Much of the College Football Playoff conversation in 2021 has been dominated by the prospect of the postseason expanding. Will the playoff expand to include eight teams? Twelve teams? How soon will it get bigger?
Maybe the playoff should contract before it expands.
That sentence is a joke, of course. The playoff needs to add more teams as soon as possible. But the first five weeks of the 2021 season have shown us that only Alabama and Georgia are national championship-caliber teams.
The SEC titans look head and shoulders above everyone else in college football. No. 1 Alabama pounced on No. 12 Ole Miss’ failed fourth-down conversions on the way to a 42-21 win in Tuscaloosa while No. 2 Georgia hardly missed starting QB JT Daniels in a 37-0 rout of No. 8 Arkansas.
The defending national champions have reloaded like we all thought they would after trouncing Ohio State in January for the national title. Bryce Young has been composed and productive in his first year as Alabama’s starting QB while Brian Robinson is the next successful Alabama running back. The defense is stellar too and the front seven can be unblockable at times.
Georgia might even be more impressive. The Bulldogs have mauled opponents with a power run game and have the best defense in the country. South Carolina is the only team to score an offensive touchdown against Georgia through the first five games. The Bulldogs haven’t given up a touchdown in over 130 minutes of gametime after shutting out Vanderbilt and Arkansas.
While the first weekend of October is way too early to crown a champion, we usually have an idea of which eight or 10 teams will seriously contend for the playoff. And that’s simply not the case this season. After Alabama and Georgia, who can you make a playoff case for?
No. 3 Oregon lost at Stanford in overtime on Saturday. The Pac-12’s playoff hopes likely disappeared as a result. No. 6 Oklahoma is 5-0 after beating Kansas State, but the Sooners are 0-4 against the spread in games against FBS teams. If you believe good teams win and great teams cover, then Oklahoma isn’t a great team. The ACC is a mess with Wake Forest as the only unbeaten team. While the Demon Deacons are a fun team, we’d be stunned if they won the conference and made the playoff.
No. 4 Penn State and No. 5 Iowa both had easy wins on Saturday and look to be the Big Ten’s top playoff contenders. But each team looks beatable and one will have a loss next weekend. Penn State heads to Iowa City in the best game of Week 6.
No. 10 Florida gave Alabama a scare in September but the Gators lost at Kentucky for the first time in 35 years on Saturday. No. 15 Texas A&M also lost its second game of the year on Saturday when it lost to Mississippi State at home. The Aggies started the season in the top 10 and are probably going be sitting at 3-3 after next week's game against the Crimson Tide.
Cincinnati jumps to mind as the most obvious team to join Oklahoma and Georgia in the playoff but there’s some history working against the Bearcats. No non-Power Five conference team has ever made the playoff and the committee has a history of under-ranking teams outside Power Five conferences. Will Saturday’s win over No. 9 Notre Dame mean the committee takes Cincinnati seriously as a national power? We sure hope so. And besides, Cincy is going to be a Power Five team soon enough when it joins the Big 12.
But we’ll be honest, we’re not convinced Cincinnati or anyone else can give Alabama or Georgia a competitive game in the playoff semifinals. There’s still a lot of season left, but it sure looks like we’re heading for a sequel of the 2017 season when Georgia and Alabama met in the College Football Playoff. Maybe this time they'll give us a preview of that matchup in the SEC championship game too.
- Nick Bromberg
Here are this week's winners and losers:
Cincinnati: The Bearcats got it done. Cincinnati got the resume-boosting victory it coveted by going into Notre Dame Stadium and beating the Irish, 24-13. Cincinnati forced three first-half turnovers and jumped out to a 17-0 lead. In the end, a few big throws and a TD run from senior quarterback Desmond Ridder sealed the deal. The Bearcats are now legitimate CFP contenders.
Iowa: Iowa’s defense put the clamps on any of Maryland’s hopes for a Friday night upset. The Hawkeyes stormed out to a commanding 34-7 lead by forcing four Maryland turnovers. In the end, the blowout win was 51-14 and the Terps had turned it over seven times by the time the final whistle sounded. Iowa, ranked No. 5 in the country, is now 5-0 and has forced a whopping 16 turnovers on the year.
Kentucky: The Wildcats only had 223 yards of offense, but they still found a way to pull off a big-time home upset over No. 10 Florida. Kentucky trailed 10-7 midway through the third quarter, but the game flipped with a special teams play. Josh Paschal blocked a Florida field goal try and Trevin Wallace returned it 76 yards for the go-ahead score. To seal the 20-13 win, the Wildcats needed a goal line stop and they got it done. It marked Kentucky’s first home win over Florida since 1986. The Wildcats are now 5-0.
Auburn: For the first time since 1999, Auburn won in Tiger Stadium. With Bo Nix leading the way, Auburn overcame a 13-0 first-half deficit and emerged with a 24-19 upset victory over LSU. The much-maligned Nix played one of his best games. He constantly evaded pressure and extended plays, finishing the night with 255 passing yards, 74 rushing yards and two total touchdowns. Auburn is now 4-1 on the year with Georgia visiting next week.
Bo Nix is a wild man 🔥🔥🔥😂😂😂 pic.twitter.com/q7alnBa1Dp
— Yahoo Sports College Football (@YahooSportsCFB) October 3, 2021
Wake Forest: For the second time in three seasons, Wake Forest is 5-0. The Demon Deacons are the only undefeated team remaining in the ACC. Wake was in a tight one with Louisville but pulled out a 37-34 win thanks to a Nick Sciba field goal in the final minute. Sciba booted three field goals on the day and has made 19 consecutive field goals dating back to last season. The upcoming schedule is quite navigable for Wake — Syracuse, Army and Duke — so don’t be surprised if the Deacs keep climbing in the rankings.
Texas RB Bijan Robinson: The Texas running back is one of the best players in the country. Robinson was dominant in Texas’ 32-27 win over TCU, posting 216 yards and two touchdowns on 35 carries. Robinson now has 652 yards and seven touchdowns on 105 carries this season. The Oklahoma coaching staff has to be worried about containing Robinson headed into Red River.
— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 2, 2021
Ohio State: Saturday’s 52-13 win over Rutgers was the ultimate get-right game for the Buckeyes. Ohio State had two rough outings against Oregon and Tulsa, but has now won its last two games by a combined score of 111-20. Last week against Akron, though, starting QB C.J. Stroud rested his ailing shoulder. He came back against RU and threw for 330 yards and 5 TDs.
Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State is 5-0 and should be considered a legitimate threat in the Big 12. The Cowboys knocked off previously unbeaten Baylor at home on Saturday, doing so behind another big performance from Jaylen Warren. Warren rushed for 125 yards and two scores, giving him 466 yards over OSU’s last three games. OSU has a bye next week before traveling to Texas on Oct. 16.
Pitt QB Kenny Pickett: Any time you break one of Dan Marino’s records, you’re worthy of some praise. Pitt senior Kenny Pickett threw for 389 yards and four touchdowns in a 52-21 win over Georgia Tech. Pickett has thrown 14 TD passes over the last three games, breaking a program record set by Marino back in 1981. That’s pretty good company.
Kenny Pickett now has the Pitt record for most TD passes (14) in any 3-game stretch.
Dan Marino previously held that record with 13 TD to begin the 1981 season.
📺 @ACCNetwork#H2P » @KennyPickett10 pic.twitter.com/oE6pFnZUiw
— Pitt Football (@Pitt_FB) October 2, 2021
USC WR Drake London: USC had an easy 37-14 win over Colorado on Saturday and Drake London looked like the best player on the field. Hailed as a likely first-round pick, London caught nine passes for 130 yards and this unbelievable one-handed touchdown grab.
— USC Football (@USC_FB) October 2, 2021
Oregon: The CFP hopes of third-ranked Oregon — and the Pac-12 as a whole — took a massive hit on Saturday with a devastating 31-24 road loss to Stanford. The Ducks came back from a 17-7 deficit to take a 24-17 fourth-quarter lead, but they allowed Stanford to go the length of the field and force overtime on an untimed down that followed a questionable defensive holding penalty. Oregon has no margin for error whatsoever.
Texas A&M: What happened, Jimbo Fisher? This was one of the most-hyped teams of the offseason, but the Aggies are now 3-2 and 0-2 in SEC play after dropping a home game to Mississippi State. Mike Leach’s Air Raid was cooking as Will Rogers threw for 408 yards and three touchdowns. A&M, meanwhile, could muster only 297
Wisconsin: On the day it honored Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin dropped to 1-3 for the first time since 1990, Alvarez’s first season as UW’s head coach. It was an ugly loss, too. The Badgers lost 38-17 at home to Michigan and put up just 210 yards of offense in the process. UW’s offense has been putrid this season. The Badgers had only 43 rushing yards on 32 carries and turned it over three times.
Miami: Miami dropped to 2-3 with a 30-28 loss to Virginia on Thursday night and the heat is officially on Manny Diaz. It was a brutal loss. The Hurricanes trailed 27-14 early in the third quarter, but battled back and had a chance to win the game with a last-second field goal. Instead, Andres Borregales’ 33-yard try clanked off the upright for a devastating finish.
Ole Miss: Lane Kiffin’s return to Tuscaloosa did not go well. Ole Miss got blown out 42-21 by Alabama. The Rebels scored two touchdowns in the final nine minutes just to make it look respectable. This was a beatdown by the Crimson Tide. Kiffin made some questionable fourth-down decisions, especially going for it from his own 31-yard line with the score just 14-0. In all, Ole Miss went 2-of-5 on fourth down and 5-of-14 on third down. The 291 total yards was by far a season low.
Missouri: The Missouri defense has major issues. The Tigers lost 62-24 at home to Tennessee on Saturday, giving up an absurd 458 rushing yards in the process. Mizzou, now 2-3, trailed 42-10 by the time halftime rolled around and ended up allowing Tennessee to gain 683 total yards.
California: Is it time to start asking questions about the Justin Wilcox era? Cal dropped to 1-4 with an embarrassing 21-6 home loss to Washington State on Saturday. The Golden Bears had a solid 8-5 season in 2019 but have since lost seven of their last nine games. Wilcox is 22-25 with a 11-22 mark in conference play during his time in Berkeley.
Northwestern: Northwestern suffered one of the worst losses of the Pat Fitzgerald era on Saturday. The Wildcats were destroyed 56-7 by Nebraska. The defense allowed a whopping 657 yards. That’s the most yards ever allowed in Fitzgerald’s tenure, which dates back to 2006. Not good. The Wildcats are now 2-3 on the year.
West Virginia: The hangover from a near-upset over Oklahoma last week was very apparent for WVU. The Mountaineers hosted a Texas Tech team that allowed 70 points to Texas last week and were shutout in the first half. West Virginia did manage to battle back from the 17-0 deficit and tied the game at 20-20 with 4:34 to play, but Texas Tech won the game 23-20 with a field goal in the final minute. The Mountaineers dropped to 2-3 with the loss.
Boise State: In its first season under Andy Avalos, Boise State has quietly started the year with a 2-3 record. The Broncos lost 41-31 at home to Nevada on Saturday, turning the ball over three times in the process. This is the worst start for Boise State since 2001 when it also went 2-3. The Broncos have led at halftime of all three of their losses (UCF, Oklahoma State and Nevada).
Memphis: Memphis barely beat Arkansas State and then was aided by a fluke punt return touchdown in a win over Mississippi State. Things are starting to even out. The Tigers blew a 21-0 lead in a loss to UTSA last week and then blew a 17-0 lead in a road loss to a bad Temple team on Saturday. Ugly.