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The Obstructed NCAA Top 5-Week 1

I know the Virginia Tech/Florida State game hasn’t been played, but it is on a Monday so I really have no desire to wait around and post it as well, I have a busy week ahead of me.  That game aside, the first full week has come and gone.  What have we learned about the first week?  Well, mostly the powerhouses sharpened their skills while the big matches for the most part had a bit of everything as a whole (some were exciting and others were flat).  The four playoff teams showed why they will be tough to remove from the top four in 2018 with Georgia and Clemson both sharpening their skills in beating up FCS programs while Oklahoma took down FAU with plenty of ease.  Alabama throttled Louisville big time as the only talk was how Nick Saban handled himself after the game with the sideline reporter.  But other teams, notably in the SEC are coming for Georgia and Alabama in both divisions.  The Big Ten will have some questions to answer about their big four powers in the East while the PAC-12 has a lot of questions to answer.  Let’s get to it.

TOP 5 WINNERS

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(1) LSU:  The Tigers, for the first time in the longest time had been regarded as an afterthought coming in.  The defense remained stout but far too many questions on offense.  However, a 33-17 showing of Miami on Sunday night where the offense looked pretty solid and the defense looked sick showed they won’t go away.  Of course, Miami has issues at quarterback, but still, how they handled the Hurricanes was nothing short of impressive.  The Tigers in two weeks face off against their SEC West foe Auburn for what will give a team the early edge in the SEC West.

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(2) NOTRE DAME:  While many picked the Irish to win (myself included), they took advantage of some poor Michigan play on both sides of the ball in the first half en route to a 24-17 win.  Notre Dame doesn’t have the same advantage as others thanks to no conference affiliation so a loss hurts them and a 2nd loss dooms them.  This is one of those games they desperately needed to win.  And they did.

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(3) AUBURN:  While I think it was more of Washington losing than Auburn winning Saturday, it was still a big feather in the Tigers cap.  But questions abound Auburn’s running game, which looked stagnant and pass protection for Jarrett Stidham.  Auburn needed the win for that early momentum and that schedule is a murderous one.  LSU is coming and those road games with Ole Miss and Mississippi State will really test this group big time.

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(4) MARYLAND: Still don’t think the Terps will be in any Big Ten East race this year, but they took down Texas for a 2nd straight year when the Longhorns had far more talent than the Terps.  But give props to Matt Canada for doing his part of getting those kids to play strong after the Jordan McNair death.  And it shows that right now the Big Ten is still a cut above the Big 12 as a whole.

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(5) NORTHWESTERN: The Wildcats took a big road win at Purdue to start the year.  Again, if this is one team that could really shock the snot out of people, Northwestern is it.  Reminder, they do get Wisconsin and Notre Dame at home while getting Michigan State on the road.  So the schedule won’t be easy at all, but a good win like they had Thursday at Purdue really goes a long way to begin their season.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: OLE MISS, OKLAHOMA, BOISE STATE

TOP 5 LOSERS

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(1) MIAMI:  The thought of the Hurricanes not being able to hang with the big boys starts to come in, as it was a problem with Mark Richt at Georgia.  Malik Rosier followed up his miserable 2017 ending with a miserable 2018 beginning and will be scrutinized the rest of the way until A) He plays big against a top team or B) Richt benches him.  How the Hurricanes played against LSU was borderline embarrassing.  If this is supposed to be the 2nd best team in the ACC behind Clemson then the ACC is going to be very weak in 2018.

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(2) WASHINGTON:  People think the Huskies loss, while hurtful, won’t be the death blow for Washington’s playoff chances.  It’s somewhat true as it really was a road game for the Huskies, traveling cross country to Atlanta as opposed to Auburn just driving up the road and I believed Washington after the slow start, outplayed Auburn.  But poor coaching decisions and bad turnovers costed the Huskies from leaving Atlanta with a W.  It isn’t an elimination loss, as if they run the table they still have a shot.  However, after the PAC-12’s performance this weekend as a whole, it is going to be a larger mountain to climb for Washington the rest of the way.

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(3) MICHIGAN:  It’s not the end of the world for Harbaugh and Co. But the defense’s super slow start really stung Michigan early and the offense looked like the same inept offense like it was last year.  And I mentioned this during the game: while Patterson had a nice run at Ole Miss, his two worst games were to Alabama and LSU where he completed less than half of his passes and had 0 TD and 5 INT.  He has to get better before conference play begins for Michigan to stand a chance and maybe save Harbaugh’s job.

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(4) TEXAS:  Tom Herman didn’t need to stumble out of the gates a 2nd straight year to Maryland.  It was the last thing needed.  And he did.  Texas, like Michigan can recruit like no other, but losing to Maryland is inexcusable.  Now like the rest, one loss won’t sting.  But no room for error now and you still have Oklahoma on the schedule, which if they are a more rounded team than last year, oh boy.  Trouble is brewing.  And every loss Herman has will get the Longhorn natives restless.

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(5) ARIZONA:  Shame on me for thinking Kevin Sumlin could make Khalil Tate pass.  That was a mess watching him try to pass against BYU.  And Sumlin’s Wildcats looked more like Sumlin’s Aggies where they had difficulty stopping key plays on defense and just being gassed out there with that defensive unit.  So in other words, Arizona instead of being a threat to the PAC-12 South, may need to find players to get the program going Sumlin’s way.  Because that was ugly.

DISHONORABLE MENTION: UCLA

TOP 5 QUESTIONS:

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THE SEC ROLLED WITH EVERYBODY WINNING (EXCEPT TENNESSEE), WHICH CONFERENCE SHOULD BE CONCERNED? If I had to choose just one right now, I’d say the PAC-12.  The conference is already very weak at the bottom and then your top team loses the marquee kickoff game to Auburn.  Worse, two teams lost to non-power 5 teams at home (UCLA, Arizona).  Washington State and USC both had wins that looked nice on paper, but it took a while for those game to look nice as well.  But somebody will have to run the table to get to the playoff at this point because a 1-loss team may not cut it with the PAC-12.  The ACC didn’t look too great either, but they at least have Clemson.  But right now outside of them, it may be very jumbled all-around.

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SHOULD THE BIG TEN BE WORRIED ABOUT THE EAST DIVISION POWERS STRUGGLING THIS WEEKEND?  Not really.  I know both Michigan State and Penn State struggled mightily at home to Utah State and Appalachian State respectively.  Ohio State while really being in control to Oregon State, got gashed and gave up 30+ points, which was more than a little surprising.  However, they all won.  And to put it into reference with Michigan State, the year they went to the playoff, they had 3 close scares to Central Michigan, Purdue (who was at that point the worst team in the Big Ten), and Rutgers.  So we’ve seen the Spartans play this song and dance.  Penn State is slightly eye-raising, but even then two years ago they lost at Pitt out of the gates and still won the Big Ten title.  In a way, it is somewhat of a blessing for the schools (Michigan State and Penn State notably) to have those close scares early on so they can make those adjustments because mostly in Week 2 you get that tougher game and both have tough games heading their way of being on the road (though Penn State makes a small drive to Pittsburgh and Michigan State has to go cross country to Arizona State)

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IS ALABAMA GOING TO HAVE THEIR HANDS FULL IN THE SEC WEST?  Perhaps yes.  The Tide looked great and they really looked sharp on offense with Tua (why Saban keeps putting in Hurts, who somewhat stagnated the offense I don’t know, but why doubt a guy who has won 6 national championships?) and the defense looked far better than I thought they did (though an improvement on the pass rush would help).  Ole Miss is pretty much playing like there is no tomorrow because there isn’t for them (probation and bowl ban) and they have a passing attack that can give Alabama fits.  LSU’s defense always plays Alabama tough.  And remember both games are on the road for the Tide.  And you can’t count out Mississippi State.

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WILL GEORGIA HAVE THEIR HANDS FULL IN THE SEC EAST?  Too early to tell, but perhaps as well.  The Bulldogs will be tested big time by Missouri and perhaps maybe Florida with Mullen there.  The one game that will be intriguing is the South Carolina game next week as the Gamecocks looked pretty sharp.  But the issue is, they all looked sharp, but against either FCS schools or weak FBS schools.  So we don’t know who can do what and if Georgia can put those teams to bed.  Worse, they have a tough road trip to LSU this year which will test the Bulldogs offense.

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IS OKLAHOMA THE “SLEEPER” CANDIDATE FOR THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP?  Yes.  I didn’t have them getting back to the playoff, but I can see them getting back.  If the Sooners are going to be more well-rounded on both sides of the ball and finally play some strong defense to the point of being a top 25 defense (something that has eluded them all throughout the run since 2000), there is no reason to believe they can’t win it all.

But just remember, it is Week 1.  Stranger and crazier things have happened over the course of a season.

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