Will Moon's Deep Football Thoughts from Outer Space: Week Ten Preview
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October has come and gone (me right now), and now we lumber our way into November. And while opinions on November and Thanksgiving in the Moon household are divided, one thing the month definitely boasts is a surplus of quality football matchups. That'll be on full display this weekend as we get our best overall slate of games since early September (although a couple of the those weak-looking October weekends turned out to be pretty eventful). With a lot to get to, let's dive in.
The Deep Dive
You may have heard that the College Football Playoff rankings came out. They may have made Halloween night a little extra scary for some (cough, Wisconsin, cough), but I honestly don't have much of a bone to pick with the committee. I've eschewed the SEC power rankings in my recap columns the last few weeks to make way for some different features (a lengthy rant after the LSU game, some bowl projections, and some Halloween-related stuff), but I've consistently rated Georgia higher than Bama in that space since the middle of September, with the caveat that I think the Tahd may be better at the end of the day but that Georgia has a more complete body of work. It seems to selection committee feels pretty much the same way, and it since it'll all wash out in the end anyway, there's no huge need to fight about it. Bammer's gonna get their chance to surge to number one, first by managing the rest of what's a pretty heavily-backloaded schedule, then by taking down Georgia in Atlanta should the Pachyderms take care of business in November. I'm sure this will do little to salve the wounded egos of many a Bammer around the world, but Georgia's win over Notre Dame absolutely warrants them being ranked ahead of Alabama right now. Nick Saban's team's been dominant for the most part, but their schedule's been pretty crappy. That starts to change when LSU visits this week, but the margin between the two SEC powers is so thin that Georgia's much stronger non-conference win has rightly taken precedence.
I'm not all that upset about Notre Dame at #3, either. Clemson sitting at #4 might have an argument to be ranked higher, but it's important to remember that their big road win over Louisville's pretty much meaningless now. They still get full marks for wins over Auburn and at Virginia Tech, but UL being ranked when Clemson beat them doesn't really matter anymore. (Similar to how Bama's win over then-#3 Florida State almost counts against them now since the Seminoles have fallen apart so completely over the last two months.) The Fighting Irish have wins over an OK Michigan State team, an overrated but still ranked USC team, and a solid North Carolina State squad, plus the narrow loss to #1 Georgia. It's not exactly the greatest resume ever, but it's solid enough, and they haven't lost to a team as mediocre as Syracuse. While we can't predict too much of what the committee will do when it comes to measuring a possibly 11-1 Irish team versus a one-loss conference champ, it does seem that they have a clear path to the playoff if they win out. Even without whatever bump being a league champion might get them, being third already with games left against Miami and Stanford should give them all the chances they need to get into the final four as long as they take care of business.
Numerous one-loss teams are jockeying for position between #4 and #8, and the current order of Clemson, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Penn State, and Texas Christian is all right by me. Ohio State's win over Penn State last week was scintillating, but OU still beat them in their own house and that has to count for a lot. It just has to. TCU dropping all the way down to eight after a 14-7 loss at surprisingly strong Iowa State may seem a bit harsh, especially considering the Horned Frogs have won at Oklahoma State already this year, but they'll have chances to regain their position over the next few weeks. (I'd rank the Frogs ahead of Penn State just based on body of work, as the Nittany Lions have beaten no one of note to this point - and no, Michigan doesn't count).
I applaud the committee for doing what it had to do with Wisconsin at #9. The Badgers are merely playing the schedule in front of them, and they'll almost certainly make the playoff if they win out, but this was a clear shot across the bow from the committee and it's warranted. Literally no team on their schedule was ranked when the Badgers played them or is ranked now (and that second part includes the teams remaining on Wisky's schedule). We're well within range of a team going 12-0 in a major conference while playing no ranked teams. That's absurd. They'll have a shot at either Ohio State or Penn State in the conference title game, and again, a win there would probably be enough to get them into the playoff, but the Big Ten should be embarrassed if that ends up happening. There's no excuse for the West division up there to be this horrendous.
Miami, also undefeated, rolls in at #10, but unlike Wisconsin, they have two giant opportunities to make up ground over the next two weeks. To this point, the 'Canes have gutted out several wins over some fairly unremarkable teams, but wins of any margin over Virginia Tech and Notre Dame would completely change the conversation surrounding the U, plus they'd have a likely date with Clemson in the ACC Championship Game to further state their case. In short, if the Hurricanes win out, they have very little to worry about. Take a loss to, say, Notre Dame but still manage to win the conference and things get a lot hairier. But we could hash out various scenarios all day long. What's important for Miami is that they should have a pretty clear, if difficult path to the playoff, and that's all anyone can ask for at this point in the season.
Outside the top ten, keep an eye on Flow-klahoma State at #11. A win over Oklahoma at home this weekend will definitely push them into the top ten and maybe up toward about six or seven. The Pac-12 definitely looks like it's going to be left holding the bag at the end of the season considering that Washington is the league's highest-ranked team at #12. It's not out of the question that the Huskies could still find their way into the playoff, but they're going to need a ton of help. The amount of statement wins to be picked up out west is dwindling every week now that everyone else in the league has at least two losses.
Speaking of two losses, Auburn is the nation's highest-ranked twice-beaten team. (I was thinking of having t-shirts made.) While most Auburn fans are more concerned about the team being able to do anything notable in November, the situation quietly sets up for the Tigers to have the best shot at being able to crash the playoff party with double Ls. Wins over Georgia (almost certainly twice) and Alabama and an SEC title might give the Tigers enough of a push to sneak in at #4 regardless of what anyone else does. This conceivably could extend to the other two twice-beaten SEC West teams (Mississippi State and LSU), though State's two conference losses really hurt their chances of winning the division and LSU's loss to Troy has placed them as the lowest-ranked of these three teams (#19).
Otherwise, the other teams in the playoff poll can't really use their rankings for much besides window-dressing except for Central Florida, who's sitting in the catbird seat among the Group of Five schools. If they keep winning, they'll have a nice cushy Big Six Bowl to go to, though it's less than even money that Knight head coach Scott Frost will still be around for it. Should they slip up, maybe Memphis (currently #24) could slide in, with their coach Mike Norvell also not tremendously likely to still be around come the New Year.
On the whole, this was a pretty un-terrible set of playoff rankings, and we'll probably all feel pretty stupid a month from now that we were ever concerned about half of the teams I just mentioned. (Remember how Texas A&M was controversially ranked fourth in the opening set of playoff rankings last year? They were 7-1 at the time, but went 1-4 down the stretch in a trademark Sumlin finish.) There's a pretty good chance that the SEC gets two teams in the playoff this year, and with Notre Dame looming at #3, we could see three of the Power Five conferences be shut out of the playoff altogether. We might hear a lot of hooting and hollering about that from fans down the stretch, but it won't hold a candle to the politicking that'll go on between the leagues during the offseason. That'd be where the rubber meets the road. But with so much left to play out, I must caution anyone from getting too worked up about how this first batch of rankings looks. There will be plenty of time to be infuriated later.
Tigers This Week
Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports
Fresh off a bye and somehow less healthy than they were before, Auburn heads to College Station to battle Texas A&M (11 CT on ESPN). Given that what I said about fans not being able to completely trust Auburn after the LSU game still holds, Tiger fans will feel some trepidation going into this conference road game, but that's mostly about what they fear Auburn might do wrong, not so much about the Aggies may do right. After a mostly solid October, Mississippi State came riding into Kyle Field last week and completely exposed A&M. As I've said many times before, I think highly of State, but this game showed how mediocre the Aggies continue to be under Kevin Sumlin. Certainly, freshman QB Kellen Mond has improved significantly since his deer-in-the-headlights performance at UCLA on September 3rd and the Ags always seem to have one of the best receiver groups in the nation, but there's not all that much here. There's really no reason for Auburn to lose this game, Pettway injury notwithstanding. A crisp performance off the bye week would be a great confidence-builder going into the Georgia/Bama stretch, but after what happened in Baton Rouge, let's just worry about getting out of here with a win. No need to reinvent the wheel here. Control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and attack A&M's safeties over the middle of the field. On defense, keep Mond in the pocket and do what you can to keep Christian Kirk from doing his thing. That second part is easier said than done, but the Tigers should be able to manage. If you saw what State was able to do last week, there's no reason why Auburn shouldn't be able to replicate that this week. A&M just flat out isn't any good, and another loss this week would put Sumlin's job security firmly in the crapper. (Of course, a loss would also be crippling for Gus Malzahn, too.)
Auburn 34, Texas A&M 20
College Football Game of the Millennium of the Week
Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports
It's Bedlam, we've got Bedlam, everybody. Put away all the valuables and send the kids to bed, there's Bedlam breaking out everywhere. Really, we've got several options for the Game of the Universe this week, but OU/OSU (3 CT on FS1) has all the makings of a classic no-defense-at-all Big 12 shootout. Virginia Tech/Miami could be more intriguing to see if the 'Canes can grind out another close win, and Alabama/LSU will definitely have a whole buttload of future NFL players on the field, but gimme the Sooners and the Pokes and about a bazillion points. I don't necessarily want every game to be like that, but a good offensive kerplosion is fun sometimes. In this particular case, I'm calling for Flow-klahoma State to just squeeze past the Sooners (using the grease from Mike Gundy's hair as lubricant). OU just hasn't seemed right since that big win at Ohio State, and I think it costs them once again.
Oklahoma State 44, Oklahoma 41
Rest of the Menu
Thursday and Friday's schedules don't provide a fair indicator of how solid the whole weekend schedule will be. Navy and Temple (7 CT on ESPN) isn't a totally horrible game, but the local flair of Troy hosting Idaho (8:15 CT on ESPNU) will probably provide more entertainment for folks 'round these parts. Nothing much to speak of on Friday, where #24 Memphis visits a truly awful Tulsa team (7 CT on ESPN2), and UCLA and Utah square off in a pretty forgettable Pac-12 South matchup (8:30 CT on FS1).
Saturday gets rolling with Penn State and Michigan State (which used to be an end-of-the-season matchup) battling in East Lansing (11 CT on FOX), with both teams fresh off heartbreaking losses. Wisconsin plays yet another unimpressive Big Ten team when they visit Indiana (11 CT on ABC). Of course, Auburn's trip to Aggieland (11 CT on ESPN) headlines the four SEC-involved games at high noon Eastern. The other three games in that timeslot are Florida at Missouri (11 CT on ESPN2), where Mizzou has everything going their way to pull the upset, UMass at Mississippi State (11 CT on SEC Network), which should be an absolute massacre, and Western Kentucky at Vanderbilt (11 CT on ESPNU), which could go either way.
The afternoon timeslot is once again busy. South Carolina's been spunky this year, but this weekend's trip to Georgia (2:30 CT on CBS) may just be too much for them to handle. A fairly decent Wake Forest team visits Notre Dame (2:30 CT on NBC) as part of the Irish's deal with the ACC. Clemson and NC State square off for what is effectively the ACC Atlantic Division title (2:30 on ABC). Ohio State tries to avoid a post-Penn State hangover at Iowa (2:30 CT on ESPN). Iowa State tries to back up their impressive win over TCU with what would be an equally impressive (to me) road win at West Virginia (2:30 CT on ESPN2), and Stanford and Wazzu play in a game that looked more important three weeks ago on FOX.
That's a lot of pretty solid matchups in that one timeslot.
Bedlam gets bedlamming half an hour later on FS1, while Ole Miss and Kentucky also kick off at 3 CT on the SEC Network (with Coastal Carolina and Arkansas on the alternate feed at that time). The night slate's pretty deep, too, with Texas visiting #8 TCU at 6:15 CT on ESPN, and Southern Miss visiting Tennessee at 6:30 CT on the SEC Network for what could be the saddest homecoming game in Rocky Top history. Two lousy teams (Minnesota and Michigan) play for a pretty dumb but cool trophy (the Little Brown Jug) at 6:30 CT on FOX. LSU and Bammer convene their annual dull slugfest at 7 CT on CBS, while Virginia Tech and Miami kick off at that time on ABC. Late night Pac-12 action yields Oregon at #12 Washington (9 CT on FS1) and what is likely to be a wild one between Arizona and USC (9:45 CT on ESPN). It's a pretty packed schedule, with multiple watchable games in every timeslot. Prepare your remote controls.
Massacre Island Forecast
Not much to see here as November is full of more good games than bad (although Massacre Island Sweeps Week comes up just before Thanksgiving). But I mentioned the Mississippi State-UMass game above, as that one could be ten kinds of ugly. You might recall the Minutemen being the team who gave a scare to Tennessee earlier this year, curdling the milk in every Volunteer fan's fridge in the process. A similar result this week is, how should I say this, unlikely. Coastal Carolina's trip to Arkansas could very likely be a beatdown, but expecting Arkansas to do anything good this year is a sucker's bet.
Mike Leach Quote Bingo
With his team fading from the national spotlight over the last few weeks, we'd better appreciate gems like this anti-candy corn rant from Mike Leach while we can, before he and his Cougars get relegated to the Phantom Zone of the Pac-12 Network for all eternity. As far as his strong stance on the Halloween staple, he's just saying what everybody else is thinking. Fortunately, we've reached the point where any reporter is comfortable asking Leach any question about any topic, therefore giving the mad pirate more chances to say what we're all thinking. Truly, this man is the voice of his generation (Generation Arrrrrr).
The Shield (Like Fantasy Football but for Real)
Winslow Townson/Associated Press
Making fun of the Cleveland Browns these days is depressingly easy, but this story about our favorite noodle-armed, ink-chested former Bama QB AJ McCarron is just stupefyingly dumb. The Browns, seeing their current QB "situation", decided they were ready to give away a fifth-round draft pick to acquire McChestTat from division and in-state rival Cincinnati. Why they wanted to trade for a QB with three starts in 3+ years in the middle of an already lost season is beyond me, but it gets much, much worse from there. The front office and the coaching staff didn't seem to agree on the evaluation of their QB-to-be, and the different ways in which the team screwed up the procedural aspects of completing the trade are pure, straight, uncut Colombian incompetence. Now the Browns still have no working QB, but at least get to hold on to their draft pick at the small cost of the sliver of dignity their front office had remaining, while the Bengals are left with a QB on the roster who never plays and now knows he was thisclose to being exiled to football Siberia upstate. I'm sure the tattoo parlors in Cleveland are devastated.
We've got a good weekend lined up in the SEC and across the country. Hopefully, Auburn doesn't cast a pall over it by laying an early egg at Kyle Field, but that really shouldn't happen. Otherwise, a lot of fun games will clog up your TV from football sunrise to football sunset. Enjoy the action, and maybe we can take bets on how many coaches get canned before I get the recap posted on Monday.