Clemson and Alabama handled their business in ranked divisional matchups, while Georgia got a massive scare on its trip to Missouri. A whopping eight teams ranked between 15 and 25 suffered losses, paving the way for a new crop of teams to enter the back half of the rankings. Will any of those teams ascend into the race for the Playoff, or are they just the next group of teams to get knocked off?
Clemson - The Tigers exacted their revenge over NC State with a convincing primetime win in Death Valley to seize early control of the ACC Atlantic Division. The Clemson defense — embarrassed a week ago against Wake Forest — held the Wolfpack to just 279 yards of offense, and the offense put together another clean performance behind DJ Uiagalelei to add a quality notch to the Playoff belt. The Tigers hit the road for back-to-back divisional games and will look to build on this encouraging effort.
Ole Miss - Kentucky reached Ole Miss’ red zone twice in the final minutes of the game, but the Rebels forced two fumbles and escaped with a 22-19 win in the battle between SEC upstarts. We have grown accustomed to Lane Kiffin offenses throwing the ball all over the yard, but this version is making its hay on the ground. The difference is stark, in fact, as Ole Miss ranks fifth in the nation in rushing and just 98th in passing. The Rebels should be able to add a couple easy victories (in theory) the next two weeks at Vandy and at home against Auburn, ideally while rounding their passing attack into form.
Oklahoma State - The jury was still out on Oklahoma State through three games, but some degree of clarity came in the form of a 36-25 road win at Baylor this past week. The Cowboys were the length of a football away from potentially making the four-team field a season ago, and they appear to again be one of the Big XII’s best candidates in 2022. Plenty of tests remain, and we will see how well this team navigates the final two-thirds of its season, but the Pokes are firmly on the Playoff radar.
Kentucky - The Wildcats will be kicking themselves for the rest of the season, as time and time again they found ways to hand the game to Ole Miss on Saturday — botching multiple kicks, tripping their own man in the open field on a kick return, and fumbling the ball on back-to-back trips to the red zone in the game’s final minutes. This is still a solid team that should contend in the SEC East, and we won’t eliminate them from Playoff contention yet because of the opportunities that lie ahead. There is no margin for error left, however.
NC State - NC State had a massive opportunity to position itself for an ACC Championship run, but Clemson controlled the game and put a damper on the Wolfpack’s potential dream season. Devin Leary and the offense couldn’t get much going at all — rushing for just 34 yards and averaging just 5 yards per passing attempt — and the defense gradually succumbed to an efficient Clemson attack that forged a lead as large as 17 points late in the game. The odds on Dave Doeren’s team making it anywhere near the Playoff have taken a substantial hit, and we certainly won’t shed a tear.
Washington - The Huskies were beginning to emerge as a dark-horse threat in the Pac 12, and there is still a path to make a run at the conference title. However, a loss to UCLA has stifled Washington’s momentum and suddenly vaulted the Bruins to flavor-of-the-week status on the west coast. Michael Penix and Co. made an effort to rally in the fourth quarter, but surrendering 500 yards of offense did the Huskies in and will slide them to the backburner when it comes to the early Pac 12 race. Meanwhile, we will keep an eye on UCLA as they host Utah in a pivotal matchup this week.
SEC up for grabs? - Entering the season, it seemed a mere formality that reigning national title participants Georgia and Alabama would run roughshod through the SEC and meet once again in the conference title game — and perhaps the Playoff. It may still play out that way, but both teams have given us reason for pause in that assumption. After Georgia went through the motions in an underwhelming win against Kent State, we figured that was an anomaly that would be quickly rectified. The Bulldogs, however, had to fight tooth and nail to overcome a double-digit deficit to escape SEC doormat Missouri just a week later. Alabama, for its part, has looked dramatically better since escaping Texas on the road a few weeks back, but the injury sustained by quarterback Bryce Young on Saturday against Arkansas has his immediate availability up in the air. All this to say, while these two heavyweights are still the favorites to emerge from their respective divisions, the path to an undefeated showdown seems a little less certain.
GAMES TO WATCH:
No. 8 Tennessee @ No. 25 LSU - Noon
No. 17 TCU @ No. 19 Kansas - Noon
No. 11 Utah @ No. 18 UCLA - 3:30 p.m.
Texas Tech @ No. 7 Oklahoma State - 3:30 p.m.
Washington State @ No. 6 USC - 7:30 p.m.