Playoff Picture: Shrug Emoji

Brace yourself for a surprising and disheartening fact. Are you sitting down? Is a paper bag near by? Good. The college football regular season is already 25% gone. I know bums me out too, but we won’t worry about that now! What I’m worried about this week is that the season is a quarter over and I’m still trying to figure out these teams like: 🤷🏻‍♂️. Obviously there is still plenty of time for the season to shake itself out, but right now everything seems murky. I am also fully aware that my task with this column each week is to try to cut through that murkiness for you, but so far your guess is as good as mine. Six teams, so far, look like they might be a cut above: Clemson, Alabama, LSU, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Texas. Other than that…🤷🏻‍♂️

Peach Bowl (#1 vs. #4)- Clemson vs. Ohio State

Associated Press
Photo Courtesy of Associated Press

For all the talk about whatever might be wrong with Clemson’s offense, let’s take a deep collective breath and get a grip. Clemson’s offense is fine. The real issue, or at least what everybody thinks is an issue, is that Trevor Lawrence is not meeting the expectations we set for him. Two problems with that: a) he’s 19 years old and b) the expectations we set were basically apex Peyton Manning. So let’s all just chill the eff out and remember that Clemson is loaded and their “disappointing” offensive performance still involved gaining over 600 yards and averaging over 8 yards per play against Syracuse.

Ohio State still hasn’t had a major test yet, but napalming two decent Group of Five teams and a conference opponent has to count for something. Justin Fields still looks awesome and the Buckeyes have performed every bit the part of a top four team. We are still going to have to wait a bit longer to see Ryan Day’s squad face a real obstacle though with the Buckeyes hosting Miami (Ohio) this weekend.

Fiesta Bowl (#2 vs. #3)- LSU vs. Auburn

AP LSU Photo
Photo Courtesy of AP LSU Photo

LSU came out a little hungover, ummm I mean sluggish (?), against Northwestern State on Saturday night, but had no problem handling their business. It’s pretty understandable to show up a little flat coming off a huge road win and knowing that you have your conference opener the following weekend. Joe Burrow and company still look like they might have the most prolific LSU offense since…ever, and I fully expect them to stay in this playoff conversation going forward.

Auburn is the team that continues to sit in this seat by virtue of the win over Oregon in the season opener. A win that continues to look better as the weeks pass, by the way. The Tigers looked appropriate for a quality SEC team against Tulane and Kent State in my opinion. I know plenty of Auburn fans weren’t thrilled with the Tulane performance, but I’ll reiterate what I said last week and remind everyone that the Green Wave are greatly improved as a program. None of it matters though because Auburn gets another chance to prove themselves this weekend with a trip to Kyle Field coming up. If they win this one, no one will remember or care how they looked against Tulane.

Rose Bowl- Giant Shrug Emoji (¯\_(ツ)_/¯)

Army v Michigan
Photo Courtesy of Duane Burleson/Getty Images

Honestly, your guess is as good as mine for either of these slots. As far as the Big Ten representative goes, our options right now would be Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State, Minnesota or Iowa. Minnesota has had to struggle to beat mediocre-to-decent teams, so they’re out. Penn State started slow against Buffalo before pulling away late, and just had a less-than-inspiring win over Pitt. Michigan struggled mightily with Army, but then again we’ve seen playoff teams have that same problem before. Of course, much more concerning for Michigan has been Shea Patterson’s underwhelming performance. Wisconsin has beaten the breaks off of two bad teams, which could mean the Badgers are good and it could mean nothing. Iowa pulled a win over Iowa State out of the deepest recesses of their assholes and smoked Rutgers. Who can tell me out of that where the clear best resume is? I can wait. Fortunately, neither you nor I have to wait any longer than Saturday with Michigan and Wisconsin squaring off in Madison. That should give us a pretty clear picture of who Ohio State’s biggest threat is…should being the operative word.

The Pac-12 is no less confusing. Even worse, I still have no idea who the best team is, much less second best. One thing seems clear to me though. The Pac-12 isn’t getting a team into the playoff this year. Mark it down. Chisel it in stone. It just isn’t happening. The two best teams in the conference are probably Oregon and Washington, both of which have already lost, and no one else has really done anything to stand out to date. Utah was my preseason conference champion pick, and that’s honestly looking pretty decent right now. They are the one team that might could creep their way into the playoff conversation if they can stay healthy and can avoid having that one game where the offense completely disappears and they lose to someone by a score of like 7-3. Those are two bigger “ifs” than it seems like by the way.

Sugar Bowl- Oklahoma vs. Alabama

Sean M. Haffey:Getty Images
Photo Courtesy of Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Oklahoma and Alabama are both really good football teams and both waiting to actually be tested. I would say Jalen Hurts has been a revelation in Lincoln Riley’s offense, but what would I call Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray then? Regardless of what I call it though, Hurts has been nothing short of incredible so far this season, as evidenced by his current Heisman odds.

Alabama isn’t perfect. The young linebackers get caught out of position and in the wrong coverage too often. The secondary is still prone to giving up big passing plays. The running game, which should be awesome, still leaves plenty to be desired. However, these are all fixable problems and Alabama’s sheer talent advantage can cover this up in most of the games they play. The Tide need to tighten the screws by November if they want to avoid and upset somewhere along the way, most likely to an LSU, Auburn or SEC championship game opponent. The good news? There’s plenty of time for that to happen and we’ve seen it happen with past Saban Alabama teams.

Orange Bowl- Virginia vs. Georgia

247 Sports
Photo Courtesy of 247 Sports

Virginia seems to be emerging as the favorite to be Clemson’s punching bag in the ACC championship game. As much as that sounds like a backhanded compliment, when you consider how good Clemson is then it’s not. Bryce Perkins looks like an athlete playing quarterback at first blush, but if you watch them more closely it’s clear that he’s a legitimate quarterback. They did let a Florida State team of considerable talent, but debatable actual football ability, lead them for the majority of the game. But, the mark of a good team is winning games you shouldn’t and they still had to overcome a talent deficit to win that game. The Cavs probably won’t threaten Clemson for the ACC crown, but they very much seem like they are on the inside track to claim an Orange Bowl bid at this point.

The Dawgs are right there in the mix in the SEC, and Saturday night will go a long way toward showing exactly where in that fold they stand. Notre Dame comes to town for Georgia’s first test of the season. The big questions that still need to be answered for Georgia this season are: how will a younger defense fare against an offense and quarterback that can actually challenge them? and what will the passing game look like if and when they face a defense that can actually force them to pass?

Cotton Bowl- UCF vs. Little Shrug Emoji 

Nate Marrerro
Photo Courtesy of Nate Marrero 

In case no one has told you, UCF is still awesome at football. Dillon Gabriel has taken hold of the starting job in Orlando and is running this offense just as effectively as McKenzie Milton did, which is definitely saying something. My skepticism for UCF heading into the season was predominantly due to the fact that I didn’t believe anyone could approximate what Milton provided for this offense. At this rate, Gabriel might not just approximate Milton’s production. He could duplicate it. If he can do that for a whole season, then we may be seeing yet another UCF team heading into the New Year’s Six with an undefeated record.

Again, I honestly have no idea what to do here. You can see the above Pac-12 and Big Ten teams in consideration. Other possibilities would include: a second Big XII team (like Oklahoma State or TCU), Florida (who just lost their starting quarterback for the season and needed to storm from behind to beat Kentucky), another ACC team (umm??? yeah just kidding), or Boise State. I know most of you Power Five stans are going to be flabbergasted if I try to sneak a second Group of Five team into the NY6, but can you honestly tell me with certainty that Boise State isn’t better than these other teams? That’s what I thought. The only other alternative I can think of at this point is to just go ahead and break the one-loss seal and throw Texas in here. The Longhorns are every bit good enough to qualify and, believe me, that would absolutely thrill everyone associated with the Cotton Bowl.

Cover Photo Courtesy of waitingfornextyear.com 

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