Three weeks into the 2017 college football season and the tone seems to be set. Are we destined for another Alabama vs. Clemson title bout? Don’t you dare call Florida-Tennessee a classic just because the ending was fun. How much should we be impressed by USC? What the heck is going on with Nebraska?
We touch on all those topics and more in today’s edition of McGuire’s Musings.
Clemson is the best team in college football right now
Don’t overthink this one. Who is the one team in college football with two wins against ranked opponents? Which team is playing arguably the best defense in the nation? Which team replaced a guy worthy of Heisman Trophy consideration with a guy who could work his way into the same conversation down the road?
The first few weeks of the season have caused me to rethink my stance on a handful of teams, which is known to happen early in the year. I was wrong about Ohio State and Stanford. And I was a bit off when it comes to Clemson. I felt replacing a program-defining legend like Deshaun Watson was going to cause Clemson to drop back slightly this season, but Kelly Bryant has been more than capable of taking over the starting quarterback role so far and is part of the reason why Clemson is 3-0 with wins against two top 15 teams after Saturday night’s blowout win on the road against Lamar Jackson and Louisville.
The defense, of course, is the main reason Clemson is where they sit entering Week 4. Don’t let Jackson’s stat sheet from Saturday night fool you, as Bobby Petrino opted to keep his star quarterback in despite the game being well in hand, which helped Jackson keep his passing numbers up in the process. This Clemson defense is just as nasty as any.
Can anyone in the ACC stop Clemson? It would be unwise to say Clemson can’t lose a game in conference play, because everybody can lose a game in conference play in any season. Clemson should manage to have an easy week this week with a home game against Boston College, so feel free to let your eye wander to the following week in Blacksburg, Virginia for the ACC Championship Game rematch from last fall. Virginia Tech made Clemson work for the ACC crown last year, and the Hokies have looked pretty solid with Josh Jackson at quarterback. Get by Virginia Tech, though, and Clemson could be staring down a possible undefeated season.
Florida-Tennessee was a fantastic finish to an awful game
First impressions are important, but the final impression is always the most lasting. Florida and Tennessee played one of the worst games on Saturday, yet served up one of the top finishes thanks to Feleipe Franks going deep on the final play of the game for a streaking Tyrie Cleveland. A 67-yard throw for the game-winning score on the final play of the game. It was a fantastic effort for Florida.
But what the heck was Tennessee doing on that final play? How could they possibly have let a streaking wide receiver get behind two Tennessee defenders on the final play of the game? How is Bob Shoop not playing that final play of regulation by having a whole swarm of Vols deeper on the field to prepare for a deep pass?
Still can’t understand how Tennessee let this happen in this situation. pic.twitter.com/mb7ougwnkd
— Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB) September 18, 2017
Tennessee may have still lost in the overtime if this pass was not completed, but that is just a horrible coaching decision there by Butch Jones and Bob Shoop.
Three things I have been wrong about through three weeks
USC. At first I wasn’t sold on USC, but then they played well against Stanford and made me think they may just be for real after all. But then they played Texas. Even though they beat the Longhorns, there was little that inspired me to think the Trojans are unflappable once again. They’ll lose a game in Pac-12 play, unless I’m wrong again.
Michigan’s defense. I thought losing so many key players from a year ago would lead to a bit of a transition period that saw Michigan’s defense come along over a longer stretch of time. Nope, they’re as good as they come right now. The offense, on the other hand…
My take on Michigan’s offense is simple. They’re either going to figure it out soon or it is what is going to bite them in a key spot to keep them from playing for a Big Ten title. You cannot trust Michigan’s offense at all right now. Can the Wolverines slow down Penn State in October? Absolutely. But can Michigan’s offense put up the points needed to pick up a win in Happy Valley? That remains to be seen.
Oregon. For the record, I have always been a big fan of the Willie Taggart hire. Where I was wrong about Oregon is just how quickly the bounce back to Pac-12 prominence was going to take. Oregon’s 3-0 start to the year has been solid with a real good showing against Nebraska and a good road win at Wyoming. We’ll see what the Ducks can do in Pac-12 play, as they will face some stuff challenges, but I like what I see out of the Ducks more than I anticipated this early in the season.
Maybe having two guys like this on the roster should have been a sign…
HUGE hockey guys pic.twitter.com/d0v5RBhK0i
— sara (@SaraCivian) September 18, 2017
Stock Up, Stock Down
Each week I will briefly highlight one team, player, coach, etc. I see on the rise and one team on the decline. The parameters for these decisions will change week to week and could be a commentary on where a team is going that particular season or beyond the current season. When investing, short-term transactions are nice, but it’s all about the long-term outlook.
Stock Up: Jeff Brohm. It’s just been three games, but Purdue looks fun again. Two weeks after pushing Louisville to the edge, the Boilermakers went to Missouri and pounded the Tigers, 35-3. Let’s see what they do in conference play. Purdue hosts Michigan this week.
Stock Down: Nebraska. If you haven’t sold yet, it’s not too late. The Cornhuskers dropped a game at home against Northern Illinois on Saturday, reaching a new low for the program with its first loss to a MAC program. And this wasn’t even an NIU team fueled by Jordan Lynch. Now at 1-2, the Huskers need to win five games in Big Ten play just to go to a bowl game. This is not looking good.
Box Score of the Week
When the weekend schedule got underway, I strongly advised anyone listening to pay close attention to the Toledo-Tulsa game. The game actually carried some significance in the Group of Five race, because MAC-favorite Toledo could have essentially been removed from the picture with a Tulsa win. Tulsa winning would also boost the AAC’s strength of schedule argument as well. And Tulsa started things off well before Toledo came from behind to win the game on a last-second field goal.
Tulsa couldn’t slam the door shut on Toledo despite building a 28-7 lead. When all was said and done, over 1,200 yards of offense — 600+ of which came by the run — were strung together for quite a wild game.
Play of the Week
Check this one out, from the land of Division 3 football. Texas Lutheran kicker Tyler Hopkins had a short field goal attempt blocked by Belhaven University, but he managed to kick the ball through the uprights off the deflected bounce from the ground.
By rule, the call on the field should have been for an illegal kick because the ball at the time of the second kick was considered a loose ball. No player is allowed to kick a loose ball; this is a 15-yard penalty. But in D3, the quality of officiating is not quite up to par and this one slipped by the officials, who called the field goal good.
Helmet sticker to Dr. Saturday.
And one you may have missed courtesy of Quay Johnson of East Carolina. The Pirates may not be a very good team, but Johnson may be a solid receiver worth following.
Ole Miss fan has a way to get through the pain
After a loss at Cal and heading into SEC play, it looks like Ole Miss fans will have to find ways to get throgh a long season. This guy sure has his device.
Group of Five Watch
San Diego State and Memphis each recorded victories over top 25 teams from the Pac-12 on Saturday, making for quite a turn of events in the Group of Five hunt after just three weeks. The Aztecs are now 2-0 against the Pac-12 this season and are carrying the Mountain West Conference banner with pride in what was an otherwise dismal weekend for the conference. Right now, the Aztecs could be in the pole position for the Group of Five, but will a weak overall MWC showing in non-conference play come back to haunt their chances?
Remember that only the champions of each of the Group of Five conferences will be considered for the reserved spot in the New Years Six lineup. Winning the conference title is required, but having impressive victories along the way helps your cause at the end of the season.
Here is how I would rank the five best current Group of Five contenders at this moment:
- San Diego State
My Top 4
This week, I am shaking up my College Football Playoff predictions a bit more from last week. Through the first three weeks of the season, I have to say Clemson has looked like the best team in the country, and with two wins against ranked opponents, there is no question who the No. 1 team in the polls should be today. It’s Clemson.
The defending national champions take over the top spot in my ranking this week and are making a move in my College Football Playoff projection for this week. I’m also moving Penn State back into my top four because I am not thrilled with USC (and the Trojans now have zero wins against top 25 opponents too after Stanford fell out at 1-2).
Here is how I would rank the top College Football Playoff contenders if the playoff started today:
- Penn State
Of course, the playoff does not start today. As I look into my crystal ball, here is how I think the College Football Playoff will play out given all data to this point and how I predict the rest of the season will go:
- Penn State
I don’t think anyone is standing in Alabama’s way in the SEC, and that should lead to a couple of wins against top 25 teams. If Alabama and Clemson keep playing this way by the time the first playoff selection committee rankings come out, we’ll see if they value Clemson’s body of work more than Alabama’s. Until then, I’ll keep Alabama on top of my projection.
And for now, I’m going to keep Penn State in my playoff projection because they just look like the best team in the Big Ten right now (I’m not looking past Wisconsin though), and Michigan and Ohio State are going through some offensive identity issues. I still believe Ohio State is going to be a strong contender, but even though Penn State has played three teams with losing records, the Nittany Lions have played really well against them. We’ll see what Penn State does this weekend at Iowa.
And here is how I voted in this week’s Super 16 poll from the FWAA and National Football Foundation.
— Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB) September 17, 2017