By Matthew Soderberg | Sports Writer
Two more unbeaten teams fall, and another pair are guaranteed to go down Saturday. Meanwhile, a few other teams are safe for now. One got a scare on Halloween, and one secured a path to the playoff in a rivalry win. It’s time to catch up on college football.
And Then There Were Seven
Let’s start with what everyone cares most about — Appalachian State. The Mountaineers were one of two remaining undefeated Circle Five conference schools coming into Week 10, but nobody let Georgia Southern know before the 24-21 upset.
The Mountaineers allowed only 16 yards passing to the Eagles, but that’s not Georgia Southern’s game. The Eagles ran all over Appalachian State to the tune of 335 yards on 56 attempts, gashing their defense for runs of 68 and 55 yards.
ASU out-gained the Eagles 423-351 and were more efficient on third down. With no turnovers from either team, Georgia Southern’s advantage came in yards per play with 0.63.
That may seem minuscule, but in three downs that’s close to two yards and that can make all the difference in racking up long drives.
Previously ranked No. 20, the Mountaineers now fall out of the rankings, and their hope of a New Year’s Six Bowl is practically put to bed, but fortunately, at least for Appalachian State fans, the other undefeated squad also lost.
Then-ranked No.15 SMU lost a barn-burner to No. 24 Memphis Saturday night, 54-48. Both potent offenses were in full effect, as the teams combined for 806 yards through the air and 261 on the ground, and neither team turned the ball over.
Normally the team with 16 turnovers, including five more than their opponent will lose the game. Or the team with lower third-down efficiency. Neither was the case Saturday, as Memphis took a 23-17 lead into halftime and improved that differential by 10 more in the third quarter.
It was a matchup of fairly even teams in Tennessee, and it may have been the 59,000 fans at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium that gave the Tigers more momentum than their counterparts. At least the crowd may have had something to do with Memphis’ exceptional special teams play, as the Tigers converted every kick, including four field goals, and returned one kickoff to the house.
Now ranked No. 19, Memphis is in the driver’s seat for Circle Five supremacy and a major bowl birth; but one slip-up, and they’ll have to contend with No. 25 Navy, No. 23 SMU, No. 21 Boise State and No. 17 Cincinnati for that chance.
No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama are both undefeated. They play each other Saturday. Pop me some popcorn, this is going to be fun.
Both teams were on a bye this past week, as they always are before their annual matchup. Tua Tagovailoa gets the chance to rest up after his ankle injury, and the LSU defense can rest and reload after their gritty fight with Florida. This is how this matchup is supposed to look.
It’s hard to find two programs who mutually respect each other’s talent so much across college football. Most rivalries are more filled with animosity to their foes, but even as Alabama has dominated the Tigers this decade, the teams understand the caliber of foe across the line.
The two programs are tied with 65 players drafted each over the past 10 years. Alabama has the most titles this century with five. LSU is tied for second with two. The last time these two schools played each other as the top two schools in the country was 2011 when LSU won the first matchup and Alabama won the rematch in the BCS title game.
More great news is on the way. Two more undefeated squads, No. 5 Penn State and No. 13 Minnesota, clash in Minneapolis at 11 a.m. Again, both teams were on a bye in Week 10, so there isn’t that much to recap; but the prospect of another set of undefeated teams playing is just tasty.
This matchup doesn’t have the pedigree of LSU vs Alabama or the hatred of Ohio State vs Michigan. It more feels like Baylor vs Oklahoma here in a few weeks — two highly-ranked squads and it feels like one of them probably shouldn’t be there.
This is the Golden Gophers’ big chance on the national stage. They get a pedigree school coming to their house, televised on Fox, and the opportunity to jump into playoff contention with a win. If they lose, no one will think twice. It’s expected of a program like Minnesota. But, if the Gophers win, they can finally be taken seriously.
The other Big Ten undefeated squad, No. 3 Ohio State, also was on a bye this week. The No. 4 team, Clemson, practically was as well. Why on Earth is the defending national champion playing Wofford at home in November?
The Tigers whooped the Terriers 59-14, doing absolutely nothing to boost their resume in a paltry ACC. Clemson’s best win to this point is a 14-point victory over Texas A&M at home, and that’s not doing much for them at this point.
Clemson will most likely only have one more ranked matchup prior to Selection Sunday, a Nov. 16 matchup with No. 23 Wake Forest. Assuming they win that game, Clemson will play the winner of the Coastal Division, and it isn’t clear on who that will be right now because all of those teams are so awful.
FiveThirtyEight gives the Tigers a 69% chance to finish regular season play and the conference title game undefeated, and I’d argue that should probably be higher. The same projection gives them an 84% chance to make the playoff, which sounds about right. My only worry with Clemson is if it will be ready to play the prepared teams in late December.
No. 11 Baylor looked bad Thursday. At least two phases of their game did. The offense couldn’t get the ball moving in any consistent manner and the special teams gave up a kickoff return touchdown and muffed a punt. At least the defense looks other-worldly.
This was supposed to be their “roll the conference opponent” game. West Virginia isn’t a good football team, ask Missouri. Still, Baylor only scored 17 against a team that let Kansas score 24 points and Iowa State 38.
The most surprising thing about the game was the lack of discipline on special teams. Head coach Matt Rhule is old-school. He’s a motivator type of coach who gets his guys ready to play their opponent, and they just looked sloppy anyway.
That kind of play won’t cut it against Oklahoma, and it might not at TCU Saturday. The Horned Frogs see the target on the Bears’ back, and they have their sights set on a massive upset.
Baylor won’t win this weekend’s game playing as they did on Halloween. One of those phases will have to get back to at least normal levels, while the defense needs to continue to play their hearts out.
Rivalry in Jacksonville
The neutral-field matchup between then-No. 6 Florida and No. 8 Georgia was a surprise. Florida has looked exceptional this season, even playing up to LSU’s level just the previous week, but Georgia refused to be taken out of the national spotlight, stealing a win across the border to all but secure an SEC East title.
Jake Fromm isn’t normally asked to do much in Georgia’s offense, but Saturday he showed he could help his team win about as well as any other quarterback. The Bulldog quarterback completed 20 of 30 passes Saturday for 279 yards and two touchdowns, leading the Georgia offense in the win. The offensive line did their part in support, keeping Fromm’s pocket clean so he could avoid any costly turnovers.
Georgia’s defense also shined in this one, holding Florida to only 21 rushing yards on 19 carries, while also forcing the Gators to go 2-9 on third-down conversions. By not letting Florida run the ball and getting their opponents off the field early, Georgia was able to dominate time of possession by nearly 12 minutes.
Saturday’s triumph over a conference rival is Georgia’s second top-10 win of the season, having previously knocked off then-No. 7 Notre Dame at home back in September. The win is also a good tone-setter for the rest of the season after its slip-up against South Carolina, with Missouri coming to Athens, Ga. Saturday, followed by a trip to Auburn Nov. 16.
The Bulldogs still control their path to the playoff, but having to beat both Auburn and either Alabama or LSU will be a daunting task.
Matthew Soderberg is a junior journalism major from Spring.