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Mike Lopresti | | November 4, 2022

Tennessee vs. Georgia, Clemson vs. Notre Dame set to shake up College Football Playoff rankings

Tennessee earns top spot in first College Football Playoff poll

Ah, the first week of the College Football Playoff rankings, with its cursing and teeth-gnashing and fussing and making much ado about something that will be repeated again, and possibly rearranged . . . in seven days.

Michigan, for example. Tough week for the Wolverines. First, someone has to decide if what happened to them in the tunnel with Michigan State rises to assault and battery. And secondly, they’re behind Clemson for the fourth spot in the CFP. That’s like being Charlie Bucket when he thought the last Willy Wonka golden ticket had been found.

But if Michigan runs the table and beats Ohio State, its CFP number in early November won’t matter, so why worry? The Wolverines can take it out on Rutgers Saturday night.

RANKINGS: Tennessee leads first CFP rankings of the season

Or Alabama — sixth in the first CFP rankings. That seems like the Mariana Trench in Tuscaloosa. The Tide have work to do, starting Saturday night at LSU. Nick Saban’s Alabama record is a rather astonishing 53-10 in true conference road games, and he will need that magic in full force the next two weeks with back-to-back visits to LSU and Ole Miss. This fortnight in white uniforms will decide if the Tide stay in in the playoff hunt, waiting for something bad to happen to teams above.

Alabama always packs its defense for the trip to Baton Rouge. In their last five visits, the Tide have allowed 47 points. LSU has been shutout only four times at home in 30 years. All four courtesy of Alabama.

Anyway, things could really change this week in the CFP, and vacancies open near the top. Depends on Saturday. Think orange. The Moments of Truth certainly are, identifying two games where the stakes are very high for a couple of teams known for their orange-ness.

AP No. 2 Tennessee at No. 1 Georgia | 3:30 p.m. | CBS

Georgia football celebrates

Consider the moment at hand for Tennessee. So good, so often in so many sports. But in the end, something or somebody keeps getting in the way.
It’s been like that in baseball. The Vols have fielded a lot of successful teams, including 2022 when they sat at No. 1 much of the season, unleashed a homer barrage that would make the Yankees proud, and went 57-9. But they never made it to Omaha. Tennessee has advanced to the College World Series five times but the closest it has come to a national championship is one runner-up, and that was 1951.
It’s been like that in men’s basketball. The Vols have played their way into 24 NCAA tournaments. Know which SEC school has the best all-time record against Kentucky? Yep, Tennessee. But while the Wildcats have been to 17 Final Fours, the Vols have been to none. And only one Elite Eight.
And it’s been like that lately in football. Tennessee is a bonafide SEC football power and that’s as validating as it gets. Indeed, the Vols have national championships in the trophy case from decades back, but they have never been in the College Football Playoffs and they have not won a league title in 24 years. Five conference schools have been national champions this century in one long parade of S-E-C! S-E-C! chants: Georgia . . . Alabama . . . . LSU . . . Auburn . . . Florida.
But not Tennessee.
Which brings us to Saturday in Athens. What’s rather amazing, given the eternal might of the SEC, is that this will be only third time in history league teams are ranked 1-2 in the AP for a regular season matchup.

UNDEFEATED: FBS teams with perfect seasons so far 
Win, and the Vols will very likely be No. 1 in any ratings you want to call up on the screen. They already are in the CFP.
Win, and a playoff spot seems all but in the bag.

Win, and that 9-0 record will include six victories over ranked opponents and a one-two punch of top-ranked super heavyweights. Alabama was No. 1 in the Coaches Poll when the Tide went down to Tennessee. Georgia is No. 1 now in Associated Press and the Coaches.
This Tennessee march is to the sounds of an exploding scoreboard.
Such as the 49.4 points and 553 yards that lead the nation, and a balanced onslaught that has produced 26 touchdowns on the ground, and 26 more through the air.
Such as the 219 passes Hendon Hooker has thrown this season with 21 touchdowns, and one interception. The Heisman Trophy smiles at such numbers.
Such as the nine plays of 40-plus yards this season by receiver Jalin Hyatt. That’s more than 117 FBS teams have managed.
Such as having 34 points as their season low.

📺 SCHEDULE: College football TV schedule date and times
Except Georgia is unbeaten too, and even more desperate, which is an unusual thing to see about the No. 1-ranked team in the nation.
You can see Tennessee getting to the playoffs with a defeat. But lose, and the Bulldogs might well miss the SEC title game, and possibly the chance to defend their national championship. There would be only one win on the resume against a currently ranked team — Oregon two months ago — and little chance left to woo the committee.
But they come to this crossroads knowing they have won 16 consecutive home games and hammered Tennessee five meetings in a row, by 41, 26, 29, 23 and 24 points. They know their defense allows 10.5 points a game, second fewest in the land. Tennessee has it 52 offensive touchdowns? Georgia has given up seven. A bad week, however, to be without injured star linebacker Nolan Smith.
The contrast could not be greater, nor the rewards higher. No future scenarios for the playoffs mean anything until this game is played. 

AP No. 5 Clemson at Notre Dame | 7:30 p.m. | NBC/Peacock

Clemson celebration

The Tigers might have more lives than cats. They keep surviving close games and last time out had to change quarterbacks to get past Syracuse at home. Which is why, when the CFP rankings landed and Clemson was No. 4, the Tigers were immediately proclaimed the team most likely to have its spot criticized.
In their defense, they’re still unbeaten and owners of a rich playoff pedigree. But one loss probably kills Clemson’s chances, and Notre Dame is America’s Team. Or at least Michigan’s Team and TCU’s Team this week. They would profit the most if the Tigers stumble over the Irish leprechaun.
Clemson can dazzle with a salvo of impressive stats. The 14-game winning streak is the nation’s longest. The Tigers are coming off a bye, and Dabo Swinney is 16-2 after open weeks in the regular season, including 10 consecutive victories going back to 2014. They’re a top-5 team playing an unranked opponent, and they’ve won 38 in a row of those.

RECAP: Statement wins from Ohio State, Tennessee and TCU highlight Week 9
Clemson is 34-4 in true road games since 2015. One of those four losses was 47-40 in double overtime in its last visit to South Bend in 2020, when DJ Uiagalelei passed for 439 yards, the most ever against Notre Dame. He’s still around, but when the Tigers were swirling down the drain against Syracuse two weeks ago, he had to be replaced by freshman Cade Klubnik.
That has put a bit of a spotlight on the Clemson quarterback spot, but Uiagalelei is still the main guy and will get his chance to make more trouble in Notre Dame Stadium.
The Irish have beaten UNLV and California at home this season but lost to Marshall and Stanford. That resume doesn’t exactly stamp them as the perfect candidate to stop Clemson, but then there’s this: Notre Dame has won 26 regular season games in a row against ACC opponents. Early losses had the Irish making a quick exit from the playoff landscape, but this is their chance to get back to the bright lights.
They’d really appreciate it Ann Arbor, Tuscaloosa and Fort Worth.


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