This time next week, the Big Ten will have played its first slate of games in its 2020 season. Another couple of weeks after that, the Pac-12 and the rest of the FBS will have joined the party. It’s a reminder that there’s a lot of football that not only has to be played, but a lot of football that hasn’t even started.
And yet the biggest game of the year feels like it just took place. Alabama and Georgia faced off in prime time with both teams trying to prove they are one of the best teams in this year — if not the best team. It’s a weird juxtaposition. A little over half of the FBS is currently playing, but in some respects, the season is taking serious shape. With that comes new takeaways from Saturday’s action. Here are the big overreactions from the Week 7 slate.
Two playoff spots are already filled
I normally abstain from making College Football Playoff predictions [/checks calendar] nine weeks out, but wins by Alabama and Clemson struck a chord with me. Take Clemson’s 73-7 win over Georgia Tech. It’s eye-popping and a little startling, but it’s not surprising that the Tigers had their way with their opponent. Clemson hasn’t lost a conference game in three years, and have now won their last 10 by at least three scores. Coach Dabo Swinney has developed a killing machine. Can anyone in the ACC challenge them? Notre Dame? Virginia Tech? Sure, Clemson could have an “off” day, but that’s about the extent of my confidence in anyone taking down this team on a given Saturday.
Alabama looks a bit more shaky on the defensive side, but consider what their 41-24 win over Georgia means. The Bulldogs are the Tide’s most formidable SEC adversary. They get the type of blue-chip talent necessary to go hat-on-hat against Alabama. They’re well-coached. They have probably the best defense in the country. And Alabama put a 40-burger on ’em to the tune of 24 unanswered points and beat them by 17.
It’s a long season. I get that. Alabama and Clemson may not play great every week. They may even lose a game along the way. But in an awkward year when resumes will be nowhere near comparable, how do you look at either of these teams and say they’re not one of the four best in the country? I know, I know … what’s changed, right? Nothing, really, but after watching them play, we’re not moving towards a four-team playoff, we’re moving towards two open spots in a four-team playoff.
UCF shooting itself in the foot like no other
The Knights should probably be 4-0, but after dropping a thriller of a game to Memphis 50-49, they’re 2-2. This game was everything it was billed to be — the only thing missing were national rankings attached to each team.
The common theme for UCF early this season, though? Mistakes and blown leads. The Knights were literally the most penalized team in the country entering Saturday at an astounding 15 penalties per game. UCF was *slightly* better against Memphis with 10 penalties for 96 yards. However, the Knights also blew a 21-point second-half lead to the Tigers. That’s on top of the 18-point lead they blew to Tulsa two weeks ago. There’s no denying the talent and speed of the offense, but these collapses and self-inflicted wounds are keeping UCF from being one of the 10 or so best teams in the country. They’re capable of it, they just can’t execute like it. That’s on coach Josh Heupel.
Tennessee needs a quarterback
It’s usually not fair to pin every offensive problem on the quarterback, but it’s hard to look at Tennessee’s 34-7 loss to Kentucky and not notice how bad the QB play was in the first half. Just take a look at this series of events from Jarrett Guarantano and J.T. Shrout.
That’s one way to get into a hole quickly, and to give full credit, Kentucky has a great defense. The Wildcats were able to lean on that defense and their ground game to close out the win. Granted, Tennessee’s pass protection didn’t allow any quarterback to get going. and blindside protection was particularly bad. But when mistakes get you into a hole that big, the one thing you can rely on — the running game — becomes much harder. Coach Jeremy Pruitt has built up a good program in Knoxville, but a high-ceiling quarterback has to be his next recruiting mission.
Liberty is the fun team no one’s talking about
Full disclosure: I don’t know how good Liberty actually is as the Flames moved to 5-0 after beating Syracuse 38-21. On one hand, that’s good! Any time a Group of Five team can beat a Power Five team, especially on the road, it’s a badge even if the Power Five team isn’t a world-beater. On the other hand, Liberty’s wins have come against Western Kentucky, FIU, North Alabama, Louisiana-Monroe, and now the Orange. But here’s what I do know: quarterback Malik Willis is a perfect fit and there are playmakers everywhere on offense. They’re averaging 34.4 points per game and well over 400 yards of offense per game. Upcoming matchups against Virginia Tech, NC State and Coastal Carolina (!!!!) will give a better gauge of how good the Flames are, but they’re creeping up the list of teams to pay more attention to.
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Mississippi State’s can’t get protection
Mississippi State’s offensive woes since surprising LSU are well-documented. In a 28-14 loss to Texas A&M on Saturday, the Bulldogs scored just one offensive touchdown. That means Mike Leach’s offense has scored 21 offensive points in its last three games — all losses.
If you’re wondering why, look no further than the protection up front. The trick — if you want to call it that — for defenses facing Mississippi State has been drop seven or eight into coverage while rushing with only three or four. Yes, it’s worked against the Bulldogs offense, but that’s because teams like Kentucky and Arkansas, and now Texas A&M, are actually getting home with that pass rush. The Aggies, for example, got all kinds of pressure on Mississippi State’s quarterbacks:
It’s a shame because Mississippi State’s defense has actually been playing well enough to win games. But that win over LSU to open the season looks more like an aberration by the week.
Barry Odom for the Broyles Award
Arkansas’ 33-21 win over Ole Miss was another example of the Razorbacks being the most improved team in the SEC — if not in the entire FBS. The biggest improvement has been on the defensive side of the ball, namely in takeaways. Arkansas notched seven takeaways against Ole Miss, including six interceptions against quarterback Matt Corral. Some of those interceptions were a result of poor/desperate throws from Corral, but credit Odom for drawing up yet another great game plan on defense.
About the only thing Arkansas did “wrong” was get gassed in the second half. The Razorbacks are fun to watch again, and Sam Pittman and his staff have done a great job turning things around ahead of schedule. But if Pittman’s not going to get Coach of the Year in the SEC (he should), then at the very least Odom should be up for the Broyles Award for top assistant.
Virginia Tech’s offense is scary good
It didn’t get a lot of attention because it was in the same time slot as Georgia-Alabama, but Virginia Tech’s 40-14 win over Boston College was another display of impressive offense. The Hokies, against a pretty decent defense, put up 350 yards rushing at 8.5 yards per attempt. Leading the way were running back Khalil Herbert and quarterback Hendon Hooker, who had 307 yards on the ground combined plus three touchdowns. Tech was helped out by five Boston College turnovers, but when this offense is humming, it’s one of the hardest rushing attacks to stop in the country. Watch out for Virginia Tech. The Hokies have flown under the radar because they haven’t been at full strength, but they’re sneaky good.