The most compelling reason for expanding the College Football League from four to 12 teams was the simplest: it was getting boring. Each year, only about six or seven teams start the season as true CFP contenders, and the field will narrow from there. The march to Selection Sunday Football was slow, predictable and often dominated by a combination of Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma State. Rinse and repeat.
The sport is one year away from the 12-team CFP era. But as it turns out, the playoff race can be a lot of fun without widening the field — as long as the pool of contenders is as wide as it seems this year.
Who is the best team in college football right now? We don’t know! That’s half the fun.
You could make a compelling case for Georgia, a two-time defending national champion who, by her own admission, hasn’t looked great against weaker competition. Michigan is in a similar place, and the Wolverines have been without their head coach more than they have been in four weeks. Florida State has two of the best wins in the country: a lopsided win over LSU in Week 1 and a thrilling overtime win at Clemson. Washington is obliterating its rival every week on the strength of the nation’s best offense, providing a clear test that the Huskies are the better. And what about Ohio State, whose final drive in South Bend gave the Buckeyes their best win ever and silenced some questions about their quarterback play?
What about Texas, just a few weeks after beating Alabama? Or USC, with a Heisman Trophy winner whose exploits mask a sometimes questionable defense? Or Penn State, lurking in the shadows of its Big Ten brothers to the East? Or a Utah team that won big without their veteran starting quarterback? Or even the Oregon team speaking up and supporting him? You could make any of these teams considered the best in the country.
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Here’s what else stood out as we close the book on Week 4 of college football and look ahead to Week 5.
No one knows how to adequately handle Colorado’s first loss
From fans to pundits, the reaction to Oregon’s 42-6 win over previously undefeated Colorado has run the gamut. The so-called haters gloated, believing the loss was necessary to bring down Deion Sanders and company after the Buffs dominated the news cycle to an extent not seen in college football since Tebowmania. Others tried to excuse the Sanders team’s poor performance, with one national voice in the NFL going so far as to suggest that the outcome of the game would have been different if Travis Hunter had been healthy. (Spoiler: That won’t be the case!)
It seems very difficult to respond to Saturday’s result logically. Instead of acknowledging that although Colorado was the story of the season, its roster was nowhere near where it needed to be to actually compete for a Pac-12 title in year one, everyone’s reaction was extreme. Perhaps the harshest take on the loss came from former NFL star Keshawn Johnson, who chimed in Monday morning on FS1’s “Undisputed.”
“I talked to one of the coaching staff right after the game, and they know some people who coach at Oregon,” Johnson said. “They said, ‘I’ve never heard from another assistant coach about the amount of information that was given to these employees.’
A bunch of ideas:
- It is not at all unusual for coaches to exchange information about common competitors.
- There’s no major conspiracy or vendetta against Sanders among other college coaches, although I’m sure quite a few coaches were upset by the praise he was receiving while not beating anyone of note.
- Oregon’s coaching staff may have realized they are the more talented team with better offensive and defensive lines on their own.
- “Someone knows someone told Johnson” is a pretty terrible game of phone.
If USC beats Colorado on Saturday as well, who knows who Johnson will blame next. The Buffs can’t possibly not be the best team on the field, right?
Trotter: Oregon made a statement to Deion Sanders, Colorado and the nation
Marcus Freeman admitted Notre Dame didn’t realize it only had 10 players on the field
Notre Dame’s coach said Monday he didn’t know the Fighting Irish had just 10 players on the field for the final snaps of a 17-14 loss to Ohio State. As everyone knows, the Buckeyes took advantage of a gap created by a missing defensive lineman to go from one yard up for the game-winning touchdown.
“By the time we noticed it on the last play, it was too late to do anything about it,” Freeman said.
That answer was truer than what he said Saturday night, right after the inexcusable foul after the timeout. At that point, Freeman said Notre Dame didn’t want to be penalized for the late substitution … which didn’t make sense with the game on the line in a spot on the field where a potential penalty could cost mere inches.
Freeman did not say which player was supposed to be on the field but did not, nor did he specify which employee should have noticed the personal foul.
“There are a whole bunch of systems in place to make sure that doesn’t happen, but ultimately it’s on me,” Freeman said. “That’s the reality. I’m not going to stand up here and say this guy should have done that. Ultimately, I’ve got to do a better job as a head coach to make sure we implement the systems that we have in place.”
“We as a coaching staff have to be held to the same standards that we tell our players. We tell our players, fight the drift. You can’t get caught watching the game. Coaches have to win the playoffs, too. We all have to own that and make sure that never happens.”
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The Duke football team has flown under the radar for too long
There’s only so much offseason hype, and Florida State has captured most of it in ACC country. The Seminoles backed that up with two brutal wins to pave a wide-open path to the CFP. Good, especially Wide open. They are scheduled with Duke on October 21 – which should be their most challenging matchup of the regular season.
That’s because Duke is legally valid. Riley Leonard is one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC, and the Blue Devils boast one of the best defenses in the league. Second-year coach Mike Elko transformed a program that won three games in 2021 into a nine-win team last year, laying the foundation for what could be a special season. Duke opened the season with a stunning win over Clemson, earning its first win over a top-10 team in the AP since 1989, then followed that up with three blowouts to push the Blue Devils’ record to 4-0. They will host “College GameDay” on ESPN this weekend for the first time before a top-20 matchup against Notre Dame.
While it’s fun to make jokes about basketball schools becoming football schools — Kansas State also went 4-0, as did North Carolina — they also sometimes obscure the facts. Duke is getting better week after week, getting better on the field and building the belief that they can beat teams with more blue-chip talent on their rosters.
Jim Harbaugh’s approach to his appearance makes perfect sense
You don’t always get that level of honesty from a head coach. On Monday, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh was asked about Donovan Edwards, who has just 33 carries for just 109 yards and no touchdowns so far this season. Harbaugh said Edwards was good and there was nothing wrong with the running back room, and then launched into a really interesting answer about using the running back.
“We play multiple defense positions because…for the players, that’s what’s good for them individually and what’s good as a team,” Harbaugh said. “I treat it like I’m their father, like I’m their agent, and I want what’s best for their career. I don’t believe in someone carrying the ball 30 times a game. He may not have some of the stats that some other defenders have. Even Blake (Corum), he runs the ball really well, He had 97 yards, we took him out of the game. I don’t think he needs another 100-yard game as much as he needs to be healthy. The age of the backs, their career, what’s the average? Maybe eight, nine, 10 years total, including College? So, while they’re not getting paid, I don’t like to take the tread off the tire. Keep that tread out of the tire.
“So, there might be games where one backfield player might show up more than the other. That’s kind of how it’s been here. Look at last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. … Maybe we’ll have that conversation again next week if Donovan was carrying more of the burden. It would be, ‘What happened to Blake?’
Harbaugh is credited with putting his linebackers into and expressing the best careers possible. It’s telling to hear a high-profile coach talk this way about a position that has such a short shelf life in the pros, especially at a time when the position has been so devalued by NFL front offices.
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Maybe Hugh Freeze doesn’t understand the “rivalry” part of rivalry games
It’s not the Iron Bowl, but the Deep South’s oldest rivalry has a big impact, too. Although new Auburn coach Hugh Freeze may not realize exactly how intense the Tigers’ games against Georgia are, based on his comments Monday.
“I’m new here, but I don’t feel the hate that exists in some of the other competitions I’ve been a part of,” Freeze said. “I’m not big on hate. I really don’t. I’m very concerned, man, this means something to a lot of people. So, we should compete in a way out of love for our people, not necessarily out of hatred for other people. That’s the way I work, but “Man, I hope we compete because we love Auburn, and it means something to the people of Auburn to compete against Georgia. So, that’s going to be my approach. But nonetheless, that love is a big motivator for me.”
It’s easy to mock a coach who competes out of love rather than hate, and many fans on social media did just that on Monday. But honestly, after spending the weekend watching grown men compete with octogenarians, it’s probably a good idea to focus on love a little!
Other news and notes
- On Monday, lawyers for Mel Tucker, the suspended Michigan State head football coach, formally responded to the school’s notice of intent to terminate Tucker’s contract for cause, stating that they believe the university has no right to investigate a private relationship and that Tucker’s conduct did not violate the law. Terms of the contract. The notice and this response were a necessary part of the dismissal process, as set forth in Tucker’s contract. Michigan State could move to fire Tucker in the coming days.
- Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk told the Anchors Aweigh podcast that if Army joins the American Athletic Conference, both schools would keep the Army-Navy game as a non-conference game. In this way, it could be played annually on the second Saturday in December as it is now.
- Texas Tech quarterback Tyler Shaw will undergo surgery Tuesday to repair a fractured fibula, Texas Tech coach Joey McGuire said Monday. Shugh is expected to be out six to eight weeks, which is a big blow to a program that has already gotten off to a disappointing 1-3 start.
(Photo by Oregon RB Bucky Irving: Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
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