Starting 11: LSU Can Throw the Football Edition

We’ve only played two weeks, but already the SEC has sent a strong message about their potential to have two teams in the college football playoff and the Pac 12 has taken double body blows — via the Oregon and Washington losses — which raises significant issues with their chance to contend for the playoff come later in the season.

Fun playoff debate for you, what happens if Oregon wins the Pac 12 at 12-1 and Texas wins the Big 12 at 12-1.

How would you put either of these conference champs in over a second SEC team given the wins that Auburn and LSU would have posted over both?

So let’s dive in to the Starting 11:

1. LSU has the ability to throw the football!

Save for one year when Zach Mettenberger gunned the ball all over the field to Odell Beckham, Jr. and Jarvis Landry the LSU Tigers have mostly remained grounded in 1980’s era college football. As school after school around them in the SEC has trotted out first round quarterbacks, LSU, despite all their talent, has produced only one first round quarterback in the past forty years — Jamarcus Russell.

That’s why the play that effectively ended this game, a third and 17 touchdown pass from Joe Burrow to Justin Jefferson, was so out of character. The play, which left Burrow with 471 yards passing and LSU with three receivers who’d gone for 100 yards, was so outside the expectations for LSU over the past several decades it left my jaw hanging open.

LSU can throw the football now!

On the play Burrow climbed in the pocket with chaos all around him and delivered an absolute strike.

It was the kind of play that vaults a quarterback into Heisman trophy contention and makes you wonder just how good this Tigers team can be.

With games over the next three weeks against Northwestern State, Vanderbilt, and Utah State, the Tigers should be 5-0 when Florida comes to Baton Rouge. Win that one along with at Mississippi State and Auburn on the Bayou and there’s a pretty decent shot LSU is 8-0 when they travel to Tuscaloosa for the annual tussle with Bama.

It’s early, but is it too early to think Alabama and LSU might finish 12-0 and 11-1 in the SEC West?

Nope.

(I know, I know, LSU fans, I’m giving Alabama the win, but do any of you really feel like you’ll win this game on the road in Tuscaloosa, something you haven’t done to the Tide since the legendary 1 vs. 2 game back in 2011?)

If that happens, what could it mean for the playoff picture?

Well, for argument’s sake, let’s say Texas goes on and wins the Big 12. How would you justify putting Texas in the playoff over an 11-1 LSU team whose only loss was on the road at Alabama? I don’t think you could.

So this win could go a long way towards raising the possibility of two — or even three if everyone else falls apart Pac 12 style — SEC teams in the playoff.

Because look out — there’s a real possibility, I think, of 12-0 Alabama playing 12-0 Georgia in the SEC title game with 11-1 LSU on the outside looking in.

It’s only week two, but already the out of conference games could loom large at the end of the year.

2. California beat Washington last night after most of us had already gone to bed. 

The 20-19 win came on a field goal with 17 seconds left and now the Pac 12’s two highest-rated teams in the preseason already have one loss each, even before they play each other.

Sure, another team could emerge and make a run at an undefeated championship –Washington State, Utah, California, Colorado, or, stop laughing, USC — but the chances of this appear slim.

Given Auburn’s win over Oregon, the Pac 12’s playoff chances may be done before October even gets here.

3. Clemson handled Texas A&M, but Trevor Lawrence played fairly mediocre again. 

Last week I told you Clemson reminded me a bit of USC back in the Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, and Lendale White days — a great team in a conference of also-rans — but with the way Trevor Lawrence has begun this season, how about Clemson being a bit like 2014 Florida State?

You remember 2014 Florida State, right?

They were an ACC team defending their national championship. And they were clearly better than all their opponents yet struggled to put everyone away. That team was helmed by Jameis Winston, who’d come off a redshirt freshman season to win the Heisman and lead his team to the national title, but Winston threw a bevy of interceptions and didn’t play as well in his second year as he had in his first.

Clearly, things were different too — Winston found himself at the center of controversy relating to sexual assault allegations — but on the field Winston turned the ball over quite a bit and wasn’t as crisp as he’d been in year one.

Eventually that Florida State team, which won a bevy of close games against inferior opponents, was blown out by Oregon in the college football playoff.

It’s early, but so far Trevor Lawrence has been downright pedestrian — he has two touchdowns and three interceptions — and his completion percentage and quarterback rating are both down compared to last season.

Indeed, Lawrence threw just four interceptions all of last season, a number he has nearly equaled through two games.

Winston went from 40 touchdowns and 10 interceptions his freshman year to 25 touchdowns and 18 interceptions his sophomore year.

That didn’t mean Winston wasn’t supremely talented — he still went number one overall in the draft — but it did mean his play came back down to earth after his freshman season.

Could the same thing happen to Lawrence?

We’ll see, but so far the Heisman favorite has just been okay for Clemson.

4. Michigan struggled against Army. 

I know, I know, last year Oklahoma went to overtime against Army too, but the Wolverines were insanely fortunate to win this game.

They needed a missed field goal at the end of regulation to avoid Appalachian State part two.

Yes, they won in double overtime, but ultimately I just don’t think Michigan’s very good.

Next week the Wolverines are on the road against Wisconsin and a couple of weeks after that they go on the road against Penn State.

Does this really feel like a team, even in Jim Harbaugh’s fifth year, that’s capable of winning a national championship?

Not to me.

I continue to believe Jim Harbaugh is the most overrated coach in college football history. He’s yet to win his own division in his time at Michigan, to say nothing of a conference title or a playoff berth.

Now this doesn’t mean I think Harbaugh’s an awful coach, I just think he’s more overhyped than any head coach in college football history. I think he’s a 9-3 caliber coach helming up a 9-3 caliber football team.

Again.

I don’t believe this offense is very good and I don’t think Shea Patterson has improved very much as a passer or playmaker since he left Ole Miss.

Maybe that will change, but I think Michigan loses at Wisconsin and at Penn State this year, meaning they will already be out of the playoff race when Ohio State rolls into the Big House this season.

5. Tennessee’s end of game sequence was flat out indefensible. 

I thought Tennessee played as well on the offensive and defensive lines as they have in a couple of years — the Vols ran for 242 yards and held their opponent to 107 yards rushing.

But with 45 seconds to play BYU had a 2nd and 18 from their eight yard line. With about 25 seconds to go BYU had a third and six from their twenty.

Literally all you have to do is make a tackle the minute the ball is caught and you win this game. (Or, you know, YOU CAN INTERFERE ON EVERY DEEP PASS AND TACKLE THE RECEIVERS WAY DOWN FIELD AND IT’S ONLY A 15 YARD PENALTY. WHY NOT JUST TACKLE THE RECEIVERS IF YOU THINK YOU’RE GETTING BEAT DEEP AND GIVE UP THE 15 YARDS?!)

I’m writing this in all caps because the time still comes off the clock and unlike in the NFL where you have to worry about it being a spot foul, you don’t give up very much at all here.

But even if you don’t commit pass interference if you just let them catch the ball and immediately make a tackle then the best case scenario for BYU is a long range, nearly sixty yard field goal, after they rush up to spike the ball. Instead Tennessee allows a 64 yard pass completion which put BYU in easy field goal range. It was truly inexplicable to watch live, like slow motion death by execution.

I think only Tennessee could make a play like this in that scenario.

Then the field goal kicker narrowly threads the needle and the Vols end up losing in double overtime.

What’s particularly galling about this is Tennessee fans have been so damn loyal even as their team has let them down time after time. That stadium was effectively sold out the week after one of the worst defeats in program history. It was loud as hell all night. It was as if the fans had determined they weren’t going to allow this team to lose.

And yet they still found a way to lose.

Even with a 99.9% chance of winning the game with under a half minute to play according to statistical probabilities.

The truth of the matter is this — even after two upset home losses Tennessee’s not that bad of a football team. They aren’t good, but they have pretty substantial young talent on this team. The problem is veteran quarterback Jarrett Guarantano has just been flat out awful. His only regulation touchdown pass came on a lucky tipped ball catch that should have been intercepted. He missed a wide open touchdown throw to end the first half that would have given Tennessee a commanding 17-3 lead. He threw a truly awful interception into triple coverage to begin the third quarter that allowed BYU to get back into the game.

He’s just been flat out awful.

I have no idea what kind of talent Tennessee has behind him because they are so young, but he’s a disaster right now.

Why are you playing a fourth year junior quarterback who has already graduated from college if your team is having a bad season anyway?

The truth of the matter is this, Tennessee needed to be 3-0 when they played Florida, Georgia and Alabama — with Mississippi State thrown in there for good measure — in three out of four weeks.

Now the Vols are staring down the barrel of a potential 1-6 start to the season.

And the absolute best case scenario for the year has gone from 8-4 to 6-6.

I thought Tennessee outplayed BYU — the Vols never trailed in this game until overtime — but they managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, which is what bad teams do.

How bad’s it going to get?

Probably pretty bad this year. The question is, will the young talent start to develop and show some flashes down the stretch run of the season when Tennessee plays a series of teams it can beat? Or will the team curl up in the fetal position and take their beatings?

One analogy here, in Phil Fulmer’s second season as Tennessee coach the Vols started off 1-3 with losses to UCLA, Florida, and Mississippi State. (They somehow beat Georgia in here). The third loss to Mississippi State saw the debut of a guy named Peyton Manning.

If anyone knows what it’s like to face down a really tough start, it’s Fulmer.

Remember, Jeremy Pruitt was 100%’s Fulmer’s hire. He picked him.

We’ll see where things go from here, but this hire is on Fulmer so he needs it to work out.

By the way, if your team has already lost the chance for a championship, my guy Ryan Brown from 94.5 Jox in Alabama at least has good weekly tailgate recipes for you.

Check this out:

6. Huge overtime win for Colorado over Nebraska. 

The expectation was Scott Frost would return to Nebraska and wins would immediately follow.

But so far that hasn’t been the case.

Frost is now 5-9 so far at Nebraska, which is the exact same record as Jeremy Pruitt at Tennessee.

Meanwhile, Mel Tucker, in his first year as Colorado’s coach, just got a huge win for his program and for the Pac 12, which has struggled to notch major out of conference victories against top 25 opponents. (Even if, as seems likely, Nebraska wasn’t really a top 25 team this year).

This Nebraska team has Ohio State coming to town at the end of September. That feels like an early circle the wagons type game for the Cornhuskers and for Frost.

In the meantime, if I looked as good as Scott Frost does in his coaches polo on the sideline, I don’t think I’d ever wear anything else.

7. Maryland has been the most surprising team so far this year. 

They hung 79 on Howard and then followed it up with 63 on Syracuse.

Is it crazy to think Maryland, behind their quarterback Josh Jackson, could be a factor in the Big Ten this year?

We’ll find out in two weeks when Penn State travels to College Park for a Friday night game. If the Terps win that one, look out.

Maryland wouldn’t play another top 25 team until November. Now, certainly, they could lose to someone else, and probably would, but if they beat Penn State they’ll be in the division mix when November arrives.

Who had that happening?

Especially after Mike Locksley went 2-26 at New Mexico the last time he was a head coach.

He’s already equaled his New Mexico career coaching wins in two weeks at Maryland.

8. How about USC’s freshman quarterback?

In a game that also finished after many of us were already in bed, USC freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis brought the Trojans back from a 17-3 deficit against Stanfrod, with 377 yards passing and three touchdowns.

I mean, this was the kind of performance that could end up saving Clay Helton’s job.

And, while I know it’s early, how many three star quarterbacks can USC sign that come out of nowhere to dominate? (Remember Sam Darnold was another three start quarterback who became a star for Helton).

Just when all looked lost with the J.T. Daniels season-ending injury, now you’re looking around the Pac 12 and thinking, “Could USC win the Pac 12 South?”

Remember, in two weeks Utah travels to USC in what might be the most important division game of the year.

Between this and reports coming out that the parents in the admissions scandals might not even go to jail, this was a damn good week for USC.

9. My Heisman Top Four

1. Jalen Hurts

2. Joe Burrow

3. Justin Fields

4. Josh Jackson

10. The Outkick Top Ten

For those of you who are new to the Outkick Top Ten, we only rank teams based on how they have done in the actual season.

That is, we aren’t starting with a preseason poll of the teams we expect to be good, we rank based on what happens week-to-week.

How do I do that? By awarding teams for quality wins over other power five conference opponents early in the year. This means if your team has been dominant but you’ve only beaten non-power 5 teams then I’ll knock you further down the list than if you’ve notched some quality wins — especially on road or neutral sites — to begin the season.

This means that early in the season we see a great deal of fluctuation from week-to-week.

With that in mind, here we go:

1. LSU

2. Auburn

3. Clemson

4. Alabama

5. Georgia

6. Florida

7. Oklahoma

8. Ohio State

9. California

10. Maryland

11. SEC power rankings from 1-14

1. LSU

2. Auburn

3. Alabama

4. Georgia

5. Florida

6. Texas A&M

7. Mississippi State

8. Kentucky

9. Missouri

10. South Carolina

11. Ole Miss

12. Arkansas

13. Vanderbilt

14. Tennessee

Comments

Get the Daily Outkick

* indicates required