We've had this past Saturday circled on our calendars as being a major bust football wise, but boy were we completely wrong. We saw a few notable upsets this evening down south, and out west, both influential in the race towards the playoff. Ohio State didn't miss a step on their way to a 21st straight in the win column, and injury struck the favorite in the Big 12. Here are this week's snap judgements.
The Buckeyes are back
Last night, Ohio State looked a lot like they did at the end of last year, and I am finally clicking buy on this team. I have been thoroughly unimpressed with the Buckeyes through the first seven weeks, but last night in the birthplace of college football, they created some serious deja vu. Before last night I liked to compare Ohio State to a high school kid who had scored a 35 on their ACT the very first time (the title run in 2014). The score of 35 was near perfect but the kid wanted more, he wanted a perfect 36 (the journey to repeat). Well that kid took the test seven more times figuring a perfect 36 was bound to happen but was surprised when he scored relatively disappointing 29s each time. Well last night, the metaphorical kid, and this Ohio State team finally scored perfect.
J.T. Barrett played his most complete game since October of last year against Michigan State, and the rest of his team followed suit. The defense, which has had ups and downs over the last several weeks, was much improved giving up only one garbage time touchdown. It is amazing to see what this offense is capable of when they better mix mid-range passing, and deep balls into the run heavy scheme. The Buckeyes have a wealth of playmakers, and last night the hardest part was getting the ball to each and everyone of those playmakers. If Ezekiel Elliott can stay healthy, expect Ohio State to in fact be carrying the Big Ten's torch to Dallas-Fort Worth or Miami this holiday season.
Michigan State looks like a shakier version of itself each week. For those who did not watch the game, the score told a more convincing story, but believe me, unless the Spartans' running game and pass defense get fundamentally better before Week 11 in Columbus, we may see Ohio State lay the wood. Connor Cook was exceptional today against a beaten up Indiana team searching hard for bowl eligibility, but doubt remains in my mind that this Spartan team will turn the corner. Luckily, they head into a bye week before their final four games. Their best hope is to get healthy in the trenches and hope their special teams magic follows them south to the heart of it all, during the penultimate week of the season.
Utah's stock is in the process of falling harder than Lehman Brothers circa 2008. Their magical undefeated start exists now merely as a pile of cards that at one time formed a house. I see little reason to believe that Utah will win the Pac-12 at this point after their embarrassing loss to a hungry USC team. With a late season after-dark trip to Arizona, and a later season matchup with hot tub residing Josh Rosen's Bruins, I think that Utah will be lucky to make the Pac-12 championship.
Better luck next year, Big 12?
With Baylor gunslinger Seth Russell hurting his neck today in a blowout win over Iowa State (wishing him a quick recovery), my position is more solidified: the Big 12 will not be represented in Dallas or Miami this year. The Big 12 has created quite the high stakes narrative nearing the end of the regular season as it is the only other conference to join the Big Ten with three unbeaten teams. The difference: in the Big 12, they all play each other in regular season games still.
The Big 12 also has an X-factor that is somewhat equivalent to Michigan in the Big Ten, Oklahoma. During the last five weeks of the season, these four Big 12 heavyweights will clash, and almost certainly no one team will emerge unscathed. Oklahoma State, Baylor, TCU, or Oklahoma may not need to go undefeated in another conference, but without a conference championship game to use as a safety net/trampoline (depends on your worldview), I find it hard to believe that any of these four teams can sneak in the playoff with a loss.
Dabo, Dabo, Dabo
The ACC has just one chance left at not getting left out of the playoff, and you guessed it, that last hope is Clemson. Clemson looked very impressive against the most lame duck team to ever play college football this week. Handing Miami its worst loss ever was probably an enjoyable experience for fireball Dabo Swinney, but my fear is that with a Florida State loss, the pressure will become too much for this inexperienced Tigers squad. They know that they are down to a one game season, but can the Tigers finish? When Florida State visits Clemson here in a few weeks, it will be the most important game in recent Clemson football history. Win, and their path to the second ever College Football Playoff is all but written in stone, lose, and it we'll hear more tired cries of so-called 'Clemsoning' The ball is in your court, Dabo.
The echoes loom ominously
Do not count out Notre Dame. With a Saturday night football date next week against an undefeated Temple team, the Irish will be in prime position to pad their resume for the playoff committee. A win next week and Notre Dame will be sitting in a good position to head out to Palo Alto with a chance to beat Stanford and sneak into the top 4. Wins against USC, Temple, and Stanford may be enough, considering their respectable loss to Clemson, to make the playoff with a little bit of help. Notre Dame fans should be rooting for Clemson to win out, the Big 12 to cannibalize itself, and the Pac-12 cohort to all suffer two losses except for Stanford. All of this is very possible and Notre Dame appears capable of the tasks at hand.
S-E-Wait and see
The winner of LSU and Alabama will go on to make the College Football Playoff. LSU has been surprisingly consistent so far and I am about ready to buy them after their solid win over Western Kentucky, an offensive powerhouse. My fear is that their lack of legitimate competition will be apparent when they face a monster Crimson Tide front four. When the Tigers visit title town in two weeks two questions will be answered; is LSU for real? and can Leonard Fournette run like he has been on a defense like Alabama's? My guess on both of those questions is no, but that is why they play the games.
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This Saturday looked bad on paper but as the college football gods reminded us for the millionth time today: college football is a blessing we should never take for granted.