The college football landscape had been too quiet for too long. Something was bound to happen.
In Week 8, Penn State finally delivered the giant upset that had been lurking under the surface for the past few weeks, knocking off No. 2 Ohio State in a 24-21 stunner. That leaves the Buckeyes, one of the most dangerous threats to Alabama’s title reign, on the outside of the College Football Playoff field. For now, that is.
The Crimson Tide took care of business in Tuscaloosa, their defense smothering Texas A&M at every turn on Saturday. But huge games at LSU and against a suddenly surging Auburn team still loom in November. The football gods could have more gridiron chaos in store. Buckle up.
As of right now, here’s how Alabama and the rest of the SEC shape up through eight weeks:
|Peach (Dec. 31, Atlanta) — CFP||#1 Alabama||#4 Clemson||Top 4, Playoff rankings|
|Fiesta (Dec. 31, Glendale) — CFP||#2 Michigan||#3 Washington||Top 4, Playoff rankings|
|Orange (Dec. 30, Miami) — NY6||Wisconsin||Louisville||Big Ten/SEC/ND vs ACC #1|
|Sugar (Jan. 2, New Orleans) — NY6||Texas A&M||West Virginia||SEC #1 vs Big 12 #1|
|Cotton (Jan. 2, Arlington) — NY6||Tennessee||Boise State||At-large vs at-large|
|Rose (Jan. 2, Pasadena) — NY6||Ohio State||Utah||Big Ten #1 vs Pac 12 #1|
|Citrus (Dec. 31, Orlando)||Auburn||Virginia Tech||SEC #2 vs ACC/Big Ten|
|Outback (Jan. 2, Tampa)||LSU||Nebraska||SEC#3-8 vs Big Ten #2-4|
|TaxSlayer (Dec. 31, Jacksonville)||Florida||Miami||SEC #3-8 vs ACC/Big Ten|
|Music City (Dec. 30, Nashville)||Ole Miss||Indiana||SEC #3-8 vs ACC/Big Ten|
|Texas (Dec. 28, Houston)||Arkansas||Oklahoma St.||SEC #3-8 vs Big 12 #4|
|Belk (Dec. 29, Charlotte)||Kentucky||Wake Forest||SEC #3-8 vs ACC #3-6|
|Liberty (Dec. 30, Memphis)||Georgia||TCU||SEC #3-8 vs Big 12 #5|
|Birmingham (Dec. 29, Birmingham)||Army||Memphis||SEC #9 vs American|
|Independence (Dec. 26, Shreveport)||Middle Tennessee||Georgia Tech||SEC #10** vs ACC|
|No bowls: Mississippi State, South Carolina, Missouri, Vanderbilt||**Replaced by fill-in|
Getting wild out West
The SEC West has some of the best one- or two-loss teams in the country; Texas A&M, LSU and Auburn all look poised to deal out some serious damage over the final five weeks of the regular season.
Already with wins over LSU and Arkansas, Auburn has a lot to gain. The Tigers’ only two losses have come against Clemson and Texas A&M, both top-10 teams, and they’ve outscored their last three opponents 152-24. Remaining games at Ole Miss, at Georgia and against mighty Alabama could further boost a strong resume.
LSU, whose only losses are at Auburn and against Wisconsin at Lambeau Field, could climb even higher. The Bayou Bengals still have to play Alabama, Arkansas, Texas A&M and Florida. Running the table through that November gauntlet might even be enough to get Ed Orgeron and the boys into the Orange or Cotton Bowl.
We won’t get ahead of ourselves there. But the point is, a lot can still happen in the SEC West. For now, I like Malzahn’s Tigers over Orgeron’s.
A riser and a faller
Would you look at this? Kentucky has won four of its last five games following Saturday’s shootout win over visiting Mississippi State. The Wildcats now need only to beat stumbling Missouri, which just lost to Middle Tennessee State, and Austin Peay to reach the 6-win mark. They also host Georgia in Week 10, a team that has lost three of its last four games. The Bulldogs should still be favored in that game, but it’s far from a guaranteed win for Kirby Smart’s crew.
Trending in the opposite direction is Ole Miss. The Rebels entered 2016 with one of the hardest schedules in the country, and though they’ve been competitive in every game this year, their record might not reflect that. There are three easy wins left on the docket in Georgia Southern, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State, so 6-6 is probably the floor. But it’s certainly not what folks in Oxford were hoping for or expected.
Talkin’ Playoff, New Year’s Six
LSU and Auburn could climb fast, but Tennessee is still the safest pick for a second SEC team in the New Year’s Six.
It’s been said a million times already: The SEC East is dang terrible, even in comparison to recent years when it has merely been “terrible”. The Vols, injured as they are, won’t face much resistance down the stretch as they get South Carolina, Vandy, Missouri and Kentucky.
However, Wisconsin — whose only losses might be narrow ones to Ohio State and Michigan — gets the slight edge over Tennessee for the Orange Bowl. Boise State barely beat BYU to hold onto its spot as the Group of Five auto-qualifier. It’s not unthinkable for Western Michigan to wind up in that spot, instead, if the Mountain West Broncos give us any more scares.
It’s time to talk about undefeated West Virginia. Oklahoma’s defense is allowing 36.7 points per game, 14th-worst in the FBS, and they nearly got out-gunned by Texas Tech on Saturday. Dana Holgerson’s Mountaineers took care of TCU with ease. The Mountaineers matchup wouldn’t be as sexy as Trevor Knight vs. Oklahoma, but they look more dangerous than the Sooners right now.
As for the Playoff, the Penn State game uncovered some serious flaws for the Buckeyes. Michigan’s shot at 12-0 looks a little better, and Washington still looks to be in cruise control. Clemson, even if it loses at Florida State, could win every other game (including the ACC title game) and make it into the Playoff as a one-loss No. 4 seed.
That’s how the field stacks up. One-loss Ohio State, Louisville and Texas A&M round out the seven teams with legitimate Playoff shots right now. Behind them are unbeaten Nebraska, West Virginia and Baylor, but they face much tougher competition over the final few weeks.
Week 9 games to watch:
- Florida vs. Georgia (Jacksonville)
- Auburn at Ole Miss
Alabama, LSU and Arkansas all have byes, Texas A&M faces New Mexico State and Tennessee gets South Carolina. Not a lot to write home about here. But the Georgia-Florida cocktail party will play a big role in dictating the wide-open SEC East race, as it tends to do, and Auburn will have the opportunity to keep rolling against the floundering Ole Miss Rebels.
Projected SEC standings entering Week 9:
|SEC WEST||SEC EAST|
|Alabama (12-0, 8-0)**||Tennessee (10-2, 6-2)|
|Texas A&M (11-1, 7-1)||Florida (7-4, 5-3)|
|Auburn (9-3, 6-2)||Kentucky (6-6, 4-4)|
|LSU (7-4, 5-3)||Georgia (7-5, 3-5)|
|Arkansas (8-4, 4-4)||South Carolina (5-7, 2-6)|
|Ole Miss (6-6, 3-5)||Missouri (3-9, 1-7)|
|Mississippi St (3-9, 1-7)||Vanderbilt (4-8, 1-7)|
|** = SEC champion|