Auburn and Ole Miss beat up on one another for about three straight hours in a pretty entertaining, wild game. No. 1 Mississippi State needed last-second heroics to beat Arkansas 17-10 at home, which says a lot to me about State. Arkansas’ last in-conference win was Oct. 13….2012. Of course, the ESPN hacks working the play-by-play on the game very haughtily pronounced ”This is THE SEC!!!!!” as though we were watching two championship-caliber teams go toe-to-toe a la Frazier and Ali. No. We were watching a team with no history of being a powerhouse vs. a team that doesn’t beat anybody, so let’s dispense with this tired trope that the entire SEC is head-and-shoulders better than everyone else. It’s a very strong conference, no question, but it is not as strong as ESPN and the lazy voters would like you to believe.
Comparatively speaking, Florida State gave a fired up No. 25 Louisville 14 points to start their Thursday night game and went on to win the game 42-31. Louisville was 6-2 coming into that game. Is anyone giving the Seminoles credit for winning on the road against a ranked, in-conference opponent?
Comparatively speaking again, Notre Dame struggled to beat Navy, who came into the game 4-4; same as Arkansas. Will anyone bloviate about the Midshipmen being this great and storied program? Of course not. So don’t play that nonsense with a team like Arkansas.
The good news is none of the rankings or projections matter right now. The SEC West has a lot of unfinished business, which will likely mean only one SEC team will be in the college playoff. Maybe I’m the crazy one, but I give premium to teams that win conference championships. But, again, lots of football left to be played in all the Power 5 conferences.
How the Top Ten should look Sunday morning:
1. Florida State (8-0 / 5-0)—Despite all the off-field drama, the Seminoles are unstoppable. Barring injury (or indictment), FSU is all but in the playoff as an undefeated team.
2. Mississippi State (8-0 / 5-0)—The Bulldogs have the toughest road ahead: a date in Tuscaloosa in two weeks. They will probably not survive that test.
3. Oregon (7-1 / 4-1)—The Ducks are surging and playing at their highest level right now.
4. Auburn (7-1/ 4-1)—The Tigers are playing better than I expected, but they need Miss. St. to lose twice to have any hope of making even the SEC Championship Game.
5. TCU (7-1 / 4-1)—I might be more impressed with TCU’s win over West Virginia than anyone else. However, I think their luck is about to run out.
6. Alabama (7-1 / 4-1)—I’m forever struggling with this team. Are they as good as we think they are? We’ll find out this weekend, I guess.
7. Notre Dame (7-1)—The Irish flirt with losing each week. They have two more games on the road and both will be huge tests for them.
8. Michigan State (7-1 / 4-0)—Sparty has recovered nicely after its loss to Oregon. But they have to win this Saturday or their season is effectively over.
9. Kansas State (7-1 / 5-0)—No team is disrespected by the national media more than Bill Snyder’s Wildcats. They also have the toughest road ahead: three road games vs. TCU, WVa & Baylor. If they win out, there’s no question K-State deserves serious consideration for the playoff.
10. Baylor (7-1 / 4-1)—Their loss to West Virginia is a backbreaker, even though they already beat TCU. Luckily for Baylor, they hold their fate in their own hands. Wins over Oklahoma this Saturday and later vs. K-State would likely put the Bears in playoff contention.
The Best of the Rest
I don’t care about the rankings after the Top Ten, so I’ll break it down by conference. I’m only focusing on one-loss teams, though. If you have two losses, you’re already yesterday’s news.
The weakest of the Power 5 conferences, no doubt. Duke has only one loss, but who cares? They don’t play anyone. They’re probably on par with Marshall or a really strong MAC team.
Ohio State (7-1 / 4-1)—No one expected this, after Braxton Miller’s season ending injury. Unfortunately for Michigan State, Ohio State’s gotten better each week. But they also play a fairly weak schedule this year.
Nebraska (7-1 / 4-1)—The Huskers have quietly pieced together a strong season, but for one problem: they already lost to Michigan State. All three remaining opponents are currently 6-2, so Nebraska doesn’t have an easy ride left in their season. I still expect them to be in the B1G Championship Game. Still too early to tell, but Nebraska could make a strong case for the playoff.
The conference is now a three-horse race, and all three horses are in my Top Ten. West Virginia had potential to be in the conversation, but they squandered too many chances. Same goes for Oklahoma. The Big 12 is competitive, but it’s more of a Big Three, So-So Two and Meh Five.
Arizona State (7-1 / 5-1)—The Sun Devils must be kicking themselves for getting blasted by UCLA. Beating the Bruins and Utah are a pair of quality wins, but ASU has a couple big games remaining: Notre Dame this week and at Arizona to close out the season. They have legitimately earned the right to be discussed as an elite Pac-12 team with a potential opportunity to take on Oregon.
The ESPN Football Conference SEC
After Miss. St., Auburn and Alabama, all remaining SEC teams have two or more losses. If you have two losses, you’re already out of national championship contention. Of those two-loss SEC teams, though, I’d say LSU (7-2 / 3-2) is the most dangerous. The Tigers are well coached. They play well at home. They play defense. The Tigers wrap up their home schedule this weekend vs. Alabama. It will be power vs. power and, likely, one of the best games of the weekend. And I expect LSU to win.
No, Marshall doesn’t play anyone. But they are currently 8-0. I’m not suggesting they’re good enough to be a Top Ten team, but I would definitely put them in the Top 25. I want to see them play a bowl game vs. a Power 5 team, then we’ll see if Marshall is any good.
Admittedly, my weakness in watching and studying college football is I stick with a macro view, so i’m terrible with names. That being said, Georgia RB Todd Gurley’s out, thanks to his suspension. FSU’s James Winston is playing well, but I don’t think he’s the best QB playing right now. As it stands, I think there are two definite finalists:
* Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska (Senior)
* Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon (Junior)
Abdullah is a BEAST. Averaging 6.9 YPG, Abdullah’s rushed for 100+ yards in a game six times; four of those were for 200 yards or more. He leads the nation with 1,249 yards rushing, even though he went down with an injury in last weekend’s game and only had one yard on six carries. If his injury isn’t serious, as Nebraska head coach Bo Pelllini thinks, then we’ll see Abdullah back out there, continuing to butcher defenses.
Mariota leads one of the highest producing offenses in the nation. In nine games, Mariota’s thrown 24 touchdown passes against only one INT. He has also shown his mobility, averaging 5.2 YPG when he tucks and runs the ball, making it to the end zone five times. Mariota’s on a pace to have a career season, which is saying something considering he threw for 31 and 32 TDs in his previous two seasons for Oregon. Heisman notwithstanding, the real question is will Mariota play his senior season or enter the NFL draft?
The Games You Don’t Want To Miss
Ohio State (7-1 / 4-1) at Michigan State (7-1 / 4-1)
The winner of this game will be in the driver’s seat for the B1G championship. Sparty should be a favorite, but it won’t be easy. Ohio State’s playing some of its best football of the season right now, although the Buckeyes were pretty wobbly in their last road game. Both teams are almost dead even in points scored and allowed. The biggest difference is strength of schedule. State beat Nebraska and lost to Oregon. Ohio State hasn’t played any ranked opponents yet.
Alabama (7-1 / 4-1) at LSU (7-2 / 3-2)
Les Miles’ Tigers are playing mostly for pride, at this point. I fully expect this game to be epic. Alabama still has designs on winning the SEC, although they’ll need help even if they win out. Truth be told, I don’t expect ‘Bama to come out of Death Valley with a win Saturday night.
Notre Dame (7-1) at Arizona State (7-1 / 5-1)
This game suddenly has big time postseason implications for both teams. ND needs a win vs. a quality opponent on the road to prove they are worthy of playoff consideration. Arizona State is knocking on the Top Ten’s door. A win over the Irish would earn much-needed respect.
Kansas State (7-1 / 5-0) at TCU (7-1 / 4-1)
This might be the most intriguing game of the weekend. Two quality teams that mostly fly under the radar, squaring off to determine the outright top team in the Big 12. It’s TCU’s high-powered offense vs. K-State’s stifling defense. For now. Whomever wins, though, should be considered a Top Five team.