The college football season enters its final week of the regular season with plenty still to be determined. All four current playoff teams face rivals of varying degrees of difficulty this weekend, and just one slip could leave them on the outside looking in.
And, though the playoff spots will dominate the conversation now and in the coming weeks, there are still spots in conference championship games on the line as well. With all of these storylines swirling, we caught up with CBS Sports Network studio host Brent Stover to break down some of the biggest games, weigh in on the playoff race, and more. If you want to see the latest from Brent, check him out on Instagram at @brentstover_. (Editor’s note: This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed.)
CBS Local Sports: This week is rivalry week in college football with several big matchups on tap. First, on Friday night, the Apple Cup between Washington and Washington State. The Cougars haven’t beaten the Huskies since Chris Petersen became head coach, but is this the year they get over the top?
Brent Stover: I think the shoe is on the other foot this year, because Washington State is a playoff-caliber team. The defense is better than they have had since Leach became the coach, and it’s not close. Then, you have (Gardner) Minshew, who is playing at a Heisman-type level.
I think we give too much credence to streaks and who has the edge or who owns who based on what has happened in the past. The bottom line is what happens on the football field this weekend over 60 minutes, and I think it is a clear advantage for Washington State in every facet. Plus, they still have so much to play for, knowing that they still have an excellent shot at the College Football Playoff, though they are going to need some help.
CBS Local Sports: Speaking of games with potential playoff implications, Michigan visits Ohio State this weekend. Like Wazzu, the Wolverines haven’t beaten the Buckeyes in awhile. Is this the year that Michigan and Jim Harbaugh figure it out?
Brent Stover: The opposite is true here. No. Harbaugh has not had success against Ohio State. Again, what does that really mean come Saturday? Probably not that much, but I still believe — even though Ohio State’s defense has been torched at times including last week against Maryland — that Ohio State is going to rise to the occasion. I’m not sure there is a better big-game coach, besides Nick Saban, than Urban Meyer.
Plus, Ohio State is playing at home, and they still have an excellent shot at the playoff. In fact, I think if Ohio State wins this game and takes care of Northwestern in the Big Ten title game, it would be really tough to keep them and the Big Ten conference out of it.
CBS Local Sports: On that front, the feeling seems to be that we’re fairly locked in with at least three of the playoff teams in Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame. Do you agree with that line of thinking?
Brent Stover: I think things are a little more up in the air. The Big 12 could still have something to say about it. Washington State could still have a say in this. I just don’t know what the committee is going to do. It feels like every week and every season we have a feel for what they are going to do, and then they surprise us.
Notre Dame is in if they win this weekend. However, again, it’s the SEC that throws a problem into things. Alabama has to be in even if they lose to Georgia in the SEC title game. In that case, Georgia would be in as well. So then you have two SEC teams, with Clemson joining them as long as they take care of Pitt. And, you have Notre Dame, which makes up your four teams in that scenario with the Big 12, Big 10 and Pac-12 getting left out. That could still happen.
Or, I could see a scenario where Alabama takes care of Georgia in the SEC title game and then you have Alabama, Notre Dame, but still two spots up for grabs.
CBS Local Sports: Now, for you, as a studio host, you get a different perspective on all of these teams during the season as you prepare for the pregame, half-time and post-game shows. I’m curious, outside of the national title picture, what the most interesting storyline has been to you this year?
Brent Stover: There have been a couple, but the biggest that stands out is the dominance of Alabama. I realize I’m saying that following a week in which they were tied with the Citadel for a short period of time in the second half. However, we could just throw the first half of that game out as an outlier. The dominance of Alabama in this era of football and the play of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has been impressive.
Then, one that’s a little more off the field is the continued need for an eight-team playoff. UCF is now closing in on being unbeaten in two straight seasons. And no matter what happens down the stretch, they are not going to get into the College Football Playoff. Under the current alignment, I’m okay with that because they don’t belong in the top four.
But, with the insatiable appetite that there is for college football and the constant conversations around it, I don’t understand why you can’t go to eight teams and have your five Power 5 conference champions, two at-large spots and one spot for the best Group of 5 team. Utah State is really good as well this year, and if UCF slips up while the Aggies beat Fresno State to win the Mountain West, then Utah State would be in.
I just think it would be so much better for college football if there were a guarantee that just one of these Group of 5 teams would be able to play for the playoff.
CBS Local Sports: On a more personal note for you, what’s the most fun and the most challenging aspect of your job?
Brent Stover: The most challenging aspect — and take this with a grain of salt, because it’s going to sound like a complaint, but it’s the opposite — you have 12 TVs in front of you and you’re seeing every game. It’s awesome. You’re seeing every play of every game which is the most fun part. Like being at a sports bar without the alcohol. We sit around, watch football, make fun of each other and have these same exact discussions and conversations.
It’s also the challenge because by the end of the night, when we do our wrap-up show around 2 a.m., after our final Mountain West game, you’re sitting there going, ‘wait, what happened at noon today?’ (Laughing). It feels like it was a week ago at that point, and I have seen 60 games since then.
That said, the challenge is part of the fun, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world. Saturday is my favorite day of the week, while also being my most challenging day of the week. It’s really exciting to be there, and as much as I enjoy being at games and calling games, this is more fun because you really feel like you have a hand in everything.