The 2021 college football season continues to unfold as one of the more unpredictable in recent memory, and certainly one of the more chaotic during the College Football Playoff era. The last point became evident on Saturday night as I watched Alabama fall to Texas A&M 41-38. It was while watching the Aggies celebrate doing the thing no other unranked team had done to Alabama since 2007 that it hit me like a lightning bolt.
The Big Ten currently has a better chance of getting two teams into the College Football Playoff than the SEC.
Only hours earlier, I watched Iowa come back from an early 14-point deficit to take down Penn State 23-20 in a battle of top-four teams. When the new polls were released Sunday, it only confirmed the matter.
Alabama didn't fall further than No. 5 in either major poll because it's Alabama and given the benefit of the doubt not afforded to other programs (and deservedly so). Still, imagine if somebody had told you before the season began that Alabama would be outside the playoff spots and looking up at teams like Iowa and Cincinnati by mid-October. But it's not Alabama's current position in the polls, nor is it the unexpected teams behind it. It's four of the teams right behind Alabama and Alabama itself that makes the Big Ten's chances look stronger than ever before.
The Crimson Tide have played two road games this season (not including the opener in Atlanta against Miami). The first was a 31-29 win over Florida in which the Tide had to stop a two-point conversion attempt late in the game to keep a Gators team that had pushed them around most of the night from tying the game. The other was on Saturday in College Station, where a physical Texas A&M team outmuscled them again. In four games at home or in Atlanta, the Alabama defense has allowed 62 points. In two road games, it's allowed 70. It looks more vulnerable than usual on both sides of the ball and still has road games remaining against Mississippi State and Auburn.
Plus, even if the Tide still hang on to win the West -- which is likely but should no longer be an assumption -- they'd have to face No. 1 Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. If Florida and Texas A&M were able to bully Alabama with relative ease, imagine what Georgia might do.
Meanwhile, the Big Ten has five teams ranked in the top 10 of both polls. Iowa, Michigan and Michigan State are all undefeated, while Ohio State's loss came to No. 9 Oregon and Penn State's loss was to No. 2 Iowa. Even the conference's losses are impressive -- a position usually reserved for the SEC.
Unfortunately for the Big Ten, this cannot last forever. The Big Ten's East division has four teams in the top 10 right now because none of them have played each other yet (which is smart scheduling on the conference's part), but at the end of the season, one will emerge as the division champion. That team will then head to Indianapolis with a record of 12-0 or 11-1, where it's probably going to find a 12-0 Iowa waiting for it.
Iowa is not some elite team without weaknesses. It has plenty! But, record-wise, the best team on Iowa's remaining schedule is either 3-2 Minnesota or 3-2 Purdue. Both are in Iowa City. The toughest tests the Hawkeyes face will be road games against Wisconsin and Nebraska -- two teams we can't assume Iowa will beat, but two teams the Hawkeyes have played much better than all season long.
So, if an undefeated Michigan or Michigan State reaches the Big Ten Championship Game and faces a 12-0 Iowa, would the loser be left out of the playoff? What if a one-loss Ohio State or Penn State reaches Indianapolis and beats Iowa there? Does a 12-1 Iowa team get left out?
I hate to be cynical, but based on the decisions they've made to this point, I don't trust the selection committee to choose an undefeated Cincinnati over a second team from the Big Ten the same way I wouldn't expect them to spurn a one-loss SEC team.
Of course, there's a lot of season left to be played, and as every weekend takes pleasure in reminding us, we don't know anything. But right now, it's good to be the Big Ten.
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Double Standard of the Week
Saturday was a banger from start to finish. The day began with two ridiculous games. Texas and Oklahoma traded leads and touchdowns for roughly five hours before Kennedy Brooks scored on a 33-yard touchdown run in the final seconds to give Oklahoma a 55-48 Red River Showdown win. Meanwhile, roughly 550 miles to the east in Oxford, Mississippi, Ole Miss and Arkansas were in their own shootout -- one that ended with the Razorbacks scoring a touchdown on the final play of regulation but failing to convert on a game-winning two-point conversion as the Rebels held on for the 52-51 victory.
Both games were awesome, and I enjoyed them immensely. I also enjoyed the way the games were being discussed on social media by many of my colleagues. I couldn't help but notice how the game between Oklahoma and Texas was portrayed by many as being "typical Big 12 defense" with blown coverages and missed tackles, while the game between SEC teams that saw 1,287 total yards, 14 touchdowns and five punts was just a beautifully-executed display of offensive football that was simply too much for any mortal college football defense to overcome.
Remember, kids, when a wide receiver runs free through a Big 12 secondary, it's terrible defense. When they do it against an SEC defense, that's just scheme, baby.
Loose Mammal of the Week
College football games are always better when some random animal can find their way into a stadium. I believe this is the first fox I've seen running around on the field at a game since one interrupted a 2016 game between West Virginia and Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas. I'm starting to wonder if this is the same fox, and he spends his days roaming the great state of Texas attending football games. It's a life choice to which I think we can all relate.
Random Mouthpiece of the Week
That is a screenshot of Houston safety Gervarrius Owens from Thursday night's 40-22 Houston win over Tulane. That is a mouthpiece in Owens' helmet. It is not Owens' mouthpiece. I don't know whose mouthpiece it is, but it belongs to a Tulane player judging by the color. I can only assume that Owens either found the mouthpiece on the field and took it as a trophy or that he knocked it out of the mouth of a Tulane player he tackled and then claimed it as a trophy.
Either way, it's pretty badass. More defensive players should do things like this. They can collect mouthpieces and wrist bands the same way you see players collect helmet stickers for making plays.
Stock Advice of the Week
BUY -- Caleb Williams: The moment I've been calling for since the spring finally happened on Saturday when Lincoln Riley decided to bench Spencer Rattler for the second Red River Showdown in a row. Last season it was Tanner Mordecai replacing Rattler for a while before the Sooners beat Texas in four overtimes. On Saturday, Williams stepped in for a largely ineffective Rattler. But unlike Mordecai, Williams did not yield the position back.
Williams scored on a 66-yard touchdown run on his first snap and never looked back once he took the reins for good later in the game. His final numbers weren't amazing -- 16-of-25 passing for 212 yards with two touchdowns and 88 yards rushing -- but he brought a juice to the Oklahoma offense that had been missing this season. His ability as a rusher brings another element to the Oklahoma offense. It opens space for running backs like Kennedy Brooks -- Brooks averaged 8.7 yards per carry on the day after averaging 5.9 in the first five games -- as well as receivers in the passing game who find themselves running against something other than "drop eight" coverage.
Lincoln Riley might not have been ready to commit to Williams going forward immediately after the game, but I don't know how he can return to Rattler after watching the tape.
HOLD -- Texas: The loss to Oklahoma stings because the Longhorns seemed in total control early, only to watch it all slip away late. Honestly, it felt like an entire Texas season was played out over four quarters. Anyway, while the loss hurts, it's still only Texas' first Big 12 loss on the season. Looking around at the rest of the conference, the only unbeatens in Big 12 play are the Sooners and Oklahoma State ... the same Oklahoma State the Longhorns will face this week. If Texas can bounce back and knock off a Cowboys team that's good but not great, they'll be right back in the thick of the Big 12 race. Their playoff hopes are dead, but a Big 12 title and a major bowl game are all still in play.
SELL -- Kentucky: It might seem strange to sell Kentucky after it beat LSU and Florida in consecutive weeks and is now 6-0 as one of only two undefeated teams remaining in the SEC. But it has to play the other undefeated team in the SEC this weekend, so odds are Kentucky's stock will never be higher in 2021 than it is right now. If you don't believe me, just check the point spread, as Georgia opened as a 20-point favorite over the Wildcats.
While some might point to Kentucky's schedule after the Georgia game as a reason to believe this Kentucky team can finish 11-1 or 10-2, I'll point out that after playing consecutive games against Florida, LSU and Georgia, the Wildcats might be a little beat up heading down the stretch and vulnerable to a surprising loss or two.
Record-Setting Team of the Week
These are not the kinds of graphics you want to see shown during your games, USC.
Apology of the Week
North Carolina did something Saturday that few other teams have shown the ability to do in recent seasons: it lost to Florida State. The 35-25 loss dropped the Tar Heels to 3-3 on the season, a massive disappointment for a team that ranked No. 10 in the AP Top 25.
Afterward, North Carolina coach Mack Brown had this to say.
"My expectation is to win every game, so three times we've met it and three times we haven't," Mack says. "The national media expectation, the expectation for us to be a top-10 team, were wrong. So I guess we should all be critical of the media for picking us that high."— Lauren Brownlow (@lebrownlow) October 9, 2021
I've never thought of it like that, Mack. You're right. So, on behalf of The Media, I would like to offer you and your players an apology. This is our fault. We are damned fools who don't often consider the consequences of our actions and of those who will suffer for them.
I hope you can one day find it in your hearts to forgive us. Of course, I do wonder if it's genuinely our fault. You see, the only reason we here in The Media rank teams is because fans demand rankings. Studies show that the further away from a ranking that a College Football Fan is, the more lethargic and irritated it becomes. So, if the only reason The Media ranks teams is to keep the College Football Fan happy, then isn't it the fans' fault?
Don't the fans owe all of us an apology? It makes you think. Of course, another thing that makes me think is that the Coaches Poll had North Carolina at No. 9 while the AP Top 25 had it at No. 10. So we should probably be blaming the coaches for this one, Mack.
College Football Playoff Projection of the Week
- Ohio State
Until the next Monday After!