Alabama, Ohio State, and Florida all dodged landmines, and the other three primary playoff contenders — Clemson, Notre Dame, and Texas A&M — didn’t play.
That means as Sunday dawns, we are in the same playoff dynamic that we were in before the day began.
What did change, however, was Kyle Trask’s command of the Heisman race. With Justin Fields throwing three interceptions and being outplayed by Indiana’s Michael Penix, Jr., with Trevor Lawrence not playing against Florida State and with Mac Jones not needing to do much against Kentucky, this race is now Trask’s to lose down the stretch run of the season.
We’ll unpack the Heisman race in a moment, but first let’s talk about the absurdity of canceling the Clemson at Florida State game over a back up lineman’s positive test. There hasn’t been a single case in the entire world of someone catching COVID from an athletic competition.
In the entire world!
So the reality is there was no risk to Florida State from this positive test on Clemson. The fact the game was canceled a few hours before kickoff is patently absurd.
It’s way past time to stop panicking over positive test results. And this wasn’t even the most ridiculous thing that happened on Saturday morning. Look what happened in the East Carolina-Temple game.
This is absolute insanity. Does anyone have a functional brain any more? https://t.co/RAtM6HyExb
Positive tests aren’t death sentences! This isn’t Ebola. Heck, this isn’t even the seasonal flu. The odds are that everyone is going to be fine if they test positive for COVID, as has been proven to be the case for the hundreds of thousands of college kids who have tested positive without a single issue at all.
You’d think by now we’d be getting smarter about the way we deal with positive tests, but instead we’re getting dumber.
Does no one have a functional brain left in college sports?
With that in mind, let’s begin where we typically begin every analysis of college football in November, with a dissection of the playoff race.
1. The SEC has three teams alive for the College Football Playoff: Alabama, Florida and Texas A&M.
Alabama, who absolutely throttled Kentucky, is close to a definite to make the College Football Playoff at this point. The 7-0 Tide have Auburn and at Arkansas left on their schedule. It remains to be seen whether the LSU game will be rescheduled or not, but either way it’s hard to see Alabama losing one of these games and then the SEC title game as well.
And that’s what it would take for Alabama to miss the playoff, not just one loss, but two losses. The Tide would have to lose two of their remaining games in order not to make the College Football Playoff.
So you can essentially write in Alabama for the playoff, the only question is what will their seed be? If they win out, they’re the unquestioned No. 1 seed, I believe, which would end up being somewhat significant this season given that Ohio State and Clemson seem somewhat likely to be the 2 and 3 seeds in the playoff.
As for Florida, it’s simple. They have to win every game remaining on their schedule to make the playoff. In theory, that’s Kentucky, at Tennessee, LSU, and then Alabama in the SEC title game, but it’s possible that the LSU game doesn’t happen. So we’ll have to wait and see.
The third SEC team still alive for the playoff is Texas A&M. The Aggies finish with LSU, at Auburn, and at Tennessee and would need to win all three of these games and then have Florida lose another game as well as see either Clemson lose two games or Notre Dame lose two games, I think, to make the College Football Playoff.
One bit of interesting data here, since Florida and Alabama both have postponed games against LSU, who ends up playing LSU could be a big deal because the team that doesn’t play LSU, theoretically, could have a bye on December 12th.
That seems like a pretty substantial advantage for the team that doesn’t have to play.
So could the SEC adjust the schedule in some way to have both teams playing on December 12th? Or neither team playing on December 12th? We’ll have to wait and see.
2. The ACC has two teams alive for the College Football Playoff: Notre Dame and Clemson.
If Notre Dame wins out, they are in, probably as the 2 seed, and Clemson is left on the outside of the playoff picture.
If Clemson wins out, they are in the playoff, likely as the 3 seed, and Notre Dame might still make the playoff as the 4 seed, depending on what happens with Florida. The Gators are the only one loss team, I believe, that could leap Notre Dame to get in the playoff.
Notre Dame finishes at North Carolina, Syracuse, and at Wake Forest before the ACC title game against Clemson.
Clemson finishes with Pittsburgh and at Virginia Tech, and they potentially will have to make up a game at Florida State on December 12th.
The best case playoff scenario for the ACC is both Notre Dame and Clemson win out, but Clemson beats Notre Dame in a close ACC title game. Then it’s highly likely, barring a Florida Gator upset of Alabama, that both teams would get in the playoff.
3. The Big Ten has two teams alive for the playoff: Ohio State and Northwestern, really.
On Saturday, we effectively saw the Big Ten title game set: it will be Ohio State against Northwestern.
In the wake of the win over Indiana, the remainder of Ohio State’s schedule looks like a cakewalk: at Illinois, at Michigan State, and Michigan. It’s hard to foresee the Buckeyes losing any of these games. In fact, the biggest threat to Ohio State at this point might be more game cancellations because of COVID.
Play — and win — all three of these games, and Ohio State would get to 7-0 and advance to the Big Ten title game against, believe it or not, Northwestern.
Northwestern finishes at Michigan State, at Minnesota, and with Illinois. This means Northwestern will be a fairly decent favorite to go 8-0 and roll into the Big Ten title game undefeated for their game against Ohio State.
Credit to Pat Fitzgerald for what he’s accomplished in Evanston, but what if Northwestern pulled off an Ohio State upset and ended up in the playoff? Can you imagine what Nick Saban, for instance, would do to Northwestern with a couple of weeks to prepare for these games in the 1 vs. 4 playoff match up?
4. The Pac-12 has two teams (barely) alive for the playoff: USC and Oregon.
The problem, however, is pretty straightforward, there’s almost no path to the playoff for either USC or Oregon.
That’s even if one of these teams goes undefeated and wins the title outright.
They’re just not playing enough games, and they need too much to happen in front of them.
At this point, you have to look at the overall landscape and feel pretty good about the following playoff spots: the SEC, Big Ten, and ACC are all on track to get at least one playoff team. Then you’ve got a second ACC and a second SEC team both slotted in above the Pac-12 in the playoff races.
So you’d need either Clemson or Notre Dame to take two losses and you’d need both Florida and Texas A&M to take a second loss in order to open up a playoff spot for your undefeated Pac-12 champion.
Even though USC just has Colorado, Washington State and UCLA left on their schedule and even though Oregon just has Oregon State, Cal and Washington left on theirs, a playoff bid remains highly unlikely. Remember that both USC and Oregon, unlike most of the rest of the Pac-12, haven’t had any of their games canceled yet.
There’s still a decent chance, given the COVID madness on the west coast, that one or both of these teams loses games off their already abbreviated schedule.
Heck, last night Utah STARTED THEIR SEASON ON NOVEMBER 21st.
Utah’s first game was last night!
A 7-0 Pac-12 champ isn’t dead from the playoff race, but it’s highly unlikely that they’ll be in the mix.
5. The Big 12 has no teams alive for the playoff.
Congrats to Oklahoma for winning Bedlam, but Oklahoma State’s loss ended the last chance for the Big 12 to make the playoff.
So where does this leave us in the playoff flow chart? Here’s how I would break it down:
2. Notre Dame
3. Ohio State
6. Texas A&M
7. USC or Oregon as a 12-0 Pac-12 champ.
8. Undefeated Cincinnati or BYU
Texas A&M fans all get fired up with me having Florida above them in the playoff ranking, but it’s pretty clear here that if Florida upsets Alabama in the SEC title game, they’d grab the playoff bid over the Aggies despite the loss. I have the Aggies ranked above Florida right now, but the Gators have the clearer path to the playoff.
And, again, if Notre Dame enters the ACC title game undefeated, then the only way I could see the Irish losing their playoff spot is if Florida upsets Alabama in the SEC title game.
As for Cincinnati and BYU, I just don’t see a pathway to the playoff for either of them — unless, and this is a big unless, both teams were able to add a couple of heavyweight games down the stretch against Power Five opponents. Adding BYU on short notice would actually be a good move for Oregon or USC if they lost a game. The Pac-12 modified their schedule to now allow out of conference games.
6. Penn State is 0-5 for the first time in its program history.
I know COVID has thrown everything for a loop this year, but there’s zero doubt that Penn State has been the most disappointing team in college football this fall.
And I’m not sure there’s a close second.
Sure, Michigan and Nebraska have both been really disappointing in the Big Ten too, but Penn State is the only winless team in the conference this year, and no one else has started the year in the top ten and had this kind of precipitous fall.
And no one saw this coming.
So here’s the question: what’s the lasting impact of a really crappy year in a COVID-altered season?
Here’s the thing, we really don’t know if anything will linger at all or whether this will feel like a crazy anomaly in the years ahead.
What we do know is that Penn State goes on the road against Michigan this coming weekend and, believe it or not, if Jim Harbaugh, fresh off an overtime win over Rutgers, wins that game, then the Wolverines will have fought back to 3-3 on the season.
By the way, watching Harbaugh down the stretch against Rutgers, was it just me or did he not seem like a guy who wants to leave the Wolverines at the end of the season? I don’t know, I just got the vibe that he’s going to be back again next year.
Maybe I’m wrong, but he didn’t look like a guy ready to quit.
Meanwhile Penn State will be left with at Rutgers and Michigan State to finish the season. Could the Nittany Lions really go winless on the season? I mean, that’s a shocking idea to contemplate, but the answer appears to be yes.
7. Tennessee has lost five games in a row by double digits for the first time in the history of the program.
As I said a couple of weeks ago, I’ve lost the ability to hate Jarrett Guarantano for his game-altering pick sixes. That’s what this dude does. He’s a fifth year senior who still sees the field like a freshman. He hasn’t progressed. It’s not his fault that he stinks. It’s the fault of the coaches who have allowed him to start as many games as he has.
He should have been recruited over long ago.
The backbreaking pick six against Auburn just when it appeared Tennessee was poised to take the lead late in the third quarter was vintage Guarantano. How does a fifth year senior make this mistake? Even if the defensive back who picked it off didn’t make the interception, the receiver was still covered by the defensive back behind him.
Guarantano’s ability to throw interceptions to defensive players who are able to catch the ball in stride is unequaled in college football. He’s now thrown THREE PICK SIXES on the year. Three! Outside of Jameis Winston, almost no one can pull this off with their interceptions.
And yes, I know, you can certainly question why Tennessee stopped running the football when Auburn couldn’t stop them at all. And you can point out that Tennessee missed two field goals and threw a pick six, meaning the Vols arguably should have been able to win this game if they didn’t screw up. But ultimately, coaches take the blame for consistent player errors.
So where does this leave Tennessee?
The Vols have Vanderbilt this weekend and then finish with Florida and Texas A&M, both in Knoxville. Unless Pruitt’s team wins two of these final three games, I’m pretty much convinced Jeremy Pruitt isn’t the guy. And I think when you know that someone isn’t the coach for your program, it doesn’t make sense to bring them back for another season. You’re just prolonging the inevitable. It’s like looking for a marriage partner and continuing to date someone you know you aren’t marrying. What’s the point? We already know how this story ends, with a break up eventually.
So is a Tennessee booster willing to cut a check in the midst of the COVID mess to replace Pruitt? I don’t know. Trust me, I wish I were rich enough to do it. I’d stroke the check in a heartbeat.
While many colleges are struggling with their budgets, it’s worth noting that the stock market is at record highs, and many rich people are in great financial shape. There’s a bit of a dichotomy here. Odds are your school’s richest boosters are richer than they’ve ever been before. And they might even want to get the tax deduction on a big buyout donation to a program to avoid some taxes at the end of the year. Especially since a ton of rich people are going to be selling stocks in December to try and avoid the expected Joe Biden capital gains tax increase. Anyway, that’s a bit of a financial digression there, but my point is there are plenty of rich people out there with too much money looking for something to do with it.
Tennessee’s situation is particularly interesting because Hugh Freeze, who lost a tough game at N.C. State, would 100% take the job at Tennessee. And he’s currently in play for the South Carolina job. Meaning if Tennessee doesn’t hire Freeze, then the Vols will be going up against Freeze every year.
Plus, I think there’s a good chance Freeze would bring in Ty Simpson, who is the best quarterback recruit in two generations in the state of Tennessee, in the 2022 recruiting class. With the talent already on this roster, I think he’d win nine or ten games by his second season in Knoxville.
And the Vols would be back and ready to roll again.
To me, Freeze is like Bruce Pearl. He lost his SEC job in a cloud of improprieties, but you know as soon as he’s back in the conference, he’s going to win at a high level. The only question is: who is going to make the move to get him and reap the benefits?
If you want to win and you want to be relevant immediately, Freeze is the answer for Tennessee.
It’s clear as day to me.
But what typically happens at Tennessee, and what has happened ever since they fired Phil Fulmer, is they miss their window to get a proven coach who would fit the program well and instead they end up trying to go hire an unproven coach who typically falls flat on his face.
That’s exactly what happened with Pruitt after Dan Mullen left the Vols at the altar and went to Florida — setting off the Greg Schiano mess. My concern is, in a year when they fire Pruitt, there will be slim pickings in terms of available coaches for hire.
Yes, it’s expensive and I’m sure the usual suspects would complain, but if you fire Pruitt next year you’re already going to be paying a large buyout. It’s not like you are saving a ton of money by keeping him for another year. And in the process, you will have lost more ground in fan apathy and disinterest.
I’m telling you, it’s time for Tennessee to make a move and go get a proven winner in the SEC. It’s time to bring Hugh Freeze to Knoxville.
8. What in the world was Georgia waiting for when it came to J.T. Daniels?
You think a quarterback who can throw for over 400 yards might have made a little bit of a difference against Florida or Alabama?
I’m not saying the Bulldogs would have won either game, but they would have at least had a chance to win both games.
As is, Georgia looks poised to finish 8-2 and maybe, just maybe, Daniels is their guy going forward.
9. Let’s look at the Heisman race right now.
There are only four guys who have a legit chance to win the Heisman, I think.
Here’s how I’d rank them:
1. Kyle Trask
2. Mac Jones
3. Justin Fields
4. Trevor Lawrence
Ultimately, I think the Heisman race may come down to the SEC title game. But I don’t think Kyle Trask will have to win this game to win the Heisman. I think he’ll just have to play well enough because Trask should be a pretty substantial favorite coming into this game and no one is going to have the numbers he will.
10. OutKick’s national top ten.
2. Notre Dame
3. Ohio State
5. Texas A&M
11. SEC power rankings 1-14
2. Texas A&M
9. Ole Miss
12. South Carolina
13. Mississippi State
As always, thanks for reading OutKick and hope you guys have a fantastic Thanksgiving week.