It was another exciting college football weekend full of a predictable Nebraska blowout, the death of the Clay Helton era at USC, and the almost end of Clemson’s long winning streak. At least Tennessee wasn’t here to lose by four touchdowns again! Don’t worry, we’ll have that next weekend!
Let’s start with the Tigers….
Clemson isn’t a Top 4 team
The Tigers barely held on to win against a North Carolina team coming off back to back losses to Wake Forest and Appalachian State. Clemson narrowly outgained the Tar Heels (331 to 290) and had to stop a UNC two point conversion with less than a minute to go to preserve the victory.
Trevor Lawrence isn’t even close to the same quarterback as he was in 2018. His completion percentage has fallen by 3 and a half points, and he’s already thrown 5 interceptions, as compared to just 4 all of last year. More troubling if you’re a Tiger fan, he looked confused and lost against what is really a pretty average UNC defense.
Clemson’s best win is by 14 at home over Texas A&M, a team that already has two losses and will probably finish with five. They beat the hell out of a Syracuse team that gave up 63 points to an awful Maryland team, and they destroyed a crappy Georgia Tech squad that is in the middle of transitioning to a completely different offense. There isn’t another ranked team on their schedule until MAYBE the ACC Title Game (or Wake Forest if they can remain undefeated until they meet in November), meaning they don’t really have a chance to improve their standing or secure another impressive, resume building win.
The good news for college football fans is that everyone (including me) came into 2019 assuming we’d get “Clemson-Alabama V” in the playoff again and the winner would be the national champion. That seems increasingly less likely. With how bad the Tigers have looked, coupled with how terrible the ACC is, their only chance to make the playoff is if they run the table. There are no mulligans for them this year.
Of course, if they aren’t one of the four best teams in the country at the end of the year BUT are still undefeated, are they really deserving of making the playoff? I get it, they can’t control the fact that their conference is abominable, but that puts the onus on them to beat the hell out of everyone on their schedule. I used to be convinced by the argument that “oh, they are the defending champion, they deserve to be able to defend that championship, particularly if they run the table.” Then Florida State did just that in 2014, went into the playoff against Oregon, and lost 59-20. Were the Seminoles one of the four best teams in 2014? Definitely not.
Isn’t that the goal of the playoff committee? To get the four best teams? The fact is, this isn’t the 2018 Tigers. They’ve lost most of their front seven and almost half their starters from last year. Every college team exists in a year long window, and no team SHOULD have the current season judged based on the season prior, because its a vastly different group of players.
With that said, if Clemson runs the table, they’re going to make it in the playoff, even if they have five or six more clunkers against average teams again. Then hopefully they’ll get blasted by Ohio State or Oklahoma or whoever and we’ll start reevaluating how we pick the four teams.
Washington Buried The Clay Helton Era At USC
The Trojans went into Seattle and lost by two touchdowns in an uninspired performance that Clay Helton needed to keep his job. USC sits at 3-2 with a trip to Notre Dame coming up in two weeks.
I don’t mean to gloat (wait a second, yes I do), but I’ve been on the “Clay Helton should be the coach on an eight year old travel baseball team” corner for as long as I’ve been writing about college football. Sam Darnold saved Helton’s tenure from being an absolute disaster, and even carried his sorry butt to a Pac 12 Championship back in 2017. But without Darnold as his starter, Helton is a paltry 9-13 as the full time head coach.
The question for USC is 1. Who is the new athletic director? 2. What are they going to do about Helton’s reported buyout of around $15 million and 3. Can they lure Urban Meyer?
I don’t know enough about university politics to predict who the new AD will be, but what I do know is that if I’m the Trojans, I’d call Urban and ask him, “How much?” Money should be no object in this hire, particularly not for a program that’s botched their last three coaching searches with Lane Kiffin, who was too immature, Steve Sarkisian, who loved the bottle too much, and Helton, who I can only assume was the janitor in the university cafeteria before he was elevated to head coach.
If Urban wants $12 million a year, let him have it. Do you want to win football games, or do you want to continue to be irrelevant? Urban would probably prefer the lifestyle in Southern Califorina and the Pac 12 better than what he faced in the SEC at Florida or in the Big Ten at Ohio State. People want to win out there, but they aren't insane. The media isn’t as aggressive, the fans aren’t as nuts, and they’d definitely still cover for him if he lied about not knowing about an assistant coach beating his wife, as long as his team was winning.
Nebraska Got Destroyed By Ohio State on Saturday Night Football
Ohio State won by 41 points and scored on their first 8 drives while holding the Cornhuskers to under 100 yards of offense until late in the third quarter.
This was supposed to be Ohio State’s first “real” test of the season, but they had all the answers, and frankly, have had them all season. Justin Fields tossed three touchdowns and ran for another and has yet to throw an interception all year. JK Dobbins had 177 rushing yards, and the Buckeye team combined for 368 of them. The defense had three interceptions and limited the Huskers to 47 passing yards. This might be the best team in college football.
As for Nebraska, the Huskers dropped to 7-10 in the Scott Frost era, and haven’t beaten a ranked team yet, losing by 46, 17, 5, and 41 in their four opportunities.
The Huskers aren’t punting on their favored son yet, and probably won't next year either, but this certainly isn’t what Husker fans expected when they hired Frost away from Central Florida two years ago.
Here's something to keep an eye on; Frost only coached two years at UCF, and Saturday was just his 43rd career game as a head coach. Sure, he went 13-0 in his second season at UCF, but are we sure he's a good coach? Larry Coker and Gene Chizik have won national championships early in their coaching tenures with someone else’s talent/Cam Newton, and both of them turned out to not be good, or even average coaches. Can we attribute those 13 wins in 2017 to Frost, or his predecessor George O'Leary, who seemingly left the cupboard not completely bare?
Mike Riley won 9 games in his second year in Lincoln and got fired a year later. Is Frost getting to 9 wins this year? Seems unlikely.
Auburn Blew Out Mississippi State
No team in the country has a combination of three better wins than the Tigers, who have now knocked off Oregon on a neutral site, Texas A&M on the road, and Mississippi State by 33 at home. Bo Nix had 335 passing yards in what was the most complete game he’s played as the Auburn quarterback, and the Tiger defense was dominant for three quarters before relenting a bit in the final period.
Auburn is on the right trajectory to make a run for the SEC Title and a playoff spot, but they still have four loseable games on the schedule (Florida, Georgia, LSU, Alabama) plus whoever they end up playing in a potential SEC Title Game (probably Georgia). Do I trust Nix, a freshman, to go 3-1 in those games? Honestly, no. They should beat the Gators in The Swamp this weekend, but I think there’s a good chance they’ll lose all three to LSU, ‘Bama, and Georgia.
Teams Alive For The Playoff
I think it’s safe to do this after five weeks. As always, every undefeated team in the Power 5 is alive, as well as every one loss team, with the exception of the ACC, where that league is so awful that a single loss eliminates you. No Group of 5 team will be included here because they don’t play anywhere near the same schedule/have the same talent. (* by the undefeated teams)
ACC: *Clemson, *Wake Forest
Virginia’s 15 point loss to Notre Dame, as well as their narrow win over Old Dominion, eliminates them from contention. No one should really buy Wake as a playoff team, but they could potentially be undefeated when they travel to Clemson on November 16th.
Big Ten: *Ohio State, *Wisconsin, *Iowa, *Minnesota, *Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan
Michigan State will probably drop out of contention on Saturday when they lose at Ohio State. Michigan hosts Iowa on Saturday in a game that could eliminate them. Minnesota… come on. Wisconsin goes to Ohio State on October 26th, but even if they lose, they could still run the table, beat the Buckeyes or someone else in the Big Ten title game, and make the playoff. Still a lot to be worked out here.
Big 12: *Oklahoma, *Baylor, TCU, West Virginia, Texas, Oklahoma State, Kansas State
Still a ton to be sorted out here as well. Texas could eliminate themselves in two weeks when they play Oklahoma. A team to keep an eye on is Baylor; the Bears are undefeated and get both Texas and Oklahoma at home. The problem is that those games happen back to back weeks.
Pac 12: Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Arizona State, Oregon, California, Washington
No undefeated teams left here, though one of these teams could potentially go on a run and finish 12-1. If I had to pick one, it’d probably be the Huskies because I think the Pac 12 comes down to the winner of the Oregon-Washington game on October 19th, which will be in Seattle. Outside of the Oregon game, all of Washington’s most difficult remaining showdowns are at home; Utah comes there on November 2, and the Apple Cup at the end of November will be there also.
SEC: *Alabama, *Georgia, *LSU, *Auburn, *Florida, Missouri
Mizzou isn’t a realistic contender here, particularly not with their one loss being to Wyoming. Plus they aren’t running the table anyway. I suppose there is a chance to get two SEC teams in, but I’d bet there’s enough chaos between the five undefeated squads that we could have all five with at least one loss, and maybe even four of them with two losses.
My Top Four
1. Ohio State
The Buckeyes haven’t played the greatest competition yet, but they’ve won every game by at least 24 points. The meat of their schedule is still left, though they get Michigan State, Penn State, and Wisconsin all in Columbus.
I don’t think the Tigers are beating Alabama because of the whole Orgeron-Saban thing, but they still have the best singular win of any team this season, their victory at Texas. LSU gets both Florida and Auburn in Baton Rouge in October.
The Sooners haven’t had the most challenging schedule yet either, but they’ve scored at least 48 points in every game and won all of them by at least 18. Jalen Hurts should be the Heisman frontrunner; through four games, he has more TDs and passing yards than both Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray had in their first four games with Lincoln Riley as their head coach.
I can’t put the Tide any lower than fourth, though I have concerns about how crappy their defense has looked through four weeks. Tua has been phenomenal (76.4 completion percentage, 23 TDs, no picks), but their defense gave up 476 yards (279 rushing) and 31 points to Ole Miss on Saturday. I guess that’s what happens when you start multiple freshman on defense. Auburn, Georgia, and LSU all have very potent offenses; if they Tide have to win every game relying on Tua to outscore people, eventually they’ll get torched badly enough by someone that they’ll lose, and it might even happen twice.
I’d have Georgia 5th, Auburn 6th, and Wisconsin 7th. Maybe Clemson comes in at 8… maybe.