SPORTS COLUMN: Playoff field beginning to settle with regular season in the books

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Alabama edged Auburn 24-22 in 4OT to win this year’s Iron Bowl. (UA Athletics)

The Iron Bowl: Any time the Tide of Alabama travels to the plains of Auburn magic happens, and unlike the norm this time the magic was in favor of Alabama. After Alabama’s offense was stagnant for 58 minutes, they found themselves at their own 3-yard line down 7-3. Alabama’s Bryce Young led a clutch drive to tie the game up and force overtime, where the Tide outlasted the Tigers in 4th overtime 24-22. 

There are some many story lines in this game. The struggle of the Alabama offense. The penalties. The 97-yard drive. The first overtime in Iron Bowl history. The overtime drama. It was an instant classic that should have left both fanbases proud of their teams. More on Young later.

The Game: For the first time since taking over the Michigan football program Head Coach Jim Harbaugh was able to defeat his rival, the Ohio State Buckeyes. The dominating win was enough to jump Michigan to No. 2 in the CFP rankings but pump the brakes.

A week prior the Buckeyes dismantled Michigan State, only to turn around and lay an egg against Michigan. If there is one thing this season has shown us the landscape shifts week to week. Michigan still will need to defeat Iowa, who was once ranked third in the nation, in the Big 10 championship if they want to make their first college football playoff appearance. 

The Battle of Oklahoma: The Sooners once again fell, being knocked out of playoff contention. This time it was their in-state rivals, Oklahoma State, who not only defeated them but has now shot up the rankings as well. The Cowboys now will have a rematch against Baylor, who they defeated 24-14 in the regular season. Unfortunately for them, a win doesn’t guarantee they’re in. Much more playoff drama to come.

Clarity coming in the Chaos: Right now, Georgia, Michigan, Alabama, Cincinnati, Oklahoma State, and Notre Dame are all fighting for a spot in the playoff. The top 3 all control their own destiny, but 4-6… not so much. Depending on the outcome a fierce debate will ensue. 

It would be a great year for a 6-team playoff, where the 1 and 2 seeds get a bye, and the 3 hosts the 4 while the 5 hosts the 6. But the expansion is looking further to 12. Until then, No. 3 through 6 can only do their best to make a strong impression in the committee’s eyes on Saturday. If this season has taught us anything, it’s that chaos is surely ahead. 

Heisman Race Over? It looked like Alabama’s Bryce Young had lost the Heisman with Georgia’s defense waiting and a bad performance against Auburn. In his defense he was without his top target, had key lineman missing, and multiple backs injured. Yet somehow, he came alive in the fourth quarter of the Iron Bowl and, I believe, actually won the Heisman. He had the ultimate Heisman moment making play after play on the 97-yard drive that tied the game, and then continued his spectacular play in each of the overtimes. With Stroud having a solid statistical game against Michigan but losing, it may be a done deal since he won’t get another game before New York. Unless Young has a major implosion, he is looking to be lifting the coveted trophy in two weeks. 

SEC Championship: Much could be said, but we will keep it short. While much has been made of the Georgia defense, rightfully so, the Alabama defense may just win the game Saturday. Expect the Tide defense to shut down the run and make Georgia quarterback Stenson Bennett beat them. As long as Jameson Williams doesn’t get called for a targeting on a punt he can score from anywhere at any time.  So, look for three key areas: big plays, turnovers, and non-offensive touchdowns. The one that wins two of those likely wins the game. This will be a classic chess matchup as both teams looks to manage the line of scrimmage.