Why the Big Ten could crash Alabama-Georgia’s ‘inevitable’ national title party?

We’re not even halfway through the 2021 college football season, but it looks like fans from Alabama and Georgia can start arranging their trip to Indianapolis, or at least Atlanta.

While the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs seem like the best bets right now to make it to the College Football Playoff, there is a lot of chaos behind them. For five weeks of the season, 34 ranked teams have already lost, the most by that period in the history of the AP poll, which dates back to 1936, according to data from ESPN Stats & Information. Eighteen ranked teams have lost to unranked opponents, which were the most even through Week 5 of the 1974 and 2007 seasons.

So, before you give up your team completely, remember that you are not alone and there is still plenty of football left to play.

Here are some other overreactions over five weeks:

Cincinnati is a contender for the CFP

After beating Indiana and Notre Dame in consecutive games, there is suddenly a widespread story that Cincinnati is in a prime position to become the first team from a Group of 5 league to make it to the College Football Playoff. Maybe the Bearcats should have planned Purdue just to be safe.

With their 24-13 win at Notre Dame that ended the Fighting Irish’s 26-game home winning streak, the Bearcats now have a 32% chance of reaching the CFP, the sixth-best of the FBS series. teams, according to the Allstate Playoff Predictor. ESPN’s FPI gives them a 33% chance of finishing 13-0, the highest of any FBS team. If Cincinnati goes undefeated in the regular season and wins the AAC title game, its chance of reaching the CFP increases to 82%.

“It’s still mid-season,” Bearcats quarterback Desmond Ridder said on Saturday. “We still have a lot of games to play. It’s honestly a big win against a Top 10 team. I think” [Notre Dame] finish in the top 10 at the end of the year. At the end of the day we go outside to play our game. Hopefully we can keep this up until Friday [against Temple] and the week after that, and the week after that.”

Don’t take anything away from the Bearcats’ victory at Notre Dame. It’s clearly a program-defining win for coach Luke Fickell’s program and one that cements his position as the top non-Power 5 team in the country (although BYU may have something to say by the end of the season). But let’s not get carried away with playing Cincinnati’s CFP odds with more than half the season left.

In early December, Cincinnati’s wins against Indiana and Notre Dame may not weigh more than Oregon beating UCLA and Washington, or Oklahoma beating Baylor and the state of Oklahoma. It’s too early to know. What we do know, however, is that the Hoosiers are currently 2-3, beating 58-6 in losses at Iowa and Penn State. They are not very good. The Fighting Irish took overtime to beat the struggling Florida State in their season opener, then a late touchdown to beat Toledo at home. With shaky offensive lines, the Irish were already playing with fire before they fell to the Bearcats.

That’s not even Cincinnati’s biggest problem. The remaining schedule includes eight games against AAC foes and seven of them have already lost at least two games. Marine, Tulane, Tulsa and South Florida are a combined 4-15. The exception is SMU 24, which travels to Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati on Nov. 20. According to FPI, Cincinnati’s remaining strength ranks 89th in the FBS. Perhaps that’s why the Playoff Predictor gives the Bearcats at least an 86% chance of winning every game except SMU (76%). The AAC is not as good as it has been in the recent past. We’re not here to rain at the Cincinnati parade, but a lot will have to happen before the Bearcats reach the CFP.

Georgia is better than Alabama

With each passing week, it seems increasingly likely that Alabama and Georgia will meet on a collision course in the December 4 SEC Championship game and the January 10 CFP National Championship in Indianapolis.

The Playoff Predictor gives the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs both at least an 85% chance of reaching the CFP (no other SEC team has more than a 3% chance) and FPI gives them a 24% chance of entering the SEC undefeated -championship. Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin may already be preparing his popcorn for that.

The Bulldogs have booked back-to-back shutouts of SEC opponents for the first time since 1980, the last time they won a national championship. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Georgia is the only program in at least the past 25 seasons to allow only one offensive touchdown in the first five games (it came in knockout time in the fourth quarter against South Carolina). Georgia’s athletic and deep defense line is what Alabama used to be like, and its linebacker corps is just as good as that of the Crimson Tide.

Even without quarterback JT Daniels, who missed the UAB game with an oblique injury and then the Arkansas game with a crossbar injury, Georgia’s offense was efficient enough. Backup quarterback Stetson Bennett IV threw five touchdowns in a 56-7 rout of the Blazers. The Bulldogs ran for 273 yards in a 37-0 rout of the Razorbacks. The attacking numbers will get even better once receiver Kearis Jackson and tight end Darnell Washington are fully recovered from injuries, and especially when star receiver George Pickens returns from a knee injury late in the season.

We’ll find out over the next month just how good the Bulldogs really are. Saturday’s trip to No. 18 Auburn is their first proper road game — yes, we know they played in Vanderbilt already — and the Tigers are riding high on their first win over LSU since 1999. Then No. 16 Kentucky, that Florida defeated at home for the first time since 1986, travels to Georgia on October 16, followed two weeks later by a game against the Gators in Jacksonville, Florida. No matter how bad the Gators have played against the Wildcats, they will always give their best fight against the Bulldogs.

Sure, the Crimson Tide had a close call in a 31-29 Florida win. Alabama’s defense hasn’t been as efficient as Georgia’s so far, but some of that can be attributed to the youth on that side of the ball. However, the Tide offense was better and has the potential to be even more powerful with quarterback Bryce Young. The bottom line: Until Georgia actually beats Alabama on the field, which it has yet to do under coach Kirby Smart, the Crimson Tide remains the team to beat in the SEC.

The SEC is the best conference in America again

With Alabama and Georgia pulling back from everyone else in the CFP race, it seems pretty clear that the SEC is once again the most dominant league in the sport, right?

Not so fast.

While the SEC has ranked seven of its teams in the AP top 25 this week, the Big Ten could be even better for five weeks. Five Big Ten teams are ranked this week, including No. 3 Iowa, No. 4 Penn State, No. 7 Ohio State, No. 9 Michigan and No. 11 Michigan State. At this point, it could even be argued that the Big Ten deserves as much as the SEC to have two teams in the CFP — if, say, Iowa and Michigan or Michigan State are undefeated in the Big Ten championship game.

While Alabama and Georgia have been dominant, the rest of the SEC has flaws. No. 13 Arkansas, which was steamed by Georgia, is the second-highest-ranked SEC team. Number 16 Kentucky is undefeated, but struggled to set aside the Missouri and FCS Chattanooga program. Florida, LSU and Texas A&M have flopped and already suffered two losses.

The Big Ten, meanwhile, has four undefeated teams (Iowa, Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State) and arguably the best team with one loss in the Buckeyes, if they only get better on defense. Maryland and Rutgers are better than they’ve been in the past, which admittedly isn’t saying much, and Nebraska is even showing a heartbeat after an early fall. Of course, we probably won’t know until the postseason which league is ultimately better, and we all know how that’s worked out for the Big Ten over the years.

Manny Diaz is ready in Miami

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Miami coach Manny Diaz, a former ESPN employee who took an unconventional path in the coaching profession. When the Hurricanes hired him to replace Mark Richt in 2019, it was a good story — the son of a former Miami mayor who came home to try to bring the United States back.

And Diaz had paid his dues. After a less than stellar tenure as Texas defensive coordinator from 2011 to 2013, Diaz had to work his way up the coaching ladder. In the summer of 2014, as Diaz was preparing for his first and only season at Louisiana Tech, I really started to like him.

When I was still active on Twitter, or the ‘gutter of humanity’ as I now call it, I fired a playful shot at Diaz during the semi-final of the 2014 World Cup. After Germany destroyed Brazil 7-1, I tweeted: “When did Brazil hire Manny Diaz as defensive coordinator?” My cell phone rang almost immediately. It was a call from a South Florida area code. It was Diaz who told me he wasn’t happy with the tweet. I explained it was nothing personal and it was just his turn.

Five years later, Diaz was finally head coach at Miami. I thought the marriage would end well because of his ties to the community. South Florida high school coaches would love him, and top recruits in the 305 would flock to Miami again. For whatever reason, it didn’t happen.

After 8-3 in 2020, the Hurricanes are 2-3 this season. Rolled under steam by Alabama and Michigan State, they lost their ACC opener, 30-28 against Virginia, after freshman kicker Andy Borregales’ 33-yard field goal shot from the left bounced upright as time went on.

Diaz may or may not be the man who can turn the hurricanes. I’d say two and a half seasons isn’t long enough to figure it out. The bigger question for me is whether the Hurricanes are indeed firing Diaz, who are they going to hire that will be better? Based on Miami’s track record since Butch Davis left for the NFL more than two decades ago, their chances seem pretty slim.

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