Five things we learned as we head to Championship Weekend:
1) Missouri can beat Alabama: Let me say up front that I’m picking No. 1 Alabama (11-1) to beat Missouri (10-2) in the SEC Championship game on Saturday (4 p.m, CBS) at the Georgia Dome. But if you think it’s going to be a walk in the park for the Crimson Tide, then you haven’t been paying attention to the Tigers. Yes I know they lost to dreadful Indiana (4-8) . I know they lost 34-0 at home to Georgia. I know that the seven SEC teams Missouri did beat had a collective conference record of 17-39. But I also know that Missouri won at Texas A&M, won at Tennessee and beat Arkansas to lock down the SEC East. I know that Gary Pinkel, Nick Saban’s teammate at Kent State, is a top-notch coach. I also know that Alabama gave up 630 yards and 44 points to Auburn. Alabama wins, but it won’t be easy.
2) The SEC dodged a huge bullet on Saturday: The SEC had a bad day on Saturday going 0-4 against the ACC and then losing Mississippi State as a playoff contender when the No. 4 Bulldogs fell 31-17 to Ole Miss. But a bad day almost turned into a disaster when Auburn took a 33-21 lead over No. 1 Alabama in the third quarter in Tuscaloosa. At that point the SEC was looking at the real possibility of getting shut out of the first college football playoff. Alabama put together a 34-3 run on the way to a historic 55-44 win in the Iron Bowl. So Alabama will remain No. 1 when the new CFP rankings are released on Tuesday.
3) Alabama’s Amari Cooper has to get an invite to New York: While I’ll concede that Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is the leader for the Heisman Trophy, Cooper left no doubt that he is one of the best players in America with his 13-catch, 224-yard performance against Auburn. He has to be among the Heisman finalists. And while we’re at it: Who’s done a better job of coaching this season than Alabama OC Lane Kiffin? He should win the Broyles Award, which goes to the nation’s top assistant.
4) Hopefully we’ve heard the last about Paul Johnson’s “high school” offense: I’ve heard from a lot of Georgia Tech fans who wanted to get rid of Paul Johnson not just because he didn’t win enough games (28 in the previous four seasons), but because they were convinced that his triple option offense was hurting Tech in the recruiting rankings. What we learned Saturday is that when Johnson has the right quarterback (Justin Thomas) who can throw it a little bit and has an opportunistic defense (forced three turnovers), Johnson’s teams can play with anybody. Florida State (12-0) will learn that Saturday in the ACC Championship game.
5) The CFP selection committee has a tough decision coming with Ohio State: Ohio State (11-1) has advanced to the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin (10-2) but the No. 6 Buckeyes must play without starting quarterback J.T. Barrett, who is out for the season after breaking an ankle against Michigan. A 12-1 Big Ten champ might have an edge over an 11-1 Big 12 champion for the fourth playoff spot. But the selection committee has the right to take the Barrett injury into account when making its final decision next Sunday. Let’s see if No. 7 Baylor (10-1) jumps the Buckeyes in Tuesday’s new rankings.