The initial College Football Playoff Committee rankings were released this week, with Clemson, LSU, Ohio State and Alabama at the top of the list followed by Notre Dame, Baylor, Michigan State and TCU on the proverbial bubble.
Here’s a newsflash for all of those people in Waco and Fort Worth, East Lansing and South Bend, Gainesville and any other town that feels like their school got snubbed: in the next month, these rankings will change more than Lil’ Kim morphing into Jocelyn Wildenstein’s twin sister.
Beginning with an awesome slate of games this weekend, and without an obvious dominant juggernaut, chaos will reign supreme for the remainder of the season. And that just seems appropriate, doesn’t it, given that the unpredictability and sheer absurdity of the season has been exemplified in the bizarre endings of the Michigan/Michigan State, Florida State/Georgia Tech and Miami/Duke games.
We may not have one preeminent, imposing team that towers above the pack, but heading into the season’s final month with 11 unbeaten and nine one-loss squads promises to deliver a finale with more twists and turns than an Easy Rawlings mystery.
TCU, Baylor and Michigan State might be undefeated, and they have a legit claim as to why they deserve a playoff spot, but I love the committee’s emphasis on seeding a one-loss team that plays a killer schedule higher than an undefeated one that feeds off the Southwest Buttcrack State’s of the world in their non-conference schedule.
If you’re crying about Alabama’s one-loss and denigrating their inclusion, maybe your squad should try playing the third toughest schedule in the country, instead of leaning on the fact that you score 50 points a game against teams that are weaker than J.J. Evans from Good Times.
If last week was the calm before the storm, with very little movement in the Top 25, this weekend’s games will be more chaotically beautiful than a beat produced by The Bomb Squad.
But before we get to the upcoming goodies on this weekend’s menu, let’s digest some of what we saw last week.
Temple proved that they are a legit Top 25 team during its brawl with Notre Dame. The Owls went out to a 20-17 lead with a little under five minutes to play before the Fighting Irish’s DeShone Kizer, who finished with 299 yards passing and a 79-yard touchdown run, worked his end-of-game magic once again when he hit Will Fuller with a game-winning, 17-yard pass that allowed Notre Dame to escape with a hard-earned 24-20 victory.
Kizer, the team’s backup before Malik Zaire suffered a season-ending injury against Virginia, seems to be at his best, and totally unfazed, while his team is trailing in the fourth quarter. He’s engineered three come-from-behind victories in his six starts this year.
TCU’s otherworldly flamethrower Trevone Boykin has made the Heisman Trophy race a two-person sprint, along with LSU’s Leonard Fournette down the homestretch. Boykin was so electrifying that West Virginia’s head coach Dana Holgorsen dapped him up during the game after a scamper to the sideline where his footwork was reminiscent of the Nicholas Brothers.
Boykin accounted for 472 total yards and four TD’s in the Horned Frogs’ 40-10 drubbing of West Virginia. He completed 32 of his 47 passes for 388 yards and added 82 rushing yards on 11 carries en route to breaking Andy Dalton’s school record for total offense.
The previous week, after getting scorched by Baylor’s star receiver Corey Coleman for 199 yards and three TD’s on 10 catches, Holgorsen called Coleman the best player in college football. But watching Boykin wreak havoc like Borat among ignorant American southerners made him quickly change his mind.
The Oklahoma State/Texas Tech game was the highest scoring game thus far this season, a 70-53 Cowboys victory that they climbed out of a 24-0 deficit to win. The Red Raiders’ sophomore QB Patrick Mahomes threw for 480 yards and four TD’s, and Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph and J.W. Walsh combined to pass for 452 yards and four scores of their own.
Amid the ceaseless offensive fireworks, Texas Tech’s Jakeem Grant made his case for being right up there with Baylor’s Corey Coleman and TCU’s Josh Doctson as one of the country’s elite receivers and playmakers. The 5-foot-7, 168-pound dynamo, who has scored touchdowns rushing, passing, receiving and as a special teams returner this year, is poised to shatter Michael Crabtree’s mark as the school’s all-time leading receiver. Against Oklahoma State, he caught 13 passes for 178 yards and gained an additional 146 yards on three returns.
With plenty of arguments being generated about the initial playoff rankings, here’s why I agree with what the committee has done thus far.
Right now, Ohio State is the defending national champions who are beating their opponents by an average of 23 points per game. Their offense maintains a steady equilibrium while rushing for close to 250 yards and passing for about 220 per game. And their defense is as cold-hearted and miserly as Ebenezer Scrooge.
Clemson has played one of the country’s toughest schedules, along with Alabama and they exemplify comprehensive excellence on both sides of the ball. Their quarterback Deshaun Watson is the baddest cat this side of Trevone Boykin. His 437- total yard, six-touchdown gem last week against North Carolina State, was on par, in terms of technical and methodological excellence, with Robert DeNiro’s mesmerizing work in Raging Bull.
And Clemson has the best defense of any national title contender.
Alabama’s inclusion has nothing to do with them being a modern-day dynasty or the fact that they seem to win the national championship in recruiting every year. Yeah, they lost a fluky game to Ole Miss, but did you see what they did to Georgia when the Bulldogs still had a healthy Nick Chubb? Their offense continues to evolve and improve, Derrick Henry is a beast of a running back and their defense is ferocious.
LSU has a running back in Leonard Fournette who, despite being a sophomore, is a burgeoning legend whose folk hero status is already comparable to Bo Jackson, Herschel Walker, Archie Griffin, Earl Campbell, Barry Sanders and Marcus Dupree - i.e. the greatest backs the college game has ever seen.
Quarterback Brandon Harris has solved the team’s inadequate quarterback issues from last year and over the last three games, he’s connected on 63% of his passes for 716 yards and seven touchdowns.
Tonight’s Baylor/Kansas State game will give us a glimpse of how ready the Bears’ true freshman quarterback Jarrett Stidham is to lead the prolific offense in the wake of Seth Russell’s season-ending neck injury. It’s not going to be easy replacing college football’s top rated passer.
Baylor hasn’t been challenged yet this year, and I don’t expect Kansas State to be the team that does so, but seeing how this historically explosive offense operates under Stidham will give us a clearer picture of who Baylor is heading down the home stretch.
The nation’s highest scoring team while averaging a tyrannical 61 points per game, the Bears are hammering their opponents in despotic fashion, winning by an average margin of 36 points. Their next three games against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU will inform us if they’re the truth, or simply a Canal Street Burberry knockoff.
Other than their final game against Stanford, Notre Dame will face one of its stiffest tests this weekend against a solid Pitt team. If the Fighting Irish hope to make a push towards a playoff seeding, they’ll need to improve a woeful red-zone offense. If they’re looking past Pittsburgh, they'll be in for a rude awakening.
Make sure to check out Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who could set the NCAA record for most career rushing touchdowns in his next game. By season's end, he'll have surpassed Monte Ball, Ricky Williams, Ron Dayne and any other of the college game’s historically prolific scorers.
Reynolds has started 44 games at the Naval Academy, including 13 as a plebe, which is very rare for a first-year player at the school. He matched Monte Ball’s record of 77 rushing touchdowns against South Florida last weekend when he ran for 117 yards and scored twice in the fourth quarter.
Navy, which is 6-1 and undefeated in the surprisingly tough American Athletic Conference while averaging a ridiculous 320 rushing yards per game with their wicked triple-option attack, takes on an outstanding and unbeaten Memphis crew that is the 13th-ranked team in the country and averages 49 points per game. Remaining blemish-free down the home stretch will be tough for Memphis, as they have to beat the Midshipmen, No. 18 Houston and No. 23 Temple in their remaining games.
The TCU/Oklahoma State contest is going to give the scoreboard operator a workout, as both teams score more than Derek Jeter during Fashion Week in Paris. The Cowboys have rung up 128 points while throwing for 859 yards – IN THE LAST TWO WEEKS!!!
After looking shaky defensively at the beginning of the year, TCU has only allowed one touchdown in its last seven quarters. Keep your eyes on Oklahoma State’s Emmanuel Ogbah, one of the top defensive ends in the country, as he tries to solve the confounding puzzle that is the Horned Frogs offense.
And if you haven’t seen TCU’s wondrous QB Trevone Boykin yet this year, that’s like saying you haven’t seen The Godfather, The Shawshank Redemption or Coming to America. If you haven’t, do not admit it to anyone and make sure you correct that hideous mistake this weekend.
The Horned Frogs blasted the Cowboys 42-9 last year, with Boykin and his array of weapons accumulating 676 yards of total offense. Oklahoma State will be looking to return the favor this weekend.
Two years ago, Clemson was undefeated at this juncture when they faced Florida State. Within moments of that kickoff, their national championship hopes died faster than a black man in a horror movie after the Seminoles stomped a 51-14 mud-hole in their hind parts.
I’m interested to see what FSU does at the quarterback position this weekend, since backup Sean Maguire subbed for injured starter Everett Golson last week and tossed three touchdown passes while throwing for 349 yards in the Noles’ 45-21 home win against Syracuse. With their stud running back Dalvin Cook also injured, freshman Jacques Patrick lit up the Orangemen for 162 rushing yards and three touchdowns as well.
But make no mistake about it, Syracuse is no Clemson, who is clicking on all cylinders right now with an offense and defense that is hotter than that Hotline Bling!
Clemson is currently on an 11-game winning streak. The last time they did that, they won the national championship back in 1981 when T.S. Monk was living that good life.
All of these games should shake loose the playoff rankings, but none more so than the heavyweight title fight between Alabama and LSU. If I could only watch one regular season game all year, this would be the one, as it features the two best running backs in the land, LSU’s Fournette and Bama’s Derrick Henry, going up against two run defenses that are harder than John Rambo!
Last year’s game was a 20-13 overtime thriller won by the Crimson Tide. For LSU to win, they’ll need some major contributions from the passing game. The game-within-the-game that could swing the pendulum will be how Tigers’ QB Brandon Harris and his main targets, receivers Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural fare against Alabama’s pass rush and secondary.
Harris has yet to throw an interception, while Alabama leads the country with four picks returned for touchdowns.
The winner of this one will be the team that stops the run the best and limits the opposing offenses big plays.