The Playoff Committee released their first rankings for the College Football Playoff this week, with a number of surprises throughout the Top-25. Georgia’s stronger schedule elevated them above fellow unbeaten Alabama to take Number One in the rankings, with Notre Dame and Clemson completing the top four despite losing a game apiece. Wisconsin and Miami (Fl.) are the only other unbeaten members of Power 5 conferences but their weak early schedules have left them out of the picture, just sneaking into the Top-10. UCF’s unbeaten start to the season took them only to Number 18 (and below four two-loss teams) in another dismissal of the merits of the mid-majors by the playoff committee.
These rankings go a long way to explaining how the contenders are perceived entering the final month of regular season play, and Week 10 brings a blockbuster slate of games, including a ridiculous SEVEN ranked vs ranked matchups. Here’s what you should be watching:
No.5 Oklahoma Sooners (7-1) @ No.11 Oklahoma State Cowboys (7-1)
The College Gameday crew head to Stillwater, Oklahoma this week before Bedlam: the big battle for supremacy in Oklahoma and the Big 12. The Sooners meet the Cowboys for the 112th time, and while the historical records greatly favour the Sooners (85 wins), this is not your father’s struggling Oklahoma State team, with the Cowboys looking to add a statement win to their impressive resume.
Indeed, the Cowboys utilise a high-powered spread offense capable of keeping pace with any team in the country and routinely dismantling defenses throughout the Big 12. Quarterback Mason Rudolph’s red hot start to the season has cooled a little but he is still capable of the enormous numbers we had come to expect from Mike Gundy’s team, particularly with the phenomenal James Washington at wide receiver ready to torment Oklahoma’s defensive backs. With an improving defense that has played well in recent weeks, Ok. State suddenly look well balanced and are plenty capable of winning in front of a raucous home crowd.
Baker Mayfield and the Sooners will certainly have something to say, however. Be it planting an Oklahoma flag on Ohio State’s logo, telling Baylor’s players that he is their Daddy or riding an imaginary horse through the tunnel after beating Texas, Mayfield’s bizarre and entertaining larger-than-life personality is captivating. The Sooners are not just the Baker Mayfield-team (hat-tip to Pep Guardiola) though, with tight end Mark Andrews a tremendous threat and a terrific trio of tailbacks in Sermon, Adams and Anderson. Defensively, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (try saying that thrice quickly) is Greased Lightning off the edge and has embarrassed a number of tackles already this year, and if he can hurry and harass Rudolph then the Sooners will be confident having already notched a victory over Ohio State.
Two bonafide Heisman contenders, two of the best offenses in the USA and a fierce in-state rivalry between two playoff contenders: this game has everything you could want. I’m expecting the Sooners to just about pull off the road win, and watch out for more post-game theatrics from Baker Mayfield.
No.19 LSU Tigers (6-2) @ No.2 Alabama Crimson Tide (8-0)
It is peculiar, perhaps, that the team ranked second in the country seems underrated, but such is the nature of ‘Bama’s dominance in recent times. The Tide’s schedule may not be as strong as that of the Georgia Bulldogs (particularly given FSU’s capitulation) but they are blowing almost every opponent out and doing so in dismissive fashion. Starting quarterback Jalen Hurts is rarely spotted in the fourth quarter: a testament to the level of superiority this Alabama outfit has had over the rest of college football.
This week brings their toughest test thus far in old foe LSU. This SEC contest has become one of the most hotly-anticipated in all of college football, becoming particularly venomous since the 2011 regular season meeting and subsequent 2012 BCS National Championship Game. The Tigers were victorious in that 2011 game, besting ‘Bama maybe the greatest defensive battle of all-time 9-6 in overtime, before Nick Saban (a former LSU coach) would get his revenge, shutting out LSU in their own backyard in the National Championship Game in New Orleans.
The Crimson Tide have won every meeting since then and will be favoured to do so again this weekend in Tuscaloosa. LSU’s persistent problems at quarterback have still not been solved, and though Derrius Guice exploded two weeks ago against Ole Miss they still have offensive issues. Arden Key leads a solid defense but Alabama should have far too much with their plethora of talented runners, outstanding offensive line and star wideout Calvin Ridley. The Crimson Tide’s suffocating defense tied down Leonard Fournette and Guice last year and should have no issues doing the same this, and if they can force the Tigers to throw the football the likes of Ronnie Harrison, Anthony Averett and Minkah Fitzpatrick can feast. The Tide Roll in a one-sided bludgeoning.
No.13 Virginia Tech Hokies (7-1) @ No.10 Miami Hurricanes (7-0)
Somewhat under-the-radar given the other stellar matchups, this ACC battle is incredibly intriguing and could be incredibly entertaining. Miami may be undefeated but aren’t tearing teams apart, and their marquee win over Florida State is becoming less and less impressive as the Seminoles continue to struggle. Virginia Tech meanwhile have quietly assembled another excellent young team and are a two-score loss to a very good Clemson team away from being undefeated themselves. The Hokies are gathering some momentum, particularly defensively on a rapidly improving unit, and Justin Fuente is one of the best young coaches in all of football.
Fuente is a noted quarterback guru, first developing Paxton Lynch into a first-round NFL prospect at Memphis and then creating a star in Jerod Evans in his first year in Virginia last year. Evans’ surprising departure to the NFL left them in the lurch to some extent, but Fuente has continued to prove his worth and developed redshirt freshman Josh Jackson into a dangerous all-around quarterback. Cam Phillips is as reliable as any Number One receiver in college football and a number of running backs capably tote the rock. Defensively, Tremaine Edmunds is a favourite of mine given my love for tall, productive college linebackers and his brother Terrell is a talented safety. Virginia Tech are unlikely to mount a charge for the playoff but they could well end Miami’s hopes this weekend with an upset victory in Miami.
The Hurricanes hope this will not be the case as they look for their first real statement win of the season to look to vault towards Playoff contendership. Brad Kaaya’s departure opened the door for Malik Rosier who has starred at quarterback. The team has faced adversity, losing their best player in halfback Mark Walton to a season-ending ankle injury but sophomore Travis Homer has stepped up in recent weeks. Mark Richt has the whole performing greater than the some of the parts defensively, but watch out for defensive tackle Kendrick Norton who is gaining some buzz as a potential early-pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Miami is one of the most storied college football programs, and if you get the chance to check out ESPN’s exceptional 30-for-30 documentaries (The U/The U Part 2) on the team then the opportunity should be taken to understand the rise and fall of the Hurricanes. The heady days may not have returned just yet for the ‘U’, but they are moving in the right direction and a win over Virginia Tech is absolutely necessary to keep playoff hopes alive with a tough game to follow against Notre Dame.
In this ACC battle, I think the Hurricanes dissipate to defeat in a one-score contest as Virginia Tech’s tight triumph takes them into the Top-10.
Other Games Worth Following:
No.4 Clemson Tigers @ No.20 NC State Wolfpack (Tight victory for the Tigers, a last-minute touchdown drive sealing an entertaining game. Strong performances from the Wolfpack’s Bradley Chubb and the Clemson defensive line)
No.7 Penn State Nittany Lions @ No.24 Michigan State Spartans (Nittany Lions win comfortably with another starring role for Saquon Barkley)
No.22 Arizona Wildcats @ No.17 USC Trojans (Arizona pull off an upset behind a strong day from star Khalil Tate in typically crazy #Pac12AfterDark encounter)
No.21 Stanford Cardinal @ No.25 Washington State (Wazzu wins it in triple overtime buoyed by the vibrant Pullman home faithful)
Enjoy a great weekend of college football action!
Follow Harry Latham-Cole on Twitter at @HLC1221