Hey, the first College Football Playoff Top 25 of the year came out this week! That’s cool. It’s always fun to get a sense of what the committee thinks, and the fact that it waits until more than halfway through the season to give us a Top 25 is great. Polls are super dumb for the first, like, month of the year (see: Notre Dame, Stanford, Michigan State), so the fact that the committee takes two-ish months to absorb as much information as possible before making a decision is awesome.
But even though that’s the case, the committee’s first poll is not something worth getting fired up over (polls super dumb for the first month of the year, but they’re always not totally worth getting angry over until the end of the season). The big controversy is over the team ranked fourth – Washington is probably better than Texas A&M, even though the Aggies got put fourth. The Huskies are fifth in S&P+, A&M is 16th. Total side note, but the three teams currently in the Playoff are ranked one (Michigan), two (Alabama), and four (Clemson), with the third-best team by S&P+ being Louisville …which was ranked seventh earlier this week.
The great thing about all of this, though, is how everything always seems to play itself out with the Playoff committee. Between the fact that the committee is willing to be really flexible with this stuff and the fact that it’ll be almost impossible to keep out a squad like an undefeated Washington team that wins the Pac-12, everything should be alright. Heck, I’m not convinced that a one-loss A&M would make it in over a two-loss Oklahoma team that wins the Big XII with an unblemished record in-conference, but that’s for another time.
This applies with other things that seem like they’re a bit off. My Top 5 is Alabama, Michigan, Washington, Clemson, and Ohio State. Nebraska and Penn State are probably a little too high. LSU and Oklahoma may be a little too low. That’s all ok! This poll doesn’t really matter right now – it gives us an idea of what the committee is thinking, which helps us set an expectation for what should happen come Playoff time, but ultimately this poll doesn’t do anything outside of give us something to talk about.
As always, let’s just enjoy football. This week’s slate is kinda meh from noon until the night games kick off, but this sport has a weird way of making you think that it’s going to be a slow, boring weekend. The next thing you know, it’s 1 a.m. and you’re laying in bed going “my god, today was awesome.”
The Early Slate
FRONT AND CENTER
Noon: Texas A&M vs. Mississippi State, SEC Network
Noon: Wisconsin vs. Northwestern, ABC
Just to clear up any ambiguity from earlier, I really like the Aggies and think they’re absolutely one of the teams in the country. The fourth-best team in the country? Not quite, nor do I think they have the fourth-best resume in America, but still! This is a good team.
Hey speaking of the College Football Playoff Top 25, remember that time when the first ever poll dropped and Mississippi State was No. 1? That was a good time. Anyway, Dan Mullen’s team is currently 3-5, QB Nick Fitzgerald has his ups (he’s really good at running the football!) and downs (he’s still a work in progress throwing the football), plus the Bulldog defense has had some issues stopping the pass (it’s 103rd in defensive passing S&P+). The early slate is pretty good this week, but you should definitely take some time to watch a good Aggies team against an opponent that they should beat, assuming Myles Garrett does not have a crippling fear of cowbells.
The team that loses Wisconsin vs. Northwestern is, essentially, eliminated from winning the Big Ten West unless they get some serious help. The Wildcats have been playing some really good football lately – Pat Fitzgerald deserves a ton of credit for turning this team around after losing 9-7 to Illinois State at home – and could very well give the Badgers a tough game. Wisconsin, meanwhile, desperately needs to win out and needs someone else to beat Nebraska. In terms of an entertaining division title race, few are more entertaining than the Big Ten West. Purdue even has a chance to win the thing. Purdue!
SECOND SCREEN SPECIAL
11:30 a.m.: Notre Dame vs. Navy, CBS
12:30 p.m.: Georgia Tech vs. North Carolina, ACC Extra
12:30 p.m.: Pitt vs. Miami, ACC Extra
Notre Dame and Navy is always fun, especially this year, since Navy is a good team and Notre Dame has been in crisis mode all season. The one thing the Fighting Irish have done fairly well this year, though, is stop the run (20th in defensive rushing S&P+), so if the Midshipmen want to win this game for the fourth time in a decade, they’ll need to make some plays in the passing game. Surprisingly, Navy’s passing attack isn’t terrible, as it is 23rd in offensive passing S&P+ and Will Worth is completing a hair under 60 percent of his passes.
Additionally, how about some fun ACC football in this spot? Three of these teams have a shot at winning the ACC Coastal, while Miami is, um, not as good as a lot of people. The Hurricanes started the year 4-0. They are now 4-4. Mark Richt has lost cont––*computer explodes*.
Anyway, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, and Pitt are all very solid football teams. The best of the bunch is probably the Tar Heels, because Mitch Trubisky is awesome and the team has a ton of skill position talent, while the defense has been fine (not great, but fine). Georgia Tech is good at running the ball, while Pitt is a solid-but-unspectacular all-around team. You probably wouldn’t be crazy for thinking that the team that makes it out of the Coastal would lose to Clemson or Louisville in a conference title game, but for now, just enjoy the fact that both of these games should be pretty good.
Dog Day Afternoon
FRONT AND CENTER
3:30 p.m.: TCU vs. Baylor, Fox
Remember a few years ago when TCU vs. Baylor was viewed as something of a Big XII title game and the Bears won a completely bonkers game, 61-58? That was awesome. The Bears ripped off 24 unanswered points to close the game. We need more football games where two teams combine to score 119 points, it is decided on the final possession, and one team comes back after being down by more than three touchdowns.
This year’s game won’t be as fun, but it should still be entertaining. TCU has been weird this year in that they’ve gotten close – three of their four losses are by a combined 12 points – but three of their four wins have been blowouts. So, basically, the Horned Frogs either whoop teams or lose to them by a possession. Baylor, meanwhile, is just a solid football team that has some flaws, but still has a shot at winning the conference. The Bears are 20th in offensive S&P+ and 19th in defensive S&P+. Don’t expect a shootout, but a fun, competitive game should be in the cards.
SECOND SCREEN SPECIAL
3:30 p.m.: Syracuse vs. Clemson, ABC/ESPN2
Clemson kind of has a 2014 Florida State feel to them – a really good team that had a lot of success last year that doesn’t quite seem like it’s been able to replicate that this year. Despite that, the Tigers are 8-0, they should be able to coast to an ACC Championship (this is not an attempt at a jinx I swear), and Deshaun Watson is still awesome, even if Lamar Jackson has taken some of the attention away from him.
Syracuse is a fun team that is capable of scoring some points because Dino Babers is a dang genius. This team beat Virginia Tech at home, for goodness sake. Odds are it won’t be able to go into Death Valley and knock off Clemson, but Eric Dungey is a solid quarterback while the wide receiver trio of Amba Etta-Tawo, Ervin Philips, and Steve Ishmael is one of the best in the nation. This has juuuuuuuust enough chaos potential to be worth your time.
Under the Lights
FRONT AND CENTER
8:00 p.m.: Nebraska vs. Ohio State, ABC
8:00 p.m.: Alabama vs. LSU, CBS
Did the Penn State game break Ohio State? The Buckeyes have looked off the last few weeks, although to be fair, at Wisconsin, at Penn State, and vs. Northwestern is a really tough schedule. Nebraska has been a perfectly solid team this year, but it really could use a big win against Top 25 caliber team to prove that it’s not this year’s Iowa. Keep an eye on J.T. Barrett in this one – the Buckeye offense has been sputtering the last couple of weeks, and Nebraska’s defense has had some struggles against the run (69th in defensive rushing S&P+).
Barrett hasn’t really had a game where he’s looked like the dude who generated some Heisman buzz in 2014, and there’s no better time to get back on track than when you’re under the lights in your own building against a Top 10 opponent. Plus the reason I think Ohio State is still a Top 5 team is that it’s really talented and still have Urban Meyer at the helm. Put those two things together and the team is capable of exploding on any given Saturday. I’ll bet on that upside any time, and I have a gut feeling that said upside manifests itself in something of a statement win against the Huskers.
But the big game of the weekend is Alabama against LSU. The Crimson Tide are the Crimson Tide – they’re good at everything, they’re the most well-coached team in America, and it’s becoming harder and harder to argue that anyone else deserves the title of “No. 1 team in the country” right now (oddly enough, S&P+ actually has Michigan ahead of Alabama, but the two teams are really close to one another).
However, LSU is playing some insane football right now. We see this happen sometimes, but firing their head coach has paid serious dividends for the Tigers, as Ed Orgeron (please, for the love of god, someone give him a head coaching job if LSU doesn’t) has breathed new life into this team. Of course, it’s entirely possible that the Tigers have just played well as their schedule has lightened up – Missouri, Southern Miss, and Ole Miss all at home isn’t exactly a murderer’s row – but the thought of LSU beating Alabama as early as a few weeks ago was insane. Now? It’s in Death Valley at night and both teams are coming off of a bye, so let’s get weird.
Derrius Guice has been great in LSU’s backfield this year, but the matchup to watch is Leonard Fournette vs. Alabama’s front seven. As we all know, the Crimson Tide defense is nasty – Reuben Foster is one of the best linebackers in the nation and Jonathan Allen has caused so much trouble on the defensive line that he is considered a Heisman candidate.
The intrigue with Fournette is that he’s a complete freak of nature, but for some reason, he’s never figured out Alabama. Some of this is probably on coaching, because he was in a Cam Cameron offense which oh god no, but he’s managed to look like the best running back in the sport as long as he’s not facing the Crimson Tide. In two career games, he’s ran the ball 40 times for 110 yards (2.5 yards per carry) with one touchdown. That’s not what Leonard Fournette usually does to a defense.
I think he has a much better game this year, because the emergence of Guice and the fact that current offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger has seemed like he knows what he’s doing should mean that the weight of the world isn’t on Fournette’s shoulders. Will it be enough to beat Alabama? I have no idea, but I can’t wait to find out.
SECOND SCREEN SPECIAL
7:30 p.m.: Iowa vs. Penn State, Big Ten Network
Penn State being No. 12 in the College Football Playoff is kind of a stretch, so much so that when I saw it wasn’t ranked between 25 and 15, I thought the team was just unranked. The committee must really value the Nittany Lions’ win over Ohio State – which, in fairness, is a really good win. Plus James Franklin’s team is helped out by wins against other solid opponents (Temple, Minnesota, Maryland) and a beatdown of Purdue.
But if there’s one thing Penn State fans know, it’s that when Iowa comes to town, ugliness is expected. The Hawkeyes are coming off of a bye and needed to get some dudes healthy, and while the Nittany Lions should win (it’s a night game in Happy Valley and Iowa is ranked 41st in S&P+), this matchup once gave us a football game that ended 6-4.
The Late Show
FRONT AND CENTER
10:30 p.m.: Washington vs. California, ESPN
Hey it’s Washington again! I’ve fawned over the Huskies a lot this year – mostly because, you know, they are very good – and I’ve spent a lot of time during the super late slate talking about my fondness for teams like Cal which try to score a boatload of points.
The Golden Bears have had a few extra days to prepare for this one, it’s in Berkeley, and Washington is coming off of a really tough, physical road game against Utah, so maybe something weird happens. Also helping the “something weird can happen” camp is two of Washington’s three Pac-12 road games have been one-score games, while the third game featured a 49-point win over Oregon. A blowout or a weird one-possession game both sound appropriate for #Pac12AfterDark, so let’s go with one of those happening.
SECOND SCREEN SPECIAL
10:15 p.m.: Utah State vs. Wyoming, ESPN2
How about some love for Wyoming? Boise State looked like it was going to walk to another Mountain West title, but last week, the Cowboys went on the road and fell to Wyoming. The dreaded Laramie trip may have cost Boise a conference title and a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl, and for Wyoming, a division title is attainable (I won’t say a conference title, because San Diego State is awesome, but a division title is in reach).
If you like watching teams that can run the ball, check this game out. Wyoming has a workhorse back in Brian Hill (1,156 yards, 11 touchdowns), while Utah State’s ground game is more balanced – three dudes have at least 250 yards and three touchdowns. Neither squad is especially great, as the Cowboys are 71st in S&P+ while the Aggies are 80th, but there are worse ways to end your Saturday than by watching some Mountain West action.