ESPN hyped the slate of Week 10 games as “Statement Saturday,” but aside from clarifying the SEC picture with a pair of de facto division championships, we didn’t learn much we didn’t already know.
Alabama and Clemson still appear far ahead of the class. The Big 12’s and Pac-12’s playoff hopes remain tenuous. The Heisman Trophy race is all but over. And all of the playoff contenders except Georgia — as much as it might pain them to do so — will be saying, “Roll Tide!” on Dec. 1.
Stock up: Michigan
We were close to adding the Wolverines to last week’s list of teams that control their College Football Playoff chances. After a 42-7 demolition of No. 14 Penn State, we feel safe in doing so.
If Michigan adds a victory at Ohio State on Nov. 24 and wins the Big Ten championship the next week, with its lone blemish an opening road loss to unbeaten Notre Dame, it seems virtually impossible that the selection committee could keep the Wolverines out — even if Clemson and Notre Dame stay perfect and Georgia upsets Alabama in the SEC title game. (That might be the only scenario, short of Alabama losing twice, in which the Crimson Tide aren’t in the final four.)
With Alabama and Georgia eliminating LSU and Kentucky from playoff contention and securing their Dec. 1 date in Atlanta, that leaves five teams — Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Michigan and Georgia — that don’t need help to get in.
Stock down: Oklahoma and Ohio State
This year’s committee showed with its first ranking that the eye test is important; otherwise, Clemson would have been ahead of Alabama, whose best win before Saturday was at home against No. 25 Texas A&M. That’s not good news for the Sooners and Buckeyes, who struggled against inferior opponents.
Oklahoma survived a 51-46 shootout at Texas Tech as Kyler Murray (460 total yards, four touchdowns) rebounded from two early interceptions that put the Sooners in a 14-0 hole. But after two straight strong defensive performances since firing coordinator Mike Stoops, Oklahoma regressed on that side of the ball, allowing the Red Raiders 473 yards.
Defense also continues to be Ohio State’s Achilles heel. The Buckeyes gave up 450 yards, including 184 on the ground, to Nebraska in their 36-31 squeaker in Columbus. While they would appear to be in the same situation as Michigan — win out to be a 12-1 Big Ten champion — the nature of their loss (by 29 points to four-loss Purdue) and the unevenness of their performances likely would keep them behind both Georgia and Alabama if the Bulldogs can pull off the upset.
Divisions of labor
While the SEC championship game participants were set 28 days in advance, some of the more, shall we say, “parity-filled” Power Five divisions could be sending four- and even five-loss teams to conference title games.
Northwestern, despite going 0-3 out of the conference, clinches the Big Ten West by winning two of its last three games, which would put the Wildcats at 7-5 headed to Indianapolis. If Wisconsin or Purdue wins out — they meet Nov. 17 in West Lafayette, Ind. — and Northwestern drops two of three, the Big Ten West champ would have either three (Wisconsin) or four (Purdue) losses.
Likewise, every team in the ACC Coastal has at least three losses. Pittsburgh (5-4) moved into the driver’s seat at 4-1 in the conference with its 23-13 win at Virginia on Friday night. Sadly, the dream of a seven-way tie at 4-4 died with North Carolina’s 38-28 loss to Georgia Tech.
The Pac-12 South race is even more jumbled after Arizona State upended No. 15 Utah 38-20. That dropped the Utes into a three-way tie at 4-3 in the conference with USC and Arizona, with the Sun Devils a half-game back at 3-3. Only Utah has fewer than four losses overall.
Stock up: Tua Tagovailoa
Is it time to retire this weekly category? Sure, the Alabama sophomore threw his first interception of the season — and took his first fourth-quarter snaps — in the Tide’s 29-0 whitewash of LSU. But against a secondary featuring two midseason All-Americans in cornerback Greedy Williams and safety Grant Delpit, Tagovailoa finished 25 of 42 for 295 yards and two touchdowns, and he showed off his legs — which he hasn’t had to do often this year — on a 44-yard third-quarter touchdown run. In all, the Tide had eight plays of 20-plus yards against the nation’s No. 22 defense entering the game.
Stock down: Dwayne Haskins
At this point the only race appears to be who will join Tagovailoa in New York as Heisman finalists. Haskins didn’t play poorly in Ohio State’s victory over Nebraska, finishing 18 of 32 for 252 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, but he might have fallen behind Murray and West Virginia quarterback Will Grier — both of whom directed thrilling comeback wins — and possibly Clemson running back Travis Etienne (153 yards on eight carries vs. Louisville).
Image of the week
A week after “shirtless professor reading a book” became the unwitting symbol of Florida State’s wretched season, we received the gift of “annoyed LSU girl.” The tweets and memes were practically endless, but our favorite came from Americana superstar — and Alabama fan — Jason Isbell.
And, yes, she has been identified.
Stat of the week
Keep in mind this was tweeted at halftime Saturday night. The tally is now up to 120 minutes, 50 seconds (plus overtime).
Stat of the week II
Drive of the week
Air Force didn’t touch the ball in its 17-14 loss to Army until 2:05 remained in the first quarter.
Wikipedia edit of the week
Some Louisville fan wasn’t too happy with Brian VanGorder after Clemson put up 77 points on the Cardinals.
Punt celebration of the week
Central Florida’s Mac Loudermilk, after a gorgeous punt Thursday night against Temple checked up inside the 5 like a well-struck wedge.
Shade of the week
Though he later said he meant no disrespect, Michigan defensive end Chase Winovich mocked Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley’s signature home-run-and-salute celebration during the Wolverines’ rout.
Shade of the week II
First it was pulling the plug on Virginia Tech’s “Enter Sandman.” Saturday night, Notre Dame football’s official Twitter account had a little fun at the expense of Northwestern’s “Chicago’s Big Ten team” slogan.
Tweet of the week
It’s just not fair.
Week 11 games to watch
Ohio State at Michigan State 11 a.m. Saturday, FOX-32
With the Buckeyes visiting Maryland next week and Michigan having Rutgers and Indiana lined up, this might be either team’s last legitimate hurdle before the Nov. 24 showdown in Columbus.
Mississippi State at Alabama 2:30 p.m. Saturday, CBS-2
Wikipedia tells us this “rivalry” is known as the “Battle for Highway 82.” Eighty-two is also the number of Tide victories (including two vacated wins) in 102 all-time meetings.
Oklahoma State at Oklahoma 2:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC-7
The Cowboys dashed Texas’ playoff hopes two weeks ago. Can they play spoiler again in the Bedlam rivalry game?
Northwestern at Iowa 2:30 p.m. Saturday, FOX-32
A victory by the Wildcats would mean they only have to split their last two games against Minnesota and Illinois to win the Big Ten West.
Clemson at Boston College 7 p.m. Saturday, ABC-7
The Eagles represent the last obstacle to the Tigers’ fourth straight ACC Atlantic title. One potential snag: BC star running back AJ Dillon left the win against Virginia Tech after taking a hit to the head.