The night of Sept. 24, we sat on the edge of our seats as LSU made a late charge downfield and beat Auburn with a last-second touchdown pass at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
An official review determined that the visiting Tigers failed to get the snap off before the clock hit 0:00, so Louisiana State had its win ripped away and given to Auburn.
Les Miles was subsequently fired. Gus Malzahn was given new life.
The game was entertaining because we wanted to know: “Which of these coaches is going down?” No one in their right mind was asking, “Which of these teams will be the one to knock off Alabama?”
Now, both LSU and Auburn are legitimate SEC West contenders, with the former able to reach Atlanta if it wins out and the latter loses once more, and the latter able to reach Atlanta if it wins out and Texas A&M loses once more.
Alabama is suddenly unable to laugh off the back end of its conference schedule.
The Crimson Tide are deserving of the No. 1 ranking they’ve held all season; no one is questioning their talent or drive. But a trip to Baton Rouge and a potential top-10 matchup in the Iron Bowl loom larger than anyone thought they would a month ago. Per ESPN’s Football Power Index, LSU is the eighth-best team in the country, and Auburn is No. 6.
That’s the toughest one-two combo (by simple FPI ranking + FPI ranking) any AP top 10 team must face in the final month.
For comparison’s sake …
|AP rank||Highest-ranked FPI opp.||Combined FPI|
|No. 1 Alabama||Auburn (6) & LSU (8)||14|
|No. 2 Michigan||Ohio State (5) & Iowa (37)||42|
|No. 3 Clemson||Pittsburgh (30) & Wake Forest (65)||95|
|No. 4 Washington||USC (12) & Washington State (22)||34|
|No. 5 Louisville||Houston (33) & Wake Forest (65)||98|
|No. 6 Ohio State||Michigan (2) & Nebraska (28)||30|
|No. 7 Texas A&M||LSU (8) & Ole Miss (14)||22|
|No. 8 Wisconsin||Northwestern (41) & Minnesota (50)||91|
|No. 9 Nebraska||Ohio State (5) & Iowa (37)||42|
|No. 10 Florida||LSU (8) & Florida State (10)||18|
Auburn completed its transformation from Week 1 offensive laughingstock to juggernaut this weekend, putting up 40 points on Ole Miss while racking up 554 total yards (307 of them on the ground).
LSU got the week off, but Ed Orgeron’s team has won three straight games by a combined 87 points since Miles got the boot in late September.
The Bayou Bengals host Alabama this coming weekend, and Crimson Tide fans have good reason to be a little spooked.
Inches from doom
Facing a 25-24 deficit with 55 seconds remaining at Virginia, Louisville was one play away from a second loss and effective College Football Playoff elimination.
Star quarterback Lamar Jackson took the snap on 4th-and-3, looked to his left and fired a 5-yard completion to Cole Hikutini that kept the Cardinals’ championship hopes alive. At first glance, it was a nothing more than a solid play.
Then, the ABC cameras showed a different angle:
It’s amazing that years of training, practicing, playing and everything else that goes into being a football star can come down to a single pass that either finds its target or falls incomplete.
If Louisville goes on to win the national title, that fourth-and-3 throw from Jackson will be evidence that luck has a huge part in any team’s season.
The Cardinals are now 7-1 after Jackson tossed a game-winning touchdown pass on that drive, and figure to play a big part in the College Football Playoff discussion down the stretch. Speaking of which, Tuesday night will bring the season’s first CFP poll. Let’s skip way ahead of that and make a prediction for what the end-of-season top 4 will look like:
- No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Louisville
- No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Clemson
All four teams win out. Alabama stays at No. 1. Clemson fails to impress, and drops behind Ohio State after the Buckeyes defeat Michigan by two touchdowns in “The Big Game.” Louisville watches championship weekend from home and then gets the nod over Michigan, Texas A&M and the other also-rans.
Richt’s free fall
Few teams began the season hotter than Mark Richt’s Miami Hurricanes, which started 4-0 while outscoring opponents by 144 points and earning The Associated Press’ No. 10 ranking.
The season took a sour turn on Oct. 8, though, when the Hurricanes had their game-tying extra point blocked by Florida State and lost by 1 point in front of a cantankerous home crowd. Since then, the U has lost three more games, including a 30-27 bummer to Notre Dame this past Saturday.
Instead of dreaming about a playoff berth, Miami fans are now wondering whether the Hurricanes will get to a bowl game, and the battle from afar between Richt vs. Kirby Smart, whose Georgia Bulldogs are also 4-4, has taken a sad turn on both ends.
Kentucky’s only shot
One of the big takeaways from Week 9 is that Kentucky is still alive in the SEC East. The Wildcats likely won’t to make it to Atlanta, but no one can count the Wildcats out when they’re only a half game behind Florida in the standings (and the rest of the division is an inferno).
A decisive win at Missouri was UK’s fifth in six games, and hapless Georgia, losers of four of its last five, is headed to Lexington next weekend.
What have the Wildcats been doing well? Running the football. Star running back Stanley “Boom” Johnson and freshman Benny Snell Jr. combined for 374 yards on the ground Saturday, and they will be needed to do serious damage against a stout Bulldogs rushing defense (No. 13 in country) next week.
The question is whether first-year starting quarterback Stephen Johnson can be accurate enough to beat good football teams (or even just keep UK in the same zip code as Alabama during a potential SEC title game matchup).
So far, he’s been rough in the passing game, sailing easy throws and making some head-scratching decisions.
But there was one moment against Missouri where everything clicked:
— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) October 29, 2016
If Johnson can show us a little more of that in the final month, Kentucky actually might find the back door to Atlanta.
More SEC moments that caught our eye
- Tennessee, Tennessee, Tennessee … Immediately after the Vols lost to Texas A&M in early October, it appeared as if their magic had run out, and UT’s loss to South Carolina on Saturday — its third straight — proved that was the case. A litany of injuries have hurt Butch Jones’ team, but the fact is, Tennessee hasn’t played at a consistently high level at any point this season. Snapping a lengthy losing streak to Florida might be the only positive fans are able to take away from this season.
- Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio was borderline awful against Missouri two weeks ago, and he failed to put that performance in the rear-view mirror during the Gators’ first drive against Georgia. His ugly interception was part of an underwhelming day (15 of 25 for 131 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 pick) that’s looking more and more like the norm for Jim McElwain’s passing offense. These types of plays won’t fly against LSU, Florida State or Alabama:
Dominick Sanders INT https://t.co/XTBAIu7NQ5
— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) October 29, 2016
- Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly has been a slight disappointment this season, but I still think he’s the best quarterback in the conference. The Rebels’ 40-29 loss to Auburn swung when tight end Evan Engram dropped a perfectly-thrown Kelly pass in the fourth quarter that would’ve gone for a 39-yard touchdown. Naturally, Kelly threw an interception on the next play and Auburn went up two scores. That kind of year for Colonel Reb.
- Reminder that college kickers are not your friends: Missouri’s Tucker McCann missed a 24-yarder to kill a brief spurt of momentum in the Tigers’ loss to Kentucky, and Florida’s Eddie Pineiro — a pretty good kicker, actually — biffed a 33-yarder that prevented UF from pulling further ahead of UGA.
Non-SEC moments that caught our eye
- Michigan State fans gave Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh a rude welcome to East Lansing (NSFW language):
- Seth Russell’s Superman powers disappeared on Baylor’s last drive of a loss at Texas, but this hurdle was pretty impressive (and dumb, considering he suffered a serious neck injury last season):
"Lamar Jackson, who?" -Seth Russell https://t.co/9hnvB43Zk7
— Jack McGuire (@BigDaddysCourt) October 29, 2016
Seth Russell jumping over Charlie Strong's chance to save his job like: https://t.co/VtfOcrxULI
— Kendall (@kkaut) October 29, 2016
- I know you didn’t get a chance to check out the Northwest Missouri State-Pittsburg State game this weekend, which means you missed a great team effort on this pick-6:
— American Sports Net (@LiveOnASN) October 29, 2016
- Swiping a snap is nearly impossible at the college or pro level … but high school? Anything goes when the center has a slow draw. Per Deadspin.com, Goddard (N.M.) High School grabbed the barely-live football away from Artesia High’s center — who was trying to snap to his quarterback in the Victory Formation — and went on to kick a game-winning field goal.
- Your non-football moment of the week: Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with some help from the late Harry Caray on Sunday night at Wrigley Field.
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) October 31, 2016