LSU and Alabama can wait.
Don’t look past Week 9 — not when there are 20 other ranked teams playing, and 18 of them are facing a ranked opponent or are away from home.
Three of the top five teams in the Associated Press Top 25 — No. 1 Alabama, No. 4 LSU and No. 5 Michigan — are off this week. But the rest of the schedule features several games with the potential to derail everything you thought you knew about how the first College Football Playoff ranking of the season would look on Tuesday.
“You look around the country every week and see scores that maybe surprise you, catch you off guard,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, whose Hawkeyes have an opportunity to earn a statement win at Penn State on Saturday. “I think it’s the nature of college football. Biggest part of the challenge, not only matching up for your opponent, but also being focused, making sure you’re spending the time you have to spend, not getting distracted on things that have nothing to do with the ballgame.”
Things like … who might be the best one-loss team in the country?
No. 7 Georgia, which had a bye last week to recover from its loss to LSU, is trying to regain focus for a playoff elimination game against No. 9 Florida in Jacksonville. The winner will take the lead in the SEC East, while the loser fades from the national stage with a second loss.
“We control our destiny,” said Georgia senior defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter. “It is a tough loss to LSU, but they have a great football team. Put nothing against them, but we didn’t come out and execute like we were supposed to. We weren’t physical enough. They came out and played a little bit harder than us. If we continue to do what we are supposed to do and bounce back from that and handle the rest of the season how we are supposed to, then our destiny is in our hands. We can be where we want to be.”
As the playoff picture stands now, the committee’s top four should somewhat mirror the AP poll, with Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and LSU in. With the Crimson Tide and Tigers off, they don’t have anything to worry about.
Or do they?
Here’s a look at how the Week 9 games might make you rethink the first ranking of the season:
1. Florida vs. Georgia (at Jacksonville, Florida)
The loser of this game is done, but how high can Florida climb with a win? Put aside the Georgia expectations for a minute and consider Florida’s résumé. If the Gators beat Georgia, they will have defeated the Bulldogs and LSU and won on the road against a ranked Mississippi State team. That’s three top-25 wins, potentially two top-10 wins.
And you thought LSU, sitting there all comfy with its bye, was a given for the top one-loss team.
Not if the Gators win Saturday and the committee honors the head-to-head result on Oct. 6. If the Gators win — and No. 12 Kentucky loses at Missouri (4 p.m. ET, SEC Network) — Florida is the leader in the SEC East. The potential impact of a Florida win is greater because of the Gators’ strength of schedule, and the head-to-head result will keep Georgia behind LSU. But if the Bulldogs emerge victorious, it would easily be their most impressive win — and their lone victory against a ranked opponent. If Georgia and Kentucky both win on Saturday, it will set up a second straight showdown in the SEC East next week, when Georgia travels to Lexington.
2. No. 18 Iowa at No. 17 Penn State (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
If Iowa wins this game, it will have defeated its most difficult remaining opponent, but it marks just the first of back-to-back road games that will determine the Hawkeyes’ legitimacy in the playoff conversation. A win in State College is certainly the first step, but for Iowa to be taken seriously, it can’t beat Penn State, then lose at Purdue on Nov. 3. Iowa has a chance to win the Big Ten West, but it needs Wisconsin to lose another league game, as the Badgers own the head-to-head tiebreaker over Iowa. If the Hawkeyes can finish as one-loss Big Ten champs, they would certainly be considered for a top-four finish. A win over Penn State also could affect the résumés of Ohio State and Michigan, as both Big Ten East contenders need the Nittany Lions to remain in the committee’s top 25.
3. No. 6 Texas at Oklahoma State (8 p.m. ET, ABC)
One of the biggest questions facing the 13 members of the selection committee is how they will treat the Longhorns’ season-opening loss to Maryland — unless Texas loses a second game on Saturday and it becomes a moot point.
The defeat at Maryland could be the thorn that separates Texas from the other one-loss contenders, given that the Terps have lost three of their past five games. If Texas is to have any shot of overcoming that, it obviously can’t lose again en route to winning the Big 12 title.
Oklahoma State could play the role of spoiler on Saturday. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, there’s a 77 percent chance the Cowboys will beat at least one of Texas, Oklahoma or West Virginia. The Longhorns enter Saturday on a six-game winning streak, their longest since 2013, when the streak was snapped by … Oklahoma State.
If Texas loses, not only would it eliminate the Longhorns from playoff consideration, it also would diminish what could be a powerful end to the season for the Big 12, as the ideal situation would be for one-loss Texas and one-loss Oklahoma to face off in a rematch for the Big 12 title.
4. No. 2 Clemson at Florida State (noon ET, ABC)
No team in the nation has a better chance to shake up the playoff race than the Seminoles. After hosting Clemson this week, FSU travels to Notre Dame on Nov. 10, before finishing the regular season at home against Florida. According to FPI, there’s a 41 percent chance that Florida State wins at least one of those games.
Florida State hasn’t looked good enough to even challenge Clemson, as the Tigers lead the FBS in defensive efficiency and FSU is 106th in offensive efficiency. There’s no question it would be a devastating loss for the Tigers, but they could probably survive it long term, as it wouldn’t knock them out of the ACC title game.
What it would do is force Clemson into a debate with other one-loss contenders and make Tuesday’s ranking much more difficult if Alabama and Notre Dame are the only remaining undefeated Power 5 teams. Clemson’s loss would be much more damaging than Michigan’s loss to Notre Dame or LSU’s loss to Florida. Wins over Texas A&M and NC State probably aren’t enough to keep Clemson ahead of either of those teams in the first ranking if it loses Saturday.
5. Navy vs. No. 3 Notre Dame (at San Diego, California)
Navy (2-5) is having an unusually underwhelming season and has lost four straight, while the undefeated Irish had a bye week to prepare for the unique challenges the Midshipmen’s option offense can present.
Notre Dame can’t afford to lose this game and shouldn’t, but four of the past five games in the series have been decided by 10 points or fewer, and remember where this game is. San Diego hosts the largest naval fleet in the world and is home to more than 35,000 sailors, soldiers, Department of Defense civilian employees and contractors.
Should Navy pull off the upset, Notre Dame’s playoff hopes will … well, sink.
Without a conference title game to play in, Notre Dame has to impress the selection committee with a 12-game résumé and no opportunity to compensate for a loss. It’s not that Notre Dame has to go undefeated every year to finish in the top four, but this season, its strength of schedule might not be good enough to stack up against a one-loss Power 5 champion. Notre Dame’s best wins are against Michigan, Stanford and Virginia Tech. Would that be enough to overcome a stumble against Navy?
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