Biggest flaw for each Playoff contender after Week 4
In this most unusual college football season, we are seeing the usual number of upsets.
Two ranked SEC teams fell this weekend, Auburn and Tennessee. With 2 losses each and a tough schedule looming (both the Vols and Tigers have yet to face Alabama), they can pretty much kiss goodbye any hopes of an SEC title or a College Football Playoff bid.
Ditto for the ACC’s North Carolina, which probably needed to run the table going into the Nov. 27 game against Notre Dame to stay in the CFP conversation. Instead, the Tar Heels fell from No. 5 to No. 14 in the Associated Press poll this week after losing to unranked Florida State.
So that leaves 1 SEC unbeaten (Alabama), 3 other Power 5 unbeatens (Clemson, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State) and 3 SEC teams with 1 loss (Georgia, Florida, Texas A&M) as teams to analyze. Clemson and Alabama have separated themselves from the pack: For what it’s worth, those teams account for all 62 first-place votes in the AP poll, with the top-ranked Tigers getting 54 and the Crimson Tide getting the other 8.
We have to emphasize again, this list includes only teams we have seen play so far. So no Big Ten teams and no (ahem) Pac-12 yet. The Big Ten steps onto the big stage this coming Friday and Saturday, so expect to see this list grow by a few teams next week. We know this: Like the SEC, the Big Ten will play only within the conference, so 7 teams in the B1G will start 1-0.
Teams in the SEC, ACC and Big 12 have given us a few weeks of evidence on the field and the list of contenders is narrowing.
Here now are the biggest flaws that could keep teams out of the College Football Playoff.
Alabama: Rushing defense, sort of
The Crimson Tide is giving up 4.0 yards per carry on the season, ranked 38th in the country out of 77 teams that have played so far. Not bad, just not very Bama-like. Georgia exceeded that, with 145 yards on 30 carries for a 4.8 average. Georgia could not make that matter in the second half, though. No. 2 Alabama had a lot of questions concerning its defense entering the game but answered many of them by shutting out the Dawgs in the second half. The big question: Can any remaining opponents run well enough against Bama to make a difference?
Georgia: Inefficient offense
Georgia had decent running stats against the Crimson Tide, but the Bulldogs, now ranked No. 4, just could not keep up with Alabama’s offensive output in the second half. Stetson Bennett was 18-for-40 passing and that simply won’t do it against an elite opponent. And, again, a 4.8-yards per carry average on the ground is fine, but UGA’s longest run went for 24 yards. Georgia just did not have enough big plays in its arsenal and had no answer after Jaylen Waddle’s 90-yard TD reception in the second half.
There is no getting around it: It’s a tough time for the Gators after head coach Dan Mullen and 20 other coaches and players tested positive for coronavirus in the past week. This was the capper on an awful situation that led to the games against LSU and Missouri to be postponed. At best, everyone will recover, the No. 10 Gators will play again on Oct. 31 against Missouri and UF will be only be 1 game behind schedule. But it’s way more important for everybody to be healthy, so any timetable has to take a back seat.
Texas A&M: Pass defense
The Aggies deserve a ton of credit in overcoming a rough start. After barely beating lowly Vanderbilt and getting blown out by Alabama, A&M has come alive in the past 2 games. And the No. 7 Aggies did better defending the pass Saturday, holding Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense at Mississippi State to 219 yards via the air. But it’s hard to forget those back-to-back games in which A&M allowed 4 TD passes by Bama and 4 more by Florida. Jimbo Fisher’s bunch will need more consistency in passing D to get where they want to go.
Around the country
Clemson: ACC schedule
Even if the No. 1 Tigers run through the ACC undefeated — and good grief, who can stop them? — the CFP committee might look at Clemson’s schedule and decide that an SEC team is simply better for having played 10 SEC games, especially if Alabama runs the table. Clemson’s other problem is that it would be punished pretty severely for 1 loss (if that occurs). Georgia only fell 1 spot in the AP poll after losing at Alabama and rightly so. How far would Clemson fall if somebody shocks Dabo Swinney’s bunch? Could their presumed CFP spot vanish?
Notre Dame: Plodding offense
The Big Ten has been criticized for years for having slow, plodding football. It’s funny, then, that in a year where the Fighting Irish is all in with the ACC in football, they look way more like a 1960s team from the Big Ten, the league where Notre Dame is the most natural geographic fit. The Irish edged Louisville 12-7 on Saturday and gained just 338 total yards. Notre Dame has excellent lines on offense and defense. Its D is allowing 11.5 points per game, No. 4 in the country. But until their offense looks the part, the No. 3 Irish won’t be elite enough.
Oklahoma State: Few turnovers created
No. 6 Oklahoma State has put up excellent defensive numbers in 3 games. The Cowboys are No. 2 in the country in points allowed at 9 per game (behind Air Force, which has played just one game). The Cowboys are No. 5 in total defense, 10th in rushing defense and 13th in passing D. The one thing missing is turnovers — Oklahoma State has only forced 3, for an average of 1 per game. The offense is off to a bit of a slow start, so grabbing some TOs on defense would help a lot as No. 17 Iowa State, Texas, No. 20 Kansas State and Oklahoma loom.