Home Local Sports “MATTer of Opinion” Sports Column: College Football Rivalry Week Aftermath

“MATTer of Opinion” Sports Column: College Football Rivalry Week Aftermath

Sports columnist Matt Harrelson.


When it comes to Rivalry Week in college football, you can throw the records and rankings out the window, and that was never more evident than this past week.

It all began Friday when the then undefeated Miami Hurricanes traveled up to Heinz Field to take on the 4-7 Pittsburgh Panthers. The game had all the makings of a trap game for the U, and that’s exactly what happened when Pitt won 24-14 to knock off the No. 2-ranked team.

Fast forward to Saturday night for the other big game that had playoff implications in No. 1 Alabama versus No. 6 Auburn in the Iron Bowl. As we know now, the Tide forgot to get off the bus and were beat handily 26-14 by the Tigers.

Clemson was able to take care of business in Columbia against South Carolina 34-10, Oklahoma lit up the scoreboard again versus West Virginia, Wisconsin became the only undefeated team left after dismantling Minnesota and Georgia held off Georgia Tech 38-7. Not to be forgotten, Ohio State was able to prevail 31-20 against Michigan in “The Game” in The Big House.
So what does it all mean?

It means once again, we’re going to have a shakeup in the College Football Playoff rankings when they’re unveiled for the second to last time tonight on ESPN.

It also means there is an easy way for all this to go down and a very, very complicated way for things to play out this upcoming week.

First let me throw in my two cents as to who I think will be the top four and the two waiting in the wings when the rankings are announced this evening. I have Clemson moving up from three to one, followed by Oklahoma at two, Wisconsin three and two-loss Auburn falling in at four after beating the two previous No. 1-ranked teams in a matter of three weeks.

Just on the outside looking in, I have Alabama at five and Miami at six. I think my top five are a pretty safe bet, but I’ve seen other predictions putting Georgia at six instead of the Hurricanes. And they may be right, but let’s not forget that this same committee had Miami jump Clemson in the rankings last week. 

Now, let’s look ahead to the upcoming championship matches that will decide who’s in and who’s not.

I’m basing these rankings off of the AP Top 25 since the official CFP obviously hasn’t come out yet, but No. 1 Clemson will battle No. 7 Miami for the ACC Championship. Moving down the list, No. 2 Oklahoma will face No. 10 TCU in the Big XII Championship, No. 3 Wisconsin will square off with No. 8 Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship and No. 4 Auburn will play No. 6 Georgia in the SEC’s big game.

Now I know I’m leaving out No. 11 USC versus No. 14 Stanford for the PAC-12 and No. 12 UCF versus No. 16 Memphis for the AAC Championship, but those won’t have any bearings on the overall CFP picture.

My point is, this is the biggest week in college football history in my opinion.

For my picks I have Clemson over Miami to stay number one, and the Sooners over TCU for the number two spot. This is where it gets complicated in my book because I have Ohio State beating Wisconsin even without quarterback JT Barrett, and I think Auburn runs out of gas and loses to Georgia this time in Atlanta.

There is a chance that Alabama could be missing out on the playoffs for the first time, but I think the final bracket looks like this:

 1 – Clemson vs. 4 – Alabama
 2 – Oklahoma vs. 3 – Georgia

Of course, ALL this is subject to change in college football.

TRIVIA TIME: The 2014-15 season was the first year the College Football Playoff was incorporated. What two teams played in the championship that year, and where was the game held? For bonus points, what was the final score?


Another repercussion of rivalry week is the day formally known as “Black Sunday,” the day after the final regular season games of the year. A day that sees some coaches’ seats go from hot to non-existent.

So, who’s bit the dust, which schools are looking and who are they looking for?
UCLA’s Jim Mora was one of the first coaches to get canned this year, but the Bruins quickly moved on to what I would assume was their number one pick: Chip Kelly. It’s a good fit for both parties in that Kelly already knows the PAC-12 from his days at Oregon, so he won’t have to do as much recruiting and UCLA will be looking to score lots of points – Kelly’s specialty.


In the SEC, Jim McElwain lost his job and was temporarily replaced by Randy Shannon. The Gators got, if not their number one guy then their number two, Dan Mullen who was a former assistant there under Urban Meyer. Solid hire by Florida. Also in the Southeastern Conference, Ole Miss decided it was easier to just remove the interim tag from coach Matt Luke and make him the permanent guy to replace Hugh Freeze. It didn’t matter who took this job, it was time for the Rebels to move on from the Freeze era.

Now for the jobs that are open. In the PAC-12, Oregon State is coming off a 1-10 record but is currently looking for a coach to replace Gary Andersen. It’s a tough job, but it’s still Power 5 and early reports have California offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin as the leading candidate.

Also in the PAC-12, Arizona State decided to cut ties with head coach Todd Graham after finishing 7-5 overall. This could potentially be a landing spot for former Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin.
Speaking of which, Sumlin was let go after going 7-5 in 2017. The Sumlin era started out strong, mostly thanks to Johnny Manziel, but the Aggies were never able to recapture that magic, tallying five losses in four straight years. This is a high-profile job and word on the street is that the school is recruiting Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher hard. A feasible backup plan could be Chad Morris, head coach of SMU and an A&M alum.

Sticking with the SEC, Arkansas let Bret Bielema go immediately after Saturday’s game. The coach went 29-34 overall and 11-29 in the SEC in five years which was his probable undoing. Early reports indicated that Auburn coach Gus Malzahn may be interested in a move back to his home state, but that’s likely off the table after the Tigers beat Alabama to win the SEC West. A rising coach like Memphis’ Mike Norvell would make a lot of sense for the Razorbacks.

Now that Mulllen has decided to jump from the West to the East, that leaves open the Mississippi State job. In my opinion, this is another job I could see Sumlin potentially getting but also look out for smaller school coaches like UAB’s Bill Clark or Troy’s Neal Brown.

Nebraska let head coach Mike Riley go after just three years on the job. The Huskers went 6-7 in 2015, 9-4 last year and 4-8 this year. UCF coach Scott Frost is the hot name for Nebraska right now as he played two years for the team and led them to a national title in 1997 as the starting quarterback.

And finally Tennessee. What is going on in Knoxville?

After being initially turned down by Jon Gruden like so many teams before them, they decided to go after former Rutgers head coach and current Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano. But after a report came out saying Schiano had knowledge of the Sanduksy scandal at Penn State and did nothing, there was a public outcry from not only Tennessee fans but state legislators. The Athletic Department backed down and took back their offer the same day they presented it.

Now, there are reports that the Vols have reached out to former player and current Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten (who has already turned the job down). There is also speculation that an offer may be presented to USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin, who is a former Vol quarterback that succeeded Peyton Manning and Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm. 

Stay tuned for this one.

TRIVIA ANSWER: No. 4 Ohio State beat No. 2 Oregon 42-20 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas in the first College Football Playoff Championship in 2015.

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