Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making the news in college football (“A Little Kick For Seth, A Big Step For Aggiekind” T-Shirts sold separately at College Station):
FIRST QUARTER: DOWN ‘BAMA, AND MORE TO FOLLOW
For the first time since 2014, the powerful trio of Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson all lost before mid-October. But here’s the thing: The Crimson Tide and Buckeyes were always in the college football playoffs that season, with Ohio State winning it all. So the sky doesn’t fall in Tuscaloosa or Columbus (Clemson is another matter; wear a helmet if you’re on campus).
The point is, there are plenty of possibilities for losing teams to reach the playoffs, as the remaining undefeated field will be wiping out. There are 13 left, and eight of them clash at some point: Kentucky to Georgia on Saturday; Michigan to Michigan State on October 30; SMU in Cincinnati on November 20; and Oklahoma at Oklahoma State on Nov. 27. The winners will obviously improve their playoff resumes, and the losers could be in the mix as well. (Some of these teams will likely lose before these matches are played.)
Of the other five, only two are in Power 5 conferences and in realistic consideration for the playoffs if they run the table: Wake Forest and Iowa. The Demon Deacons are a pleasantly surprising story, with their first record 6-0 since 1944 – a time when the student body was 100% white and 79% male, and the college was actually located in Wake Forest and not Winston. -Salem, some 100 miles away. But the Demon Deacons have won their last two games by late field goals against poor competition; their hour is coming. Iowa, with their formidable belief in the fundamentals of the game, could deepen this season without a loss, but it’s hard to see the Hawkeyes go 13-0. Maybe 12-0, but that 13th could be the hardest part.
Outside of the undefeated, here’s how The Dash would order current teams to a loss in terms of playoff viability:
Alabama (1). How serious is the loss: Three rifle points on the road in front of 100,000 fans isn’t that great, but Texas A&M were an unranked team with two losses at the start of the game. How good are the wins: beating Mississippi by three touchdowns is strong; surviving in Florida is strong enough.
Even with the loss, the Crimson Tide (5-1) controls their own destiny in the SEC West – win and travel to Atlanta for the Southeastern Conference Championship game. The hard part is what would happen if they got there, likely needing to beat Georgia to advance to the playoffs. It’s possible that a two-losing Alabama team could still come in if they play against the Bulldogs, but for now, that’s definitely the hard way. The Tide have proven to be an unstable road team so far, especially defensively. (Remainder of road games: at Mississippi State on Saturday and Auburn on Nov. 27.) If Alabama reaches 11-1, they could still be out of the top four, but beating Georgia could end up being the best win in the world. a team on their playoff resume.
Pennsylvania State (2). How serious is the loss: three points on the road against a top-five team is barely enough to put a team out of action. Then factor in the injury to quarterback Sean Clifford, who left the game with the Nittany Lions leading 17-3. This is a huge mitigating factor. That victories are good: beating Auburn is good; beating Wisconsin and Indiana is OK.
Ultimately, the Big Ten East will settle between October 30 and November 27, when the four teams at the top of that division will all go head to head. But if Penn State can get through the 11-1 slate and head for a potential rematch with Iowa in the Big Ten title game, the opportunity is there. Of course, it’s also impossible to see the Nittany Lions doing this if Clifford is out for one of the key games remaining on the schedule. They strength being able to beat Illinois without him after an open date to update substitute Ta’Quan Roberson after his painful outing in Iowa, but that’s about it.
Oregon (3). How serious is the loss: Among the teams on this list, the Ducks lost to the weaker Stanford team (3-3). But they also had a host of circumstances that must be taken into account: offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead missed the game due to illness; race leader CJ Verdell left the game in the third quarter due to injury; and Stanford tied the game with an untimed timeout at the end of regulation after a controversial penalty in the end zone. How good are the wins: Beating the Ohio State in the Horseshoe on the penalty kill defensively, in a game where Oregon was clearly the better team that day, is a team’s best win this season.
Unfortunately for the Ducks, the remaining schedule does not offer many opportunities to improve in quality. Every opponent remaining in the regular season has lost at least twice. It is possible that one-loss Oregon and one-loss Arizona State would meet in the Pac-12 Championship Game, which would help the winner recover. But the Ducks also face so many injuries they might not be able to make it 11-1. And a two-losing Pac-12 team certainly won’t make it to the playoffs.
Ohio State (4). How serious is the loss: The Buckeyes were beaten by a good team in Oregon, but made it at home and never led the game. Their best argument for downplaying the result is that this was the second week of the season with a young team still in the process of discovering itself. How good are the wins: Maryland routing made a statement, but we’ll see if that still holds up later in the season (the Terrapins have a habit of falling apart as the year progresses); beating Minnesota isn’t bad.
Like the rest of its Responsible Division, the bulk of the Ohio State’s work is yet to come. If the Buckeyes continue their offensive attack of the last few weeks, they will be tough to beat. If they go through Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State and Iowa at 12-1, they’re in great shape, unless they’re still blocked by Oregon. Ohio State fans should cheer on the demise of the Ducks to break free from this potential playoff hurdle.
Baylor (5). How serious is the defeat: good opponent, bad performance. It was a double-digit road loss to a currently undefeated team (Oklahoma State), in a game the Bears dragged on for the final 55 minutes. We’ll see how good the Cowboys end up being. How good are the wins: Beating Iowa State is the iconic victory so far, and it’s not exactly a flag planter at this point. Baylor hasn’t done anything notable on the road.
The Bears (5-1) have opportunities ahead of them, and they’re all in Waco. The next two games are against ranked opponents (BYU and Texas), and Oklahoma comes to town on November 13. And there’s the possibility of another big game in the Big 12 title game. But Baylor is a playoff contender until he can prove otherwise by racking up more quality wins.
Notre-Dame (6). How serious is the loss: losing by 11 at home will leave a mark, but the opponent was undefeated Cincinnati. As stated above with Baylor, it is a loss of good opponent and poor performance. What is the quality of the victories: not very. The Fighting Irish have a trio of three-point wins over mediocre teams that were pulled out in the end, as well as bigger winning margins against Big Ten Wisconsin and Big Ten Mid-Pack Team Purdue.
It’s hard to find a way to get Notre Dame to the playoffs at 11-1. A schedule that seemed to have some juicy clashes before the season collapsed, with Wisconsin, North Carolina and USC. If your best argument is losing to a great team, that’s not much. And even against average competition, it’s hard to see this Irish side go all the way with just one loss.
FOUR FOR THE Playoffs
How The Dash would define the fork if today was Selection Sunday:
Orange Bowl: superior seed Georgia (7) vs fourth seed Michigan (8).
The Bulldogs (6-0) have been the best team in the country all season, but there’s no longer reason to dispute that with Alabama’s performance at College Station. Georgia continued to roll with Stetson Bennett as quarterback in place of injured JT Daniels, but mostly they rolled to Auburn behind his ridiculous defense. Auburn’s long-running game: nine yards. Georgia are allowing 5.5 points per game, with no one else in the country holding their opponents single digits.
Next for Georgia: Kentucky enters the hurdles on Saturday in a big way.
The Wolverines (6-0) are the newcomers to the bracket, after their closest scuff of the season in Nebraska. Michigan was pushed down the road by the Cornhuskers, but produced a late turnover and then converted the winning basket. Jim Harbaugh’s offense is becoming more and more versatile, with some big moments in the passing game and Hassan Haskins advancing as a second weapon in the running game alongside Blake Corum.
Next for Michigan: Northwestern home on October 23.
Cotton bowl: second seed Iowa (9) against the third seed Cincinnati (10).
The Hawkeyes (6-0) did what they do on Saturday so well, beating Penn State with takeout and a field position and knocking out the Nittany Lions quarterback of the game. Quarterback Spencer Petras overcame a horrific start to the game to deliver a huge touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, and Iowa pulled just enough of their running game to keep the Nittany Lions’ defense honest and put that in place. TD pass. The post-game field storm was a memory bank for everyone involved.
Next for Iowa: Purdue at home on Saturday.
The Bearcats (5-0) did what good teams do, dominating an inferior opponent and leaving no hope of upset. Crushing Temple 52-3, Cincinnati ran for a season-high 279 yards, with Jerome Ford having his best day as a Bearcat (149 yards rushing, two touchdowns). Cincinnati also had six season-high sacks against the Owls.
Next for Cincinnati: Central Florida at home on Saturday, in what looked like a big game before Golden Knights quarterback Dillon Gabriel was injured.
Dropped out: Penn State.
Also considered: Michigan State, Oklahoma, Alabama, Oregon, Penn State, Ohio State, Oklahoma State.