Starting 11: James Franklin Crushes Jim Harbaugh Edition

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We’re now eight weeks into the college football season and I don’t think there is much of a debate about the playoff top four as we head into a massive game between Penn State and Ohio State on Saturday.

Here is my playoff top four:

1. Alabama

2. Georgia

3. Penn State

4. TCU

I’ve got Notre Dame at 5 this week. Followed by Oklahoma and Ohio State at 6 and 7.

The only real debate here is whether someone else should be in the four spot and whether I should flip Georgia and Penn State. But I’ve got Georgia at two because I think the Bulldogs best win, on the road over Notre Dame, is better than Penn State’s best win, which is at home over Michigan. (And last night in my Outkick top ten I actually had these two teams flipped, but upon waking up this morning I think I should have left Georgia at two and Penn State at three.) And I just don’t see any way to justify bringing Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Ohio State or Miami up above TCU in the four spot.

All season long, the Starting 11 and 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 two free Krystals and a Coke. Enjoy!
Okay, let’s get rolling with the Starting 11.

1. What a win for Penn State.

The Nittany Lions and James Franklin dominated Jim Harbaugh’s overrated ass, leaving Harbaugh 6-5 in his past 11 games, and headed for an 8-4 season in year three at Michigan. For all the attention Harbaugh’s Michigan team has received he has the exact same record through 33 games as Brady Hoke, 25-7, and he’s likely to finish 4th in his own division this season. (Unless Maryland beats him, which could happen.)

Meanwhile, James Franklin is now 15-1 in his past 16 games at Penn State and the Nittany Lions, at worst, are probably going to finish 11-1 this season.

If Jon Gruden says no, and Tennessee is putting $10 million a year on the table, why not offer that same salary to James Franklin? I’m not sure he’d leave Penn State, but he’s only got a $2 million buyout and given his connections in the state he would win multiple national titles at Tennessee over the next decade.

I think it’s a call you have to make if you’re the Vols and Gruden ultimately says no.

Because what Franklin has done at Penn State is nothing short of remarkable.

2. Notre Dame blasts USC.

This win isn’t just about Notre Dame being the most underrated team in college football, it’s also about USC being the most incompetently coached team in major college football. USC has played eight straight weeks and other than their win over Stanford have the Trojans looked well coached, well schemed or cohesive in any of those other seven games? The answer is no.

Why is that?

Because Clay Helton and Tee Martin are both in over their heads and even Sam Darnold can’t save them. Look out, Trojan fans, that’s really going to get bad next year when Darnold goes pro.

Honest question, if USC finishes 10-3, but UCLA hires Chip Kelly, who would have had a better 2017?

As for Notre Dame, the Irish now finish with five big time games — N.C. State, Wake Forest, at Miami, Navy and at Stanford, four of which will feature top 25 caliber teams.

Win all of those and the Irish will be sitting at 11-1, having posted a resume that’s certainly worthy of serious playoff consideration. The best case scenario for Notre Dame? They go 11-1 and Georgia goes 13-0. Because otherwise 12-1 Georgia would remain in line above them.

3. Could the SEC get two in the playoff?

I think the answer is a resounding yes. Assuming both Alabama and Georgia win out and are 12-0 in the SEC title game, how would you leave out 12-1 Georgia with their resume? The Bulldogs would have gone 8-1 in the SEC and boast out-of-conference road wins over Notre Dame and Georgia Tech. I think it’s fair to say Georgia would have the best resume of any one loss team in the country, especially if the game against Alabama is competitive.

Both the Bulldogs and Alabama have the same stumbling block left on their schedule — a game on the road at Auburn.

I know, I know, Georgia also has the game against Florida this weekend, but this year I really think it’s going to be a bloodbath.

4. Could the Big Ten get two in the playoff?

Yes, potentially, but it’s much less likely than the SEC.

How would it happen? Ohio State goes 12-1 and Penn State goes 11-1 with the only loss at Ohio State. (Wisconsin isn’t getting in the playoff unless the Badgers win the Big Ten title at 13-0 or 12-1).

I remain intrigued by this question, what would the committee do if Penn State loses a close game at Ohio State and then the Buckeyes lose the final game of the regular season at Michigan. Would an 11-2 Big Ten champ Ohio State with a close home win over Penn State get the nod over 11-1 Penn State?

Look familiar?

That’s the exact same scenario that happened last year when 11-2 Big Ten champ Penn State was passed over for an 11-1 Ohio State team it had beaten head-to-head. Can you imagine the Nittany Lion fury if Ohio State got in again over Penn State despite the scenario from last year being flipped?

5. What’s going to happen in the ACC?

Well, let’s start with the Clemson game at N.C. State in two weeks. Because that game will likely decide the ACC Atlantic. (This is assuming Clemson doesn’t trip up against Georgia Tech this weekend, which could definitely happen. Georgia Tech has only two losses, in overtime to Tennessee and on a last second field goal to Miami).

If N.C. State beats Clemson then the Wolfpack will win the ACC Atlantic. If Clemson wins then the Tigers will win the ACC Atlantic. Whichever team loses is clearly eliminated from the ACC title race.

Meanwhile Miami, presently 6-0, still has work to do to win the ACC Coastal — at UNC, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, Virginia and at Pittsburgh are still left on the schedule. That game against Virginia Tech will likely decide the ACC Coastal.

Best case scenario for the ACC, 11-1 Clemson plays 11-0 Miami in the ACC title game and the winner definitely gets a playoff bid.

But there are actually quite a few scenarios now where the ACC champ isn’t in the playoff. Consider, what if N.C. State loses to Notre Dame, but then beats Clemson? That puts two loss N.C. State, which is eliminated from playoff contention based on those two losses, into the ACC title game against, potentially, a Miami team that has also lost to Notre Dame.

If 10-2 N.C. State plays 10-1 Miami, would 11-1 ACC champ Miami even make the playoff? Certainly the Hurricanes wouldn’t make it over Notre Dame or one loss Georgia. And if N.C. State won that game there wouldn’t even be a debate that the ACC was out of the playoff.

Put simply, the ACC is very wobbly shape to have a playoff representative right now. Indeed, if Notre Dame wins out only 12-1 Clemson would make the playoff from the ACC.

6. What’s going to happen in the Big 12?

TCU can go 13-0 and make the playoff without any doubt at all. But I think that’s unlikely when you look at the Horned Frogs remaining schedule, beginning this weekend on the road at Iowa State.

Otherwise there are lots of messy situations at play.

The conference avoided disaster with Oklahoma State winning in overtime against Texas — what an awful overtime throw for Texas! — and Oklahoma surviving at Kansas State. The Big 12 really needs either Oklahoma or Oklahoma State to run the table and go 11-1 and advance to the Big 12 title game.

But Oklahoma State still has at West Virginia, Oklahoma, at Iowa State, and Kansas State left on the schedule. I’d be very surprised if the Cowboys win all those games and finish 11-1.

How about Oklahoma? Well, the Sooners still have Texas Tech, at Oklahoma State, TCU and West Virginia left. I just don’t see the Sooners going undefeated either.

And don’t forget Iowa State either, what if the Cyclones beat TCU? Then they’d have tiebreakers over Oklahoma and TCU and they have Oklahoma State coming to Ames too.

Given all these situations at play, I think it’s unlikely the Big 12 is going to end up with a playoff team.

7. The Pac 12 playoff hopes are down to Washington or Washington State.

The only way the Pac 12 gets a playoff team is if Washington or Washington State goes 12-1.

And here’s an interesting question for you, would either of these teams have a better resume than 12-1 Georgia or 11-1 Notre Dame?

I don’t think so.

And I don’t even think it’s close.

Notre Dame would even have two Pac 12 wins as good as either of these Pac 12 teams, with wins over USC and Stanford. And the losses for the Pac 12 champ would be either at Cal or at Arizona State.

So I think the Pac 12 playoff chances are on life support right now.

8. The playoff picture could end up a complete mess this year.

If you want the playoff to end up clean, that could still happen too.

We could have an undefeated SEC champ — Alabama or Georgia, an undefeated Big Ten champ — Penn State or Wisconsin, an undefeated ACC champ — Miami and and an undefeated Big 12 champ — TCU.

Then there would be absolutely no need for a playoff committee at all.

But I think it’s more likely we end up with a mess this year.

Consider the worst case scenario.

The SEC produces undefeated Alabama as the conference champ and 12-1 Georgia.

The ACC produces 11-1 Miami conference champ, whose only loss is a close one to Notre Dame.

The Big 12 produces 12-1 Oklahoma State and 12-1 TCU, which loses the Big 12 title game to Oklahoma State after having beaten them in the regular season.

The Big Ten produces 11-2 Big Ten champ Ohio State, 11-1 Penn State and 12-1 Wisconsin, which loses the Big Ten title game to Ohio State.

The Pac 12 champ is 12-1 Washington State.

Notre Dame finishes 11-1.

Which four teams get in? Good luck. (My best guess? 1. Alabama 2. Georgia 3. Notre Dame 4. Miami)

9. Tennessee and Arkansas both need to fire their head coaches.

Tennessee’s top target is Jon Gruden. We’ll see what in the world ends up happening there, but this is the order I would contact coaches if I were in charge of Tennessee.

1. Jon Gruden

2. James Franklin

3. Chip Kelly

4. Bob Stoops

5. Dan Mullen

I think Dan Mullen is the floor for Tennessee, a coach you 100% could get if you want him. There are other coaches that could be sexy on the offensive side of the ball — Bobby Petrino, Mike Leach, and Scott Frost among them — but I think Mullen is a safe, no nonsense hire who would win at a high level at Tennessee. Plus, he’s vetted and you eliminate pretty much every risk. If a guy has been to a bowl game in eight straight years at Mississippi State do you really think he’s going to fall on his face at Tennessee?

As for Arkansas, do you know who my top target would be if I was hiring for the Razorbacks? Lane Kiffin.

I’m serious.

Kiffin’s FAU offense put up over 800 yards, scored on 11 straight possessions and finished with 69 points against North Texas this past Saturday. In his first year at FAU Lane Kiffin is going to take an FAU team that finished 3-9 in Conference USA last year and he’s going to win the conference.

I think Kiffin at Arkansas would have the chance to be special.

Honestly, I’d be happy with him at Tennessee again, but I just don’t think he’d unite the fan base after the way he left.

10. Here’s my Heisman top three:

1. Saquon Barkley

2. Baker Mayfield

3. Bryce Love

11. SEC power rankings 1-14:

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 two free Krystals and a Coke. Enjoy!

1. Alabama

2. Georgia

3. Auburn

4. Mississippi State

5. LSU

6. Texas A&M

7. Florida

8. Kentucky

9. South Carolina

10. Ole Miss

11. Vanderbilt

12. Tennessee

13. Arkansas

14. Missouri

Written by Clay Travis

Clay Travis is the founder of the fastest growing national multimedia platform, OutKick, that produces and distributes engaging content across sports and pop culture to millions of fans across the country. OutKick was created by Travis in 2011 and sold to the Fox Corporation in 2021.

One of the most electrifying and outspoken personalities in the industry, Travis hosts OutKick The Show where he provides his unfiltered opinion on the most compelling headlines throughout sports, culture, and politics. He also makes regular appearances on FOX News Media as a contributor providing analysis on a variety of subjects ranging from sports news to the cultural landscape. Throughout the college football season, Travis is on Big Noon Kickoff for Fox Sports breaking down the game and the latest storylines.

Additionally, Travis serves as a co-host of The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show, a three-hour conservative radio talk program syndicated across Premiere Networks radio stations nationwide.

Previously, he launched OutKick The Coverage on Fox Sports Radio that included interviews and listener interactions and was on Fox Sports Bet for four years. Additionally, Travis started an iHeartRadio Original Podcast called Wins & Losses that featured in-depth conversations with the biggest names in sports.

Travis is a graduate of George Washington University as well as Vanderbilt Law School. Based in Nashville, he is the author of Dixieland Delight, On Rocky Top, and Republicans Buy Sneakers Too.