Sports

PSU out after 9OT loss, Georgia still #1

We’re back, after a week off for mid-semester break. Week 7 saw no top-10 games, but an upset that nobody saw coming, with Iowa’s stunning loss to unranked Purdue. Week 8, widely predicted to be boring, ended up producing two top-10 upsets and nearly several more. Week 9, though, is guaranteed to shuffle things up — so stay tuned.

This week’s rankings:

1 Georgia (7-0)

2 Alabama (7-1)

3 Ohio State (6-1)

4 Michigan (7-0)

5 Cincinnati (7-0)

6 Oklahoma (8-0)

7 Michigan State (7-0)

8 Ole Miss (6-1)

9 Iowa (6-1)

10 Oregon (6-1)

This week saw both #7 Penn State and #8 Oklahoma State lose games they should have won, effectively removing both from the playoff picture. Penn State invited Illinois to Beaver Stadium for their homecoming game, in what was expected to be a blowout. But quarterback Sean Clifford and the Nittany Lions’ offense was unable to produce, and we were instead treated to a defensive battle that just went on, and on, and on — ultimately taking nine overtimes, more than any football game (any division, college or pro) had in the past — before Illinois backup quarterback Brandon Peters found Casey Washington in the end zone for the ugly 20-18 win. As for Oklahoma State, they lost a thriller to Iowa State on the road, 24-21, essentially blocking their path to the playoff.

For the third consecutive week, #1 Georgia remains comfortably atop the table. After a Week 7 thumping of #11 Kentucky and a bye in Week 8, the Bulldogs sit at 7-0 and face relatively little trouble from here to the SEC Championship. A trip to Florida might have some potential for trouble next week, but there’s nothing too worrying for Georgia on the horizon.

Next up is #2 Alabama. After dropping to #3 with a loss to Texas A&M in Week 6, the Tide have roared back, blowing out Mississippi State on the road and edging Tennessee at home. Now at 7-1, Alabama faces relatively few tests for the rest of the season — although, with one damaging loss, every game is a must-win. Their toughest may be the two last two of the season, in what figures to be a shootout with feisty Arkansas and then the annual Iron Bowl against #19 Auburn.

Next is #3 Ohio State. The team has the baggage of a loss, but aside from dropping an early game to #10 Oregon, has looked flawless and can make the case to have the best offense in college football. That loss in Week 2 continues to provide an issue in the rankings, but the 6-1 Buckeyes, coming off a blowout win against Indiana, have the potential to shake up the picture big-time with a win against #6 Penn State this week.

Following up is #4 Michigan, one of this season’s great success stories. In the preseason AP poll, they were unranked, and only crawled into the rankings in the first couple of weeks. But since then, with a string of seven consecutive wins, they have shot upwards and appear to be playing better football than any other team in the Big Ten aside from Ohio State. That said, they still lack a dominating win, and dates with Michigan State, Penn State, and Ohio State as the season winds down will determine if this team is for real.

Next is #5 Cincinnati. After edging out Navy, the Bearcats suddenly have an inside track to a playoff spot. With a cakewalk of a schedule for the rest of the year — and an impending Michigan-Ohio State game on the last week of the season that’s guaranteed to knock out one of those two teams — Cincinnati appears to be in control of their own destiny. Yet given how close the Navy game in Week 8 was — topping the Midshipmen by just a touchdown after a last-second interception — it’s hard to know if the Bearcats are for real.

Rounding out the top-10 are Oklahoma, undefeated but with too many narrow wins for comfort, at #6; Michigan State, jumping Oregon, at #7; Ole Miss, climbing back into the rankings, at #8; Iowa, taking Penn State’s place once again in the top-10, at #9; and Oregon at #10.

Next Week

1 Georgia at Florida

2 Alabama - Bye

3 Ohio State vs. Penn State

4 Michigan at #7 Michigan State

5 Cincinnati vs. Tulane

6 Oklahoma vs. Texas Tech

7 Michigan State vs. #4 Michigan

8 Ole Miss at Auburn

9 Iowa at Wisconsin

10 Oregon vs. Colorado

Instead of justifying the rankings, this week’s column will mostly be a preview of what’s to come. And, spoiler alert: the rankings are about to shift a lot.

While most top-10 teams have easy schedules next week, the stage is set for an absolute brawl in the Big Ten East. With three teams in the top-10, and one just a week removed — #3 Ohio State, #4 Michigan, #7 Michigan State, and former #4 Penn State — this was bound to come sooner or later. But coming out of Week 9, two of these teams will have wins, and two will have losses. Let’s look at both games.

First, #4 Michigan travels to East Lansing to play #7 Michigan State in what promises to be a marquee battle. Both teams are currently 7-0, but equally importantly, neither have earned a quality win against a ranked opponent. A Michigan win would send Michigan State falling in the rankings, likely out of the top 10; a Michigan State win, by contrast, would likely mean that the two teams effectively switch rankings, with Michigan State having a case for the top four.

In the other big game of the weekend, Penn State travels to #3 Ohio State. Penn State’s luck in Columbus recently has been far from stellar, and the Buckeyes will be looking for their third win in a row. That said, this game might be existential for both teams involved. Penn State still has a path to the playoff, but it’s narrower than ever, and this is a must-win. Ohio State has a loss, too, and each knows that their path to the playoff likely runs through the Big Ten Championship in January. And while Ohio State could arguably make it into the championship game with only one conference loss, Penn State — whose losses came to Big Ten Iowa and Illinois and not Pac-12 Oregon — would be stuck with three, dicing their final playoff hope. Long story short, whoever wins will be doing well; whoever loses is circling the end of the season on their calendar.

Craziest of all for the four teams in the Big Ten East chase? Two more loaded gamedays, in Week 11 and Week 13, will see shakeups just as big as the one coming this week. And whoever emerges from the mess — whether undefeated, with one loss, or even with two — will have a likely date with Iowa in the Big Ten Championship.

Given all this, it’s not too early to start talking about playoff implications. Could two teams from the Big Ten make the cut? While it’s never happened before, it could. At this point, the two most impressive teams are Alabama and Georgia, both from the SEC, and neither look like they’re going to pull out of the playoff hunt anytime soon, leaving two spots for everyone else. This presents an interesting predicament for the College Football Playoff selection committee, who will meet to do their work in December. If we assume, say, one-loss Iowa and one-loss Ohio State face off in the conference championship, what happens then? An Iowa win should put them in the playoff, but what of Ohio State, who would have put down Penn State, Michigan State, and Michigan, in order? Would that team really be less deserving of the fourth spot than, say, an undefeated Cincinnati team?

And what if Ohio State wins that game? Should an 11-1 or 10-2 Michigan team or a 10-2 Penn State team who only lost to top-5 teams really be left out, while a team like Oklahoma gets in?

I don’t think so. Which means that the home stretch of this season is going to be mayhem, and it’s going to be a joy to watch.