Three weeks into the season, and this is shaping up to be a messy playoff race. Before turning to playoff and Heisman predictions, we’ll go conference by conference.
Texas was nearly back. With less than a minute left, the Longhorns led USC 17-14.
But the Trojans were not ready to leave no margin of error for the rest of the season. USC drove down the field and kicked a field goal to force overtime. Iin the second overtime, Sam Ehlinger fumbled trying to score a touchdown. The Trojans scored a touchdown on the next play.
Washington and Washington State remain undefeated. The Huskies travel to Boulder this week, and they also play at Stanford. The Cougars host USC 12 days from now. That game will have huge playoff implications.
The most surprising result last night was probably Stanford’s loss to San Diego State. The Cardinal are now 1-2, which effectively eliminates them from the playoff. But Stanford can still play spoiler.
Yesterday’s results continue to show the SEC is Alabama and everyone else. LSU rose to No. 2 in S&P+. They went into Starkville and lost 37-7.
Florida-Tennessee had the season’s most entertaining ending. The Gators had some of the worst clock management imaginable on the final drive. But sometimes bad clock management doesn’t matter:
Missouri was walloped by Purdue. Jeff Brohm has it going at Purdue, but the Tigers have been throttled in back-to-back weeks. Barry Odom’s time in Columbia may be nearing its end.
South Carolina started to look like a legitimate contender in the SEC East. Then they lost by 10 to Kentucky.
Auburn’s offense continues to struggle. The Tigers only beat Mercer 24-10. Jarrett Stidham had a nice night. Yet, if one thing starts working for Auburn, something else fails. The Tigers lost four fumbles. Things are shaky for Auburn.
Vanderbilt picked up a huge win against Kansas State. The Wildcats did not play Bill Snyder football. They had unnecessary roughness penalties and turnovers. Vanderbilt’s offense didn’t do much. Kansas State’s did less. The Commodores might be the second best team in the SEC. The Wildcats now need to run the table to make the playoff.
The Big 12 has two dominant teams. The league last had that in 2014 with Baylor and TCU. Somehow the league screwed them both over by crowning co-champions. The league could do it again with the addition of a conference championship game this season. We’ll have more on this in the playoff projection below, but Oklahoma-Oklahoma State should not have to play twice. There’s not much doubt the Big 12 will find a way to stumble into that disaster.
The Cowboys are rolling. Mason Rudolph threw for 497 yards. Oklahoma State dominated Pitt 59-21, and they could have won by a lot more.
Oklahoma beat Tulane 56-14, and Baker Mayfield extended his streak of multiple touchdown games.
TCU-SMU was close for a while. The Frogs offense has looked good in non-conference, but Kenny Hill missed a few throws. TCU looks like a team capable of knocking off Oklahoma or Oklahoma State. They also look like they could lose a game to one of the conference’s worst teams.
Kansas is the Big 12’s worst team. Baylor fans are reeling from an 0-3 start. But if you watch KU play football, it’s apparent the Jayhawks are a tier below the Bears. Ohio beat Kansas 42-30. Kansas has lost 42 straight road games. They don’t have a quarterback. If the Bears beat Kansas on November 4th, I’m worried David Beaty could be out.
Buy Clemson stock. The Tigers defensive line is the best unit in football. They sacked Jarrett Stidham 11 times last week. They probably ended Lamar Jackon’s hope of a Heisman repeat last night. Clemson is 3-0 with wins over Auburn and Louisville. They are the class of the ACC and possibly the country.
Florida State-Miami has been postponed. Maybe one of those teams upsets Clemson (Miami would have to do it in the ACC title game). I don’t see it though. The only mystery left with Clemson is why Brent Venables is still their defensive coordinator and not a head coach somewhere.
The unbalanced Big Ten is a huge advantage for Wisconsin. Wisconsin is now 3-0. They avoid Ohio State and Penn State. They get to host Michigan. Purdue and Maryland look way better than expected, and P.J. Fleck has Minnesota looking good early. But the Badgers should be 11-1 or 12-0 at the end of the season. Win the Big Ten Championship Game, and they’re almost assuredly in the playoff.
Penn State once again looks like the best team in the conference. I thought they should have made the playoff last year over Ohio State (though I knew the committee wasn’t going to put them in over the Buckeyes). Penn State is 3-0. They’ll face Michigan, then travel to Columbus in back-to-back weeks. Right now they look like they should be favored in both.
Ohio State and Michigan both won, but their offenses still scare me. The Buckeyes downfield passing remains an issue. Michigan is scoring, but their defense has helped the offense immensely. Sometime both teams will have to make big plays to win. The Buckeyes couldn’t against Oklahoma. I don’t think either will against Penn State.
There are enough weird Big Ten playoff disasters to sort through that we’ll cover one each week. What if Ohio State wins the Big Ten with an 11-2 record. Wisconsin goes 12-1 with their only loss to Ohio State, and Penn State finishes 11-1 with their only loss to Ohio State. Who in the world makes the playoff? Ohio State has a conference championship and head-to-head victories, but the committee didn’t put Penn State in the playoff with that kind of resume last year. The committee left the Big 12 out in 2014 when the Baylor-TCU debate seemed unbreakable for them. Maybe they’ll do that to the Big Ten this year.
This is my end of the year guess:
Alabama and Clemson look much better than anyone in their conferences. A few folks think a championship rematch is inevitable. I would settle down on that.
Oklahoma or Oklahoma State should be in the playoff. Here’s a weird scenario: if Oklahoma wins in Stillwater and finishes 12-0, why would Oklahoma State beating them in the Big 12 Championship matter? Oklahoma would have split the season series and would have a road victory against the Cowboys. As Grizz points out on Twitter, Ohio State could collapse or the Cowboys could dominate the rematch. But if Ohio State wins 9 or 10 games, and Oklahoma keeps the loss respectable in the Big 12 title, I think they’re in over the Cowboys. The Big 12 Championship could be irrelevant.
Penn State looks much better than the PAC-12’s best. USC struggled against Western Michigan and nearly lost to Texas. Washington looked mediocre against Rutgers and has played nobody. But if Penn State is a playoff contender, they have to play Ohio State, Michigan and the Big Ten West champ. USC and Washington don’t play in the regular season. The Trojans also avoid Oregon.
The committee has cared the most about losses—Florida State made it at 12-0 despite looking bad, then got throttled by Oregon in the semi-final. Ohio State made it over Penn State, despite the head-to-head loss and Penn State having the Big Ten title. The Buckeyes were killed by Clemson in the playoff. If Washington or USC end 12-1, they’re getting in over an 11-2 Big Ten Champion.
An upset or two could make things easy. After Notre Dame lost at the end of the 2015 season, the committee had four easy selections. This season doesn’t seem like it’s shaping up that way, but a weird game or two could change that.
1) Baker Mayfield
2) Sam Darnold
3) Mason Rudolph
4) Lamar Jackson
5) Saquon Barkley
Mayfield had his Heisman moment against the Buckeyes. Darnold should be helped by USC’s easy schedule and good team performance.
Rudolph has put up amazing stats, but if the Cowboys finish behind Oklahoma, it will be tough to see him winning the Heisman.
I think Jackson’s candidacy is nearly dead. Nobody has repeated in the last four decades. And he couldn’t overcome Clemson’s amazing defense. Jackson could survive that game if he weren’t a previous winner. But like trying to make the baseball hall of fame on the first ballot, the voters end up holding previous winners to a higher standard.
Mayfield seems to have a big lead right now, but the September favorite often stumbles. Leonard Fournette, Colt McCoy and Ken Dorsey all got close and didn’t do it. But Mayfield should find somebody tweeting something stupid and will treat it like the greatest insult ever. He’ll then win the Heisman and still think nobody believes in his Sooners. Never doubt Mayfield finding a slight and dominating.