Analyzing CFP race after Week 7 of 2021 season
The College Football Playoff race in 2021 has seen teams pop in and out of contention since Week 1. We saw one SEC team replace another at the top and other conferences scurry to make their case so far this season.
Georgia remains the team to beat after knocking off previously undefeated Kentucky in a game that all but decided the SEC East Division. The Dawgs have a long way to go, of course, but have certainly been the most complete team in the nation even with some of their skill players still out injured.
Iowa was ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press poll last week but fell at home to unranked Purdue. That all but ended any realistic chances for the Hawkeyes to make the CFP unless they run the table and a whole lot of chaos happens elsewhere. The Big Ten picture didn’t get a whole lot clearer – but it will, because 4 contenders (Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State) all still have to play each other in the regular season’s final 6 weeks.
These 12 teams are listed in the order that they are ranked in the new AP poll; the first rankings from the CFP committee will come out in early November.
The defense aced another challenge, limiting previously unbeaten Kentucky to 13 points and 243 yards. Georgia still leads the nation in total defense (allowing 208.4 yards a game), scoring D (6.6 points a game) and passing D (144.9 ypg). For good measure, UGA is No. 5 in offensive passing efficiency, not bad considering the Dawgs have spent most of the season with backup QB Stetson Bennett at the helm.
In a meeting between the Group of 5’s Great CFP Hope of the past vs. the Group of 5’s Great CFP Hope of the present, Cincinnati smashed American Athletic Conference rival UCF, 56-21. The Bearcats led 35-0 in the first half and didn’t even need much from QB Desmond Ridder (140 passing yards, 1 TD) because Alabama transfer Jerome Ford scored 4 rushing TDs and the defense had a pick-6.
The Sooners broke their trend of close wins against FBS opposition, beating TCU 52-31. Caleb Williams had a strong debut as Oklahoma’s quarterback, passing for 295 yards and 4 TDs, apparently completing Spencer Rattler’s transition from Heisman Trophy hopeful to spectator. But are there still questions about OU’s defense after it allowed 31 points and 529 yards to the Horned Frogs? Yep.
The Crimson Tide did what they always do, bounce back in a big way after a defeat. By rolling Mississippi State, Bama showed, as if there was much doubt, that it is still the team to beat in the SEC West. ESPN analyst Jesse Palmer called linebacker Will Anderson the best defensive player in America, and the sophomore made his case on Saturday with 4 sacks of Bulldogs QB Will Rogers.
A bye week bought the Buckeyes some rest before this Saturday’s game at Indiana. As motivated as the Hoosiers will be, it’s hard to foresee IU’s 107th-ranked offense keeping up on the scoreboard with OSU’s top-ranked unit. And OSU has allowed just 303.3 yards per game over the past 3 games (granted, against weak opposition) after a very shaky start to the season.
The Wolverines also got the weekend off and got to see its next opponent, Northwestern, take care of Rutgers. The Wildcats will have a much harder time stopping Michigan’s running game, which ranks 7th in FBS at 246.5 yards per game. Two programs ahead of the Wolverines on that list are service academies, who rarely throw the ball.
The Nittany Lions, like their rivals in Columbus and Ann Arbor, were idle (it was a light B1G schedule). PSU needs to bounce back from a loss to Iowa, but more important to the team is the health of QB Sean Clifford, who left the game against the Hawkeyes with an injury. Coach James Franklin was reluctant to project his QB situation publicly just yet, but without Clifford, PSU will fall off this list quickly.
The Cowboys won in Austin for the 6th time in 7 tries since 2010, and are 8-4 overall against Texas in the past 12 meetings. Utah State transfer Jaylen Warren is 7th in the country at 117.5 rushing yards per game, helping the offense make up for an unusual (certainly by Big 12 standards) lack of a passing game, as Oklahoma State is 89th in yards through the air per game at 212.3.
The Spartans remained undefeated by squeaking past Indiana, but that’s chalked up to the poor Hoosiers offense as much as anything. The nation’s leading rusher, Kenneth Walker III, was held to 84 yards, 33 below his season average, on 23 carries. And receivers Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor, who have combined for more than 1,000 receiving yards in 2021, combined for 92 yards and no TDs Saturday.
The Ducks also had to sweat out a close one, beating Cal 24-17 with a goal-line stand in the final seconds at home. This performance will impress nobody and, we reiterate, Oregon simply doesn’t have any résumé-boosting wins left on the schedule. That win over Ohio State in September was the high-water mark because the Ducks have not looked as good since.
The Hawkeyes have an old-fashioned formula for winning: Great defense, solid kicking and punting, just enough offense to win. But in the modern game, teams with mediocre offenses have a hard time breaking into the CFP. And sure enough, a loss to unranked Purdue severely dented Iowa’s chances. The other problem: Nobody remaining on Iowa’s schedule is ranked, so there’s little chance to move up.
The Rebels jumped back into the top 12 of the AP poll and are hanging around the fringes of the CFP race after a wild win at Tennessee in which Ole Miss spent the final few minutes ducking debris thrown from the stands. Matt Corral only had decent passing numbers but he killed the Vols with his legs, rushing for a career-high 195 yards. Two more tough games, against LSU and at Auburn, are up next.