Ten Things - Week Seven
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Halfway home, and what a ride it’s been. Just in the top ten, we have enough movement to make your head spin. Of the AP preseason top ten, only Baylor is ranked higher now than when it started. Everyone else is either where they started (Auburn, Michigan State) or dropped. A team that received a total of 22 points in the preseason (less than Florida) is now at the top of the poll. Just about every predicted contender for the playoff has already picked up a loss. That’s how wacky this first half has been, and this past weekend was no different. With the midseason mark reached, let’s take a look back at the latest week that was in Ten Things…
1. New Number One – Anytime there’s a changing of the guard at the top, it’s big news. When it just so happens to be Mississippi State – a team that has never been this high in any poll ever – it’s even bigger. The Bulldogs, fresh off a thrashing of previously #2 Auburn, have become just the third team ever to beat three top ten teams in consecutive games. That’s no small feat, but there’s no time to rest on their laurels. As coach Dan Mullen said, they haven’t even guaranteed a winning season yet. And with Arkansas, Alabama, and rival Ole Miss left on the schedule, there’s plenty more work left to do.
2. BB Guns – Who would’ve thought this would be an issue? It seems that college football players are beginning to indulge – perhaps a bit too much – into this seemingly harmless activity. This week, North Carolina State announced the suspension of seven players from their upcoming game against Louisville. This comes a week after East Carolina suspended three players, and that came after Kentucky suspended four players prior to the South Carolina game on October 4th. It’s just plain weird.
3. Irish Resurgence – Granted, it’s only been two years since Notre Dame went 12-0 and gained a birth in the national title game. But since losing that game (and the way they lost it), it seems they needed only a year of transition to bring forth another potential title game team. This week, the Irish begin a three game stretch on the road in Tallahassee against the defending national champion Florida State Seminoles. In an interesting twist of fate, what has been the most hated team in America for the better part of the last decade could have the nation rooting for them to beat the ‘Noles (and especially a certain quarterback), removing them from our headlines and playoff predictions.
4. Playoff Four – If the playoff teams were selected today…
Mississippi State – When you’re the number one team in the country, there’s no reason to leave you out of the playoff mix. The Bulldogs have certainly been the most dominant team thus far, but that didn’t help Oklahoma or Auburn the past couple weeks. Dan Mullen and his team will have a week to take it all in before travelling to Lexington for an afternoon game against the (surprisingly) 4-1 Wildcats.
Ole Miss – The Rebels followed up a close, comeback victory at home with a road win that was never in doubt. In fact, they led 21-0 at halftime and 35-7 for nearly half the fourth quarter. No bye week to soak in the victory, though, as they host Tennessee. Behind efficient quarterback play (Bo Wallace has yet to throw an interception in league play), they should be undefeated when defending division champ Auburn comes to the Grove on November 1st.
Florida State – Nowhere near the dominant force that took the football world by storm last year, but they continue to win. This weekend gives the ‘Noles the opportunity to notch a second signature win for the season as the host Notre Dame. Win and their ticket to the playoff is all but stamped. Lose, and they’ll need a lot of help to get there.
Notre Dame – It was close between the Irish and Baylor for this spot, but with the Bears surrendering 58 points at home and needing a 24-0 rally to win by a field goal the Irish get the nod here. The win against Stanford looks better than Baylor’s win against TCU. But Florida State is not north Carolina, so Notre Dame cannot allow themselves to get in a hole to start things off. And quarterback Everett Golson needs to be on his A-game or this may be the last week his team is considered for the playoff.
5. The Next Four – Should one of the above teams stumble, these are the next best thing
Baylor – The only other power conference team with no losses (sorry Marshall). Putting up 61 points on a Gary Patterson defense is impressive, but the defense needs work. It’s not likely the Bears will be tested until the latter third of the schedule, but so long as they keep winning, they’re in the mix.
Oregon – A double digit win over one of the better teams in the PAC-12 South is enough to ease the sting of losing to Arizona. Also, having that win over Michigan State looks better every week.
Michigan State – The class of the Big Ten continues to churn out wins. While Purdue is not exactly a world beater, a 14-point win on the road helps Sparty’s case. Not much stands in the way of a division title, save for a looming date with Ohio State in three weeks.
Auburn – The Tigers went from one of the best looking teams in the country to a 21-0 deficit before they ran their third play from scrimmage in Starkville. Even after settling down and causing four straight turnovers, there was still too much ground lost to come back. If Auburn is going to compete for one of the four spots, they can’t look like that again.
6. Playoff Chaos – As the unbeaten teams became less numerous, I began thinking of the possibilities for the playoff committee and this came to mind. Suppose the winner of this week’s Notre Dame-Florida State game finishes undefeated; they’re in the playoff. The second spot will likely go to the SEC champ, which for the sake of argument we’ll say has no more than one loss. If the SEC West has one or two more one-loss teams and Oregon, Michigan State, and any two Big Twelve teams finish with one loss…who gets the last two? Perhaps the committee would cave to perception and award the SEC a second team at the expense of a Pac-12 or Big Ten team. And if Notre Dame wins, the ACC could have two one-loss teams on the outside looking in. Ultimately, it doesn’t seem right now that more parity will help sort things out any better.
7. Trending Up: Unexpected Success – Who doesn’t love a good turnaround story? Just about every conference has a team that is doing uncharacteristically well. Arizona sits at 5-1 and with the way home field advantage has been, they may well wind up 10-1 when rival ASU comes to town. This time last year, the Wildcats were just 3-2 on a two game losing streak. Meanwhile, the Wildcats of the SEC also find themselves not only at 5-1 but with two division wins. Don’t sleep on them in two weeks when Mississippi State rolls into Lexington. In the Big Ten, Minnesota shows off a 5-1 record and a 2-0 conference record. And while Virginia has two losses, none of them are in conference. The Cavaliers also lead the ACC Coastal and have that win over Louisville.
8. Trending Down: Preseason Expectations – South Carolina and UCLA were supposed to be in the thick of conference races. Todd Gurley and Marcus Mariota were supposed to dominate the Heisman race. And the PAC-12 was supposed to emerge as the SEC of the west in terms of strength. Well, that last one might still be possible. But Clemson has still not turned the corner. Brady Hoke still hasn’t found a quarterback (or a defense). Predicted contenders Oregon (offensive line), Alabama (special teams), and Stanford (red zone offense) have glaring deficiencies. Even the Cinderella darling UCF couldn’t find a win until week three.
9. SEC Rundown – It seems trying to guess what’s going to happen next is an exercise in futility. No Todd Gurley? That’s fine; Georgia still blanked Missouri 34-0. A week after stealing a victory against Tennessee, Florida gave it back against LSU. Alabama had one of the most surprising offensive surges to start the year, only to score just three touchdowns in the last two games combined. If this keeps up, look for Driskell to look like a Heisman candidate against Missouri, Arkansas to run all over Georgia, and Kentucky-LSU to give us another triple overtime thriller like they did in 2007.
10. Three To See
#14 Kansas State at #11 Oklahoma – The first of two Big Twelve matchups between one-loss ranked teams (the other is Ok St at TCU). An Oklahoma victory would knock the Wildcats out, since their sole loss is to Auburn, while a Kansas State victory puts the Sooners in a big hole with no room for error the rest of the way. Boomer Sooner, Oklahoma wins one for the home crowd 34-20.
#5 Notre Dame at #2 Florida State – The whole college football nation will be tuned in as two of the biggest lightning rods for vitriol square off in what will wind up being a knockout game. Mark it down – the loser of this game won’t make the four team playoff. The Seminoles are 19-1 at home since the 2012 season and the streak continues. FSU wins 31-26
#23 Stanford at #17 Arizona State – It’s a prime chance for the Cardinal to assert themselves back in the thick of the PAC-12 race. It’s also a chance for the Sun Devils to buck the trend of home teams losing conference games out there. Ranked visitors in PAC-12 games are undefeated, and that streak continues. The Cardinal win 41-30
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