Two blue blood programs had bad weeks, and now their path to the playoff requires running through incredibly difficult schedules. Oklahoma started the day with a catastrophic loss, so we’ll begin with the Big 12.
Oklahoma led Iowa State 14-0 at home. The Sooners may have the nation’s best player in Baker Mayfield, and they were double digit favorites over an Iowa State team starting a walk-on at quarterback. So, did Oklahoma win?
Did Oklahoma--the No. 3 ranked team in the country--beat 2-2 Iowa State at home: pic.twitter.com/VZXUFTgTVo— Kendall (@kkaut) October 7, 2017
The Sooners were outscored 25-7 in the second half. The Cyclones deserve credit. Joel Lanning played linebacker and took snaps at quarterback. Matt Campbell has his team heading in the right direction. But the Sooners really shouldn’t lose that game.
The Big 12 still has four teams that could make the playoff: TCU, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. Across Twitter, many people proclaimed the Big’s hopes rest with TCU. That’s not true. A 12-1 Big 12 Champion has a good shot to make the playoff. Baylor and TCU are the only conference champions to miss the playoff with one loss. All of the Big 12’s contenders have non-conference power five wins, and they’d have made it through the Big 12 schedule at 9-1. That’d be an impressive resume against anyone in the PAC-12 or Big Ten. Remember, Oklahoma lost to a terrible Texas team in 2015. The Sooners still made the playoff.
The real issue with the Oklahoma game is that it narrows the Big 12’s playoff path. First, so many of the leagues best teams have not played each other. Among the league’s four best teams, only TCU and Oklahoma State have played. Some of the better teams have a good shot to knock off whatever team emerges as the league’s best. Second, Oklahoma’s loss doesn’t eliminate the Sooners, but it displays why they’re unlikely to run the table. Baylor lit up Oklahoma’s secondary. Iowa State did too. The Sooners stopped J.T. Barrett. He can’t throw downfield. Nearly every Big 12 offense can. How many people feel confident Oklahoma’s defense can hold up the rest of the way?
Few leagues have the depth of the Big 12. Iowa State is good—they should have beat Iowa. Texas is getting better and nearly upset USC in Los Angeles. Those are two teams in the bottom half of the league. West Virginia battled TCU yesterday. Other than Kansas, there are few easy games in the Big 12. Oklahoma found that out yesterday. TCU or Oklahoma State could find that out if Kansas State’s receivers start catching passes. Expecting anyone to finish 9-1 in this league is tough.
Michigan’s offense has been mediocre all season. When it poured at the Big House, the Wolverines offense couldn’t get it done. The Spartans had some horrible penalties late, but they held on. Michigan is now 4-1, and their loss gave us this GIF:
ICYMI: Michigan State went full petty on Michigan after beating them last night. pic.twitter.com/uOuKij93ge— The Shadow League (@ShadowLeagueTSL) October 8, 2017
There are five teams still alive in the Big Ten: Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin. The Badgers host Michigan. They avoid the other three Big Ten East teams, at least until the Big Ten Championship Game.
The Big Ten remains the craziest potential playoff league. If Penn State loses to Ohio State and finishes 11-1, would they make the playoff over a 12-1 Wisconsin team that loses in the Big Ten title game, or an 11-2 Ohio State team that beats them head-to-head but loses another game before the title? I’d like to see the committee just follow precedent and take Penn State in that scenario (Ohio State made it last year after losing the head-to-head to Penn State and not being the Big Ten Champion). But the committee stresses every year is a new year. We’ll find out if it’s a new chance to find a way to put Ohio State in the playoff.
Washington and Washington State are rolling. Chris Peterson is upset his team always plays the PAC-12 after dark game. And I totally understand his frustration. The PAC-12 has been underrepresented in the playoff rankings (the top 25) and in Heisman voting. East Coast voters don’t seem to stay awake or believe football is played outside the SEC, ACC and Big Ten. ESPN wants to fight this battle:
Did ESPN’s Herbstreit just lecture Chris Petersen about TV kickoff times? “You should be thanking ESPN” for the exposure.— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) October 7, 2017
Peterson is right. ESPN is wrong. The PAC-12’s best teams are often on late at night. Those games might get higher ratings than the dumpster fire that is early Big Ten action. But relatively, the PAC-12 games are getting way fewer viewers than if they were on at 3:30 or 7:00 central.
Washington and Washington State need to remain undefeated until the Apple Cup on November 25th. The Huskies end the season with Oregon, at Stanford, Utah and Washington State. That’s a tough run. While Washington State has Stanford, at Utah and at Washington to close the season.
If one of those teams emerges with one loss heading into the PAC-12 title game, they’d likely face USC in the PAC-12 Championship Game. The Trojans have Utah, at Notre Dame and at Colorado left. USC might lose again and could play spoiler in the PAC-12 title game.
Miami rallied to beat Florida State with a touchdown pass with :06 left. The Hurricanes are 4-0. But they have Georgia Tech (the option has ruined many dreams), Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and Virginia left. They’d also have to beat Clemson in the ACC title. The Hurricanes are still very much alive:
Clemson remains the safest bet to make the playoff. Their defensive line is the best unit in the country, and they already beat Virginia Tech. Clemson’s social media account is also fire:
2️⃣ 8️⃣ in stride— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) October 8, 2017
It's a beautiful thing. pic.twitter.com/YM0xSuM1U0
Alabama didn’t dominate Texas A&M. That’s a win for the Aggies. Kellen Mond is still playing quarterback way too early, and the Tide can’t play like they did against Texas A&M and make it through Auburn and Georgia. But Damien Harris is one of a million men playing for Alabama that should get them rolling again:
The Iron Bowl should settle the SEC West crown. Auburn is now 5-1. Even if they lose to Georgia, they’d have the head-to-head over Alabama with a win in the final week of the regular season.
The SEC could get two playoff teams. If Alabama finishes 11-1 with a loss in the final week to Auburn, the committee could decide Alabama is better than a conference champion with one loss. The committee left Ohio State out in 2015 when the Buckeyes finished 11-1. But Alabama seems a lot more dominant than a 2015 Ohio State team that looked anemic against Michigan State in Columbus.
Georgia could also make it too. The Bulldogs still need to beat Auburn on Veteran’s Day, but their remaining games are fairly easy. The SEC is pretty mediocre after the top three. With those three running away from the other 11 teams, the SEC could get two teams. And the SEC always seems to find a way to get the benefit of the doubt when things are close. Nick Saban may have caused SEC schools to fire good coaches that lost to him, but he makes people believe the rest of the league is better than it actually is.
As always, these are my guesses for the end of the season.
1) Clemson- The Tigers are much better than anyone in the ACC.
2) Alabama- The Tide’s schedule is ridiculously easy until the Iron Bowl. If they don’t lose two times, they’re probably making the playoff.
3) Washington State- The Cougars need to win at Washington. I think they do.
4) Penn State- I like the odds of Penn State making it through the Big Ten with one loss more than I like the chances of someone doing that in the Big 12.
This is also my guess for how things end up. Bryce Love should win, if the voting took place today. But the PAC-12 hasn’t fared well in close Heisman races, and Stanford already has two losses.
1) Saquon Barkley- Penn State’s star running back has differentiated himself with return yards and receiving yards. But he’s average under five yards per carry three times this season. He doesn’t have a hold on this award.
2) Byrce Love- Love is averaging 10.5 yards per carry and has a run of at least 53 yards in every game. He should easily eclipse 2,000 yards rushing.
3) Baker Mayfield- The Iowa State game was a big blow to his Heisman chances, but he had his Heisman moment against the Buckeyes. If Oklahoma wins out, he’ll be favored to win the award. The problem is that Oklahoma winning out seems unlikely.