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.
Let’s get to the biggest takeaways from Week 10.
Memphis is the clear AAC favorite and top Group of 5 contender.
It’s a question of schedule, not talent.
The Tigers earned a statement win by knocking off previously undefeated SMU on Saturday night, but there’s still plenty of work to be done to win the conference title and reach the Cotton Bowl. Memphis has wins over division rivals Navy and SMU, which will come in handy if it comes down to tiebreakers, but the Tigers still have to play Cincinnati in the regular-season finale.
Memphis got a bit of a raw deal, too. The Tigers might have to face Cincinnati twice in two weeks, since the Bearcats are likely to win the East and reach the AAC title game. Cincinnati nearly took itself out of the race with a loss to East Carolina on Saturday, but rallied to stay ahead of a resurgent UCF in the division standings.
SMU and Navy are also lurking in the West. If Memphis loses again, and either the Mustangs or Midshipmen finish 11-1 (they’ll face each other Nov. 23 in Annapolis), the Tigers will be left out of the title game.
Coach Mike Norvell has built on the foundation that Justin Fuente laid before heading to Virginia Tech, and the Tigers are poised to become a perennial G5 contender in a talent-rich recruiting hotbed. With Tennessee and Vanderbilt struggling, Memphis might become the go-to destination for top in-state players, and an AAC title and New Year’s Six bowl berth would give the Tigers the type of national showcase they’ve desperately needed. Saturday night’s win was a big first step, but Memphis must finish strong to continue its rise.
The Pac-12 is still in the playoff race.
Verdict: Not an overreaction.
This was the best weekend of the year for the Pac-12, which saw both of its top programs survive tough road games and stay in the playoff conversation.
Oregon (at USC) and Utah (at Washington) both started slow, but they eventually found their footing and moved to 8-1, setting up a potential playoff elimination game in the conference title game.
With Stanford, Washington, Washington State, USC, Colorado and Arizona State all having down years, and UCLA and Oregon State rebuilding, the conference has lacked its usual depth. Only Oregon and Utah are ranked in the Top 25, which might affect how the playoff committee views a potential 12-1 Pac-12 champion. Is winning this conference really as impressive as winning the Big Ten, SEC, Big 12 or even the AAC, which currently has four teams in the Top 25?
There’s no margin for error. The only way either Oregon or Utah makes the playoff is by going 12-1 and making a statement in the Pac-12 title game over a fellow top-10 opponent. Given how many strong teams might be in the playoff discussion at the end of the season, that still might not be enough.
Georgia really is an SEC title contender.
Verdict: Not an overreaction.
The Dawgs aren’t dead just yet.
Georgia dominated Florida on Saturday to take control of the SEC East, putting the Bulldogs back on track to reach their third straight conference championship game.
The loss to South Carolina a few weeks ago seemed like it was a warning sign, but it might have been a fluke. Georgia’s offense came back to life Saturday with the return of Lawrence Cager, the graduate transfer receiver from Miami and former Calvert Hall star. Cager has been the team’s leading receiver in its two biggest games, with five catches for 82 yards and a touchdown against Notre Dame and seven catches for 132 yards and a score against Florida.
It’s not a coincidence that when Cager got hurt against South Carolina and missed the Kentucky game the following week, the offense stagnated. With him back on Saturday, quarterback Jake Fromm looked the best he has all season, completing 67% of his passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns.
Georgia still has a tough road ahead to get back to Atlanta, with a road game against Auburn sandwiched by home dates against Missouri and Texas A&M. If the Dawgs can win out and get to the SEC title game 11-1, there’s hope for a playoff berth that seemed to all but evaporate a few weeks ago. This team might be peaking at just the right time.
Scott Frost isn’t the answer at Nebraska.
Frost deserves credit for being honest when he took over last season by saying that things are going to be much worse for the Cornhuskers before they get better. But can a loss to a Purdue team without its top quarterback and best player be chalked up to growing pains?
Even with Jeff Brohm building Purdue into a competitive team over the past few years, Nebraska should always be able to beat the Boilermakers, especially when they are so banged-up. Star quarterback Adrian Martinez returned on Saturday, but even he wasn’t able to lift a Huskers team that has lost three straight and four of its past five games.
Losing to Ohio State is one thing, but getting beat by Minnesota, Indiana and Purdue in the West is another. It seemed only a matter of time that Frost would have the Huskers competing for Big Ten championships, but now they’re in danger of slipping further behind Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota in the division hierarchy. There’s even a case to be made that Nebraska belongs in the bottom tier alongside Rutgers and Northwestern.
Still, it’s too early to make any snap judgments on Frost’s tenure. Sure, he got UCF to 13-0 in just his second year in Orlando, but that was in the AAC. Those who expected Nebraska to make a similar leap this year believed a little too much of the hype, especially with the Cornhuskers defense showing no signs of progress. Frost deserves to benefit of the doubt for now, but missing out on another bowl game would drastically lower expectations heading into Year 3. Nebraska might not be able to afford another losing year in perhaps the country’s toughest conference.
This isn’t a lost season for Michigan after all.
The Wolverines have acquitted themselves well after getting blown out by Wisconsin in Week 4, beating Iowa and Notre Dame and nearly taking Penn State to overtime in Happy Valley. But the final push will be what defines their season.
Michigan hosts Michigan State, travels to Indiana and welcomes Ohio State to The Big House to end the season, a stretch that could lead the Wolverines to 10-2 and a New Year’s Six bowl game berth or 7-5 with more questions about coach Jim Harbaugh’s long-term future with the team.
Given how well Ohio State has played this year, Wolverines fans might be able to live with another loss to the Buckeyes. But if Michigan were to slip up against either Michigan State or Indiana — or, gulp, both — how would Harbaugh be received in Ann Arbor?
Before the season started, Michigan was considered a top-10 team with a good chance of winning its first Big Ten title under Harbaugh. Instead, the Wolverines will likely end up 9-3 or worse. There’s still hope for 10 wins and a shocking upset, but it’s clear that Michigan has fallen behind Ohio State and perhaps Penn State when it comes to recruiting and national relevance.
Giving up on Harbaugh now would be unwise, but it’s fair to start wondering when — or if — Michigan will become the national powerhouse it believes it can be.
Wake Forest and North Carolina are poised to be perennial ACC contenders.
Verdict: Not an overreaction.
Expectations were low for these programs when the season began, with Las Vegas oddsmakers setting Wake Forest’s over/under win total at six and North Carolina’s at 5½. The Demon Deacons have already cleared that bar by starting 7-1, and while the Tar Heels still have some work to do to get to six wins, both programs have laid the foundation for future success.
It starts with the coaches. Since taking over in 2014, coach Dave Clawson has made the Power 5’s smallest school competitive, and this season has shown what the ceiling could look like at Wake Forest. The Deacs won’t ever be able to compete with the resources of schools like Clemson, Florida State and Louisville, but Clawson has proved that there’s enough talent to go around in the Mid-Atlantic for Wake Forest to make a run at a New Year’s Six bowl game.
At North Carolina, Mack Brown’s hire was met with tepid expectations, considering he hadn’t coached since 2013. Through nine games, the Tar Heels already have more wins (four) than they did in each of the past two. With some better luck in one-score games, the Heels might be at the top of ACC Coastal division.
Consider the quarterbacks, too. UNC’s Sam Howell and Wake’s Jamie Newman are first and second, respectively, in the ACC in touchdown passes and will each be back next year. Howell is among the best true freshman quarterbacks in the country, while Newman, a junior, is having a standout year in his first season as the full-time starter. That’s the kind of stability these programs need to realistically compete for conference championships.
Wake Forest and UNC won’t impress everyone with their talent, but they’re well-coached and have enough playmakers to hang with almost every team in the conference. With other ACC powerhouses like Florida State (which just fired second-year coach Willie Taggart), Miami, Virginia Tech and Louisville still getting their acts together, the time is ripe for a reshuffling of the pecking order.
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When the over/under totals come out next year for Wake Forest and UNC, consider taking the over.