November Stretch Run Should Be Interesting
By John Ventola
The College Football Playoff is far from being settled and the past two weeks of competition shows just how close some of the top ranked teams really are heading into the November slate. Nine days ago, second ranked Florida State kept their two year winning streak going by besting No.8 Notre Dame when a last second Irish touchdown was disallowed because of offensive pass interference. Then last weekend third ranked Auburn topped then ranked No. 9 Ole Miss when a receiver was grabbed from behind, badly injured, and fumbled at the half -yard line. The football was recovered by the Tigers in the end zone, sealing the Auburn victory. Close? You bet. One play at the end of each game decided the winner.
Despite beating up on each other, the Western Division teams of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) continue to dominate national rankings and the race for the four coveted CFP spots. Last week there were five SEC schools ranked in the top nine schools of the coach’s poll. Georgia’s embarrassing 38-20 loss to Florida dropped the Bulldogs from No. 8 to No. 17 while the Rebels’ heartbreaking defeat led to Ole Miss going from No. 9 to No. 13. The SEC Western Division still occupies three of the top four spots, with Auburn switching positions with Alabama after defeating Ole Miss while the Tide enjoyed a bye week.
Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott gave Bulldog fans a few anxious moments when he threw two interceptions as MSU beat Arkansas. The hobbled Heisman candidate quarterback managed to generate enough offense by passing for a late touchdown and
using dependable runner Josh Robinson for a 17-10 win. The Bulldogs next play outmanned Tennessee-Martin before facing Alabama and Ole Miss in games that could decide whether they will claim one of the CFP positions or fall out of the picture entirely by losing both frays. Vanderbilt will not offer up much resistance to MSU in their other SEC matchup.
Alabama faces an improving LSU team this week in Death Valley and then plays Mississippi State. They then take on Western Carolina as a warmup for its annual Auburn tussle in the Iron Bowl. Auburn still has declining Texas A & M and Georgia before Alabama.
Throw in an additional game for the Western winner in the SEC Championship game (although that would now involve less than powerful Missouri from the East), and it is becoming quite clear that the powerful SEC Western Division could possibly supply two of the four CFP participants. Any team that can go through the competitive SEC-grinder and finish the season unscathed or with one loss deserves to be included.
Florida State continues to keep Jameis Winston eligible and their two year, twenty one game winning streak going into the last month. The Seminoles and Winston seem to do just enough to win, their streak kept alive by a referee’s decision against Notre Dame
that could have gone the other way, and unimpressive performances in a few of their games. The team looks lackadaisical at times and is giving up more points than last season when it won the national championship.
Besides Florida State, the other teams that could spoil an SEC party for the CFP games are fifth-ranked Oregon, No. 6 Michigan State, or seventh-ranked TCU. Spoilers are sitting in the bushes and waiting for each. Oregon, which has been impressive in every game except its loss to Arizona, goes to Utah this week to face the No. 22 ranked Utes. Michigan State, which lost to Oregon 46-27 early in the season, will host No. 13 Ohio State this week, while TCU, which won last week’s game against West Virginia on a final play field goal, will entertain ninth-ranked Kansas State.
Notre Dame’s best game came against Florida State, making observers question how good FSU really is, and why the Fighting Irish perform so poorly against subpar competition (North Carolina and Navy). Two years ago unbeaten Notre Dame seemed to win with mirrors and good luck (this writer was at the ND-Pittsburgh three overtime Irish win in 2012 that featured a missed chip shot field goal that would have given the Panthers the victory), and their only impressive victories were a controversial home win against Stanford and a solid effort at Oklahoma. This season the FSU loss and Notre Dame’s non-demanding schedule will probably keep the Irishmen out of CFP consideration.
This coming week should further uncover how poorly the Big, 12 Conference plays defense. Track meets break out at most Big 12 games as TCU, Baylor, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and other league brethren act like they never saw a tackle they enjoyed. Yet the league finds itself currently with three Top Ten teams, TCU No. 7, Kansas State No. 9, and Baylor, No. 10. Baylor’s 61-58 victory over TCU is the only blemish on the Horned Frogs record and serves as the perfect example of the league’s motto, “offense first, defense sometimes”.
Eighty two points in one game by the Horned Frogs, then only seven in a half the following week when West Virginia, far from a stout defensive team, flustered
quarterback Trevone Boykin shows how any semblance of defense can stop them. If not for Mountaineer coach Dana Holgorsen putting the brakes on his offense and playing conservatively down the stretch, West Virginia would have beaten TCU last week. The scoreboards should be scorching again this week with Baylor versus Oklahoma and West Virginia against Texas. Coach Bill Snyder Kansas State squad will try to hold down TCU, and while the Wildcats do not possess a potent scoring attack, it is probably the best defensive team in the conference.
There will be many touchdowns, first downs, interceptions, and fumbles as the teams jockey for position. The month of November should prove interesting as the individual teams try to impress the CFP selection committee with their final appearances of the season. The big question remains, will teams around the country be able to challenge SEC supremacy under the new format, or will things shake out pretty much as they were in the two team BCS setup?[signoff}