College Football Plus: Luicci Says First CFP Rankings Won't Offer Much Drama
By TOM LUICCI, TMG Special Contributor
Q. What can we expect from the first college football playoff rankings that come out Tuesday night?
You know what the top four will be (and it really should be in this order, based on what we have seen so far): LSU, Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson. After that? Georgia, Oklahoma, Penn State and Oregon should follow – though not necessarily in that order. Just outside those four look for Utah and Baylor to appear. Then maybe Minnesota.
But there’s no point in getting worked up yet about whatever the first playoff committee top 10 looks like since Alabama and LSU play this Saturday, as do Penn State and Minnesota, and since Oklahoma and Baylor meet on Nov. 16 (Penn State and Ohio State have yet to play as well).
The real question – and this is when it will get interesting – is how the committee will deal with the Alabama-LSU loser if that’s the only blemish on that team’s record. But have proven themselves to be playoff-caliber teams. Both deserve a playoff spot. We’ll see if both get one.
Q. Is there a league that is more fun to watch right now than the American?
Go ahead and nitpick about the absence of even the semblance of defense throughout the conference. They used to say the same thing about the old WAC – and how entertaining was that league decades ago when the conference boasted the likes of Arizona and Arizona State (Go look it up – or ask your dad)? Every game seemed to be a shootout then, just as it seems to be now in the American. Did you see the epic offensive show that Memphis and SMU put on? Or Cincinnati’s dramatic comeback with 18 fourth quarter points to pull out a 46-43 victory over East Carolina on a last-play field goal? Those are weekly occurrences in the league. Does it have a serious Top 10 team? Probably not. But try to find another league that provides as much entertainment from one Saturday (sometimes on Friday, too) to the next.
Q. Can we officially welcome back the Pac-12 to the playoff conversation?
Oregon and Utah both passed major road tests on Saturday, with the Ducks routing USC, 56-24, and the Utes handling Washington in a 33-28 win. That leaves both at 8-1 and atop their respective divisions and likely headed to a showdown in the Pac-12 championship game. Utah has UCLA at home, is at Arizona and closes the regular season at home against Colorado. The Utes should be solid favorites in all three. Oregon, which has won eight straight since the opening game loss to Auburn, is home to Arizona, plays at Arizona State and is home to Oregon State. The Ducks should also be heavily favored in those three. That means the Pac-12 could have two 11-1 teams squaring off for the conference title – with a playoff spot possibly dangling for the winner to grab.
Q. Will Scott Frost be able to get Nebraska back to a place of prominence?
The days of the Cornhuskers being a dominant Top 10 team on an annual basis are long gone. But after watching Nebraska lose on Saturday to a Purdue team that was down to its 24th-string quarterback and minus its most dynamic offensive player it’s fair to wonder if the best Nebraska can hope for now is to blend into the likes of Iowa and Wisconsin and Michigan State as just another solid-but-nothing-special Big Ten program. Scott Frost, who came home to revive Nebraska’s football fortunes, looks to be headed to his third losing record in four years as a college head coach, making some wonder if the one great year he had at UCF wasn’t the fluke. The Cornhuskers’ victories this year have come over South Alabama, Northwestern, Illinois and Northern Illinois. At 4-5 and with Wisconsin, Maryland and Iowa left, 5-7 is a real possibility. A bigger indictment of the Frost era so far: Quarterback Adrian Martinez has regressed. Nebraska’s dink and dunk offense just isn’t getting it done.
Q. What games after Saturday’s LSU-Alabama showdown is completed will have the biggest impact on the playoff picture?
We’re at the point where there are only a handful of games that could shake up the playoff rankings after Saturday. The ACC has one of those, with Clemson hosting Wake Forest on Nov. 16. It’s the closest the Tigers will come to a league game that offers any intrigue. In the Big Ten, Ohio State will limber up for its rugged two-game final stretch – vs. Penn State on Nov. 23, at Michigan on Nov. 30 – with a double bye. The Buckeyes play Maryland this week and then have another bye (Rutgers) the following week. In the Big 12, Oklahoma at Baylor is the last big one on the regular season schedule. In the SEC, it’s Alabama at Auburn on Nov. 30. But that’s about it. The rest of the month will be about the top 10 teams mostly trying to avoid upsets.
On the rise
When the Bruins were 1-5 there were plenty of folks suggesting the game had passed Chip Kelly by. Now? UCLA has won three straight and actually controls its fate in the Pac-12 South race.
Oregon State (4-4)
The Beavers used to be the Rutgers of the Pac-12. But Saturday’s 56-38 victory over Arizona was their second straight and third in four games and keeps alive a longshot hope of bowl eligibility.
The remaining three-game stretch is a daunting one (Penn State, Michigan and Purdue) but the Hoosiers have won four straight Big Ten games for the first time since 1993 and are a win away from their first eight-victory season in 26 years.
On the decline
Hard to believe the Orange, who just allowed 691 yards to Boston College, were a preseason Top 25 team. Dino Babers’ squad has lost four straight and is 0-5 in the weak, woeful ACC.
West Virginia (3-5)
The Mountaineers put up a good fight in a 17-14 loss at Baylor but they’ve lost four straight and will have to scrap to win just one of their final four games (Texas Tech, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and TCU).
Remember the 3-1 start and the buzz that was generated in Boulder (over football) with victories against Nebraska and Arizona State? Buffs have lost five straight and could easily finish with an eight-game losing streak.
Antonio Gibson, WR, Memphis
On the big stage Saturday night the junior set a school record with 386 all-purpose yards (rushing for 97 yards and a TD, catching six passes for 130 yards and a TD and returning a kickoff 97 yards for a score) in the Tigers’ victory over SMU.
Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State
Just another day at the office for the explosive sophomore: 223 rushing yards and two TDs against a TCU defense that came in allowing 103.7 yards rushing per game. He’s the first player to rush for more than 200 yards against TCU coach Gary Patterson in his 19 years as a head coach.
Malcolm Perry, QB, Navy
We need to appreciate him while we still can, with Perry rushing for 108 yards and two TDs and throwing for 165 and a score against UConn as Navy improved to 7-1. This marks the senior’s third straight season of 1,000 rushing yards.
Kedon Slovis, QB, USC
We get the freshman growing pains. But four turnovers against Oregon – all of which led to Ducks touchdowns? Maybe he was seeing ghosts, like other USC quarterbacks sometimes do.
Alex Hornibrook, QB, Florida State
He was mediocre at Wisconsin and is even worse now at Florida State. With all of his experience the best he could direct the Seminoles to was 137 yards of offense against Miami, in part because he was sacked so often he finished with minus-51 yards rushing. Who takes transfer quarterbacks from Wisconsin anyway?
Kevin Sumlin, head coach, Arizona
Last week he fired his defensive coordinator (Marcel Yates) and linebackers coach (John Rushing) because the defense was one of the nation’s worst. So how did the replacements do? Wildcats allowed 558 yards and 56 loss in a loss to Oregon State (right, Oregon State). Time to look in the mirror coach.
Playing it forward
The top games of the coming week (all times Eastern)
Penn State at Minnesota, Noon, ABC
Who had this pegged as a key Big Ten showdown? It is, with both teams unbeaten and looking to earn a spot in the conference championship game.
LSU at Alabama, 3:30, CBS
This is the one everyone has been waiting for. Both deserve playoff consideration – even the loser if that’s their only loss. The winner gets to claim No. 1 in the country.
Iowa State at Oklahoma, 8 p.m., FOX
Sooners have not been heard from since the stunning loss at Kansas State, taking last week off. They need to start impressing again. Cyclones are sneaky good.
1. Analytics are all the rage in all sports now. We get that. But it may take some convincing for those of us in the old school camp to come to grips with the analytics that prompted a curious decision by SMU coach Sonny Dykes late in the Mustangs’ 54-48 loss at Memphis. Trailing 54-40 – that’s 14 points – SMU scores a TD late to get within 54-46. Instead of kicking the extra point to make it a seven-point game, Dykes goes for two. The fact that the Mustangs made it, drawing within six, isn’t the point or the issue. If it had failed, SMU would have had to go for two on its next TD just to tie. Kicking the first extra point then gives you the option of kicking again to tie or going for two and the win after the next score. The analytics apparently say going for two after being down 14 and scoring a TD is the percentage play. That will take some getting used to.
Far be it for us to suggest it had anything to do with the point spread being six.
2. It turns out the fun hasn’t been completely sucked out of college football by the corporate influence after all. Just ask North Texas quarterback Mason Fine. After throwing for seven touchdowns in Saturday’s 52-26 win over UTEP, Fine showed up at the post-game interview session, two days after Halloween, in a T-Rex costume from head to toe. He even conducted his interviews at a table for the media wearing the costume as two teammates, in normal post-game attire, tried to pretend not to notice.
Tom Luicci was the national college football and basketball writer for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. from 1979-2014.