There were a couple big matchups that we expected to have a profound effect on the Playoff race this past week, but college football is always full of surprises, as one game that figured to be lopsided turned the season on its head. We are just three weeks from the first College Football Playoff poll, and it will be quite interesting to see how the committee stacks up the teams in contention.
LSU - The Tigers’ matchup with Florida was one of the major games of the weekend, but things eventually went as expected with LSU winning by a couple touchdowns. One could argue LSU has the best pair of wins in the country, but there is also a reasonable counter-argument that both of those opponents were/are overrated — especially when it comes to Florida. The Tigers jumped Clemson in the AP poll this week to No. 2, so there is clearly a groundswell of support for them beginning to emerge. Battles with Auburn and Alabama still remain, so we will have plenty of opportunity to see if the hype is justified.
Penn State - The Nittany Lions’ efforts this year have been a bit of a mixed bag, but they finally tacked a quality win onto their resume with a prime-time road triumph at Iowa. It’s safe to say Penn State is a good team ... but how good? Michigan comes to town this week to perhaps provide another litmus test, and a win there would put the Nittany Lions firmly in the conversation leading up to the unveiling of the season’s first Playoff rankings.
Oklahoma - Like LSU, the Sooners were a somewhat substantial favorite over a rival (Texas) this week, and they took care of business in relatively similar fashion. Conventional wisdom held that the Texas game was the biggest challenge on the Sooners’ regular-season schedule this year, and that’s probably still true. That doesn’t mean, however, that we’re ready to pencil them into the final four just yet. While no single opponent on the remaining slate may be as difficult as Texas, there are enough games against seemingly quality opponents to offer pause. Upcoming matchups with West Virginia and Kansas State may not offer much resistance, but the Sooners’ last four games include home dates with respectable teams in Iowa State and TCU, along with trips to undefeated upstart Baylor and rival Oklahoma State.
Georgia - College football is amazing for so many reasons, one of which is its penchant for letting fans get extremely comfortable with what they think they know, and then blindsiding them with a result that nobody saw coming. Georgia was considered amongst the most elite group of teams that would be contending for Playoff spots, but — in the blink of an eye — an unexplainable loss at home to 2-3 South Carolina has left the Bulldogs scrambling to put back together the pieces of what was supposed to be their year. Is Georgia still exceedingly talented? Yes. Is Georgia still very good? Yes, we assume. We’ve seen teams recover from unexpected losses to make the Playoff before — Clemson alone has done it on two separate occasions. But that doesn’t change the fact that the Bulldogs’ margin for error has suddenly slipped to zero, and their remaining schedule suddenly elicits significantly more doubt than it did just a week ago.
Florida - We noted last week that Florida was living on borrowed time as a “Playoff contender” — I can’t stress the air quotes enough here, and they were finally knocked back to earth by LSU on Saturday night. The Gators again performed more admirably than we expected, but the LSU offensive attack and atmosphere proved to be too much at the end of the day. There are still opportunities to climb back into the race, but we still believe it much more likely that Florida will be a two- or three-loss team when it’s all said and done.
Texas - The Longhorns were a sexy dark-horse pick entering the season, but they’ve had two opportunities for resume wins thus far — home vs. LSU, neutral-site vs. Oklahoma — and couldn’t win either. Texas could still post another 10-win season, but a spot in the Playoff is now out of the question.
Iowa - The Hawkeyes seemingly flamed out as quickly as they emerged, with back-to-back tough losses ending any outside shot they had at making the field. There is still an opportunity to play spoiler, but that’s the most Iowa can hope for at this point.
Wake Forest - Wake had gained some momentum with a 5-0 start and had a reasonable shot to be undefeated when they came to Death Valley in November, but the Deacs managed to lose a game to Louisville in which they gained 668 yards yards of offense and registered FORTY first down. An amazing feat, indeed. There is still plenty to play for, as Wake can still bounce back and contend for the ACC Atlantic, but this probably wasn’t the way they envisioned the undefeated dream dying.
Clemson’s strength of schedule can’t catch a break - As previously mentioned, the Tigers wouldn’t have minded Wake Forest continuing its winning ways and giving them a potential quality win when November rolled around. That could still come to pass, but this was an unexpected blip on the radar. Not to mention, ACC Coastal favorite Virginia laid an absolute egg on Friday night in a loss at Miami, knocking another possible quality opponent for Clemson down a peg. Maybe the committee will pull out that bizarre “wins over teams with a winning record” thing from a couple years ago???
Are Baylor and Minnesota for real? - Raise your hand if you had these downtrodden programs as two of your last 12 undefeated teams. Neither team’s schedule has been particularly daunting, and there will certainly be tougher tests to come, but the Bears and Gophers have been a couple of the more pleasant surprises of the season. Could one or both of these teams play spoiler for the upper-echelon teams on their schedule?
GAMES TO WATCH:
No. 3 Clemson @ Louisville - Noon
No. 12 Oregon @ No. 25 Washington - 3:30 p.m.
No. 18 Baylor @ Oklahoma State - 4 p.m.
No. 17 Arizona State @ No. 13 Utah - 6 p.m.
No. 16 Michigan @ No. 7 Penn State - 7:30 p.m.