Hi friends! It’s been a few weeks, but I lacked motivation to write for awhile and this is my blog so I will do as I please.
The playoffs are coming, of course, and now that we’re a half-dozen weeks into the season, let’s break it down by dividing teams into groups based on what they have to do to make the inaugural playoff.
Win Out, Get In:
You’ll notice I divided these up into two groups. The top group is unbeaten, the bottom group is one-loss teams. The top group has it pretty simple: Power 5 unbeaten team is getting in. If you’re in that group and you win the rest of your games, you’re going the playoff (there is a scenario in which there are five unbeaten teams at the end of the year, but that involves an unbeaten Georgia Tech team. If Georgia Tech goes 13-0, I’ll streak buck naked in the dead of winter down Ingersoll Avenue while proclaiming Charlie Weis the greatest coach Notre Dame has ever had).
Group two involves one-loss teams in the Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC that still control their own destiny in terms of winning the conference. It’s crazy, but all those SEC East teams can still finish 12-1 (11-1 in Florida’s case) and will make the playoff if they do so. I hesitated putting Missouri here, to be honest, due to losing AT HOME to Indiana, but the cache of the SEC would be too much to keep them out. The Pac-12 features a few one-loss teams who fell to a team in the opposite division. This means if they win out, they will hold tie-breakers on their division and go to the title game. A 1-loss Pac-12 champ is not being held out (unless Georgia Tech is the fourth unbeaten I guess, but, c’mon). That includes Oregon State and Cal for now, which is hilarious.
Feeling pretty good with one loss:
All of the unbeaten teams above except Georgia Tech
In the case of all the above teams, finishing with one loss means you likely have won the conference title (In Sparty’s, Nebraska’s, and Oklahoma State’s case, you definitely have). A 1-loss SEC, Pac-12, and Big 12 champ are definitely making it. A 1-loss Big Ten and ACC champ and 1-loss Notre Dame would all provide compelling cases, and they have a good shot, considering how things break. There’s a lot of discussion that Florida State can’t swallow a loss, but I’d disagree. Their non-conference schedule includes Oklahoma State, Notre Dame, and Florida. That’s at least two tough, compelling games, which the committee probably will reward.
A really interesting thought experiment is how the committee would sort out a 3-way tie in the Big 12. How much does out-of-conference SOS matter? Will they reward a team that played a tougher road schedule in-conference, even if that’s out of control of the schools? I feel pretty confident that unless armageddon happens, the Big 12 is only getting one team in. I hope they have a clear champion for the committee’s sake. Actually, I don’t hope that. We need to find out right away how the committee steers through mud.
Nebraska’s also an interesting case. I do think they have a good shot if they get their win back over Michigan State or get one over a hot Ohio State team, but they are on less stable ground than the rest of this list. They need separation in the Big Ten West. They need two other teams to finish 7-1 or 6-2. If there’s a mess of teams at 5-3 and 4-4 below them, they’re in trouble because that means their division is nothing but teams in the 40-50 range. Seperation (likely coming from Iowa and Minnesota?) would prop up a couple teams as top 30 to top 25 squads, making Nebraska’s wins over them more impressive overall.
At the bottom of the list are two SEC West teams. I don’t think it’s likely the SEC gets two teams in, but if it does, it’s going to happen because a) an SEC West team finishes unbeaten and loses to an SEC East team in Atlanta or b) the committee rewards the SEC West with two teams after two or three of them finish 11-1. Texas A&M and Alabama (along with the three unbeaten teams) all fall into that latter category for now, which has a decent shot of occurring in my mind.
One-loss teams that need a lot of help:
The losses here are just a little too much for me. I really wanted to put Ohio State in the higher group, but that Virginia Tech loss at home just keeps looking worse and worse. J.T. Barrett keeps looking better, though, and a win at Michigan State and over a West division champion may be enough to get them over the hump. I might be wrong. I can’t shake that awful loss.
The rest of these teams are on this list because I think the committee will look long and hard at taking a two-loss SEC Champ from the West division or a two-loss Pac-12 Champ before they take a one-loss team from this group. It might be unfair to Kansas State and Minnesota, who both lost to really good teams (Auburn and TCU, respectively). Kansas State lost at home, though, which is a big eliminator in my mind. Minnesota got thumped HARD.
Two-loss teams that have a shot:
SEC Champion from the West
Pretty simple, right? The Pac-12 is a meatgrinder. The winner will have played 10 conference games. The SEC West has yet to lose to anyone outside the SEC West. I actually think the SEC West may be in more danger here, because we don’t know if the bottom is going to fall out of that division yet. If LSU is actually bad and Arkansas can’t follow through with a competitive season, the committee may give the division a little less slack. This is how things stand now, though.
Anyway, games. Let’s talk games!
#2 Auburn (5-0, 2-0 SEC) @ #3 Mississippi State (5-0, 2-0 SEC) (2:30pm, CBS)
If I were to rank teams at this point in the season, I think Auburn would be my number one. They’ve whipped up on nearly everyone they played in frighteningly efficient manner, the exception being Kansas State. I’m willing to give a pass on those funky Thursday night games. That said, Mississippi State has also looked tremendous, and they currently sit 2nd in the F+/- rankings. Auburn is 5th, for what it’s worth.
We saw during the Kansas State game that Auburn’s running attack can be shut down if you are disciplined and make Nick Marshall throw the ball. The Bulldogs certainly have the personnel to do that. When you look at some of the advanced stats too, you see that Auburn has had some struggles running the ball efficiently – they 50th in rushing S&P, 72nd in standard down S&P. Part of that is the fact that they’ve seen two top 20 defenses already, but Mississippi State is still likely the best defense they’ve seen yet, and they thrive on getting opponents behind schedule. Meanwhile, Auburn certainly has not seen anything like Dak Prescott and Co. will throw at them. The Bulldogs have the best offense in the nation according to S&P+.
In the end, though, I don’t think we’ve seen Mississippi State’s worst game yet. Auburn is already road-tested, and I think they’ve made adjustments since that Thursday in Manhattan. They’re road-tested. Mississippi State has the spotlight square on them now, and we don’t know if they can handle the weight. Despite two top defenses, this does have the potential for a shootout. Auburn overcomes the cowbells.
Auburn 42, Mississippi State 34
#9 Texas Christian (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) @ #5 Baylor (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) (2:30pm, ABC/ESPN2)
How healthy is Bryce Petty? I’m not sure how you can be allowed to play with two cracked bones in your spine, but I’m not a doctor obviously. That 7/22 outing against Texas raises a lot of questions. We know Charlie Strong builds great defenses, but was there more at play? Baylor faces another stiff defense this week in TCU. If Bryce Petty plays early on like he did last week, Art Briles has to be ready with a short leash. It’s weird to say, but I don’t know if Baylor can get too far behind and live to tell about it, even at home.
It makes sense, then, that Baylor’s defense finally looks like a championship-level squad while the offense relatively falters. Led by LB Bryce Hager and S Orion Stewart, they’re ranked 3rd in the nation in S&P+. They’ll get their first real test of the season. TCU QB Trevone Boykin looks completely different from last season, and Gary Patterson has definitely loosened the reigns. If Petty’s not great, that defense has to step up in a way they have not done in the Art Briles era.
Baylor hasn’t lost at home in forever, but I just can’t shake the health concerns for Petty, and in that case, I don’t know if they have enough to keep up with TCU.
TCU 34, Baylor 21
#3 Mississippi (5-0, 2-0 SEC) @ #14 Texas A&M (5-1, 2-1 SEC) (8:00pm, ESPN)
Texas A&M is an interesting team. There was a lot of trepidation about them coming into the season – lots of Vegas books said they were the team most overrated by pollsters in the preseason – and then they started the season by opening up a can on South Carolina in Columbia. They shot up the polls, no questions asked. It’s time to ask questions.
That South Carolina win doesn’t look quite as impressive a month into the season, though thumping a mediocre team on the road isn’t something to look down upon. Better teams do less than that. After playing no one in non-conference play, they gritted out a win against a gamey Arkansas team and got promptly dismantled by Mississippi State. A&M is not disciplined, leading the SEC in penalties and penalty yards. After busting out of the gates in the first game, QB Kenny Hill has lacked accuracy in his last two games, and his receivers are dropping lots of balls that are on-target. The biggest wins Texas A&M has are against two teams we’re not sure about. Now they go against an absolute buzzsaw of an Ole Miss defense. Could the bottom fall out on the Aggies?
The other side of the ball stars our old friend Dr. Bo. We had the precise surgeon that Bo Wallace can be last week against Alabama. But we know that the quarterback can also just bring out the chainsaw and make a mess of everything – see the Boise State game. The Rebels have struggled running the ball, but the Aggies have only proven slightly capable of stopping the run. Bad Bo Wallace may show up, but I’m not sure the Aggies secondary is capable of taking advantage of mistakes. I get why Texas A&M is favored, but there may not be enough data points yet to judge them accurately. Maybe last week was just a result of coming off the Arkansas game. It was a slobber-knocker and Texas A&M was beat up; maybe they were set up for failure.
Or maybe the wheels fall off.
Mississippi 38, Texas A&M 24
#12 Oregon (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) @ #18 UCLA (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) (2:30pm, FOX)
Poor FOX. Just when it looks like they’re going to get a humdinger of an afternoon matchup, both participants lose and the juice comes out of it.
Not sure what else to say. Both teams have had some pretty miserable offensive line issues. Both QBs deserve better. I probably haven’t seen enough of either team to feel super comfortable. That said, I’m still certain that Oregon is the much better team. I still would bet on them finishing top 5 in the country. They still have everything to play for, and are still capable of winning a national championship. UCLA technically is too, but they’ve shown it with far less consistency. One great burst against Arizona State changed the way we talk about this team, but it’s the only great looking data point on a list of otherwise mediocre-to-good results. That’s not good enough to get it done against Oregon.
Oregon 41, UCLA 27
#13 Georgia (4-1, 2-1 SEC) @ #23 Missouri (4-1, 1-0) (11:00am, CBS)
EDITOR’S NOTE: I wrote this entire section and hit publish literally as news of Gurley’s suspension broke on Twitter. I’m not writing a whole new thing. I make my own rules. That said, the prediction below is null and void. Missouri wins 27-17. The SEC East now looks like this:
I know, third SEC game. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled is making us talk about the south so much. Whatever, it’s that kind of week. Georgia’s should win this walking away. They’re the only SEC East team that looks like it’s had a pulse recently. I chalk up the South Carolina loss to Spurrier Devil Magic. I’m pretty sure it’s the only game he spends time gameplanning for(e) between golfing sessions in the summer. Mizzou’s got a good defense, but not a great one. Georgia has Todd Gurley. I’m probably overstating this, but I really think it’s that simple. Give Todd Gurley the ball. Just do it. Run the ball, Bobo. If Mizzou can hold Gurley down long enough to get Georgia in a passing situation, they have a pass rush and secondary capable of harassing Georgia QB Huston Mason. Loading up the box can be dangerous because if Gurley slips by the second level, he’s gone, but Mason has yet to prove he can throw over the top if the defense is getting stops. On the other side of the ball, Missouri’s offense looked pretty dreadful against South Carolina for three quarters, especially passing. Georgia has alternated games where they play worse against the run and against the pass, so it’s hard to tell where the advantage will in this game. Yards will be there to be had if Maty Mauk and Co. are up for it. I don’t know though. I have no clue about this game. Georgia 31, Missouri 27
Aaron’s Corner of Bias!
Let’s talk Notre Dame. The Irish are 17-point favorites against North Carolina. There is absolutely no reason to ever ever ever ever ever bet on Notre Dame in this situation. Zero, nada, none. Letdown spot after an emotional Stanford win. Look-ahead spot to Florida State. They’re coming off a very physical game – the kind of game that makes you sit in ice tubs all week recovering. So this terrifies me. I can’t see anyway North Carolina actually wins – their defense is absolutely dreadful – but it probably will be way too close for comfort. I would love to see Notre Dame put up 50 and get a running game rolling, because that’s what they should be able to do. They won’t though. It’s not in the cards. Not much ranting otherwise today. I just hate this game in this spot so much.
Notre Dame 35, North Carolina 20 (late Irish touchdown to wrap it up).