It was Alabama’s turn to play escape artist this week, as the Tide had to hold off a last-second goal-line pass to muster a 24-20 home win over Texas A&M. Now they have to try to get their act together for a monster trip to Tennessee — just one of six matchups between ranked teams this weekend. The Playoff picture will begin coming into focus this Saturday.
UCLA - We figured UCLA was just a nice story that would come to an unfortunate end against a team of Utah’s caliber, but the Bruins controlled their game against the Utes with an incredible offensive performance that saw them throw for 300 yards and run for another 200. Dorian Thompson-Robinson has always flashed talent at quarterback but is flourishing as a fifth-year senior, and running back Zach Charbonnet has rushed for 615 yards in just five games. Chip Kelly was subjected to plenty of ridicule during his first three seasons as head coach at UCLA, but after a solid 2021 campaign he has the Bruins eyeing new heights.
TCU - The Horned Frogs followed up their blowout win over Oklahoma with a win at Kansas in a battle of Big XII upstarts. TCU has been impressive, namely on offense, but we will find out even more about this team when it hosts Oklahoma State this weekend. The alarming stat from this past week was the Frogs surrendering 540 yards of offense to a Kansas team that was missing its starting quarterback for the second half of the game. TCU can outscore at lot of teams, but it will need to ratchet up its defense substantially if it wants to make a true run at the Playoff.
Tennessee - We certainly don’t view this year’s LSU team as any kind of relevant measuring stick, but the Vols’ dominant effort in Baton Rouge on Saturday was still enough to raise an eyebrow. There’s no doubt this program is trending positively under Josh Heupel, but the question of whether a full turnaround has already occurred should be answered this week when Tennessee hosts Alabama in the SEC’s biggest game of the season so far. Hendon Hooker has been playing like a Heisman candidate at quarterback, and that will need to continue if the Vols have a chance at knocking off an Alabama team that should be out for blood after nearly losing to Texas A&M.
Utah - The Utes have certainly been one of the season’s early disappointments, as they now add a road loss to UCLA to a resume that already features an opening-week defeat at Florida. Utah is now, at best, on absolute life support when it comes to any prayer of threatening the four-team field at season’s end. In other words, the Utes would need to win out, win the Pac 12, and have a bunch of teams suffer a bunch of losses to give them a shot at being the Playoff’s first-ever two-loss participant. Best of luck with that.
Kentucky - There was still plenty to play for after a heartbreaking loss to Ole Miss a week ago, but the Wildcats promptly went out and laid an egg without quarterback Will Levis in an embarrassing home loss to South Carolina. Kentucky is still capable of putting together a quality season if it gets Levis back soon, but any higher hopes are now shot after back-to-back conference losses.
Kansas - The Jayhawks were perhaps the best story of the season’s first half with their unexpected 5-0 start, earning their first-ever College Gameday visit for last Saturday’s matchup with TCU. Kansas fought admirably after losing its starting quarterback in the first half but ultimately fell 38-31 to the Horned Frogs, putting a halt to the dream season for now. This team was never a true Playoff threat this season, but Lance Leipold has done an incredible job with this Kansas program in just his second year in Lawrence.
Separation Saturday - The slate this weekend is loaded with six matchups of ranked teams — at least three of which are guaranteed to have a direct impact on the Playoff race as undefeated teams within the top 13 of the AP poll square off. Alabama-Tennessee is the headliner, but Penn State-Michigan and Oklahoma State-TCU are major midseason games that will help establish early pecking orders in their respective conferences. Plenty of other games have the potential to throw a wrench into things as well, so get that television setup ready to go.
GAMES TO WATCH:
No. 10 Penn State @ No. 5 Michigan - Noon
No. 3 Alabama @ No. 6 Tennessee - 3:30 p.m.
No. 8 Oklahoma State @ No. 13 TCU - 3:30 p.m.
No. 15 NC State @ No. 18 Syracuse - 3:30 p.m.
No. 7 USC @ No. 20 Utah - 8 p.m.