We knew it would happen, though none of us could have guessed how it would happen. As of five days ago, the national championship race looked more wide open than ever. After Saturday, the field has narrowed - considerably.
1. Clemson solidifies itself as a clear-cut No. 1. After Dalvin Cook raced 75 yards for a touchdown on his first carry of the game and another 36 on his next touch, Clemson appeared totally overwhlemed by an opportunity none of its players had seen before and an opponent none of its players had beaten.
It took a while (the Tigers didn't score their first touchdown until their eighth possession) but Clemson eventually solidified itself as the superior team to Florida State - and, in the process, the nation's No. 1 team through Week 10. Clemson out-rushed Florida State 215-197 (215-86 after Cook's initial burst), Deshaun Watson became the first 'Noles opponent to post a 200/100 game since 2011, and the Tigers scored 23 of the game's final 29 points to win 23-13. A week after winning a come-from-behind shootout, Dabo Swinney's bunch won a come-from-behind grown-man game. That's the type of stuff eventual national champions do.
Clemson finishes with Syracuse (on the road), Wake Forest (at home), South Carolina (in Columbia) and, probably, North Carolina (more on them later). There are no sure things on Nov. 7, but Clemson is as close to one as you can find.
Dabo's new moves. pic.twitter.com/9vJg8HApCn
— Jeff Fischel (@JeffFischel) November 8, 2015
2. Alabama out-classes LSU. In 2011, LSU went to Tuscaloosa and beat Alabama 9-6 in a game we'll all never forget, no matter how much we'd like to. That's also a game that will never be repeated, no matter how much LSU seems to try every year.
Winning football games requires touchdowns, multiples of them, and in their now five-game losing streak to Alabama, the Bayou Bengals have managed zero, two, two, one and now one touchdown again. The Tide's 30-16 win over LSU can be summarized in two stat lines.
- Derrick Henry: 38 carries, 210 yards, three touchdowns.
- Leonard Fournette: 19 carries, 31 yards, one touchdown.
None of this 'you have to score to win games' analysis is rocket science. But, for the past five years now, LSU has turned solving Alabama's defense into just that.
3. I wrote after Ohio State's win at Rutgers that the Buckeyes were finally becoming the team they were supposed to be. Then the Buckeyes went on a bye week and J.T. Barrett got himself suspended. Cardale Jones returned to the starting lineup and suddenly Ohio State needed a late touchdown run to put away Minnesota at home. The Buckeyes produced nearly twice as many punts (seven) as touchdowns (four) in their 28-14 win over the Gophers. With a trip to Illinois next week followed by a closing one-two punch of Michigan State and Michigan, will Urban Meyer immediately yank the starting job away from Jones again and hand them back to Barrett? Can he afford not to?
4. We've only seen one set of rankings from the CFP selection committee thus far, but that's enough to educatedly guess Clemson, Alabama and Ohio State (in some order) are fine as long as they win out. Everyone else needs either some modicum of help, or to at least hold their breath these final four weeks.
5. Teams that stayed the course.
a. Notre Dame earned another quality win as DeShone Kizer bombed a Pittsburgh team that was ranked as recently as two weeks ago for a school-record six touchdowns in a 42-30 win.
b. Jarrett Stidham looked like a natural Baylor quarterback, throwing for 419 yards in his first start Thursday night, as the Bears survived Kansas State 31-24.
c. Who'd have thought Bloomington, Indiana would turn into a crucible of Playoff worthiness? After Indiana scared the scat out of Ohio State and pushed Michigan State (through three quarters, at least), Iowa fans could be seen across the Internet puffing their chests over a 35-27 win against a Hooisers team that sits 0-5 in the Big Ten. Go figure. It was actually a great day for the Hawkeyes, as Northwestern, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Illinois all won.
d. Up until 2:30 p.m. CT Saturday, one could have legitimately questioned Oklahoma State's worthiness among the Big 12's upper crust. After all, the Cowboys needed significant help to beat Texas and Kansas State, and needed overtime to beat a West Virginia team Oklahoma, TCU and Baylor crushed.
And then the game started.
Oklahoma State whipped TCU 49-29. Mason Rudolph averaged 22 yards on his 16 completions while tossing five touchdown passes. Glenn Spencer's defense forced Trevone Boykin to throw a career-high four interceptions. The longest of OSU's six touchdown drives lasted just 73 seconds, and the defense allowed only four touchdowns in 110 plays.
All of a sudden Oklahoma State is 9-0 with a trip to Iowa State and home games against Baylor and Oklahoma waiting.
e. Speaking of Oklahoma, the Sooners beat Iowa State 52-16 in a game so boring the Sooners' beat writers were tweeting about watching other games from the press box.
f. And speaking of boring, Florida survived Vanderbilt 9-7. I watched this game so you didn't have to.
g. Utah and Stanford (remember them?) earned a pair of workmanlike wins. The Utes beat a stingy Washington team 34-23 in Seattle, and Stanford walloped Colorado 42-10 in Boulder.
6. Counting up the teams still alive in the Playoff race: SEC: Alabama, LSU, Florida Big Ten: Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan State ACC: Clemson Big 12: Baylor, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, TCU Pac-12: Stanford, Utah Independents: Notre Dame
7. Officiating Is Hard, Volume XXIV. A trio of teams have legitimate gripes about how they lost games on Saturday. We'll start with Michigan State, who suffered its first loss to Nebraska 39-38 on a long touchdown pass that somehow survived a review.
According to officials on the field and in the booth in Lincoln, Brandon Reilly was forced out of bounds on that play, rather than nudged by a simple box out technique, a ruling that surprised even Nebraska coach Mike Riley. "Well, we really thought initially it was going to be ruled out of bounds, so we were getting ready for another play from about the 30-yard line, is what we were actually preparing for," Riley said. "Then we were actually surprised when they signaled touchdown. " Plaxico Burress, what do you have to say about this?
In Pullman, Washington State reprised Colorado's 1990 Fifth Down win over Missouri.
While we're at it, Mike Leach, what are your thoughts on Todd Graham's stealing of signals? No, none of those calls were the reason those teams lost Saturday. Michigan State led 38-26 with 4:16 remaining. Arizona State blew a 21-17 lead entering the fourth quarter. But that doesn't excuse officiating incompetence.
7. This week's Heisman vote. Hoo boy. Most of this season has been a two-horse race between Leonard Fournette and Trevone Boykin. Those horses fell flat in the mud Saturday. Fournette couldn't manage two yards a carry in a blowout loss, and Boykin tossed four interceptions (including, for all intents and purposes, two pick sixes) in a blowout loss of his own. Which begs the question, what would it take for a wide receiver to win the Heisman? Only three have ever done it, and all of them returned kicks in addition to catching passes. But if a pure wide receiver could ever take home sport's most prestigious prize, wouldn't he have the type of season Baylor's Corey Coleman is putting up right now?
The nature of playing wide receiver means that your quarterback absorbs all your statistics, plus anyone else who catches a pass. But what if a wide receiver could demonstrate his value through multiple quarterbacks. Better yet, what if his offense stayed productive despite forcing a true freshman into action simply because of his presence?
Coleman snagged 11 passes for 216 yards and two touchdowns on Thursday night, bringing his yearly total to 58 grabs for 1,178 yards and 20 touchdowns. The FBS record for touchdown grabs is 27. Coleman is on pace to catch 87 balls for 1,767 yards and 30 touchdowns in the regular season alone.
Chances are Fournette or Boykin or the default choice of the quarterback on the nation's No. 1 team will take home the award. But for this week we're putting Coleman first, Stanford's Christian McCaffrey second and Clemson's Deshaun Watson third.
8. Odds and Ends:
a. A few weeks ago I called North Carolina the nation's most underrated team. After what they did to Duke I fear they may be overqualified for that distinction. The 8-1 Heels led Duke 21-3 after one, 38-10 at the half and 59-17 in the third quarter before coasting to a 66-31 final. Marquise Williams had a very Mason Rudolph-like 494 passing yards and four touchdowns on just 23 completions.
b. The American has been a national fascination this season, and most of that attention has centered around Temple, Memphis and Houston. But here comes Navy, 7-1 and in first place in the West after dump-trucking Memphis 45-20 in the Liberty Bowl. The Middies ran the ball 66 times for 374 yards. Wins over Tulsa and SMU could set up a winner-take-all date with Houston on Black Friday.
c. Houston survived Cincinnati 33-30, leading into a still-huge-but-not-quite-as-huge-as-it-first-appeared date with Memphis next week.
d. Purdue followed up last week's beat down of Nebraska with a 48-14 home loss to Illinois.
e. Miami (Ohio) earned its first win over an FBS opponent of the year with a 28-23 triumph over Eastern Michigan.
f. Is Auburn pulling things together or is Texas A&M falling apart? The truth is probably, as always, somewhere in the middle. Aggie quarterbacks Kyler Murray and Jake Hubenak completed 18-of-35 passes for 137 yards with a touchdown and three picks in a 26-10 home loss to Auburn.
g. Georgia survived a week of turmoil to beat Kentucky, 27-3, which is oddly the exact reversal of last week's loss to Florida.
h. South Florida beat East Carolina 22-17, moving the Bulls to within one win of their first bowl game under head coach Willie Taggart. Temple awaits next week with Cincinnati after that, but the fail safe that is Central Florida arrives on the schedule Nov. 28.
j. We know P.J. Fleck can recruit, but how good of a game-planner is he? After a 54-7 win over Ball State Thursday, his Broncos stand at 5-0 in the MAC with Bowling Green, Northern Illinois and Toledo coming in succession. In other words, we're about to find out.
k. Dana Holgorsen earned a much-needed win over Texas Tech, 31-26, stopping a four-game skid to the likes of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor and TCU. If such a thing existed, his Mountaineers would have a strong claim to being the nation's best 4-4 team.
m. After taking over a 2-10 program, first-year coach Philip Montgomery has Tulsa at 5-4 after a 45-30 win over Central Florida. The Golden Hurricane closes the regular season with a visit to Tulane, meaning a bowl game is highly possible.
n. Speaking of Tulane, the Green Wave fell to Connecticut 7-3. Seven to three.
o. Northwestern cleared a 23-21 win over Penn State on a 35-yard field goal with nine seconds left on the clock. The win pushes the Wildcats to an impressive 7-2 on the year. Far more important to what happened on the field, though, is what happened in the press box, where two of the greatest minds in American entertainment collided for a picture.
I'm honestly surprised Ryan Field, Northwestern University and Chicagoland itself did not explode from all the radioactive awesomeness.