Sadly, for most fans out there, we’re now a third of the way through the college football season. Before September is even over many teams will have played nearly half of their schedule.
This is one of many reasons why college football is such a cruel mistress, because it has, by far, the shortest season of any sport. Baseball, hockey and basketball never end, college football is like a meteor streaking across the night sky.
Before we get into my college football playoff top four, I want to ask a favor of everyone reading the Starting 11 this morning, please go buy my new book, “Republicans Buy Sneakers Too.” It’s $17 on Amazon as a hardback and $20 as a nine hour audio book read by me. It will also be in every bookstore in the country when it’s officially released on Tuesday. I’d really appreciate all of you buying a copy.
If you want an autographed copy, you can sign up for Outkick VIP and get that along with an exclusive phone line to call the radio show, early access to our college football gambling picks — hate to brag, but we’re at 60% so far through four weeks of the season –, and access to our VIP events around the country. So go sign up here and get your autographed copy of the book along with your VIP membership.
Thanks in advance, and here we go with the Starting 11.
1. Here’s my playoff top four through four weeks of the season:
4. Ohio State
I think these four teams are a pretty easy selection right now.
You could maybe argue for Stanford or Oklahoma, but both were very fortunate to have won this week.
There are quite a few people out there beating the Clemson drum, but they haven’t really shown us much so far. Clemson was fortunate to have beaten Texas A&M and Alabama handled the Aggies with relative ease despite not even playing that well overall on defense. Penn State will get a chance to make its case against Ohio State this weekend, but so far they haven’t notched a truly signature victory and they went to overtime against Appalachian State to begin the season.
Clearly, the top SEC schools all play against each other so there will be a shakeout later this season, but I’m feeling pretty good about the SEC having a solid chance of getting two teams into the playoff again this year.
And right now through four weeks of the season the SEC has three of our top four playoff spots.
2. Oregon fans have to be absolutely sick about the way their game against Stanford ended.
The Ducks gift wrapped this loss and handed it to Stanford.
Why in the world was Oregon running at all in that end of game situation instead of just taking a knee? It makes no sense.
But it should have never come down to that play, Oregon was in position to go up 31-7 late in the third quarter when they fumbled and allowed Stanford to scoop and score and get back into this game.
This was just an utterly devastating loss for Oregon which makes the Washington game an absolute must win in order to remain relevant in the Pac 12 title chase. And that’s an incredibly high bar.
Now you have to look ahead at the schedule and wonder this — could Stanford go to Notre Dame and to Washington and win both games? I think they certainly could. If that happens, barring an upset — and Stanford has been suspect in this realm under David Shaw — then you’d have to think the Cardinal would be in the playoff.
This was just an absolutely huge win for David Shaw.
3. Kentucky got a massive, dominant win over Mississippi State.
Facing Mississippi State as a nearly double digit home underdog, the Wildcats dominated late and notched a huge victory for Mark Stoops.
The Wildcat defense was stifling, holding Mississippi State to 56 yards rushing on 28 carries while running for 229 yards on 47 carries themselves.
Bennie Snell, Jr. is an absolute beast.
The fondest dream of Wildcat fans? That Kentucky could somehow go 3-1 against the next four SEC opponents, South Carolina, at Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and at Missouri — 4-0 is probably asking too much — and have Georgia coming to Lexington on November 3rd with the SEC East to be decided in that game.
Can you imagine if Kentucky pulled off the upset and Alabama drew Kentucky in the SEC title game?!
A couple of weeks ago I asked the question, who is the second best team in the SEC East? Right now Kentucky has the best resume of the contenders, but we’ll see whether South Carolina or Missouri can claim that position in the weeks ahead. (I’m convinced Tennessee, Florida, and Vanderbilt are not the second best teams in the division).
4. How about Old Dominion beating Virginia Tech?!
Old Dominion’s back up quarterback came into the game and threw for nearly 500 yards as Old Dominion, Old Dominion!, posted 632 yards of offense en route to a 49-35 win over the Hokies.
This is just jawdropping on the upset level.
It’s even crazier when you consider that Virginia Tech only had one turnover in the entire game so it wasn’t as if a couple of fluky plays went ODU’s way.
The Hokies were a 28.5 point favorite and Old Dominion was 0-3 on the season.
Liberty, Liberty!, beat ODU 52-10.
So did FIU and Charlotte.
Then, out of nowhere, they just crush Virginia Tech?
God bless college football.
This entire series, by the way, is wild to me. Why is Virginia Tech playing 13 games in 14 years against Old Dominion and why are they playing six of those games on the road? Everything about this game is just wacky. (Don’t give me the recruiting angle. Are you really telling me Virginia Tech couldn’t already recruit well in this part of Virginia?)
I’m in absolute shock over this outcome.
5. Tennessee is absolutely awful.
I still don’t think Florida is any good, but it’s hard to judge when you turn the ball over six times.
Based on what I saw last night I fully expect for Tennessee to lose every SEC game again this season and go 3-9 on the year.
By the end of the year that will mean Tennessee will have lost 17 straight SEC football games.
The next three games, at Georgia, at Auburn and Alabama, should come with NC 17 ratings.
I think all three of these teams will beat Tennessee by fifty each and I see absolutely nothing Tennessee will gain by playing these games.
No matter who the coach is, Butch Jones left this program in such a dire position it will take three years until Tennessee is back to being remotely decent.
I’d like to say something positive here for Tennessee fans, but there’s absolutely nothing positive to say after last night’s game.
For the Gators, we’ll see what happens on the road at Mississippi State. but I still think Florida will finish 7-5 or 6-6. I think this game was more about Tennessee collapsing than it was about the Gators excelling.
6. Alabama didn’t even play very well and still crushed Texas A&M.
The Tide would have scored sixty if they’d left Tua in for the entire game.
I remain convinced Georgia — in the SEC title game — is the only team on Bama’s schedule capable of beating them so long as Tua stays healthy. That’s because you have to pencil in at least 45 points for every Tide game and I don’t think Saban’s defense is ever going to get lit up like that.
It used to be if you could slow down Bama’s rushing attack you had a (small) chance to win, but A&M did that and Tua is so good I don’t believe anyone can stop his passing attack.
With Tua, Alabama feels like the Golden State Warriors after they added Kevin Durant. Everyone else is playing for second place.
7. Texas Tech got a huge win over Oklahoma State.
Every team in the Big 12 now has a loss except for West Virginia and Oklahoma.
Those two teams play on the final Friday of the regular season at West Virginia. (Which means the Big 12 could have an immediate rematch in its title game and even if these teams were undefeated that Friday game wouldn’t matter at all.)
At this point in time if you wanted me to pick a team no one is talking about as a potential playoff contender, it would probably be the Mountaineers.
But we’ll see how West Virginia does on the road at Texas Tech next weekend.
Win that game and you can start to consider them a legit playoff contender, lose and the Big 12 will be down to Oklahoma as the only playoff contender in the conference.
8. Michigan destroyed Nebraska.
The Wolverines ran the ball 45 times for 285 yards while Nebraska ran the ball 30 times for 39 yards.
Looking at Nebraska’s schedule it’s downright possible Scott Frost starts off 2-9, 1-10 or even, gulp, 0-11.
Meanwhile Michigan has bounced back well from a week one loss to Notre Dame.
But there are four top 25 games coming up and Michigan probably has to win them all to get back in the national title picture: Wisconsin, at Michigan State, Penn State, and at Ohio State.
Two of those games don’t look as difficult as they did before the season, but it will still be hard to judge the Wolverines against Northwestern and Maryland the next two weeks.
9. Let’s look ahead at next week for a moment:
You’ve got Ohio State traveling to Penn State and Stanford headed to Notre Dame.
We should have a much clearer national title picture in the wake of these two games.
Especially after the Ohio State at Penn State game. If Ohio State heads into Happy Valley and gets the win the Buckeye schedule is pretty much cake until late November — Indiana, Minnesota, at Purdue, and Nebraska — are the next four, all of which should be relatively easy wins.
But if Penn State wins then the Nittany Lions get only one road game against a top 25 team the rest of the way, at Michigan in November. (They do have Michigan State the week after Penn State in Happy Valley, which is a tough bounce back game regardless of the Ohio State outcome.)
Meanwhile whoever wins the Stanford — Notre Dame game, particularly if it’s Notre Dame, is in great shape. The Irish, if they can get past Stanford, don’t play another current top 25 team the rest of the way. (Virginia Tech figures to fall out of the top 25).
10. My Outkick National Top Ten:
4. Ohio State
8. Notre Dame
10. Penn State
11. My SEC power rankings 1-14:
6. Texas A&M
8. South Carolina
9. Mississippi State
12. Ole Miss