Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (fourth-down play-calling advice sold separately in State College):
WHO WON SEPTEMBER
It was a momentous opening month of the season — five Saturdays of action, meaning we have more data on more teams than usual turning the page to October. The Dash breaks down who were the biggest winners of September, and in the Second Quarter who were the biggest losers.
The Establishment (1). Every team that made the 2017 College Football Playoff — Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma and Clemson — is still undefeated. That’s a first in the playoff era; in each of the previous three seasons at least one playoff team from the previous season had lost at least once in September. If you were hoping for a change in the established order in the sport, it hasn’t happened yet and doesn’t seem likely to happen in any substantive way this season.
The Southeastern Conference (2). The league that has dominated the sport for more than a decade has teams ranked No. 1 (Alabama), No. 2 (Georgia), No. 5 (LSU), No. 8 (Auburn), No. 13 (Kentucky) and No. 22 (Florida) in the Associated Press Top 25. SEC teams took care of business in non-conference play, and are well positioned to once again put multiple teams in the playoff. Which would drive a good portion of the nation insane for the second straight season.
Notre Dame (3). It hasn’t exactly followed the preseason script, but everything has worked out so far for the Fighting Irish. They’ve changed starting quarterbacks, had four different leading rushers in five games and rolled unimpeded through all opponents to date. They’ve trailed for a total of two minutes and 12 seconds all season. Victories over Michigan and Stanford carry playoff-worthy cache at this point — and perhaps most significantly, the schedule is highly manageable the rest of the way.
Ed Orgeron (4). Some expected the season’s first month to end with Orgeron on the hot seat. Instead, his team is in the AP top five and Coach O’s in-game and postgame gravel-rumble-mumble interviews have become appointment viewing. (“Go Tigahs!”) Now his team may play the most important role in the playoff race over the next five Saturdays with games against Florida, Georgia and Alabama. Orgeron changed offensive coordinators and brought in graduate transfer quarterback Joe Burrow, and it’s worked out. The Tigers are one of just four teams nationally who haven’t thrown an interception.
New quarterbacks (5). Three first-year starting QBs head into October as arguably the top three candidates for the Heisman Trophy (give or take a Will Grier, McKenzie Milton or Bennie Snell): Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama; Kyler Murray of Oklahoma; and Dwayne Haskins of Ohio State. They’re all in the top five nationally in pass efficiency, and they’re combined for 50 touchdown passes and four interceptions to date.
Central Florida (6). Yeah, the Knights are still outside the Top 10 despite winning 17 straight games. But look where they are this year (13th) as opposed to where they were last year at this time (unranked). UCF is at least on the radar, and if its regular season-ending games against currently unbeaten Cincinnati and South Florida hold up, they will have opportunities to demand the attention of the playoff selection committee.
West Virginia (7). At 4-0, the Mountaineers remain in control of their own playoff destiny. The hurricane-related cancellation of a game at North Carolina State is looking like a good miss — it removed a losable game from the schedule, and not playing it hasn’t kept WVU from rising from 17th to ninth in the AP poll. Dana Holgorsen’s team should be heavily favored in all three October games (Kansas, at Iowa State, Baylor), potentially setting up a huge November.
FOUR FOR THE PLAYOFF
If today were Selection Sunday, this would be The Dash’s updated playoff bracket:
Top seed Alabama (8) against fourth seed Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl.
The Crimson Tide (5-0) continues to be scary. Yes, the opponent was only Louisiana, but Alabama dispatched the Ragin’ Cajuns with ruthless efficiency: six first-half offensive possessions, six touchdowns. Throw in a special teams score and it was 49-0 at halftime. Tua didn’t thrown an incompletion, and had a preposterous efficiency rating of 317 in abbreviated work. Next: at woeful Arkansas on Saturday.
The Fighting Irish (5-0) return to the bracket for the first time since after beating Michigan in Week 1. An offense that was prone to stalling after fast starts under Brandon Wimbush is firing on all cylinders with Ian Book. Average points per game with Wimbush as the starter: 23.3. Average points per game with Book as the starter: 47. Next: at Virginia Tech on Saturday.
Second seed LSU (9) against third seed Ohio State (10) in the Cotton Bowl.
The Tigers (5-0) handled Mississippi with ease Saturday — not quite the same ease Alabama did a couple of weeks earlier, but ease nonetheless. Joe Burrow had the best passing game of his career, throwing for 292 yards and three touchdowns, and continued his college career-long streak of not throwing an interception — 170 passes and counting. The LSU defense also shut down the Ole Miss passing attack, keeping the Rebels without a passing touchdown for the first time in nine games. Next: at Florida on Saturday.
The Buckeyes (5-0) earned arguably the most valuable victory of the season to date, a second consecutive one-point win over Penn State thanks to a second consecutive fourth-quarter comeback. Ohio State trailed 26-14 halfway through the fourth quarter, then pulled off touchdown drives of 75 and 96 yards to take the lead. Penn State sealed its own demise with James Franklin’s horrible fourth-and-five handoff call, and the Buckeyes got out of State College undefeated. Next: home against Indiana on Saturday.
Dropped out: Georgia.
Also considered: Georgia, Clemson, Oklahoma.
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