Starting 11: Survive and Advance Edition

I told you last week that college football had become like the NCAA basketball tournament, it doesn’t matter how pretty you win or lose, it’s just a question of whether you can survive and advance to the next game.

And this week we saw two top 25 teams look bad yet still win — Georgia and Clemson. Georgia, you guys came close to Georgia’ing the biggest upset loss in college football history. You guys were over 50 point favorites and you won by two. 

This was almost a loss for the ages. 

Here’s my Outkick top ten for the week, which will go up every Sunday.

Now on to the Starting 11:  

1. Huge win for Arkansas and the SEC.

Last week the SEC beat three top 25 opponents while the rest of college football notched three top 25 wins combined. Yet media and fans exulted over the SEC’s death.

So what happens this week? Arkansas goes on the road and beats TCU, giving the SEC four top 25 wins out of conference in the first two weeks of the season. The Pac 12, ACC, Big 12, and Big Ten combined have three top 25 out of conference wins combined.

This was massive for Bret Bielema because the Hogs have stumbled out of September the past two seasons losing last year to Toledo and Texas Tech and losing to Auburn and Texas A&M in 2014. Arkansas should be able to handle Texas State and then gets A&M in a neutral site game that the Razorbacks have lost two consecutive years in overtime. Win that one and the Hogs will beat Alcorn State, making them 5-0 with Alabama and Ole Miss coming to Fayetteville in back-to-back weeks.  

Could Arkansas be the surprise contender in the SEC this year? It sure looks like they might. 

Without a doubt Arkansas has been the most pleasant surprise in the league so far this year. (And how fine is the line here between victory and defeat? The Razorbacks are six points from being 0-2 and Arkansas fans being insane with rage). 

2. What’s up with Clemson?

Even though pollsters continue to reward Clemson with a top five ranking, the Tigers have looked like this year’s version of Ohio State, a team that returns a ton of talent that just never gels on the offensive side of the ball. 

Clemson was fortunate to beat Troy and withstood two throws into the end zone to stave off disaster at Auburn in week one. If Clemson were playing Florida State or Louisville next weekend I would go big on the Seminoles and the Cardinals to win.

But fortunately for Clemson they have three weeks to get things ironed out before they host Louisville.

Granted, it’s still early in the season, but Clemson doesn’t look like a playoff team at all.  

Also, is it too mean to announce that if you intentionally drop the ball before you cross the goal line to score that I will cut your scholarship? Because I’m pretty sure I’d do that. 

3. Tennessee won by 21, but Josh Dobbs still can’t throw the football.

So far this season Dobbs has gone 26 of 48 for 283 yards. That’s like a quarter of football for Louisville’s Lamar Jackson. Alarmingly, Dobb’s completion percentage is just 54.2, the lowest of his career. Even more alarmingly for Tennessee fans, two of those completions have been deep jump balls to wide receiver Josh Malone, a 67 yard touchdown against App State and a 38 yard touchdown against Virginia Tech.

Take away those two plays and Dobbs has passed for 178 yards in two games.

Gulp. 

Now maybe you think it’s unfair to take away those two passes, but was there anything spectacular about either of those throws? Again, they were just jump balls to a receiver in single coverage. Maybe the answer is Tennessee, which will get single coverage all season, just needs to take more shots down the field, but against great defenses you probably won’t have the time. (Especially not with this offensive line.) What Dobbs needs to show he can do is convert on 3rd and intermediate distances to keep drives alive. That’s when most college quarterbacks demonstrate their worth.

Dobbs still hasn’t shown he can consistently do that.

Assuming Tennessee beats Ohio, which seems highly likely since the Vols are favored by nearly four touchdowns, then UT will be 3-0 for the first time since 2004. Then comes this stretch against four straight top 25 teams without a break: Florida, at Georgia, at Texas A&M, and Alabama.

This was always the stretch that was going to define the Vol season.

Given what we’ve seen so far from Dobbs can any Vol fan feel very confident going into any of these four games?

The Vol passing game needs to get a ton better…in a hurry.

Can it?

We’ll see.  

4. Bobby Petrino is still the best offensive coach in college football.

And Lamar Jackson combined with Petrino is exquisite junk food.

I’ve said it already this season and I’ll say it again, if I were LSU I’d go hire Bobby Petrino at the end of this season. And if I were Auburn I might well try and do the same. I think Petrino is without question one of the top five coaches in college football right now.  

I’d rank them thusly, by the way:

1. Nick Saban

2. Urban Meyer

3. Mark Dantonio

4. Jim Harbaugh

5. Bobby Petrino

He may be an ass and he may have had his off the field issues at Arkansas, but if I were LSU and Auburn I’d give him whatever he needs, get out of the way, and watch him score points and win me games.

Can you imagine what Petrino could do with a top 20 job?

Goodness, he’s dominated at Arkansas and Louisville, two borderline top 25 jobs at best.

With LSU’s talent Bobby Petrino would be amazing to see.  

This makes sense, particularly, for LSU, where Petrino would show up, sell a ton of Bobby Motherfucking Petrino tshirts and finally score points after a decade of frequent offensive futility.

They would love him down on the bayou. 

5. I’d hire Art Briles if I were an AD. 

I know his interview on College Gameday came off as stilted and awkward, but I come back again and again to a key detail: Baylor paid Art Briles millions of dollars when the school fired him. 

That’s tremendously significant from a legal perspective — it means the school didn’t have concrete evidence that he violated his contract and fired him without cause. If you fire someone for cause — as USC did with Steve Sarkisian — then you aren’t obligated to pay them for the years remaining on their contract. If you fire someone without cause — and merely losing football games isn’t cause — then you have to pay the contract terms. 

Does Baylor University have a mess with how it dealt with alleged sexual assaults on campus? Of course. That’s why Ken Starr lost his job as head of the university. But if that problem was endemic to the university — that is, it involved tons of athletes and non-athletes — then it’s a systemic failure, not a football one. There are many schools that have massive Title IX issues right now because, as I’ve written before, schools aren’t equipped to conduct sexual assault investigations. 

Sure, you always risk more Briles details coming out and embarrassing your school, but if they haven’t come out given the lawsuits and media investigations it seems unlikely there is anything there. 

6. Kentucky is awful and Mark Stoops is a dead coach walking right now.

The Wildcats were beaten 45-7 by Florida and have been outscored 79-7 in the past six quarters.

That’s really bad.

Returning home against New Mexico State they’re likely to get a win. But then circle the game at home against South Carolina, I think it’s make or break for Stoops. Lose and Kentucky will be 1-3 with games remaining at Alabama, at Tennessee and at Louisville.

Those are going to be three total destructions.

Stoops absolutely has to beat South Carolina in two weeks. 

If Kentucky doesn’t fire Stoops, who I see limping to a 4-8 finish this season, then it’s basically evidence that basketball is all that matters at the school.

Here’s the sad reality for Kentucky football fans — you are the third best program right now in the state of Kentucky. Louisville and Western Kentucky are both better than you are and both schools have better coaches.

Honest question: what would Kentucky have to lose by firing Stoops and going after Art Briles in early November?

I’m not sure Briles would take the job, but if he wouldn’t, would Lane Kiffin?

It’s time to get proactive and stop sitting around just getting your ass kicked every week.  

7. The Big 12 is imploding.

There are now only three teams without a loss remaining in the Big 12: Texas, Baylor, and West Virginia.

And we’re only done with week two.

Given that all three of these teams have significant weaknesses and tough challenges ahead, it’s unlikely any of them finish the season undefeated. So it’s fair to say that the Big 12’s playoff chances — given out of conference defeats by “top” teams like Oklahoma, TCU, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State — are already on life support.

In fact, this is a crazy stat that I saw Stu Mandel Tweet out — the Big 12 is just 6-7 against FBS opponents so far this season.

Yikes.  

It’s really early in the season, but it’s not too soon to say that Oklahoma desperately needs to beat Ohio State this coming weekend to salvage the league’s reputation. 

And if Oklahoma loses to Ohio State — Vegas has opened with the Buckeyes around a field goal favorite — it’s hard to see how an 11-1 Big 12 champ would have a very good chance to make the playoff either.

There just aren’t any good resumes coming in the out of conference portion of the schedule.  

8. So how are the other four major conferences looking through two weeks?

It’s still very early and we’ve learned that a single early season loss doesn’t kill a team’s playoff or title chances — see Ohio State and Alabama, the last two national title teams in the playoff era, both of whom lost September games — but it is instructive to start thinking about which teams and leagues are in contention. 

The Big Ten is in the best shape thus far, with 9 undefeated teams remaining. The challenge, however, is that only Wisconsin has a really good out of conference win on the resume. The rest of the conference has mostly avoided major challengers thus far, with the exception of Ohio State, who will take on Oklahoma this coming weekend.

The Big Ten would have a decent chance at getting two teams in if Ohio State and Michigan could both run the table until their game. But if Ohio State loses to Oklahoma then that dream probably dies.  

So far eight of the 14 SEC teams have lost, but of the six teams that remain undefeated all six have beaten a big five conference opponent, four of those opponents ranked in the top 25.

Half of the ACC teams are undefeated, but only Florida State has notched a top 25 win so far. Having said that, Louisville and FSU have been two of the most impressive teams in the country thus far this season and Clemson clearly has the talent to get back on track.  

The Pac 12 has just six undefeated teams left. Washington and Stanford have both looked very good, but the Pac 12 South’s two best teams, UCLA and USC have both already taken out of conference losses.

If you were forecasting the playoffs by league right now, you’d have to really like the SEC, the ACC, and the Big Ten’s chances and be much less confident in the Pac 12 and Big 12’s. Plus, keep in mind Houston will be lurking out there as a potential playoff team.  

9. The Oklahoma State officiating debacle shouldn’t be able to happen.

It’s amazing to me that many officials could get a call wrong.

If you missed the insanity, Oklahoma State was called for intentional grounding and then gave up a hail mary hook and lateral touchdown.

Sure, Oklahoma State should have never allowed it to come down to this play, but it’s hard not to feel awful for the Cowboys here.  

Put simply, just like with the Miami win at Duke last season, mistakes like this should never happen in a replay era. 

10. My column on the insane weekend in Bristol will be up on Monday afternoon, but in the meantime, I just want to give you a preview.

Here’s Lee Fucking Greenwood at Bristol during halftime of Tennessee-Virginia Tech.

You can’t get more America than this.   

11. Here are my SEC power rankings 1-14: 

(Again, as a refresher, I’m ranking the teams entirely based on the games played on the field, not what we expected to see before the season started.)

1. Alabama
2. Texas A&M
3. Arkansas
4. Florida
5. Tennessee
6. Georgia
7. Ole Miss
8. Auburn
9. LSU
10. South Carolina
11. Vandy
12. Mississippi State
13. Missouri
14. Kentucky

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.