Clay Travis’ Starting 11: College Football Chaos Comes Early

Confession: I fell asleep last night before Mississippi State-Arizona was over. I fully intended to stay awake until well past 2 a.m. on the east coast, but I was out of gas. So like many dads before me, I fell asleep on the couch with the game still going on.

I’d started my day down in Austin with the Big Noon Kickoff show and the Alabama-Texas game then watched games at the Austin airport while I waited to fly back home to Nashville. (I had to get back yesterday so I could make sure and take my boys to the Titans home opener against the Giants.)

I thought I’d planned things out fairly well because I wanted to be sure and watch the Tennessee-Pitt game, which started at 230 central. I was posted up in an Austin airport bar by early in the second quarter and then the game dragged on an on. But I figured I could watch the end, worst case scenario, on my phone while I waited to board the flight.

So what happened?

My Southwest Airlines flight was taking off right as Tennessee-Pitt went to overtime. So you get caught in that Bermuda Triangle of complete unreachability for about ten minutes, when you’re not high enough into the air for the Wi-Fi to actually start working — in the event that it actually works — but you’ve lost all your cell phone signal so you can’t even monitor things that way either.

So by the time I finally scrambled to get the Wi-Fi connected and put on ABC, I was just there in time for the overtime extra point from Tennessee. I didn’t even see the touchdown pass. Then I watched Tennessee’s defense get the stop and exulted on the plane. I’m not sure if Tennessee is back yet under Josh Heupel. And the entire second half was an exercise in misery — it felt like Tennessee was doing everything they could to lose to Pitt especially after they knocked Kedon Slovis out in the first half — but the Vols should be 3-0 on Sept. 24 when a very beatable Florida team rolls into town.

As always the college football season in a mine field, but there’s even an outside chance the Vols could be 5-0 when Alabama rolls into Neyland. (Tennessee plays at LSU off a bye week on October 8th).

My point? As a long suffering Vols fan I’m exulting in a potential undefeated September, which hasn’t happened very often in my life as a fan.

Okay, on to the Starting 11.

1. Texas nearly pulled off a stunning upset against Alabama.

This game felt much like the most recent Iron Bowl to me.

Alabama’s offense was woefully nonexistent for much of the game until finally getting hot late. It felt like the Tide just gave up on running the football, put Bryce Young in the shotgun and spread out Texas. That ultimately got them the win here, but if you’re a Tide fan this game feels ominous, coming, as it does, on the heels of a less than stellar Iron Bowl. How much did Jamison Williams cover up in this Tide offense? (You’ll recall Williams got kicked out for targeting in the Iron Bowl.)

And Texas, as well as the Longhorns played, left at least five points on the field, probably more. First, Alabama narrowly avoided a safety on what felt like an egregiously unfair call, even if it might have been correct based on the letter of the rule. Second, the missed chip shot field goal to finish the first half was an inexcusable error.

If either of those plays are changed we’re in a totally different place in this game.

Toss in Quinn Ewers being knocked out of the game on a late hit at the end of the first quarter and the fact Texas had any chance at all to win this game is pretty incredible.

Put it this way, if I’d told you that Texas was going to lose its starting quarterback at the end of the first quarter and only score 19 points in the entire game, would you have ever believed this one would end up close at all?

On the day Texas had 25 first downs to Alabama’s 16, the two teams were nearly even on total yards, and aside from one big offensive play in the running game, the Tide couldn’t run the ball at all. Plus, Bama posted 15 penalties.

It’s too soon to pronounce Texas is back, but if you’re a Longhorn fan, you have to be waking up today pretty pleased with where your program is headed under Sarkisian. And if you’re a Bama fan, I think it’s fair to wonder whether there’s much explosiveness on offense around Bryce Young. And whether that might catch up with the Tide this year.

Because if Young doesn’t evade that perfectly timed and perfectly called blitz on Bama’s final drive, I think the Tide might well have lost in Austin.

(Sidenote: I had an incredible time down in Austin. Thanks to everyone for all the hospitality, especially Bill Holmes who hosted Buck Sexton and me for the game.)

Phenomenal atmosphere here. Great time this week in Austin. When Texas officially joins the SEC, it’s going to be truly incredible. https://t.co/VCX5hzINkY

— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) September 10, 2022

2. Texas A&M’s loss to App State is deeply concerning.

The Aggies have very real offensive issues and the Jimbo Fisher honeymoon is officially over in Aggieland.

This loss was not a fluke. If anything, App State should have won by more than they did. Just look at the box score: A&M put up 186 total yards, just 97 yards passing and 89 yards rushing. Pause for a moment and think about this, how many times has a top ten ranked team — I know the polls are junk early in the year — played a non power five conference opponent and not gone over 100 yards in either the rushing or passing category? I’m not sure this has ever happened before.

A&M had just nine first downs.

I know every week is different, but App State isn’t a steel curtain defense either. Last week App State gave up 63 points to UNC, including 352 yards passing and 215 yards rushing. So the fact that A&M couldn’t get anything going offensively is an incredibly troubling sign.

Meanwhile App State had 22 first downs and 315 total yards. Again, this game shouldn’t have been very close based on the box score.

This was the party scene in Boone, North Carolina after the big win:

The App State celebration is fantastic. Gonna be a fun night in Boone. pic.twitter.com/7eUrByyMdw

— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) September 11, 2022

So where does this leave A&M.

COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS – SEPTEMBER 10: Head coach Jimbo Fisher of the Texas A&M Aggies looks on during the second half against the Appalachian State Mountaineers at Kyle Field on September 10, 2022 in College Station, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

Right now Jimbo Fisher has coached fifty games with the Aggies. He’s 35-15 in those fifty games. Kevin Sumlin, who was fired and replaced by Jimbo, went 36-14 in his first fifty games. Now you can argue Sumlin tailed off after this, but my point is Jimbo, for all the money he’s being paid, isn’t earning the salary.

Last year’s win over Alabama was monumental, but the Aggies still finished 8-4, tied for third in the SEC West. In 2020, the covid year, the Aggies were really good, going 9-1 and narrowly missing the playoff. But every other year has just been okay.

And this loss coupled with this offensive performance is certainly ominous.

The Aggies look like another 8-4 team, which in year five is not what A&M thinks it’s paying for. Nor should it be. A&M is paying for a championship coach, so far they don’t have one.

3. Marshall beat Notre Dame and the Fighting Irish are 0-2 in year one of the Marcus Freeman era.

Now before we dissect this Irish loss, let’s keep in mind what Marcus Freeman’s best selling point is right now — his recruiting class is off the charts good, particularly for the Irish. Right now Notre Dame has the number four class in the nation with 19 four stars and a five star. I know kids can be fickle, but the vast majority of recruits stay committed to the team they pick.

So at this point Notre Dame’s goal should be to try and finish the season with a respectable enough growth curve to keep these talented recruits committed.

Given that the Irish are 100% out of the playoff race now, let’s look at their schedule and think about this question, what’s our ceiling and our floor here? That is, how many wins do you think Notre Dame definitely has? I only see two — Navy and UNLV. To be fair, I would have put Marshall in this category as well prior to this week’s game so this might be generous. That means you’ve got California, at North Carolina, BYU, Stanford, at Syracuse, Clemson, Boston College, and at USC that will all be varying degrees of challenges.

This is a really tough schedule for anyone, but especially Notre Dame, which has often coasted by. Not this year, at Ohio State, Clemson, and at USC are a harder three games than anyone in the country has, I think.

So to me the ceiling feels like, gulp, maybe 6-6. And the floor? The floor might well be 2-10.

So the question I have as an Irish fan is can you find a way to .500 and hope to keep this roster together. Getting to .500 would require a 6-4 finish and would be a decent recovery. But looking at this schedule, that doesn’t seem likely to me.

As for Marshall, wow. What a win. Especially for Charles Huff, who most of you, including me, aren’t very familiar with. Well, maybe we should be.

He went 7-6 in year one at Marshall and now has the Thundering Herd at 2-0.

Good for he and his team.

Anthony Richardson
Florida Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson (15) throws a pass during the game between the Kentucky Wildcats and the Florida Gators on September 10, 2022. (Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

4. Anthony Richardson was dominated by Kentucky in the second half.

Last week I compared Anthony Richardson to Cam Newton and Vince Young, I still think athletically those comparisons hold, but I was stunned by how little Florida used his legs last night. In fact, that’s the most stunning thing about last night.

Kentucky scoring 26 on offense didn’t surprise me. (Without special teams miscues the Wildcats would have scored more too.) But Florida just flat out didn’t use Richardson in the run game at all. And left to only pass, he’s still raw.

I’ll get to the Kentucky defensive performance in a moment, but here were Richardson’s stats: 14-35 for 143 yards passing with two interceptions. He ran the ball just six times for four yards. It’s the latter part here that’s stunning to me. Why isn’t Florida using his legs to set up the pass? And why didn’t Richardson keep the ball on some of the read/option plays the Gators did run last night?

This is a real mystery to me.

Credit the Kentucky defense for the pass coverage, but I’d love to know why Richardson’s legs weren’t used more. Last week Richardson ran for over 100 yards against Utah on 11 carries. So what happened here that his legs were a non-factor? Was it Kentucky defensive brilliance? Was it Florida play calling ineptitude? Regardless, it’s fair to say the interception late in the first half changed everything. The Gators were up 16-7 and seemed to be cruising when a fabulous interception by Jordan Wright completely flipped the game.

As for Kentucky, look, I don’t think the Wildcat offense has much sizzle — and they can’t run the ball right now at all as they await a clarification on Chris Rodriguez but so far as schedules go Kentucky has one of the easiest I’ve ever seen in the SEC. Kentucky beat Miami-Ohio to start the year, just got the road win over Florida and now gets Youngstown State and Northern Illinois at home before they go to Ole Miss on October 1st. If the Wildcats can win in Oxford, then South Carolina and Mississippi State both come to Lexington. That means it’s not impossible for Kentucky to be 7-0 when they head to Knoxville on October 29th.

If that were to happen, undefeated Kentucky at Tennessee would be the biggest Wildcat football game in generations.

5. Nebraska lost to Georgia Southern and Scott Frost is finished now.

I actually feel really bad for Frost at this point. Can you imagine getting your dream job and just stinking at it so bad that you get fired? I’m stunned that Frost hasn’t worked out at Nebraska, completely and totally stunned. He was as close to a perfect hire as possible, the conquering hero returning home to put Nebraska back among the college football elite. And it just hasn’t happened at all.

Credit to Clay Helton for pulling off the huge road upset, but already the conversation has turned to who is Nebraska’s next hire?

I’ll give you four names that would be on my list: Lance Leipold at Kansas, Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss, Urban Meyer and Deion Sanders from Jackson State.

6. The Big Ten had a disaster of a day.

Duke beat Northwestern, Washington State beat Wisconsin, Iowa State beat Iowa, Georgia Southern, as we mentioned above, beat Nebraska. All of these wins came by underdogs on the road.

It remains to be seen how good Penn State is — Saturday at Auburn should be a decent test — and we need to see more of Michigan State, but as we wait on the Nittany Lions and the Spartans, the Big Ten seems to be down to the same four teams in the Big Ten East all over again as the saving graces of the conference.

Can we just end divisions in all of college football once and for all?

They’re an incredibly dumb invention.

7. The Sun Belt was on fire Saturday.

Marshall, App State and Georgia State all won as massive road underdogs and Georgia State also gave North Carolina another good run just like App State did last weekend.

The lesson?

The college football season is like the NCAA tournament, there is no such thing as a bad win. Just find a way, survive and advance.

And how about the double money line parlay winner on Marshall and App State. A win for the ages.

Have 2 over here! pic.twitter.com/ViswSW86XH

— Dan Yesenko (@Yesenko24) September 10, 2022

8. USC under Lincoln Riley is most definitely ahead of schedule.

Given Notre Dame’s collapse — the Fighting Irish will be out of the top 25 when the polls come out later today — USC only plays one current top 25 team for the rest of the season — at Utah on October 15th.

It’s early, but could the Trojans be a legit playoff contender? Vegas certainly thinks so.

Here are the top ten national championship contenders as of this morning at FanDuel.

Georgia 2-1
Bama 2-1
Ohio State 3-1
Clemson 10-1
USC 12-1
Michigan 25-1
Oklahoma 50-1
Tennessee 60-1
Arkansas 80-1

(Miami, Penn State, Kansas State and Oklahoma State are all tied at 100-1 for tenth)

I bet teams eight and nine caught many of you by surprise. Vegas is high on the Vols and the Razorbacks this year.

9. This is the first time that Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina and Kansas all won road games in college football history.

This was a great stat shared by Chris Fallica of ESPN.

Sidenote: who hates Mack Brown? How in the world is UNC opening their season on the road at App State and then also going on the road against Georgia State? Having said that, how much better does the UNC win over App State look now that App State took down A&M?

10. My OutKick National Top Ten

Everyone loses their mind in the comments over my top ten’s to start the season, but these rankings really aren’t very complicated, I only judge teams by what they’ve shown us on the field so far, not by what I expect to see from them. And early in the season I reward road/neutral wins over power five conference opponents because those are the wins most deserving of praise.

With that in mind, here’s my top ten:

1. Georgia
2. Kentucky
3. USC
4. Tennessee
5. BYU
6. Arkansas
7. Iowa State
8. Washington State
9. Mississippi State
10. Alabama

11. Outkick’s SEC Power Ratings 1-14

As always, I’m judging based entirely on the games we’ve seen on the field and providing more weight, at this point in the season, to wins over power five conference teams on road or neutral sites.

1. Georgia
2. Kentucky
3. Tennessee
4. Arkansas
5. Mississippi State
6. Alabama
7. Florida
8. Ole Miss
9. Auburn
10. South Carolina
11. LSU
12. Texas A&M
13. Vanderbilt
14. Missouri

See you guys on the road at Penn State-Auburn this weekend and then we’ll be up in Knoxville the week after for Florida-Tennessee.

Can’t wait.

Written by Clay Travis

OutKick founder, host and author. He's presently banned from appearing on both CNN and ESPN because he’s too honest for both.

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