Welcome back to another college football season! Week 1 is in the books and it’s time to start looking at the “Playoff Picture.” This column is returning to your inboxes after a few years of inconsistency. (My bad). So for any new readers, or any who have forgotten how this exercise works, here are the rules: these bowl game setting abide by the New Year’s Six bowl rules, these bowl assignments are based on what would happen if the season were over as of the end of that week’s play, and these are not (I repeat: are not) in any way reflective of what I would project for the end of the season. This is merely how I would set things today, based on results to date. Naturally, I would expect to see plenty of flux over the first few weeks with less in subsequent weeks as things fall into place. Oh, and to have a little fun with this week’s edition I’ve decided to rattle off as many college football commentator cliches and quotables as I can fit into one column, this will either be entertaining or nauseating, but probably both.
Peach Bowl (#1 vs. #4): Georgia vs. Arkansas
Georgia kicked off its title defense, under the “veteran leadership” of “gym rat” quarterback Stetson Bennett IV, with a bang, Kirby talked this offseason about being the “hunter” and not the “hunted”, but it looked like the only thing that remotely resembled hunting on Saturday was a Duck massacre. Georgia put together a “full 60 minutes” of football and punted Oregon back across the country. The Pac-12 had an all-around rough weekend, but this was the headliner for the Pac-12’s season-opening woes.
Arkansas, on the other hand, just “got the job done” as they took down the Cincinnati Bearcats. The big question that everyone is, rightfully, asking is how does this year’s Cincinnati team stack up with last year’s? It’s hard to say at this point but they still have some quality ball players, and this seemed like a reasonable well-played game. K.J. Jefferson is a “force to be reckoned with” and a “bruiser’ with the ball in his hands. The Razorbacks get to prove their bona fides this week with a conference showdown against South Carolina.
Fiesta Bowl (#2 vs. #3): Ohio State vs. Florida
The main question people are asking about Ohio State this week is not about Ohio State. How good is Notre Dame? Admittedly, I spent much of Saturday night watching my Alabama team play their opener, however this seemed like a well-played game on both sides. Ohio State just has a few more “Jimmy’s and Joe’s” than Notre Dame does and that made the difference in the second half as they were able to wear Notre Dame down. The Buckeyes may have done “just enough” to win on Saturday night, but against a quality opponent that is enough. C.J. Stroud and company will have plenty of Saturdays to put on a “fireworks display.”
My more skeptical readers will call me a “homer’ for putting three SEC teams in the opening playoff, which is all well and fine. Need I point out that my team didn’t make the mix even though they drummed a defending conference champion? Anyway, this is about the Florida Gators and Anthony Richardson’s “coming out party.” Richardson is going to be a “headache for defenses” all season long and he immediately makes Florida a contender in the SEC East, even with Georgia in the fray. The Florida rebuild hasn’t lasted long at all, but they put the conference “on notice” on Saturday night and added to the Pac’12’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
Cotton Bowl: Houston vs. Syracuse
Houston earns the obligatory Group of Five spot by default this week. There were a few others who garnered some consideration for this spot: Coastal Carolina, Western Kentucky and Old Dominion. Ultimately, it seemed that an overtime road win against a UTSA team that should be pretty good again seemed more impressive than any of the other early season accomplishments (sorry Virginia Tech fans). If you are in the camp that believes Houston could follow in Cincinnati’s footsteps and be the next Group of Five playoff team, then you probably consider the Coogs to have “survived a scare” but otherwise this should register as a “close shave” on the road against a quality opponent. If nothing else, we know Houston will be “battle-tested” come November and December.
You’re probably thinking right about now….Syracuse??? Seriously? “Playoffs?!?!?” Yeah Syracuse. Other than the ten teams also mentioned in this column, who else put the beatdown on a Power Five team with a veteran quarterback? Go ahead. I’ll wait. Bueller? Syracuse probably won’t maintain this spot for the rest of the year but for at least the time being Garrett Schrader has this team rising like a helicopter. (Too mean? Too soon? Sorry Garrett).
Orange Bowl: Florida State vs. Rutgers
Full disclosure: I’m already sick of the gimmick I devised to get through this column. In fact, I think I’m done with the clichés. Florida State pulled this game out of the deepest recesses of their buttholes on Sunday night. (Sorry had to squeeze in one more cliché). You could surmise from this game that LSU gave the game away and are a program on the decline. Both of those statements have elements of truth to them. There were also plenty of things Florida State did to potentially give the game away, like running a pitch play on 3rd and goal when a field goal practically ices the game. However, the Seminoles also found a legitimate quarterback in Jordan Travis, their offensive line wasn’t a complete liability, and for the first time since Jimbo Fisher left town they came up with a clutch play when they had to have it. Say what you want about the blocked PAT, but the Florida State defenders made that play happen just as much as LSU’s kick team allowed it to happen, if not more.
You probably have similar thoughts about Rutgers being here as you did about Syracuse. My response again is, “What else was I supposed to do?” Rutgers picked up a road win over a Power Five non-conference opponent. Those things matter to the playoff committee, and they matter to me. Rutgers, also like Syracuse, probably won’t sit on this perch for very long but they definitely earned it after one week of play. Plus, they have an absolutely brutal division, so the Scarlet Knights deserve a few bones along the way. Keep chopping Rutgers! (Dammit…old habits).
Rose Bowl: Penn State vs. Oregon State
Penn State looked like the worst version of the 2021 team for parts of Thursday night, but they also managed to “gut out” (sorry did it again) a road conference win on a Thursday night (always whacky) against a team with a veeeeeery seasoned quarterback. Penn State’s defense will have to return to 2021 form and Sean Clifford needs to get back some of his pre-injury playmaking if the Nittany Lions are going to make any serious noise in the Big Ten East, but for now they did the most important thing: won the game.
Has the Boise State program fallen from grace or is this Oregon State team on the rise to competing in the Pac-12? I suspect both are at least partially true, but this was a sloppy game for a typically disciplined Boise State team. The Beavers do bring a physicality to the table that stereotypically lacks in the Pac-12 “brand” of football. That alone will make them a tough out in what appears to be a wide-open Pac-12 North. Jonathan Smith has this team headed in the right direction. Expect several more “Pac-12 After Dark” bangers featuring Oregon State Beavers.
Sugar Bowl: TCU vs. Mississippi State
TCU scored a pyrrhic victory over Colorado on Friday night. Chandler Morris’s sprained knee was the long blight on an otherwise impressive opener for the Horned Frogs to start the Sonny Dykes era. Colorado is not a good football team and their offense looked completely lost, but there were takeaways for TCU that were positive regardless of opponent. Mainly, they had flashed some explosiveness on offense. Fortunately, they get Tarleton State at home this week with Morris absent and Max Duggan has starting experience, but hopefully Morris will be back on the field sooner rather than later.
Outside of Georgia, Florida and Arkansas, there could be an impassioned discussion about who the 4th most impressive SEC team was over the weekend. Based on preseason expectations of opponents, I’m making the case that Mississippi State overcoming a weather delay and “finding pay dirt” seven times on a Memphis team that’s expected to be a decent AAC team is more impressive than anything else we saw. Alabama beat Utah State, the defending Mountain West champion, 55-0, and had we not watched the Aggies struggle mightily against UConn in Week 0 then this spot would belong to the Tide. Alas, we did watch Utah State struggle against UConn and then bench their quarterback early in the Alabama game. Otherwise, we had plenty of SEC teams doing what they ought to against FCS opponents and lower-tier Group of Five opponents (we see you 2-0 Vanderbilt!). That’s it for this week. Next week I’ll be back with (hopefully) better writing and fewer cliches and cheesy gimmicks.
Cover Photo Courtesy of John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports