CFP chase: Assessing Playoff contenders after Week 1
The College Football Playoff committee is unlikely to refer to its Week 1 notes very often when it meets in October to discuss the season’s first Playoff rankings.
Put simply, none of the expected contenders for 1 of the 4 CFP semifinal spots come late December was really challenged.
Of the top 15 teams in the preseason Associated Press poll, only one lost, and that was because somebody had to when No. 11 Oregon faced No. 15 Auburn on Saturday night. The other 13 teams in the top 15 heading into the weekend won their Week 1 games (or Week 0 in Florida’s case) by an average of 27 points. It’s worth noting, of course, that only 5 of those 13 teams faced Power 5 opposition.
Did any of the CFP contenders acquit themselves better than any others? We’ll try to figure that out, this week and every week, by looking at the CFP contenders in groups. For now, these assessments are a combination of preseason predictions and the scant evidence we have on these teams after one game.
It took Alabama nearly 20 minutes of clock time and 4 drives to get on the scoreboard against Duke on Saturday. Then Alabama remembered it was Alabama and Duke remembered it isn’t basketball season yet … OK, sorry, that’s not fair. David Cutcliffe has taken the Blue Devils to bowls in 6 of the past 7 seasons during a tremendous coaching tenure. Doesn’t mean Duke is on Bama’s level. No reason to think the Tide won’t maintain its unique status as the only program to make every CFP.
The Bulldogs opened the season against an outmanned SEC foe at home in the comfortable confines of Athens, where Georgia … wait, that was not a home game? In all seriousness, Bulldogs fans brought the noise at Vanderbilt and their physical offense brought the rest in a dominating victory. Nobody has been able to touch the Bulldogs in the SEC East the past few years and Saturday’s game made absolutely nobody think 2019 will be any different.
Another preseason CFP favorite opening against a conference opponent that never really stood a chance. The defending national champion Tigers made it look easy against Georgia Tech and the defense, which lost so much talent to the NFL, looked like it had not missed a step. In fairness, the Yellow Jackets are overhauling everything about the program under new coach Geoff Collins, so this was expected. A much sterner test awaits Clemson this Saturday against Texas A&M.
The Wolverines looked fine in defeating Middle Tennessee State 40-21. Not great, not shaky, not awe-inspiring, not troubling. This game was just kind of there. If Michigan displays the same kind of balance on offense all season (233 yards rushing, 220 passing) it is a major threat to win the Big Ten and perhaps, with both Notre Dame and Ohio State visiting Ann Arbor, be a threat to run the table. But allowing 301 yards and 16 first downs to a middling (sorry) C-USA team doesn’t inspire confidence, either.
— LSU Football (@LSUfootball) September 2, 2019
Joe Burrow tied a team record with 5 touchdown passes and only needed one half to do it. True, Georgia Southern wasn’t expected to keep up with the likes of LSU. Still, Saturday’s 55-3 pasting is exactly what an SEC team with visions of grandeur is supposed to do to a visiting Sun Belt Conference team (you hear that Tennessee?) with Texas up next. The Tigers becoming … a slinging, fun offense? Why not!
Houston is one of the best Group of 5 programs in the country (one could argue this game should be a Big 12 tilt because that’s where the Cougars belong), so for the Sooners to open their season in such emphatic fashion is impressive. Oklahoma’s 49-31 victory was not quite as close as the final score made it appear — Jalen Hurts’ 1-yard touchdown run capped a spectacular Sooners debut for him and put his team up 42-17 in the 3rd quarter. Still a team to watch, very much so.
Like Hurts, Justin Fields is a transfer quarterback who left an SEC program to try to do big things elsewhere. Unlike Hurts, former Georgia QB Fields has 3 years of eligibility remaining. If Saturday’s 45-21 win over Florida Atlantic was anything to go by, these will be 3 fun years in Columbus (assuming he doesn’t leave early for the NFL). OSU led 28-0 just 8:10 into this game. After that the Buckeyes showed a few cracks. The question is, might they become huge Purdue-in-2018 or Iowa-in-2017 sized cracks?
Knocking at the door
The Tigers have to be in the discussion for that thrilling comeback win over the Ducks. Bo Nix, Malzahn’s guts, all that stuff. But we’re not going to forget that we saw Auburn trail Oregon for about 55 minutes of that game, are we?
We can’t glean a lot of information from a Week 1 romp over a Texas State program that has only been in FBS since 2012. Still, a 41-7 rout is exactly what an SEC team with visions of grandeur is supposed to do to a visiting Sun Belt Conference team (you hear that, Tennessee?). Oh, and a trip to Clemson is next.
A week off after the tight, sloppy Week 0 victory over Miami might have gotten the Gators away from the noise, and given them a bit of schadenfreude as well. A tuneup against Tennessee-Martin this Saturday is followed by a revenge game against Kentucky (wow, that still sounds weird).
The Fighting Irish extended their regular-season winning streak to 13 games with Monday’s 35-17 win over Louisville. After a tuneup Sept. 14 against New Mexico, Notre Dame has a showdown against Georgia on Sept. 21 in Athens.
Here’s an odd statistic: This is the 3rd season for Tom Herman as the coach at Texas. It took until Saturday for the Longhorns to start 1-0 under him. Now that a rout of Louisiana Tech put those 2 Maryland nightmares behind them, the Longhorns can focus on LSU this week.
Up close and personal.
All the sights, sounds and best moments from the sideline of the one hundredth meeting. pic.twitter.com/l41Jaihrtf
— Utah Football (@Utah_Football) September 1, 2019
It’s always nice to get a true rivalry game out of the way early, and even better to win it on the road. Having dispatched BYU 30-12 in Provo, the Utes can set about defending their Pac-12 South Division championship, and perhaps achieving more.
Former Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason was tidy in a rout of FCS team Eastern Washington, throwing for 349 yards and 4 touchdowns in his first extended action since 2016. Can he lead the Huskies to consecutive league titles? Better yet, can UW convince anybody that any Pac-12 team belongs in the CFP?
On the fringes
That was not a typo, the Nittany Lions really did score 79 points on FCS program Idaho. Penn State gained more yards per carry (7.4) than it allowed the Vandals (4) in total on 28 carries. It proves nothing, of course, because PSU still has to get over those Michigan and OSU hurdles.
Will a Group of 5 team ever state its case well enough to make the CFP? Probably not until the field expands to 8 teams, and even that assumes an automatic G5 spot. In 2019 the Knights have to battle Boise State for the role as the favorite for a New Year’s Day 6 bowl slot.
The Ducks still might be the best team in the Pac-12. Don’t count them out. As for the CFP? A loss to Auburn should not do a lot of damage to Oregon’s résumé in a vacuum. But does that vacuum, which would have to ignore the Pac-12’s tattered reputation, exist inside the CFP voting room?