Sports in this Day and Age: Number one goes down, no longer unbeaten and invincible

This column seeks to cover significant current events in the sporting world as it navigates the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

College football provided plenty of memorable games and even more memorable upsets this past week, while several streaks came to a close. Most notable of these, of course, was top-ranked Clemson (7-1) falling to fourth-ranked Notre Dame (7-0) in a thriller. In this last article of the term, we will take a look at some of the most notable games while making predictions for the end of the season.

Starting off is the game previously mentioned in which Clemson lost to Notre Dame in a double-overtime thriller, 47-40. This game started off for Clemson in a similar manner to their game against Boston College the week prior. In that game, Clemson went down 28-13 at the end of the first half before storming back. Against Notre Dame, the Tigers fell down 23-10 in the first half before they fought back, taking the lead 33-26 late in the fourth quarter. 

Clemson’s offense looked out of sync for much of the game thanks to several factors including the absence of top quarterback Trevor Lawrence who was out due to COVID-19 protocol. However, the Notre Dame defense should be given their credit, as they managed to hold star running back Travis Etienne to 28 yards on 18 carries. Credit to the offense of the Fighting Irish as well, as down late in the game, quarterback Ian Book showed experience and poise as he marched his team down the field and tied the game in the waning seconds. The teams then traded scores in the first overtime before Notre Dame scored in the second overtime and stopped a fourth-and-24 attempt by Clemson, sealing their victory. This victory snapped several streaks for Clemson who will now try to rebound after this loss.

With number two Alabama off on a bye this week, the next highest team to play was third-ranked Ohio State (3-0), who defeated an overmatched Rutgers team that fell to 1-2 after losing the game 49-27. The score appears closer than the game actually was, as heading into the fourth quarter Ohio State commanded a 42-9 lead over the Scarlet Knights. Elsewhere in the Big 10 East, Maryland (2-1) defeated a hapless Penn State team, 35-19. Penn State is now 0-3 for the first time since 2001, and Maryland is now poised for a showdown with the Buckeyes this coming Saturday in their toughest test of the season.

Florida (4-1) now controls its destiny in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) East after defeating fifth-ranked Georgia (4-2) soundly, winning 44-28. Georgia’s defense could not stop the dynamic Kyle Trask, who torched the Bulldogs defense for 474 passing yards and four passing touchdowns. Georgia has now lost two games where teams scored over 40 points on them. Georgia, who was hoping to make it back to the playoffs, may now be out of playoff contention unless some miracles happen in the SEC. This is wholly possible as well, due in part to the weird year we find ourselves in.

The final game which we will review is Michigan’s ugly loss to division rival, Indiana, 38-21. The Wolverines, who fall below .500 in November for the first time in several years, fell apart against an Indiana team that is 3-0 after beating Michigan for the first time since 1987, a streak of 24 consecutive games. Indiana is now tied with Ohio State at the top of the Big 10 East standings, a feat that many predicted to be done by Michigan and Penn State, who have now both lost to the Hoosiers and sit at the bottom of the rankings.

The big prize at the end of every college football season is, of course, the College Football National Championship. However, ever since 2014, teams have had to win the college football playoff to reach that coveted prize. According to the Allstate playoff predictor, which updated its predictions after the games last week, the two teams with the best chances to get in are top-ranked Alabama and third-ranked Ohio State with a 90 percent and 74 percent chance, respectively. No one else has more than a 50 percent chance to make it, with second-ranked Notre Dame at a 46 percent chance while Clemson is a percent behind. Despite these predictions, there are several teams that could make it if they were to win out outside of these four, including Wisconsin, Cincinnati and Brigham Young University, along with the winner of the Pac-12. 

My personal predictions for the playoff, which is based off of the wholly unscientific method of a mixture of the eye test and personal hopes and dreams, are for the four teams that make the playoffs to be Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Cincinnati in that order. My personal reasons for this reflect how dominant the teams have been — everyone but Clemson have all won convincingly in every game — as well as assumptions about what will happen during conference championship weeks. Clemson makes the list since they will likely face Notre Dame again for the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) championship, and a healthy Clemson team on a neutral field will probably win that game in my opinion. 

Look for Alabama to stumble quickly against Cincinnati before coming back to win while Ohio State finally defeats its demon in orange against Clemson, leading to a rematch of the 2014 national semifinals in which both teams score early and often. While it is hard to argue against Alabama’s dominance, look for Ohio State to get the edge in a close matchup and take the victory in Ryan Day’s second year leading the Buckeyes.