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 Tyler Greenawalt, Austin Vaughn and Courtney Martinez.
Ohio State and Michigan State are No. 1 and 2 in the AP polls, respectively. On a scale of 1 to 10, how confident are you that both Big Ten teams make the playoff?
Tyler Greenawalt: It’s only Week 4, so I’ll say about a five, just to be safe. Michigan State has actually looked like more of a playoff team than the No. 1 Buckeyes, but Ohio State will figure themselves out down the stretch, much like they did last year. While injuries can change the course of a season in a heartbeat, the uncertainty of the SEC combined with scarcity of talented teams in the other major conferences bodes will for both Big Ten schools. The committee didn’t pick two schools from the same conference in the first playoff, but they’ll be hard pressed not to if Michigan State and Ohio State continue to win.
Austin Vaughn: Both? How about zero? Michigan State looks incredible right now, and I don’t really see anyone who can stop them, including the Buckeyes. Urban Meyer is an elite coach, no doubt, so I’m not counting out his ability to turn The Ohio State around, but they certainly don’t look invincible anymore. The embarrassing play of both QBs combined with Ezekiel Elliott’s big play ability was effectively stifled by Northern Illinois, of all teams. That makes the Buckeyes look more competitive with Michigan than Michigan State. The Spartans, however, look like the only Big Ten squad worthy of a playoff spot right now. But, if they take two losses, then perhaps the B1G will be the left out conference this year.
Courtney Martinez: If the season ended today, obviously it’s a 10. But there’s a reason the regular season lasts 13 weeks. So, I would say for now a solid three or four. It really comes down to the Nov. 21 meeting because the winner will more than likely win the conference considering how weak the other division is. The committee takes conference championship seriously in its selections, so whichever team doesn’t win will have a more difficult time to make it. But I will say Michigan State would have the bigger chance to be the second Big Ten team since it does have a signature non-conference win over Oregon.
College football is always full of surprises. This year, which team or player has surprised you the most, be it good or bad?
AV: Mangum Magic! Despite the setback against UCLA this past week, I feel like BYU still has a special team this season. We’re still early in the season, but the Cougars have showed that they’re a solid team -- one that just seems to have an x-factor that makes me think they’re not done stirring things up. And, Tanner Mangum is armed with a cannon and receivers who are successful at fighting for those long balls. Plus, they’re just plain fun to watch.
HAIL MARY! Trailing by 1, BYU's prayers are answered w/ a 42-yd TD pass on the last play at Nebraska. Wow. WATCH: http://t.co/PgkMuk91Of— ESPN (@espn) September 5, 2015
CM: There have been plenty of surprisingly good teams and some surprisingly just plain horrible teams. But I think we can agree the biggest disappointment has been Auburn. I just expected so much more from the Tigers, who I thought had a great chance to make the playoff. Instead, they barely beat an also-struggling Louisville team and almost gave up an upset to Jacksonville State. Jeremy Johnson has been lackluster in his three starts. Will Muschamp’s defense hasn’t been spectacular. Overall Auburn has been this: Blah.
TG: No. 10 UCLA. Every week, they continue to show why they’re a dominant team and move up the AP and Coaches’ Poll. Expectations for true freshman quarterback Josh Rosen were high, and he met them in his collegiate debut in Week 1. And as the season progressed, the rise of running back Paul Perkins and the Bruins’ defense have surprised many.
The comeback victory over BYU -- while not shocking -- proved UCLA is for real and true threats in the Pac-12, but tougher challenges lie ahead for the young Bruins, especially when they travel to No. 16 and undefeated Arizona this weekend.
It’s been a gruesome start to the season thus far in regards to injuries. Who is the biggest loss to his respective team, and why?
CM: Am I allowed to point to a single unit? If so, I have to say TCU’s defense because boy have the Horned Frogs been banged up defensively. Four of their defensive starters have already had season-ending injuries. TCU’s bad luck started during practices when James McFarland, last year's sack leader, injured his toe on a sprinkler head. Safety Kenny Iloka, linebacker Sammy Douglas and cornerback Ranthony Texada all suffered season-ending injuries too. Only one starter from last year’s bowl win will be on the field against a hot Texas Tech team. It’s going to be difficult task for TCU in conference games if it keeps taking hits.
TG: Pittsburgh’s James Conner is considered a top-flight running back, but when he went down with a knee injury and underwent season-ending surgery, it all but sealed the Panthers’ fate this season. Without a ferocious rusher to lean on, Pittsburgh hasn’t fared too well offensively. Though the Panthers are 2-1, their wins came in a shootout against Youngstown State and 24-7 grudge match with Akron. Pittsburgh then fell 27-24 in a heartbreaking loss to Iowa and now heads into ACC games without much of an offensive identity.
AV: I think losing Connor Mitch is detrimental to South Carolina. The Gamecocks aren’t looking great this season and probably aren’t anybody’s pick to win the SEC East. But, things are just going to keep getting worse for South Carolina without their starting QB. Not to mention their backup, Gage Pucci, is questionable for Saturday and people are already calling for the Head Ball Coach’s, well, head in Columbia. When it rains, it pours, I suppose.