By Joel Silverberg / @JoelSilverberg
Well, the big weekend certainly didn’t disappoint.
Minnesota stunned Penn State in Minneapolis for the front end of the 8-0 vs. 8-0 doubleheader on Saturday before LSU walked out of Tuscaloosa with a win over Alabama. The College Football Playoff received a major shakeup, but not in the way many were expecting when play kicked off around the country Saturday afternoon.
Ohio State cruised to a win over Maryland without Chase Young, but the Buckeyes may not hold on to the top spot in the playoff rankings thanks to LSU’s resume-padding win against Alabama on the road. The Tigers now have four top-ten wins in their first nine games.
The road for Alabama after the loss is up in the air. It needed losses from both Auburn and Wisconsin on conference championship week when it sneaked in as the No. 4 seed a couple years ago despite not even winning the SEC West.
Here’s what’s in Alabama’s way:
From the ACC, Clemson is the only team with a shot to make the playoff, but there’s nobody else in the conference who comes close to the Tigers. Non conference opponent South Carolina doesn’t look like a future upset at season’s end either, but that’s why they’re called upsets after all. However, a loss for the Tigers anywhere and the ACC is likely shut out of the conversation.
In the Big Ten Ohio State is the frontrunner with a big test coming late in the month against Penn State, which could still get in with one loss. The Nittany Lions would need to win out, including a potential rematch against Minnesota. Speaking of which, the Golden Gophers still have to play Iowa and Wisconsin before they can think about the Big Ten title bout.
What if Ohio State loses a close one to Penn State? Could the Buckeyes get in as an 11-1 team that doesn’t win its division like Alabama did in 2017? That would depend on the rest of the field and the timing that other top teams fall.
The remaining contenders in the Pac-12, Utah and Oregon, were off this weekend. If they both win out and meet in the conference championship the winner would emerge as a 12-1 Power 5 champ. There’s no guarantee, but the winner in that scenario would have a shot and potentially a better resume than an 11-1 team that didn’t win its division.
The Big 12’s only hope is for Baylor to run the table and remain undefeated or for Oklahoma to win out and run the table through the conference title game. Those two teams play next week. A win for the Bears and Oklahoma’s playoff hopes are cooked, but the Sooners beating Baylor so late could eliminate the Bears altogether even if Baylor were to get payback in the title game a couple weeks later.
The SEC still has some figuring out to do. Georgia isn’t out of it yet, but has a big test upcoming against Auburn. A loss for the Bulldogs and the only thing Georgia can do is play spoiler for LSU in the SEC Championship. If Georgia wins and meets LSU in Atlanta then there could be a scenario where the league has three one-loss teams.
It’s a lot to figure out. Fortunately it usually does. The committee showed last year that it will take resume into account more than just the eye test. That was the case when Oklahoma got in over Georgia. The Bulldogs were likely the better team, but were a two-loss team. The Sooners were a one-loss conference champion. That still carried some weight last year.
With the chase for the playoff heating up, here’s this weekend’s good, bad and ugly.
Good: LSU. Alabama doesn’t make big mistakes often, but it made a couple of big ones early and the Tigers took advantage and never trailed against the Crimson Tide. LSU jumped out to a 20-point halftime lead and made big plays to ice the game when Alabama made it interesting in the fourth quarter. Joe Burrow made big plays in crunch time with his arm and his legs and the Tigers notched their fourth top-ten win of the season. LSU likely won’t be tested again until the SEC Championship game assuming it takes care of business against Ole Miss, Arkansas and Texas A&M over the final three weeks of the regular season.
Honorable Mention: Minnesota. The biggest home game for Minnesota in a long time didn’t disappoint. The Golden Gophers signed P.J. Fleck to a seven-year extension earlier in the week and the head coach followed that up by delivering the school’s first win over a top-five opponent in 20 years. Quarterback Tanner Morgan shined and Minnesota’s defense picked Shane Clifford off three times. Next week’s road trip to Iowa is dangerous, but the Golden Gophers now have the country’s attention after beating Penn State.
Bad: Kansas State. Texas’ defense hadn’t given up less than 30 points in six straight games. It contained Wildcats’ quarterback Skylar Thompson on the ground along with the rest of Kansas State’s run game and the Longhorns erased an early 14-point deficit to down the 16th ranked Wildcats in Austin. It was a bit of a long shot heading into Saturday, but the loss essentially knocks Kansas State out of the Big 12 race with a third conference loss.
Honorable Mention: Penn State. All three of Clifford’s interceptions were on Minnesota’s half of the field and the Nittany Lions also failed to score on another red zone drive when they were stopped on fourth down. Missed opportunities started early and piled up for Penn State, which played from behind for nearly the entire game against the Golden Gophers. Penn State needs to win out, which includes a trip to Columbus, and hope for a rematch against Minnesota in the Big Ten Championship game for a shot at the playoff.
Ugly: Baylor. Saturday’s overtime triumph over TCU is what one would call winning ugly. After a field goal kicking contest through regulation, Baylor thought it had won the game after the first overtime, but a fourth down incompletion in the end zone was ruled a touchdown for TCU. The Bears scored on a do-or-die fourth down play of their own and prevailed in the third overtime. The Bears remain undefeated. Oklahoma’s visit to Waco on Saturday could be a Big 12 Championship preview.
Honorable Mention: Arkansas. This Razorbacks squad is one of the worst SEC teams of all time. Arkansas has one win over an FBS opponent, and gave up 31 points or more to each of the three Group of 5 teams it played. Western Kentucky hadn’t scored more than 30 points in a game all year. The Hilltoppers racked up 35 against the Razorbacks in the first half on Saturday. Arkansas hasn’t won an SEC game since October, 2017. That streak likely won’t end against LSU in two weeks.