College Football Plus: Prof. Tom Luicci Recaps Wild, Wild Weekend

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By Tom Luicci, TMG Special Contributor

Five questions

Q. Can a case now be made for LSU to be in the playoffs if its only loss is to Alabama on Nov. 9?

There’s a school of thought that you should certainly be a division winner – if not a conference champion – to even be considered for playoff spot. That’s not under debate here because there are exceptions to every rule, and if the mission of the Playoff Selection Committee is to choose the best four teams then how in any analytical assessment/eye test/evaluation process is LSU not one of the best four teams in the country if its only loss is to Alabama? Is there another team anywhere that has beaten three – three – Top 10 teams? Don’t bother looking. There isn’t. Is there another team in the country that has already beaten three Top 10 teams that also has to play the No. 1-ranked team on the road? The Tigers have already made their case as a playoff-caliber team regardless of what happens in Tuscaloosa. And it has been made on merit, not reputation.

Q. Why is Phil Knight’s favorite vapor fusioned uniform school so giddy about what transpired last Saturday?

Welcome back to the periphery of the playoff conversation Oregon. The Ducks survived Washington State on a last-second field goal to improve to 7-1, running their winning streak to seven – the only loss being a 27-21 setback to Auburn in the opener. On Saturday, some of the former one-loss clutter was cleared out of the way too: Notre Dame and Wisconsin chief among that group. The Ducks need some help, but they also need to take care of business first. They should be favored in their final four games and they will hope that Utah emerges 11-1 in the Pac-12 South for a conference title game that could enhance their credentials.

Q. Biggest Top 10 fraud this year – Wisconsin, Notre Dame or Texas?

This is a tough one. Wisconsin fooled everyone into believing it was good because the Badgers shut out USF, Central Michigan and Kent State and beat 1-6 Northwestern among their first six games. The victory over Michigan turned out to be the fluke based on how the Wisconsin has played the past two games. Notre Dame played a weaker-than-usual early schedule and has a reputation that carries more weight than it should, but Michigan exposed the Fighting Irish on Saturday night. Texas, for some reason known only to Sam Ehlinger, started the year ranked No. 10. Three losses later the Longhorns are looking at maybe being 7-5, and possibly 6-6, with Kansas State, Iowa State, Baylor and Texas Tech left. At the very least Texas has not gotten its money’s worth from Tom Herman. What does it all mean? Reputation and brand name are the essential factors in the meaningless early polls.

Q. Who had Baylor unbeaten and leading the Big 12 standings and Minnesota unbeaten and headed for a Nov. 9 showdown vs. Penn State, also unbeaten, at this point of the season?

That’s a six-figure parlay payoff if there ever was one. The Bears, 7-0, control the Big 12 race, with Oklahoma and Texas remaining on the schedule. Minnesota is 8-0 for the first time since 1941 and 5-0 in Big Ten play for the first time since the 1961 Rose Bowl season. Golden Gophers coach P.J. Fleck is actively campaigning for ESPN’s Game Day to come to Minnesota when 8-0 Penn State visits, too. Minnesota currently has a two-game lead in the Big Ten West Division over Iowa and Wisconsin – with those two still to play after Penn State. It will be interesting to see if either Baylor or Minnesota can sustain their success through November.

Q. What happens to Oklahoma now?

It’s not too early to say the Sooners’ 48-41 loss at Kansas State puts them on the outside looking in when it comes to the college playoffs. That’s how fragile this is. Think about it: You have the Alabama-LSU winner likely in, Clemson likely in, the Ohio State-Penn State winner likely in (sorry Minnesota; not yet) and potential one-loss teams like the Alabama-LSU loser, Oregon (but probably not Utah), Florida and/or Georgia lurking. Are they any more or less deserving if they finish with one-loss than Oklahoma? That was a costly loss for the Sooners, one they will have to scramble to recover from – and then look for help.

On the rise

Illinois (4-4)

First the upset of Wisconsin, then a dominant victory over injury-plagued Purdue. With Rutgers, Michigan State, Iowa and Northwestern remaining, 6-6 and, yes, a bowl game is suddenly within reach. Who saw that coming? All is Lovie-dovey again in Champaign-Urbana.

Appalachian State (7-0)

Mountaineers continue to state their case for a New Year’s Day 6 bowl game, with SMU, Cincinnati and Boise State the main competition at this point. They’ve won their last three games by a combined 99-17.

Indiana (6-2)

Hoosiers have quietly won three straight and are bowl eligible before November. That should keep the hoops crowd at bay – at least until the Penn State and Michigan games.

On the decline

Army (3-5)

Black Knights have even lost their swagger at Michie Stadium, with Saturday’s loss to San Jose State their second straight home defeat – after 15 straight home wins.

Michigan State (4-4)

For those of you in the “Mark Dantonio is the best coach in the Big Ten” camp: Spartans are an underachieving 4-4 this year and a combined 24-22 the past four years. Few QBs have regressed as much as Brian Lewerke, too.

Rice (0-8)

Seriously, why even bother? Owls managed eight yards rushing on 30 attempts and 107 yards total in a 20-6 loss to Southern Miss. How much longer until baseball season?

Who’s hot

Skylar Thompson, QB, Kansas State

He’s limited as a passer, but the junior did rush for four touchdowns – while passing for 213 yards – in the upset of Oklahoma.

Kedon Slovis, QB, USC

Frosh has kept the Trojans contending in the Pac-12 South race, throwing for 406 yards and four TDs in the 35-31 victory at Colorado.

Chase Young, DE, Ohio State

Four more sacks in the rout of Wisconsin, with two of those being strip sacks that led to fumbles and recoveries by the Buckeyes, and a streak of 10 straight games with at least one sack. Go ahead and say it: he’s the best defensive player in the country.

Who’s not

Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas

He missed 26 of his 48 passes and suffered a career-high four interceptions in the loss at TCU. Fair to say now that the Longhorns can’t be a Big 12 contender with him at quarterback.

Douglas Coleman, DB, Texas

His ill-advised decision to scoop and try to advance Kansas’ blocked field goal attempt to win the game resulted in a fumble that the Jayhawks recovered – and promptly turned into the game-winning field goal on the next play.

Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin

This is how you go from being a leading Heisman contender to an afterthought: 52 yards and no touchdowns on 20 carries in your school’s biggest game of the year.

Playing it forward

The top games of the coming week (all times Eastern)

Georgia vs. Florida, 3:30 p.m., CBS (Jacksonville, Fla.)

An elimination game in the SEC East between the top two contenders. The loser suddenly starts thinking about which meaningless bowl it will be going to.

SMU at Memphis, 7:30, ABC

The American West race could well be decided here along with a New Year’s 6 bowl, with Mustangs looking to preserve their perfect season.

Oregon at USC, 8 p.m., Fox

Now that the Ducks have new playoff life they need to keep their roll going. Trojans have been better off with frosh Kedon Slovis at QB.

Story Lines

1, Even for those who have watched the replay multiple times, the decision by replay officials to overturn Oklahoma’s recovered onsides kick against Kansas State remains a curious reversal. First, it sure appeared as if the Oklahoma player was blocked into the ball that resulted in illegal touching a half-yard before the ball was live. Second, the angle in which the ball grazed the Oklahoma player looked as if it could have been exactly 10 yards away – and thus legal. Sooners coach Lincoln Riley said it was “a 50-50 call” that didn’t go his team’s way. Doesn’t it usually take overwhelming evidence to reverse a call on the field? That did not look overwhelming to this eye and the result could cost Oklahoma a playoff spot. First the Sooner Schooner topples over, now this. Tough times in Norman.

2, We’re here to help, of course, so here is some helpful advice for Rutgers in an effort to put an end to what could be the longest head coaching search since 1869: As a school that should be a major part of the 150th celebration of college football, being that Rutgers played in the first game and all, why not take the Saturday closest to the actual date of the first game ever played (Nov. 6) to introduce the new coach? The timing (Nov. 9 is the Saturday) would seem to be perfect in a year when Rutgers will probably not win a Big Ten game on the way to a 2-10 season. No one cares about the other little celebrations planned or the commemorative gimmicks from the marketing department. Generate a buzz to celebrate 150 years by having the new coach in place – and maybe even announce it Nov. 9 when Ohio State comes to Piscataway to win 62-0. It would sure be a nice distraction from the latest football abyss the school is in.

Tom Luicci was the national college football and basketball writer for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. from 1979-2014.


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