Q. What can we expect when the first College Football Playoff rankings are released Tuesday night?
There’s a difference between what should happen and what will happen. Alabama and Notre Dame are the clear-cut Nos. 1 and No. 2, respectively. Ohio State will probably be No 3 despite a sloppy home win over Indiana – though the Hoosiers were ranked No. 9 at the time. Give the Buckeyes credit for a Top 10 win regardless of what it looked like, but their regular season schedule before and after Indiana leaves a lot to be desired. It’s really not much tougher than BYU’s oft-criticized schedule.
Expect Clemson to check in at No. 4 with just one quality win (Miami), with the Tigers needing to win the likely rematch against Notre Dame in the ACC championship game to reach the playoffs again. Unlike the teams chasing them for a playoff spot, they control their fate.
After that? Texas A&M, Florida, Cincinnati, Northwestern, Indiana and either Miami or BYU should round out the Top 10 in some fashion.
Q. What in the name of Johnny Carson is going on at Nebraska?
If you caught any of the Illinois-Nebraska game on Saturday – no judgment if you didn’t – you might have wondered if the teams had switched uniforms before the opening kickoff. The Illini were dominant at times with the Cornhuskers looking disjointed, sloppy and – yes, we’re going to say it – poorly coached. Former Huskers QB Scott Frost, a disaster in his return as the coach at his alma mater, used the words “embarrassed” and “lackadaisical” to describe his team’s performance.
Illinois had been averaging 17 points a game. The Illini exited Memorial Stadium with the most points scored against a conference opponent in 10 years in a 41-23 victory.
Frost is now 10-18 in Year 3 in Lincoln and is on track to become the first Nebraska coach to suffer three straight losing since Bill Jennings from 1957-59. He can’t make up his mind at quarterback, doesn’t have a reliable running back (imagine saying that about Nebraska almost any other time over the previous 50 years) and looks overmatched as a coach. The 1-3 Cornhuskers, the Big Ten’s most outspoken school about playing this year, have Iowa, Purdue and Minnesota left and are probably grateful that a game with Wisconsin was canceled due to COVID-19 protocols.
One more thing to put Illinois’ win in perspective in conjunction with Nebraska’s failings: The Illini last won in Lincoln in 1924 with a guy named Red Grange on the roster.
Q. Thoughts on Cincinnati’s playoff worthiness following its less-than-impressive 36-33 victory at Central Florida?
The Bearcats did what they had to do to get to 8-0. But given the big stage of national TV against a respectable opponent on the road, they didn’t do much to sway those still undecided about their playoff worthiness, clinging to a 36-33 lead with 4:27 to play. This is a UCF team that has now lost more conference games (three) this year than the past three season combined.
Cincy’s vaunted defense was spotty, QB Desmond Ridder was good but not dazzling (as he has been against some lesser opponents), and the reality is that Cincinnati didn’t really answer the question of whether it deserves a playoff spot. Wasn’t there a 13-0 UCF team in 2017 with much better credentials that was also denied a playoff berth?
Cincinnati’s last chance to make a statement will be Dec. 12 when Luke Fickell’s squad visits 5-1 Tulsa. But it looks like it’s still an uphill climb for the Bearcats.
Q. Does the Pac-12 need to start scheduling more games to have its champion considered for a playoff spot?
The league has just four unbeaten teams left after three weeks of play: Oregon and Washington in the North, USC and Colorado in the South. With the late start to the year, just seven regular-season games scheduled and a total of eight conference games already canceled due to COVID-19 (three more last Saturday, with Utah having played just one game so far) there should be some real concern about a potential unbeaten league champion being excluded from the playoffs.
Oregon and USC look to be the league’s two best teams, but neither has impressed during 3-0 starts.
One potential solution could be 8-0 BYU, which has three open dates and is eager to play more games to prove its playoff worthiness. That could happen since the Pac-12 recently approved non-conference games to be played in Pac-12 home stadiums in the event of cancellations.
But the Pac-12 being the Pac-12, the league of 9 a.m. local kickoffs, it’s hard to imagine the conference actually trying to help itself.
Q. How have things deteriorated so quickly at Syracuse?
It was just two years ago that the Orange had a 10-win season. After last week’s embarrassingly-inept 30-0 loss to Louisville Dino Babers’ 1-8 team appears headed to a 10-loss season (N.C. State and Notre Dame remain). This is how bad the Louisville loss was: The Orange managed just 137 yards of offense and seven first downs in being shut out for the first time since 2014. The offensive line is a sieve, there’s a freshman QB, the offense can barely function and Babers has not come up with any creative solutions.
Amazing the way things can change so dramatically so quickly.
On the Rise
Iowa State (6-2)
Cyclones’ 45-0 rout of Kansas State marked their most lopsided win over the Wildcats in 77 years, helping them equal the school record for league wins (six) in a season while taking control of the Big 12 race. K-State was held to 149 yards of total offense.
Coastal Carolina (8-0)
Picked to finish last in the Sun Belt East in the preseason coaches’ poll the No. 15-ranked Chanticleers cleared a major obstacle in their league title quest with a 34-23 victory over four-time defending Sun Belt champion Appalachian State. Coastal had lost all six of the previous meetings with the Mountaineers.
How does Tulsa do it? The 30-24 double overtime victory over Tulane marked the fourth time this year that the Golden Hurricane has overcome a 14-point deficit to win, combining a successful Hail Mary touchdown pass with a 96-yard pick six in the second OT for the latest improbable comeback.
On the decline
Wildcats’ school-record losing streak was stretched to nine in a 44-27 loss to Washington, leaving head coach Kevin Sumlin at 9-17 at the Pac-12 school. Irrelevance has happened quickly for Arizona.
Vols should end their five-game losing streak this weekend against winless Vandy, but that won’t lower the heat on head coach Jeremy Pruitt, who has given the impression he takes a nap during the halftime break. Vols have been outscored by a combined 104-14 in the second half of the past five games. The losing streak is the longest since an 0-6 start in 1988.
Penn State (0-5)
Congrats to head coach James Franklin for making school history: No Penn State team has ever started 0-5 before, which covers a span of 134 years. The Nittany Lions are painful to watch on offense because of mistakes and look to be a plodding, passive unit on defense. Michigan is next.
Zach Collins, LB, Tulsa
The 6-4, 260-pound junior linebacker had 15 tackles and the game winning 96-yard pick six in the second OT as Tulsa improved to 5-1 with a (yawn) come-from-behind 30-24 victory over Tulane.
Jaret Patterson, RB, Buffalo
Bad news for Bowling Green: Patterson is just a junior. Why is that bad for BGSU? Patterson rushed for a school-record 301 yards and four TDs in a 44-17 victory over the Falcons last week after going for 298 yards and six TDs against them a year ago.
J.T. Daniels, QB, Georgia
Okay, so he was facing Mississippi State’s touch-tackle defense. We get that. But the USC transfer had not played in a game since the 2019 opener with the Trojans due to a knee injury and then became the first Georgia quarterback to throw for 400 yards in his starting debut. Daniels finished 28-of-38 for 401 yards with four TD passes and no interceptions in the 31-24 victory.
Penn State quarterbacks
The combination of Sean Clifford and Will Levis combined for four turnovers in the 41-21 home loss to Iowa, an ongoing issue for a team that also relies on its QBs to be the leading rushers. Even that didn’t work, with Penn State rushing for 62 yards on 34 carries.
Luke McCaffrey, QB, Nebraska
The growing pains continue for the promising freshman. McCaffery did some good things – 122 rushing yards with a TD – but he also committed four turnovers (three interceptions) and did not pass for a touchdown in a 41-23 home loss to Illinois.
Big Ten officials
Sorry, but after multiple viewings of the offensive pass interference call that wiped out Purdue’s game-winning touchdown pass with 52 seconds left, it looked like umpire Jim Joyce’s complete whiff on a call that cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game in 2010. Purdue suffered a game-ending INT on the next play of the 34-31 loss. Big Ten officials were consistently bad all weekend throughout the league.
Playing it forward
Previewing the top games coming up this weekend (All times Eastern)
Iowa State at Texas, Noon, ABC
The resurgent Cyclones hold the Big 12 lead at 6-1 in conference play, but 5-2 Oklahoma and 4-2 Texas are still in contention for a spot in the conference title game. This could decide one of those spots.
Notre Dame at North Carolina, 3:30 p.m., ABC
The last major obstacle for the 8-0 Irish on the way to a spot in the ACC title game. Tar Heels’ talented QB Sam Howell, working with two quality running backs, leads one of the nation’s most explosive offenses.
Kent State at Buffalo, Noon, CBSSN
A showdown between 3-0 teams for control of the MAC East. Kent is off to its best start since 1958 and is just the third MAC team since 1970 to score 60 points or more in consecutive games. Buffalo RB Jaret Patterson is coming off a school-record 301-yard rushing game.
Auburn at Alabama, 3:30, CBS
The Iron Bowl still matters, especially to the top-ranked Crimson Tide, who continue to roll. Tigers have regrouped to be 5-2 heading into this, but can inconsistent QB Bo Nix handle Alabama’s defense?
Ohio State at Illinois, Noon, FS1
The Buckeyes keep winning in unimpressive fashion but appear to be playoff-bound thanks in part to a weak schedule. Can the resurgent Illini, winners of two straight, keep pace? Creating turnovers is the key for Lovie Smith’s team to have any chance.
Tom Luicci was the national college football and basketball writer for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. from 1979-2014.