College football games, Week 9: SEC East has made its way back into the national spotlight
The top 10 is not at much risk here in Week 9. Four of the teams in that group are off (No. 1 Alabama, No. 4 LSU, No. 5 Michigan and No. 10 UCF). Ah, but there will still be much at stake.
In the only game featuring a pair of top 10 teams, No. 9 Florida and No. 7 Georgia will meet in their annual blood-letting in Jacksonville, Florida. With Kentucky playing at Missouri, a three-way tie in the SEC East will be broken before the day is out. Just don’t ask which team(s) will be at the top.
And if you believe those will be the only front runners with liability, you haven’t been paying attention all season. Let’s take a look at the top storylines in Week 9.
1. The game formerly known as a cocktail party: Last we checked, Georgia had lost its football manhood, while Florida had begun to find its way. Suddenly, the party full of cocktails known as Florida-Georgia (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS) looks like a shaker-full of margaritas. In other words, it’s a toss-up. Well, maybe not in the Las Vegas line (Georgia is a touchdown favorite) but increasingly the court of public opinion. We are at the end of two long weeks since each team played. Georgia is vulnerable based on the LSU thrashing. Florida is the upstart ready to put the Dawgs’ championship dreams to sleep.
How did it ever get this way? Read on …
2. Last Chance (for all of) U: Consider this the last weekend before the prom, the time when the tuxedo is pressed, the dress is ironed. Might as well get your hair cut, too. College football is getting ready to preen before the College Football Playoff Selection Committee. Its first set of rankings debut Tuesday night following this Week 9. What will the selection committee be looking for … strength of schedule, eye test, Michigan’s pregame warm-up?
A refresher: We have five undefeateds left. The last time we had more than one postseason eligible unbeaten Power Five at pick ’em time was 2010 (Auburn, Oregon). In a bit of irony, the program that screams the loudest in outrage won’t have a closing statement this week. This is a bye week for UCF.
3. Bluegrass Promised Land: Don’t forget that Kentucky still controls its own destiny in the SEC East. The Wildcats go to Missouri for what should be a sneaky tough game. It doesn’t seem to matter that defenses can load up on the run. Quarterback Terry Wilson is 14th in SEC passing (in a 14-team league). Mark Stoops has already said he’ll play sophomore Gunnar Hoak as well. Only one other quarterback besides Wilson in the entire league has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns (Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald).
Kentucky is still winning. Look for the Wildcats to play keep away from the Tigers with Benny Snell and set up an SEC East showdown Nov. 3 against Georgia. Either way, if Kentucky wins this weekend, it continues to control its SEC East division destiny no matter what Florida and Georgia do on Saturday.
4. Brief Brohm? For all the hosannas being thrown at Purdue coach Jeff Brohm, consider what Louisville may be getting. Purdue’s coach has already been mentioned in the ether if Louisville (or another team) makes a change. Brohm is a favored son there having played quarterback and coached for the Cardinals. Sure, Purdue was a dreadful program before he arrived, but let’s pump the brakes a bit.
After the Ohio State win, Brohm is 11-9 at Purdue with losses to Rutgers and (this season) Eastern Michigan. There’s no guarantee the Boilermakers (4-3 headed to Michigan State) will even make a bowl. Brohm did average 10 wins a season in three years at Western Kentucky.
5. Land of Fish Tacos and Irish Stew: Stand down on the usual concern about Notre Dame facing Navy’s vaunted option this week in San Diego. This is not a vintage collection of football Midshipmen (2-5). They’ve lost four in a row, the longest streak since 2011. The problems seem to be … everywhere. Navy has given up at least 31 points four times. That makes it 24 times giving up that number — the equivalent of two full seasons — since 2013.
Navy is 1-2 in games decided by seven points or less. It is 13-6 in the previous 19 games decided by that number, including the 28-27 win over the Irish in 2016. The Midshipmen are 12-13 since that game. “Right now we have too many self-inflicted boo-boos that are hurting us,” coach Ken Nuimatalolo said. “We’re seven games in and I’m still trying to figure it out.”
6. Easy does it for Clemson: What used to be the game of the year for the ACC looks like just another speed bump. Clemson at Florida State is an indication of how down the ACC is this year. FSU and Louisville (Clemson’s next opponent) have been massive disappointments. Only two teams in the conference are ranked. That other team, No. 22 NC State, just got pounded by 34 when it faced the Tigers. The five remaining regular-season opponents for Clemson are all unranked and a cumulative 19-15. Trevor Lawrence needs 291 passing yards and three more touchdown passes to break Deshaun Watson’s true freshman passing records.
7. Trojan Trouble: USC being down to its third-string quarterback for the Arizona State game might provide cover for coach Clay Helton. (Some) fans are outraged (again) after a thrashing by Utah. The Trojans are 4-3 seven games in for the second time since 2015. That year, Helton took over after the Steve Sarkisian debacle going 5-4.
Since then, Helton has won a Rose Bowl and Pac-12 title. The Utah loss that cost him starting quarterback J.T. Daniels (concussion protocol) and backup Matt Fink (three broken ribs). That actually might work in Helton’s favor, at least in terms of his job security. Third-teamer Jack Sears will throw his first college pass against the Sun Devils. For now, no one knows where athletic director Lynn Swann is at on the situation.
8. Filling the fourth playoff spot: At the moment, one of the favorites has to be Texas (after considering unbeatens Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame). The Longhorns would have to be considered a prime prospect if they win out beating a top-five ranked Oklahoma twice. But we’re getting way ahead of things. Texas goes to Oklahoma State, which seems to have some kind of Harry Potter-like spell over the Horns. Texas leads the all-time series 24-8 but has lost three straight to the Cowboys and six of the last eight. Feeding into that, Oklahoma State hasn’t lost three straight home games since 2005.
9. Washington State’s road to the playoff: Since the Cougars (at Stanford) are virtually the Pac-12’s last playoff hope, we thought it worthwhile to remind you that if the Cougars (6-1) win out, they will have wins over No. 19 Oregon, No. 24 Stanford and No. 15 Washington as well as a likely ranked team in the Pac-12 title game. No outright Power Five champion with one loss has been left out of the playoff. No two-loss team has made the playoff.
10. Mismatch of the week: UAB (6-1) is off to its best start in school history. UTEP (0-7) has not won a game in almost two years and has the nation’s longest losing streak (19).
Quick kicks: Charlie Strong is 17-2 at South Florida (at Houston) … More from that game: Houston is last in time of possession but third nationally in scoring. That makes for an impressive 2.04 points per minute of possession … For the first time ever, Notre Dame-Navy (in San Diego) is not being played in the Eastern time zone … Among teams that have won at least six games in Division I, only Houston (FBS) and UC Davis (FCS) have scored at least 40 on all those victories … Oklahoma (vs. Kansas State) is 95-6 at home against unranked opponents since 1997 … K-State has started 1-3 in the Big 12 in consecutive years for the first time since 2006 … Kentucky continues to be the only FBS team yet to allow 21 points … Is there a coaching bonus for this? Texas A&M (at Mississippi State) is one of only five schools in the top 25 in total offense and total defense … Northwestern has 547 rushing yards all season. Its opponent this week, Wisconsin, has 540 in the last two games.
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