3 Headlines To Watch In College Football’s Opening Week

Since watching the conclusion of the LSU-Clemson national championship in January, I have watched parts of two college football games. And both have included FCS squad Central Arkansas. Tack that weird informational nugget onto what has been a year in sports like no other. The only FCS teams I watched growing up were my home-state Maine Black Bears, and occasionally the dynastic North Dakota State in the championship game. Yet I’ve watched Central Arkansas, a team that has never made it past the 2nd round of the FCS playoffs, twice in a span of five days.

The sports drought was real.

But, this weekend, we are kind of, almost all the way back. Although this season will lack some top teams and playoff contenders, my recent watching habits indicate that I would gladly watch just about any college football right now. And this Saturday, barring any late postponements, we have 6 full clashes occuring on the gridirion at the FBS level. Although there may be no national title contenders in action this weekend, it’s still a full day of college football. So, if you’re starved for college sports like myself, you’ll at minimum have these games on in the background of your primary Saturday quarantine activities. Might as well know what you’re watching.

A Primetime Quarterback Battle

While we may have to wait another week or two to see some of the popular Heisman candidates take the field, don’t assume there’s a lack of QB talent taking the field this weekend. One of Saturday’s primetime kick-offs slates Brady White and the Memphis Tigers against Layne Hatcher and the Arkansas State Red Wolves. Brady White is absolutely a top-10 quarterback in the country in my opinion, while Hatcher put up a very impressive season in his debut as a starter last year.

Brady White led an explosive Memphis offense last season that seemed to fly under the radar for most of the year. In the Cotton Bowl against Penn State, despite an eventual loss, White torched the Nittany Lions for 454 yards and led Memphis to 39 points, eleven more then Penn State had allowed all season in any one game. He’s back under center, and after a 4,000 yard, 33-touchdown season, I’d rank White inside my Top 10 quarterbacks, and likely as the best Group-of-5 signal-caller entering the 2020 season.

Meanwhile, Hatcher has been very impressive in his own right. After a year at Alabama, Hatcher transferred and started as a redshirt freshman with the Red Wolves. There he tossed 27 touchdowns and over 2900 yards in just ten games. Outside of his first start, a road loss to #3 Georgia, Hatcher threw at least two touchdowns in every game, notching at least four scoring passes in four different contests. He punctuated his season witha 393-yard, four-touchdown performance in the Camellia Bowl. If the Big 10 does not play this season, Hatcher will return as the #1 quarterback in passing efficiency (#3 behind Justin Fields and Tanner Morgan if the B1G season is played). He’s a special talent with likely another couple of college seasons ahead of him. There’s no Power-5 clash this weekend, but if there’s one game you want to watch, make it this one, because this is a pretty sweet QB duel to start off the season.

Can Army Rally Back Into Relevance?

Things were looking bright for Army – a two-season stretch saw the Black Knights go 21-5 with two bowl game victories, with one of those losses an overtime duel with the Oklahoma Sooners. Throw in their 8-5 season in 2016, and it was three straight years of 8+ wins for Army, a stretch they hadn’t matched since 1948-1950. They cracked the top 25, rising to #19, which was their first time in the poll since 1996. When their 2019 campaign started with a win and an overtime loss at Michigan, Army seemed in line for another big year. However, the Black Knights regressed in brutal fashion, fading to 5-8, ending their season with a blowout loss to Navy, ending a three-game winning streak over the Midshipmen.

There was some bad fortune involved in Army’s tailspin last season, as they lost five straight games, with three of the defeats by one possession, and none by more than nine points. When their offense was rolling, their defense couldn’t get a stop, such as in their 42-33 defeat to Tulane, or 34-29 loss to San Jose State. When the defense stiffened, the offense looked like a limp noodle, scorinng a combined 21 points in losses to Western Kentucky and Air Force.

My belief is that Jeff Monken is too good a head coach to let that type of season define what has ultimately been a successful tenure with the Black Knights. Jabari Laws is likely to take the reigns under center, and he looked good in his brief showings last year, going 16-20 for 311 yards. He also averaged 6.4 yards per carry on the ground as Army’s fourth-leading rusher. He’l be a key to Army having a resurgent year in the Covid-shortened season.

Army kicks off their season on Saturday against Middle Tennessee at 1:30. It’ll be the first clash of the day involving both FBS teams. The Blue Raiders saw a four-year bowl game streak come to an end last season, but they also haven’t put up 10 wins in a season since 2009. I like Army to come out and make as much of a statement as they can in their home opener.

Is SMU a NY6 Contender?

SMU, led by quarterback Shane Buechele, may have one of the most lethal offenses in the country. The Mustangs soared to a 10-3 record last season, their first 10-win campaign since 1984. They start their 2020 season with a battle against Texas State. The Bobcats haven’t had a winning season since 2014, and they finished 3-9 last season, but Saturday’s game isn’t just about the result for the Mustangs. SMU is a darkhorse contender for the Group of 5’s guaranteed berth in a New Year’s 6 bowl game, and this game, albeit not against the stiffest of competition, could give us an idea of how legitimate those lofty hopes may be.

SMU averaged 41.8 points per game last year, ranking 7th in the country, but their defense struggled, allowing over 33 points per contest. Buechele threw for nearly 4000 yards and 34 touchdowns, and he returns to lead the Mustangs into battle this season. He will need to help SMU navigate a tricky AAC, which boasts UCF, Memphis, and Cincinnati – all dangerous programs with New Year’s 6 aspirations. The Mustangs will need to be firing on all cylinders to escape that conference with one loss or less, so it’s important for them to get off to the right start on Saturday.

We Simulated A Group of Five College Football Playoff

In our recent simulation, we took a look at the results at an expanded College Football Playoff, which included a Group-of-5 bid, but who is the best small-name program out there? We simulated a CFP – Group-of-5 edition – and pitted the winner against the real CFP field, starting with the semifinal losers and progressing to the champion until they were defeated or triumphed over the field. Teams were selected by the final CFP rankings of that year, and if there were not four teams in those rankings, we went to the AP Poll, utilizing the “Also Receiving Votes” section if necessary. Here were our results:

2014

  1. Boise State
  2. Marshall
  3. Memphis
  4. Colorado State

4. Colorado State def. 1. Boise State 33-31
2. Marshall def. 3. Memphis 28-23

Championship

4. Colorado State def. 2. Marshall 31-23

Against the CFP…
Def. Florida State 34-31 (OT)
LOST to Alabama 44-28\

Summary

Led by the exploits of quarterback Garrett Grayson, Colorado State embarked on a stunning run in our initial year of the Group of 5 simulation. The Rams were 10-2 in 2014 with a bad loss in the Las Vegas Bowl, but in this simulation, they rallied over Boise State with a game-winning field goal at the buzzer, before staving off Marshall in the championship. Grayson tossed seven touchdowns and no picks between the two highly efficient performances. In a stunning effort, the Rams edged out Jameis Winston and the Seminoles, but they fell well short against Alabama, although Grayson threw for another four scores, but the Tide racked up 232 rushing yards between Derrick Henry and TJ Yeldon. Surprising stuff in Year 1, let’s see what 2015 has to offer. 

2015 

  1. Houston
  2. Navy
  3. Temple
  4. Western Kentucky


4. Western Kentucky def. 1. Houston 37-24
3. Temple def. 2. Navy 24-17

Championship

4. Western Kentucky def. 3. Temple 34-20

Against the CFP…

Def. Oklahoma 37-35
LOST to Michigan State 41-33

Summary

Two straight four-seeds? There appears to be very little difference among the top Group of 5 teams, so we’ll see if that trend continues. Western Kentucky bodyslammed both Houston and Temple by two touchdowns to claim the title. The Hilltoppers could score on virtually anyone in 2015, putting up at least 35 points on every defense except Vanderbilt and LSU. Oklahoma’s sieve-like defense posed little challenge, but the Spartans held WKU to enough field goals to edge out the upstart fourth-seed. 

2016

  1. Western Michigan
  2. Temple
  3. Navy
  4. South Florida


4. USF def. 1. Western Michigan 34-31
2. Temple def. 3. Navy 40-20

Championship

2. Temple def. 4. USF 34-30

Against the CFP…

LOST to Washington 42-23

Summary

Finally, someone took down a four-seed in this simulation, as Temple took down Navy in what is quickly developing into a virtual rivalry, and edged out South Florida in the final. However, they had zero luck against Power-5 competition, getting manhandled by fourth-seeded Washington, trailing by 29 points in the fourth quarter. Maybe the quality of play is a little worse, but you can’t deny this Playoff would be highly interesting – six of the nine games played in the Group of 5 portion of the simulation have been decided by one possession. 

2017

  1. UCF
  2. Memphis
  3. Boise State
  4. South Florida
  1. UCF def. 4. USF 45-13
  2. Memphis def. 3. Boise State 37-27

Championship

1. UCF def. 2. Memphis 41-31

Against the CFP…
LOST to Oklahoma 42-37
Summary

This simulation has produced some wild results, so to see chalk in Year 4 was actually pretty shocking. 2017 UCF can definitely stake a claim to being the best Group of 5 team in recent history, and they dominated the Playoff simulation here, taking the title in convincing fashion. However, a very strong Playoff field made it tough to advance further, as Baker Mayfield and the Sooners edged the Knights. McKenzie Milton was a joy to watch on the gridiron, so here’s to hoping he makes it back soon – college football is better when guys like him are playing. 

2018

  1. UCF
  2. Fresno State
  3. Boise State
  4. Utah State

    4. Utah State def. 1. UCF 35-23
    2. Fresno State def. 3. Boise State 35-21

Championship

4. Utah State def. 2. Fresno State 37-34 (OT)

Against the CFP…

LOST to Oklahoma 52-33

Summary

Top-seeded UCF had to play without McKenzie Milton and fell victim to Jordan Love’s rocket arm. Meanwhile, Boise State falls to 0-3 in three separate appearances, and the Aggies triumph in an overtime classic over Fresno State, tying the game on a late field goal and winning on Love’s 26-yard TD toss. Utah State clashed with Heisman winner Kyler Murray and simply did not have the firepower to stay with the Sooners. Love had a pair of TDs, but Oklahoma grabbed a 10-point halftime lead and cruised to victory. 

2019

  1. Memphis
  2. Boise State
  3. Appalachian State
  4. Cincinnati 

    1. Memphis def. 4. Cincinnati 41-28

2. Boise State def. 3. Appalachian State 37-14

Championship

2. Boise State def. 1. Memphis 35-30

Against the CFP…

LOST to Oklahoma 34-28
Summary

Boise State breaks through! I’m really glad, because I would have had to deal with a throng of rabid Broncos’ fans if they didn’t even get a win in the Group of 5 CFP. The Broncos manhandled Appalachian State in one of the biggest blowouts of our 6-year simulation before edging out a very good Memphis squad. However, their magic ran out against the Sooners – no ‘Statue of Liberty’ stunner in this one, as the Broncos dropped a 6-point contest to Jalen Hurts, CeeDee Lamb and Co. 

Final Thoughts

A Group-of-5 playoff will never happen, because it will require the NCAA to admit that their current system excludes half the teams in the nation from even competing for a Playoff spot. However, I am still enthralled by the idea; exciting small-name programs can be exciting to watch, and this system pits some of the best teams in the nation against each other, largely producing thrilling results. Four-seeds combined for an insane 7-3 record, as upsets raged throughout the years, while teams like UCF proved their utter dominance with convincing victories. 

Ultimately, Boise State led with four Playoff appearances, although it took them until that fourth try to snatch a win. Memphis went 2-3 in three appearances, and nobody else had more than two Playoff berths. Against CFP teams, our Group-of-5 champions went 2-6, but no victories were seen in the final four years. 

Ultimately, I think four appearances in six years is a decent statement as to Boise State’s consistency, regardless of their schedule, but the three tournament victories by fourth-seeds also showed that there is plenty of parity between the best Group-of-5 teams. Again, this won’t happen, but imagine if this event was a precursor to the CFP, making it four straight weekends of premier college football. One can dream.

Daily Headlines: Auburn land’s Bo Nix’s successor

The big key to winning national championships nowadays is recruiting game-changing dynamic quarterbacks. Joe Burrow (1st overall), Trevor Lawrence (1st overall), Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa (5th overall and 2nd round), and DeShaun Watson (12th overall) have all been big-name draft picks and responsible for the past four national championships. Auburn, in a three-way battle for supremacy in the SEC West with Alabama and LSU, recruited a game-changing quarterback in Bo Nix. Nix became the first Auburn true freshman to start the season opener and was eventually named SEC Freshman of the year. He will have at least two more seasons to lead the Tigers to the promised land, but meanwhile, Auburn is already focused on bringing in more sensational talent under center.

Dematrius Davis is a four-star recruit out of Houston, Texas, and he’s rated as the sixth-best quarterback in his class. Nine days ago, he decommitted from Virginia Tech, a move that had been in the works for a few months. Auburn, who recruited Davis hard despite his verbal commitment to the Hokies. They even turned down two quarterbacks hoping to commit to Auburn, something that impressed Davis and factored into his decision. He also said his initial commitment to Virginia Tech was based on getting to play his first year, but he later decided the chance to play behind “someone like Bo Nix” for a year and compete for SEC and National Championships was worth it.

Davis’s commitment is a huge win for Auburn, who now has relative security at the quarterback position for the next five or six seasons, a spectacular rarity in college football.

Evansville Trasfer DeAndre Williams commits to Memphis

DeAndre Williams only played in 18 games due to injury in the 2019-2020 basketball season, but he starred for the Evansville Purple Aces, averaging 15.2 points per game as well as seven rebounds. Although he struggled in limited action after returning from injury, Williams, who scored 28 points in his final pre-injury contest, was a commodity on the transfer market after deciding to leave the hapless Purple Aces. Evansville went 0-18 in Missouri Valley play, ending the year on a 19-game losing streak. Thus, Williams announced he would be heading to Memphis, choosing the Tigers over Kentucky, Baylor, and Arkansas. He’ll be a big asset for Memphis, who is losing star freshman Precious Achiuwa to the draft.

Mid-Major Headlines: Memphis Makes Some Bad History

Memphis was listed as a 3.5 point road favorite prior to their visit to Tulsa. It may have been generous for the Tigers, given that Tulsa was 4-1 in the AAC with a 12-6 record overall. Granted, Memphis was coming off a good win over a solid Cincinnati squad, but their match-up with the Golden Hurricanes was going to be a much tougher battle.

As it turns out, the game wasn’t a battle – it wasn’t even close. And not in a good way for Memphis. The Tigers were completely outclassed in every phase of the game and walked off the court with the scoreboard reading 80-40 in favor of the home team. For the 20th-ranked Tigers, they became just the fifth ranked team since 1948 to lose by 40+ points.

There was no one area of concern for Memphis that could be easily fixed. They were horrid in every aspect of the game, shooting just 28.6% from the field, including a putrid 2/21 from long range, seemingly befuddled into taking bad shots by Tulsa’s zone. They made just 6 out of 11 free throws, turned the ball over 20 times, got blocked four times, and seemed incapable of stopping Tulsa defensively. Down 23 points at the half, Memphis couldn’t even stop the bleeding, allowing another 40 points in the second half to put the exclamation mark on their horrific performance.

Memphis, without James Wiseman, is looking less and less like a tournament team. Precious Achiuwa is their best player, and he’s averaging 15 points per game. And when he has an off game – as on Wednesday night – the entire Tigers’ offense looks out of sorts. They will almost certainly fall out of the rankings after this week, and with only a pair of ranked games against Houston on their schedule, they’ll have to impress to get any kind of decent seed in March.

Mid-Major Report: Trap Games For San Diego State and Other Headlines

In a lull between the rush of conference games last night and the customary large slate of games this weekend, we pause to take a look at mid-majors around the country. Here are a few headlines to keep in mind as the season rolls on. 

Should Gonzaga even count as a mid-major?

Get this team out of the West Coast conference. The Bulldogs have to load their non-conference schedule, because they play a ridiculous number of non-contenders for the bulk of the season. Take tonight for example; Gonzaga hosts Santa Clara –  a 15-3 team in the West Coast conference, and quite possibly the second best squad to the Bulldogs. Gonzaga enters the game as 19.5 point favorites. I know the logistics of this are quite likely impossible, but labeling Gonzaga a mid-major, when they’ve been to the Sweet Sixteen five straight years, winning three times and progressing to the Final Four once? It feels wrong. 

Photo by Mike Tedesco/Getty Images

Trap Games For San Diego State?

The Aztecs continue to roll, boasting their best offense in 20 years that, along with an elite defense, has led them to an 18-0 record, including a 7-0 mark in Mountain West play. This has evolved from a surprising blistering hot start into a legitimate run at an undefeated season. Can anyone stop the Aztecs, or will they roll into the NCAA tournament without a blemish on their record? We looked at San Diego State’s remaining game, which all come against unranked opponents; they will be favored in each game, but is there a trap lying in wait for the Aztecs. If there is, I don’t believe it will be on their home court, as the Aztecs are the only team in the conference with a winning record. However, one game to me particularly stands out as a challenge: The Aztecs visit New Mexico on January 29. New Mexico is 15-4 on the year, a mark that includes a scorching 12-0 record at home. They are not easy to take down in their own building, and their home-court advantage may be the toughest thing standing between San Diego State and an unbeaten season. The Aztecs still have Nevada on the road, which is a potential spoiler to this showdown, but I still predict that the Aztecs will roll into New Mexico unbeaten for their biggest remaining test of the year. 

The Best of the Rest

Obviously Gonzaga with their #1 ranking, and San Diego State and their undefeated season have stolen the headlines from mid-majors thus far this season. However, three other mid-major squads are ranked, and they all look to have the potential of making a run. Potentially the most lethal of these squads is the Dayton Flyers, who come in at #13. They have two losses to ranked teams and are undefeated in all other games, going 15-0 with an average margin of victory of 20 points against unranked squads. Not far behind the Flyers are Wichita State and Memphis. The Shockers were upset by Temple yesterday, but it was just their second loss of the season. They recently beat Memphis and took down a solid UConn team on the road to solidify themselves as a NCAA tournament contender. Memphis has been surprisingly impressive without James Wiseman, although they’ve been skidding recently. The Tigers lost to Georgia and Wichita before needing a big comeback to beat an 8-9 South Florida squad. They could still be really good, but they’ll need to snap out of their current skid to be taken more seriously.

(Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

Keep an eye on…

Liberty, Furman, Northern Iowa, and Yale. The Liberty Flames are a very quiet 18-1, with their lone loss coming at LSU. Their biggest win is only a road win over Vanderbilt, but 18-1 says something, so be sure to keep an eye on Liberty if they crack the tournament field.

 Furman leads the Southern Conference with an 8-1 conference mark and a 15-4 overall record. They have no signature wins, but a pair of their losses say something significant about this team, as they went to Alabama and lost by just 8 (ask Auburn how difficult playing Tuscaloosa is). Speaking of Auburn, Furman visited them as well, and they fell just three points shy of the Tigers there as well. Two gutsy and close losses against quality SEC teams is nothing to sneeze at; if Furman falls as a 12 or 13 seed, nobody will want to play them.

Northern Iowa always seems to be in the mix of quality mid-majors, and they have a history of pulling upsets in March. As a 9-seed in 2010, Northern Iowa took down #1 Kansas, and as an #11 seed in 2016, the Panthers took down #6 Texas on a buzzer beater. They’re currently on a five game winning streak, and they already boast a win over South Carolina and a road victory over #20 Colorado. Will we see another big March upset from the Panthers in 2020?

Yale is more of a gut-feeling call right now. They haven’t played a conference game, but they’ve looked pretty good this season, and they always seem to be in the mix. They beat Clemson on the road, a win that looks way more impressive now than it did at the time. They will probably need to win the Ivy League to make the tournament field, but they have a habit of playing good teams close, so teams will be hoping to avoid a first round matchup with these guys.

Non-CFP End Of Season Power Rankings

The college football season just ended, and so while we will largely turn our attention to basketball and hockey, here’s our end of season Power Rankings of Non-CFP teams. We did it this way so as to avoid having a virtually unanimous top 3 teams. After combining our votes, here is our final non-CFP Top 10 football power rankings. 

Honorable Mention

  • Baylor

The Bears came up short in some of their biggest games, but never by much. They led Oklahoma 28-3 in one game before losing, and they took the Sooners to OT in the Big 12 championship. They were competitive against Georgia in their bowl game, but ultimately, their struggles to claim a signature win kept them out of the top 10. 

The Rankings

#10 – Memphis

The Tigers fell in the Cotton Bowl to Penn State, don’t let that distract you from what they did to an elite defense. Memphis slapped 39 points on the board, eleven more than any other opponent scored against the Nittany Lions. Ohio State put up 28 points. Memphis scored 39. After a season-opening 15-10 win over Ole Miss, Memphis never put up less than 28 points all year, losing one regular season game by 2 points. They finished the year with consective wins over a ranked Cincinnati team to win their conference title and secure a berth in the Cotton Bowl. What a season for the Tigers. 

#9 – Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish fell short of expectations in some regards, but also put together a strong season. Road games against Georgia and Michigan were regarded as their toughest games, and sure enough the Irish faltered in both, including a horrible blowout loss to the Wolverines. But after the Michigan game, the Irish looked like one of the best teams in the nation, winning their final five games by an average of 28 points, including a 32-point victory over a Navy team that finished in the top 20. Only two of their 11 wins were closer than 15 points, indicating that the Irish were finally beginning to dominate teams they should dominate, but their letdowns in their biggest games keep them from being higher on the list. 

#8 – Minnesota

It was a razor-thin margin between the Gophers and their Outback Bowl victims in Auburn, but the Gophers fell a point shy of making that happen in our polls. Minnesota had an extremely impressive year, and neither their bowl win or their win over Penn State should be ignored. But the Gophers were also beaten handily by Iowa and smoked by Wisconsin. These blowout losses really knocked the Gophers out of the national picture after they gained respect by beating Penn State. A really impressive season from Minnesota, and they’ll definitely look to be contending for a Big 10 title in the near future. 

Auburn and Minnesota were neck and neck in our final Power Rankings. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

#7 – Auburn

Ultimately, it seems Auburn just really doesn’t care about bowl games. They are 2-5 in postseason games under Gus Malzahn (including a BCS championship loss), a record that now includes losses to lower ranked opponents like Minnesota and UCF. However, everything else Auburn did was extremely impressive. They held Joe Burrow to 23 points, which is basically a better achievement than a shutout against any other offense. They played Georgia and Florida, and they beat Oregon and Alabama, and at College Station against Texas A&M. All in all, it was a very good season from the Tigers, but they’ll look to qualify for the Playoff next year – maybe then we’ll see the real Auburn Tigers show up in the postseason. 

#6 – Wisconsin

Two four-loss teams make our Top-7, which may be surprising, but they’re both extremely good squads. Two of Wisconsin’s losses were to Ohio State – including the Big 10 championship, when they became the only team all year to lead the Buckeyes at halftime. While one loss was an inexplicable defeat to Illinois, their fourth was a 1-point bowl game loss to Oregon. They handled Iowa, throttled Michigan, and dominated Minnesota on the road to claim a spot in the Big 10 title game. Three very impressive victories and a strong finish to the regular season outweigh three really tough losses and one weird one, giving the Badgers the #6 spot her. 

#5 – Florida 

The Gators were the only team to lead LSU in the second half at any point this season. And considering LSU also played Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia, and Alabama, and Auburn – that is a really impressive statistic. They took down Auburn, dominated Florida State for a second straight year, and earned a few other impressive victories, including at Kentucky and at Missouri. Kyle Trask stepped up as the team’s signal caller and was very strong under center for the Gators, who polished off their season with a second straight New Years’ 6 bowl win, albeit as a heavy favorite versus Virginia. The next step is overcoming Georgia in the SEC East and making the Playoff for the Gators, they’re running out other ways to impress us. 

#4 – Penn State 

The Nittany Lions were in a dead heat with the Gators for the fourth spot, so we took out their lowest ranking for each team in the poll to decide, and Penn State edged out Florida by one point. We mentioned some of Penn State’s defensive exploits in the Memphis excerpt, as the Nittany Lions held Ohio State to 28 points, their lowest total of the year prior to the Playoff. They showed their ability to win ugly (17-12 over Iowa) and in a shootout (53-39 over Memphis), which is key for any team with championship aspirations. The Nittany Lions may very well have been a playoff team without their slip up at Minnesota, and they’ll have their eyes on taking the next step in 2020. 

The white out crowd always creates an electric home atmosphere for Penn State. Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

#3 – Georgia

It feels difficult to laud the Bulldogs, as they haven’t really done anything unusual by their standards. They had a very impressive 11-1 regular season with statement wins over Auburn, Florida, and Notre Dame, but they also had an awful home loss to South Carolina, who finished 4-8. And ultimately, the Bulldogs fell short in the SEC again, and this time they weren’t even competitive, losing 37-10 to LSU. To be fair, LSU was a buzzsaw this year, but Georgia feels like they’ve been at the same level for 3-4 years now, and it’s time to take the next step. Finishing sixth or seventh in the country is not their goal, especially a couple of years removed from being three points shy of a national title. 

#2 – Alabama (1 first place vote)

I don’t think anyone bought the fact that the Crimson Tide were only the 12th best team in the country heading into bowl season. They more or less proved that point by laying a 35-16 beatdown on Michigan in the Citrus Bowl, shutting out the Wolverines in the second half. It was hard to rank them higher than 8th in the AP Poll, as Alabama really didn’t beat any other very good teams. Their Texas A&M win was their next best victory, so it was hard to justify moving up past Georgia, Oregon, and even Oklahoma, who beat Baylor twice. However, the Crimson Tide have never gone three years without winning a championship under Nick Saban – is 2021 the year for ‘Bama?

#1 – Oregon

I think a lot of people really wanted Oregon in the Playoff simply because, outside of a befuddling loss to Arizona State, the Ducks just looked like one of the best teams in the country. After their season-opening loss to Auburn, Oregon gave up 25 points in their next five games. And when Pac-12 offenses began to challenge their defense, Justin Herbert rose to the occasion, averaging about 30 points per game in conference play. Herbert finished his year with a gutsy performance in the Rose Bowl, rushing for three touchdowns and proving his ability to win without his best game, taking down a very impressive Wisconsin team. Oregon may have been the fourth best team in the country outside the Big 3, but due to an unforgivingly rigid Playoff Structure, they had to settle for being #1 in the non-CFP teams rankings.