And then there was one.
Top-ranked Alabama stands as the only undefeated team in the Power Five Conferences after a chaotic Saturday in which the No. 2, 3, and 4 teams in both the AP and College Football Playoff rankings all went down. No. 2 Michigan lost to Iowa on a last second field goal. No. 3 Clemson lost to Pitt on a last second field goal. And No. 4 Washington lost decisively to USC, probably the best team in the Pac-12 right now.
It was the first time in 31 years that the No. 2, 3, and 4 teams in the AP rankings all lost on the same day. For the record, No. 8 Auburn and No. 10 Texas A&M also lost. Other than Alabama, the only remaining unbeaten team in college football is Western Michigan from the Mid-American Conference.
So what does this mean for the College Football Playoff? The new rankings come out Tuesday, but with two weeks left in the regular season, followed by conference championship games on the first weekend of December, there’s still a lot of football left to play. Alabama will be heavily favored this week against Chattanooga (more on that in a minute), next week against Auburn at home, and then in the conference championship game against a two or three-loss team. But the other contenders all have two or in some cases three tough games to go. It will be a wild ride.
For what it’s worth, my top four would read this way: Alabama, Ohio State, Louisville, and Michigan. Yes, Louisville lost to Clemson, but Clemson lost to Pitt and flirted with disaster in several other games. And Michigan gets the No. 4 spot over Clemson because the Wolverines have beaten more quality teams—Colorado, Penn State and Wisconsin.
SEC Cupcakes: Speaking of Auburn’s game against Chattanooga on Saturday, it’s just one example of the SEC’s ridiculous scheduling. Here we are in the next-to-last week of the regular season with conference races, playoff positioning and bowl bids on the line. Yet on the same weekend Pac-12, Big Ten, and Big 12 teams will play rivalry games and other crucial matchups, SEC teams will feast on non-conference cupcakes and directionals like Alabama A&M, Texas San Antonio, Louisiana-Lafayette, Austin Peay, Western Carolina and the afore-mentioned Chattanooga. It would’ve been even worse, but Florida and LSU had to cancel this week’s tantalizing matchups with Presbyterian and South Alabama in order to re-schedule their Oct. 8 game postponed due to Hurricane Matthew.
This insanity results, of course, from the SEC’s insistence on playing only eight conference games while the Pac-12, Big Ten and Big 12 play nine. So you have a 14-team league, with two seven-team divisions, and only eight conference games. Each SEC team plays the other six teams in its division, plus just two of the seven in the other division. Not only does this allow SEC teams to avoid playing some, if not all, of the toughest opponents in the other division, but it allows them to schedule at least three cupcakes in four non-conference games. The ACC also uses this win-friendly approach.
By contrast, the 12-team Pac-12, the 10-team Big 12, and the 14-team Big Ten all play nine conference games. (Confusing, right? We have to list the number of teams in each conference because their names don’t always match the number of teams in the league).
This imbalance—eight conference games vs. nine—has a major impact on playoff bids. While SEC teams are picking up an extra win against inferior opponents, six Pac-12 teams will absorb a loss in head-to-head conference matchups. Think that extra loss doesn’t matter to the Playoff Selection Committee?
Stanford coach David Shaw is among those who believes this scheduling disparity is patently unfair, and that playoff selections will be skewed until the playing field is leveled and all Power Five teams play nine league games.
"They're not playing by the same rules," Shaw said at a recent media gathering. "That's my stance. Nine games are fine, as long as the Big Ten, the Big 12 and the SEC play nine as well, because we're feeding into the same playoff system. The only thing that makes sense to me, is if we're all going into the same playoff system, let's play by the same rules."
Big Game: Two teams going in opposite directions will meet in the 119th Big Game in Berkeley this Saturday. Stanford has won three straight games to improve to 7-3 on the season and 5-3 in the Pac-12. The win streak has coincided with the insertion of Keller Chryst into the lineup at quarterback and the return of a fully healthy Christian McCaffrey. Chryst passed for three touchdowns to spark a 52-27 win over Oregon last Saturday. McCaffrey, looking more and more like the player who set a national record for all purpose yards last season, has rushed for 523 yards and six TDs in his last three games.
Cal, meanwhile, has lost three in a row to fall to 4-6. The Bears’ defensive woes continued Saturday night in a 56-21 loss to Washington State. Cal now ranks last in major college football in scoring defense, allowing 45.6 points per game.
Stanford will be gunning for its seventh straight Big Game victory. The Cardinal won last year at Stanford Stadium, 35-22, with McCaffrey responsible for a school record 389 all-purpose yards.
Baylor’s shame: Noted author and commentator Paul Finebaum renewed his call for suspending Baylor’s football season last week in light of yet another disclosure that the university covered up rapes and sexual assaults by its football players. Worse yet…head coach Art Briles knew about a gang rape and didn’t report it. Finebaum has a point. There are more important things in life than winning football games. And where is the NCAA in all of this? Somehow the NCAA levies serious penalties (hello, USC!) for recruiting violations like providing a player with improper benefits, but is missing-in-action when it comes to the atrocities at Baylor.
Heisman watch: The lineup behind odds-on favorite Lamar Jackson changed with last week’s upsets. 1) Lamar Jackson, Louisville QB. It’s almost a lock at this point. 2) J.T. Barrett, Ohio State QB. Barrett is back in the picture after strong performances in back-to-back 62-3 wins over Nebraska and Maryland. 3) Jabrill Peppers, Michigan all-purpose defensive back. Peppers is in the conversation because of his amazing versatility, but has no chance to win unless he makes some big plays in a Wolverine win over Ohio State on Nov. 26. 4) Jalen Hurts, Alabama QB. The freshman continues to climb up the ladder after becoming the first Alabama player to gain 100 yards rushing and 300 passing in the same game (against Mississippi State last Saturday). 5) Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma QB. Mayfield fell out of contention after two early losses, but has led the Sooners to seven straight wins and 48 points per game. Losing ground: DeShaun Watson, Clemson QB—completed 52 of 70 passes for 580 yards against Pitt, but his three interceptions were costly. Jake Browning, Washington QB—was rattled by the tough USC defense and the Huskies scored 35 points below their season average in 26-13 loss.