The Starting 11: I Was Wrong About Coach O and LSU Edition

I love college football with every fabric of my being.

Yesterday I watched games, as I always do, from noon eastern until well after midnight and this morning I rolled out of bed excited to come write about the weekend in the Starting 11.

Even on weekends when you expect it to be quiet, pandemonium often reigns.

Now that we’re a third of the way through the season I’m going to begin my Starting 11 every week with a breakdown of the playoff situation.

If I were on the playoff committee right now here’s my playoff top four:

1. Alabama

2. Georgia

3. LSU

4. Ohio State

I’d have Oklahoma in the fifth spot.

Now that everyone is losing their minds over my top four, let me explain my rationale as we get rolling here.

1. My playoff is Alabama, Georgia, LSU, and Ohio State. 

How do I reach this foursome?

Alabama has been unquestionably the most dominant team in college football through three weeks. They have outscored their opponents 51-14, 57-7, and 62-7. That’s a combined total of 170-28.

No one else in college football is even close to this level of opponent dominance.

Now you can say, “But they haven’t played anybody!” which is the preferred college football pejorative. The problem with this rationale is that the Tide’s opponents are a combined 6-0 against everyone else on their schedules and two of these games were in road or neutral settings.

In the process of these three wins the Crimson Tide became the first team in SEC history to score fifty or more on every opponent. What’s more, Alabama could have scored way more points if necessary.

So I don’t think anyone with a brain could vote anyone other than Alabama the best team in college football after three weeks.

Georgia has been the second most dominant team in college football, outscoring its two opponents 135-24. Included in that performance was a dominant road win in conference over a top 25 South Carolina team.

So I’ve got Alabama and Georgia as the two most dominant teams in college football right now because no one else has outscored their opponents by more points through three weeks.

That pencils them in at one and two on my Outkick top ten.

The team with the most impressive resume through three weeks? It’s LSU. The Bayou Bengals now have two top 25 road or neutral wins on the season, which is more road or neutral top 25 wins than the entire Big Ten, Big 12, ACC or Pac 12 conferences have combined. (The Big Ten has one, Ohio State over TCU. The other three power five conferences have none).

So I think you have to put LSU in the playoff at this point because their two wins through three weeks are better than anyone else’s wins.

It’s also worth noting that LSU’s toughest remaining games are all in Baton Rouge: Georgia, Mississippi State, and Alabama all come to Death Valley. If LSU can get past a game at Florida then the Bayou Bengals will (probably) be 6-0 when (probably) 6-0 Georgia rolls into town.

Wow, what a game that would be.

So how does all this shake out at the top of the SEC?

Well, it’s possible Georgia and Alabama will both beat LSU and then the Tigers will drop out of playoff contention. But what if LSU splits these games?

Then you could finish the season with 12-0 Alabama, 11-1 Georgia, and 11-1 LSU. Then what if Georgia beats Alabama to win the SEC title? You’d have 12-1 Georgia, 12-1 Alabama and 11-1 LSU. The SEC would have to get at least two in this scenario right?

What if LSU splits the games, losing to Georgia, but beating Alabama? Then the Tigers could be 12-0 with a rematch against 11-1 Georgia. What if Georgia beats LSU in the rematch? Then you’d have 12-1 Georgia, 12-1 LSU, and 11-1 Alabama which could put the SEC with three playoff contenders there as well.

So there’s still a ton to shake out here.

But LSU is in my playoff right now and I definitely didn’t anticipate that before the season started.

So who is my number four team?

Ohio State now has a better win — versus TCU last night in a neutral setting — than Oklahoma plus the Buckeyes boast three big five conference FBS wins. (This is assuming Oregon State and Rutgers should count as big five teams). That gets Ohio State narrowly in over Oklahoma, which was just okay on the road against Iowa State.

I don’t have Clemson in my Outkick top ten, as you’ll see below, because their resume just isn’t that impressive right now so I don’t have them in my playoff contention.

2. The Big Ten had an awful, very bad day. 

Remember back when a bunch of college football media members tried to argue the Big Ten had passed the SEC? Boy, they were dumb. (I need to get Old Takes Exposed to put together all these Tweets and columns).

Well, yesterday the following happened:

Kansas beat Rutgers by 41, Northwestern lost at home to Akron, which notched its first win over a Big Ten team since they started playing football at Akron in 1894, Nebraska lost at home to Troy, Wisconsin lost at home to BYU, Maryland lost at home to Temple, Purdue lost at home to Mizzou and Illinois lost at home to South Florida.

The end result?

Only two Big Ten standard bearers are still undefeated: Ohio State and Penn State.

And those two teams will play in Happy Valley in two weeks.

There’s still a ton of the season left, but it couldn’t have started much worse for the Big Ten.

3. Florida State is one of the worst coached teams I have ever seen.

The Seminoles are loaded with four and five star talent and have been outscored in the ACC so far this year by a margin of 54-10.

But it’s not just the beatings that would have me terrified if I were a Seminole fan, this coaching staff appears to be way, way in over its head.

Willie Taggart went 16-20 at Western Kentucky, 24-25 at South Florida and 7-5 in one year at Oregon.

He’s had one really good year, when he went 10-2 at South Florida.

Otherwise he’s gone 48-52 as a head coach.

How many times has a big time program hired a coach with an overall losing record in college football and it turned out well? I can’t even think of one off the top of my head right now.

Despite being a head coach for nine full seasons the decisions Taggart makes on the sideline are often inexplicable. Witness: at the end of the first half against Syracuse the Seminoles had 11 seconds left, no timeouts, and faced a 2nd and 10 at the Syracuse 20. The Seminoles trailed 6-0 and had a chance to slice the lead in half or take the lead with a big play.

The safest play here, given that you have no timeouts, would have been to go ahead and kick the field goal to avoid a sack or a player being tackled in bounds. But if you really wanted to take a chance you could have thrown it into the end zone and gone for a touchdown. What you absolutely could not do was keep the ball in bounds.

So what did FSU do? They threw underneath to gain eight yards and the clock ran out.

Any kid playing Madden would have used the clock better than this, but the most alarming part of the entire sequenced was the befuddled look on Taggart’s face as the half ended. It was as if he had no clue what his team was doing.

I don’t think FSU can afford to fire Taggart after one year, but I do think they need to spend the offseason hiring the most expensive offensive and defensive coordinators imaginable and just letting Taggart be the face of the program.

Because right now I think there’s a very good chance FSU goes 3-9, or maybe even worse, in year one and Taggart looks like a disaster.

4. Nebraska is 0-2, UCLA is 0-3 and Arizona is 1-2. 

This means Scott Frost, Chip Kelly, and Kevin Sumlin have combined to go 1-8 (the win is over Southern Utah) while Herm Edwards has gone 2-1 with a top 25 win.

Remember, the conventional wisdom is often wrong.

This season is done for UCLA — they are just awful — but I do think Nebraska and Arizona still have the potential to be decent by October and November.

So how bad will things get for UCLA?

I think there’s a very good chance that UCLA is 0-6 when Arizona rolls into town in mid-October.

For LA sports fans, this may be the worst combined football we’ve seen from USC and UCLA in a generation.

5. LSU’s win over Auburn shocked me. 

It’s rare I admit I’m wrong, but I’m going to do it here so all of you can enjoy the next sentence: I’ve been wrong about Coach Orgeron at LSU.

I thought LSU would sink back down to 6-6 or so this season and the heat would be turned up to a huge degree on Ed Orgeron. Instead LSU has been the most impressive team in all of college football through three weeks of the season.

Joe Burrow’s 71 yard touchdown pass with just over eight minutes left in this game was a thing of complete beauty, but so was his recovery from a near decapitation to deliver on 4th and 7 on the game winning drive.

The only truly bad play Burrow had all day was his inability to jump over a fence in the second half, which resulted in the most slow motion and awkward fall since Jeb Bush ran for president.

LSU’s for real and Coach O is now 8-2 against the spread in his last ten games.

Go Tigahs.

6. USC is really, really bad.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with Clay Helton, but I do know this USC offense is awful.

A week after they posted only three points against Stanford here were the USC rushing stats against Texas: 16 rush attempts for -5 yards.

That’s unbelievable for a proud program like USC.

I don’t think Clay Helton can be on the hot seat this year, but I do think many Trojan fans are going to ask, especially if Sam Darnold has a good rookie season with the Jets, was Darnold holding this USC program together and without him is this coaching staff not up to the job?

That’s a very fair question to ask.

7. Vanderbilt nearly beat Notre Dame in South Bend. 

Last year Vanderbilt was 3-0 and had Alabama roll into town. I expected the game to be close, but I was wrong. The Crimson Tide won 59-0 and Vanderbilt never really recovered.

This year may be quite a bit different.

Vanderbilt, I believe, was every bit as good as Notre Dame and, potentially, the better team on Saturday. The Commodores fumbled at the one, failed to recover cleanly in the end zone, and had the ball go out the back of the end zone in the fist half. They also dropped an easy touchdown pass leading to a field goal to end the first half.

The result? Notre Dame took an early 16-0 lead that Vanderbilt could never erase.

But if you look at the stats and watched this game, Vanderbilt finished with more total yards, but couldn’t overcome a three turnover deficit.

Even with all that if Kalija Limpscomb holds on to the Kyle Shurmur pass with around a minute to play in the game, Vandy has a first and goal with a real chance to win the game on the road at South Bend, which would have been a signature win for Derek Mason’s program.

In the past two weeks Notre Dame has looked very average against both Ball State and Vanderbilt. At this point in time, I think the Irish are a lower tier top 25 football team, but nothing more.

As for Vandy, this coming weekend against South Carolina is huge for them. Win and they should be 4-1 to start the season with a real chance to beat both SEC West opponents, Ole Miss and Arkansas, and go to a bowl game with a winning record.

Lose and the Commodores will be 3-2 and need to get some wins down the stretch we may not expect for them to pull off.

But, regardless, Kyle Shurmur is really solid. I expect him to get drafted.

8. Arkansas lost to North Texas 44-17 at home. 

If you give up 44 points to North Texas, how many points are you going to give up to Alabama in a couple of weeks?

Based on what I’ve seen of the Razorbacks so far this year, it’s certainly possible they go 2-10 this year.

And many of these games are going to be really, really ugly.

Bret Bielema left behind talent that does not fit the offensive scheme being implemented by Chad Morris, but, boy, what about the defense?

Yikes.

Arkansas is the worst team in the SEC and I’m not sure any other team is close to as bad as they are.

9. Last night’s Missouri at Purdue game was insane and nearly drove me crazy. 

I gave out an SEC four game parlay on Friday: Vandy +14 at Notre Dame, Alabama -21 at Ole Miss and the over 69, and Mizzou -6 at Purdue.

Early in the evening Alabama had easily covered and was up 49-7 at the half, making the over appear to be a foregone conclusion and Mizzou was up 27-10 on the road at Purdue.

I thought this was going to be the easiest four game parlay win ever.

Then came two of the worst gambling beats of the season. Alabama and Ole Miss combined for only 13 points in the entire second half, including just 10 points in the final 27 minutes of the game, and Missouri and Purdue competed to see who could create the most ridiculous and absurd scenarios.

The game ended with Mizzou taking a knee to set up a chipshot field goal from the three.

Along the way Purdue threw for 572 yards.

572!

I think that’s a Big Ten record.

I’m not sure Mizzou covered anyone all night long.

This was all the more remarkable because Purdue couldn’t run the ball at all.

Meanwhile, Derek Dooley has quietly put together an incredibly prolific Mizzou offense, with the Tigers rushing for 233 yards while passing for 375.

The result? Both teams went for over 600 yards of offense and I had $20k in parlay wins that would have cashed if Mizzou had just covered the six point line. I also would have won the first week of my new TV show, Lock It In, with ease.

Instead, I’m going to come in last place.

Sigh.

10. My Outkick Top Ten

Remember, I only rank teams based on what we’ve actually seen on the field so far, not by which teams I expected to be good when the season started.

1. Alabama

2. Georgia

3. LSU

4. Ohio State

5. Oklahoma

6. Auburn

7. Washington

8. Stanford

9. Oklahoma State

10. Notre Dame

11. SEC Power Rankings 1-14:

Again, the SEC power rankings are entirely based on what we’ve seen on the field so far, not on which teams I think are better.

1. Alabama

2. Georgia

3. LSU

4. Auburn

5. Mississippi State

6. Kentucky

7. Texas A&M

8. Vanderbilt

9. Missouri

10. South Carolina

11. Tennessee

12. Florida

13. Ole Miss

14. Arkansas

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