Clay Travis’ Starting 11: Michigan Smokes Ohio State Edition

On Saturday, I woke up in Columbus, Ohio, and started off my morning with a Fox News hit at 8:40 a.m. ET. Then I was on our Big Noon pre-game show on Fox, watched Michigan dismantle Ohio State, hopped a flight back to Nashville and was able to make it to a rainy kickoff for Tennessee-Vanderbilt with my kids. That’s a pretty awesome day, two games in two different time zones featuring Big Ten and SEC teams.

Over the past two years I’ve done live television hits for Big Noon from stadiums in Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Ohio. I’ve been all over the place to bars, restaurants and airports in these communities.

And do you know how many people have said a negative word to me in all these places? Two.

Two!

I bring this up because I’ve just finished another season on the road for college football and I really do 100% believe that college football fans are the best people in America. And if you are feeling bad about the country, I’d encourage you to put down your phones and get on the road for college football games.

Because I guarantee you’ll feel better about the country.

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I’ve met so many amazing college football fans from all walks of life and there isn’t a week that I come off the road where I don’t feel better about the country. I mean it. We live in a hyper polarized era, but you wouldn’t have a clue that was true if you’d spent the past two years traveling to games with me. You just wouldn’t. College football fans are just overwhelmingly kind and decent.

Now that doesn’t mean some of them aren’t bad apples — we’re talking about millions of people who attend games every week — but they are a tiny, tiny percentage of the overall fan bases.

Indeed, one of the most common things I get asked about by people I meet on the road is Twitter and the toxicity there. Guess what, it’s not real life! Twitter’s a carnival funhouse mirror of real life. 75% of the American population has never even sent a Tweet. I really believe we’ve allowed Twitter to distort our reality of what the country is actually like. Which is one of the themes of the new book I’ve been writing this fall that will be out next fall.

So thanks to all of you I’ve met out on the road and thanks especially to my crew of Caity, Christene, Chris and Paul who were out on the road with me all fall.

Okay, now that we’ve had those nice words, let’s start the arguing.

Beginning with my big miss on Ohio State to win by double digits against Michigan.

1. We don’t need the conference title games to know who the best teams in every major conference are.

Georgia, Michigan, TCU, USC, and Clemson are your SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12, and ACC champions.

That’s why we play the entire season, to let us know who the best teams are.

So before we analyze anything else, I’d just ask you this, why should four teams that have clearly proven themselves to be the best and most deserving playoff teams in the country — Georgia, Michigan, TCU, and USC — lose playoff spots to teams that weren’t good enough to play on conference title weekend?

Especially since no matter what happens in the conference title games, nothing is changing as to who the best teams were all season in these four conferences.

USC quarterback Caleb Williams. (Getty Images)

You can maybe, possibly make an argument this could impact USC since Utah already beat them once and would be beating the Trojans a second time, but Utah lost to 6-6 Florida and lost to Oregon and UCLA. Does anyone really believe Utah is the best team in the Pac 12 this year?

I just want you thinking about this as we continue to analyze the college football playoff. Why should teams that aren’t playing on conference title game weekend, be able to gain by not playing?

Now long time readers of this column know I have never been a fan of conference title games, but to me, in situations like these where we already know the best teams in each of the power conferences, these games shouldn’t really change our playoff teams.

In fact, while it will never happen because of the money at stake, I’d prefer that conference title games didn’t exist at all. I’m in favor of an expanded college football playoff, but we almost always know the best teams in every conference, that’s why we play the regular season. And if two teams finish with the same record and don’t play? Well, I’m fine with labeling teams co-champs.

2. So our top four is Georgia, Michigan, TCU, and USC.

I’d put them in that order, so Georgia would play USC in Atlanta and Michigan would play TCU in Phoenix.

Now it’s not crazy to think that both USC and TCU could lose.

USC is only -1.5 over Utah and TCU is only -2.5 over Kansas State.

So let’s say you love college football arguments and believe that if USC and TCU lose, they could still get bumped from the playoff picture.

Who are the contenders for those spots? Well, certainly Utah and Kansas State, both with three losses, aren’t making the playoff.

3. So what do teams five, six and seven look like?

It’s Ohio State, Alabama and Tennessee ranked in a debatable order.

But I don’t think it matters very much.

Because are you really telling me that 11-1 Ohio State, 10-2 Alabama or 10-2 Tennessee would have a better resume than 12-1 TCU or 11-2 USC?

I just don’t think they would.

Ohio State’s Cade Stover and Michigan’s Rod Moore. (Getty Images)

Maybe if Ohio State had played a truly competitive game against Michigan, the Buckeyes might have an argument. But if you lose by 22 at home, why should you get elevated the next week because another team, with the same or a better record than you at the end of the regular season, lost in a game while you got to sit at home?

But having said that, I believe five, six and seven should look like this:

5. Ohio State
6. Tennessee
7. Alabama

Yes, I have Tennessee ranked above Alabama.

Now let me explain why.

4. Tennessee and Alabama have the exact same record and Tennessee beat Alabama head-to-head.

That’s it, that’s the reason.

In every single sport in America the number one tiebreak is head-to-head. I could understand Alabama being ranked above Tennessee when there were several other teams in the mix between the two, but Alabama and Tennessee are going to be ranked side by side, essentially in the next weekly playoff rankings.

So how do you elevate Alabama, which has an inferior collection of wins, above Tennessee when they finished with the exact same records and Tennessee beat Alabama head-to-head? I just don’t see it.

Sure, Alabama fans are screaming that they lost two close games and Tennessee lost two games by double digits. So what? Bama also won three close games and the Vols, mostly, blew out their SEC opponents in the games they won. Alabama had five games come down to, essentially, the final play. The Tide beat Texas, Texas A&M and Ole Miss in close games and lost close games to Tennessee and LSU. That’s generally how tight games go, you win some and lose some.

Texas A&M, which finished 5-7 on the year, was throwing into the end zone to win at Bryant-Denny on the final play of the game. Shouldn’t that count for quite a bit if you’re concerned with margin of victory? Credit to Alabama for winning that game, but you don’t get to discount your close losses without also pointing out your close wins.

And, again, there’s no sport in America where when teams finish with the same record we analyze the scores of the other games to decide a tiebreak. We go straight to the head-to-head results.

As if that weren’t enough, Tennessee also has better wins than Alabama. The Vols beat LSU by 27 in Baton Rouge, Alabama lost there, and also played all three of the top teams in the SEC this year — at Georgia, Alabama, and at LSU. Tennessee went 2-1 in those three games. Alabama only paid LSU and Tennessee, losing both.

Tennessee’s Masai Reddick and Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr. (Getty Images)

Does anyone really think that based on how Alabama played on the road this year that the Tide would have won at Georgia if that game had been on their schedule.

Come on.

What’s Alabama’s best win this season? 8-4 Texas? 8-4 Mississippi State? 8-4 Ole Miss? Alabama didn’t beat any top 15 team all year. And only the Tide could not beat anyone and finish ranked above two teams they lost to, in Tennessee and LSU, if that’s the way the final rankings go.

What’s more, even the South Carolina loss, as bad as it was for Tennessee, doesn’t look as bad when you see what the Gamecocks did on the road at Clemson and what Tennessee did at Vanderbilt to close out the season. Tennessee and Alabama played two common opponents this year — LSU and Vanderbilt. And Tennessee beat both worse than Alabama did.

And did I mention that Tennessee also beat Alabama?

Because that feels kind of significant.

Final thought, are you telling me that these same Alabama fans arguing close losses justify the Tide being ranked higher would be saying Tennessee deserved to be ranked above Alabama if both teams had finished 10-2, 6-2 in the SEC and Tennessee had lost head-to-head to Alabama, but Tennessee had lost two close games and Alabama had lost two games by double digits?

Of course not.

Again, I don’t think it matters because I don’t think Tennessee or Alabama, or Ohio State for that matter, are making the playoff, but Tennessee should be ranked above Alabama.

Final thought part two, LSU won the SEC West and is going to Atlanta even though the Tigers finished with a worse overall record than Alabama on the season — 9-3 for LSU vs. 10-2 for Alabama.

Why?

LSU won the head-to-head tiebreak!

5. All divisions should cease to exist in college football.

Thanks to absurd, and frequently uneven, divisions, we’ve got Purdue vs. Michigan in the Big Ten title game and LSU vs. Georgia in the SEC title game.

Neither game matters at all and both games feature mismatches because of the divisions.

As I said above, I’m not a fan of conference title games because I think they are almost completely unnecessary money grabs and I’d rather get to the actual playoff games sooner. (An expanded playoff is a money grab I support.)

But if you’re going to have conference title games, the least you could do is make sure that at a bare minimum the two best teams play for the conference title.

The Big Ten title game should be Ohio State vs. Michigan and the SEC title game should be Georgia vs. Tennessee. Yes, both of these games are rematches — see above, this is why I’m not a fan of title games — but at least Ohio State and Tennessee would be playing title game rematches with chances to win and make the playoff.

As is, Purdue and LSU have no chance to make the playoff and are clearly inferior teams, based on the entire season’s record, to the two teams they are playing against in the title games.

If you’re going to play conference title games, you have to do away with divisions forever.

6. Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan team absolutely dominated Ohio State.

I’ll admit, I was totally wrong about this game.

As my Michigan grad wife has been taunting me about for the past 24 hours.

It’s not just that Michigan won, it’s that they dominated Ohio State.

For a second straight season.

There was nothing fancy about this beat down, the Wolverines just smoked Ohio State with the big play and validated the ass kicking they put on the Buckeyes in Ann Arbor last season with an even more impressive win this year in Columbus.

I’ve been super hard on Jim Harbaugh because the early Harbaugh hype didn’t come close to justification based on the results, but since Urban Meyer’s retirement — Meyer was 7-0 against Michigan — the Wolverines have now caught and passed the Buckeyes.

Ryan Day is now 1-2 in the big game. 1-2 against Harbaugh, 31-0 against the rest of the Big Ten. And if you’re an Ohio State fan, as C.J. Stroud heads off to the NFL, it’s a fair question to ask whether Ryan Day’s Buckeye squad is slipping as he heads into year five.

Yes, the recruiting remains at an elite level, but is the quality of the play on the field elite? Especially given what’s a fairly mediocre Big Ten? If Michigan’s the measuring stick, the Buckeyes have come up way short the past two seasons.

It’s hard to believe these questions could even be asked when Day is 31-2 in the Big Ten since taking over, but this is what happens when you lose by double digits in consecutive years to your biggest rival.

7. Lincoln Riley transformed USC in one season thanks to the transfer portal.

What he’s done is truly fantastic.

But I’m not sure college football fans are ready for what the transfer portal is going to look like as soon as the conference title games are over this year.

We’re going to see elite talent the likes of which we’ve never seen before putting their skills and services up for auction to the highest bidders. College football free agency is here.

Now college coaches have had perpetual free agency for a long time, but suddenly the players do too and I don’t think most fans are aware of how crazy it’s going to be. In theory, you could have a college kid play for three different teams in four years without sitting out at all.

Think about it, a high school recruit can get paid and sign with one program. Then after his freshman year he can hit the transfer portal and join a brand new team. Then he could graduate early and hit the transfer portal again. That’s three different teams in four years, without having to sit out at all.

This is wild and a transformative change to college football.

I’m not sure he needs the money, but what would, for instance, Marvin Harrison, Jr. get on the open market this offseason? Hell, how about Caleb Williams?

It used to be that recruiting classes mattered more than anything in college football, but now you don’t just have to sign top classes, you have to keep those players on campus.

We’ve combined NIL money with no transfer restrictions and the wild west is officially here. Buckle up.

8. Shane Beamer’s South Carolina team closed on an unbelievable run, beating two top ten teams in back to back weeks for the first time in Gamecock history.

I’m not sure there’s any team in the country — outside of the playoff four — finishing its season on a bigger high than South Carolina.

How did this happen?

The light bulb suddenly came on for Spencer Rattler in this Gamecock offense and he went from eight touchdown passes in the first ten games to eight touchdown passes in the final two games. That’s pretty wild and a credit to him and the Gamecock staff.

South Carolina’s Spencer Rattler. (Getty Images)

It will be interesting to see if Shane Beamer can keep the momentum going. Remember it was just two weeks ago that the Gamecock offense couldn’t score a touchdown at Florida.

Side notes: South Carolina didn’t score a touchdown against Florida and then scored 63 against Tennessee and Tennessee gave up 63 points at South Carolina and then shut out Vanderbilt in back-to-back weeks. Has any SEC team ever not scored a touchdown and then scored 63 the next week and has any SEC team ever given up 63 or more and followed it up with a shut out in conference play in league history? I bet neither of these things has ever happened before.

9. Caleb Williams is your 2022 Heisman trophy winner.

But getting an invite to the New York City ceremony can be a big deal.

Which is why I hope Heisman voters pencil in Hendon Hooker on their ballots.

Last night Hooker, fresh off a torn ACL, was on the sideline with his Tennessee teammates for a road game in the rain. I made sure and pointed him out to my boys. Why? Because I think it’s an important life lesson in responding to adversity and being mentally tough. Last week Hooker was a top Heisman candidate playing for a one loss Tennessee team with hopes of making the playoff. A couple of hours later Hooker had a torn ACL and his team was out of playoff contention.

Yet how did Hooker respond when faced with this adversity?

He traveled to a road game and stood in the rain on the sideline to help his teammates. After showing up to practice on crutches all week too.

That kind of character is rare in any sport, or on any team, even outside of sports, frankly. I think it deserves public commendation.

A trip to New York City for the Heisman ceremony would be a fitting capstone for Hooker’s career.

10. My Outkick national top ten

After the top eight, I think there are many teams that you could argue for, but the top eight is pretty clear.

1. Georgia
2. Michigan
3. TCU
4. USC
5. Ohio State
6. Tennessee
7. Alabama
8. Penn State
9. Washington
10. Kansas State

11. SEC power rankings 1-14

The top five in the SEC seem pretty clear, as do the top eight, but from nine on down is kind of a free for all.

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


Thanks again for hanging out with me for another fantastic season.

I’m loading up my boys now to get the family to Bengals-Titans in time for kickoff here in Nashville.

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.

5 Comments

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  1. 100% on Bama being #7. Their best win was Texas, and as you point out they were 3 plays away from being 7-5. Granted that would have been an epic 0-5 in close games. They also did not play UGA who likely would have smoked them.

  2. The committee looks at each new week and reassesses based on latest games played. I have Alabama @5 2 losses on last plays AND on the road. OSU blown out at HOME no way u should put them at 5. Tennessee smoked smoked smoked by a bad Gamecock team so no way ahead of Bama. Elephants handled the IRon Bowl. A loss by TCU or USC and they should be in the playoff, nuff said.

    • ummm, ok there tide roller. tenessee had a bad day against SC, and only other loss was georgia. if you’re going to take margin of victory/loss, then alabama’s wins aren’t that impressive…and they played head to head and lost to tenessee, who won at LSU while ‘bama didn’t. is that enough said.

  3. Great column Clay, certainly beats out on the pete davidson updates (which i can do without). But we all know why there are conference title games, and that’s because the college playoff hasn’t been around but for a few years. Imagine if Alabama didn’t lose those two close games, they would be undefeated, as would Georgia, and they haven’t played each other this year. Would be quite a conundrum deciding whom to include in the national championship game (again, this is pre CFP) if you have several undefeated teams, the conf title game takes care of just this scenario. they aren’t useful each year, but they do come in handy sometimes.

  4. Look at the record of 4 seeds vs 1 seeds in the playoff and then get back to me and try to explain why the playoff needs to be expanded. All we’ll get is a decrease in the quality and pucker factor of the regular season while getting more crappy playoff matchups that extend the season into late January.

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