Nov 3, 2018; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) carries for a 44-yard touchdown against the LSU Tigers during the third quarter at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

We have finally made it to November, which means Thanksgiving is already being overlooked by Christmas commercials and political ads, but at last the political ads will stop soon. Also, this is the month when the college football season comes down the home stretch with division championships to be determined and conference bowl pictures to put together. Or, if you’re the SEC, you already have your title game figured out and are just hoping not to screw up a shot at landing at least one team in the playoff again this season.

Who is the biggest threat to Alabama?

Top-ranked Alabama traveled to Baton Rouge to take on the No. 3 LSU Tigers in a stadium that many teams find difficult to leave with a win. Not Alabama though. As good as LSU has been this season, the Tigers were a double-digit home dog as the third-ranked team in the initial College Football Playoff rankings revealed last week. And Alabama covered by more than twice the point spread. LSU dismantled Georgia not so long ago, and Alabama rolled through them with relative ease even though Nick Saban had to play Tua Tagovailoa and other key starters in the fourth quarter, a true rarity this season.

Alabama has now played 540 minutes of college football this season, and has trailed for just 70 seconds. Even on a night when Alabama failed to score on their opening drive and Tagovailoa was intercepted for the first time all year, this game was rarely in doubt because Alabama is just that damn good. It’s astounding just how one-sided this rivalry has become. From 2000 through 2007, LSU was 7-2 against Alabama.

So after a 29-0 drubbing of LSU on the road, the question now becomes if there’s anyone that can stand up to Alabama and give them a real fight.

Texas A&M and LSU have come the closest to doing so this season, and they have lost by a combined score of 74-23. Keep in mind Saban was the head coach at LSU from 2000 to 2004, which not so coincidentally is when LSU gained an upper hand in the series (Alabama had gone 8-2 against LSU in the 1990s). It’s also no coincidence Alabama began dominating the series once Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa. After going 2-3 against his former school, Saban has coached Alabama to eight straight wins over LSU, starting with the 2011 season’s BCS National Championship Game when LSU couldn’t even cross midfield against the Tide. Alabama has also shut out LSU in two straight games in Baton Rouge.

The top two candidates left out there appear to be pretty obvious. Georgia, who’s now locked into a date with Alabama in the SEC Championship Game (already), will get the first real crack at trying to take down Alabama, unless you believe Mississippi State can roll into Tuscaloosa and put it all together to give Alabama a scare, or if you think Auburn stands a chance on the road with as inconsistent as they have been this season. Georgia has certainly not taken a steep drop off from their SEC title run and national championship appearance last season, and a revenge situation in Atlanta should be a mighty test for Alabama before the playoff.

Clemson is the other popular candidate, and for good reason. Clemson appears to have hit their stride since their close call with Syracuse. Dabo Swinney’s Tigers can play the same style of defense LSU was capable of playing against Alabama, but Clemson offers the kind of offensive talent that LSU was lacking. Should the two programs meet in the College Football Playoff for a fourth consecutive season, Clemson may fare better this time than they did in their meeting last year in the playoff semifinal.

Whatever you do, don’t even think about starting up the “Could Alabama beat an NFL team” discussion, because that’s just absurd and the answer is a resounding “No.”

And if you wanted another completely ridiculous take on Alabama, this one may have taken the cake this weekend…

Michigan’s defense would be fun to watch against Alabama as well, although the Wolverines would likely fall into the same problem with their offense that LSU did.

Will Michigan’s revenge tour get an encore vs. Notre Dame?

Shea Patterson and Michigan have improved since opening the year in South Bend. Coudl the Wolveriens get a second shot at the Irish this season? Photo credit: Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports

There’s been a good amount of discussion beginning to brew about Notre Dame and Michigan as the playoff rankings are becoming relevant. I tend to believe Michigan is a better team than Notre Dame at this point in the season, but until the Fighting Irish lose a game somewhere along the line, the Wolverines may not be able to pass them in the ranking. But is the discussion worth having anyway?

Notre Dame fans will stick to two arguments here. The first is obvious- the Irish are undefeated. The second is the head-to-head win in Week 1 against Michigan.

Michigan fans will counter that the Wolverines are improved since that season opener (they are, but so is Notre Dame) and that the Maize and Blue are playing better overall than Notre Dame right now.

I tend to agree with that last Michigan argument, and think that’s a part of the reason why I’d be okay seeing Michigan ranked ahead of Notre Dame. And as a stickler for thinking head-to-head results should have some serious weight in the event of close calls, that’s tough for me to accept. For the record, I have and will continue to rank Notre Dame ahead of Michigan as long as the Irish are undefeated.

But what happens if Notre Dame slips up? Should a one-loss Michigan move ahead of a one-loss Notre Dame when the Irish beat the Wolverines head-to-head?

In that scenario, I think there’s a strong case for elevating Michigan due to the quality of the wins overall. Two key wins for Notre Dame have dropped in value like Enron stock. Virginia Tech and Stanford may have been top 25 teams when Notre Dame played them (Stanford was No. 7 in the AP poll and Virginia Tech was No. 24 the next week), but the Cardinal just dropped to 5-4 and the Hokies have fallen to 4-4, and neither team is ranked in either major poll this week or last week’s playoff ranking. Michigan, meanwhile, has a couple of wins over teams ranked toward the bottom of the AP top 25 (No. 21 Penn State and No. 24 Michigan State) and a big game with No. 8 Ohio State is coming up in a few weeks. Notre Dame is left banking on their one win against Michigan and potentially No. 13 Syracuse in a few weeks. Then again, Syracuse could hand Notre Dame their only loss.

While I find the discussion fun to have with Michigan and Notre Dame fans, it may not end up mattering, as both could still manage to get into the College Football Playoff. And that could mean Michigan gets a chance to add one more appointment to their season-long revenge tour. Michigan has already defeated three Big Ten teams who defeated them a year ago — Wisconsin, Michigan State, Penn State — and the revenge tour is heading to Columbus at the end of the season. What better way for Michigan to wrap up their revenge tour than a playoff rematch with Notre Dame to bring this theme full circle?

UCF is the class of college football in the state of Florida

It may not have been the prettiest of wins for UCF on Friday night in Orlando when the Knights had to hold off an improving Temple program, but a win is a win in college football. And UCF has now won 21 consecutive games. No matter what you think about their claim to a national title or where they fit in the playoff discussion, you have to respect winning that many games in a row. It’s a remarkable winning streak UCF has going and we’ll see just how many more the Knights can tack on to it.

UCF may not be in a power conference, no matter what the AAC wants you to think, but the Knights are riding mighty high in the state of Florida right now. Consider the records of the other college football programs over the course of UCF’s current 21-game winning streak:

  • UCF: 21-0, AAC champion,Peach Bowl victory, coaching change
  • Florida: 10-10, no bowl appearance, coaching change
  • Florida State: 11-11, won Independence Bowl, coaching change
  • Miami: 15-7, lost Orange Bowl
  • South Florida: 17-4, won Birmingham Bowl

Now throw this into the equation:

Florida has improved this season, and I still believe Miami and Florida State have some good potential in the years to come. But for right now, UCF is striking while the iron is hot and they deserve to be recognized as the best football program in the Sunshine State today. How long it lasts remains to be seen, but live in the moment UCF. You’ve earned it.

What’s next for Kansas?

David Beaty was having his most successful season in his fourth year at Kansas, but that wasn’t enough to save his job. Photo credit: Denny Medley/USA TODAY Sports

Kansas announced head coach David Beaty will not be returning to the sidelines in Lawrence after this season. Although Beaty will not leave the program until the end of the season, it seemed a coaching change was going to be imminent with new athletic director Jeff Long hired by the university. Unless Beaty managed to show some signs of improvement with the football team this season, it was looking likely a change would happen soon.

The news of the coaching change comes as Kansas has won the most games in a season under Beaty with a month to play (three wins), but a record of 6-39 up to this point is difficult to get past. But one must ask what exactly was Kansas expecting at this point under Beaty? Considering the program he took over, what was the bar for success by the end of the fourth season, and were there not enough signs of improvement this season?

But of course, the most important question now becomes what exactly does Kansas do next? Is there a coach out there that can come in and transform Kansas into something it only has become to be once every 15 years or so?

Bret Bielema has been thrown around a bunch ever since Long — who hired Bielema at Arkansas — took the Kansas job, but Bielema probably isn’t going to return to coaching college football at Kansas when he still has enough cache to receive interest form some other potential suitors (I think Maryland would be a good fit, for example). Les Miles has also been a quick and easy name to throw around, but that would only be a temporary fix for a program in desperate need of having a coach ready to build something with an identity that will be based on changing the way the game is played rather than trying to keep up with the rest of the Big 12. Simply put, Kansas needs to embrace a different identity, one that will stand out and force teams around the conference to play differently from the wide-open air raid offense that was on display in the West Virginia-Texas and Oklahoma-Texas Tech games this past weekend. Kansas won’t keep up with that.

Triple-option could be one way to give it a shot, especially after witnessing what Army was capable of doing at Oklahoma earlier this season, and there are a handful of coaches that could be good fits to give that a shot in the Big 12.

It’s also worth mentioning Kansas is making a coaching change at a time when Kansas State is probably going to be making a change sometime soon with Bill Snyder continuing to climb up there in years. Getting this hire right is an absolute must for Long, especially after Iowa State seems to have made a good hire with Matt Campbell.

Is Bobby Petrino the next to go?

He probably should be. Louisville is regressing quickly as a program. Remember just two years ago when No. 3 Louisville and Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson took eventual national champion Clemson down to the wire? Fast-forward to today and the Cardinals are already ineligible for a bowl berth this season after suffering a 77-16 loss at Clemson this weekend.

Louisville’s only two wins this season have come against Indiana State and Western Kentucky, and this isn’t even one of the good years for the Hilltoppers. The season started out with a 51-14 pounding in Orlando against Alabama, but few really gave that result much thought considering how good Alabama was expected to be (which, of course, they are), but Louisville has also been pounded by Georgia Tech (66-31) and Wake Forest (56-35) before getting to the Clemson debacle. They also lost to Virginia by a score of 27-3 and lost to a woeful Florida State team, 28-24, at home.

It’s probably time to move on from Petrino, but the problem could be there isn’t enough money to buy a way out of the contract. Well, there’s always money in the banana stand.

Army retains Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy for first time ever

If Kansas and Louisville are looking for a new head coach, Army head coach Jeff Monken could certainly be a candidate worth monitoring. After taking Army to back-to-back bowl victories for the first time since 1984 and 1985, Monken already has the Black Knights eligible for a third straight bowl game following Army’s win over Air Force this weekend. This will mark the first time in program history Army will play in a bowl game in three consecutive seasons. The win over Air Force made a little more history for the Army program too, as the Black Knights retained ownership of the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy for the first time in program history.

Army will keep the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy in West Point for another year. Photo credit: Danny Wild/USA TODAY Sports

The CIC Trophy is a three-way trophy to the winner of the annual series between Army, Air Force, and Navy. If one academy wins their games against the other two, the trophy is theirs to keep until it must go to another victor. Army won the trophy for the first time since 1996. But by defeating Air Force on Saturday, Army has already created a worst-case scenario of a three-way tie with Air Force and Navy. Per the trophy’s tradition, in the event of a tie, the previous year’s winner retains ownership of the trophy. So even if Navy beats Army in this season’s Army-Navy Game, the Black Knights will get to keep the trophy for another year.

Army is now in position for a little more history as well. Army has never won 10 games in consecutive seasons. At 7-2 with two FCS opponents coming up (Lafayette and Colgate) before facing Navy in Philadelphia, Monken sure has a chance to make some more history with Army. The possibility of the first 11-win season in Army history is also on the table now as well.

UTEP gets in the win column

Four weeks ago we had four FBS programs without a win this season. Then UCLA won their first game of the year. Then Nebraska picked up a win. San Jose State got off the bench last week, leaving just UTEP to find a win this season. On Saturday, the Miners dug in and got their first win of the year with a 34-26 win over Rice. The win snapped a 20-game losing streak for UTEP.

UTEP did have some close calls this season, so a win seemed bound to happen for them at some point. A 27-20 loss to New Mexico State, a 27-24 loss to North Texas, and a 31-24 loss to Louisiana Tech showed UTEP could hang around. Rice was just the perfect opponent to find the win, as the Owls have just one win this year, a 31-28 victory over Prairie View A&M in the season opener.

With no more winless teams in college football this season, we can focus entirely on the unbeatens, of which there are four remaining at the FBS level: Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, and UCF.

North Dakota State and Mount Union clinch playoff berths

There may be a few more weeks of regular season FBS college football to sort through, but the seasons are coming to a close and preparing for the playoffs at the lower levels of college football. Not surprisingly, a couple of familiar names for those who pay attention to these levels are already booked for their respective playoffs this season.

North Dakota State, the defending FCS national champions and winners of six of the last seven FCS national titles, clinched their spot in this year’s FCS playoff by clinching the Missouri Valley Football Conference title this weekend. The Bison are the top-ranked team in the FCS and just dispatched of Bo Pelini and Youngstown State, with the Penguins really struggling this year. The only other FCS team that has grabbed an automatic qualifier for the playoff this season is Colgate out of the Patriot League. This is Colgate’s first appearance since 2015.

At the Division 3 level, Mount Union is one of 12 teams to have clinched a berth in the D3 playoff field. Mount Union is no stranger to the D3 playoffs, as they have played for the national championship 20 times since 1993, winning 13 of those titles. As the No. 1 team in D3 and riding the nation’s longest winning streak in all of NCAA football (24 games, take that, UCF!), the Purple Raiders will surely be the favorite to win it all again this year. But they will have some stiff competition from perennial powers like Wisconsin-Whitewater, Mary Hardin-Baylor, and St. John’s. All three have also clinched an automatic spot in the D3 playoff field.

Maybe it’s because I went to a Division 2 school, but I truly do encourage you to check out some of the playoff action going on at these lower levels. The quality won’t be as good as the FBS level, of course, but the passion and locals are truly what makes college football great.

Who’s In?

Alright, let’s do this, and without much delay since I have already taken up a good portion of your time.

Here’s who I’d have as my top four as of this moment in time:

  1. Alabama
  2. Clemson
  3. Notre Dame
  4. Michigan

Because the season doesn’t end today and there are some big games still to be played in the regular season and the conference championship weekend, here’s how I’m currently projecting the College Football Playoff field:

  1. Alabama
  2. Clemson
  3. West Virginia
  4. Ohio State

I’m about ready to go with the idea that West Virginia will win the Big 12 which would come with the Mountaineers running the table this month in Big 12 play and then taking down Texas for a second time in the Big 12 championship game. It will be a home win against a top five Oklahoma that will boost West Virginia at the end of the year to be in a win-and-in situation in the Big 12 championship game with just one loss.

I also believe Ohio State will find a way to beat Michigan State this week and then play their best game in a while in the regular season finale at home against Michigan, dumping the Wolverines in the loss column for the second time this season and thus eliminating Michigan from the playoff picture and giving a one-loss Big Ten champion Ohio State the final spot in the playoff.

Georgia won’t get in due to a loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, and Notre Dame will be unable to get by Syracuse in the Bronx. Sorry UCF. Even without a loss, the Knights still won’t get an invite from the selection committee with an undefeated Alabama and Clemson and one-loss champs in the Big Ten and Big 12.

Not this year.

Group of Five Picture: Welcome back Mountain West Conference

It wasn’t so long ago the Group of Five slot in the New Year’s Six was clearly going to be going to the champion of the American Athletic Conference. That may still be the case if UCF goes undefeated, but the Mountain West Conference is firmly in the hunt now with a pair of emerging and rising contenders in Fresno State and Utah State.

Here are my top five New Years Six contenders from the Group of Five right now:

  1. UCF
  2. Fresno State
  3. Utah State
  4. Cincinnati
  5. UAB

About Kevin McGuire

Contributor to Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Previously contributed to Host of the Locked On Nittany Lions Podcast. FWAA member and Philadelphia-area resident.