It was another wooly-bully Saturday in College Football.
November’s winds twisted through the College Football Playoff possibilities and caused extensive damage … especially to the wobbling Big Ten.
The carnage can be viewed across the land. This first Saturday in November was harsh, and it left us with only nine Power 5 teams standing with fewer than two losses. And hold tight; that list will be cut to eight (after TCU plays at Oklahoma.
Here are your nine survivors through Week 10: Georgia, Alabama, Miami, Wisconsin, Clemson, Oklahoma, TCU, Notre Dame and Washington.
That’s it. Every other Power 5 team is dragging around the weight of two or more defeats. And that’s an awfully heavy load to carry for teams that want to reach the playoff.
Here are my takeaways from CFB Week 10:
1. The Big Ten is in serious trouble and may not find a way into the four-team playoff.
A week after competing like maniacs to claim an admirable 39-38 comeback win over East division rival Penn State, No. 6 Ohio State were shredded into mulch at Iowa 55-24. It was an incomprehensibly hideous performance, symbolized by quarterback J.T. Barrett, who lobbed four interceptions including a pick six on the first play.
Should we shift our view of the Buckeyes? After all, coach Urban Meyer’s team is 10-4 in its last 14 games against Power 5 opponents … and four of the victories came against conference lightweights Maryland (twice), Rutgers and Indiana. In the four losses — to Penn State, Clemson, Oklahoma and Iowa — The Ohio State University was outscored 141-64. Evidently the “O” stands for overrated.
Elsewhere in the upper Midwest, No. 7 Penn State slipped again. After barfing up a 35-20 lead in the Week 9 ambush by Ohio State, the Nittany Lions couldn’t hold a 3-point lead Saturday at Michigan State and fell 27-24. It was a bizarre afternoon, with lightning strikes caused an in-game delay of more than 3 hours. Penn State head coach James Franklin is now 0-10 in road games against ranked teams in road games.
The Big Ten can still get a rep in the CFB playoff. But it almost certainly will not be be from the East division. The four name-brand teams on the East side (Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan) each have two losses.
In the first three years of the playoff, no two-loss team ever made it to the tournament. With the extreme chaos we’ve seen this season, I guess it’s premature to dismiss the possibility of a two-loss team sliding in through a side door. The scenario could materialize if the upsets continue.
But keep in mind that other Power 5 conferences would have their own two-loss candidates to measure against the Big Ten. And where are the quality non-conference wins for the big boys from the B1G East division? Army was Ohio State’s best outside win. For Penn State, it was Pitt. And Western Michigan was Michigan State’s top non-conference conquest.
Even if the Buckeyes defeat visiting Michigan State this week, post their annual victory over Michigan, and prevail over Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship, the selection committee won’t forget about Ohio State getting roasted for 55 points by Iowa. It was the worst loss ever for a Meyer-led team. And to pull off a playoff miracle, Penn State would need both Ohio State and Michigan State to lose a game — and that’s just to get to Indianapolis for a conference championship matchup with Wisconsin.
Yeah, I’ll just go ahead and say that Ohio State and Penn State have destroyed their playoff chances. And even if Michigan State wins the East and goes on to take down Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game, Sparty won’t have much of a case for a playoff spot.
2. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney is now Wisconsin’s No. 1 fan. You’d have to excuse him for humming “On Wisconsin” over the next several weeks.
The 9-0 Badgers are carrying the conference banner as the top B1G contender for the playoff. The selection committee didn’t think much of Wisconsin’s undefeated record last week when revealing its initial rankings, plopping the Badgers in at No. 9.
To become the Big Ten entry in the four-team field, Wisconsin will have to win out. The remaining regular-season games are Iowa, Michigan and a road game at Minnesota. And then Wiscy would have to avoid losing in the B1G title game against the team that emerges from the East dog pile.
The Badgers’ best win of the season was over Northwestern on Sept. 30. It didn’t seem like much at the time, but the Wildcats have assisted Wisconsin’s cause by winning four consecutive games. The streak has elevated Northwestern to a more respectable ranking (34th) in ESPN’s Football Power Index. Wisconsin’s schedule strength would be reinforced with wins over Iowa (22nd in the BPI) and Michigan (23rd.) And the SOS would get another lift with a victory in the B1G title game.
If Wisconsin can get to 13-0, with its best wins coming late in, I find it difficult to believe the selection committee would snub the Badgers and the Big Ten. But as we have learned from the first three playoff processes, the committee makes it up as it goes along.
For now, there’s no question about this: Wisconsin is the B1G’s only legitimate hope.
(By the way: props to Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor who trampled Indiana’s defense for 183 yards rushing on 29 carries in his team’s 45-17 blowout win.)
3. Rugged Clemson survived a tough road game at NC State, and that should keep the Tigers at No. 4 in the CFP rankings.
Clemson (8-1) was pushed hard by the Wolfpack, a good team ranked 20th in the first CFP unveiling. NC State rolled up 491 yards and had Clemson down three times with leads of 7-0, 14-7 and 21-14. But the Tiger defense strengthened in the second half, subduing NC State quarterback Ryan Finley and outscoring the ‘Pack 21-10. Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant came through with 191 yards passing, 88 yards rushing and three total touchdowns.
Critics harp about Clemson’s loss at Syracuse and don’t want to hear excuses — such as the hobbled Bryant being knocked out of that game. But Clemson has four wins over opponents that were ranked in the top 25 in the AP Poll on the day of the game. Moreover, Clemson has six victories over teams that currently have winning records… and another win over a solid .500 Georgia Tech squad.
On a day when five of the top 15 teams in the first CFP rankings were smacked with losses, Clemson deserves credit for grinding out a gritty road win against a quality NC State team that was unbeaten in the ACC before Saturday.
Clemson moved ahead of the Wolfpack in the Atlantic division, and it seems that we’re headed to ACC Championship game matchup putting Clemson and Miami.
4. About Miami: the Hurricanes had a great Saturday and bolstered their credibility.
The CFP committee was skeptical of Miami’s 7-0 record, putting coach Mark Richt’s team at No. 10 in last week’s rankings. Saturday’s game against No. 13 Virginia Tech was Miami’s first genuine test of the season, and the ‘Canes aced it with a forceful 28-10 thumping of the Hokies.
Miami QB Malik Rosier made plenty of plays — passing for 193 yards, rushing for 84 yards, and accounting for three touchdowns. The erratic Rosier was also picked off three times, but the stout Miami defense had his back by forcing four turnovers, pounding Hokies’ QB Josh Jackson repeatedly, and limiting the V. Tech to a season-low 299 yards.
The impressive 18-point beatdown was Miami’s largest margin of victory against a ranked team since upsetting No. 17 Ohio State 24-6 on Sep. 17, 2011. The timing of Saturday’s statement win was excellent; Miami had had narrowly dodged trouble by winning its previous four games over inferior competition by a combined 18 points. But Miami asserted itself by halting an offense that had averaged 35.4 points per game before Saturday.
5. Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield is strengthening his grip on the Heisman Trophy.
In the last seven Big 12 basketball games Oklahoma and Oklahoma played against each other, the teams combined to average 141 points.
Saturday in Stillwater, the Sooners and Cowboys combined to score 114 points … playing football.
Oklahoma’s 62-52 victory featured 1,446 total yards, 62 first downs, 164 snaps on offense that averaged 8.8 yards per play, and 22 plays that went for 20 yards or more.
What a game … and what a performance by the Sooners’ charismatic quarterback. Mayfield completed 24 of 36 passes for a program-record 598 yards, throwing five touchdowns, rushing for a score, and averaging a sick 16.6 yards per passing attempt.
By winning this remarkable duel against OSU quarterback Mason Rudolph, Mayfield improved his career record in true road games to 13-0 … and in the 13 road wins Mayfield averaged 330 yards passing, threw 45 touchdowns and rushed for 10 TDs.
Through nine games this season Mayfield has completed 71.7 percent of his passes (No. 1 in FBS), averaged 11.86 yards per attempt (1st), posted a 201.6 passer rating (1st). He’s second nationally with 3,226 passing yards and an average of 358.4 yards passing per game. He’s tied for second with 33 combined passing-rushing touchdowns. And he’s tied for third with 28 TD passes.
While Mayfield was lighting up the sky over Stillwater to elevate Oklahoma’s Big 12 and CFB playoff hopes, other Heisman hopefuls either messed up or had quiet, non-factor performances:
— Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett completed 18 of 34 passes for 208 yards, three touchdowns, four brutal interceptions, and has his second-lowest QB rating of the season in the humiliating loss at Iowa.
— In his team’s loss at Michigan State, Penn State RB Saquon Barkley managed only 63 rushing yards on 14 carries with no touchdowns. Barkley has come up short of 100 yards rushing in four of his last five games.
— In a 24-21 loss at Washington State, Stanford RB Bryce Love rushed 16 times for 69 yards and one touchdown. Other than his 52-yard run, Love averaged 1.1 yards on his other 15 carries.
— With No. 3 Notre Dame stomping Wake Forest 48-37, RB Josh Adams had 22 yards (no touchdowns) on five rushes. Adams was removed from the game in the first quarter with an unspecified injury.
It’s too soon to call the Heisman race. Just last week, Ohio State was lobbying for Barrett after his masterful and memorable game against Penn State. Not so fast. A week later, Barrett was dreadful at Iowa. Further proof of how Heisman candidacies can change dramatically in a week’s time. But Mayfield is separating himself from the others.
6. Oklahoma is in position to win the Big 12 and charge into the four-team playoff.
By winning Saturday, the No. 5 Sooners all but terminated Oklahoma State’s playoff ambitions. Unless about 10 higher-ranked teams lose two more games over the next few weeks, the No. 11 Cowboys won’t be able to recover from their second loss of the season.
Oklahoma ain’t worry free. There still plenty of danger between now and the final CFP ranking (Dec. 3) that will determine the four-team field.
After shoving Texas out of the way Saturday (24-7), No. 10 TCU plays at Oklahoma this week. Both teams are 8-1 overall, and share the Big 12 lead at 5-1.
The winner of Saturday’s showdown in Norman will claim an important victory and a likely spot in the Big 12 championship game. But depending on the two teams that make it, the Big 12 championship game could also take a wrecking ball to the conference’s playoff opportunity.
For the purposes of conversation, let’s say Oklahoma beats TCU to take first place in the Big 12 as long as OU can avoid an upset in its post-TCU games at Kansas and vs. West Virginia … and assuming that TCU rebounds and finished second in the Big 12.
That would set up an OU vs. TCU rematch for the conference title game. And if TCU would get revenge by upending Oklahoma for in the Big 12’s crown … that would leave both Oklahoma and TCU marred by two losses. And Oklahoma State, Iowa State and West Virginia already are scarred by two Ls.
Big 12 cannibalization may be inevitable.
Oh, the irony.
The Big 12 was shut out of two of the first three CFB playoffs … in large part because it was the only Power 5 league that declined to play a conference championship game. The committee urged the league to take that step to strengthen its playoff resume in the Power 5 comparison tests. But the first Big 12 title tilt could actually result in the Big 12 getting locked out of the playoff for the third time in four years. I’m assuming this isn’t how Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby drew it up.
7. Notre Dame is determined to stand its ground and protect its place in the top four. Go ahead, try to fence the Irish out.
After losing by a point to No. 1 Georgia at Notre Dame Stadium early this season — hardly a stain — the Fighting Irish have cleared a path by demolishing seven consecutive opponents. Average margin of victory: 24.8 points. And coach Brian Kelly’s offense has put up 43.4 points per game in winning the last seven.
Don’t be fooled by Notre Dame’s 11-point win (48-37) over underrated Wake Forest on Saturday. The home team constructed leads of 31-10 and 48-23 before easing off. Notre Dame fans must be fired up over the play of quarterback Brandon Wimbush, who amassed 390 yards of total offense and three touchdowns to disassemble the Demon Deacons’ defense. It was one of the more dominant showings by a quarterback this season.
Notre Dame can’t take anything for granted. The Irish play at Miami on Saturday, follow with a home game against Navy’s vexing triple-option offense, and close the regular season at Stanford. It’s good that Notre Dame has rebuilt its muscle after a weak 2016 … over the final three weeks many punches will be thrown and many punches will absorbed. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
8. Beware Auburn. War Eagle has a chance to get eyes crying in Tuscaloosa and Athens.
True to its flaky manner, Auburn lurched to a goofy start at Texas A&M on Saturday before settling in for a 42-27 win. The Tigers are 7-2 overall. At 5-1, they’re second to Alabama in the SEC West.
Only one team in College Football America has No. 1 Georgia and No. 2 Alabama on the schedule. As you probably guessed by now, that team is Auburn.
Auburn will host Georgia on Saturday.
Alabama visits The Plains for the hate-filled Iron Bowl game on Nov. 25.
If the Tigers don’t lapse into idiotic play calling or timid play, they have a shot to turn the SEC power structure upside down. They have a chance to mess up all forecasts for the CFB playoff.
I agree with something my friend Paul Finebaum said Sunday morning on his ESPN podcast: “Auburn, by getting a win at A&M … is in the most unique position in college football. They finish off against Georgia and Alabama and they’ve already got a Clemson game in there. Schedule-wise, no one will have played a bigger hand in the College Football Playoff than Auburn.”
Auburn appeared at No. 14 in the initial playoff rankings last week, but that was identical to Ohio State’s initial ranking in 2014 … and the Buckeyes moved up, zoomed into playoff and won the whole damn thing by routing Alabama in the championship.
It’s a long shot for Auburn. But for those who enjoy fantasy scenario, here you go: Auburn upsets Georgia … Auburn upsets Alabama to win the SEC West … Auburn beats Georgia a second time, in the SEC title game.
OK, then what?
9. Alabama won again, 24-10 over LSU. But is the Crimson Tide vulnerable?
The answer is “Yes.” I know we put Bama under a microscope in an attempt to detect flaws. But the concerns are centered around Alabama’s depth on the defensive side.
Bama was never in trouble Saturday in disposing of LSU by two touchdowns, but LSU was just as physical up front, gained more yards overall, and ran the ball with more authority.
Here’s the debilitating problem for LSU: Coach Ed Orgeron and offensive coordinator Matt Canada don’t have a quarterback that can burn elite defenses.
LSU missed two could-have-been, should-have-been touchdown bombs because the mediocre Danny Etling failed to connect with open receivers.
Alabama has a play-making quarterback in Jalen Hurts who can run it and throw it and doesn’t rattle.
In a close contest, Hurts would beat Etling every time.
That isn’t why we’re pointing to Alabama’s vulnerability.
The problem: Alabama lost key defensive players — again — to injuries.
Senior linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton will miss the remainder of the season with a severe kneecap injury. Alabama can install another talented ‘backer to replace Hamilton, but that won’t cover his absence. Hamilton is a leader of the defense, responsible for calling out the front-seven adjustments at the line of scrimmage.
And Alabama must go on without interior linebacker Mack Wilson (foot) who was filling in for another banged-up starter, Rashaan Evans. And the Crimson Tide already were making do without two linebacker starters, Christian Miller and Terrell Lewis, who went down in Bama’s opening game.. Both Miller and Lewis were disruptive pass rushers. Two other linebackers, Anfernee Jennings and Dylan Moses, have also missed time.
Sure, Alabama crushes it in recruiting and has a deep reservoir of reserve talent. But Alabama’s linebacker depth is thinning.
In the LSU win, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick — arguably the Tide’s best defensive player — had to limp off multiple times because of a tight hamstring. His status going forward is unclear.
Alabama has entered it’s most challenging month of the regular season. One obstacle, LSU, was moved aside Saturday. But the Tide plays at No. 18 Mississippi State on Saturday, then confronts Auburn on the road (Nov. 25) in the rivals’ annual Iron Bowl brawl.
If Alabama reaches the SEC title game against East division champ Georgia, the Tide’s attrition on defense could be a factor. The Bulldogs have a healthier, more experienced defense that can match Alabama on pure athleticism and talent.
10. Realistically, Washington is the only Pac-12 hope for a playoff berth. It won’t be easy, and the Huskies (8-1) can’t afford to lose again.
Washington is a very good team — ranked 4th in the current Football Power Index at ESPN — with two problems: (1) a weak non-conference schedule; (2) getting upset by Arizona State in Tempe. The Huskies also have to go against three challenging opponents (at Stanford, Utah, Washington State) to end the regular season.
The FPI leans heavily to Washington winning all three, and then it would be on to the Pac-12 championship game, to presumably face USC. If the Huskies win out, their resume would have more heft. In the current FPI, Stanford is 14th, Washington State is 28th, and USC is 16th. Utah, the worst among the four, is 48th.
By going 4-0, Washington would dive into the one-loss pool. But as we wondered earlier: by then, how many one-defeat teams will there be? The way things look now, Washington would still likely rank behind other members of the one-loss club like Notre Dame, Clemson, the SEC title-game loser, and Wisconsin in the Badgers lose in the B1G championship. And the Huskies would probably be trailing the winner of this Saturday’s TCU at Oklahoma game. It’s a long way to go for the Huskies. Many hills to climb at all of that stuff.
Thanks for reading…