Throughout the college football season, Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay kick off each week by settling a debate, looking at emerging NFL prospects and peeking ahead to next week. This week's topic: Where should Michigan land in this week's College Football Playoff rankings??
What should the playoff committee do with Michigan??
Let's get this out of the way: With wins over Colorado, Penn State and Wisconsin, Michigan -- which was the better team for much of Saturday's game against Ohio State -- is good enough to be in the College Football Playoff. But the fact is, the playoff committee just can't take two Big Ten teams without taking the conference champion, which means the committee can't put Michigan in the top four. Ohio State is almost certainly in, and deservedly so. The Buckeyes have lost only one game, fewer than any other Big Ten team, and that loss was to the Big Ten East champion Nittany Lions. But Michigan is a hard sell for the committee. Yes, the Wolverines beat both of the teams playing for the Big Ten title (Penn State and Wisconsin), but they also lost two of their last three games. Those losses came at the wrong time, and that's going to matter to the committee.
If a one-loss Washington team beats Colorado this weekend, the Huskies should get in the playoff over the two-loss Wolverines. But if the Buffaloes pull the upset in Santa Clara, I'd give the fourth and final playoff spot to Michigan over whichever team wins the Big Ten championship. A few reasons: 1. Washington hasn't played that much easier a schedule than Michigan. The Huskies rank 60th in strength of schedule, compared to 52nd for Jim Harbaugh's squad. So having one fewer loss and a conference championship in a competitive league gives Washington the edge. 2. Michigan's head-to-head wins over both Penn State and Wisconsin should be the deciding factor in the debate between the Wolverines and whichever school comes out of Indianapolis the winner. Remember: Michigan beat Penn State by 39 points?earlier this season. Yes, the Nittany Lions are a much better team now, having run the table since that loss, but a head-to-head blowout has to count for something.
Prospect on the rise
Kiper:? Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan
Charlton was the best defensive player on the field in that great, star-laden Michigan-Ohio State game on Saturday. The 6-foot-5, 270-pound defensive end had 2.5 sacks and nine total tackles, showing off a full arsenal of pass-rushing moves. After missing two games with an ankle injury early in the season, Charlton has become one of the most disruptive players in the country -- he now has 8.5 sacks this season. Charlton plays with good leverage for his height, has active hands and takes great angles when rushing quarterbacks. He showed Saturday that he can play on his feet, which means he could fit in a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme. I think the senior is in the mix for the first round of the draft in April.
McShay:? Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State
This is getting ridiculous. In his first year as a starter, Hooker has six interceptions -- three of which have been returned for touchdowns. On his pick-six against Michigan, Hooker read? Wilton Speight's eyes well and made an athletic play on the ball. He's either the best-coached safety in college football or the Ed Reed of the FBS.
Kiper:? Forrest Lamp, OT/OG, Western Kentucky
Lamp plays left tackle for the Hilltoppers -- who crushed Marshall 60-6 on Saturday -- but he projects as a right tackle or guard in the NFL. He's 6-3 and 300 pounds with more than 40 starts for Western Kentucky. He has good feet, is a sound technician and is very alert, which means he sees blitzes and senses stunts ahead of time. These traits are why I think he's ready to play immediately in the NFL in 2017. He reminds me a little bit of? Brandon Scherff, who played tackle at Iowa but is now a big-time guard for the Redskins. Lamp is in the second-round range right now, and I'm excited to see how he performs against better talent in the Senior Bowl.
Mel touched on Charlton earlier, but I'd be remiss if I didn't give him a little love, too, considering how consistently dominant and disruptive he was against Ohio State. He has been Michigan's best pass-rusher for the past two seasons and brings some serious upside to the table as an NFL prospect. I have Charlton as a Day 2 pick right now.
The big question for next week
Kiper: Can Florida's cornerbacks shut down Alabama's passing game?Now, this probably won't matter for the outcome of the game -- the Crimson Tide are too talented and their rushing attack is too good -- but this is a fun matchup between NFL draft prospects. The Gators have two cornerbacks in my top 10 at the position in fourth-year juniors Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson. They've combined for seven interceptions this season, and Tabor could be a first-round pick in April. Alabama, meanwhile, has a sophomore stud in Calvin Ridley, who could be one of the top receivers in the 2018 draft. ArDarius Stewart, the Tide's second-leading receiver, is a big-play threat who averages 16.5 yards per catch and has eight touchdowns.
McShay:?Who wins the strength vs. strength matchup of Washington's offense and Colorado's defense?
I can't wait to watch this game. True sophomore QB Jake Browning has really impressed this season. He ranks fifth in the FBS in Total QBR, compiling 40 TDs against just seven interceptions. Browning has helped ignite a Huskies offense that is averaging 43.2 points and 505.7 yards in conference play. Colorado features one of my favorite players to watch in college football (CB Chidobe Awuzie) and ranks fifth overall in QBR allowed. Awuzie will have his hands full against WRs John Ross and Dante Pettis, who have combined to score 30 receiving TDs this season.