Analyzing each College Football Playoff contender after Week 6 in the SEC
It figures that the biggest story of this college football weekend involved a star who didn’t play.
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence is in isolation and sitting out at least 2 games after a positive COVID-19 test. The Tigers felt his absence on Saturday as they had to rally from a 28-10 deficit to defeat unranked Boston College.
Top-ranked Clemson is likely to miss him even more for this week’s ACC clash at undefeated Notre Dame. Coach Dabo Swinney already announced that Lawrence, who feels fine according to Swinney, will miss that game while he undergoes mandated protocols.
But that’s not the only issue facing Clemson, as you’ll see.
Clemson, Alabama and Ohio State continue to dominate the conversation surrounding the CFP — but of course, should Notre Dame beat Clemson, the Fighting Irish will have a signature win.
We will finally see the Pac-12 this weekend, and at that time we’ll add 1-2 teams from the league to this list — for the last time, we’re not including teams that we have not seen yet. Also worth repeating: No. 6 Cincinnati and/or No. 9 BYU are very unlikely to make the Playoff unless they get a lot of help, regardless of where they’re ranked now. Oh, and Oklahoma State’s loss to Texas drops the Cowboys out and probably ends the Big 12’s bid at a CFP spot as well.
Here’s a look at the CFP contenders in order of the current Associated Press poll. A reminder, the first CFP rankings come out in late November.
The burden of replacing Lawrence at quarterback fell to freshman D.J. Uiagalelei against BC, though Clemson smartly leaned on Travis Etienne (20 carries, 84 yards) in some crucial situations. It’s tough to say what the long-term impact of Lawrence’s absence will be, but what is certain is that Uiagalelei will be facing a whole different test against Notre Dame and their defensive line, which ranks in the top 10 in the nation in four categories, according to Football Outsiders.
The loss of injured receiver Jaylen Waddle will surely be felt as the season goes on, but against Mississippi State on Saturday it just meant more targets for DeVonta Smith. And Smith went off for 203 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns on 11 catches. Alabama leads the nation with 47.2 points a game, but the defense might be the bigger story, allowing just 41 points in three games since getting torched against Ole Miss.
The Buckeyes got through a road test at Penn State on Saturday and seem to have assembled a roster than can run the table in the Big Ten. One concern for OSU was that the big home-run threat of J.K. Dobbins in the backfield would be impossible to replace, and in a way it has been. Master Teague and Trey Sermon are alternating at running back, and they combined for 166 yards on 36 carries against the Nittany Lions, but OSU is still rushing for a pedestrian 4.5 yards per carry.
Opportunity might have presented itself in South Bend. With Clemson missing Lawrence, the Fighting Irish might be tempted to lean on their 11th-ranked rushing defense to slow down Etienne and dare Uiagalelei to beat them. The bigger question might be if the Notre Dame offense can be explosive enough. Ian Book has just two 300-yard passing games in his past 17 outings, and, no matter how good ND’s defense is, the Irish might need to win in a track meet.
This offense simply has not looked the part of a CFP contender lately. A fierce defense will carry the Bulldogs as far as they will go — with the critical matchup against Florida looming, we’ll see if that’s to the SEC Championship Game and beyond. The good news is, the Dawgs are No. 1 in the SEC in rushing defense and total defense. The offensive line is in the top 20 in five categories, but, as always, UGA fans can only wonder what they’d have if Justin Fields had stayed as QB.
The Aggies have the second-best rushing defense in the SEC (104.8 yards per game) but had a tough time handling Arkansas, allowing 222 yards on 42 carries to the Razorbacks. That was the most rushing yards the Aggies had given up since Mississippi State gained 239 in October 2019. A&M is really putting things together on offense, with a nice 6.6 yards per play average and a level of consistency (each game over 325 yards) that should keep A&M contending.
Coach Dan Mullen and his crew came out swinging after a coronavirus-imposed three-week break. Literally. The brawl against Missouri at the end of the first half might have bolstered team unity, but it won’t do any favors to an already depleted defense if any key players get suspended for the Georgia game. It’s all or nothing for Florida: Either beat the Dawgs and hold the key to an SEC Championship Game berth, or lose and pretty much forget about a CFP bid.
The Badgers can only hope for good health right now. Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said Saturday that 12 players and 10 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, leading to the cancelation of Saturday’s scheduled game against Nebraska. Florida has had their season disrupted by coronavirus, but, even assuming everybody fully recovers, the situation is even more impactful for Wisconsin’s CFP chances because there’s no margin for error in the Big Ten’s schedule.