CFP chase: Assessing Playoff contenders after Week 2
Week 2 had a few more enticing nonconference matchups than Week 1 and we are getting a little bit more evidence of who the true College Football Playoff contenders might be.
The lineup is going to look awfully familiar.
The 4 Playoff teams from last season — Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma and Notre Dame — all remain unbeaten. Several other teams such as Georgia, LSU and Ohio State have looked the part, though the level of opposition tells us little outside of LSU’s huge victory at Texas on Saturday.
With that in mind, here is our weekly look at the CFP contenders, broken down by groups.
The Crimson Tide will open SEC play this week at South Carolina. Alabama has not been truly tested (unless you count a scoreless 1st quarter in the opener against Duke) and the game against the Gamecocks should not be particularly close. South Carolina freshman QB Ryan Hilinksi might make things a bit more interesting, though.
A ho-hum blowout of FCS program Murray State tells us nothing. Neither will this week’s game against Arkansas State. All of this is a prelude to a big nonconference game Sept. 21 when the Dawgs face Notre Dame in Athens. What happens Between the Hedges will be a critical component of each team’s résumé. Georgia is No. 8 in the country in rushing at 297 yards per game.
The national champions looked like a team capable of repeating in Saturday’s victory over Texas A&M. The final score says it was reasonably close, but the fact is, the Tigers’ defense remains fierce, Travis Etienne remains an elite running back and Trevor Lawrence remains surgical. Considering the state of the ACC, Clemson might not get a closer game than the one A&M put up.
The Tigers are the talk of college football after pulling off such a tremendous offensive performance in Saturday’s victory over Texas in Austin. The questions now might be about LSU’s running game and defense, of all things. LSU gets a breather against Northwestern State next and the first real test to their title aspirations likely will come Oct. 12 against Florida.
The Wolverines need to take notes after that overtime victory over Army on Saturday. For starters, they could absorb some of Army’s discipline — Michigan is committing an average of 8.5 penalties a game, tied for 11th in the nation. Michigan now gets 2 weeks to prepare for its Big Ten opener, Sept. 21 at Wisconsin. Michigan has not wowed anybody yet.
Jalen Hurts put up nice numbers again without ever really needing to get out of second gear against woefully outmanned South Dakota. Like LSU, the Sooners have Oct. 12 circled on their calendar because that’s the day they play Texas. A loss in last year’s meeting could easily have cost Oklahoma a Playoff shot, but Oklahoma won the rematch in the Big 12 title game.
Saturday’s 42-0 victory over Cincinnati was more impressive than it seems on the surface because Ohio State gained 270 yards rushing. The Bearcats were an outstanding run defense last season and again this year in the opener against UCLA, but OSU made it look easy. Quarterback Justin Fields and running back J.K. Dobbins make OSU a difficult team to stop on the ground.
Knocking at the door
Much like a handful of teams on this list who played patsies Saturday, the Gators came away with a blowout victory and nothing new to show to the CFP voters. Florida has a test this week at Kentucky, but October, with consecutive games against Auburn and at LSU, is the true proving ground.
The Tigers had a wider margin of victory in beating Tulane than they did against Oregon, the opener in which Auburn trailed most of the game. Much like LSU’s defense, Auburn’s offense will have to answer some questions before considering CFP contention.
If there is any such thing as a no-damage loss, the Aggies took it back with them to College Station on Saturday. A defeat at Clemson should not deflate A&M at all, but now Kellen Mond and company need to pound this week’s foe, Lamar, before Auburn pops up on the schedule.
The Fighting Irish had an odd Week 2 bye to rest up after playing a Labor Day Monday game against Louisville in which they looked fine, but not great. A pretty easy game against New Mexico is next but Georgia looms on Sept. 21.
After late Saturday, when Washington lost to Cal for the second year in a row, the Utes just might be the standard-bearer in the Pac-12. Utah trailed Northern Illinois at halftime on Saturday before pulling away. A Sept. 20 date at USC suddenly looks intriguing.
On the fringes
The Nittany Lions looked pretty good for a half on Saturday against Buffalo. It was the second half. We shall see if trailing such an unimpressive opponent at halftime wakes up PSU. It won’t make anyone think this team is on Michigan’s or Ohio State’s level yet.
Second verse, same as the first. The Knights rolled over another overmatched in-state nonconference foe (this time Florida Atlantic). And what would have been a chance at a significant Power 5 opponent in Stanford soured somewhat when USC routed the Cardinal on Saturday.
The Ducks, like the next entry on this list, have a nonconference loss to an SEC team, yet play the role as one of the favorites in their conference. With Washington and Stanford losing Saturday, the Pac-12 North might be Oregon’s to lose.
The Longhorns slip into this category after losing to LSU, not because that was such a bad loss (it wasn’t) but because the Texas defense is still not living up to expectations. Obviously, the margin of error is gone now.