The Playoff Picture: Who’s Even Good?

I have this friend who is a great sports fan. He’s very knowledgable and consistently gets the big picture, as well as what’s going on with his favorite teams and their closest competition. The one vice my friend has as a sports fan is that he loves to ask the question, “Is so-and-so even good?” On its face that’s not a completely ridiculous question, and 75% of the time when he asks it it isn’t. Every once in awhile though, he will ask it about a team that is obviously good  after they either barely beat a team he thinks is trash or cost him money gambling or are about to play his team. I’m not ragging on him. I think that’s just a normal part of fandom. Also, after a week where only one team really stood out I think it’s a fair question to ask about everybody, so today we will ask the question of each team discussed. As always, remember these projections are based on what would happen if the season ended today and not what I anticipate happening necessarily.

Sugar Bowl (#1 vs. #4)- Clemson vs. USC

Getty Images
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Is Clemson even good? So far all evidence points to the answer to this question being yes. If you’ll remember I wrote this about Kelly Bryant last week, “I believe he has a coming out party at some point this year and it could be this weekend.” I think 22/32 for 322 yards and a touchdown with two more rushing touchdowns against the #14 team in the country during primetime qualifies. The thing we know for sure is that this defense is nasty. Clemson has now allowed a total of 26 points in three games, including two games against top 25 teams and one against the defending Heisman trophy winner.

Verdict: 100% sure Clemson’s good

Is USC even good? Well, we have three games of evidence and the reviews are a little mixed despite all of them being wins. Sam Darnold is definitely good and last night he looked like a future #1 pick in the NFL Draft. However, to date we have an 18-point win over a Western Michigan that is a far cry from what it was last year, an 18-point win over a Stanford team whose defense might be bad and now an OT win over a Texas team who might be decent but that opening week loss is still fresh in my memory. The Trojans are still the favorite to win the Pac-12, but some holes have been exposed.

Verdict: 95% sure at this point

Rose Bowl (#2 vs. #3)- Oklahoma vs. Alabama

NCAA Football: Tulsa at Oklahoma
Sep 19, 2015; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) runs for a touchdown against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane during the first quarter at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Is Oklahoma even good? Much like with USC, we do know that the quarterback is good. Baker Mayfield almost singlehandedly beat Ohio State on the road two weeks ago and was a Heisman finalist last year. The Sooners have beaten their other two opponents, Tulane and UTEP, like a drum, winning by a combined score of 112-21. The defense still hasn’t been tested by a truly great offense, and there may be some legitimate concerns on that side of the ball which will make Bedlam a massive test.

Verdict: 100% sure the offense is good

Is Alabama even good? Given the past eight seasons this seems like a patently absurd question to ask, but we are asking this about everyone so calm down. The answer is that they are definitely good, but how good are they? The opening weekend win against Florida State was huge, but the Seminoles haven’t played a game since and lost their starting quarterback for the season so we may never know how good that win truly was. They handled business against Fresno State and won easily against Colorado State but the defense gave up some yards and points to the Rams in the second half. Some of that may be due to the injuries at linebacker. The secondary was supposed to be a huge strength though and some vulnerabilities might have been exposed there which is the biggest area of concern at this point in time, but if you believe in the talent (which you probably should) then you should believe that the secondary will get the kinds ironed out.

Verdict: 100% sure that they are good, but not sure how relatively good compared to recent Alabama teams

Orange Bowl- Virginia Tech vs. Mississippi State

Keith Warren:The Clarion-Ledger
Photo Courtesy of Keith Warren/The Clarion-Ledger

Is Virginia Tech even good? On opening week, the Hokies passed the “eye test” with an impressive win over West Virginia. Since then, they have handled their business against Delaware and ECU. However, West Virginia was a team that I wasn’t hot on coming into the season but they kind of won me over in a losing effort so some caution should still be entertained with the optimism. So far, there is nothing to suggest that Virginia Tech can’t and won’t compete for an ACC crown though.

Verdict: 75% sure they’re good

Is Mississippi State even good? Has this question gotten old yet? Sorry only eight more to go. The Bulldogs came onto the radar this week after thrashing LSU, which sounds impressive when you consider that LSU entered that game as the #12 team in the country. If you live in SEC country though, you know that plenty of people had concerns about the Tigers actually deserving that ranking. In the first few weeks, LSU controlled both of their games, but it was against what appears to be mediocre competition at best. Fortunately, this coming week will give #HailState a chance to back that game up with another big game in Athens.

Verdict: 50% sure that Mississippi State is good but that could jump to 75% or higher after this weekend

Cotton Bowl- Oklahoma State vs. Michigan

Sam Mousigian:Michigan Daily
Photo Courtesy of Sam Mousigian/Michigan Daily

Is Oklahoma State even good? No one should be questioning whether or not the offense is good, because they are probably the best in the country. Through three games the Pokes are averaging 54 points per game, and even though they haven’t exactly faced a murderer’s row we knew they were going to be explosive. Mason Rudolph and James Washington, Jr. are almost assuredly going to win some national awards at the end of the year. The jury is still out on the defense, but if they are merely passable then this is easily a top two or three team in the Big XII and a playoff contender

Verdict: 95% sure they’re good

Is Michigan even good? This is a really interesting question because I’m honestly not sure yet. The Wolverines beat a shell of Florida’s team on opening weekend, but the offense was not impressive at all. The offense has still not been impressive through three weeks but the defense looks like they are really good. This would have sounded crazy at the beginning of the season, but this trip to Purdue will be the biggest test of the season to date and should give a clearer indication of how they stack up to Penn State and Ohio State than even the Florida game.

Verdict: 60% sure they’re good

Fiesta Bowl- San Diego State vs. Penn State

AP Photo:Gregory Bull
Photo Courtesy of AP Photo/Gregory Bull

Is San Diego State even good? The Aztecs are good enough that Pac-12 teams should start to reconsider scheduling them as non-conference opponents for whatever that’s worth. San Diego State has now beaten two Pac-12 teams in two weeks, and Rashaad Penny made me look good by going off with 32 carries for 175 yards and a touchdown on Saturday night after I made him a “Pick 6” player last week. The one caveat here is that Arizona State might be a bottom three or four Pac-12 team and at this point it’s fair to ask if Stanford is anything more than a middle of the road Pac-12 team (and yes I vividly remember picking them to go to the Playoffs you don’t have to bring it up). Plus, it isn’t exactly like they blew either team out either winning both games by a combined 13 points.

Verdict: 50% sure they are good nationally, but 100% sure they are good by Mountain West standards

Is Penn State even good? As a matter of fact, the Nittany Lions are the team that prompted me to play this fun, but annoying little game of “Who’s even good?” in the first place. The box scores all indicate that Penn State is really good so far with three easy wins in the record book. However, the level of competition they have faced has made it impossible to definitively say how good they are so we have to necessarily entertain some skepticism for at least another week. Penn State travels to Iowa this weekend in a game that is exactly the type of game that has kept Captain Kirk employed at Iowa well past the point where some would have moved on.

Verdict: 80% sure they’re good

Peach Bowl- Memphis vs. Vanderbilt

Mark Humphrey:Associated Press
Photo Courtesy of Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

Is Memphis even good? Much like San Diego State, I feel very confident that Memphis is good relative to both their confidence and reasonable expectations, but how good are they when it comes to the national picture? This weekend was a huge win, but thanks to Irma, the Tigers have only played two games and one was a less that inspiring 8-point win over UL Monroe. Also, I guess I’ll have to address the elephant in the room that I put two Group of Five teams in the New Year’s Six bowls, but they’ve earned it so go bring me your Top 25 win and we can talk.

Verdict: 45% sure they’re good 

Is Vanderbilt even good? In direct contrast to Oklahoma State, I feel certain that the defense is good and so does Dan Wolken apparently. (I’m only like 3% confident that Dan Wolken is good though so take that as you will). The big question mark for the Commodores is whether they score enough to consistently win big games and compete for a title in the East….ok the second part of that is a complete joke. Most SEC East games this year will be a race to 21 unless, of course, you are playing Missouri. Vanderbilt has a great opportunity to show that they are good with Alabama coming to town this weekend.

Verdict: 40% sure they are good (75% sure the defense is good but only 5% sure the offense is)

**Bonus Bowl** Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl- Wisconsin vs. Georgia

Kim Raff:Associated Press
Photo Courtesy of Kim Raff/Associated Press

Is Wisconsin even good? I’ve typed that sentence so many times now that even I’m getting tired of it and I created this dumb gimmick. Good news though, only one more to go! Other than a shaky first half against Utah State to open the year, the Badgers have pretty well taken care of business at this point. However, I will take yet another opportunity to remind you that BYU, maybe the best team Wisconsin has played, went from a threat to win 10 games to a threat to lose 10 games in less time than it takes Dom Toretto to drive a quarter of a mile, so (insert shrug emoji).

Verdict: 70% sure they’re good

Is Georgia even good? Notre Dame’s big win over Boston College this weekend indirectly, and maybe erroneously, improved the chances of the Dawgs being good in my eyes. Jake Fromm is still a true freshman, albeit a good one, and there are still limitations that come with having a true freshman under center. Georgia has done what they needed to so far including a road win in a hostile environment so that counts for something. Mississippi State comes to town this week for a “put up or shut up” game for both teams and the battle to be the best “Dawgs” in the conference.

Verdict: 65% sure they’re good

Pick Six

J Pat Carter:Getty Images
Photo Courtesy of J Pat Carter/Getty Images

As always, these are my six players to watch from the biggest games of the weekend.

1. James Washington, Jr. is definitely good and has a chance to really start putting marks on his Biletnikoff résumé this weekend.

2. Jake Fromm picked up a big road win in his first ever start, but he needs to be sharp Saturday if Georgia is going to open SEC play with a win.

3. James Blackman will make the first start of his career on Saturday, and if Florida State has any chance of salvaging their ACC and Playoff hopes then he needs to be good. That’s a lot of pressure for a guy who wasn’t even expected to play this year.

4. Jake Browning will finally get back in the spotlight after he and the Huskies have laid low to some extent after a relatively uninspiring opening weekend against Rutgers. Colorado’s defense is potentially really good again so Browning needs to have a strong showing to avoid an upset.

5. Saquon Barkley was my preseason Heisman pick and so far he has put up explosive numbers. Now he gets to do it against a legitimate defense this weekend.

6. Devin Bush, Jr. leads Michigan in sacks and tackles for loss and he will need to keep that up to frustrate a vastly improved Purdue offense.

Cover Photo Courtesy of Getty Images




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