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Starting 11: Alabama & Ohio State Roll, Clemson Survives Edition

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Happy Halloween (Sunday hangover edition) for all of you out there reading this right now feeling the effects of what I hope was a fun weekend for you guys.

I’m down to only one kid that wants to walk around and trick or treat with me, my six year old. The other two boys have gotten old enough to take off with their buddies in the neighborhood. So like many of you I was out there on Saturday night walking around trick or treating with the kids while also refreshing the scores to see how the games were going in the evening.

The best part of Halloween, at least in my neighborhood, it felt completely normal! I loved how many parents and kids were out for the night trick or treating and I also loved how many people were set up ready to receive all the kids with tons of candy.

Hopefully this is a good sign of things to come.

The biggest story of the day?

Clemson survived without Trevor Lawrence and Michigan, yet again, crumbled.

We’ll get to both of those stories in a second, but first I want to let everyone in the state of Tennessee know that sports gambling is now officially legal in the state. You can bet on any game under the sun, all college and NFL football games and more. That’s also true if you live in one of the eight states that neighbor Tennessee and think you may be in the state of Tennessee any time soon. You just have to be physically present in the state to place your bets. So you guys should be signing up too. Right now you can get up to a $1000 free roll and you can also get $50 if the Titans score three or more points on the Bengals today. So go sign up today.

Okay, here we go with the Starting 11:

1. Clemson survived against Boston College without Trevor Lawrence.

Trailing 28-10 near the end of the first half, Clemson scored 24 unanswered points — and held BC scoreless — to sneak by with a 34-28 victory.

But in the immediate aftermath of this game Dabo Swinney announced that Trevor Lawrence wouldn’t play this upcoming week against Notre Dame.

So what does this do for the playoff race?

First, Clemson proved they could win a game without Trevor Lawrence. That’s even after spotting an opponent an 18 point lead and even after making several uncharacteristic errors, including allowing a length of the field fumble recovery for a touchdown and blowing it by jumping offsides to allow another touchdown drive.

Playing without Trevor Lawrence at Notre Dame basically gives Clemson a free ride. If they win this game, they’re able to point to the overall strength of the team even without Trevor Lawrence and they’ve effectively clinched their playoff berth since games remaining against FSU, Pitt and Virginia Tech aren’t likely to be losses with Lawrence back. If they lose this Notre Dame game, they probably get a rematch in the ACC title game and they’ll have Trevor back then.

What Clemson couldn’t do was lose multiple regular season games and now that risk doesn’t feel very real.

As for Notre Dame, this is a big opportunity for them.

The Fighting Irish are effectively getting two shots to beat Clemson once. If they do that — and run the table the rest of the way — 11-1 Notre Dame, either with a regular season or ACC title game win over Clemson, has a great shot at the playoff.

So what does the rest of Notre Dame’s schedule look like after Clemson?

They’ve got at Boston College, at North Carolina, Syracuse, and at Wake Forest left. Sure, the Irish could certainly lose any of these games, but it would be a fairly substantial upset.

So what’s the best case scenario for the ACC?

A split in the Notre Dame and Clemson series.

Because 11-1 Clemson is in the playoff, especially if the loss comes without Trevor Lawrence, and 11-1 Notre Dame would be tough to leave out as well.

2. Michigan’s loss to Michigan State feels like the end for Jim Harbaugh.

You just can’t lose this football game if you are Jim Harbaugh.

Leaving aside the fact that this is a big rivalry in the state of Michigan and losing to their little brother leaves Michigan fans furious, you can’t lose a game like this when you’re a 24 point favorite in year six coming off a 9-4 season.

You just can’t.

I’ve been arguing for years that Jim Harbaugh is the most overhyped coach in college football history. For a long time people argued with me about this, now almost no one does.

Keep in mind, I’m not saying that Harbaugh is an awful coach, he’s clearly not. But Michigan believed they were getting their own version of Nick Saban or Urban Meyer and essentially they got Bo Pelini at Nebraska.

But at this point, I don’t know what Michigan really does. I doubt they can do much better, if at all, than Harbaugh, but I also doubt that they’re going to ever do much better than they are right now with him. Harbaugh is essentially a 9-3 or 8-4 coach. That’s not awful, but it’s significantly below the expectations when he was hired.

The frustrating thing is Harbaugh’s offense just always seems to sputter, it’s never become consistently good. What he needs is the same thing most teams need today: a truly elite quarterback. But for whatever reason he’s been unable to find someone who can be that elite quarterback for his team.

As a result Harbaugh is now 1-6 at home against Michigan State and Ohio State and it feels like on some level he might just be happier in the NFL.

Sure, Harbaugh could still resurrect the season, but at this point that would require winning every game the rest of the way and beating Ohio State in the final game of the season.

Does anyone think that’s likely at all? Even the most diehard Michigan fan on the planet?

I don’t think so.

Personally, I think it’s far more likely the Wolverines finish the season 5-3 or 4-4 and Harbaugh ends up leaving for the NFL.

I just don’t see any other way this ends.

3. Alabama crushed Mississippi State.

In 19 years as a head coach Mike Leach had never been shut out.

Until Saturday.

We all have known the Alabama offense is outstanding, but now the Tide defense is starting to roll as well. Since the second half of Georgia, Alabama has played ten quarters of football and allowed a grand total of 17 points, all to Tennessee.

At this point it’s hard not to see the Tide in the college football playoff.

In fact, given what just happened to LSU on the Plains, it’s hard not to see Alabama dominating at LSU, Kentucky, Auburn, and at Arkansas and putting all these games away by halftime.

Maybe, possibly, Auburn can keep the game interesting for a half, but I don’t see the other three opponents having a remote chance of pulling off an upset or even keeping the game close. (Provided Mac Jones stays healthy/doesn’t test positive for covid).

The Tide are now rolling into their bye week at the perfect time.

They’re 6-0 and Alabama being in the SEC title game at 10-0 feels like a foregone conclusion.

4. Ohio State had no problems with Penn State.

The Buckeyes had a double digit lead for the entire game and were never seriously challenged by Penn State, which was expected to be their toughest challenge on the schedule before Michigan to end the year.

I expected the Nittany Lions to roar back after a disappointing loss to Indiana, but I was wrong. This game was never really close.

Ohio State, right now, feels an awful lot like Alabama.

I just don’t see any way — barring covid issues — that anyone on the regular season Big Ten schedule keeps it close against the Buckeyes from here on out.

Indeed, I’d be way more nervous about covid issues than I would Big Ten opponents if I’m an Ohio State fan.

I mean, who in these remaining six games is even going to challenge Ohio State? Rutgers, Maryland, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan State and Michigan? I think Ohio State could score seventy on Rutgers, Maryland and Illinois if they wanted to and I don’t see Indiana, Michigan State or Michigan putting up much of a fight either.

That’s why covid, either for Ohio State players or their opponents, feels like a much bigger threat to a playoff berth than anyone in the Big Ten does.

5. With Oklahoma State’s loss to Texas and Kansas State’s loss to West Virginia, the Big 12 is pretty much eliminated from the playoff this year.

Now every Big 12 team has at least one loss in conference and all but Oklahoma State have at least two losses overall.

I know we’ve seen wacky things happen in college football playoff races, but this one feels finished.

Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State all look poised to snag three spots. Then you have Notre Dame, Florida, Georgia and Texas A&M hanging on the periphery of the race as well. All four of those teams are likely to have better resumes than any Big 12 champion, who would likely emerge with at least two losses.

I suppose it’s still possible Oklahoma State could run the table the rest of the way and finish with only one loss, but that doesn’t feel very likely at all.

The Big 12 has (almost certainly) played itself out of a playoff berth.

6. Auburn dominated LSU.

Last week appears to have been fools gold for LSU.

The Bayou Bengals are 2-3 and look eerily similar to Auburn back in 2011, the year after Cam Newton went number one overall and they lost Gus Malzahn to Arkansas State.

Consider the following analogy between national title teams at Auburn and LSU: all world quarterback leads you to undefeated championship season, wins the Heisman trophy, goes number one overall in the NFL Draft, and then the offensive genius who helped make that quarterback excel leaves for a new job.

The remaining team struggles the next season — Auburn went 4-4 in the SEC, right now LSU is 2-3.

The year after that the wheels truly come off, Auburn went 3-9, 0-8 in the SEC and they fired Gene Chizik.

I’m not saying that LSU 2019 is a mirror image of Auburn 2010, but the analogy sure seems to fit right now, doesn’t it?

With Alabama, Texas A&M, and Florida still on the schedule, not to mention dangerous games at Arkansas and against Ole Miss, it feels like 4-6 is the best LSU could do this season. And 3-7 feels realistic too.

Then what happens in 2021?

If the analogy holds, Ed Orgeron meet Gene Chizik.

7. Florida and Mizzou brawled and Dan Mullen might be off his rocker.

We’ll see what the full fallout is from the brawl at the end of the first half between Mizzou and Florida, but what’s certainly clear is that Dan Mullen clearly instigated the issue between the teams and then behaved like a mad man, rushing back on the field after exiting the stadium through the tunnels and exhorting the crowd to cheer even louder.

I get that Mullen has been living with a high degree of frustration since his team gave away a late lead against Texas A&M and then was unable to return to the field for three weeks because of covid issues.

But Mullen turned what would otherwise have been a relatively benign pushing and shoving incident between two teams into the edge of a full-on brawl with his actions.

Then after the game he showed up dressed as Darth Vader for his post game press conference.

Sure, that’s kind of funny, but it’s also kind of weird, especially when you’ve been the center of a great deal of controversy both in the game and in the weeks leading up to the game.

Things seem a bit awry overall in Gainesville right now.

Having said that, Mullen’s offense is rolling under Kyle Trask and I think the Gators should be favored to beat Georgia this coming weekend in the Cocktail Party.

Win that game and Florida would be 9-1 and playing Alabama in the SEC title game with a chance to advance to the playoff.

Even better than all this for Gator fans, the defense showed up and shut down a Mizzou offense that had been on a roll with Connor Bazelak.

I think of all the teams left on their schedule, Florida, if they win the SEC East, would have the best chance to upset Alabama.

8. Georgia just doesn’t appear to have the offensive firepower to be truly elite this year.

We all know Georgia has a good defense, but I watched the entire game against Kentucky yesterday and the Georgia passing offense continues to regress.

The Bulldogs only attempted 14 passes on Saturday with Stetson Bennett, but they still tossed two interceptions.

Those interceptions kept Georgia from truly putting this game against Kentucky away much earlier. In particular, the late first half interception came as Georgia was driving to take a commanding 14-3 lead into the half. That pick, which was a whale of a play by the defensive lineman, but also was helped by Bennett’s small stature, helped Kentucky hang around and the Wildcats protected their defense by managing to squeeze out 229 total yards of offense.

But, again, this wasn’t really about Kentucky, this was about Georgia’s inability to make plays in the passing game. And about their inability to trust Bennett after a poor second half on the road against Alabama.

If you look at the three projected playoff teams in college football this fall, they all have something in common, truly elite play at the quarterback position: Mac Jones at Alabama, Trevor Lawrence at Clemson, and Justin Fields at Ohio State.

I see Kyle Trask as being in that category for Florida, but Stetson Bennett clearly isn’t for Georgia. That’s no knock on Bennett, but he’s the reason Georgia, to me, isn’t capable of ascending to true national title contender this year.

The Bulldogs may be good enough to beat Florida this weekend, but after watching their offense for the past six quarters, they aren’t good enough to be considered a true national title contender.

9. Texas A&M remains a dark horse college football playoff team that no one is discussing.

Figure that Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State all will have strong claims on three playoff spots.

Who will emerge as the fourth team?

Well, if you believe, as I do, that Alabama will ultimately win the SEC title by defeating either Florida or Georgia then Texas A&M has the best path in the SEC, by far, to finish 9-1 and claim that fourth playoff spot.

I don’t think most people have noticed this yet, but consider A&M’s remaining schedule in the wake of their Arkansas win yesterday: at South Carolina, at Tennessee, Ole Miss, LSU, and at Auburn.

Sure, three of these games are on the road so maybe wackiness can happen — and Ole Miss and LSU have been tough teams to project — but the Aggies will be favored to win all five of these games.

I still think the Aggies will drop at least one of these remaining five games, but get to 9-1 and I like A&M’s chances to be at the front of the line for the fourth playoff spot.

10. Outkick’s National Top Ten:

Remember, I only rank teams that have actually played games so no one from the Pac 12 is included here.

1. Alabama
2. Ohio State
3. Clemson
4. Texas A&M
5. Florida
6. Georgia
7. Notre Dame
8. Cincinnati
9. BYU
10. Wisconsin

11. The SEC power rankings 1-14:

The top four and the bottom two seem pretty clear, but the middle eight are a mess.

At this point the three biggest outliers are South Carolina beating Auburn, Kentucky beating Tennessee and Mississippi State beating LSU. Otherwise I think I have every team ranked above the teams they’ve beaten. But it’s virtually impossible to reconcile these three games without throwing the entire rankings into an even bigger mess.

FYI, I have Arkansas ranked as the highest three loss team because of the ending of Arkansas-Auburn, which should have been an Arkansas win.

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

Thanks for reading and go get signed up for Fan Duel in Tennessee today!

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.

6 Comments

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  1. I have the perfect solution for the Harbaugh/Michigan dilemma: Harbaugh goes back to the NFL to become the Jets coach. With Treveor Lawrence as his QB, he will rule the AFC East for the next ten years. Michigan replaces Hugh Freeze or Art Briles – hey, anything to beat the bucking school down south…

  2. Only a die-hard Tennessee fan would come away with that crap-ass impression of Coach Mullen. Kyle Trask took a huge cheap shot at the end of the half, and Mullen fired up his team to respond. And then he fired up the fans. The fans and the players loved it. As for his costume, he claims it was chosen before the game. Even if not, so what? It’s been far too long since a Gators coach bled orange and blue, and Coach Mullen clearly does. Good for him. Go Gators!

    • Umm well. not a Tennessee fan here. Got a similar impression of Coach Mullen making things worse rather than better in the aftermath of the hit. Yes it was a cheap shot, should be penalized, but Head coaches have to show some sort of composure during what was a distasteful confrontation between these two teams. Hope the league throws the book at any player who took a swing. May need to have them evaluated for illness too. Taking a swing at another player wearing a helmet is really stupid.
      BTW I respect coach Mullen as a coach at MSU and at Florida he has done some great things. His response Saturday just wasn’t one of them.

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