Moller: College football season starting to take shape
Nate Moller | Friday, October 16, 2020
With ACC, SEC and Big 12 teams now a couple of games into the season, the landscape of college football for the 2020 season is slowly starting to take shape. All that I can say after these first couple of weeks is “Wow.” If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that Oklahoma, Texas and LSU would both be sitting at two losses and North Carolina and Cincinnati would be sitting at No. 5 and No. 8 in the AP Poll, respectively, I would have thought you were crazy. As 2020 has shown us, though, it’s time to expect the unexpected and embrace the craziness that is going to come along with the 2020 college football season.
So what does all of this craziness mean for the season ahead? What are the conference championships and playoffs going to look like by the time December and January roll around? It’s hard to say, but I’m going to give a brief assessment of what I expect to happen.
The Big 12 is out of the playoffs this year for sure
Texas and Oklahoma were clearly the favorites for the Big 12 conference going into the season. With two losses, both of these teams are eliminated from contention no matter what happens. To make matters worse for the Big 12, the two teams that beat Oklahoma were Kansas State and Iowa State, and both of these teams have a loss to a non-Power 5 team on their resumes. With a poor loss like this, both of these teams are effectively out of contention as well.
That basically leaves Oklahoma State as the only reasonable chance at the Big 12 getting into the playoffs. The Cowboys are currently ranked seventh in the country with wins over Tulsa, West Virginia and Kansas. Despite victories in all these games, the usual potent Cowboys offense has looked lackluster at times and doesn’t appear to be a serious contender for the playoffs. The Cowboys will face Iowa State, Texas, Kansas State and Oklahoma over their next four games, and I don’t see them winning all of these. Once they lose, the Big 12’s shot at the playoffs goes down the drain.
The ACC has a chance at two teams
The ACC has a serious chance of getting two teams in the playoffs this year if things play out right for them. The only problem is that this will likely require that a team beats Clemson once in the regular season or the conference championship, which will be a big task considering how strong the Tigers have looked so far. With three teams currently in the top five, though, the ACC has to have two teams as a goal.
Assuming Clemson is basically a lock at this point, Notre Dame and North Carolina have to be the teams also in the discussion. Both teams are ranked fourth and fifth respectively right now, and both teams offenses have really started to click with the Tar Heels putting up 56 this past weekend against Virginia Tech and the Irish running all over Florida State. Both of these teams will have their fair share of tests, though. The Tar Heels avoid playing Clemson, though, so if they can pull off a win against Notre Dame, it is not unfeasible to think the Tar Heels could be undefeated going into the ACC Championship game. If this is the case, the Tar Heels could still be considered for a playoff spot even if they lose to Clemson in the title game.
The SEC is in for a wild season too
The SEC is still the best conference in football, and there’s no relevant argument against that. The only question this year is does the SEC have enough dominant teams to get more than one team in the playoffs? So far, it appears that the conference is as balanced as it has been in years.
Look at Alabama for example. Although the Crimson Tide are in great shape to make the playoffs this year, their defense gave up 48 points against Ole Miss last weekend. That typically doesn’t happen to Alabama. It will be interesting to see if the SEC defenses aren’t as strong as they used to be or if all of the offenses are just that good. I’m going to guess that it’s more that the offenses are over-performing, and that the defenses will hit their stride later on in the season, but it’s something to watch.
Outside of Alabama, Georgia is the other team with a real shot at the playoffs. The Bulldogs have a huge game in Tuscaloosa this weekend, and if they can win that, they will be sitting pretty to make the playoffs. With a loss, though, the Bulldogs will still be alive assuming they can run the table, beat Florida again to win the SEC East, and play in the conference championship.
Outside of Bama and Georgia, there are a slew of one-loss teams who hold onto slim chances of making the playoffs in Texas A&M, Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn. While it’s certainly possible for all of these teams to play back into the competition, they will all need to improve if they want a shot at beating Bama or Georgia.
What about the Big Ten and Pac-12?
The Big Ten returns a week from today, and they will play an eight-game season with a conference championship. The Pac-12 will play a six-game schedule with a conference championship game.
With how things have played out in the Big 12, the Big Ten champion will likely be in the playoffs assuming they are undefeated. With only eight games, however, there is no room for slip-ups. I expect it to be yet another Ohio State-Wisconsin conference title game this year, and both teams should be undefeated.
With only six regular-season games, I don’t believe the Pac-12 deserves a spot. In a conference that is considered weak anyways, the Pac-12 champion better be undefeated and they better dominate their opponents. Arguably the top two teams in the Pac-12 in Oregon and USC don’t play in the regular season either to make matters worse for the conference’s playoff chances.