Playoff Picture: Eye of the Tiger

Of all the tiger cliches I could have gone with for the title, the LSU “Neck” chant, that has been appropriately banned, would have been the edgiest and most attention-grabbing. “Year of the Tiger” would have been the most overplayed and culturally appropriated. Something about “earning stripes” would have been the most abstract and least easily connected to the subject matter. A Tony the Tiger or Tigger reference would have had the highest commercial appeal, but again maybe not the most easily tied back to the intended subject matter. Ultimately, I had to go with the “eye of the tiger” because, thanks to Rocky III it’s the most easily sports-connected, and, thanks to the playlists of college football stadium deejays everywhere, it’s also the most college football-connected. In case you hadn’t figured out by now, this week’s playoff features plenty of “Tiger” teams.

Peach Bowl (#1 vs. #4)- LSU vs. USC

Associated Press
Photo Courtesy of Associated Press

LSU earned the #1 spot this week with a road win over Texas that doubles as the best win of the season to date. LSU’s revamped offense proved that the strong showing against Georgia Southern wasn’t simply because…well they were playing Georgia Southern. Joe Burrow put up massive numbers to insert himself into the Heisman discussion and, for the first time in LSU history, three different receivers went over 100 yards receiving in the same game. With the talent LSU possesses, an offensive scheme more fitting of 21st century football and a quality win already under their belt, these Tigers are sitting pretty with an inside track to the playoff.

Most of you are probably thinking: “USC?? Seriously?? You know their athletic director just resigned right?” I know. I know. Who else would you put here though? Sure, Alabama, Ohio State and Oklahoma have all looked exactly how they should have against their opponents, but where’s the impressive win? They will have their opportunities to get this spot. Should I throw Maryland in here after they took a flamethrower to Syracuse? I strongly considered it, but their opener was against Howard, which I can’t exactly reward with a playoff spot two games into the season. Wisconsin was another worthy consideration, but USC’s win over Stanford late Saturday night was more impressive than either of the Badgers’ wins thus far. Ultimately, I’m giving the Trojans this spot for now because they prevailed against a Fresno State team that I still anticipate being a good Mountain West team and then stomped a Stanford team, albeit without its starting quarterback, by erasing a 17-3 deficit with a 42-3 run. Also, who’s to say Kedon Slovis can’t be this year’s Cardale Jones? (He’d just be doing it much earlier in the season than when Cardale did it).

Fiesta Bowl (#2 v #3)- Clemson vs. Auburn

Streeter Lecka:Getty Images
Photo Courtesy of Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Clemson got a win over a ranked team on Saturday, but truthfully they didn’t look like what we’ve come to expect from a Clemson team. Texas A&M made several mistakes to beat themselves and struggled to move the ball most of the afternoon. Clemson was in control of this game from kickoff, but the Aggies didn’t force them to do much. Clemson is still uber-talented and they have shown flashes of being awesome. It’s just a matter of time until they put everything together and Clemson fans have no reason for concern.

Auburn was still riding high this week, fresh off their big win over Oregon, and plenty of Auburn fans were probably disappointed about a 24-6 win over Tulane, but that’s because most people aren’t paying attention to the Green Wave. Willie Fritz has turned that program around in a big way. They stomped a Florida International team that won 9 games last year in their opener. Bo Nix had some freshman moments, as he’s going to have, but he still seems like he has all the tools and poise to lead this offense right now. Also, I preach more than anyone about how the transitive property is useless in sports, but I do think it’s noteworthy that Oregon beat Nevada, the same Nevada that beat Purdue on opening week, 77-6 on Saturday night.

Rose Bowl- Ohio State vs. Utah

Chris Hoppes:Record-Herald
Photo Courtesy of Chris Hoppes/Record-Herald

Justin Fields’ performance to date would be enough to put him near the top of the Heisman discussion in most years, but thanks to his level of competition and high-level performances from other quarterbacks, he isn’t really being discussed…yet. 2019 is shaping up to be one of the most interesting Heisman discussions in recent memory, and I fully expect Fields to be right in the middle of that discussion as the season winds down. As a whole, Ohio State has looked exactly like they should have and good enough to be my top Big Ten team through two weeks, but they need to face a stronger opponent to vault into my playoff.

Honest confession: I probably saw just as much of the Utah-Northern Illinois game as you did. Let’s put it this way, I definitely didn’t see more of this game than you did. I did follow the game on the score ticker while I watched other games, and the impression I got was that Utah took longer to pull away from the Huskies than they should have. The Utes were also never in any real danger. Zack Moss failed to go over 100 yards rushing, but did find the endzone twice on the ground. The strength of Utah’s win over BYU is still TBD and Northern Illinois, while a stronger MAC program, isn’t the same caliber program today that it was at its peak in the Jordan Lynch era. For now, the Utes’ performance is good enough to land them the #2 spot in the Pac-12.

Sugar Bowl- Oklahoma vs. Alabama

Sue Ogrocki:Associated Press
Photo Courtesy of Sue Ogrecki/Associated Press

The Jalen Hurts Heisman campaign has been the top storyline in Norman for the last two weeks. His odds to hoist the most coveted individual hardware in college football have jumped to 3/1, which puts him even with former teammate Tua Tagovailoa. Hurts has led the Sooners to two easy wins to start the season, and like I mentioned earlier they have looked exactly how they should (and honestly maybe even a little better). They easily look like the class of the Big XII right now, although I still think Texas is going to be in that conversation despite losing to LSU.

I’ve typed this so much it’s starting to annoy me, but Alabama has been what we expected them to be. I’ll spare you the link of the late Dennis Green clip this week, but you get the idea. Oh hell, here it is just to hammer home the point. Nick Saban made a point in his press conference this week to point out that Alabama’s non-conference schedule is partially a by-product of other teams not wanting to schedule them. He makes a fair point (all the more reason why we need to make the “Opening 8” a thing), but until Alabama has their mettle tested at least a little bit I can’t justify putting them ahead of Auburn or LSU in my SEC rankings.

Orange Bowl- North Carolina vs. Maryland

Streeter Lecka2:Getty Images
Photo Courtesy of Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Raise your hand if you thought Mack Brown was a good hire for North Carolina? Let me be more specific: Raise your hand if you thought Mack Brown was a good hire for North Carolina in 2019? If you raised your hand, you just told a lie and you need to go to confession. If you didn’t raise your hand, it’s ok I didn’t either. However, North Carolina is now sitting at 2-0, and more importantly has two wins over Power Five schools. The Tar Heels have needed late comebacks to win both games and their luck in that department probably won’t continue, but that doesn’t detract from what they’ve done through two weeks, especially considering it’s happened with a true freshman quarterback.

Good God Maryland save some points for the rest of the season!! My podmate, Brian Hall, and I were skeptical of Maryland hanging 79 points of Howard and its relevance for what to expect going forward. We were so skeptical, in fact, that we both quickly jumped on the Syracuse moneyline last week, scoffed at Vegas favoring Maryland in this game, and spent (and subsequently lost) $60 of our collective SOCC dollars on Syracuse winning the game outright. In our defense, we had good reasons for feeling this way: the performance was against Howard, it was an emotional day for the Terps, and it was against Howard. Last week, Maryland did something no one could ignore, however, by pantsing Syracuse on national television. Thinking back on it, I should have had more faith in Maryland quarterback Josh Jackson, who showed plenty of promise at Virginia Tech before fracturing his left fibula against Old Dominion last year and transferring in the offseason. (The Hokies went on to lose that game by the way).

Cotton Bowl- Hawaii vs. Wisconsin

Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Photo Courtesy of Honolulu Star-Advertiser

UCF or Boise State would be the easy pick to fill this spot, but the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors are currently the only Group of Five team to open the season with two wins over Power Five schools. Granted, calling Oregon State a Power Five team is akin to calling a Redd’s Apple Ale a beer. Technically speaking, is it true? Unfortunately yes. Does that mean either of these things should be considered as such? Not if you are a man or woman with any shred of dignity and self-respect. That being said, Hawaii is off to a 2-0 start and does technically have two Power Five wins. Plus, they have another chance at a Power Five win this weekend, and an impressive one at that, with a trip to Washington. All hail the Rainbow Warriors!

Wisconsin has played eight quarters of football in 2019 and given up zero points. Central Michigan isn’t expected to be a good MAC team this year and USF is increasingly looking like they are also not going to be a good football team, but winning your first two games over FBS opponents by a combined score of 110-0 is worth something. Jonathan Taylor has picked up right where he left off last year and, in an attempt to improve his draft stock, has been much more involved in the passing game so far this year. Having a back like Taylor to draw defenders into the box and be a safety valve receiver is a massive help for a young quarterback like Jack Coan.

Cover Photo Courtesy of LSU Athletics

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