens Clemson’s grip on the division. The Tigers would have to lose twice in their remaining six ACC games, and they figure to be solidly favored in all of those. Next for Clemson: at Boston College Friday. Dabo Swinney did his best Saturday night to make that sound like a dangerous assignment, but the Eagles have lost 11 straight games to Power 5 opposition.
Dropped out: Louisville, Texas A&M.
Also considered: Louisville, Michigan, Houston, Texas A&M, Tennessee.
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