By Seth Gruen–
(CBS) The clouds appear to be parting on the 2016 college football season, which is somewhat surprising given the haziness with which it started.
We all asked the same two questions, of course: Who will win the College Football Playoff? And which of the country’s teams will be selected as the four to play in it?
Bereft of what many thought to be a dominant team — or in a hint of what’s to come here: two dominant teams — there appeared to be no obvious prediction. Instead, just a bunch that could easily be debunked. Some even speculated that this could be the year that a two-loss team makes it to the sport’s “Final Four.”
But regardless of whether the latter comes to fruition, this much seems clear: Alabama and Ohio State appeared headed for the season’s final game in Atlanta on Jan. 8.
That’s not just because the Crimson Tide and Buckeyes are ranked first and second, respectively, in the Associated Press Poll.
Simply, these two teams have dominated unlike any other. They’ve each been tested more than the rest of the country, and both sit undefeated and far ahead of the rest of the field.
Alabama has faced four ranked opponents. The Tide have enjoyed a combined 109-point margin of victory in those four games. No team has looked more dominant this season.
Still, the Buckeyes’ resume is good enough to make this season a two-team race.
Ohio State beat Oklahoma handily in Norman, 45-24, a game that notably featured one of the best catches of the football season — NFL or college — by Buckeyes receiver Noah Brown. Do yourself a favor: Head to YouTube now if you haven’t seen it.
The team enjoyed double-digit wins until it traveled to Wisconsin last week, when it won the season’s most thrilling game, a 30-23 overtime win over the Badgers in Madison.
Of course, as this area of the country is concerned, No. 3 Michigan and No. 8 Nebraska are undefeated, though neither has been tested to the same extent. And each looks vulnerable, making Ohio State the favorite to win the conference.
The Wolverines also beat the Badgers, but that came at home. The Buckeyes won on the road. How Michigan has one first-place vote in the Associated Press Poll and Ohio State doesn’t is puzzling.
As for Nebraska, its best win came at home over then-No. 22 Oregon. But that Huskers win was the start of a four-game losing streak for the Ducks, one which has raised questions as to whether coach Mark Helfrich will be fired at the end of the season.
Nebraska plays Purdue this week. Then the Huskers’ season could look vastly different with back-to-back road games against Wisconsin and Ohio State. Michigan will have its chance to prove its championship worth when it plays Ohio State in the two schools’ annual rivalry game in the last week of the regular season.
But it seems so far-fetched that either would be able to beat the Buckeyes, who have torn through better competition. As for Alabama, its home game against Texas A&M this week is its most difficult remaining test of the season.
Whichever team emerges from the SEC East doesn’t appear all that scary an opponent in the conference championship. The same goes for Ohio State, which looks like it might face either Wisconsin or Nebraska for a second time this season in the Big Ten Championship.
It all seems so clear now.
1. Ohio State (6-0, 3-0) — The Cubs prevented many of us from seeing the best game of the season.
2. Michigan (6-0, 3-0) — I’m not buying in yet.
3. Nebraska (6-0, 3-0) — It’s the last week of their “preseason.”
4. Wisconsin (4-2, 1-2) — Losses this season came against Nos. 2 and 3 teams in the country.
5. Penn State (4-2, 2-1) — Got the Buckeyes this week.
6. Northwestern (3-3, 2-1) — The Wildcats have back-to-back wins over teams thought to be CFP contenders.
7. Iowa (5-2, 3-1) — The optics of this season could change with a win over Wisconsin.
8. Minnesota (4-2, 1-2) — Win over Maryland the team’s best of the season.
9. Maryland (4-2, 1-2) — Riding a two-game losing streak.
10. Indiana (3-3, 1-2) — This is about where we thought the Hoosiers would be.
11. Michigan State (2-4, 0-3) — The Spartans are the biggest disappointment of this college football season.
12. Purdue (3-3, 1-2) — The Boilermakers have a real chance at bowl eligibility.
13. Illinois (2-4, 1-2) — You don’t get credit for beating Rutgers.
14. Rutgers (2-5, 0-4) — Whiffed on its best shot at a conference win this season.
Seth Gruen is columnist for CBSChicago.com, focusing on college sports. You can follow him on Twitter @SethGruen.