Every Friday, NCAA.com will run ‘Third and Long,’ a look at three different questions facing the college football world. This week, our three respondents are Craig Thomas, Tyler Greenawalt and Austin Vaughn.
1. Alabama is right back in the thick of the playoff hunt after blowing out Georgia. We know that one loss isn’t a fatal blow to championship chances, so which one-loss team, outside of the Tide, is in the best position to make a run?
Craig Thomas: Alabama is the only team in the top 10 with a loss, so you have to dive down to the scrum that makes up the lower half of the Top 25.
Ole Miss, Notre Dame, Stanford, USC, Michigan, Georgia and UCLA are all bunched up in slots 14 through 20 -- one of those teams should be able to make a run. We can’t possibly be headed to a College Football Playoffs made up of only the Big Ten and Big 12. As much as I love powder-blue throwback helmets and Chad Kelly’s burgeoning hip-hop career, I can’t pick Ole Miss to be the one-loss team to make a run. The numbers say I should: Chad Kelly is leading the SEC in passing yards with 1,478 and Laquon Treadwell is a top-five receiver in the conference. The Nkemdiche brothers are so tough, a 100-year-old Mississippi bluesman should write a song about them. But they play in the SEC West, a conference that just beats on one another until there is only one team standing.
No, the easiest road to the College Football Four goes through South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame, with its ACC-lite schedule only plays two more teams ranked in the Top 25: USC, which is a legit Top 25 team, and Stanford, which is not. Notre Dame already played the best team in the ACC and lost. But that was on the road and Clemson brought their own guts. If Notre Dame doesn’t beat themselves, it should finish the season 11-1.
Tyler Greenawalt: Notre Dame looked terrible against Clemson for most of the game, but the fight of the Irish in the final quarter proved they still have what it takes to compete for a title. Though Notre Dame failed to tie the game in the final moments and lost a close one, the rest of the schedule is extremely favorable for the Irish. No. 17 USC and No. 16 Stanford are the only currently-ranked teams left to play, and neither pose any real threat. DeShone Kizer and C.J. Prosise will continue to play better and if the defense can learn to make the necessary adjustments, Notre Dame is in the best position to make a run.
Austin Vaughn: Honestly, I think it's Georgia. Yes, they looked like a Pop Warner team playing the New England Patriots last week. However, Georgia is still in the best position to win the SEC East, and, despite its horrid play on Saturday, it is the best team in the SEC East. So, with a December game in Atlanta looking like their toughest challenge from here on out, the Bulldogs have plenty of time to fix their mistakes, and, with revenge in their hearts, upset Bama (yeah, I'm calling it) in the SEC Championship.2. Florida is the best team in the SEC East. True or False?
TG: False. Georgia is still the best team in the SEC East despite a big loss to Alabama. Yes, Florida put on a show against the then-No.3 Rebels, but that’s the only game the Gators have looked like a formidable foe. Georgia, on the other hand, cruised through the first part of its schedule and looked like an easy playoff contender until running into the Crimson Tide. But every game against Alabama is tough, and the Bulldogs will look to regain their composure with a much more favorable schedule on the horizon. The East will probably come down to the Florida-Georgia matchup on Halloween, with the Bulldogs proving they’re the best team out of the East.
AV: See my answer to question No. 1. Florida played a great game against Ole Miss last week, and Jim McElwain is making some great progress with the Gators. But, if anything, last week was a trap game. Ole Miss may be done, but it is a better team than Florida. The Rebels just thought they could coast into the Swamp, and playing a conference game on the road is never a gimme. In fact, I see the Gators making the same mistake this week going into Columbia, Missouri, for a tangle with the Tigers. Florida is improving, and, given enough time, McElwain can probably rebuild it into a powerhouse. They're just not there yet.
CT: Well, this question will be answered on Halloween [against Georgia], won’t it? But I suppose for the sake of hot takes I’ll throw out an answer.
The answer is true! Unless it is false.
In the beginning of the year, Florida fans were just hoping for a bowl berth. An invitation to the Independence Bowl would make Gator fans chomp after the disaster of the Muschamp era. But now UF fans are thinking about a trip to Atlanta and the Florida football team must deal with heightened expectations. It is much easier to win when no one expects you to win -- it because much more difficult when you are expected to win every game. (Just go ask Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes about that.)
Florida head coach Jim McElwain wants to know how his players will react to these new circumstances and he also likes being treated like your Golden Retriever. He told Fox Sports:
“I’ll be interested to see not only how we play on Saturday, but more so, what’s the mindset when we come to work on Monday,” he said. “Is it hey, I’m excited I’m getting my belly rubbed, or is it, why am I getting my belly rubbed? Which is, based on putting in the work and doing my job, good things should happen.”
Nobody really likes rubbing the belly of Gator. It’s much easier on the hands to rub the belly of a Bulldog.3. Cal and Utah meet this weekend, the only two unbeaten teams left in the Pac-12. Will any team start to emerge as a conference favorite, or does parity truly rule in the Pac-12 this year?
AV: Parity in the Pac-12 South has ruled recently, but Utah looks to be dominant. The better Michigan looks as the season goes on, the better Utah's handling of the Wolverines in Week 1 looks. Plus, Oregon proved they're not a horrible team by hanging with Michigan State in week two; so, Utah's absolute dismantling of the Ducks really makes a statement. In my opinion, there's not a team in the conference that can hang with the Utes, and I would be surprised if Utah doesn't make the playoff.
CT: When the word ‘parity’ should not be used in college football, save that word for the boring games that are played on Sundays in the fall. There is no parity in college football – there is only chaos and the Pac-12 is the most chaotic conference in all of college football.
How else do you explain that the last two undefeated teams in the Pac-12 are Cal and Utah? If you are a fan of both trends in college football and a fan of the Utes, then Saturday night could be troubling for you. Three weeks in a row, a visiting team has defeated an undefeated home team in conference play. Stanford beat USC 41-31, UCLA manhandled Arizona 56-30 and Arizona State upset UCLA 38-23.
The Pac-12 is a unique situation in college football -- no team in the conference has a losing record and the teams at ‘the bottom’ could easily knock off a top-tier team on any given Saturday. In other words, this conference is a perfect microcosm of today’s college football.
TG: Utah will be the conference favorite moving forward, especially after its matchup with Cal this weekend. The Utes continue to climb up the AP Poll, while the rest of the Pac-12 will be playing for second place. Utah’s all-around talent on both sides of the ball is what separates the Utes from the rest of the conference, while Cal’s strength lies solely with quarterback Jared Goff.