Andy Normile reacts to a huge week 10 of college football.
Whenever the first set of College Football Playoff Committee rankings are issued, there is always talk and complaints over various positions. But, on Saturday a scintillating and encapsulating evening of football showed that ultimately the playoff positions are determined on the field. Not in the committee room. As 3 of the top 6 ranked lost.
The Big Games:
Georgia Bulldogs are not the current national champions without good reason. for the first time in a year their ranking and supremacy had been questioned and in doubt. But with a commanding 27 – 13 win over Tennessee (which was more comfortable than the score line suggests), they put any doubts to bed. Pre-match, the talk had been of the exciting Vols offence, and the Heisman form of their QB Hendon Hooker. But on Saturday the Dawgs’ defence should their mettle and why they are the best unit in the country. Holding Hooker to just 195 yards and starting WR Jaylin Hyatt to only 63 yards, both season lows. Georgia now looks set to go the rest of the regular season unbeaten. A place in the SEC final and playoffs beckons.
In the other big SEC game, LSU showed why they are the most improved team since week 1 and that playing under the lights in Death Valley is one of the most enthralling and intimidating experiences in the whole of the sport. Much of the game was reminiscent of the classic 2011 9-6 defensive battle. But, eventually, Tigers QB Jayden Daniels produced some magic and the brave decision to go for the two-point conversion in OT was fully justified.
The Tigers are now in pole position to win the SEC West. But, earlier season defeats to Tennessee and Florida State means their path to the playoffs is more problematical. If they were to beat Georgia in that SEC game, then the committee would have the tough decision to rank Georgia, LSU and Tennessee who would all have beaten each other. With a few other conferences in self-destruct mode, maybe LSU could become the first 2 loss team in the playoffs. Then the SEC would have 3 representatives.
Clemson showed that their recent offensive woes, were actually terminal as they slumped to a heavy defeat 35-14 at Notre Dame. There was no inspired comeback from backup QB Cade Klubnik this week. With no signature win their chances of making the playoffs look remote. Even if they were to win a now weak-looking ACC, their prize would probably be an Orange Bowl appearance. This along with Alabama’s demise means that 5 of the previous 7 national title winners are now unlikely to appear in this year’s playoffs.
Notre Dame must be wondering what their season could have been and how they managed to lose to Marshall and Stanford. They now have 27 consecutive wins over ACC teams. They won’t make the playoffs this year but must be thinking about what might have been if they were full-time ACC members.
In the Big 10, Ohio State had a very uncomfortable and narrow win over a 1 -8 Northwestern team. They will point to difficult conditions – high winds and rain. But then again football was meant to be played outside in November, but at least they won.
Michigan continued to rely on its dominating rushing attack and defence, as they too came from behind to beat Rutgers. The annual ‘game’ between these 2 rivals is looking more and more like a playoff eliminator.
Penn State’s victory over Indiana and Michigan State’s win over Illinois, highlighted the strength of the East division of the conference. The Nittany Lions are clearly the 3rd best team in the conference but due to geographic circumstances, won’t get anywhere near the title game of playoffs. Maybe they can hope for some sort of favourable realignment when UCLA and USC join the conference.
Saturday’s results mean we are in for some fascinating end-of-season divisional battles, even if they have very little or any national significance.
Illinois’ surprise loss above, means that in the Big 10 West there are now 5 teams within one victory of each other, vying for the divisional crown. The fact that the list includes an Iowa team lacking any offence and three other teams at 3-3, shows the weakness of this section. Even qualifying for the title game seems unlikely to lead to a coveted Rose Bowl appearance.
In the Big 12, TCU maintained its unbeaten season with a hard-fought win over Texas Tech. They may not always be dominating, but the fact they keep winning should be recognised. Their appearance in the conference final looks assured and a playoff spot beckons if they can go unbeaten. Their eventual foe in that Big 12 looks less certain, 5 teams, Texas, Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State, are separated by one win from each other. If the Longhorns can get consistent play from freshman QB Quinn Ewers, they may be the team to beat. Their clash next week with TCU will be fascinating.
The Pac-12’s leading contenders all won this weekend meaning they are likely to have 4 teams (Oregon, UCLA, USC and Utah) ranked in the top 12. With Clemson’s demise and if the nightmare 2 loss LSU SEC champions scenario doesn’t happen, it’s easy to envisage that the Pac-12 may actually have a playoff representative this year. Of course, assuming they don’t all beat up on each other.
In the AAC, Tulane, Cincinnati and UCF all won. Meaning that the divisional race is going down to the wire, and picking a winner at this stage looks impossible.
Liberty and Coastal Carolina continued their fine season with wins. Both teams are set to jump up the rankings and still have outside New Year’s 6 bowl aspirations.
North Carolina continued the impressive trait of winning close games. They have 4 wins with margins of 3 points or less and are set for the ACC title game. They are led by freshman sensation QB Drake Maye, who probably won’t feature in this year’s Heisman, but is looking like a good bet for next year and a future 1st round draft choice in 2 years.
The unfortunate demise of Miami (they have no offence) and Texas A&M (they have no defence) continued. Maybe they should play each other in some wooden spoon bowl. Although based on current form, they would both somehow contrive to lose the game.
And Houston QB Clayton Tune passed for 527 yards with 7 TDs as the Cougars racked up an incredible 63 points in their victory over SMU. Oh, except that the defence managed to concede 77 points to the Mustangs, for whom QB Tanner Mordecai accounted for 10 TDs, and they lost. The combined total of 140 points is an NCAA record.
In a week where we saw all the best of college football, all the elements we love, and a reminder that ultimately the games and rankings are determined by what happens on the field, it is worth noting that this writer finally correctly predicted the winner of all three big games. Maybe I should be on the College Football Playoff Committee.
Thanks to Andy for producing week 10’s College Football Review. You can see more of his work here in the future!
You can also check out our full list of 2023 NFL Draft Scouting Reports here