For the third consecutive week, a top-10 team fell in stunning fashion and shook up the potential College Football Playoff race.
Unranked Kansas State’s 48-41 upset of No. 5 Oklahoma on Saturday follows South Carolina’s upset of Georgia and Illinois’ stunner against Wisconsin in jumbling the top of the rankings.
With the Sooner bandwagon toppling over this week, much like its Schooner did last week, Oklahoma will start the CFP rankings well outside the top four. Their loss, combined with Notre Dame’s faceplant at Michigan, shakes up what the initial CFP rankings will look like on Nov. 5.
It’s safe to assume that No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 LSU and No. 3 Ohio State will be the top three teams in some order when the rankings are announced. All three have byes this upcoming week. Expect LSU to be ranked No. 1 because of the amount of quality wins – at No. 15 Texas, No. 7 Florida and No. 9 Auburn. (Those were the rankings at the time of the wins.) The best news may be for the SEC, which has significantly better chances of getting in two teams with the Big 12 potentially out of the picture.
From there, No. 4 Clemson should be well positioned. The Tigers lack high-end wins, but it’s still hard to imagine them being significantly penalized. Where Clemson starts in the rankings will be interesting, as they really lack a marquee win, and the rest of their schedule doesn’t afford them more opportunities.
No. 5 Oklahoma’s loss puts them in a difficult position. The Sooners lack an impressive non-conference victory, as their trip to UCLA won’t matter much to the committee. If they end up a one-loss conference champion, it’s easy to see a scenario where they are low in the pecking order compared to other one-loss teams. They may only play one ranked team the remainder of the season, as they travel to No. 14 Baylor on Nov. 16 and may see them again in the league title game.
No. 6 Penn State benefits a ton from Oklahoma’s loss, as the Nittany Lions would become a more attractive candidate as a one-loss team. They have a strong schedule remaining, playing at both No. 17 Minnesota and No. 3 Ohio State. But if Ohio State is Penn State’s only loss, it’d be tough to get in as it’s difficult to see a scenario where there’s an appetite for two Big Ten teams. If Penn State beats Ohio State and lose in the conference title game, they’d have a better shot than not being a division champion.
Next weekend’s game between No. 7 Florida and No. 10 Georgia can be considered a playoff-elimination game. Both need a marquee win to vault them into relevancy and a lot more wins after that.
No. 8 Notre Dame’s dispiriting 45-14 loss at No. 18 Michigan ends any faint hope of the Irish crashing into the College Football Playoff again this season. What’s more concerning for Notre Dame than the loss itself was the utter futility it experienced on both sides of the ball. Michigan’s second-half mettle in the loss against Penn State and definitive victory tonight have revived long-term hope after the program’s persistent struggles in big games under coach Jim Harbaugh.
The biggest winner with Oklahoma’s loss may be No. 11 Oregon. The Ducks’ only loss came to Auburn to open the season when they squandered a 21-6 second-half lead. Oregon has stormed through their schedule since and is the heavy favorite to win the Pac-12. The initial rankings will be an interesting litmus test for how the Pac-12 is perceived nationally, as a one-loss Oregon team could have a strong argument over a one-loss Oklahoma team at the end of the season.
This year’s Game of the Century
The stage is set for No. 1 Alabama to play No. 2 LSU in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on Nov. 9 as both teams have byes next week.
LSU outlasted No. 11 Auburn, 23-20, on Saturday at Tiger Stadium to improve to 8-0. Alabama improved to 8-0 after dismantling Arkansas, 48-7, without starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Is LSU ready for its stiffest test? “We’re going to find out in two weeks, I’ll tell you that,” Tigers coach Ed Orgeron said after the game.
Both teams will enter with disparate storylines. LSU has the Heisman Trophy favorite, senior quarterback Joe Burrow, who bolstered his sterling résumé by completing 32-of-42 for 321 yards and one touchdown. He also ran for another that sealed the game.
Alabama’s quarterback doesn’t enter the game with the same air of infallibility. The health of Tua Tagovailoa’s injured ankle will be the biggest storyline in the sport until the first snap of that game on Nov. 9. He had a procedure on his injured ankle last week, and the entire state is on eggshells regarding his potential return.
The other big storyline will be how these two programs have overhauled themselves since the infamous 9-6 regular season game in 2011. LSU punter Brad Wing may have been the best player on the field that night. This will feel a little different, as both schools entered Saturday with two of the country’s top five scoring offenses. In 2011? Well, Alabama finished the year No. 18 in scoring offense and LSU was No. 45. These Tigers (50.1 ppg) are nearly three touchdowns better per game (29.6) than the 2011 Tigers. The game will showcase just how extreme the football world has changed.
Gophers still golden
The first three games of Minnesota’s season essentially came down to the final possession, with the Gophers wheezing out victories against South Dakota State, at Fresno State and Georgia Southern. Let’s just say the 3-0 start didn’t have anyone in the Big Ten West chattering about the Gophers in contention to win the league title.
But as the season has worn on, Minnesota appears to be gathering strength. And the notion of the No. 17 Gophers representing the league in the conference title game is beginning to appear more realistic.
The Gophers blasted Maryland, 52-10, on Saturday to improve to 8-0 for the first time since 1941. The Gophers won all eight games that season and were crowned national champions. The most impressive part for Minnesota may be the improvement of the defense, as the 10 points surrendered to the Terrapins were the most Minnesota had allowed in the past three games.
The Gophers have a bye this week, and they’ll return to action against Penn State in Minneapolis on Nov. 9. While Alabama’s game at LSU will be the most prominent game on Nov. 9, it’s a testament to the job that Fleck has done that there will be a marquee game between two top-15 teams in Minneapolis that day.
JK Dobbins announces his own Heisman candidacy
We expounded earlier in the day about the four-sack dominance of Chase Young and how that vaulted him into the Heisman Trophy race. Young’s monster game overshadowed the elite effort by teammate J.K. Dobbins in Ohio State’s 38-7 victory.
Dobbins finished with 163 rushing yards on 20 carries and caught three passes for 58 yards. And Ohio State’s victory may have changed the narrative of who’ll end up as the best tailback in the Big Ten and beyond. Ohio State’s defense suffocated Badger star Jonathan Taylor, who finished with just 52 yards on 20 carries. “J.K. ran with an edge all day,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “I think he’s the best running back in the country.”
Dobbins entered the game clearly motivated by the matchup, as his teammates teased him about it and his coaches motivated him with it.
“Jonathan Taylor is a wonderful back, but [Dobbins] felt like he wanted to be the best running back in the game today,” Day said. “It had a lot to do with the way he ran and how he ran but it also had to do with the offensive line.”
With Dobbins running like an All-American and Fields proving to be the dual-threat that many envisioned in high school, it’s difficult to imagine any team slowing Ohio State until Penn State comes to Columbus on Nov. 23 or perhaps the College Football Playoff. Regardless, Ohio State heads into a bye poised to be ranked — perhaps No. 1 — in the first College Football Playoff ranking. “This is where all the memories are made,” Day said of the stretch coming up in November. “This is what it all comes down to.”
Baylor’s last stand
The final undefeated team in the Big 12 went 1-11 two seasons ago. Baylor’s bye week provided another reason to marvel at the job that Matt Rhule has done in Waco in the wake of the toxic mess that Art Briles left behind.
Baylor (7-0) is 4-0 in Big 12 play and has back-to-back home games in November against Oklahoma (Nov. 16) and Texas (Nov. 23) to showcase how different the program is under Rhule than Briles. The last time national attention flowed through Waco, it was to cover the waves of allegations of sexual misconduct that defined and ultimately undid Briles’ tenure there.
Rhule rebuilt faster than anyone could have imagined, overhauling the roster to bolster the program in the same model that he built Temple in his prior job. Rhule’s Owls won a league title in 2016 and he’s excited that Baylor, in his third season there, is in the conversation to do the same.
“The thing that we wanted to do was show that you can do things right off the field and be successful on the field,” Rhule said by phone on Saturday night. “We’re proving that you can have kids doing the right things — community service and graduating at high levels and still play on the field. That, to me, is what Baylor is supposed to stand for. Through seven games we’ve proven that you can do things right on and off the field and not make excuses on either end.”
A few weeks back, there was a clamor for Joe Moorhead to return to his East Coast roots and perhaps take the Rutgers job. With Mississippi State in a four-game tailspin, any notion of him going to Rutgers has disappeared, as the school has no interest in hiring someone else’s problem. For Mississippi State, each loss has provided a reminder to Bulldog fans that Moorhead appears destined to underachieve for the second consecutive season.
Mississippi State’s 49-30 loss at Texas A&M on Saturday was even worse than the score, as they trailed 42-17 at the end of the third quarter and looked generally milquetoast and uninspired. Moorhead took the rare step of attempting to rally his team by doing the Oklahoma drill in pregame warmups. That tactic flopped.
The Bulldogs (3-5) travel to Arkansas (2-6) on Saturday for a battle of dueling hopelessness, a must win for a potential bowl and perhaps for Moorhead’s future in Starkville. Certainly, Dan Mullen overhauled the expectations at a school that had been lodged as an SEC cellar dweller for decades.
But few could have envisioned Moorhead, who arrived hailed as an offensive genius, sputtering so badly with the talent that Mullen let behind. State squandered a historic amount of defensive talent last season, as they sent three first-round picks to the NFL draft amid a disappointing 8-5 season.
But more puzzling has been the Bulldogs’ inability to muster any semblance of an offense — they entered the game ranked No. 92 in scoring offense and put forth another generally impotent performance. (They scored in the final minute to make the score look better.)
With Rutgers lacking interest in Moorhead, it appears he and Mississippi State are stuck with one another. And if they continue this free fall, it will be an interesting early test of John Cohen’s tenure as athletic director to see if he shows patience with him.
One of the gifts of the variance of having 130 teams across the college football landscape is that there’s always a rollicking story that emerges, unexpectedly and delightfully.
That honor this season goes to SMU, which is 8-0 after beating Houston on Thursday night. This is the first time since 1984 SMU has started this hot, and the specter of an undefeated regular season appears within reach. For a school ravaged for decades by the death penalty, it’s a generational comeback story.
SMU’s biggest remaining obstacle is playing at Memphis next week. The Tigers outlasted Tulsa, 42-41, on Saturday night. Both Memphis (7-1) and No. 16 SMU deserve to be ranked in that game.
If the Mustangs reach the AAC title game, they’d likely play No. 18 Cincinnati, as the Bearcats are headed toward another double-digit win season under Luke Fickell. It’s reasonable to argue that the AAC is deeper than the ACC this season, as that league is struggling to find footing outside of undefeated and untested Clemson.
Navy flips the switch
The other big story in the AAC is the re-emergence of Navy in the league title race. Navy is 6-1 and 4-1 in AAC play after winning one of Saturday’s most exhilarating games, as Bijan Nichols drilled a 48-yard game winning field goal to deliver a 41-38 victory over Tulane.
Navy atoned for squandering a 24-0 lead, as it held on in frenetic fashion. The high final score obscures one of the country’s most impressive defensive turnarounds. In the offseason, Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo overhauled his defensive staff in the wake of a 3-10 season.
Navy finished No. 103 in scoring defense last year at 33.5 points per game. Niumatalolo brought in little-known Brian Newberry from Kennesaw State, who had a strong statistical record at the FCS level.
Navy entered the game No. 12 in scoring defense at 16.2 points. And while that number will be inflated a bit, it’s still remarkable considering they started the day giving up more than half as many points as the season before.
Look for Navy to enter its Nov. 16 game at Notre Dame with a 7-1 record and be a factor in AAC play to the end after one of the offseason’s savviest hires.
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