The most shocking game played on Saturday in my opinion was Missouri’s near upset of Georgia. I know, I know, the Bulldogs found a way to come back from a double digit road deficit in the fourth quarter and deserve credit for the win, but Georgia was a thirty point favorite in this game by kickoff.
There was absolutely nothing in either team’s season so far that suggested Georgia might have a struggle in Columbia at all.
Yet with about seven minutes to go Georgia took possession needing a touchdown to get the win. And then Georgia had to ice the game by getting a stop on Mizzou and then running out the clock.
Georgia’s poor performance on the road at Mizzou means that every single team in college football has had at least one bad half or one bad game so far in the season. (I discounted Georgia’s performance against Kent State last week because non-conference buy in games are sometimes messes just based on the competition imbalance.) Ohio State wasn’t very good against Notre Dame, Bama wasn’t good at Texas, and you can go on down the line. College football, and I’ve been making this analogy for years, feels like the NCAA tournament, sometimes you have to acknowledge there’s no such thing as a bad win, just survive and advance.
Mizzou, who I ranked as the 14th best team in the SEC, Mizzou who lost by 28 at Kansas State, Mizzou who just lost to Auburn, had every chance to win last night against the nation’s best team. Yes, Georgia won, but it feels like we may be in for a chaotic season before all is done here because every team, even the elite ones, have shown us some wobbly tendencies so far.
After three weeks, I was convinced Georgia was the best team in college football, now I don’t think that at all. As you’ll see, I’ve actually bumped Georgia down to number three overall in my rankings.
Having said that, with the performances against Kent State and Missouri back to back, pray for Auburn, who is on the road at Georgia this coming weekend.
That one could get really, really ugly.
Let’s dive into the Starting 11:
1. Clemson took down N.C. State.
I haven’t bought into Clemson this year because, frankly, I don’t believe in D.J. Uiagalelei as a true difference maker at quarterback and I think Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State have much more proven quarterbacks. So I just don’t buy Clemson as on their level.
I’ve also been skeptical that losing an offensive coordinator and a defensive coordinator in the same off-season was going to translate well for the Tigers.
But Clemson got past Wake Forest last week in double overtime and now has beaten N.C. State and doesn’t have a single top 25 team left on the schedule. (Florida State won’t be ranked in the new poll after the home loss to Wake Forest.)
Put it this way, who scares you on their schedule? At Florida State, maybe. Syracuse is undefeated, but do we think the Orange are that good? It feels like anything worse than 11-1 in the regular season would be a real surprise. And that Clemson has put itself in the position to be in the playoff yet again.
Credit to the Tigers, this game can be explained in one stat: rushing attack. Clemson ran the ball 38 times for a workmanlike 145 yards, N.C. State ran the ball 34 times for 21 yards. Unless you have a truly elite quarterback, you can’t win like this, especially on the road, in college football.
And a big part of that rush success was at quarterback, Uiagelelei carried the ball 14 times for 73 yards and two touchdowns. His legs were the difference maker in this game.
(Also, I still want to visit Clemson for a game. With the hurricane hitting South Carolina we called an audible and decided not to travel our crew in a couple of days prior to the game. While the weather ended up fine on Saturday, we were worried about flight cancellations and travel delays as it looked like earlier in the week that Saturday morning might well be a mess. So we will eventually make it there, I promise. For this coming weekend, we’ll be down at Texas A&M-Alabama for the Big Noon kickoff hits. For our Florida readers, we will do something for you guys with Outkick and/or the radio show to help you dealing with Hurricane Ian’s aftermath. The footage I’ve seen has been brutal. I did a listener event in Ft. Myers last year and our radio affiliate, where I broadcast last year, was completely inundated with water. I have a lot of family and friends in the Naples area. We’ll all help as best we can.)
2. Ole Miss survived against Kentucky.
Setting off this raucous celebration.
What Lane Kiffin has done at Ole Miss is absolutely phenomenal so far. Remember that Ole Miss and Kentucky are two of the four teams who have never played in the SEC title game. (Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Texas A&M are the four who have never made it to Atlanta.) So for these two programs this was a major battle.
And Kentucky had every chance to win this game.
The Wildcats were, once again, bad on special teams, costing themselves a bunch of points.
But, also, Will Levis, who Mel Kiper has ranked as the second best quarterback in college football for this year’s upcoming draft, turned the ball over twice on each of the final two drives. Yes, there may have been a targeting call missed on the first fumble and yes, the play before his second fumble Levis threw a touchdown pass that was called back, but the touchdown pass was called back because Levis didn’t get his team aligned properly.
In other words, that was on him.
And, at least to this point, the hype of Levis exceeds the results.
Now Kentucky still has three tough SEC games against Mississippi State, Tennessee and Georgia on the schedule.
Maybe Levis wins all three games for Kentucky and the Wildcats go 11-1.
But right now I can think of at least four quarterbacks in the SEC I’d rather give the ball to needing a score than Levis. And right now three of those four quarterbacks are playing for Mississippi State, Tennessee and Georgia. So I don’t feel great about Kentucky pulling off those three wins. Now 2-1 or even 1-2 in these games would still be a great season, but Wildcat fans were daring to believe Atlanta was possible this season.
After the Ole Miss loss, that feels very unlikely.
3. Jimbo Fisher is right back to the hot seat as a road game against Alabama looms.
Last week thanks to the missed field goal, Jimbo was back to 3-1.
Now after this loss, 3-3 at the midway point feels like a foregone conclusion. Then what happens in the final six games? The schedule gets easier, but even at 4-2 or 5-1, we’re talking about 7-5 or 8-4 in year five for Jimbo. That’s a big step back from the covid year when it felt like the Aggies were a top ten program. And with Texas and Oklahoma poised to join the SEC in the next couple of years, it doesn’t feel like the Aggies really hit on their window.
A former Aggie player reached out and asked me whether Jimbo was the Jim Harbaugh of the SEC, highly paid, much hyped, but didn’t really deliver early results that justified his massive paycheck and now has built himself a huge burden.
I was curious about the comparison so I went and looked at Harbaugh’s Michigan tenure. He went 10-3, 10-3, 8-5, 10-3, 9-4, 2-4 (covid year) and then finally won the Big Ten in 2021 with a 12-2 record. And, of course, he’s 5-0 so far this year after a nice road win at Iowa.
Jimbo, meanwhile, has gone 9-4, 8-5, 9-1, 8-4, and is sitting at 3-2 in year five. So next year would need to be his conference title win if this analogy held true.
Frankly, and I’ve been tough on Harbaugh, but outside of the covid year when Jimbo’s team was good enough to make the playoff, Jimbo hasn’t been as good as Harbaugh. (And I think you have to give Harbaugh a pass on the covid year because the Big Ten coronabros made it virtually impossible to play or coach football that year.)
Jimbo’s biggest issue is he hasn’t been able to recruit an elite quarterback. Yes, he turned Kellen Mond into a very solid SEC signal caller, but that wasn’t his quarterback recruit. A&M is putting together another top recruiting class, but without an elite quarterback it’s hard to win consistently in any league, but especially the SEC.
Right now you can make the case that Jimbo is a pretty decent coach who got Jameis Winston to Tallahassee and got a title. Without Jameis Jimbo has been just a decent coach. The problem for Jimbo is he’s being paid as if he’s a top five coach in college football.
And right now the data in Aggieland just isn’t there to support that payment.
Now maybe Jimbo is Harbaugh and the results are coming soon and will surprise everyone, but right now the Aggies don’t feel that close to an SEC title.
A moment’s thoughts on Mississippi State, they had a bad second half at LSU, but I still think the Bulldogs may be the second best team in the SEC West. Arkansas comes to town this weekend and State is a small favorite. Win that game and State could pose some challenges for Alabama, Kentucky, Georgia and Ole Miss — talk about a crazy schedule.
Mike Leach has got things rolling pretty well right now in Starkville.
4. The most impressive athletic feat of the weekend may have come courtesy of BYU’s mascot.
I mean, if you doubt how difficult this is, take a break from reading the Starting 11 and just do a push up. Then do a push up where you push yourself as high in the air as you possibly can.
My bet is you aren’t coming very far off the ground.
Now do it in a damn mascot costume on balanced tables in front of 70,000 people.
I mean, this is absolutely insane.
Even thinking about trying this is crazy.
How is this mascot not starting at middle linebacker for BYU?
5. Oklahoma, yikes!
Last week I talked about how it was too soon to blame Brent Venables for Oklahoma’s loss to Kansas State and that I didn’t think Sooner fans needed to hit the panic button.
Well, this week I’m reversing course.
When you’re a defensive head coach and TCU hangs 55 on you, including nearly 700 yards of offense and 361, 361!, yards rushing, it’s time to hit the panic button.
Oklahoma will fall out of the top 25 this week and the Texas game looms as a monster crossroads game for both programs. Whichever team loses will have three losses and be staring down the SEC move without a great deal of excitement.
But at least Texas has Arch to look forward to, what do the Sooners have?
6. Auburn gave up a 17 point home lead and lost 21-17 to LSU and Alabama took down Arkansas on the road.
So what do we think about both Alabama teams?
First, my opinion on Bryan Harsin hasn’t changed. I thought Auburn would have a chance to beat Missouri and LSU, and they did, going 1-1 in these two games, and then the SEC schedule would get brutal and the Tigers would struggle mightily. Auburn’s 3-2 right now and I’d expect them to finish somewhere around 2-5, at best in their final seven games. And 0-7 isn’t out of the question.
The uncertainty at athletic director and the buyout both offer some small protection for Harsin, but ultimately at Georgia and at Ole Miss over the next two weeks could both be ugly results. Then you hit the bye week. That feels like when this firing may get done.
And Deion Sanders feels like he might be the hot target for both Georgia Tech and Auburn.
But even if Harsin’s still the coach after the bye week the final stretch is Arkansas, at Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Western Kentucky and at Bama. This could get really nasty.
As for Alabama, credit to the Tide for continuing to roll, after a wobbly 23-0 stretch, to knock out Arkansas even without Bryce Young for most of the game. The rushing attack suddenly showed up in the second half and if Bama can run the ball and Young comes back healthy? Look out. Even if Bryce Young were out for an extended period, I still feel like the Tide isn’t losing more than one regular season game.
7. Do we really need Aaron Judge break-ins during college football games?
Look, like almost everyone reading this today, I watch a ton of college football games. In fact, my absolute favorite past time on earth is just watching college football all day long on Saturday’s. I absolutely love it.
Well, on Saturday I was flying back from New York City where I did the Big Noon hits this week and I was on a Jet Blue flight watching games on my seat back monitor. And the Kentucky-Ole Miss game was super compelling, riveting, I can’t look away because anything could happen. And then several times during the game they took me out of my great college football game and put up an Aaron Judge at bat on a split screen.
You know how when you’re really invested in something you get so drawn in that you don’t notice much external noise. It could be a great book, a great TV show, a song, you name it. That’s the way a great college football game is for me.
And as soon as you make me watch a split screen during the game I’m watching, you take me out of that zone of total immersion.
That’s especially true when the split screen is as jarring as baseball and college football. I enjoy baseball now — go Braves! — but baseball and college football are, often, the antithesis of each other. Baseball is often plodding and slow moving, college football is a frenzy. So that juxtaposition isn’t pleasing, at least to me.
Plus, I just don’t think most Kentucky and Ole Miss fans, which was the majority of people watching, care one iota about Aaron Judge.
If it had been Rutgers playing Boston College, okay, maybe that’s different.
This feels like, to me, a total whiff by ESPN that’s rooted in extreme east coast bias. If Aaron Judge didn’t play for the Yankees or the Red Sox would this story have received anywhere near the ESPN coverage? And how many people out there are watching a three and a half hour college football game so they can see Aaron Judge bat? There have to be almost zero people.
Why couldn’t ESPN just break in ten seconds after the home run is hit?
This feels like what happens when your company is based in Bristol, Connecticut and, as a result, wildly overindexes for Yankee fans.
Plus, the homerun record is 73. I know it’s an inflated steroid number, but I lived through Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds hammering home runs and the great Roger Maris chase there. If Aaron Judge was trying to hit 74, it’s a way bigger story, but this feels like a Yankee fan obsession, not a college football fan obsession.
A break in to show the highlight ten seconds after it happens feels appropriate, but split screening the action feels excessive and like a decision made by east coast based executives who have a limited understand of who their college football audience is.
If you’re watching Kentucky-Ole Miss you’re probably a diehard fan of either team or you’ve got money on the game. Either way, you’re pretty invested. This isn’t a casual fan base. Serve the diehards, not the drive bys.
Know your audience, SEC fans, for the most part, don’t care about ESPN’s Judge obsession.
8. Bret Bielema has Illinois 4-1 and knocked out his old team, Wisconsin.
Meanwhile I praised Minnesota and they immediately lost to Purdue. Sorry, Golden Gopher fans.
Also is anyone paying attention to Michigan State? The Spartans may go 4-8 this year.
That’s your Big Ten update for non-Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State news.
9. How does Vegas see the top ten national title contenders after week five of college football?
Well, Georgia and Ohio State are now co-favorites and Alabama has dropped back a bit, probably based on the Bryce Young health uncertainty.
Ohio State +190
Ole Miss +5000
Oklahoma State +5000
(Oregon and UCLA are just outside this grouping at 60-1 as, by the way, Chip Kelly has quietly built an undefeated 5-0 team in Westwood.)
It feels like this could be an all SEC and all Big Ten playoff affair this year, but I’d say the biggest surprise is four of the top 12 title odds contenders are from the Pac 12. I know, I know, partly this is a function of how dominant of title favorites Georgia, Alabama and Ohio State are, but I think that would still surprise people.
Also, as I noted above, Clemson’s path to 11-1 or 12-0 and an ACC title game berth is pretty clear right now.
10. My OutKick National Top Ten
As a reminder, I only rank based the games played on the field, not what I expect to see on the field.
2. Ohio State
6. Oklahoma State
7. Ole Miss
10. Penn State
11. SEC power rankings 1-14
I believe I presently have every team ranked above a team they have beaten. This will probably become an impossibility in the weeks ahead, but for now, the power rankings are really easy to do.
3. Ole Miss
7. Mississippi State
8. Texas A&M
14. South Carolina
I’ll see you guys this coming weekend in Tuscaloosa for A&M-Bama and then we’ll be back in Knoxville on 10/15 for Alabama-Tennessee.