Welcome to the college football overreaction index, where we examine the most important storylines from the past weekend of games to determine what’s worth paying attention to and what’s getting a little too much attention.
Here are the biggest takeaways from Week 8.
Tua Tagovailoa’s ankle injury changes the playoff picture.
Tagovailoa, a Heisman Trophy favorite, rolled his right ankle in Alabama’s 35-13 win Saturday night over Tennessee and left the game. He was diagnosed with a high-ankle sprain, had surgery Sunday and coach Nick Saban said his star quarterback would likely miss one to two weeks. That’s great news for 'Bama and college football fans alike, since that timeline would put Tagovailoa back on the field for a huge game Nov. 9 against LSU.
The injury happened during a fortunate time in Alabama’s schedule. The Crimson Tide host Arkansas (2-5, 0-4 SEC) next Saturday before their bye week, giving Tagovailoa plenty of time to rest.
Redshirt sophomore Mac Jones, a former three-star recruit, played well in Tagovailoa’s absence, completing six of 11 passes for 72 yards Saturday. But even with the Tide’s dynamic group of receivers, the offense was much more limited under Jones. Alabama’s lone offensive touchdown with Jones in the game came on a Wildcat pass from receiver Slade Bolden.
Until we know the true extent of Tagovailoa’s injury, we won’t know for certain how it will affect him. It’s not the same ankle he injured in the SEC championship game last year, which might have caused his uncharacteristically poor play in the national title game loss against Clemson.
If Tagovailoa misses just one game against an easy opponent and comes back fully healthy against LSU, there’s no reason to worry. But if the injury lingers and hampers his ability to make plays and move around in the pocket, Alabama might not be equipped to win the SEC and make the playoff with its backup quarterback.
Jalen Hurts isn’t stepping through that door this time.
Penn State vs. Ohio State will determine the Big Ten championship.
The Big Ten’s top teams proved their strength again this weekend, with Ohio State routing Northwestern, 52-3, on the road and Penn State surging ahead of Michigan in its annual “white out” game before hanging on for a 28-21 win.
With Wisconsin falling as a 30.5-point favorite to Illinois on Saturday, the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions are the last remaining top-10 teams in the conference. And they’ll meet Nov. 23 in Columbus in a game that will likely decide the Big Ten East title. But a lot can happen over the next five weeks.
Just look at this upcoming weekend. Ohio State hosts Wisconsin, which, despite its inexplicable loss to Illinois, has been among the most dominant teams in the country. Penn State, meanwhile, travels to East Lansing to face Michigan State, a team that has beaten the Nittany Lions in four of the past five seasons.
Of course, with the way Michigan and Michigan State have struggled, there’s a pretty good chance it’s the Buckeyes or Nittany Lions representing the East in the conference title game even if they each slip up before their big meeting. But assuming either team will waltz to a win in Indianapolis, the way Ohio State did against Northwestern last year, is disrespectful to the possible West champ, which could be a motivated Wisconsin team hungry for revenge or a rising (and perhaps undefeated) Minnesota team looking for a statement victory.
Wisconsin’s loss highlighted the unpredictability of conference play. It’s not a stretch to think a similar upset loss or two could reshuffle the Big Ten pecking order.
A 39-yard field goal. That’s all it took to sink the Badgers’ playoff hopes in a 24-23 last-second loss to Illinois, which picked up its first win over a ranked opponent since 2007.
Wisconsin turned the ball over three times, which led to 17 points for the Fighting Illini. The Badgers gave the ball away on their last two possessions, with a fumble by Jonathan Taylor and an interception by Jack Coan leading to 10 Illinois points in the final seven minutes.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, it was the biggest upset by point spread (Wisconsin was a 30.5-point favorite) in a Big Ten game since Northwestern beat Minnesota as 32-point underdogs in 1982.
But talk of this loss proving Wisconsin can’t hang with the nation’s elite is premature. Head-scratching losses are almost a given in college football. Just look at Georgia’s loss to South Carolina two weeks ago, Ohio State’s blowout defeats to Purdue and Iowa the past two seasons, or Clemson’s losses to Pittsburgh (2016) and Syracuse (2017), to name a few. The Buckeyes rebounded to win the Big Ten and a major bowl each of those seasons. Why can’t Wisconsin?
The Badgers get a chance this weekend to prove the loss to Illinois was a fluke when it faces Ohio State on the road. Wisconsin has been too dominant to be written off after one loss, as painful as it was. Until proven otherwise, the Badgers are a legitimate threat to win the Big Ten. We’ll find out this weekend how legitimate.
Baylor and Iowa State can challenge Oklahoma for the Big 12 title.
Verdict: Not an overreaction.
Look at the Bears and Cyclones go.
Baylor entered Stillwater as five-point underdogs and left with a dominant 45-27 win over Oklahoma State, forcing three turnovers and holding one of the nation’s top offenses in check. Even more incredible was the Baylor offense, which passed for 312 yards on just 17 (!) attempts and averaged a staggering 9.9 yards per play. That included passing plays of 78, 64, 63 and 44 yards and rushing plays of 73, 25 and 21 yards.
Meanwhile, Iowa State just kept chugging along with a tidy 34-24 win over Texas Tech in Lubbock. The Cyclones averaged a first down per play — 10 yards — and were ruthlessly efficient on the ground, rushing for 182 yards on 24 carries. In quarterback Brock Purdy’s past three games, he’s completed 70.9% of his passes for 854 yards and has nine total touchdowns.
Baylor and Iowa State each get shots at Oklahoma in back-to-back weeks, with the Cyclones traveling to Norman on Nov. 9 and the Bears hosting the Sooners on Nov. 16. And with Texas struggling to beat Kansas on Saturday, the Longhorns might not be able to avoid four losses, putting their much-anticipated rematch against Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game in jeopardy.
It might look right now as if the Sooners can stroll into the playoff, but the Bears and Cyclones will have something to say about that first.
The Group of 5 bid for the Cotton Bowl is coming from the American Athletic Conference.
Verdict: Not an overreaction.
With Boise State’s 28-25 loss at BYU on Saturday night, the Broncos dropped all the way to No. 22 in the latest AP poll. Once in the driver’s seat for the at-large Group of 5 bid to the Cotton Bowl, Boise State is now looking up at Appalachian State (No. 21), Cincinnati (No. 18) and SMU (No. 16).
While the Broncos’ loss doesn’t eliminate them from reaching a New Year’s Six bowl game, it opens the door for other contenders, most notably from the AAC.
The College Football Playoff committee will determine which Group of 5 team goes to Dallas, since the highest-ranked team in the final poll gets the nod. The committee has traditionally favored teams that have played tough schedules, and conference games have the most weight in strength-of-schedule discussions. With the AAC showing marked improvement this year — seven of the 12 teams have five or more wins eight weeks into the season — the conference champion is likely to be rewarded for coming out on top.
The Broncos’ easiest path to a Cotton Bowl bid was to go undefeated, since the Mountain West, while also showing improvement (particularly in nonconference play), is weaker than the AAC. But with SMU, Cincinnati, Memphis and Navy all having great seasons (combined record: 24-3) in a better conference, a two-loss AAC champ probably gets the nod over a one-loss Boise State.
Appalachian State will be the most interesting case study if it finishes undefeated. The Mountaineers already have one win over a Power 5 team this year — 34-31 at North Carolina — and have the chance to pick up another in three weeks against South Carolina, which has beaten then-No. 3 Georgia. While App State’s Sun Belt schedule likely won’t impress the committee, an undefeated conference champion with two wins over Power 5 teams would be hard to ignore.