Supremacy chatter: 5 Playoff things we learned from the first (real) Saturday of 2018
I’m not getting ahead of myself. I swear.
If I was getting ahead of myself, I’d tell you that “team X” is destined for a Playoff spot, or “conference Y” is dead. That’s not the point of this.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with this weekly in-season series, allow me to give you a brief tutorial on “supremacy chatter.” On a weekly basis, I’ll ask the Playoff questions that you and your friends are debating in message boards (sorry if that was an unfair conclusion to jump to).
I’ll try to find the long-term implications of what each Saturday means for the landscape of the Playoff. Early in the season with nonconference headliners aplenty, that’s obviously a pretty important thing to do. As we know, games being played in September can still have major Playoff implications. I harp on the big nonconference headliners because that’s what I feel the Playoff selection committee does.
Ah, there’s another important thing. In this column, I try to think like a selection committee member. That’s based on what we’ve seen from that group in the first four years of the Playoff system.
Keep all of those things in mind as you read this on a weekly basis, and consider that my mission — to get you HOOKED by the end of this column:
1. The Pac-12’s Playoff climb got a whole lot steeper
After a 1-8 postseason last year that was sans a Playoff appearance, the Pac-12 would’ve loved to see Washington travel to the heart of the SEC and knock off one of the conference’s best. That nearly happened. But it didn’t. Now, the Pac-12’s preseason favorite will be without a key non-conference win. That matters.
There’s also the fact that Washington was the Pac-12’s only preseason top-10 team. If Washington is going to make the Playoff, it’ll be unprecedented for one of two factors.
It’ll either become the first team to run the table with a nine-game conference schedule and earn a Playoff berth, OR it’ll become the first team to make the Playoff with two losses. Considering the Huskies don’t have another opportunity for a headliner nonconference win, the latter doesn’t seem likely.
Is the Pac-12 dead and buried? Absolutely not. For all we know, USC or Stanford has a run in them. Maybe even Oregon stuns the college football world in the first year of the Mario Cristobal era.
But Saturday was a major opportunity missed for a conference that was coming off a 1-8 postseason in which it was left out of the Playoff. Any conference supremacy argument against the SEC is gone, at least until the Pac-12 has a clear advantage in number of top-25 teams. The matchup that was No. 3 in ESPN’s preseason ranking of games impacting the Playoff picture was indeed significant.
It wouldn’t surprise me if that notion proved true for the rest of 2018.
2. Big Ten contenders have some serious issues
It was bad enough that Michigan State had to go down to the wire against Utah State at home. Then, Appalachian State nearly stunned Penn State on the 11-year anniversary of the Michigan upset.
Both of those teams have obvious defensive issues. That much is clear. Allowing any Group of 5 team to score 30-plus points at home is a bad, bad look for a Playoff contender. Those results weren’t shots at their chances of making the field, but they were significant.
Many people came into 2018 thinking that the Big Ten had the most amount of Playoff contenders heading into 2018. With five teams in the preseason Associated Press top-15, it’s hard to argue with that. That narrative will shift in a hurry if Michigan State and Penn State don’t figure out their issues in nonconference play.
Michigan actually faced a quality opponent in Notre Dame, but the beginning of the Shea Patterson era didn’t exactly scream “Jim Harbaugh’s first Playoff offense.” The Irish dominated Michigan’s offensive line, which isn’t something that projects well for that daunting Big Ten East schedule.
And this might sound nit-picky, but Ohio State allowed nearly 200 rushing yards to Oregon State. That’s the same Oregon State that failed to beat an FBS team last year. Will that get any national buzz after the Buckeyes win a game by 40-plus points? No, but the Buckeyes’ ground game struggles weren’t a great sign for a team that has to play both TCU and Penn State away from home in the month of September.
Last year, what hurt the Big Ten all year was the fact that in nonconference play it failed to beat a team that stayed in the top 25 all season. It’s early, but that narrative could repeat itself in 2018.
3. Take your trendy preseason Playoff pick of Texas and shove it
Well, there was ONE Big Ten team that took care of a team getting preseason hype. Maryland’s second consecutive win against Texas pretty much dunked on the “Texas is back” crowd. That crowd consisted of plenty of people picking the Longhorns to go from a team that won six regular season games to a Playoff qualifier.
Yeah, I thought that was funny, too.
Saturday didn’t officially end Texas’ Playoff hopes, but it’s ineffective offense didn’t exactly look like a group that was going to become the first team to go 9-0 in conference play and earn a Playoff berth. If the Longhorns do that AND beat USC, Herman won’t pay for a drink in Texas for a long time.
There’s a strip club joke in there. You know what? Herman’s month was tough enough. I’ll leave that alone.
4. Which Power 5 conference had the most embarrassing losses? Best wins?
Here were the weekend records from each Power 5 conference:
- ACC — 9-2
- Big 12 — 6-3
- Big Ten — 11-2
- Pac-12 — 8-4
- SEC — 12-1
On the surface, that doesn’t really say a whole lot. Well, except that the SEC had the best opening weekend (pre-LSU/Miami matchup). Sure, there were cupcakes, but Auburn and Ole Miss taking care of business was a solid boost for the SEC (don’t forget Ole Miss will face plenty of Playoff contenders). And Tennessee losing to West Virginia wasn’t exactly a “bad” loss for the conference.
“Bad” was a team some thought was a Playoff team (Texas) losing a game to a team that missed the postseason last year (Maryland). Not to rip on Texas even more, but that really was a deflating loss. Even USC, which travels to Texas in a couple weeks, probably wasn’t crazy about seeing that result.
In addition to Texas and Texas Tech coming up short, the Big 12 did also have Kansas losing at home to FCS Nicholls. Does Kansas have any impact on the Playoff picture whatsoever? No, but for the sake of this argument, that’s not ideal. It actually could’ve been worse with Kansas State narrowly escaping South Dakota.
But on the bright side for the Big 12, at least Oklahoma didn’t lay an egg to Lane Kiffin. So there’s that.
5. Man, it’s good to be arguing about Playoff stuff after actual football games again
OK, I didn’t exactly learn that. Just wanted to say it.