Slowly but surely, college football progresses from the amorphous infant stages of the season into a more concrete collection of contenders, pretenders and the lost without hope. This week feels like the demarcation point where the changes at the top and bottom of the rankings become less and less drastic and every domino to fall has a diminished ripple effect. That is to say diminished in size, the gravitas of each ripple compounds dramatically though as we hurtle towards the finish line.
Orange Bowl (#1 vs. #4)- Michigan vs. Temple
Raise your hand if you agree with either of these two teams. That’s ok I was pretty much expecting crickets on that anyway. Michigan has been the best team in the country from week two until now. They are currently riding a streak of three consecutive shutouts, and have not given up more than seven points in a game since the opening day loss to Utah, which just happens to be the only remaining undefeated Pac-12 team. The biggest source of complaint with this is that undefeated Utah, who beat Michigan, should be here instead, which is not an unreasonable stance, however the results of one week shouldn’t take precedent over the collective results of six. Michigan has a chance to lay everything on the line again this weekend with in-state rival Michigan State coming to town.
Is it bordering on naive to suggest that a Group of Five team could make the playoff even if undefeated? The answer, unfortunately, is probably. Temple opened impressively against a Penn State team that is clearly better than most thought after that loss. Since then, Temple has dispatched of Charlotte and Tulane with the ease that a good team should, and beaten a Cincinnati team that was widely considered an AAC contender heading into the season and is less than two weeks removed from beating Miami by double digits. The only transgression, if you can call a win something so harsh, on the Owls’ resume to date is beating UMass by a mere two points.
Cotton Bowl (#2 vs. #3)- Baylor vs. Florida
This one’s for you ardent believers in conference supremacy. Baylor’s strength of schedule, specifically the lack thereof, is second only to Ohio State’s in the overcriticized department. Not to suggest that these guys are out there playing the AFC South for their non-conference schedules, but the scrutiny is misguided. Whoops, bad example, let’s make that the AFC East. Here are two reasons why the handwringing needs to stop: 1.) these teams only control 25-33% of their schedule every year and 2.) how you play against your schedule is a better determinant of how good you are than who you play, even if the committee doesn’t necessarily see it that way. The Bears are lambasting everyone they play, and even if they aren’t doing it against Top 25 competition, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value, it just means that it has relatively less value in comparison to a comparable performance against tougher competition.
Florida doesn’t have any complaints about its schedule, which some might try to attribute to #secbias, but that’s a misguided crusade too. The Gators most impressive win so far has been the shellacking of Ole Miss in The Swamp a few weeks ago. However, Florida was dealt a blow yesterday when it was announced that Will Grier would miss the remainder of the season after reportedly testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. That’s an unfortunate turn of events from a team that is still clearly in the driver’s seat in the SEC East and looked to be a win in Death Valley away from being a playoff favorite. Treon Harris did infuse life into Florida’s offense after replacing a quarterback midseason last year, so the Gator faithful will be hoping that he can recapture some of that magic a second time.
Rose Bowl- Ohio State vs. Utah
The hottest debate in college football right now is whether or not Ohio State should still be number one in the country after a lukewarm start to their season. Sure the Buckeyes are still undefeated, but no one can deny that they have not been as good as they were at the end of last season. The good news for Buckeye nation is that they don’t have to be yet. Survive and advance is the name of the game, and so far Ohio State has done that. They haven’t been the best team in the country, ergo they shouldn’t be number one, but that still doesn’t mean they won’t be come December and January.
Congratulations to the Utah Utes! You are the last remaining undefeated team in the Pac-12, and by virtue of that also its best playoff hope. As USC implodes, Oregon disappoints and UCLA two-faces its way through the season, Utah has emerged as a major player. They currently have two major wins to boast, oh and they beat Oregon by 42 in Eugene. Saturday night the Utes did it with defense picking off rising NFL prospect Jared Goff five times in the 30-24 victory. This team is good enough on both sides of the ball to win in myriad ways, and Kyle Whittingham continues to look like a Coach of the Year candidate. Should Utah continue winning look for his name to start cropping up in some of the major head coaching searches **cough USC cough** around the country too, as you’ll remember Whittingham and Utah AD Chris Hill have a well-documented history of being less than fond of each other.
Sugar Bowl- Texas A&M vs. TCU
Ho hum, here’s the same matchup we had here last week. This would still be a great matchup though and the Cotton Bowl would probably be sorely disappointed to miss out on being able to get this as a playoff matchup. TCU is still in most people’s top four, and number three in both the AP and Coaches’ polls. The Horned Frogs are in the same boat as Ohio State in that they have not looked like the team that closed out last season, despite having many of the same players. On the bright side, Trevone Boykin continues to make his Heisman case leading TCU to 50+ points in every week but the first.
The Aggies might very well have their Waterloo this week when the Tide rolls into town. A&M is looking to avenge a humiliating defeat at the hands of Alabama last season, and they are undoubtedly entering this contest this season in a much better state than they did the same game a season ago. Kyle Allen is entrenched as the starter now and can very easily be called the best quarterback in the conference. He has a plethora of weapons around him too with freshman Christian Kirk leading the way. If the Aggies survive these next two weeks, then it is highly likely that they will enter their season finale with the Bayou Bengals undefeated.
Fiesta Bowl- Iowa vs. Florida State
Kirk Ferentz should teach a class at Iowa in survivorship. Nobody manages to respond to “hot seat” pressure quite like Captain Kirk. Iowa hasn’t alway won impressively, but they are 6-0 and to be honest have already passed probably two of their four or five toughest tests of the season, so double digit wins seems pretty likely, as does another decade of Kirk Ferentz in Iowa City. Jordan Canzeri might be one of the least nationally appreciated runners in the country right now with 697 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.
The Seminoles just keep coasting under the radar, but they keep winning. Dalvin Cook has been exceptional all season, but I have mentioned him three or four weeks in a row now so I’ll spare you another Dalving Cook praisefest. Florida State did survive a tight one against in-state rival Miami on Saturday night, and once again seem content to play with fire, although they are marginally less pyromaniacal than they were last season.
Peach Bowl- Clemson vs. Toledo
Note: Toledo isn’t here because the rules mandate they be here, because Temple has already fulfilled that requirement. The Rockets have earned the right to be here. Toledo has two Power Five victories and three double-digit wins on its resume already. Sure that’s not as impressive as “five Power Five wins and three Top-25 wins”, but nobody else has that resume either. The difficulty for both Toledo and Temple in the coming weeks is that their primary competition for these spots will have a progressively bigger advantage in the “strength of schedule” department. (Before you call me a hypocrite, note that I do think strength of schedule is important, it’s just overstated).
The country may be sitting on pins and needles waiting for Clemson to “Clemson”, but the Tigers seem content to keep them waiting. At some point in time, we may be forced to accept the fact that Clemson is both good and that the notion of “Clemsoning” should be added to that vast collection of overused, overstated, and overblown notions. Deshaun Watson and company ought to close out October undefeated before a showdown against Florida State to open November with playoff implications on the line.
1. Michigan Wolverines
2. Baylor Bears
3. Florida Gators
4. Temple Owls
5. Ohio State Buckeyes
6. Florida State Seminoles
7. Utah Utes
8. Toledo Rockets
9. Texas A&M Aggies
10. Clemson Tigers
11. Iowa Hawkeyes
12. Houston Cougars
13. TCU Horned Frogs
14. Oklahoma State Cowboys
15. LSU Tigers
16. Boise State Broncos
17. Duke Blue Devils
18. Alabama Crimson Tide
19. Memphis Tigers
20. Ole Miss Rebels
21. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
22. Michigan State Spartans
23. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
24. North Carolina Tar Heels
25. Penn State Nittany Lions
First Five Out: Stanford Cardinal, Ohio Bobcats, Northwestern Wildcats, Marshall Thundering Herd, Navy Midshipmen