The passage of time has an odd way of magnifying certain pieces of popular culture while diminishing others. At the turn of the century, “Who let the dogs out?” was the second most asked question in American vernacular. (The first was, “What’s up?” or more colloquially “Wazzzzzzuuuuupp?”) The Baha Men, the last true one-hit wonder, hit seemed like it had etched a popular question into our lingo forever. However, twenty-two years later kids are much more likely to remember Pink getting the party started or Eminem’s psychotic, superfan alter ego (the latter having become its own popular vernacular meaning). My fascination with this concept probably contributes to my need to write a weekly column canonizing the college football landscape.
Peach Bowl (#1 vs. #4)- Georgia vs. USC
Georgia’s dominance through the first three weeks of the season obviously inspired this week’s title and opening commentary, but all jokes and dated pop culture references aside, Georgia has been the best team in the country through a quarter of the season and it hasn’t been close. To answer the question, here are the five people (in no particular order) most responsible for letting the Dawgs out: Kirby Smart (obviously his recruiting and coaching has been exceptional), Todd Monken (probably underrated at this point and worthy of more head coaching buzz), Greg McGarity (hired Smart), Mark Richt (regardless of his inability to get to the “Promised Land” he was still the Moses to Smart’s Joshua), and finally, Justin Fields (his commitment in October 2017 snowballed into Georgia hauling one of the best recruiting classes of all-time in 2018).
Speaking of recruiting, the Lincoln Riley strategy to gobble up star transfers has obviously been a good one. The Trojans have yet to be challenged and last week they played a reasonably talented Fresno State team. Caleb Williams, Jordan Addison, and Travis Dye (all transfers) have this offense rolling. The Trojans have some potentially tough road games on the horizon, including a trip to Corvallis this weekend, but they look like a real threat to run the table and earn the Pac-12’s first playoff bid since 2016.
Fiesta Bowl (#2 vs. #3)- Penn State vs. Tennessee
Penn State throttled Auburn on Saturday and officially signaled they are ready to compete with Michigan and Ohio State. Through three games, they have a better resume than either Ohio State or Michigan, although watching the three play I would still be inclined to pick Ohio State or Michigan over Penn State head-to-head. However, if Penn State can stay healthy, they do get Ohio State at home. October will be the tale of the tape for the Nittany Lions with Michigan on the 15th and the Buckeyes on the 29th.
Tennessee finally looks like a team with SEC speed again, and a gameplan capable of maximizing that speed. The Vols have already passed one test for the season, but they have a major one this weekend with the Florida Gators coming to town. If Tennessee really is “back”, this is a must-win game.
Cotton Bowl- Tulane vs. NC State
If you haven’t been paying attention, you probably just think Tulane has been a mediocre-to-bad AAC team for the past few seasons. The truth is they have been a decent team that’s been horribly unlucky. It’s nice to finally see them get a moment in the sun. It would be even nicer if they can have a few more moments in the sun throughout the season. Willie Fritz is a great football coach, and the talent level of this program is on the rise. They go to Houston at the end of this month, then close the year with a tough stretch of UCF, SMU, and a trip to Cincinnati. If they can find a way to split those? 10-2 anyone? Roll Wave!
After a shaky opening week win, Devin Leary and NC State seem to have figured some things out. They owned a Texas Tech team on Saturday that had been playing decent football. They get one last tune-up game this week against UConn before a bye week, and then comes the meat of their schedule where NC State will declare itself as either contender or pretender. Can they win in Death Valley and the Loud House? Can their vaunted defense keep Jordan Travis and Sam Hartman in check at home? If the Wolfpack want to sniff the New Year’s Six, the answers better be yes.
Orange Bowl- Syracuse vs. Ohio State
Speaking of the “Loud House”, Syracuse survived Purdue in thrilling fashion to close out the early games on Saturday. If you missed the end of that game, do yourself a favor and go to Youtube right now (I’ve generously linked it for you). Garrett Shrader threw an absolute dime on that play, but the offense certainly has some areas for improvement, namely consistency in the passing game. The Orange have a lot left to prove that they are contenders in the ACC, but they do have two Power Five wins on the resume already.
Ohio State’s opening weekend win over Notre Dame is less impressive with the knowledge of how the Irish have looked in subsequent weeks, but the Buckeyes continue to do their job with convincing wins over Arkansas State and Toledo. The Rockets will likely end up being a contender in the MAC, so beating them by eight touchdowns certainly isn’t something to blow off, even if it won’t be Ohio State’s crowning achievement. C.J. Stroud and company will continue to put up gawdy numbers and look every bit the explosive unit we expected them to be in the pre-season.
Sugar Bowl- Oklahoma vs. Kentucky
Oklahoma had plenty of reason for concern entering the season, but the Sooners have done everything possible to alleviate those concerns through three weeks of play. They haven’t had a real test yet, but they have convincingly beat lesser opponents. Dillon Gabriel isn’t getting the same fanfare as his predecessor, Caleb Williams, but he still has the Sooners putting up over 500 yards/game and 42.3 points per game. More importantly, Oklahoma finally looks like they have some balance on offense averaging 235 rushing yards/game to 265 passing yards/game. If Brent Venables has instilled some toughness that recent Oklahoma teams have lacked, then this team may fare better come playoff time than Lincoln Riley’s Oklahoma teams did.
Kentucky continues to get the job done without Chris Rodriguez, Jr. A 31-0 win over Youngstown State may not raise eyebrows, but it beats trailing Missouri State in the 4th quarter. The Wildcats get Northern Illinois at home this week, in what should be the last game without Rodriguez, which is good because the Cats will need him to survive the looming SEC gauntlet.
Rose Bowl- Washington vs. Michigan
Welcome back Washington and Michael Penix! If the Huskies have a New Year’s Six run in them, this will be the college football equivalent of a rom-com. Two entities fall on hard times, meet, fall in love, then live happily ever after. Add in a few jokes and a nearly disastrous misunderstanding and you have the romantic comedy formula. Washington is even fresh on the heels of a terrible relationship (Jimmy Lake). Michael Penix’s main issue has been the ability to stay healthy, but he looks great in purple right now and is currently second in the country in passing yards per game. Even with Oregon’s rebound performance, I would consider Washington the favorite in the North.
Michigan earned its way into this week’s Playoff Picture through sheer force. The Wolverines have yet to face a test, but they have obliterated everyone they have played. Honestly, from a pure box score perspective, they have looked as impressive as Georgia with an overall scoring margin of 116-17 through three games. The major difference between the two is the names on the other side of the stat column. While Georgia has been doing this against the likes of Oregon and South Carolina, Michigan has been putting the hurt on Colorado State, Hawaii, and UConn (not exactly a murderer’s row). Michigan has plenty of opportunities to prove itself against stiffer competition as the season progresses.
Cover Photo Courtesy of Album Art Exchange