During a radio appearance last Thursday afternoon I was asked about my expectations for the weekend. The guy with the audacity to call himself “Mr. College Football” said:
“Well, there are no ranked vs. ranked matchups so it looks pretty uneventful.”
Wrong. Wrong. So very wrong.
By the end of business Saturday night four of the top 10 (Clemson, Washington, Auburn, Washington State) and seven of the Top 25 had lost. In the process a bunch of fan bases (Auburn and Florida come quickly to mind) were at their Wit’s End.
But when chaos reigns in college football it is the perfect teaching moment for us all. Here are five things we learned on this crazy, crazy weekend:
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1—Georgia vs. Alabama in Atlanta is starting to look inevitable: After No. 2 Clemson lost to Syracuse on Friday and Auburn lost at LSU on Saturday, there doesn’t seem to be anything standing in the way of Alabama staying at No. 1 for the entire regular season. Yes the Crimson Tide (7-0, 4-0) still has to play LSU at home (Nov. 4) and Auburn on the road (Nov. 25). But Alabama showed in a 41-9 win over Arkansas that it simply has no flaws as a team.
Georgia (7-0, 4-0) is undefeated at this point in the season for the first time since 2005 which, ironically, is the last time the Bulldogs won the SEC championship. After handling Missouri 53-28 they have a week off to get ready for the annual meeting with Florida in Jacksonville. Georgia must also go to Auburn on Nov. 11.
After what we saw this weekend, logic says nothing should be considered inevitable. But Alabama vs. Georgia for the SEC championship on Dec. 2 sure feels like it.
2—At Florida, it ain’t the X’s and the O’s. It’s the Jimmys and the Joes:
I'm not the first to say this. I've heard others, like my friend Andy Staples of SI.com, address this issue. I just happen to agree with it. Here's why:
Before the season started I was meeting with an SEC head coach in his office. We discussed a number of teams in the conference and eventually the conversation turned to Florida. I mentioned that the Florida fans were not thrilled with the offensive scheme and the fact that the offense had not improved in two years under Jim McElwain. I’m paraphrasing here but that coach told me I should take a closer look at Florida’s recruiting over the past couple of years.
Now I don’t pay attention to recruiting rankings and how many stars a high school player has next to his name. I do, however, look for “difference makers” once they arrive on campus
Nick Chubb and Sony Michel at Georgia: Difference makers.
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Jalen Hurts and Damien Harris at Alabama: Difference makers.
Armani Watts at Texas A&M: Difference maker.
I don’t see many difference makers when I look at Florida.
The point is this: Florida’s offense was again very bad in Saturday night’s 19-17 loss to Texas A&M. But it’s not the play calling and it’s not the scheme. It’s the players.
Now McElwain and his staff are responsible for bringing the players in. But you’re really not going to fix it by bringing in a bunch of new coaches. Florida needs better players. I don’t see any Percy Harvins or Fred Taylors out there
3—For Butch Jones it is not a question of IF, but when: Yet again, Tennessee came close in a big game under Butch Jones but could not find a way to win. Trailing 15-9 after getting dominated for almost all of the second half against South Carolina, Tennessee drove itself in position to win in the closing seconds. But a fourth down pass from the two-yard line was incomplete and the Gamecocks won the game.
Tennessee has now gone 10 straight quarters without producing a touchdown.
At this point there is not a whole lot Butch Jones can say. The Volunteers have lost three of their past four games with the only win coming against UMass. The Volunteers (3-2, 0-3) have to travel to No. 1 Alabama on Saturday and that will not be pretty.
Tennessee put up a good fight behind new quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, who won’t be mistaken for Joshua Dobbs but did some good things. But he couldn’t get the Vols into the end zone at the end of the game.
I don’t call for coaches to be fired. Never have. But I will say that today, based on what I’ve seen and heard, it’s hard to imagine scenario where Butch Jones is Tennessee’s head coach in 2018.
4—We should all tip our caps to Ed Orgeron: Two weeks ago, after a miserable loss to Troy, people were seriously writing that the LSU coach should be fired immediately. This guy, went the narrative, was clearly in over his head and never should have been hired. And while you’re at it fire AD Joe Alleva, the guy who hired Orgeron.
Saturday LSU trailed Auburn 20-0 at Tiger Stadium and could have easily packed it in. But LSU made some adjustments on defense that all but shut Auburn down for the final three quarters. Then LSU got some big plays, including an incredible diving catch by Russell Gage for a touchdown and D.J. Chark’s 75-yard punt return for another touchdown.
I talked to LSU quarterback Danny Etling several days before the game. He said that the week after the Troy loss was filled with a lot of soul searching.
“We had a lot of players only meetings and we talked about being accountable to each other,” said Etling.
Last Thursday, said Etling, former LSU linebacker Duke Riley (now with the Atlanta Falcons) paid a visit and basically lit everybody up.
“That set the tone for the rest of the week,” Etling said.
LSU (5-2, 2-1) goes to Ole Miss on Saturday and then gets a week off before going to No. 1 Alabama.
5—Clemson’s problem is not the loss to Syracuse. It’s the health of quarterback Kelly Bryant: After a 27-24 loss at Syracuse, Clemson (6-1, 2-1) dropped from No. 2 to No. 7 in Sunday’s new Associated Press media poll that was released on Sunday.
But remember that the Tigers lost to Pittsburgh 43-42 on the 10th week of last season but still went on to win the ACC championship and the national championship. Clemson has this week off and then hosts Georgia Tech on Oct. 28. If the Tigers run the table and finish 12-1 I can certain they will still be in the playoffs.
The question is the availability of quarterback Kelly Bryant. Bryant was hobbled going into the Syracuse game and played the best he could. But right before halftime a Syracuse defender slammed Bryant’s head into the artificial turf. Bryant suffered a concussion.
At this point there is no way of knowing if Bryant will be available for Clemson’s next game. And without him the Tigers as not nearly as dynamic on offense. Stay tuned on this one.