Five Big Ten teams remain in play. The Pac-12, Big 12 and AAC all have teams that have a case to make. The SEC’s annual hope of two entrants is still possible.
Halfway through the regular season, the College Football Playoff picture is muddy. We can all thank Texas A&M and gutsy backup quarterback Zach Calzada for the potential chaos — is there a word college football fans enjoy more? — that looms.
Alabama’s stunning loss — its first defeat since Nov. 30, 2019, the first time it fell to an unranked opponent dating to Nov. 17, 2007 against UL Monroe, a span of 101 games, Nick Saban’s first defeat to a former assistant coach in 25 contests — was one of the most unpredictable results in a very long time.
Under Saban, the former No. 1 doesn’t lose games like this. Not to a backup quarterback. Not to a team that was on its heels like Texas A&M, which was a 19-point underdog, blew a 31-17 lead and seemed ready to accept the hard-fought loss. Instead, Calzada, who entered the year the backup quarterback and has taken a lot of heat for his play after starter Haynes King went down, responded by leading the Aggies to 10 points in the final three minutes. He shook off what looked like a bad leg injury on the game-tying touchdown pass to lead A&M to the game-winning field-goal drive at the buzzer.
Now Alabama likely needs to win out to reach the SEC title game. The Crimson Tide are not unbeatable. They nearly fell to two-loss Florida and couldn’t finish off the Aggies. Really, the only team that hasn’t shown vulnerability this year is the new No. 1, undefeated Georgia, which slaughtered Arkansas and Auburn in back-to-back weeks, 71-10, despite the absence due to injury of starting quarterback JT Daniels.
The Big Ten is set for a fantastic finish, with five teams ranked in the top 10 of the latest Associated Press poll for the first time ever. Big Ten East powers Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State play each other six times the rest of the way. The survivor should meet undefeated Iowa in the title game.
Oregon, despite its ugly loss to pedestrian Stanford, can still make a case if it avoids another defeat thanks to its road win at improving Ohio State. Cincinnati is undefeated, has a road win over one-loss Notre Dame and is firmly in the conversation as the potential first Group of Five school to reach the playoff. Then there is Oklahoma, an unimpressive 6-0, but 6-0 nevertheless. It’s hard to envision an undefeated Big 12 school not making it.
Alabama’s loss opened so many possibilities without closing any doors. A two-loss qualifier isn’t impossible. Would anyone be surprised to see Alabama make it if it played Georgia tight in the title game? Two Big Ten teams could happen. What if currently undefeated Iowa drops a close Big Ten title game to the Big Ten East winner?
Chaos now seems realistic, adding significant intrigue to the regular season. Take a bow, Texas A&M. This doesn’t happen without you.
A big pile of Bull’
Just peruse the numbers. Look at the results. Ignore history. If this was Alabama, Clemson or Ohio State, everyone would be installing Georgia as a heavy national championship favorite. Instead, despite the Bulldogs’ consistent dominance, they aren’t being given the credit their performance warrants.
Georgia has played six games, has scored 239 points and allowed 33. It has walloped two quality opponents, Auburn and Arkansas, without Daniels. Its defense doesn’t give up points. The offense is productive. There is talent everywhere.
If you’re going to say Kirby Smart’s team hasn’t truly been tested, that Auburn and Arkansas now each have two losses, go look at what everyone else is doing, how close to losing so many traditional top teams are coming on an almost weekly basis. Georgia’s one close victory, a 10-3 win over Clemson to start the season, wasn’t nearly as competitive as the score indicated. It never felt in danger.
Georgia is the odds-on favorite. Forget how it disappointed in big spots in past seasons.
LSU’s perfect 2019 season seems harder to believe the further away it gets. Since, Ed Orgeron’s Tigers are 8-8. Discounting that 15-0 year, LSU is 33-17 under Orgeron and 21-14 in the SEC. He’s now changed coordinators multiple times and has yet to find the right fits. LSU still has five ranked opponents on its schedule after it was overwhelmed by No. 11 Kentucky on Saturday. The school’s first losing season in 22 years is likely. That 3-8 year led to Saban’s arrival on the Bayou. A coaching change may be coming after this year as well.
- Georgia (6-0) (Last week: 2)
There is no debate. Georgia is the best team in the country at the moment. Even with starting quarterback J.T. Daniels out, the Bulldogs demolished Auburn and Arkansas the last two weeks, 71-10.
- Cincinnati (5-0) (3)
This is all Cincinnati can do from here on out, bludgeon overwhelmed opponents like Temple, as it did in Friday’s 52-3 destruction of the Owls.
- Iowa (6-0) (5)
Iowa has no excuses not to finish the regular season undefeated, without a ranked team left on its schedule, and reach the Big Ten title game for the first time in six years.
- Alabama (5-1) (1)
Alabama lost to an unranked opponent after beating the last 100 such teams — a stunning stat out of the Crimson Tide’s unexpected last-second defeat at Texas A&M.
- Oklahoma (6-0) (6)
Freshman quarterback Caleb Williams has earned an extended look after he bailed out Spencer Rattler and Oklahoma on Saturday, leading them back from a big early deficit in an unforgettable Red River Rivalry win over Texas.
- Ohio State (5-1) (7)
The offense is as electric as advertised and the defense has made strides in recent weeks. The Big Ten is Ohio State’s to lose once again.
- Penn State (5-1) (4)
Brutal luck for the Nittany Lions, who would have beaten Iowa going away if they don’t lose starting quarterback Sean Clifford in the second quarter to injury. His backup, Ta’Quan Roberson, was incapable of generating any offense.
- Kentucky (6-0) (NR)
For the first time since 1950, Kentucky is 6-0. Now this can go from a surprising underdog story to something much more with an upset of Georgia next Saturday.
- Michigan (6-0) (8)
Give the Wolverines credit: They keep finding ways to win, even if their three league victories are over teams a combined 2-8 in conference play.
- Michigan State (6-0) (NR)
Provided Michigan takes care of Northwestern and Michigan State beats Indiana, we’re in store for the biggest showdown between the two in-state rivals in years on Oct. 30 in East Lansing.
Dropped out: BYU (5-1) and Oregon (4-1)
(in alphabetical order)
QB Matt Corral, Ole Miss
Corral responded to his face-plant against Alabama by producing 381 total yards and five touchdowns in a wild, 52-51 win over Arkansas.
QB Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
Three more touchdown passes and another victory for Ridder, who is now 35-5 in his career as a starter at Cincinnati.
RB Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State
More impressive numbers for Walker, 232 yards and 8 yards per carry against Rutgers. If he can continue this productivity as the schedule stiffens — Michigan State still has Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State on its schedule — the junior has a legitimate shot at a New York City invite.
QB C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
That week of rest did Stroud wonders. He responded by throwing for 736 yards and 10 touchdowns in a pair of blowouts of Rutgers and Maryland, inserting himself into the Heisman race.
QB Bryce Young, Alabama
My Heisman favorite hasn’t changed. Young and Alabama may have lost to Texas A&M, but the sophomore still threw for 369 yards and three touchdowns, and led the Crimson Tide back into the lead after trailing by two scores on multiple occasions.