The Biggest Threats College Football Contenders Still Face
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because gridiron drama looms, my friends.
Through 10 weeks of crazy college game days, the College Football Playoff landscape is still anything but settled. With four playoff spots available and four Power Five conference teams still undefeated, this should be easy, right? As Lee Corso is fond of saying, “Not so fast, my friends!”
Of the playoff contenders remaining, none are a guarantee to win out. After dismissing Ohio State in Week 9, Penn State (7-1) looked like a lock to cruise the rest of the way. So, of course, they lost to Michigan State last week. The rest of the playoff contenders, though? They face real hurdles ahead. Below, we dig into what — if anything — can upend the championship quest of Alabama, Georgia, Miami, Wisconsin and Notre Dame.
Now, allow me to address the elephant in the room.
Has the slumping Southeastern Conference underprepared Alabama for the College Football Playoff?
This is where we’re at. Nick Saban’s squad has been so dominant that we must point to their opponents’ mediocrity to find a potential threat against the Tide. Bama is off to a 9-0 start (6-0 in the SEC) and has scored fewer than 41 points just three times this season. Through six SEC conference matchups, the Tide’s average margin of victory is 35.7 points. But in three nonconference games? Only 21. Alabama faced its best competition in a groggy Week 1 victory over Florida State (24-7). Bama will be clear favorites every game this season, but will the easy ride lull the team to sleep? Doubtful, but Tide fans should still be wary of Auburn and a likely matchup with Georgia in the SEC title game. That Bulldog defense has the potential to give Alabama sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts — who, to this point, has been coddled — fits. Hurts should face an immense increase in pressure come December.
— Alabama Athletics (@UA_Athletics) October 22, 2017
Can Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham dice up Georgia’s stingy defense?
It’s tough to find anything to dislike about this Georgia team, but if I must, I would point to the lack of pressure that UGA has put on opposing quarterbacks thus far this season. That’s not to say that offenses aren’t belittled by Georgia — there’s a reason this team ranks third in the country, with 11.7 points allowed per game. But so far, quarterbacks have had time to operate. Georgia has 17 sacks on the season (tied for third worst in the SEC). The Bulldogs are so good they can rely on man-to-man coverage to defeat an offense, but that strategy risks being exposed by a quarterback who can air it out, like Stidham. Add in Auburn’s deadly rushing attack of Kam Pettway and Kerryon Johnson, and the Tigers have the talent to win a shootout against Georgia’s freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, who’s still learning on the job.
Clemson’s long list of quality wins won’t matter if the Irish keep rolling.
Clemson’s only loss came when quarterback Kelly Bryant was knocked out with a concussion against a rising Syracuse program. With Bryant healthy, Clemson is once again one of the top teams in the nation. They boast four top 20 wins over Auburn, Virginia Tech, North Caroline State and Louisville, but none of that will matter if Notre Dame continues its torrid pace. Since losing by one point (20-19) to Georgia in Week 2, Notre Dame has flexed on the competition to the tune of an 8-1 record. Irish QB Brandon Wimbush has been lights out, and Brian Kelly’s rushing attack ranks fifth in the nation with 325 yards per game. Notre Dame has big tests against undefeated Miami and No. 21 Stanford in the final three weeks, but even with a one-loss finish, they should earn their first inclusion in the playoff. Clemson will very likely be on the outside looking in.
Then again, if Miami upends Notre Dame …
Could an undefeated Power Five team be passed over for the first time ever?
A Miami victory over Notre Dame would further complicate things for the selection committee. At present, undefeated Wisconsin (8-0) and Miami (7-0) are ranked ninth and 10th, respectively, by the College Football Playoff committee, due to the lack of strong opponents in their schedules. Both will ascend if their hot streaks continue, and an undefeated Miami will certainly make the playoff.
But it’s easy to imagine a scenario in which Wisconsin — which represents a weak Big Ten West — is hung out to dry. The Badgers’ strength of schedule is so poor that the committee, which bases inclusion on a combination of merit and talent (we think), would give an edge to Clemson (7-1) or Oklahoma (7-1). Wisconsin has won games, but at some point you have to impress. Eking out victories against mediocre opponents does little to intrigue a national audience. As such, I’m waiting for a playoff field of Alabama, Georgia, Notre Dame and Oklahoma.