A third of the college football regular season is now over.
Seriously, it’s absurd how quickly college football comes and goes compares to every other sport in America. It’s like the NBA, NHL, and MLB seasons never end and then you blink and college football’s season is over.
Now that we’re a third of the way through the season we can start to discern, at least a bit more clearly, what exactly the playoff picture is likely to resemble.
And it seems pretty clear to me that there is a top tier of teams and then a big drop off behind them.
In other words, I don’t see anyone out there who can make a run at the playoffs outside of the top ten right now.
Who’s in that top tier? In no particular order that top tier is Clemson, Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Oklahoma, and Ohio State. Maybe, possibly, we have to put Wisconsin in that top tier after what they did to Michigan. (Although, as we’ll discuss below, I think Michigan is, at best, a borderline top 25 team so I’m not sure we’ve got a true read on Wisconsin yet).
And if you want to be really generous you could put Auburn in that mix by virtue of two very solid road/neutral wins over Oregon and at Texas A&M. (Those are probably the two best wins that anyone in college football has so far this season).
After those eight teams, who would you point to as deserving legitimate playoff discussion?
(I’m not a true believer in Florida and as competitive as Notre Dame was, it’s hard to believe with this loss that they’re going to find themselves back in the title game mix. Especially if they’re required to leap a second SEC team.)
So at this point in time I think it would be a pretty big upset if our four playoff teams don’t come out of the eight teams I listed above.
With that in mind let’s dive in to the Starting 11:
1. The expectations for Georgia were so high — and the expectations for Notre Dame were so low — that last night’s Notre Dame-Georgia game feels a bit like a political primary where the winner won — but didn’t win by as much as expected — and the loser did better than expected so it feels like a win for them.
Which means this morning I kind of feel like, paradoxically, most of us were more impressed Notre Dame didn’t get blown off the field than we were that Georgia won.
Does that make sense to anyone else?
Yes, Notre Dame lost, but they didn’t get wiped off the field as they have so often in many of these big games over the years.
The final yardage totals in this game were Notre Dame posting 321 total yards and Georgia posting 339.
Even if you factor in the late Notre Dame drives, that’s pretty damn even.
While Notre Dame couldn’t run the football against Georgia, they didn’t get gouged on the ground themselves and, again, they had the ball driving with a chance to win at the end. Granted that was partly because Georgia didn’t close out this game very soundly, but I didn’t finish watching this game thinking, as I often have, that Notre Dame is a total top ten pretender.
The Irish acquitted themselves well here.
Meanwhile, if you’re a Georgia fan, a win’s a win, but I didn’t leave this game thinking Georgia was the best team in the country.
And I bet most Georgia fans didn’t either.
The Bulldogs won’t really be tested again for over a month — at Tennessee and South Carolina and Kentucky in Athens should be easy wins, but then comes a fairly challenging November slate — the cocktail party against Florida, Missouri, who I think is sneaky good, at Auburn, Texas A&M and an easy win to finish the season at Georgia Tech.
I’d be stunned if Georgia isn’t, at worst, 11-1 and representing the SEC East in the title game, but they didn’t show me a different talent gear last night than Notre Dame and I expected to see that.
Of course if the Bulldogs keep winning, much like happened two years ago in South Bend, the margin of victory won’t matter at all by the end of the season.
But two years ago you had a freshman quarterback so the potential improvement was massive. This year Fromm’s a junior who has started for three years. Does this team have another gear? We’ll have to wait and see.
2. Jim Harbaugh is the most overrated coach in college football history, and I’m not sure there’s a close second.
With two weeks to prepare his team after a near loss to Army, Harbaugh’s Wolverines were behind 35-0 at Wisconsin.
This was just an absolute mauling.
Worst of all for Michigan fans, Wisconsin beat Michigan with the same unimaginative physical offense attack that Wolverine fans have demanded Michigan abandon in favor of a more spread offensive attack.
Shea Patterson was absolutely awful and if you look at Michigan’s schedule going forward would it stun anyone if the Wolverines are 7-4 or 8-3 when Ohio State comes to town? I don’t see the Wolverines winning at Penn State or beating Notre Dame.
They will also have tough games against Iowa, Michigan State, and I don’t think they’ll win easily at Maryland. Hell, with the way they played yesterday Indiana and Illinois aren’t guaranteed wins.
Seriously, the wheels could completely come off this team.
In fact, if you were just ranking teams based on what you’ve seen on the field so far, there’s no way Michigan should be ranked a top 25 team right now.
Here are some Jim Harbaugh Michigan stats for you. The Wolverines are:
1-9 against top ten opponents
1-6 on the road against ranked opponents
0-7 as an underdog
0-4 against Ohio State
0-3 in their last 3 bowl games
They’ve also lost five games by at least 21 points including three of their last five games.
Look, I’m not saying Jim Harbaugh is an awful coach, far from it, but I am saying he’s the most overhyped coach in the history of college football and that the idea he has Michigan close to a national title is a pipe dream.
Heck, even Michigan men like this guy have finally had enough.
Michigan fans are taking the Wisconsin loss well. pic.twitter.com/YKFdnUDetL
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) September 21, 2019
I don’t know where this goes from here, but I am intrigued whether Harbaugh just says to hell with it and goes back to coaching in the NFL.
Because if he loses to Ohio State again this year, as seems increasingly likely, what’s going to change that’s going to get him to the Big Ten title game? If you can’t beat Ohio State this year, when are you going to do it?
I feel like his team is regressing in the Big Ten this year and I don’t know what’s going to stop that fall from turning into a rout.
3. The SEC is likely to have five of the top eight teams in the college football rankings this week.
While the bottom half of the SEC is undeniably week, I’m not sure the top half of the conference has ever been better.
In fact, I think Florida, which dominated Tennessee, is actually better with Kyle Trask than they were with Feliepe Franks.
If I’m right about that then combined with their defense you might have to pencil the Gators in a true top ten team as well.
Given how talented the top of the conference is, there is just a ton of drama in this conference between now and the SEC title game.
Which is why as good as that Notre Dame-Georgia game ended up being, a part of me wonders whether CBS executives are going to be kicking themselves if LSU and Alabama are both undefeated when they play in November and CBS misses that game in prime time.
And, by the way, can you imagine how many points it would take to win that game with the way the Alabama and LSU offenses are playing right now?
This game is likely to be the exact opposite of the 9-6 win LSU got back in 2011.
It may take fifty to win come this November.
And in addition to deciding the SEC West that game might also be the one that decides who wins the Heisman trophy and who punches a ticket to the playoff. Because the way Joe Burrow and Tua are playing right now, I have them both as the top two on my Heisman board right now.
4. The Pac 12 has only one undefeated team left — California.
And Cal is only undefeated, potentially, because of the way their game at Ole Miss ended.
Pac 12 officiating is a noxious weed that has now infected two other conferences — the Big Ten where Pac 12 officials blew the call at the end of the Arizona State-Michigan State game and now California-Ole Miss, where the crew may have incorrectly not ruled Ole Miss scored a touchdown and then, at absolute minimum, when the crew didn’t stop the game to review their call on instant replay.
Here’s that end of game sequence if you didn’t see it yesterday afternoon.
How did they not stop this to review whether he was in?! Major officiating fail at end of Cal-Ole Miss. pic.twitter.com/DCUpJZsyDd
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) September 21, 2019
Granted, the angle here isn’t perfect, but how often does someone catch a touchdown pass with both feet in the end zone and the tip of the ball not break the plane?
What an awful officiating miss here. Yikes. https://t.co/kDP3z8BXjH
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) September 21, 2019
Regardless of what your view on this play was, you 100% have to stop this game to review whether or not this was a touchdown.
You can’t just leave the clock running.
You stop the game, make your ruling, and then start the game clock back up on your ready to play whistle.
This isn’t hard to do.
Instead the Pac 12 blew another out of conference road game.
And here’s the big question I have about this — when do other conferences refuse to let Pac 12 officials call their games because those officials are simply too bad? There’s a ton of money at stake on misses like these, not to mention the hit to brand value and trust when mistakes like this happen.
Remember, most fans don’t realize where officials come from.
So the SEC takes a hit in public perception here even though they had nothing to do with this debacle.
In fact, it’s even worse than that for the SEC because they specifically have implemented policies to avoid incidents like this happening in their own games. When the SEC has the best officiating system set up in the country, why in the world would they let the Pac 12 come to play in their stadiums and then give away their system in favor of an inferior conference system.
I think that’s a point of discussion that may arise in the offseason.
5. How about Pitt’s Pat Narduzzi with one of the boldest fourth and goal calls of the year against UCF a week after one of the weakest fourth and goal calls of the year against Penn State?
Philly special, meet the Pitt special.
I think Narduzzi put this play in just for the critics. “Not only am I going to go for it on fourth down, I’m going to do it with the boldest call possible!”
This is like breaking up with a girl and then dating the complete opposite of your last girlfriend the next time up.
The biggest positive on this result is there’s no need to discuss UCF come playoff season at all this year.
Also, how about Pitt just existing to ruin other team’s good seasons?
They never have a good season themselves, they just show up and pull off a huge upset it feels like every year to ruin someone else’s year. (I’m sorry for the reminder, West Virginia fans).
By the way, we know the ACC is bad at football outside of Clemson, but last year Pitt was 7-7 overall, 6-2 in conference. It can’t have ever happened before that a team has gone 6-2 in their conference games and still lost seven football games.
That’s nearly a mathematical impossibility.
Only Narduzzi could pull this off.
6. What happens with Tennessee in the wake of a 34-3 loss to Florida?
The Vols were absolutely atrocious against Florida. Particularly fourth year quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, who is so bad at this point I think there’s very little value in continuing to play him.
I think Jeremy Pruitt’s coaching career at Tennessee may well come down to the game at home against Mississippi State on October 12th.
The Vols will get crushed by Georgia and at Alabama, meaning the only thing standing between Pruitt and a 1-6 start is beating Mississippi State in Knoxville.
The Mississippi State game feels like Jeremy Pruitt’s circle the wagons game. If you can’t beat the Bulldogs at home in year two then what’s the point of keeping you around?
If Pruitt can beat Mississippi State then South Carolina, UAB, at Kentucky and Vanderbilt are all winnable games. (Note: I’m not saying that Tennessee will win all these games, just that they are all winnable games. FYI, I don’t think Missouri is a winnable game.)
Beating Mississippi State gives Pruitt a chance to get to 5-7 and an outside chance of getting to 6-6.
But if he loses to Mississippi State and is sitting at 1-6, I really don’t know what the point of keeping him is.
I know, I know some can argue that the continuity of the program matters, but if you go 3-9 at Tennessee in year two, I’m sorry, that’s a disqualifying level of failure. In my opinion that’s a clear sign that you’re in over your head and you have to be fired.
I don’t see what the point is of allowing a guy to come back for another year and suck again just because you think he’s entitled to year three. I mean, what kind of recruiting class is he signing with a 3-9 mark in year two?
If the wheels come off like this it’s better to just acknowledge that Phil Fulmer made an awful hire and go back out into the coaching search market than allow Pruitt to continue to bumble his way around Knoxville.
But, again, this assumes that he can’t beat Mississippi State.
If you lose to Georgia State, BYU, and Mississippi State at home in Knoxville, sorry, you’re gone.
(And, by the way, Greg Schiano was a bad hire. But that doesn’t mean Jeremy Pruitt wasn’t also a bad hire. It’s altogether possible that Tennessee made two bad hires. I know this is difficult for many to understand, but shooting down Schiano was the right move even if it now appears Fulmer made a mistake in hiring Pruitt. Could I be wrong and Pruitt still end up fine? Sure. But how many SEC coaches have ever started off their coaching careers 6-10 and ended up doing well at their schools? Not any that I can think of. Barring a substantial turnaround in the final eight games of the season, Pruitt looks like yet another awful hire by Tennessee athletics.)
7. Willie Taggart, Scott Frost, and Chip Kelly, the other three second year coaches under immense pressure, and Clay Helton, who USC has been ready to fire since he got the job, all won to put Pruitt squarely on the hottest seat in the country.
Taggart’s FSU team nearly collapsed before holding on to beat Louisville, Scott Frost’s Nebraska team nearly lost at Illinois, Chip Kelly’s UCLA Bruins came from 32 down in the third quarter on the road, 32 down!, to win 67-63 at Washington State, and Clay Helton took down Utah with his third string quarterback.
While all four of these guys, alongside of Pruitt, may well be in danger of losing their jobs this year, only Pruitt’s seat got hotter this weekend.
8. My Heisman top four:
1. Joe Burrow
3. Jalen Hurts
4. Justin Fields
9. My Outkick national top ten:
(Remember, I rank teams only based on what we’ve seen on the field, not what I expected to see on the field before the season started. So my rankings can fluctuate quite a bit based on early season results.)
3. Ohio State
8. Notre Dame
11. SEC power rankings 1-14
7. Texas A&M
8. Mississippi State
10. South Carolina
11. Ole Miss
If you’re tailgating, by the way, here’s my buddy Ryan Brown, from the morning show on JOX down in Birmingham, with his weekly tailgate recipe.