Saturday was the first day of the college football season where you knew from the moment you sat down for the start of the noon eastern slate, you’d have a continuous flow of big, meaningful games for the entire day.
We were due for some shakeup atop the polls after the top six teams in the preseason AP Top 25 poll remained in the top six, in some order, for the first seven weeks of the season.
From Oklahoma-Texas to Alabama-Texas A&M to LSU-Florida and Penn State-Iowa, Week 7 felt like the first weekend where we’d really learn something – lots of things in fact – about a cluster of playoff hopefuls, and that weekend forecasting didn’t even include the day’s biggest upset (South Carolina upsetting No. 3 Georgia in double OT in Athens), a really good AAC game that could’ve led College GameDay going to SMU this week (Temple beating No. 23 Memphis), a dramatic finish in the Big 12 (Baylor rallying to beat Texas Tech 33-30 in double OT) or nearly 100 combined points scored on the Smurf Turf (Boise State’s 59-37 win over Hawaii).
Rather than getting bogged down into a debate about who deserves to be ranked where in the AP Top 25 – we’ll save that for Twitter – let’s cut down to the basics: After Saturday, there are 18* teams that can potentially make the College Football Playoff.
Assuming the last five years of data from the selection committee remain true (meaning a two-loss team probably won’t make the playoff and Notre Dame is the only non-Power Five team with a realistic chance of making it in a given year), then that leaves the 17 Power Five teams, plus Notre Dame, that are undefeated or have just one loss through Week 7.
*No. 22 Missouri (5-1) is still waiting to hear back from the NCAA about the status of its appeal on the Tigers’ postseason ban for this season.
Here’s what the playoff picture looks like from a 10,000-foot view entering Week 8.
If you win out, you’re definitely in
- No. 1 Alabama (6-0)
- No. 2 LSU (6-0)
- No. 3 Clemson (6-0)
- No. 4 Ohio State (6-0)
- No. 5 Oklahoma (6-0)
- No. 6 Wisconsin (6-0)
- No. 7 Penn State (6-0)
- No. 18 Baylor (6-0)
- No. 20 Minnesota (6-0)
Four of the Power Five conferences have at least one undefeated team (all but the Pac-12) and three of those four have multiple undefeated teams (all but the ACC). While it’s unlikely, there’s a potential four-team playoff scenario this season that features four undefeated Power Five champions and those four teams would come from the list of nine schools above.
However, it’s more likely that there’s only one or two undefeated Power Five champions in a given season.
In the coming weeks, we’ll get matchups between many of these currently undefeated teams:
Week 9: No. 6 Wisconsin at No. 4 Ohio State
Week 11: No. 2 LSU at No. 1 Alabama; No. 7 Penn State at No. 20 Minnesota
Week 12: No. 5 Oklahoma at No. 18 Baylor
Week 13: No. 7 Penn State at No. 4 Ohio State
Week 14: No. 6 Wisconsin at No. 20 Minnesota
At most, five of those nine teams could finish the regular season with an undefeated record, given the potential for the Big Ten Championship to feature an undefeated team from both the Big Ten East and West.
If you win out, you have a (strong?) case to be made
- No. 8 Notre Dame (5-1)
- No. 9 Florida (6-1)
- No. 10 Georgia (5-1)
- No. 11 Auburn (5-1)
- No. 12 Oregon (5-1)
- No. 13 Utah (5-1)
- No. 16 Michigan (5-1)
- No. 17 Arizona State (5-1)
- Wake Forest (5-1)
There are eight Power Five teams with one loss, plus Notre Dame, which means they haven’t been mathematically eliminated from the playoff but they probably have no margin for error. Unless there are three or fewer Power Five teams that finish with one or fewer losses, a two-loss team probably isn’t going to make the playoff, so these teams would need to win out in order to have a legitimate case for the playoff.
Even then, their candidacy depends on how many teams finish undefeated and how many teams finish with one loss. It’s almost impossible to project the playoff chances of the teams above in a vacuum.
Georgia (20-17 vs. South Carolina), Utah (30-23 at USC), Arizona State (34-31 vs. Colorado) and Wake Forest (62-59 vs. Louisville) are the only teams among the 18 teams listed above that have lost a game this season to a school that isn’t in that same group of 18.
Based on the (relative) quality of opponent and margin of loss, none of those losses would immediately eliminate a hypothetical 12-1 Georgia, Utah, Arizona State or Wake Forest from playoff consideration.
The bigger concerns are the difficulty of any of those teams – primarily the latter three – running the table and how many quality wins they’d have accumulate even if they did win out.
Luckily, most of these hypothetical arguments will be answered for us in the coming weeks when many of the teams above play each other and suffer a second, a third and maybe a fourth loss, leaving us with maybe five or six teams potentially deserving of a playoff spot.
As of today – Sunday, October 13 – just nine schools are in complete control of their destiny, meaning if one of those schools wins the rest of the games on its schedule, as well as its conference championship game, it’ll be in the playoff, no questions asked. The other nine teams need to win the rest of their games through early December and they still might need some help from other teams in order to make the playoff.
#CollegeKickers strikes Athens, GA
Georgia lost at home to South Carolina in double overtime, 20-17, after kicker Rodrigo Blankenship, who has been one of the surest bets among college football kickers since the start of the 2016 season – making 83.3% of his 78 field goal attempts and all 181 of his point-after attempts – missed a game-tying 42-yard field goal.
Power Five kickers were 35-of-47 (74.4%) on 42-yard attempts last season, making the distance one of the most successful for college kickers on tries longer than 35 yards.
Three of the final six possessions in the game, including possessions in overtime, ended with a missed field goal, including South Carolina kicker Parker White missing a go-ahead, 57-yard field goal with 40 seconds left, then a potential game-winning, 33-yarder in the first overtime period.
And Parker was one of just 10 Power Five kickers who made a game-winning field goal in the final minute of a game last season, so he’s been successful in that situation previously in his career.
Georgia also had a 53-yard try blocked on the last play of the first half.
In my offseason deep dive into the accuracy of college kickers, I found that Power Five kickers made just 65.5 percent of their field goal attempts when their team led by one or two points and they converted on just 61.5 percent of their kicks when they trailed by one or two points.
If a national championship continues to elude Georgia, Saturday’s loss feels like one that has the potential to be a signpost in the Kirby Smart era in Athens.
Michigan State punts on the field, in post-game presser
It turns out Michigan State Coach Mark Dantonio’s offseason strategy of restructuring his offensive coaching staff by way of Boggle – where no one was hired or fired, but rather each member of the offensive coaching staff was simply assigned a new position group to coach on offense – hasn’t worked in the slightest.
The Spartans’ offense ranked No. 56 nationally in SP+ before they were shut out in a 38-0 loss to No. 8 Wisconsin. The loss dropped them to No. 68 on that side of the ball.
Michigan State starting quarterback Brian Lewerke had a QBR of 8.3 against Wisconsin, only to get pulled for backup Rocky Lombardi, who had a QBR of 7.1 in relief. The team’s leading rushers, in terms of carries, were Elijah Collins and Lewerke, who had eight attempts apiece (including sacks for Lewerke).
Collins had 16 rushing yards, an average of two yards per carry, and Lewerke had four rushing yards.
All that is said to show that the following question asked of Dantonio in his post-game press conference was a completely fair one:
“Was it a mistake to not bring in new offensive staff and if not so, how do you fix it?”
Dantonio took issue with it, saying “I think that’s sort of a dumb-ass question.”
You can watch the full exchange below.
Reporter: Was it a mistake not to bring in a new offensive staff?
Mark Dantonio was having none of it. pic.twitter.com/EeLaUNpSIL
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 12, 2019
Part of Dantonio’s rationale was that such a question can’t be asked seven games into a season.
That’s ridiculous. Hell, two weeks ago a head coach within Michigan State’s own division was fired (Rutgers’ Chris Ash) so it’s not as if it’s too soon for thoughts of staff restructuring, let alone for the powers that be to act on them.
The Spartans are only one game above .500, having lost by a combined 62 points to the highest-ranked teams in the Big Ten’s East and West divisions in the last two games, and Indiana gave them a real scare at home in the game before that.
There’s a real chance that Michigan State is 5-5 after a trip to Ann Arbor on November 16 before a friendly conclusion to the season with a road game at Rutgers before a regular season finale against Maryland.
Dantonio didn’t have to answer the question and he certainly doesn’t have to like it but it’s ridiculous for him to go on the offensive when his unusual approach to his staff’s construction in the offseason hasn’t panned out.
Michigan State’s drive chart on Saturday was punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, pick-six, punt, punt, punt, interception, so it’s not surprising that Dantonio also punted on the post-game question.
How Not To Tweet
At 11:52 a.m. ET, Rutgers’ official team Twitter account tweeted a picture of Scarlet Knights players on the field at Indiana with the caption “Ready for battle.”
There wasn’t another update from the Rutgers Twitter account on Saturday since before the game, which the Scarlet Knights lost 35-0, marking the third time Rutgers has been shut out in four Big Ten games this season.
Rutgers scored seven points in the one conference game this season in which it wasn’t shut out.
It’s honestly kind of a sad state of affairs for a program that made its name on Twitter “The Birthplace” and annually finds itself in the cellar of the Big Ten despite operating in the talent-rich state of New Jersey.
It’s hard to identify an all-time low moment for the program when there are lots of recent candidates but Rutgers quarterback Johnny Langan throwing for one (1) passing yard in Rutgers’ loss to Indiana deserves to be added to the list.
His stat line Saturday?
Five-of-13 passing for one yard, 0.1 yards per attempt, zero touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 1.2 QBR.
It’s almost the college football version of college basketball’s “trillion” statistic.
Langan had a 32-yard run in the game and managed to finish the contest with just three rushing yards on 13 attempts, which includes sacks and sack yardage.
I went to Rutgers’ 2019 media guide to try to find stats from the first college football game ever, played between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869, to see how many passing yards the Scarlet Knights had 150 years ago in the first college football game ever.
I couldn’t find any stats from the game but as far as I can tell passing the ball wasn’t legal back then:
The game was played with two teams of 25 men each under rugby-like rules, but like modern football, it was “replete with surprise, strategy, prodigies of determination and physical prowess,” to use the words of one of the Rutgers players.
So all signs point to Rutgers’ one (1) passing yard on Saturday being the second-lowest output in school history, only outdone by any game the school played under the original rules of the sport, when there were 50 players on the field and players could kick the ball.
Also of note is that the school that proudly proclaims to be “The Birthplace” of the sport was motivated in that birthplace game because its rival, Princeton, stole a cannon that was in Rutgers’ possession and buried it in concrete so that Rutgers couldn’t take it back and then Rutgers lost to said rival 40-2 (!!!) in baseball.
From Rutgers’ football media guide:
Events leading up to the game were described by John W. Herbert, Rutgers ’72, who was one of the players: “To appreciate this game to the fullest you must know something of its background,” Herbert wrote in 1933. “The two colleges were, and still are, of course, about 20 miles apart. The rivalry between them was intense. For years each had striven for possession of an old Revolutionary cannon, making night forays and lugging it back and forth time and again. Not long before the first football game, the canny Princetonians had settled this competition in their own favor by ignominiously sinking the gun in several feet of concrete. In addition to this, I regret to report, Princeton had beaten Rutgers in baseball by the harrowing score of 40-2. Rutgers longed for a chance to square things.”
When you learn more about that historic football game and the events surrounding it, it feels like even the thing that is a point of pride for Rutgers – being the FBS team that played in the first college football game ever – might actually be another “L” for the university, whose latest misstep was its social media manager going AWOL as soon as Saturday’s game kicked off.
At 11:02 a.m. ET Sunday, Rutgers tweeted “#NewProfilePic” along with a picture of an old school Rutgers “R.”
This is one of the oldest social media moves in the book.
Like someone after a bad breakup, Rutgers got a new haircut, went on a beach vacation, tried to get tan and just uploaded to Facebook a solo shot of itself holding an adult beverage at an exclusive resort that will serve as Rutgers’ new profile picture.
Its aunt will comment, “Looking good!!!”
Rutgers wants to let the world know it’s putting the past – the Chris Ash era, its one (1) passing yard against Indiana and its seven points in four Big Ten games – behind it, or at least it’s trying to.
1st & 10
- Every player for Oklahoma and Texas was issued a personal foul prior to kickoff at this year’s Red River Showdown.
- I’ve never seen a move quite like Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts avoiding a sack while transferring the ball between his hands behind his back. It was a combination of a style move you’d see in NFL Street or something out of an And1 mixtape.
- Gus Johnson called Fox Sports rules analyst Mike Pereira “Mikey Rulebooks,” which is how he should be addressed from here on out.
- Wisconsin has officially annexed the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
- Baylor wide receiver Denzel Mims displayed some incredible sideline acrobatics in this catch of the year candidate, which set up a game-tying field goal to force overtime, where Baylor beat Texas Tech to improve to 6-0. We’ll leave out the part where Mims dropped a wide-open touchdown that would’ve won the game in regulation.
- Iowa’s Brandon Smith made an absolute grown-man touchdown catch in a losing effort against Penn State as he went over/around/through man coverage to make the game 17-12.
- LSU Coach Ed Orgeron’s wife, Kelly, Gator Chomp’d Florida out of Baton Rouge, along with the Tigers’ student section, in some next-level trolling.
- Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly was clearly on the field as USC attempted an on-side kick late in the Fighting Irish’s win in South Bend. No flag was thrown on the play. Speaking of Brian Kelly and people being on the field when they shouldn’t be, that play reminded me of a field storming I was a part of between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in 2008, when UC fans rushed the field at least 10 seconds before the last play of the game was over. It’d be interesting to see how such an ending would play out online today in the age of social media.
- ESPN analyst Jim Mora said he doesn’t like high-scoring games like Louisville’s 62-59 win over No. 19 Wake Forest on Saturday. “62-59 is not a football score,” said Mora, whose teams at UCLA won games that finished 66-10, 62-27, 59-13, 58-20, 56-30, 56-23, 45-44 and lost games 58-34, 56-35, 52-45 and 48-45.
- I’ll leave you with this video of Penn State Coach James Franklin donning a dreadlock wig in a short Instagram video filmed by safety Jonathan Sutherland, who recently received a letter from a Penn State alumnus, who told Sutherland he has “awful hair” and asked if his parents or girlfriend had told him “those shoulder length dreadlocks look disgusting.” His teammates and coach rallied behind him in the immediate aftermath.