For the first time in a decade, the AFC Divisional Playoff is void of the team from Foxboro. The New England Patriots incredible run ended with a lackluster performance against the Tennessee Titans in the Wild Card round.
Aside from the rest of America celebrating outside the New England region, there was one key storyline afterwards: “Is that the final game for Tom Brady, at least in New England?”
It is hard to fathom but Brady, who was probably the best quarterback in the NFL in probably TWO eras, may end up looking around for a job come March.
If the Patriots are dumb enough to allow him to do so.
Nobody will doubt Brady’s greatness and the greatest quarterback ever moniker. We can say a lot about Brady with Deflategate and whatnot but the guy has performed at a level for almost 20 years in the NFL.
That said, Father Time has *finally* caught up with Tom Brady. We should have been somewhat forewarned even in last year’s Super Bowl when Brady only mustered 13 points despite the win over the Rams for his sixth ring. The accuracy was off and made questionable passes. Still, we overlooked it in part because the Rams had a stout defense and well, he is Tom Brady.
For the first half of the 2019 season, Brady looked similar to his old self, completing 65% of his passes, 13 TD, 4 INT and a QBR of a 95. Not the MVP numbers but he was doing his thing. Adding on top of things, New England was 8-0 and rolling especially on defense to the point many were penning the Pats going 16-0 en route to their 7th Super Bowl ring. I pointed out once New England’s schedule was pertty weak until that point (Jets twice, Redskins, Browns, and a weak Dolphins team in disarray), but people shrugged it off saying “well, it’s still the Patriots. They will beat the better teams when needed”
Then the second half arrived. New England had to go through foes of Baltimore, Kansas City, Houston, etc. And New England went 4-4 including a home loss to the same Dolphins team who they beat 43-0. And Brady in the second half? 57% completion pct, 11 TD, 4 INT and QBR of 80. In a run of five games (against the Cowboys, Bengals, Eagles, Chiefs and Texans) he barely completed 50% of his passes and had a QBR of 75. In that same time period Sam Darnold put up better numbers and had a 96 QBR. And if you really want to get technical, Darnold in the second half of the season outperformed Brady.
What was more alarming about Brady was the missing of open receivers and zeroing in too much perhaps on his favorite targets Julian Edelman & James White. Furthering problems was the Patriots run game disappeared as Sony Michel had a sophomore slump making New England VERY one dimensional. The playoff game against the Titans showed how much Brady was no longer the guy we deemed to be the GOAT but more of a game manager at best when he is on. However, he wasn’t on. Short screen passes, quick passes, and other key passes were missed. This wasn’t the Brady we knew that could make plays on a dime when absolutely needed. Yes, Brady’s impact on the game is non-existent.
WITH ALL OF THAT SAID…the Patriots need to keep Brady for 2020 if Brady is still inclined to play. The numbers may have been misleading to an extent with the halves, but Brady still threw for 4,000 yards and was not a turnover prone machine even when he was off. And New England needs to find their next quarterback in the draft. Jacob Eason? Jake Fromm? Those two seem to have similar styles to Brady when Brady was at a higher level. But Brady, for as much as he wants to play until he is 50, needs to understand he is finally on the decline of his career and maybe the adjustment from being “elite” to a “mentor” will be tough for him.
Brady may have one solid season left in him, but that is about the highest fans or even Brady can expect. The transition for New England to get another QB has arrived. Letting Brady go would be a bad idea as we know what happens with teams missing that stability at quarterback (Cleveland?) but at the same time, the Patriots need to look towards the future and find their future franchise guy. If they let Brady go and draft a rookie, fine but New England isn’t one to throw a rookie into the mix Week 1. Brady needs to stay and remain the starter. But for only one more year. The decline is finally real for Brady and the Patriots can’t afford to keep him, but can’t let him go right away either.
Sorry, I had procrastinated during the break. Well, to say “just wanted to relax” is an understatement.
So when the Playoff teams were decided after Week 17, it made me think: who will walk home with the Super Bowl Trophy? (sorry, Booger McFarland moment).
Honestly, it is a hard answer. Heck, it’s hard to even think of which two teams will get to the Super Bowl. In the past we have pretty much banked on New England and the NFC team of the year (sixth straight year a different team will represent the NFC unless it is Seattle). A lot of teams are great, but those same teams have holes. Even the Patriots are nothing but a lock. If anything, their mountain to climb is that more of Olympus Mons than Mt. Everest at this point. So let’s rank them and why they will win and why they won’t win.
(1) BALTIMORE RAVENS (14-2): Why they will win? The Ravens very balanced all throughout. They can run the ball like no other and the defense is beyond dangerous all over. And that Lamar Jackson dude is pretty good as he kows how to finish off drives. That’s a winning recipe for a third Lombardi Trophy near the Baltimore Harbor. Why they won’t win? IF IF IF Baltimore is down late and/or down big at any point Jackson will have to be relied on his arm and that isn’t a good thing. The lone two losses Jackson looked human in and albeit early was ridiculed for being a “meh” passer. I’m not sure if the Ravens will be put in that position, but if they do, that is when I’d be really worried with Baltimore.
(2) NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (13-3): Why they will win? The Saints may be the most complete team in these playoffs. I thought after last year Father Time caught up with Drew Brees. Wrong. Had it not been for the injury he would have put up well over 4,000 yards passing (again) and 30+ TD’s. Compile that with Alvin Kamara (who is healthy now) and Michael Thomas and all the gimmick plays they have using Taysom Hill, teams will have nightmares to figure out how to stop them. And the defense while not dominant like Baltimore or Buffalo, is solid but with a deadly pass rush. Why they won’t win? Of all the teams on here, the Saints are the hardest one to figure out why. Yes, people will argue going out of the comfortable elements of the dome to the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field in the Divisional round is going to be too much but this team is built to win anywhere honestly. The ONLY thing I’d worry are the unexpected plays as we have seen those plays be demons to the Saints the last few years in the postseason when the games are close.
(3) KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (12-4): Why they will win? Kansas City has improved tenfold on defense, notably against the pass. You can thank Tyrann Mathieu for that as he has become their saving grace. Oh yeah, and they have that Mahomes guy at QB to pair up with Hill and Kelce and also their X Factor in Mecole Hardeman. Why they won’t win? The running game on both sides of the ball. The Chiefs struggled badly on that which will definitely be a problem if they have a rematch against Baltimore in the AFC Championship. Of course, like the Saints, the Chiefs have their playoff demons to contend with, just more.
(4) SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (13-3): Why they will win? They can run the ball well with the guys they have. They play some strong defense especially against the pass and Jimmy Garoppolo makes passes when he absolutely needs to. Compiling it on, they have homefield throughout the NFC. Why they won’t win? Down the stretch proved some concerns notably if teams hang around with San Francisco. Pretty much their final five games came down to the last play and they went 3-2. Good had one of those losses were not to a 7-9 Falcons team at home. But the 49ers need to close games out or else they could end up like the 2016 Falcons if you get my drift.
(5) HOUSTON TEXANS (10-6): Why they will win? Watson, Hyde, Hopkins. Houston when clicking has the best tandem in the NFL. Why they won’t win? A bit of where 3 years ago game is that the Texans got in on the account of their offense would have been a laugh as their defense was the one that got them in. But the poor play on defense gives the Texans those games where they implode on very bad teams (Denver). They are that Jekyll-and-Hyde team that can go far if they can get out of the first round but can they? The defense will decide.
(6) GREEN BAY PACKERS (13-3): Why they will win? Compared to years in the past the Packers have been more of a balanced team. They have one of their best rushing attacks in recent memory with Aaron Jones and Jamal Williams. Defense is solid against the pass. And the Packers *could* host two games in Lambeau where they went 7-1. Why they won’t win? Dare say it, but it is Aaron Rodgers. While the Packers have gone more to the ways of a balanced approach and “taken pressure” off Rodgers in the run game, he hasn’t looked sharp at all especially the last few weeks. It also seems like he is not having any fun out there and just unhappy with how the offense is being built differently. Of course he is saying nothing about it because, well, the Packers are winning. The other issue Green Bay has? Aside from beating Minnesota twice, Green Bay has had to win squeakers against the Redskins, Bears, and Lions down the stretch. I don’t know even with having a possible matchup against New Orleans at Lambeau if that will play into Green Bay’s favor.
(7) NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (12-4): Why they will win? The defense has been the reason why the Patriots have won another division title and won a few games with it. And do you really doubt Brady and Belichick? Why they won’t win? Hard to imagine just 3 years ago that Rodgers and Brady would now be considered more liabilities than keys to winning the game. But right now Brady is just looking “average” but unlike Rodgers, Brady’s issue may be Father Time. Does he have enough for one more Super Bowl run? Also compiling on it is the three other division champs in the AFC, the Patriots have lost to and have been pretty much outplayed on both sides. They just are not being the same dominant Patriots we have come to know.
(8) PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (9-7): Why they will win? Laugh all you want, but the Eagles are coming in hot in the playoffs. Yes, beating the NFC East teams the final four weeks doesn’t say much, but they got momentum heading in and that is a major problem. Carson Wentz has been ridiculed all year but he really hasn’t done anything wrong down the stretch. They key thing to take in is, the Eagles are actually getting healthier at the right time, especially on defense. Why they won’t win? Just what kind of offense are we going to see in the playoffs from the Eagles? At times the offense looks solid and then at times they are a giant mess. The consistency will end up biting Philadelphia if it continues.
(9) BUFFALO BILLS (10-6): Why they will win? They fight to no end and every time you think they are down, they keep fighting. That’ super scary for the powers of the AFC. They won’t stop fighting. And their defense is sick. They can run the ball very well and another scary thing is they play stronger on the road. Compiled that with Josh Allen getting more and more comfortable at quarterback an having a target of John Brown, and you has a possible sleeper in the AFC. Why they won’t win? As much improved as Allen has been, he’s not ready for that next level yet. And while it is very possible Buffalo could upset the Texans, a date in Baltimore would expose Allen’s remaining inconsistencies. And you need a consistent quarterback in the playoffs.
(10) MINNESOTA VIKINGS (10-6): Why they will win? The run game. Dalvin Cook is their offensive cog. If he goes, so do the Vikings. And Kirk Cousins for all the grief he gets, has pretty much played mistake-free football. Why they won’t win? The Vikings defense isn’t the one who could dominate on that side like they used to. The defense is just missing something or they are just not scheming well against opposing offenses. And that is a problem for Minnesota. Also, despite Cousins ability to not make mistakes, he isn’t a guy that you can rely on late in the fourth quarter for that game-winning drive. That isn’t is thing and that is a problem for Minnesota moving forward.
(11) SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (11-5): Why they will win? Russell Wilson. We give love to Lamar Jackson for everything this year, but Wilson is starting to be taken for granted on everything he’s done in Seattle. Never doubt this guy at all. If not for Jackson, Wilson is probably the MVP in the NFL. Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf have been a great receiving duo this year, averaging around 1000 yards each. Why they won’t win? Injuries have destroyed Seattle’s chances tremendously. Chris Carson was rolling until he got injured and the offense isn’t the same. The Seahawks brought back Marshawn Lynch but what is he capable of as his final year weren’t anything to write home about. And the defense is a far cry from the Legion of Boom days, finishing near the bottom of the NFL in a lot of key defensive categories. It will be a long road to the Super Bowl with Seattle.
(12) TENNESSEE TITANS (9-7):Why they will win? Derrick Henry. If the Titans ground game dominates and they can because Henry is a true beast of epic proportions, then Tennessee could make a fun run. Compiling on is that Ryan Tannehill has been what the Titans offense needed from a passing perspective as Marcus Mariota just lost all confidence behind center. It will also create for some doom for teams like the Patriots early on. AJ Brown is becoming a force in the passing game too. Why they won’t win? Do we really trust Ryan Tannehill to hold a Lombardi Trophy? I mean if Nick Foles can, it is possible. That said, the concern of the Titans isn’t Tannehill but the defense which can be problematic (notably against the pass, which will turn out to be a problem given the quarterback they will see in the AFC). And it just feels like the team doesn’t have enough depth as the 11 other playoff teams in front of them. But as they say…on any given Sunday…
LAST SECOND PREDICTIONS:
WILD CARD (AFC): Patriots over Titans (overtime), Texans over Bills
WILD CARD (NFC): Saints over Vikings, Eagles over Seahawks
DIVISIONAL (AFC): Ravens over Texans, Chiefs over Patriots
DIVISIONAL (NFC): 49ers over Eagles, Saints over Packers
For the second straight season, the Atlanta Falcons have failed to live to expectations and in a bit of a recurring situation. Despite the record not looking abysmal such as the Cincinnati Bengals, Washington Redskins, and Detroit Lions (which the former two are in massive rebuild modes), Atlanta has been pretty much out by the start of November. The December run has made the team look “not horrible” and will have a shot at another 7-9 season.
Had this been 20-25 years ago in Atlanta, fans would have gone “okay, there is some hope that the team could compete next year.” But those days are LONG gone. It is unacceptable.
For the last twelve years Atlanta has seen one of the best quarterbacks in this era in Matt Ryan play nearly every snap (why he gets ridiculed in this town on a consistent basis is beyond me). For the last 9 years Atlanta may have seen the most dominant receiver of this generation in Julio Jones. Pieces have come and gone in that time period that have made an impact (early on: Michael Turner, Tony Gonzalez and now it’s Grady Jarrett, Deion Jones, and Alex Mack) so it isn’t a two-man band in the ATL. Early on, Atlanta’s offense could score at will with anyone, but the defense kept on imploding.
Enter Dan Quinn to coach after Mike Smith couldn’t cut it anymore. We know the story: Quinn was the defensive coordinator for Seattle’s legendary Legion of Boom defense. The hope was he would turn the defense around.
He did…for a brief moment in time.
Quinn’s fingerprints of the defense in 2016 loomed large especially at the right time where the Falcons streaked to the Super Bowl by easily handling Seattle and Green Bay in January with the young defensive stars of Vic Beasley, Jarrett, Jones, Keanu Neal thus bringing in the “Brotherhood” on defense.
The next year, the defense held their own (wasn’t as strong) but the offense sputtered a bit). The Falcons still ended up making the playoffs dominating the Rams and then losing on the last play to the Eagles.
Then 2018 happened. The defense was ravaged by injuries to Jones and Neal and the Falcons defense could not match the re-born offense and the team finished 7-9. What was the talk during training camp? “Okay, we were dinged up, but a healthy defense will put us back in playoff contention in 2019. Quinn is taking over like he did in 2016 and the defense is flying all over the place!”
And….no. Aside from Keanu Neal being hurt again, the defense was healthy. Desmond Trufant is regressing like Ray Buchanan did late in his Falcons career, Beasley was AWOL for the first half of the year and the ONLY constant seemed to be Grady Jarrett. They were giving up points and yards like crazy and making quarterbacks like Marcus Mariota and Jacoby Brissett look like Pro Bowlers. The Falcons were 1-7 heading into the bye week.
So…Quinn switched things up internally on his coaching staff as he was more hands off. Since then, Atlanta has gone 5-2 including road wins against quite possibly the two best NFC teams in New Orleans and San Francisco. Instead of the fan base feeling very excited, it’s “oh great, here we go again of coming up too little too late.” And now the “debate” is has Quinn did enough to keep his job after Week 17? Most fans have said no. However, Arthur Blank, Falcons owner, is known for a level head and isn’t a reactionary owner (hence why he kept Quinn after the 1-7 start) and many “experts” feel like the second half run for Quinn may keep his job. To me, this is a VERY. BAD. IDEA.
While I actually like Dan Quinn, he isn’t a Super Bowl championship caliber coach (despite the 2016 run), it just seems like something is missing with him. I’m not sure what it is, but I think it is time to move on. Here are a few things why.
(1) JEFF FISHER 2.0. The local sports radio station I listen to, they made a comment I think was spot on: “Dan Quinn is ‘just ok’ as a head coach. He’s like that doctor in the AT&T commercial.” And aside from 2016 & 2017, Quinn has been an 8-8 or 7-9 coach. He reminds me a lot of Jeff Fisher with the Titans and Rams. Fisher seemingly had 8-8 or 7-9 seasons constantly save for those years of Steve McNair and Eddie George in Tennessee in 1999-2000 (also getting to a Super Bowl and losing in heartbreak fashion). The argument can be made however, that Fisher had less talent than what Quinn has in Atlanta now. Right now seeing Atlanta be 12-4 or 11-5 under Quinn seems to be less of a reality anyway.
(2) SLOW TO REACT AND ADAPT: Quinn’s inability to react earlier before the Falcons went 1-7 is a telltale sign that he isn’t a championship coach. It seems like it was “hey, now that the season is over, let’s analyze what went wrong and fix it for the second half.” Great coaches are quick at adapting and reacting and Quinn did it way too late for the 2019 season. Had Dan Quinn made these changes let’s say after the Titans drilled Atlanta early on, we may be talking about the Falcons first round opponent instead.
(3) PLAYERS COACH: It’s not necessarily a BAD thing to be a players coach and it seems like the players are rallying behind Quinn. However, save maybe Pete Carroll in Seattle, most of the Super Bowl champions (Ravens, Giants, Patriots, Eagles), don’t have a coach that is considered that. Quinn may be a tough guy to the players behind closed doors, but he doesn’t have that feel and has that “loyal to a fault” thing going. I think that hurts a team if things aren’t going well. Also Falcons fans point out he seems more of that guy “who will say the right things” not to tick off anyone whether it’s his players or the media.
(4) DISHEARTENED FAN BASE: Anyone who knows the Atlanta sports base is that when the teams aren’t winning, the fans aren’t showing (i.e. bandwagon). It’s an unjust label as EVERY CITY has that same issue, but when Mercedes Benz Stadium, which is the newest NFL stadium with the bells and whistles currently, is sitting half-empty in December for the second straight year (like it was last year when the 4-9 Falcons played a pathetic Arizona Cardinals team-which I was actually at that game) has that issue then, it doesn’t look good for anyone. But the thing is, what gives any Falcons fan hope that 2020 is going to be very different under Dan Quinn? Fans are starting to say “well, I’m done going to the games and won’t renew for the season.” It may not be a main factor, but when fans stop coming out and tickets start to go to visiting teams (which we’ve seen in Atlanta time after time with fan bases packing it in) it eliminates any homefield advantage. And next year the Falcons host the Bears, Raiders, and the hated Saints who get their fans packing the place.
I think the argument for Dan Quinn to keep his job is that he is a likable guy. He doesn’t offend anyone with his comments. Players love him. Ownership loves him. I like him and I don’t WANT him to lose his job, but he isn’t the guy that will put Ryan, Jones, and Company over the top. He’s had 5 seasons to show for it and while he was VERY close one year, it may be the closest the Falcons will ever get under Quinn.
Rewind the clocks to four years ago in 2015. Georgia fired Mark Richt after an “unimpressive” 9-3 season with the Bulldogs. The argument was that Richt would never get Georgia over that hump for a national championship. The next coaching hire was going to be the coach that would end Georgia’s drought of a national title.
Enter Kirby Smart. Smart had been Nick Saban’s right hand man for a long time with Alabama and even before that. Many viewed the relationship as one of Smart being the next Nick Saban. And that’s what the Bulldogs fans hoped. They rolled out the red carpet similar to what Alabama had done for Saban, Ohio State done for Urban Meyer, and Michigan had done for Jim Harbaugh. They anointed Smart as the chosen one. Adding on, the hopes of Jacob Eason really got Bulldogs fans excited about the future and by year 3-4 a National Championship was expected to hit Georgia’s trophy case.
Fast forward to today. Playoff Selection Day. We know Georgia isn’t going to be one of the four teams picked after an embarrassing, humiliating loss to LSU in the SEC Championship last night. Their second straight SEC title loss after their blown lead to Alabama last year. Adding on, the comparisons to Smart and his predecessor Mark Richt are very parallel and only one playoff appearance to show forth. And instead of being Saban 2.0, Georgia fans are more inclined to say he’s Mark Richt 2.0.
Fair assessment perhaps?
So let’s begin.
Kirby Smart in his time at Alabama was a stout recruiter and year in & year out helped the Tide dominate the recruiting ranks. He took that stout recruiting to Georgia where honestly the cupboard was a bit barren when he arrived (compared to prior years) and even beat Alabama in the recruiting war after the 2017 season. Even when he hasn’t beaten Alabama in that category he has been right behind the Tide. The talent and the recruits have been there.
On the field after the 2016 season where Smart was “testing the waters” of what he had, he installed his way of thinking and so forth and it paid off. Georgia has dominated the SEC East from 2017. Granted it isn’t like the SEC West where they have to see LSU and Alabama yearly (they do see Auburn yearly though) and the East is pretty much a disaster outside of a Florida team who isn’t the one Urban Meyer had.
However, Georgia under Smart, is eerily similar to Georgia under Richt. The philosophy may be different (as Richt’s mentality was a “win is a win” while Smart was “we need to be perfect in every aspect”), but the results have been the same.
So what is happening with Kirby Smart in Athens that is making fans worry it’s more of the same?
(1) SMART IS A STUBBORN BULL: Like Nick Saban at Alabama where he can be very stubborn with the media, Smart has that attitude as well. However, when it comes to the field, Smart believes his semi-obsolete offense (nothing that of a RPO like LSU runs or a spread like Alabama runs) is still good enough to win a national championship with. Saban at least knew he had to adapt after 2013 and did when he hired Lane Kiffin to be the offensive coordinator. People laughed at it, but Alabama won three straight SEC titles and a national championship with Kiffin as the coordinator. Which brings me up to the part where I think that grew tension between Saban and Smart was that the “new era offenses” really puts more strain on even the best defenses around given the quick strikes and fast drives which means a defense that is out there for longer periods of time. Smart wants to keep the defenses fresh and play that typical offense where the quarterback lines up under the center and hands the ball off or hit play action. Teams can figure that out, send a blitz package and even the best offensive lines in the nation can’t handle that. But nope, Kirby still believes the offense style of play he has can win a national championship.
(2) SMART IS SHOWING WHAT KIND OF LEADER (OR LACK THEREOF) HE IS: This will be a hot topic of debate on this assessment. If you look at Saban, Meyer when he was at Ohio State, Dabo, Pete Carroll at USC, and to an extent Orgeron, they will step up and go “yep, this loss is on me, not my players.” Not Smart. It is “well, we did everything right but the players didn’t execute” or “my receivers have to play better.” I get it and it’s probably some honesty there but he has to remember that while he was in a system at Alabama where it felt like a professional football program there, the players are still kids ranging from 18-21. Yesterday’s post-game presser many felt like he threw all his players under the bus and whined about injuries taking its toll. Even healthy, Georgia probably doesn’t beat LSU but what team by Championship Week is healthy?
(3) KIRBY’S NEED TO PUT HIS PRINTS ON THE OFFENSE: This comes back to what I mentioned about his stubbornness. Kirby is a defensive player and therefore a defensive minded coach. Fine and dandy. So Saban was a defensive back and a defensive minded coach. But the difference that is being seen with Saban and Smart is that on offense, both have a different way: Saban tells his coordinators, “hey, run the ball, but mix it up a bit; let’s not be that predictable.” Smart seems to have the vibe of saying “hey, run the ball, run the ball, run the ball, and run the ball.” I think the tone was set early in the season for Georgia that they would be a run first team which may have gotten the receivers and Jake Fromm out of rhythm. And when teams picked up on the patterns, it was a struggle the rest of the way. Sure, it’s one thing to thump the likes of Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky using the run game only. But the minute you start playing a style that the offense isn’t as accustomed to, it normally means bad news. Georgia did try to pass the ball a lot and “try” some options and sweeps against LSU, and it failed miserably. Yes, you can blame James Coley for the offensive woes and rightfully so, but you can also point at Chaney last year for having an offense that was “predictable” as well. Mixing it up evidently meant having “Wild Bulldog” plays and jet sweeps as opposed to maybe doing more bunch sets and 4 receiver sets. And again, this may be more on the coordinator than Smart, but I think Smart’s mentality is “we are not going to be like these other teams where we score at will; we need to eat some time.” You can do that at the right times, but even LSU pulled the ball control on Georgia to start the second half and wear them out. So it really negates what Kirby’s mentality on that. So if he does try to hire Mike Bobo back at Georgia to run the offense, he NEEDS to let Bobo do his thing like he did before when Georgia had a tough as nails offense and having a backfield of Gurley, Chubb, and Michel.
(4) RECRUITING: Yes, Kirby is an A+ recruiter. And the class he’s getting next year is another top class (though currently on 247sports its 6th, which would be Kirby’s lowest class he’s had). Once again, there is a handful of 5-star guys Georgia will have, but none of them a quarterback nor a WR (there is a 4-star guy) but a few receivers have already de-committed and probably what they have seen the last few years really has hurt. As for quarterbacks, well, Alabama took the top dual threat quarterback in the nation in Bryce Young, who loved the development of what Alabama did for Tua (no jokes about the hip bit please). But you saw that Jacob Eason left for Washington because Fromm was Smart’s guy. You saw Justin Fields transfer to Ohio State because Fromm was Smart’s guy but pretty much whenever Fields got in the attitude Smart had to Fields was “well, the game is over, hand the ball.” That isn’t going to bode well for any top quarterback to display what they were made to do as we’ve seen with Fields at Ohio State. But we are going to see quarterbacks in the Playoff this year that were 4-or-5 star guys that will light it up and one of them will hoist the national championship. Maybe Kirby’s belief is that he needs an AJ McCarron, who can manage a game and not be fully reliant on his arm 24-7. It’s great but I don’t know if even AJ McCarron’s skill set would have gotten Alabama to a national title in 2015 or 2017. It’s possible but….
(5) RAH RAH: Yeah, I’ve said this on Smart a few times being super-animated on the sidelines such as yesterday when he jumped up with a Georgia defender after they thought they recovered a fumble. So far, it has worked somewhat at Georgia. “Well Dabo does it at Clemson,” some may say, but he isn’t going screaming and running around. He will get animated at times but nothing over the top. If you look at the other guys that will be in the Playoff, they are not over the top with their rah-rah stuff. Given how things have been turning out (such as not taking blame for losses and his preparations, yelling and running around on the sidelines screaming at refs and assistant head coaches), at some point you wonder when the players begin to tune out off that nonsense, especially ones who he criticizes in post-game press conferences. I’m not saying Kirby is Jon Voight from Varsity Blues where he gets so stubborn everybody stops playing for him, but it’s like “oh here he goes again” bit. If the Bulldogs are losing and Kirby is losing his mind on the sidelines it doesn’t bode well for anybody over there because if you are supposed to be the leader and you do that, what does it say to those players and assistants who turn to you?
In order for Georgia to win their first Championship since 1980 under Kirby Smart, Kirby Smart needs to change a lot. Yes, he’s getting great results since 2017 with Georgia. A playoff berth, a national championship appearance, and three straight SEC Championship appearances, one SEC title. He also has a Rose Bowl win and a Sugar Bowl appearance and a likely New Year’s Six appearance pending. But Mark Richt’s run early on was similar (2 SEC championship games, one SEC title and a Sugar Bowl appearance). But we are also seeing trends in the not-so-good direction such as losing to teams below them (South Carolina this year), getting smashed by stronger teams. The thing though is that Kirby’s issues can all be fixed, but his pride and ego is going to get in the way of that. He needs to adapt to today’s game. I get he wants a championship through his defense, but in today’s game, you need a balance. But at some point he needs to learn he has to change his ways with how he conducts himself and also through his in-game philosophy. If not, it will be more of the same for a very long time in Athens.
Yes, I’m an Alabama fan so no, you won’t see any pictures of the game. Yes, I am bitter. That said, LSU deserved to win that game without question. And it exposed Alabama’s defense badly (which had been a concern of mine all season). So obviously, the question is who is #1, Ohio State or LSU?
If that wasn’t all, Minnesota is making their candidacy for the Playoff with a HUGE win against Penn State. Now if they can find a way to win next week in Iowa and then see Wisconsin at home and take care of business there, possibly the Playoff for them could happen if they can do the unthinkable against Ohio State. So who knows?
As for other teams, can Baylor try to crash the rankings as well? A lot of close calls are happening for the Bears but Oklahoma will be its ultimate challenge. A few byes happened as well, but with Alabama losing it was a big week for certain teams that are in the top ten. Let’s have a look.
TOP 5 WINNERS
(1) MINNESOTA: The Golden Gophers needed a monumental win for its program especially under PJ Fleck. They got it with the Penn State win that really felt like Minnesota was in control of that game the whole way. Now are they ahead of schedule in the “Row the Boat” Era under Fleck? Perhaps, but if they can take care of their business the rest of the way which will include two likely ranked teams (Iowa, Wisconsin) and then a likely date with Ohio State, the Gophers will be in the Playoff without question as that resume will look very shiny. Of course they will have to win out all of them.
(2) LSU: Why I put LSU at second isn’t of spite or anything like that, but it pretty much solidifies them as at least a top 2 team in the nation and barring a massive implosion, a Playoff. Even if the Tigers lose one, I don’t see them falling out of the top 4. Minnesota will be the one making a big jump in the polls while LSU will either stay put or move up one. But Joe Burrow solidified his Heisman Trophy with his performance especially in the second half of that game. And mad props to Ed Orgeron for keeping his team poised for that game, something that had been lacking for LSU in their tilts with Alabama in recent memory.
(3) OREGON & UTAH: Both teams had byes but the one thing that was desperately needed was an Alabama loss. To add on, the Tide see Auburn in three weeks in Jordan Hare which if Alabama loses that one (and I’d say it’s VERY likely) it will propel the PAC-12 champ to the Playoff. All these two teams need to do is win out.
(4) CLEMSON: It wasn’t like they would lose to NC State but they needed a monster win to show they were still the team. We can say all we want about the Tigers cotton soft schedule but they have done what they needed to do. And the two teams ahead of them fell. So Clemson is at #3.
(5) GEORGIA: Well, they are now in position if they can win out they will be back in despite seeing South Carolina keep losing (I do wonder if that factors into any of the committee’s minds about THAT loss especially if the Gamecocks continue to collapse). They are probably sitting at the #4 spot but Auburn is in the horizon. A loss will end Georgia’s playoff hopes and continue the national championship drought for 40 years.
TOP 5 LOSERS
(1) ALABAMA: The LAST thing Alabama needed was to lose to the team they needed to beat for the resume boost. People have wondered what game Alabama has won was the most important and it was LSU. And the Tide looked bad against the Tigers, especially on defense. So Saban & Co have to figure out what is needed to get the Tide rolling (no pun intended) again. But right now, this was the win they needed on that resume. It’s possible chaos happens, but I don’t see Alabama even at one loss gets in the Playoff without a Conference Championship this year.
(2) PENN STATE: The Nittany Lions were away from Happy Valley and it showed. They really got beat by a Golden Gophers team who really controlled the game from beginning to end. Not what they needed with Ohio State looming. And it also builds the question if James Franklin will ever get them over that hump.
(3) IOWA: Just not enough to take down Wisconsin. Really not how you need to go into the game against Minnesota even if it is at home.
(4) MICHIGAN STATE: And this year’s Super Bowl Atlanta Falcons award winner goes to….Sparty! Blowing a 28-3 at home to Illinois is inexcusable on any level. Yes, Illinois is better as the season has progressed but Mark Dantonio is really finding himself on the hot seat for this one. It shouldn’t have happened at all on how this game happened. But Michigan State’s glory run from 2010-2017 is done and there isn’t any revival coming up soon.
(5) WAKE FOREST: Probably not too surprising they lost to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, but the Deacons are aiming for a New Year’s Six bowl game. And you still have Clemson on the horizon. Not good chances for that game now.
TOP 5 QUESTIONS
(1) IF ALABAMA WINS OUT CAN THEY STILL GET IN THE PLAYOFF? No, but again, chaos has to happen. Oregon & Utah will have to find a way to lose a second game before they get to each other in the PAC-12 Championship. What also needs to have happen is Georgia loses to Auburn next week but still manages to beat LSU in the SEC Championship. And then somewhere Oklahoma takes an L and Baylor gets an L too. It’s possible, just not probable.
(2) MIKE NORVELL COULD HAVE SOME INTRIGUING JOB OFFERS. WOULD HE TAKE IT AND LEAVE MEMPHIS? If the money is there, yes. Going to Arkansas seems like a logical fit for Norvell as he knows the area well and could take a lot of players in the Arkansas/Western Tennessee area. Or….he could go to Michigan State if the Spartans do send Dantonio on his way. He is probably the top candidate for any job right now. Or South Carolina says enough with Will Muschamp. So keep an eye on this one.
(3) DOES CLEMSON FANS HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE SLIGHTED ABOUT BEING RANKED #5 IN THE FIRST COMMITTEE SELECTION? No! The Tigers had a soft schedule. But also, it’s the first dang week of the polls. Who cares! It’s going to be in 4 weeks that matters. So if you’re a Clemson fan, relax!
(4) DID THE COMMITTEE GET IT RIGHT FOR OHIO STATE OVER LSU? Yes. While LSU’s resume is very impressive the one massive concern for the Tigers is that defense has lapses badly. Ohio State hasn’t had those lapses and are a stout bunch with or without Chase Young on the field. If I had to choose between Ohio State or LSU in a game, I’d err towards the Buckeyes.
(5) IS BAYLOR GOING TO BE ABLE TO GET IN THE PLAYOFF AT 13-0? That’s a hard one. The resume is lagging, but if they beat Oklahoma en route then it’s possible. However, it means two wins against Oklahoma who would have 3 losses and the rest somewhat fell apart on them the rest of the way. They also need some major chaos to erupt somewhere. And Baylor fans are probably prepping for 2014 all over again where they felt like they got jipped.
With the first selection coming out this week for the playoff, the week had really some uneventful match-ups. 5 remaining undefeated teams (LSU, Alabama, Ohio State, Penn State, Minnesota) all had byes while two more unbeatens from non-power 5 conferences took a hit to the chin. The rest of the contenders from the 1-loss group (Utah, Oregon, Georgia) continued building their resumes to get back in the mix. But the week still had some moments and some jolts for certain teams.
TOP 5 WINNERS
(1) GEORGIA: Pretty much following the moniker of their season, the Bulldogs won in a not-so-pretty form, but are now firmly in the driver’s seat in the SEC East. November is a rough schedule regardless despite having two home games (Missouri, Texas A&M) and then having Auburn at Jordan-Hare. If they do not have another trip-up game somewhere, the Bulldogs lone loss won’t matter if they win out, if that means winning against either LSU or Alabama in the SEC Championship as they will be in the Playoff. A nice win for sure.
(2) UTAH: Do NOT sit on the Utes. The defense knows how to grind games out and play tough. On the other side, Tyler Huntley may not be considered for a Heisman, but he is as tough as they come. A win in Washington, while the Huskies aren’t the same squad as they were in 2016, is still a great feat. The Utes may control their own destiny the rest of the way and finally break the Playoff drought the PAC-12 has.
(3) OREGON: I was going to make it 2A & 2B because really the Ducks had a similar accomplishment of winning a tough road game and just exploding in the second half at USC. The Ducks also have a great shot at controlling their own destiny and look out for a possible Utah/Oregon PAC-12 Championship. One side note: Justin Herbert doesn’t get enough love. I guess in part because his name isn’t Tua, Burrow, or Fields.
(4) MEMPHIS: Keep an eye on the Tigers for a push to the New Year’s Six. A few things need to go their way, but Memphis already has a big win against SMU on a big stage. The American Conference really wants to make a point they are as good if not better than any Power 5 program and this one is a good one.
(5) WAKE FOREST: I flip-flopped between the Deacons and Baylor, but the W was very impressive against a decent NC State squad. The hope is Wake can sneak in the New Year’s Six bowl game (perhaps Orange?) but Clemson looms in two weeks in Death Valley. But a win would be a major landmark for Wake Forest, who is having an amazing 2019 season.
HONORABLE MENTION: BAYLOR
TOP 5 LOSERS
(1) FLORIDA: Dan Mullen HAS to improve his coaching style. Yes, it’s a far cry from the days of Muschamp and McElwain at Florida where the Gators were just slightly above mediocre at best. But Mullen’s coaching decisions/style doomed Florida. And this hasn’t been the first time. Just check how he coached at Mississippi State when he had Dak, notably against Alabama in 2014. Go back to the fourth quarter of that game, compare it to the 4th quarter of this recent game and it showed Mullen hasn’t learned his lesson. Which means….Florida is pretty much eliminated from the Playoff and likely the SEC race. And until Florida (and Mullen) figures out how to beat Georgia, it will continue that way.
(2) SMU: No, I don’t think the Mustangs would have crashed the Playoff party. But, SMU was in the driver’s seat for a New Year’s Six game. I mean things can still bounce their way, but now the road to get to that game is very bumpy.
(3) APPALACHIAN STATE: Hard to even consider them on here, but the Mountaineers were undefeated and ranked #20 with hopes of a New Year’s Six game too. Instead, they lose at home to their long-time foes in Georgia Southern. So the hopes of the Sun Belt getting love for a New Year’s game is now eliminated.
(4) WASHINGTON: You have to wonder at this point that the Huskies window has passed under Chris Petersen. Jacob Eason is not the problem, but that defense isn’t the same defense that gave even Alabama fits. And with Oregon rolling under Mario Cristobal, the Huskies need something to fix it or they will remain second fiddle under the Ducks.
(5) FLORIDA STATE: Yeah, the Noles have had it rough the last few seasons. Willie Taggart was the scapegoat for the issues in Tallahassee. But he inherited a mess. But he could not clean it up. Florida State has just looked like a shell of itself over the season despite some moments. And pretty much getting embarrassed by a mediocre Miami squad at home, well that isn’t going to cut it down for the faithful at Florida State.
TOP 5 QUESTIONS
(1) ASSUMING UTAH AND OREGON WIN OUT UNTIL THE PAC-12 CHAMPIONSHIP, WILL ONE OF THEM TAKE A PLAYOFF SPOT? It all depends on what happens with the loser of the LSU/Alabama game does the rest of the way. LSU doesn’t have a rough schedule the rest of the way (Arkansas, Ole Miss, Texas A&M at home) while Alabama still has their Iron Bowl trip at Auburn. So if you’re a PAC-12 fan, you are hoping Alabama loses to LSU and Auburn as especially it will nullify the Ducks loss against the Tigers to begin the year. So, if LSU wins, yes. If LSU loses, that’s bad news for the PAC-12 honestly.
(2) ASIDE FROM LSU AND ALABAMA PLAYING EACH OTHER, ARE THERE ANY UNDEFEATED SQUADS OR 1-LOSS TEAMS IN MASSIVE DANGER THE REST OF THE WAY? Oh yes. If anything, EVERYONE needs to be scared. If LSU loses, it may not do massive damage, but if Alabama loses it will be VERY hard to win in Auburn. Ohio State and Penn State play each other but the Nittany Lions also get Minnesota who is playing their best ball. The Buckeyes may also have to go to Michigan against a team who is playing very inspired right now. Oklahoma still has to travel to Baylor and if the Sooners lose, they may not even make it to the Big 12 Championship. Georgia sees Auburn in Jordan Hare. And a few interesting quirk games that if the contenders don’t watch it they could be primed for an upset: Clemson against a Wake Forest team who is firing on all cylinders (granted that game is in Death Valley) and while it may look like a mismatch on paper, keep an eye on that Civil War game with Oregon and Oregon State. The Ducks are rolling but the Beavers are playing very tough and have a shot at being bowl eligible. Do not sit on this game if you are a Ducks fan.
(3) BAYLOR, MINNESOTA, AND WAKE FOREST COULD END UP BEING SLEEPERS IN THIS COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF RACE. WHICH OF THEM HAS THE BEST CHANCE TO CRASH THE PLAYOFF? IF Minnesota beats Penn State then the Golden Gophers could go to Indianapolis at 12-0 vs. all likelihoods Ohio State. A stunning win would obviously put Minnesota in (which would net wins vs. Penn State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State). Is it the team with the BEST shot? I think it’s probably Baylor if they can beat Oklahoma and Texas. And better, they would probably avoid the Sooners in the Big 12 Title game as Oklahoma would lose the tiebreak to Kansas State. Wake needs to beat Clemson obviously which I don’t think it will happen but even with that notch under their belt the Deacons resume would be unimpressive especially when they see that 62-59 loss to Louisville at home.
(4) CHRIS ASH AND WILLIE TAGGART ARE THE FIRST TWO POWER 5 COACHES TO GET THE AX. WHO IS NEXT? Chad Morris at Arkansas. I never understood the hire at all as he struggled at SMU. He turned the Mustangs program around at 6-6 but really it wasn’t overly impressive. The style of play doesn’t fit for the conference especially with the talent that the rival schools have. Yes, Arkansas is already on the hook still for Bieliema but yikes. The Razorbacks cannot afford to languish like they are where the last few seasons it is “when does basketball season start?” when kickoff happens.
(5) WHO WILL THE SEMINOLES GET FOR A HEAD COACH NOW? Ideally, Bob Stoops. The Seminoles view themselves as one of the college football bluebloods. They will go after the biggest available name out there like how Alabama did with Saban, Ohio State did with Meyer, and Michigan did with Harbaugh. The names of PJ Fleck, Josh Heupel, Mike Norvell, and Matt Campbell are brought up (Fleck & Campbell are at Power 5 schools while Heupel and Norvell have put UCF and Memphis at the forefront of the American). Is it getting mouths water for Noles fans with those guys? Not really. But they have to start somewhere. Norvell should be the one they need to go after. While Fleck has done a great job in his third year at Minnesota, I’m not sold he can mix it up in the recruiting wars in Florida having to deal with Miami, Florida, and the neighboring states of Alabama and Georgia. Campbell is also in that same boat. Norvell has gotten his players in Memphis rolling and right now you can make an argument American Conference is top-to-bottom better than the ACC. Well, after Clemson.
Another week has come and gone and another big upset took place, this time in the Big 12 and now we may have a brawl for the Playoff as you have to think that all conferences are really believing they have a shot, including the PAC-12. So, who had the biggest weeks and who really shot themselves in the foot?
TOP 5 WINNERS
(1) OHIO STATE: Even the physical Badgers had no answers for the Buckeyes especially in the second half as Ohio State wore them down physically and mentally. All roads look smooth until those back-to-back dates with Penn State and Michigan to end the season, but they should be favored to win both. Time will tell though.
(2) LSU: LSU’s offense looked “normal” against Auburn ONLY putting up 23 points (most years under Les Miles 23 was considered a shootout) but it was good enough to beat a pesky Auburn team. Now the big game for them is next with Alabama November 9 in Tuscaloosa. It will be interesting to see the chess moves made between both the Tigers and Tide, but right now you have to figure the winner of that game will be the SEC representative for the Playoff.
(3) PENN STATE: Yeah, beating Michigan State isn’t big like it would have been 5 years ago, but Penn State has as many issues with the Spartans for the last 5 years as they have had with the Buckeyes. So it was an ugly game but they still won decisively. Their true tests are in a few more games with road trips at Minnesota and Ohio State.
(4) MICHIGAN: It was a needed win for the Wolverines who just have issues under Harbaugh beating the upper end of teams. Notre Dame looked like they didn’t belong. This is one of those games that if Michigan goes on a run and upsets Ohio State, we will look back and go “yup, the Notre Dame game changed everything.”
(5) MINNESOTA: Yeah, they beat Maryland decisively, but Minnesota remains undefeated and better for them may end up winning the Big Ten West with relative ease assuming they can stun Penn State in two weeks in Minnesota. If that happens, the Golden Gophers will be going to Indianapolis for a date with Ohio State from all likelihoods.
HONORABLE MENTION: KANSAS STATE
TOP 5 LOSERS
(1) WISCONSIN: The last two weeks has just been total Wisconsin in the eyes of the college football world. The Badgers lose to an unranked Illinois team and then gets thumped by an Ohio State squad. In other words, they always have that trip-up game and then the moniker is they cannot beat a powerhouse squad. Boom. No playoff dreams for Wisconsin.
(2) NOTRE DAME: People lauded the Irish after their near miss in Athens a month ago. And then they go to Michigan and get their clocks cleaned out by the Wolverines. A 2-loss independent isn’t going to do it for Notre Dame in the Playoff, so you can say bye-bye.
(3) AUBURN: If there is always one team who has a shot at still being in the Playoff with 2 losses it always seems to be Auburn. So am I going to count them out at this juncture? No. BUT….it’s slim and none, even if they beat an undefeated Alabama in the Iron Bowl they wouldn’t go the SEC Championship. So that will probably do it. About that LSU game….why’d they stop rushing Joe Burrow? That is what I think decided the game ultimately. That and Bo Nix looked like Bo Derek at times throwing the football.
(4) OKLAHOMA: All is not lost for the Sooners as one loss can not take them out, but the road to get to the Playoff for a third straight year may be bumpier than it was last year. The Sooners still have road trips to Oklahoma State, who is probably the most unpredictable team in college football and undefeated Baylor. Adding on, you have Oregon and Utah in the PAC-12 gaining a head of steam while you have to figure the LSU/Alabama winner will probably take the hold of the SEC and Clemson & Ohio State look unstoppable in their conferences. The Sooners can’t afford any more trip-ups because their Big 12 Title game doesn’t have the same meaning as the other conferences, despite what the conference heads say.
(5) ARIZONA STATE: The next thing Herm Edwards will have to do is build some consistency in Tempe with his team. At times, the Sun Devils look very formidable on both sides of the ball with a stout defense. And others is more of a “run for cover” bit. And the UCLA game was proof of that as they got socked pretty good.
TOP 5 QUESTIONS
(1) WITH THE POSSIBLE CHAOS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW, WHICH FOUR TEAMS DO YOU SEE GETTING IN THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF? Goodness, I don’t know. I’d say it will be Ohio State, Clemson, LSU (yes, I think they stun Bama sadly), and Oregon as the top 4. It’s too jumbled still and even with a few one-loss squads there it is tough to say. This may be the most difficult decision the Committee will have to make.
(2) DID JIM HARBAUGH SAVE HIS JOB WITH THE WIN AGAINST NOTRE DAME? If he wins out through the Ohio State then yes. It doesn’t seem like there is a road to the Big Ten Championship for Michigan again this year, but the hope is they can put the sting into the Buckeyes on November 30 and make things interesting in the Playoff race. But it has been done before a team will fire a head coach despite a 9-3 year. But who would the Wolverines get? So honestly I think he is saved
(3) IS THE SEC BACK TO BEING DOWN TO JUST LSU OR ALABAMA? Until Georgia ever figures out to adapt their offense into being a little more spread out and open things up, then yes. Florida has been strong to this point, but I don’t see them beating either Alabama or LSU even on a neutral field (SEC Championship is that possibility). So right now I think the winner of the LSU/Bama game will represent the SEC in the Playoff (or perhaps it may be another year of two SEC teams get in if the loser still wins out and that will really satisfy the masses).
(4) IS OKLAHOMA IN SERIOUS JEOPARDY OF MISSING OUT ON THE PLAYOFF? Honestly, yes. If you look at the one-loss schools vying for the playoff right now, the Sooners, while dominating their games save for Kansas State does not have the strongest of resumes among them. That I think would have to go to both Florida and Oregon. Oregon’s loss to Auburn was one that may not factor in and Florida’s loss to LSU on the road is well, understandable. So hypothetically IF it came down to the final playoff spot and both Oklahoma and Oregon win out, then I’d probably give the last spot to Oregon (especially if they face an 11-1 Utah team in the PAC-12 title). But crazy things can still happen in the final month of college football so…
(5) HOW FAR CAN APPALACHIAN STATE GO WITH THEIR RANKING? Not far unless just a complete blowup happens in front of them. UCF was ranked in the top 10 when their season started last year and still got passed up. And the American Conference is far better than the Sun Belt. So, App State may end up with a New Year’s Six bowl (which I think they might if SMU somehow falls back), but that’s about it. Had North Carolina stunned Clemson, it would have gotten people talking though.
MY TOP 4 PLAYOFF TEAMS (BASED ON WHAT I THINK THE COMMITTEE WOULD VOTE IF IT WAS TODAY)
I guess you can say we have finally hit that halfway point of the season as most teams have played half of their games or the majority of it. We are starting to see gaps among the contenders while we are seeing teams that are trying to crash the party and other teams who just don’t have it. And this week, another big upset took place, maybe bigger than the one between South Carolina and Georgia last weekend.
On to the Top 5
TOP 5 WINNERS
(1) PENN STATE: This was a big win for the Nittany Lions playing a rival school in primetime. They did enough to win the game and have to be figured as the best shot against Ohio State in the Big Ten. But one thing will have to be can they avoid another upset by Michigan State before traveling to Minnesota two weeks after.
(2) OREGON: The Ducks got a HUGE W in Seattle this weekend and have played themselves back in. The schedule is favorable to run the table for Oregon and if that is the case, the PAC-12 plays a factor in the Playoff once more.
(3) UTAH: The Utes may have the best defense in college football right now with their overall balance of attack on defense. If Utah can win out, it will be interesting to see if the Utes can crash the Playoff party. The only time Utah would see Oregon would be in the PAC-12 championship, which could mean the winner has a nice resume spike.
(4) BAYLOR: The Bears had an impressive W against an Oklahoma State squad who is always prime to knock a team out especially in Stillwater. The Bears handled the Cowboys with relative ease and have to be considered a threat to Oklahoma in the Big 12 right now.
(5) FLORIDA: After a tough loss in LSU and going to South Carolina facing a team that won a big one against Georgia, Florida could have fallen flat on their faces. But they grinded it out with a W in Columbia and really are the team in the driver’s seat in the SEC East.
TOP 5 LOSERS
(1) WISCONSIN: The Badgers blew out Michigan State in an impressive manner and then they had a “warm up” with Illinois before Ohio State. And then…upset of the season. There is no way Wisconsin should have lost that game or even let Illinois hang around in that game. When you lose a game like that, it isn’t a player issue. It is a coaching issue. And how the Badgers blew that game was on Paul Chryst, who until yesterday was probably the coach of the year. Wisconsin now has to win out which I am not sure if they will do having to go to Ohio State and at Minnesota to end the year. This was probably the worst loss at the worst time for any contending team.
(2) MICHIGAN: It depends on how you carve up this L. Michigan fought and fought against Penn State until the end, but lost. But, it is also another loss against a top ranked team that Jim Harbaugh has under his belt which means the barking continues in Ann Arbor if he is really the guy. It will be interesting to see how Michigan reacts the rest of the way with their season.
(3) WASHINGTON: I’m really thinking the run for the Huskies of being a major threat in the PAC-12 has passed because something is not right out there in Seattle. Jacob Eason is not the problem out there, but the defense which has been solid for so long, imploded on itself and right now going to Husky Stadium is no longer a major obstacle for teams. Chris Petersen is a good coach, but he will need to figure things out because Washington should not be a team that is eyeing the Holiday Bowl.
(4) ARIZONA STATE: Had the Sun Devils gone into Utah and upset the Utes, you have to think they would be a sleeper as well for a Playoff. However, they came out flat as flat can be. And there are some offensive woes there that keep the Sun Devils from being a major threat. That said, whenever that offense improves, Arizona State is going to be a problem because Herm Edwards is doing a mighty fine job out there, save for yesterday.
(5) MISSOURI: With Georgia and Florida already chalking up losses, the Tigers (assuming they would win their appeal) had a strong shot to win the East. However, their second loss of the year (first conference loss) is another unexplainable loss to a team nowhere near as good as they are. So you wonder if Missouri has the issue of playing against lower teams on their levels. And that is a coaching issue, again.
TOP 5 QUESTIONS
(1) HAS TREVOR LAWRENCE REGRESSED? Yes. I know he’s still very young, but the passes he’s throwing are not smart passes. Two interceptions yesterday and his receivers have been bailing him out on a few other passes. Is it an issue of he is not focused to read defenses? Or is he seeing something that is different than what it actually is? Is he thinking he can make any throw and trying to thread the needle? I gave Lawrence a pass for the first half of the season, but now you do have to wonder what is going on inside his head a bit. That said, the minute things get worked out, Clemson should be the favorites again because the rest of that team is beyond dangerous.
(2) IS THE SEC REALLY WIDE OPEN? Yes, though LSU fans think they may be the best team in the conference right now. It’s hard to decipher because all the contenders (Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Florida, Georgia) have major issues going on. The default option is Alabama, but the defense is not strong (has more of a bend-don’t-break defense) and if Tua is dinged up that will hurt. LSU’s defense is in question now. Auburn has consistency issues. Florida’s run game is in question and Georgia’s coaching is a major question mark at this point. So it’s anybody’s guess. The winner may be that team who plays the hottest football down the stretch.
(3) CAN BAYLOR BE THE TEAM TO SHOCK OKLAHOMA? Yes. This not the Art Briles Baylor Bears where they relied on the offense to win games at 52-49. The Bears can actually play some defense as they (until yesterday) held teams to at least 21 points. And the Bears offense continues to roll. Have they had near misses? Yes, but they *SHOULD* enter the Oklahoma game 9-0. Do I think they will beat Oklahoma? Well, the game is in Waco, but I don’t think they will honestly. But the game can possibly be decided on the last play regardless. So it is possible they can. Probable? A different story.
(4) WILL WISCONSIN EVER GET OVER THAT HUMP? If you look at teams for the past 20 years in college football, the constant programs are there (mostly-save for a few years here & there) such as Alabama, LSU, Florida, Auburn, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Florida State until recently, and even to a lesser extent USC. Those teams also have National Championships to their credit as well. But two teams who are mainstays yearly in the top 10 or top 15, have been Wisconsin and Georgia. Save for 2017 with Georgia, both the Bulldogs and Badgers have been maligned with those “shoot themselves in the foot games” over the years. Georgia we saw last week with South Carolina and Wisconsin now. The recipe has been pretty similar for both: great ground game, solid defenses over time, but it is either a preparation issue, or they are so reliant with the run game the passing games often get forgotten. But also, it seems like when the game is on the line, bad decisions really show up for the coaches at these places. And Wisconsin made a lot of questionable decisions in Illinois yesterday. So right now, my answer is no for Georgia North (Wisconsin).
(5) HAS THE PAC-12 PLAYED THEMSELVES BACK IN THE PLAYOFF PUSH? For Oregon, yes. For Utah, perhaps. The issue will persist for the Ducks is that Auburn loss despite the big W in Washington last night. What the Ducks need is either for Oklahoma, Clemson, or Ohio State to trip up somewhere along the way. We know a 1-loss SEC Championship team (or a 1-loss SEC team in general) will get in especially if they have a W against Auburn. It’s possible a team gets tripped up as we have seen the last few weeks.
And we have some separation with a few teams this past week. We had a few upsets including one that is inexplicable. But wow, what a week. Let’s get started.
TOP 5 WINNERS
(1) OKLAHOMA: We know the Sooners will score points and in the past we knew they would give up points. While Oklahoma still gave up their share yesterday, it never felt they were going to lose that game against Texas at all because the defnese was solid all game long. And 9 sacks proved that. They remain the big boy in the Big 12.
(2) PENN STATE: The Nittany Lions win away from Happy Valley against a ranked team is something big for the program under James Franklin, who often struggles against some of the better squads. So while Iowa isn’t Ohio State, it is a big boost for them and they also can show they can be physical with the best of them as well. A run with the Michigan schools begins (home vs. Michigan and a road trip at Michigan State) and if the Lions roll in those games, Ohio State and Penn State could be a top 5 tilt when they see each other in November.
(3) LSU: Big win at home against rival Florida. The Tigers offense just look unstoppable at this point and many believe that the Tigers and Tide are destined to meet in Tuscaloosa in early November undefeated and possibly 1 & 2 on the committee.
(4) ALABAMA: Yeah, Alabama was expected to win, but given the backdrop of the Georgia/South Carolina game before that and Alabama’s history with Texas A&M you had to wonder if an upset would happen. But nope, the Tide rolled easy in College Station after a semi-slow start.
(5) WISCONSIN: The Badgers blew the doors off of Michigan State, worse than what Ohio State did. Maybe it is time to consider Wisconsin a major threat to the Buckeyes or no?
TOP 5 LOSERS
(1) TEXAS: Yes, nobody though the Longhorns were going to make a push to the National Championship nor thought they would even beat Oklahoma. But they were still a threat to the Big 12 title game. They still are technically but Oklahoma exposed the defense and their flaws. It’s going to be another year before the Longhorns make it back.
(2) GEORGIA: The ONLY reason why I have Georgia at #2 and not #1 is that Texas is eliminated from the National Championship picture. I should make Georgia #1A. Yes, Georgia is still “in it,” but the Bulldogs lost to a team they were favored to beat by 24 at home and they were outplayed and “outcoached” (well, Muschamp was rough himself, but his mistakes weren’t as many and beyond silly like Kirby Smart’s were). Stale, too conservative play-calling once again reared its ugly head in Athens and now you have to figure Georgia needs to win out. And that schedule now looks very challenging even with home tilts against Missouri and Texas A&M. Florida and Auburn look nearly impossible now.
(3) IOWA: The Hawkeyes had an offense that was respectable to start the year. Since they have played Michigan and Penn State, Iowa’s offense has gone AWOL. Surprising given the talent on that side this year. Pretty much this eliminates Iowa from Big Ten West contention (which is down to Wisconsin and-wait for it, Minnesota).
(4) WAKE FOREST: Let’s be clear here. No, I didn’t think the Deacons would play spoiler in the college football landscape but having a game at home to a Louisville team that isn’t Clemson, well, you should take care of business. And Wake didn’t. Back to the unranked category the Deacons go.
(5) FLORIDA: I even considered not even having the Gators here but they needed the W. Now the Jacksonville game with the Gators and Bulldogs will likely be for the SEC East title. That said, a few good things came out: they showed they can have an offense and they fought tooth and nail in a tough environment to a top 5 team. Sure beats losing to an unranked team at home who also has a losing record.
TOP 5 QUESTIONS
(1) HAS KIRBY SMART SHOWN HE ISN’T A NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP CALIBER COACH? Yep. I loved a Georgia fan on Twitter making a comment defending Smart and his coaching prowess saying how Smart took it to Saban to the limit two straight years. You also know who took Saban to the limit a lot with limited results? Les Miles (Forgive me, but I know that Les beat Saban a couple of times, but the last 5 games in Miles tenure vs. Alabama were all losses). Here’s why he isn’t: 1. He poorly prepared his players against South Carolina. 2. His stubbornness to open up the offense has really killed him in his time at Georgia already. 3. He’s a reactionary coach/coaches out of fear. ANY Championship caliber coach prepares his players well, is willing to adapt and is proactive. So again, Georgia with all the talent in the world continues to underachieve as a national threat.
(2) CAN WISCONSIN LEGITIMATELY CHALLENGE OHIO STATE IN THE BIG TEN? Still up in the air. Michigan State looked stronger against the Buckeyes in Columbus before mailing it in with Wisconsin a week after. Wisconsin’s offense is probably one of the most balanced offense the Badgers have seen in recent memory. That said, I don’t know if Wisconsin could play shootout against Ohio State in the air if that happens. So right now my answer is “they could, BUT!” Everything needs to go right.
(3) SHOULD WE CLASSIFY OKLAHOMA AS A TRUE THREAT FOR THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP? Yes. Their defense is not a top 10 defense, but definitely not a joke either. It is legit and strong. All that team needs is just a little defense and they could take down anybody in the nation.
(4) DOES LOUISVILLE STAND A CHANCE AGAINST CLEMSON? The Cardinals have gotten better as the season has continued. They can score and they can put up a fight. However, Clemson obliterated Florida State, a team that beat the Cardinals just a few weeks back. And it seems like Clemson is firing on all cylinders after their near disaster at North Carolina. So I expect it to be close for a half, maybe even 3 quarters, but Clemson pulls away.
(5) DID GEORGIA’S LOSS HELP OR HURT NOTRE DAME? Helps for the time being. The Irish need one more loss from Georgia to move ahead perhaps in any Playoff selection. And after how the Bulldogs played against South Carolina, you have to figure Florida and Auburn are likely losses at this point. However, they can’t have Georgia just completely implode the rest of the way. That was the Irish’s big game and they blew it. Virginia isn’t going to give them that jolt in the resume nor will USC. So yes, it helps, but if the Bulldogs go 8-4, that’s bad for Notre Dame.
MY TOP 4 PLAYOFF TEAMS AS OF NOW (BASED ON CURRENT RESUME):
The first month of college football is in the books. What have we learned? We are always going to be knee-jerkish with our responses on a week-to-week basis. But we are also starting to see about 8 teams who legitimately have a great shot at being a national champion. However, a few of those teams get to see each other from here on out (5 SEC teams notably) so it will mean a lot of intense games. On the other hand, we see one conference finally eliminate themselves from the Playoff chatter. And we are zeroed in on conference play.
This week was a bit of a lull for games as a few top teams got byes while others had easy tilts despite a near-upset in Chapel Hill with UNC against Clemson. But aside from that, nothing. Which is good because Dish and Fox are in another dispute over fees so I missed those games on Fox and the Big Ten Network which stinks. So I had to look at highlights and reviews of those games. So I guess you can also call this the angry edition of the top 5 this week.
TOP 5 WINNERS
(1) OHIO STATE: Dominate on offense. Dominate on defense. Dominate everywhere. Ohio State has been obliterating their opponents left and right on both sides of the ball. It looks like there is no team that can stop the Buckeyes. Justin Fields is playing great and playing with a chip on his shoulder and that’s a problem. October will be interesting as they see Michigan State and their defense (top ten in defense) and at the end of the month Wisconsin and their top defense. If they can show they can run all over them, they have to be the favorites from here on out.
(2) AUBURN: The Tigers are dominating on both sides of the ball. That’s a major uh-oh to their 4 SEC rivals who are sitting in the top ten (that Auburn gets to play all of them). Next week is Florida and the end of the month is LSU (both on the road). The Tigers if they complete the upsets then they have to be without question the #1 team in the Playoff Committee selection as it opens up.
(3) PENN STATE: 59-0 win at Maryland is very impressive. The Nittany Lions want to show that they are also as dominant as Ohio State. But what they have to go through in October isn’t fun (at Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State) so if they can escape all three games, then that Ohio State game will be one with Playoff implications.
(4) NOTRE DAME: The Irish faced off against a ranked Virginia team after taking a tough loss to Georgia last week. However, the Irish stood tall in the second half getting key turnovers and making big plays for a nice win. That all said, they will need major help to get back in the Playoff chase.
(5) OKLAHOMA STATE: Big win against Kansas State and showing it more on defense. Of course their season always is defined in Bedlam, but having one loss and to Texas isn’t something to be stung on. They still could run the table until they see Oklahoma in November. And then, who knows?
TOP 5 LOSERS
(1) PAC-12: California losing sealed the deal that all 12 teams have a loss to their credit. With Washington and Oregon playing each other later on in the year while California and Utah both still have to play each other. It’s hard to even think a PAC-12 champion will even have one loss. But pretty much, the conference is out. And PLEASE could we eliminate this “Conference of Champions” moniker they have? They have the longest droughts among the power 5 in football and in basketball. It is getting to the point where it is hard to take the conference as a whole seriously.
(2) VIRGINIA: The good news for the Cavaliers is that the Notre Dame loss isn’t going to play into effect of the conference standings. They will likely be the favorite to win the ACC Coastal still. However, too many mistakes were made against the Irish in the second half and that doomed Virginia. I like Bryce Perkins but some of the decisions he made hurt. But he’s still a quality QB. Just wasn’t really yesterday.
(3) KANSAS STATE: It wasn’t like we were thinking the Wildcats would be in the mix of a playoff spot, but their offense being unable to do anything against Oklahoma State is a massive problem. They play solid defense, but mixing an offense with it is needed to be really considered a threat to Oklahoma.
(4) NEBRASKA: Scott Frost’s team is still a year or two away from being legitimately competitive and it showed last night. To beat a team like Ohio State, you gotta keep your composure. Nebraska lost that composure early and often. They were flat-out dominated.
(5) TEXAS TECH: You know how crazy is defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? This is Texas Tech. I thought it was Kliff Kingsbury and his system that really kept the Red Raiders from being competitive with the quick strike air raid offense and the “option” defense. But it is still that and how the highlights showed yesterday the Red Raiders defense is a joke again. They can’t tackle, they get bullied up front, they just look like lost kids out there. The entire program in Lubbock needs an overhaul.
TOP 5 QUESTIONS
(1) IS CLEMSON REALLY THE TOP DOG IN THE NATION? If you look at their game yesterday against North Carolina, no.. But again, I’m giving them a free pass. Clemson does this EVERY. YEAR. They always scuffle in that first month before ramping it up the rest of the way. However, Trevor Lawrence has to get better. This isn’t the same Trevor Lawrence who carved up Alabama’s defense in the National Championship game last year. But my attitude remains: Clemson is still the top team in the nation until somebody beats them.
(2) WHO IS THE BEST TEAM IN THE SEC RIGHT NOW? It’s a team from Alabama. Just not the one we are thinking of. Auburn’s defense is strong and if they continue to get more consistency from Bo Nix (so far it’s been panning out), the Tigers are going to be the team that can just get after you. With a schedule they have, a 1-loss Auburn team is a lock for the Playoff. And remember, they get Georgia and Alabama at home. Alabama (problems against the run), Georgia (problems against the pass & coaching decisions), LSU (problems against the pass), and Florida (offensive consistencies) all have major things to work on right now. At this point, Auburn doesn’t.
(3) IS THERE ANY TEAM IN THE BIG TEN THAT CAN STOP OHIO STATE? People want to point at Wisconsin and Penn State. Wisconsin was rolling until yesterday against Northwestern where they had issues on offense, but the Badgers defense can do their thing. Iowa has given Ohio State fits too (we still remember the beatdown the Hawkeyes gave Ohio State in 2017 where it was the nail in the Buckeyes playoff chances) and their offense is pretty solid this year. Penn State rolled all over Maryland on Friday so there is hope the Nittany Lions can upend the Buckeyes but that game is in Columbus. But again, it isn’t the Buckeyes offense that has been the most impressive to me. It is their defense. And that is scary.
(4) DOES OKLAHOMA FINALLY HAVE A DEFENSE TO GO UP WITH THEIR STOUT OFFENSE? Yes. Is it great? Probably not but it is far better than the defenses the Sooners had taking with them to the playoff the last couple of years. But aside from their first week win against Houston, the Sooners have allowed less than 20 points in each game. And how often did we see the Sooners and Texas Tech win a game that was like 65-58? So for Oklahoma to take down Texas Tech by holding them to 16 points, this shouldn’t go unnoticed.
(5) WHAT DOES THE PAC-12 NEED TO DO TO GET THEMSELVES BACK IN THE PLAYOFF HUNT? If you’re talking about this year, nothing. I don’t see a one-loss PAC-12 champion get in. In hindsight, Oregon desperately needed that win against Auburn. That would have given them the inside edge and really a major argument for the Ducks being in the playoff. The hope is now for the PAC-12 is that the SEC teams all beat each other into oblivion where the top team still has two losses and you get upsets somewhere from Ohio State, Clemson (probably two losses), and Oklahoma. But again, two losses from every top team would have to be it. I don’t see it. But the issue is, there needs to be some team that dominates the PAC-12 like Oregon did in 2014. We have yet to see that happen.