I’m writing the Starting 11 from the Pittsburgh airport after spending last night at Ohio State-Penn State. We’re presently in the middle of a three hour delay.
At least I don’t have to wake up at 4:15 tomorrow morning for radio.
Ohio State-Penn State was an amazing atmosphere and an incredible game to attend. And while everyone is focusing on Penn State’s 4th and 5 play call, there were so many plays down the stretch that went against Penn State that I think it’s hard to pin the outcome on any one play. In particular, the 47 yard catch and touchdown run by Binjimen Victor was a freakishly athletic play.
In fact, the ball was so poorly thrown on this play that I think the requirement for such a spectacular catch to be made threw off all the defenders. If it had been a normal, on target pass I think he would have been tackled and the Penn State defense would have lived for another play. Instead, his leap and stellar play set off a panic.
Honestly, that was just a tremendous play.
That score made it 26-21 and put some doubt in Penn State’s mind. Suddenly it was a one score game and there was still 6:42 remaining since that entire scoring drive only took one minute and 18 seconds.
I’ll have more to write on the game below, but before we go any further I want to thank y’all for the extraordinary support you’ve given my new book. We have been one of the top ten selling nonfiction books in the entire country for this past week.
If you want an autographed copy I am in the process of sending all of those out and you can buy one by signing up for a year’s worth of Outkick VIP. You guys know how I hate to brag, but our weekly college football gambling picks are winning at an over 60% rate through five weeks.
1. My playoff four are Alabama, Georgia, LSU and Notre Dame in that order.
I think Alabama, Georgia and LSU have to be in any playoff top four at this point based on the fact that Alabama and Georgia have been the two most dominant major college teams in the country. (Both are 5-0 and have won every game by 14 or more points. Bama has won every game by a staggering 22 or more. They had covered a 48 point line against Louisiana by halftime). Meanwhile, I think LSU still has the two best road/neutral wins of any team in college football — Miami and Auburn are undefeated against everyone else — which is why I still have them included in my playoff top four.
For my fourth spot I’ve got Notre Dame edging out Ohio State because the Irish wins over Michigan and Stanford I’m rating higher than the Buckeye wins over TCU and Penn State. Plus, Notre Dame has yet to trail in the second half of any game so far this season.
You can certainly disagree with my playoff four, but it doesn’t really matter because there is still a ton of college football to play so if your team is undefeated I wouldn’t get too worked up right now.
Georgia and LSU, for instance, play each other in two weeks and LSU will have a very difficult game at Florida this coming weekend.
2. Let’s talk about Notre Dame’s playoff chances for a moment.
I don’t want to get Fighting Irish fans too giddy, but things are looking pretty, pretty good for Notre Dame right now.
Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, is the last ranked team the Fighting Irish play for the remainder of the season. The Irish have opened as five point favorites over Virginia Tech and the Irish look like a different team with Ian Book at quarterback.
In fact, look at this remaining schedule and tell me how many landmines you see: at Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, at Navy, Northwestern, Florida State, Syracuse and at USC.
Notre Dame figures to be a favorite in all of these games, most of them by double digits.
If the Irish finish 12-0 they’re going to be in the playoff, period.
And if they finish 11-1 and, say, Michigan goes 12-1 and wins the Big Ten, Notre Dame would have to be in front of the Wolverines as well.
3. What’s likely to happen in the Big Ten now?
I think Penn State will bounce back in a couple of weeks and beat Michigan State in Happy Valley. That will keep the Nittany Lions alive for a Big Ten East title on the road at Michigan in November. Then Penn State would need to beat Michigan and hope the Wolverines can upset Ohio State on the road to finish the season.
Then we’d have a three way tie that I’m sure Ohio State would win because Ohio State wins every tie in the Big Ten.
Of course, Penn State could also edge out Ohio State if the Buckeyes lost two games in conference, but I just don’t see that as very likely. That’s why Buckeye fans have to be delirious with glee over the fact that they got out of Happy Valley with a one point win. As a result the Ohio State season now boils down to only a couple of loseable games. The Buckeyes should roll over Indiana and Minnesota in Columbus. Purdue on the road could be a small challenge, but should be a double digit win too. Nebraska and at Maryland should offer no substantial competition either. So that leaves two loseable games on the schedule — at Michigan State and Michigan to finish the season.
The best case scenario at this point for the Big Ten is probably Ohio State goes undefeated at 13-0 and Penn State finishes 11-1 with a one point loss to Ohio State.
Then if things broke great for the conference they’d have two playoff contenders.
But I think the most likely outcome now is that Ohio State may well hold the Big Ten’s playoff hopes by itself. Especially if Notre Dame and Clemson keep winning.
4. What do we make of West Virginia?
I don’t know for sure, honestly, but the Mountaineers are 4-0 and have won every game by eight points or more. (By the way, could we get a player to take a knee instead of returning a pick for a touchdown to help us out on the cover? The over hit in that game and blew up our parlay thanks to a touchdown with 38 seconds left which followed that pick six.)
Kansas, at Iowa State, and Baylor should all be wins for West Virginia.
But then the schedule gets very tough, including road games at Texas and Oklahoma State.
And here’s the real kicker, on the Friday after Thanksgiving Oklahoma travels to Morgantown. But this is starting to feel like a game that might not matter at all. What do I mean by that? If Oklahoma and West Virginia have already locked up the top two spots in the conference then they’d potentially play back-to-back games. Worst of all? One team is probably going to need to win both games because I don’t think a one loss West Virginia or a one loss Oklahoma is going to be able to make the playoff unless they get some help.
5. Is Clemson the ACC’s only playoff contender?
It certainly appears that way although it’s worth noting that quietly Miami has rebounded from the beat down to begin the season against LSU and might be able to make a run to the ACC title game.
If that happened then Miami would stand a chance — assuming there is a great deal of college football carnage — to foist itself into the playoff picture with a big win over Clemson.
Otherwise, Clemson’s an interesting test case. Given the Tigers don’t play a single team ranked in the top 25 for the remainder of their schedule, I think Clemson may need to finish 13-0 to make the playoff.
That’s why the near disaster against Syracuse was so significant.
Unlike last year when the Tigers could rebound with a tough road loss to the Orange, this year I don’t think that would be possible.
Is Trevor Lawrence going to be back for the next game? Is he good enough to lead the Tigers into the playoff? We’ll see. In the meantime, anyone ranking Clemson in the top five in the country is crazy. They have narrowly beaten Texas A&M and Syracuse now. That’s a credit to the Tigers, but their resume isn’t one befitting a top five team. Maybe, just maybe, you can put them in the top 10, but if you just did a blind resume comparison between Clemson and Kentucky, are you really telling me the Wildcats haven’t been the more impressive team so far this season?
6. How good is Kentucky?
Pretty damn good, it would appear.
The Wildcats head to Texas A&M this weekend. Then at the end of October they head to Mizzou. If the Wildcats could split these games then the Georgia game on November 3rd in Lexington would be for the SEC East lead.
I know, I know that might seem crazy, but Kentucky dominated both Mississippi State and South Carolina in back to back weeks so why not let Wildcat fans dream a bit?
Here’s a wild stat for you: name the three big five FBS conference teams who have won every game so far this season by 12 or more points. They are Alabama, Georgia, and Kentucky.
7. Let’s check in on Tennessee and see how things are going…
I’m sorry, I just can’t.
*How* was this a TD?pic.twitter.com/3Dt0UpThSS
— MyBookie Sportsbook (@betmybookie) September 29, 2018
I mean, seriously, what are the odds of something like this even happening?
8. Does the Pac 12 have any chance at the playoff now with Stanford’s loss to Notre Dame?
Not really. (Unless you think the only undefeated team left in the conference, Colorado, is going 13-0).
I know people want to beat the drum for Washington, but I think the Pac 12 North is going to end up a mess and will 12-1 Washington — with that loss to Auburn to begin the season — really have a better resume than a second SEC team?
I just don’t see it.
If you want to make a bullish cash for the Huskies you can point out they still have three current top 25 teams left on their schedule. The problem? None of those are top ten teams and we’re not sure those teams will be able to maintain those rankings as they play against each other.
9. There are only two undefeated teams in college football who have beaten every opponent by twenty or more points.
Alabama and…Central Florida.
Most people thought that after last year’s national championship and Scott Frost leaving for Nebraska there was no way that Central Florida could play this well.
Boy, were we ever wrong.
In fact, Alabama, Georgia, and Central Florida are the only three undefeated teams in college football who have beaten every team by 14 or more points.
I don’t see anyone on UCF’s schedule who is going to stop them from being undefeated again this season.
Now I don’t think UCF is going to find themselves in the playoff picture, but how much fun would number one Alabama be against number eight UCF in an eight game playoff that featured the five major conference champs, two wild cards, and the best team from outside the power five conferences?
Sign me up now!
10. My Outkick national top ten.
(Remember, I rank teams entirely based on what I’ve seen on the field this season, not on what I expected to see. That’s why Clemson isn’t ranked for me. Because I don’t think they’ve been very good, honestly.)
4. Notre Dame
5. Ohio State
8. West Virginia
10. Penn State
11. My SEC power rankings 1-14
7. Texas A&M
9. South Carolina
10. Mississippi State
11. Ole Miss