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 7.
Georgia will miss the playoff.
Verdict: Not an overreaction.
The Bulldogs are still alive for one of the four playoff bids. But considering the way they played — and how Kirby Smart coached — in Saturday’s overtime loss to South Carolina, there isn’t much hope they can run the table.
For Georgia to even get consideration from the committee, it would have to beat Kentucky, Missouri and Texas A&M at home, Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech on the road and Alabama or LSU in the SEC championship game to finish 12-1. Even an 11-2 Georgia team with a conference title would be unlikely to make the final four. Penn State, which won the Big Ten championship at 11-2 in 2016, was left out in favor of one-loss Pac-12 champion Washington.
Let’s be clear: The Bulldogs are more than capable of winning out and giving the SEC West champion a run for its money. They’ll likely be favored in all but one of their remaining regular-season games. The reason to doubt their chances speaks more about the overall quality of the conference, which can lead to upsets like we saw Saturday in Athens. Getting past Florida and Auburn unscathed was always going to be Georgia’s biggest test, and now we’ve seen the dangers of overlooking a big underdog.
There was a good chance a Georgia team that finished the regular season undefeated but fell in the SEC title game would still make the playoff, the way it did in 2017. That margin for error vanished with Saturday’s loss to the Gamecocks. For the Bulldogs to still get to where they think they should be, anything short of an SEC championship would be a failure. Those are big stakes for Smart’s team, and given what we’ve seen so far, they might not be able to handle the pressure.
Even Alabama, the standard for excellence in the sport, has only entered the playoff as an undefeated conference champion twice in the past five seasons. So why can LSU do it?
Two reasons. 1) The Tigers have the best offense in the country, and 2) they’ve already passed a pair of big tests.
After holding off Texas in Austin in Week 2, the Tigers rolled to a 14-point win over Florida in Baton Rouge on Saturday night. But there are plenty of big hurdles left. On top of a home game against an unpredictable Auburn team in two weeks, LSU travels to Tuscaloosa, where the Tigers have not won since a 9-6 overtime victory in 2011. (Something tells me there will be a few more points scored in this year’s game.)
But if LSU can get past those games unblemished, it finishes the season at Ole Miss and home for Arkansas and Texas A&M before heading to the SEC title game. In Atlanta, the Tigers will likely be favored, facing either Florida, Georgia or Missouri. That’s a recipe for 12-0.
Joe Burrow’s Heisman Trophy campaign gains steam each week, and it will be hard to deny him the award if he leads LSU to a win over Alabama, an undefeated season and an SEC title. For the first time since Les Miles led the Tigers to the BCS national championship game in 2011 for a rematch against the Crimson Tide, it feels as if LSU is a legitimate national title contender. We’ll find out in the next three weeks.
There’s a clear separation between the top 10 and the rest of the country.
Verdict: Not an overreaction.
Here’s your new Associated Press Top 10: No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 LSU, No. 3 Clemson, No. 4 Ohio State, No. 5 Oklahoma, No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 7 Penn State, No. 8 Notre Dame, No. 9 Florida, No. 10 Georgia. These teams are in a league of their own.
That’s not to say the rest of the top 25 can’t hang with this top tier. But it’s clear through seven weeks that this group is separating itself from the pack.
Just look at LSU’s performances against Texas and Florida; Oklahoma’s win over Texas; Ohio State and Wisconsin’s thumpings of, well, everyone in the Big Ten; Penn State’s win at Iowa; and Notre Dame’s win over USC. And when Alabama and Clemson shift into second gear, there are few teams in the country — other than each other — that can compete.
There are certainly teams capable of jumping into the playoff discussion from outside the top 10 (No. 11 Auburn, No. 12 Oregon and No. 13 Utah come to mind), but they’re on the outside looking in for a reason. At this point, a playoff contender emerging from the bottom 15 would be surprising.
Undefeated Baylor and Minnesota are threats to win their conference championships.
The Bears and Golden Gophers, both 6-0, have been among the best stories of the season so far, but let’s pump the brakes.
It says plenty that Minnesota wasn’t ranked in the top 25 until this week, given their nail-biting wins over nonconference opponents. But to their credit, the Gophers have looked formidable against conference opponents, blowing out Nebraska, 34-7, on Saturday night a week after dominating Illinois. Tanner Morgan has quietly become one of the best quarterbacks in the country, ranking fourth in the nation in pass efficiency behind Heisman front-runners Burrow, Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa.
Baylor has also gotten a strong start from quarterback Charlie Brewer, and the Bears have ridden a stout defense all the way to a tie atop the Big 12 standings with Oklahoma.
But both teams have yet to face a ranked opponent, and won’t for at least another few weeks. Those 6-0 records are flimsy at best, and it’s only a matter of time before one or both of these teams is handed its first defeat of 2019.
Still, there’s plenty to celebrate for P.J. Fleck and Matt Rhule, two former Group of 5 coaches who left their programs (Fleck at Western Michigan and Rhule at Temple) in much better shape than they found them. Early returns are positive, and a ranking next to each school’s name is a nice reward for that progress and good exposure for recruits. Just don’t expect to see that number there for very long.
The American Athletic Conference has a legitimate claim to be a “Power 6” conference.
Verdict: Not an overreaction.
“P6” has become a branding term for the AAC, but it has never rang more true than it has this season.
The conference has two teams in the top 25, and there’s a case to be made for more. Six teams have one loss or fewer. No. 21 Cincinnati (5-1), Temple (5-1), Tulane (5-1), Navy (4-1) and Memphis (5-1) have all exceeded expectations thus far, and that’s before you get to No. 19 SMU, which at 6-0 is among the best stories in college football this season.
The bottom of the AAC is unsightly (Hi, UConn), but even the teams that were expected to be bad (East Carolina, South Florida, Tulsa) haven’t been embarrassing. And when you consider that usual conference heavyweights UCF (4-2) and Houston (2-4) are having down years, the league’s growth has been even more impressive.
The ACC has just one team ranked in the Top 25 in No. 3 Clemson. There’s a strong case to be made that the top of the AAC is on par with the top of the ACC this season, especially since Wake Forest might be the second best team in the ACC. The AAC might even be able to hang with the Big 12, since there’s a pretty steep dropoff behind Oklahoma, Texas, Baylor and Iowa State.
It will take a few more seasons at this level of play for the AAC to start getting serious respect, but the conference is well on its way to establishing itself as fertile ground for rising programs and coaches.