Monday, September 20, 2021

Chaos Reigns Supreme

By Jean Neuberger

We're three full weeks into the college football season and one thing is for sure.

We know very little about what lies ahead of us this season.

Some years, it's simple. The top four teams easily separate themselves from the field and it's smooth sailing into the playoff. There's no drama, no questions.

This year is not one of those years. It's chaotic, wild, unpredictable. It's savage and beautiful and exciting. And given all we went through in 2020, it's what we all needed.

Has there really been an elite team that has clearly established themselves as the ones to beat? As of now, not really.

The closest to the pin would be Georgia. The 3-0 Bulldogs have arguably the nation's best defense, shutting down Clemson before cruising to easy wins over UAB and South Carolina. Their offense, though held in check by Clemson, can unleash on teams that are used to UGA's bruising backs, but less so of the Bulldog air attack, led by J.T. Daniels.

Georgia is elite, but it will take a win over Florida to start solidifying playoff ideas. Even then, UGA likely has Alabama waiting for them.

Alabama is, well, Alabama. The machine keeps rolling. Bryce Young looks superb, the receivers and backs are always good and Nick Saban's squad still sits at the top, daring to be beaten. Florida came real close, though, showing the nation that the Tide could be ripe for an upset this year. In 2020, Bama defeated Florida 52-46, but dominated the stats, rolling up over 600 yards of offense and holding Florida to just 54 yards rushing.

Last Saturday, Florida pushed Alabama around, ripping up 245 rushing yards against Bama's defensive line. Special teams was their downfall. And one could imagine that, should Florida beat Georgia and get Anthony Richardson healthy, a rematch in Atlanta could be Dan Mullen's best shot to finally beat Saban.

So, the SEC has several good teams, but no one dominant just yet.

The Big Ten has potentially elite teams two in Penn State, who has two great wins over Wisconsin and Auburn, and Iowa, whose resume includes wins over Indiana and Iowa State. Those two meet up on October 9th in Iowa City for what could be a preview of the Big Ten title game. Michigan and Michigan State have had strong starts, but the East has belonged to Ohio State for so long, that everything still has to go through them.

But the Buckeyes haven't looked elite at all this year. The loss to Oregon was a surprise. The close call against Tulsa definitely threw some red flags up, especially given Tulsa's first game was a loss to FCS squad UC Davis. Ohio State is loaded with young talent; they just need to gel and gel quickly as conference play approaches.

As for Iowa, the schedule smiles on them, as they play just two ranked opponents the rest of the season before a likely date in the Big Ten title game.

The ACC? Clemson plays zero ranked opponents the rest of the year, so they're in the driver's seat. However, they're rooting hard for Georgia to beat Alabama in the SEC title game ... big. If a one-loss Clemson and a one-loss Georgia are left standing, how can the committee take the Tigers when Georgia beat them on a neutral field?

Answer: they can't.

So Clemson needs Georgia to either win out, beat Alabama big and win the committee debate over the Tide (easier said than done), or have Florida beat the Bulldogs, only to lose to Alabama in the title game. They'll need a few breaks.

The Pac-12 looks to be Oregon and everyone else. The FCS has done some work on the Pac-12, including last night's win by Northern Arizona over Arizona. Also doing damage to the Pac-12? BYU, whose 3-0 mark includes wins over Arizona, Utah and Arizona State. I'd be nervous if I was Washington State or Southern Cal (though the latter looked good last night). Still, the Ducks carry the Pac-12 hopes and dreams of a playoff representative. They've got a great win over Ohio State, but they can't afford to sputter in conference play as they did against Stony Brook last night. The Ducks pulled away and won easily, but that was too close of a game for too long.

The Big 12? Yikes.

Iowa State's loss to Iowa hurt their playoff hopes. Texas had it hopes steamrolled, courtesy of Arkansas and their rushing attack gashing the Horns. Oklahoma has not looked dominant at all against FBS teams, surviving scares against Tulane and Nebraska (but that interception was insane). Kansas State is a nice 3-0 with a good win over Stanford, but the conference overall hasn't looked too great.

Hey, at least Kansas won a game, right?

Lastly, Notre Dame? Surviving Florida State doesn't look that great after the Seminoles stumbled to 0-3. Dodging Toledo definitely doesn't look good after Colorado State, who lost to FCS South Dakota State and lowly Vanderbilt, blitzed the Rockets, 22-6. The Irish are 3-0, but they don't have much of a resume to work with. A looming showdown with Wisconsin is an opportunity that the Irish need to capitalize on in order to generate playoff buzz.

So, no one has really stood out and asserted themselves as the alpha dog in their conference. There's a lot of football to be played and a lot to be decided as well. It's been a wild three weeks so far, and expecting the unexpected is the new norm of 2021.

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