I was in Knoxville for Georgia-Tennessee this weekend and didn’t have time to write my normal Starting 11 column on Sunday morning because I was traveling back home. Then the NBA pathetically bent the knee to China so I wrote about this in the morning right after my radio show.
I’ve got the TV show starting in a bit too, but I wanted to get you my takeaway on the weekend that was in college football.
So I’m going to give you an abbreviated version of the Starting 11 this week that pretty much focuses on the college football playoff race, the Heisman trophy, my national top ten, and the SEC power rankings 1-14:
So let’s start here, what’s the playoff picture look like as we reach the halfway point on the season?
By the way, I feel like it should be a national day of mourning that some teams have already played half of their entire college football season. How is it that the NHL season never ends and college football is here and gone in the blink of an eye. Hell, the temperature just now dropped below 90 in Nashville.
Regardless, I believe there are essentially 12 teams alive for the college football playoff.
Let me break them down by conference.
The SEC contenders: Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Auburn, Florida
If any of these teams win out — including Auburn, who had a tough loss at Florida — they’ll be in the college football playoff.
I still believe that the most likely SEC title game is 12-0 Georgia against 12-0 Alabama and I still believe there’s a pretty decent chance the SEC gets two teams into the playoff because of major out of conference wins over Oregon, Notre Dame, and Texas.
The Big Ten contenders: Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Penn State (I don’t buy Michigan or Minnesota).
Ohio State plays both unbeaten teams so it’s impossible for there to be a match up of two undefeated teams in the Big Ten title game.
The most likely title game remains a rematch between Ohio State and Wisconsin and the most likely Big Ten playoff team, by far, remains Ohio State, who has now dominated six straight opponents.
The Big 12 contenders: Oklahoma and Texas (I don’t buy Baylor).
If Oklahoma beats Texas this weekend, as the Sooners are favored to do, then we’ll be down to OU or bust for the Big 12 conference.
And, yet again, the Big 12 will have a totally worthless conference title game, which will require Oklahoma to play and beat the second best team for a second time.
The ACC contender: Clemson
If Clemson loses a single game, they’re out of playoff contention based on how unbelievably awful the ACC is and how strong much of the rest of the country is.
The Pac 12 contender: Oregon
Oregon is close to being eliminated given that Auburn looked like they will lose three or four SEC games based on the way they played at Florida.
It’s hard to see Oregon, even at 12-1, getting in over a second SEC team when the SEC team the Ducks lost to, Auburn, might finish fifth in the SEC.
So the Pac 12 is hanging on here by their fingernails.
My Heisman Top Four:
2. Joe Burrow
3. Justin Fields
4. Jalen Hurts
My national top ten:
3. Ohio State
8. Notre Dame
10. Penn State
Notes on Knoxville:
Neyland Stadium had that old time feel on Saturday night when the Vols took an early second quarter 14-10 lead over Georgia.
How many other fan bases in college football would show up in that big of numbers with a disappointing 1-3 team playing?
If Tennessee plays like they did in the first twenty minutes against Georgia, which they probably won’t do, they could beat anyone other than Alabama left on their schedule. In fact, Brian Maurer showed real flashes of brilliance on Saturday night.
But the circle the wagons game for Jeremy Pruitt is now this weekend against Mississippi State. The Vols — and Pruitt — desperately need a win in this game.
I told you a few weeks ago this was the desperation game and it’s here now.
If the Vols beat State then there’s still a path — albeit slim — to 6-6. That would require beating UAB, South Carolina, Vandy and Kentucky. (I think Mizzou’s too good for Tennessee to beat).
But if they lose then 3-9 or 4-8 are certainly in play. And maybe even, gulp, 2-10.
So Mississippi State on Saturday is the season for Tennessee.
My SEC power rankings 1-14:
7. Texas A&M
8. Ole Miss
9. Mississippi State
10. South Carolina