Starting 11: Bama and Clemson Distance Themselves

We just finished September and amazingly the college football regular season is nearly halfway over.

That’s just brutal.

We need to build in a couple more bye weeks for each team and start college football in mid-August. As is, the season is way too short.

Our top four playoff teams here at Outkick, if the season ended today, would be as follows:

1. Alabama

2. Clemson

3. Oklahoma

4. Georgia

I’d have Penn State in my fifth spot and TCU in my sixth spot.

All season long, the Starting 11 and SEC rankings are sponsored by Krystal. Krystal burgers are only 79 cents each all day, every day. And all wings – BBQ, Buffalo, Boneless or traditional – are only 49 cents each on Saturdays and Sundays during football season.
Krystal is hooking up the Outkick family again this season – text OUTKICK to ‘37793’ right now for some free Krystals and a soda. Enjoy!
Here we go:
1. This might be the best, deepest team Nick Saban has had at Alabama so far. 
I don’t care who you are playing in any conference in America you shouldn’t be able to beat two straight teams 125-3. That’s just otherworldly talent separation. And here’s the crazy thing, I don’t even think Bama tried to score as many points as they could have scored in either game.
I honestly believe that if Nick Saban had wanted to score 100 points against either Vanderbilt or Ole Miss he could have done it.
And I think Alabama could beat Tennessee 100-0 in a few weeks when the Vols roll into Tuscaloosa as well.
Alabama is going to be in the playoff, period. I just don’t see any way possible they lose two games and I don’t see any way possible that a committee looking at the best teams in college football could possibly say the Tide aren’t one of the four best teams even if they lost a single game.
Could Alabama lose in the playoff? Certainly, but this is just a scary good team right now.
2. Clemson is in the playoff too. 
So far this season two teams have separated themselves from the rest of college football — Alabama and Clemson.
Saban will go to his fourth straight playoff and Dabo will go to his third straight playoff. In fact, right now, I think you can make a decent case that effectively every year the playoff comes down to this — three or four of the top five coaches in college football go and then, maybe, there’s one outlier.
Think about it, through three years this is what the playoff has looked like.
2014: Saban, Jimbo, Meyer, and Helfrich (the outlier who had a great quarterback in Mariota)
2015: Saban, Stoops, Dabo, and Dantonio (who we thought was a great coach until 2016)
2016: Saban, Dabo, Urban, and Petersen (who are presently my top four coaches in college football)
If I told you that 2017 was going to be: Saban, Dabo, Urban, and Petersen then that would be totally reasonable and my four top coaches in college football would make it for a second straight season. And you could add in Jim Harbaugh or James Franklin and the result would be pretty much the same.
My point: college football is about the coaches, stupid.
Just like in the NFL all that matters is how good your quarterback is, every year in college football is essentially a referendum on coaches. If you have a great coach you can win a championship and go to the playoff, if you don’t you can’t.
3. Ohio State still might be the best team in the Big Ten.
I know Penn State, Michigan, and Wisconsin are all undefeated, but if I had to rank the teams right now in the Big Ten my list would look like this:
1. Penn State
2. Ohio State
3. Wisconsin
4. Michigan
I expect Wisconsin to win the Big Ten West, but I’m not convinced Penn State is going to go on the road and win at Ohio State. Even though I think Trace McSorley is orders of magnitude better than J.T. Barrett, I think the most likely outcome this year is actually Ohio State wins the Big Ten East and plays Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game.
The real monkey wrench here is this question — can Michigan, which gets Ohio State in the Big House, finally beat the Buckeyes? If they can then Ohio State would probably still win the Big Ten East with a tiebreak over Penn State — I believe Michigan will lose at Penn State and at Wisconsin — but would the 11-2 Buckeyes get in the playoff or would they get left out?
And can you imagine how irate Penn State fans, sitting on the sideline at 11-1 with a road loss at Ohio State, would be to get overlooked again? Then Penn State would be in a very similar situation to Ohio State last year. Remember when 11-2 Penn State won the Big Ten title but got overlooked for 11-1 Ohio State which had lost the head-to-head game on the road? Yikes.
There’s also a decent chance, of course, that we’re setting up for another three way tie in the Big Ten East, with Penn State beating Michigan, Ohio State losing at Michigan, and Ohio State beating Penn State.
Then we’d have a three way 8-1 tie.
If that happens, it appears it would come all the way down to the fifth tiebreaker to decide who represented the Big Ten East:
5.    The best cumulative conference winning percentage of non-divisional opponents.

(a) Example: East 1 non-divisional opponents are 20-7, East 2 non-divisional opponents are 19-8, East 3 non-divisional opponents are 14-13 – East 1 would be the representative.

In that case, it seems highly likely that Michigan would be the representative because they play Wisconsin and the Badgers have a good shot of going 8-1. Those Big Ten West opponents are: Michigan: Purdue, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, Ohio State: Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois and Penn State: Iowa, Nebraska and Northwestern

Interestingly, the Oklahoma loss would likely not end up mattering at all in this scenario for Ohio State.

4. Butch Jones has to be done at Tennessee. 
In the wake of Tennessee’s worst loss in the history of Neyland Stadium and worst home loss since 1905, we’re done arguing about whether or not Butch Jones is going to be fired.
He’s finished.
Now the question is this — when does Tennessee fire him and who will the Vols hire? I’d argue that he should be fired now. To me, once you know a coach isn’t coming back for another season it makes zero sense to keep him on. But maybe the Tennessee brain trust wants to let Butch coach against South Carolina and then Alabama just to remove all doubt. I think there’s a decent chance South Carolina beats Tennessee, but we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Alabama is going to destroy Tennessee.
So do you go ahead and fire Butch the day after he loses by fifty or more to Alabama?
Why wait for that to happen when you know it’s inevitable? I’d go ahead and fire him today, put an interim in place, and make a direct run to try and hire Chip Kelly or Bob Stoops, two home run coaching hires that are presently sitting on the sidelines and could agree to accept a job from Tennessee before anyone else can offer them.
Here’s what it’s also time to do — it’s time to get the big time boosters involved in this hire. I am sick and tired of Tennessee trying to save money on coaches and hire someone who isn’t proven. Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley and Butch Jones, in my opinion, are all guys that Tennessee should have never ended up hiring in the first place. (I think Butch is actually the worst hire of these three from a pure coaching perspective. And I don’t even think it’s close, honestly. Dooley never got embarrassed as bad as Butch did yesterday. Neither did Lane. Not even close. And Butch is not a smart man. He can barely talk to the media, it’s just uncomfortable to watch. Lane’s problem was he wasn’t ready to be a head coach, Dooley’s problem was he was too smart to deal with the idiots and he hired Sunseri to run his defense. Butch is just not a smart man or a good coach.)
The Vols need to seriously examine their athletics budget. Instead of worrying about building new juice bars, Tennessee needs to put all their money into a top coach. If you build it they will come, is bullshit. If you win, the money and facilities follow, not vice versa. Find me a coach who wins big that has shitty facilities. College administrators way overvalue facilities and way undervalue coaching.

Early in Butch Jones’s tenure I remember they took us on a tour of the new facilities at Tennessee and we stopped and spent 15 minutes beside the new juice bar in the weight room. And they were just extolling the impact this new juice bar was going to have. I remember Butch Jones saying, “We can make them smoothies right beside the bench press! Whatever type of smoothie they want!”
And I’m standing there thinking, “You think a motherfucking juice bar is going to beat Nick Saban?”
It was total bullshit.
And ever since then I’ve been using the phrase, “Don’t juice bar me, bro,” to represent whenever someone tries to focus on unimportant details to convince you of something that is fundamentally untrue.
And the truth of the matter is this — Tennessee needs a new coach who can win now not a new goddamn juice bar.
So my list of top candidates, in order, would look like this:
1. Chip Kelly
2. Bob Stoops
3. Bobby Petrino
4. Mike Leach
5. Jeff Brohm
6. Jim Bob Cooter

Over 30,000 of you voted in my poll with these guys at the top of the list and here was who you guys wanted.

And here’s the deal, I want y’all to make sure that the Haslam family reads this — we’ve been hearing about how rich you guys are for twenty years now. And I know you support Tennessee athletics with a great deal of money. But y’all are businessmen too and you didn’t get filthy rich by undervaluing your top assets. It’s high time y’all finally stepped up and said, “We’re billionaires and we don’t want to get our dicks kicked in for another decade. We want our money going directly to buy out Butch Jones and hire a new coach who is a definite winner the moment he enters campus.”
I am sick of hiring coaches and sitting around hoping that in five years they are decent. Tennessee has argued they don’t need to pay top dollar, they can hire a top up and coming coach and allow him to eventually work his way into being highly paid.
That infuriates me.
My response to that is, why? In what other business would you hire a potentially successful coach when you have the money to hire a guaranteed success now?
Tennessee has helicopter dick money, they need to stop hiring football coaches like they’ve got mosquito dick money.
5. Ed Orgeron is a disaster at LSU. 
Somehow LSU people got juice bar’d into believing that because Ed Orgeron had a Cajun accent that meant he was going to be a good coach at LSU.
Get the fuck out of here.
Did everyone just forget about Ole Miss? This dude can’t run an SEC program.
In the past three weeks LSU has lost by thirty to a mediocre Mississippi State team that has been beaten by Georgia and Auburn 80-13 and lost at home to fucking Troy.
I think there’s a very good chance now that LSU doesn’t make a bowl game this year. Can you imagine, by the way, if Butch Jones is still at Tennessee and we get Ed Orgeron vs. Butch Jones on November 18th in Knoxville?
They should cancel this game and just let all the LSU and Tennessee fans get drunk and cry together and then go tearfully urinate on pictures of Nick Saban.
And here’s the real kicker, Ed Orgeron has a $12 million buyout.
Fucking $12 million!
This is the worst contract negotiation down on the bayou since Napoleon sold the Louisiana Purchase to Jefferson in 1803 for $15 million. Even the native Americans who sold Manhattan for $24 in trinkets think this was an awful deal.
Everyone at LSU who gave Ed Orgeron a $12 million dollar buyout should be fired when he gets fired too.
6. Kevin Sumlin has a shot at getting to nine wins this year.
Texas A&M will lose to Alabama this coming weekend and be 4-2 halfway through the year. Then comes the stretch that will decide whether Sumlin is back for another season.
Sumlin probably needs to go 5-1 or, maybe, 4-2 in these final six games: at Florida, Mississippi State, Auburn, New Mexico, at Ole Miss and at LSU.
That actually looks fairly doable. At 4-2 Sumlin would finish 5-3 in the SEC West, which would be his best SEC West record since his first season.
Now maybe 8-4 wouldn’t be good enough, but who does A&M believe they could get that is going to be definitely better? And how do you fire a guy after his second best SEC season ever? Especially given how young the top talent is.
I think if Sumlin gets to 8-4 you bring him back for another season. If he gets to 9-3 there’s no doubt he’s back for another year.
I know Aggie fans are frustrated, but what have you seen this year that makes you think the wheels are coming off? This is a young team and injuries have been significant. Yes, the loss to UCLA was brutal, but UCLA’s pretty good. Alabama is going to crush everyone this year — and who are you hiring to beat Nick Saban consistently anyway? — so just toss that game on the scrap heap.
Every other game on the schedule for the rest of the year is winnable. I’m not saying A&M will win them all, and I don’t think they will, but they could.
So let’s just see what happens.
Unlike Arkansas, Tennessee, and LSU, I’m not convinced A&M is a dumpster fire.
7. Who is the best team in the Pac 12?
Other than Oregon State, who is truly awful, the Pac 12 North is pretty stout.
Meanwhile, in the Pac 12 South I’m not convinced that USC is going to run roughshod over that division. USC has played five games now and four of them haven’t been very impressive. Keep an eye, by the way, on Utah, which always seems to be an ignored team in the Pac 12 South.
Right now I would make Washington a pretty prohibitive favorite to win this conference because I have more faith in Chris Petersen than I do in any other coach in the conference.
The Huskies are 5-0 and have won every game by 16 or more points. And they don’t play a top 25 team until Washington State to finish the season.
What’s more they also have already played three road games. Meaning Washington only has two road games left on the season — at Arizona State and at Stanford.
Of all the teams in college football right now I believe the Huskies have the best chance to go 12-0.
8. Georgia looks dominant in year two under Kirby Smart.
Year two is when you know whether or not you have a great coach. Sometimes you know in year one, but you always know by year two.
My favorite SEC football stat is that no coach has ever won an SEC title without winning at least nine games by his second season.
And even great coaches who didn’t win SEC titles won nine. Dan Mullen won nine at Mississippi State in year two, James Franklin won nine at Vanderbilt in year two. Nick Saban, Bob Stoops, Urban Meyer, all of them contended for or won national titles by their second seasons on the job. Hell, Urban won a national title in year two at Florida and Ohio State.
Dabo Swinney won his division in his first full season at Clemson; the idea that it takes years to know whether your guy is the right one is a fallacy, you know by year two.
Which is why Georgia fans have to be ecstatic.
That performance at Tennessee reminded me of year two under Saban at Alabama when the Tide rolled into Sanford Stadium and just crushed Georgia. It was a signature win, a statement game. This Tennessee game was that kind of statement for Georgia. It was also the exact type of game that Georgia lost for years.
This was when Georgia Georgia’d.
But instead of enjoying the success of their big win over Mississippi State, Georgia went on the road and improved on that performance. They hobnail booted Tennessee much worse than they did in 2001.
Congrats Bulldogs.
9. College football coaching buyouts are criminal.
Bret Bielema would be owed $15 million if Arkansas fired him. Ed Orgeron would be owed $12 million if LSU fired him and Butch Jones would be owed over $9 million if Tennessee fired him.
Let me ask you this, where were these coaches going? (I’m excluding Kevin Sumlin from this list because he got a massive contract because of early success at A&M and because several other schools were interested in hiring him away.)
But when were Bielema, Butch or Orgeron going to go elsewhere?
Ed Orgeron would have signed on to be LSU coach for a year’s supply of Red Bull and a weekly bowl of gumbo. Why in the world does he need a $12 million buyout?
Unless you have a top ten coach, you shouldn’t have a buyout worth any more than one additional year of a coach’s salary.
The fact that these massive buyouts have become standard is a great example of college administrators getting fleeced by agents. Someone needs to call the bluff here, if your coach wants to leave and he isn’t a national championship winner or regular conference winner, let him.
Odds are, your program will be much better off.
10. My Heisman Top three:
1. Baker Mayfield
2. Saquon Barkley
3. Bryce Love
11. The SEC power rankings 1-14
I’m honestly not sure that after the top three any of these rankings matter, but I do think Alabama, Georgia, and Auburn are all legitimate top ten teams.
One thing worth asking that I haven’t seen anyone else ask yet, is the SEC East better than the SEC West this year? I think it might be.
All season long, the SEC power rankings are sponsored by Krystal. Krystal burgers are only 79 cents each all day, every day. And all wings – BBQ, Buffalo, Boneless or traditional – are only 49 cents each on Saturdays and Sundays during football season.
Krystal is hooking up the Outkick family again this season – text OUTKICK to ‘37793’ right now for some free Krystals and a soda. Enjoy!
1. Alabama
2. Georgia
3. Auburn
4. Florida
5. Texas A&M
6. Kentucky
7. South Carolina
8. Vanderbilt
9. Mississippi State
10. Tennessee
11. Arkansas
12. Ole Miss
13. LSU
14. Missouri

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.