DUCKS PLUCKED BEFORE THANKSGIVING: SEVEN REMAIN IN RACE FOR CFB PLAYOFFS
By Simon Carroll
For those like me that revel in the disappointment of others, this time of year is always full of delicious heartache. Each week sees teams remove themselves from playoff contention with disastrous defeats, and week 13 didn’t let us down. So whose season went up in flames before December begins? Let’s take a look:
ALIVE: #1 LSU TIGERS (11-0, won vs. Arkansas, 56-20)
Another week, another win for the Tigers. Arkansas were never expected to offer any resistance, particularly in Death Valley. Indeed, such was the comfort of victory that head coach Ed Orgeron declared that there would be no celebration against an opponent that hadn’t won a significant contest in some time. Heisman favourite Joe Burrow continued to pile up the stats, becoming only the fourth quarterback in SEC history to throw for over 4,000 yards. They’re 11-0 and this win booked their place in the conference championship game. Such is their dominance they can probably afford to lose one game and still get into the final four.
ALIVE: #4 GEORGIA BULLDOGS (10-1, won vs. Texas A&M, 19-13)
The biggest contention right now is why Georgia are ranked above Alabama. After all, they’ve been beaten by South Carolina who The Tide despatched handily. Also, Bama have only been beaten by the best team in the nation and it was close, not to mention Georgia have hardly been setting the world alight the last few weeks. Well, Saturday was more of the same from the Bulldogs whose defense stifled the Aggies enough to eek out a close win. Jake Fromm had another game that will damage his draft prospects as neither team could move the ball in awful conditions. Ultimately, there’s a rivalry game against Georgia Tech and the SEC championship game against LSU to come. If they win both of those, they’ve earned their spot in the playoff.
ALIVE: #5 ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE (10-1, won vs. Western Carolina, 66-3)
Think Bama are pissed at how this season has unravelled? You’re damn right. Fresh off a close loss to LSU then losing Tua Tagovailoa to a serious injury, they handed a brutal beatdown to poor little Western Carolina. The Catamounts had no idea what they were in for when scheduling this glamour game, but Nick Saban and the Tide have work to do to prove to the committee they should be considered for the playoff.
They were ruthless. Mac Jones stepped in for Tua and looked very much capable of leading this team in his absence, throwing for 250 yards and three scores in his first eleven passes. Saban even relinquished a redshirt year for the younger Tagovailoa, sending in Taulia into the fray in the second half who also found the endzone. More evidence The Tide should be above Georgia? Maybe. But facing Auburn next week will be a much sterner test for this injury-struck program. The problem is they need someone to lose to get in even if they win the Iron Bowl. And if it’s Ohio State or LSU who loses, it STILL isn’t guaranteed. Stay tuned.
ALIVE: #2 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (11-0)
FORKED: #8 PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS (9-2)
(Penn State 17-28 Ohio State)
Such has been the dominance of The Buckeyes this year that there have been legitimate calls for them to be ranked #1 ahead of LSU. I’m not sure about that, and to be honest it doesn’t really matter. But after steamrollering everyone in their path this win over Penn State didn’t come so easy. Whilst that won’t help them jump to the top spot, it is another big win on their resume. Edge rusher Chase Young returned from suspension and racked up another three sacks, adding further weight to the suggestion that he’s the best player in college football. And Justin Fields did just enough to make a traditionally very close contest as comfortable as possible. Like LSU, Ohio State have such a strong resume that they could very well take a loss and still find themselves in the top four come the end of the year.
Two losses in three weeks sees Penn State fall out of contention. It’s been a surprisingly good year for James Franklin and his program who lost a lot of talent on offense to the NFL last April. Another nine win season at least for the Nittany Lions, and forty wins in the last four years may be scant consolation right now, but this team is set for long-term success under the current regime. Can they keep hold of Franklin? That’s a different question entirely…
ALIVE: #3 CLEMSON TIGERS (Bye Week)
With week 13 providing more questions than answers for teams vying for a top four spot, maybe Clemson boosted their stock by not playing at all. It feels like teams are sleeping on last year’s champs a little and that would be very silly considering recent form and their history in the playoffs the last few years. With their coronation as ACC champs a mere formality, in my opinion they’re as much a lock for the playoffs as Ohio State and LSU.
ALIVE: #9 OKLAHOMA SOONERS (10-1, won vs. TCU, 28-24)
Another week goes by, and still those pesky Sooners cling on to playoff relevance. After losing to Kansas State they’ve hardly laid on the dominance in the way Alabama have since their loss. They’ve squeaked past Iowa State, Baylor AND TCU, and not looked god doing it really. Jalen Hurts was impressive in the second half against Baylor last week, but this weekend was one of the main reaqsons why the Horned Frogs stuck around. Too many fumbles and holding the ball too long nearly cost the Sooners in their outside pursuit of the playoffs. Instead, they cling to hope.
But they’re still on the outside looking in. Here’s what they need; First, they must win out. That would mean just a one loss season and two wins over #14 Baylor. Then they’ll need the other one loss teams to lose – Alabama to Auburn in the Iron Bowl, Georgia against Texas A&M or against LSU in the SEC Championship Game, and Utah in one of their final games this year. This is very much possible, but it’s safe to say The Sooners are a long shot.
ALIVE: #7 UTAH UTES (10-1, won vs. Arizona, 35-7)
I have no idea why The Utes aren’t getting the attention they deserve. One tough loss to USC (who by the way still have a shot at the PAC-12) is the only blot on a strong season. And unlike many of the other teams in the mix, they’ve been getting better as the year has progressed. It’s a program stocked with talent on both sides of the ball and they have provided a consistency that this conference rarely sees. Like Oklahoma, Utah will need to win out and hope that some other teams (Alabama, Georgia) slip up if they’re to sneak in the back door. But as possibly the least glamorous team left in contention, I’m rooting for them.
FORKED: #6 OREGON DUCKS (9-2, lost vs. Arizona State, 28-31)
The Ducks entered the weekend just like The Utes – they needed to win out, claim the PAC-12 and see results go their way to make the playoffs. And in typical PAC-12 fashion they may have been caught looking ahead rather than taking care of immediate business. They were completely outplayed for three quarters by The Sun Devils before a furious fightback in the fourth had us all thinking they were going to steal the game and stay alive. But Jayden Daniels and Brandon Aiyuk had other ideas – just look at this TD pass that effectively sealed the win for ASU:
A disaster for The Ducks and their star quarterback Justin Herbert who has shined of late. With two losses on their slate any playoff hopes have been shattered. They still have a chance of winning the PAC-12 and have already booked their spot in the championship game against Utah or USC, but it’s scant consolation for a program who have seen a possible third National Championship in the last decade slip away.
Feature Image Credit: MercuryNews.com
previously the founder of nfl draft uk, simon has been covering college football and the nfl draft since 2009. based in manchester, simon is also co-creator & weekly guest of the collapsing pocket podcast.