The first week of October brought with it the first true shake-up Saturday of the 2018 season, as eight top-25 teams lost, including five to unranked opponents. The Playoff race in particular was affected significantly, as Oklahoma and LSU fell from the ranks of the unbeaten and Auburn was eliminated from contention with its second loss. More impactful matchups loom this week as the grind of conference play is now upon us and the Playoff picture is continuing to take shape.
Notre Dame - Virginia Tech isn’t a particularly good team, but Notre Dame’s road trip to Blacksburg constituted one of remaining games you could have possibly deemed a “hurdle” for the Irish. They pulled away from the Hokies in the second half to move to 6-0 with most of their tougher games behind them. We’ll discuss the Irish at length below.
Texas - Don’t look now, but Texas’ shootout win over Oklahoma did more than hand the Sooners their first loss. The Longhorns now have the inside track to the Big XII regular-season crown, with a home date with West Virginia the one major hurdle remaining. Could Texas still lose almost any game at any time? Probably. But they have put themselves in a great position at the moment.
Oklahoma - What Kyler Murray’s fantastic play had masked through the season’s first several weeks was an Oklahoma defense that was ripe for the picking when it ran into a capable opponent. The Sooners’ downfall came even quicker than expected, as a Texas team not especially known for its offensive prowess put up more than 500 yards of offense and held a 21-point lead on Oklahoma at one point during the fourth quarter. Murray led a ferocious comeback to tie the game, but it just delayed the inevitable, as Texas marched into field goal range and put the Sooners out of their misery. In addition, Oklahoma fired longtime defensive coordinator Mike Stoops on Monday in the wake of the embarrassing loss. The Sooners can still win the Big XII and work their way back into the Playoff mix, but they’ll need some help in more ways than one.
LSU - The Tigers were living on borrowed time, and they were brought back down to earth by an average Florida team that was able to shed light on their offensive shortcomings. We expect LSU to fade off into the sunset as the schedule only gets tougher from here with Georgia coming to town. But who knows? Maybe they’ll bounce back and prove us wrong.
Auburn - It’s safe to say this season has not progressed as Auburn would have hoped after they pulled out a notable, if ugly, win over Washington on the opening weekend. That iffy performance was a sign of things to come, however, as the Tigers have only gotten worse offensively. It culminated with Gus Malzahn’s offense barely eclipsing 300 yards in an unwatchable 23-9 loss at Mississippi State that put the nail in Auburn’s fast-closing Playoff coffin.
Kentucky - Thoroughly dominated through four quarters, Kentucky nearly stole the game from Texas A&M by returning a fumble for a touchdown to send it to overtime. But a missed field goal followed by an A&M touchdown in the extra period sealed the Wildcats’ fate. Kentucky is a solid team, but their undefeated run figured to end sooner rather than later as their offense is far too one-dimensional to threaten higher-caliber teams. The Wildcats were never a true Playoff threat, but they still control their own destiny in the SEC East — so there’s that.
Stanford - We said last week the Cardinal might not be long for the Playoff race, and low and behold they bowed out quicker than we even imagined in the form of a three-score loss to Utah late Saturday night. Bryce Love hasn’t been playing, but even when he has played, this just isn’t the Stanford team many pundits thought it might be.
Notre Dame is a legitimate Playoff threat - Halfway through the season, Brian Kelly’s team remains unbeaten; and while the games aren’t played on paper, there isn’t a whole heck of a lot left on Notre Dame’s schedule in the way of potential stumbling blocks. Their road game at Southern Cal to end the season seems inarguably the toughest remaining game, and while perhaps there is only one game (Navy) that is absolutely certain to be a win, the Irish should be favored in every contest. The odds of a 12-0 Notre Dame getting left out of the Playoff? Exceedingly low. It would take four 13-0 Power 5 conference champions standing in their way. Based on recent history, that ain’t happening.
SEC also-rans are dropping like flies - There has always been a notion that this year’s SEC could come down to an undefeated Alabama facing an undefeated Georgia in the conference championship, and while there is still plenty of football to be played, the path is starting to clear a bit. There are potential tests left for both teams, certainly, but any other teams that could have muddied the picture — LSU, Auburn, and Kentucky all lost this week — have all gone by the wayside already. Alabama and Georgia are clearly the SEC’s two most capable teams, so we’ll see if they can make good on the potential undefeated showdown.
Major road tests for Playoff hopefuls - There are three very intriguing ranked-on-ranked matchups this weekend, as Georgia puts its undefeated record on the line when it travels to LSU while one-loss teams Washington and Wisconsin have opportunities for statement wins on the road against top-20 foes.
GAMES TO WATCH
No. 2 Georgia @ No. 13 LSU - 3:30 p.m.
No. 7 Washington @ No. 17 Oregon - 3:30 p.m.
No. 6 West Virginia @ Iowa State - 7 p.m.
No. 15 Wisconsin @ No. 12 Michigan - 7:30 p.m.
No. 19 Colorado @ USC - 10:30 p.m.