Clemson QB controversy, Pac-12 playoff hopes top college football overreactions
Once again the time has come to take the pulse of the college football nation and determine what is making it tick too fast.
Although there were few actual upsets over the weekend, there were plenty of events that generated plenty of discussion throughout the seemingly endless means of communication available to us in this day and age.
Some reactions will be reasonable, but naturally there will also be some that are just a wee bit hyperbolic. We’re here to calm the waters a bit – at least until the next week arrives and another wave of stormy weather blows in.
Here are the top five overreactions from the Week 8 results.
Clemson has a quarterback controversy on its hands
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Clemson was trailing Syracuse 21-10 when DJ Uiagalelei threw his second interception of the game, the Tigers’ fourth turnover, with 6:27 remaining in the third quarter. On Clemson’s next possession, Cade Klubnik took over at quarterback. The Tigers went on to score 17 points on three of the next four drives to get out with the victory.
Those facts are indisputable. The narrative that the QB change was responsible for the Clemson comeback, however, is an oversimplification.
In reality, the rally was more attributable to domination at the line of scrimmage rather than quarterback play. Klubnik did take better care of the ball, but his first scoring drive was aided by two costly Syracuse penalties, and his primary job after taking the snap was handing the ball to Will Shipley. Klubnik completed just two passes for a total of 19 yards with an additional throw for a two-point conversion, and he netted 15 yards on the ground. Meanwhile, the Orange’s first six possessions of the second half all ended with punts and netted just three first downs. With Clemson’s defense in control, the Tigers could keep it conservative on offense with the talented but inexperienced freshman in the game.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney insisted after the game that Uiagalelei will remain the Tigers’ starting quarterback, and the team has an open date coming up to address errors. The fans’ concern is understandable; the turnover bug was a major issue for Uiagalelei last year and its return in Saturday’s outing was an unwelcome development. But no, there’s no controversy – at least not yet.
The Pac-12 is out of the playoff picture with no unbeaten teams left.
Though it has a foot out the door, UCLA held the league’s best hope for ending the playoff drought before Saturday’s loss at Oregon. Now, whichever contender emerges as conference champ will probably need some help.
The Bruins, who own a head-to-head decision against Utah and have a huge showdown with Southern California in a few weeks, are still very much in the race. But the aforementioned Trojans now arguably have the easiest path to the league title game with three highly winnable contests leading up to the UCLA showdown. Oregon is back in the mix as well despite that season-opening shellacking the Ducks endured at the hands of Georgia. Utah could repeat as conference champ but has the longest playoff odds of the top four thanks to loss to UCLA and road trip to Oregon next month.
Bottom line, all is not lost for the Pac-12’s playoff chances. But the eventual champion will have to finish 12-1 to have a case for inclusion, and that team would have to hope there aren’t many other once-beaten candidates from the other power leagues in the equation.
Ohio State can coast all the way to the Michigan game
Given its offensive limitations, Iowa did all it could to hang with the Buckeyes, but in the end it was just another 44-point decision. The Buckeyes’ average victory margin thus far has been 34.5 points. Next week’s trip to Penn State will be more of the same, right?
Well, maybe not. The Nittany Lions have played the Buckeyes tougher than anyone during OSU’s recent period of Big Ten dominance. That includes Michigan, which was on the short end of a number of routs before earning last year’s breakthrough victory against the Buckeyes.
Penn State hasn’t beaten Ohio State since 2016. But the Buckeyes’ wins in 2017 and 2018 were both one-point squeakers, and the margin has been less than two touchdowns in each of the last three meetings. Simply put, the Nittany Lions don’t usually get blown out in this series, so keep an eye on Happy Valley next Saturday.
TCU is a playoff team
The Horned Frogs’ remarkable resilience was on display again Saturday night as they overcame a double-digit deficit for the second consecutive week to get by Kansas State. Although that victory put TCU in first place alone in the Big 12 while keeping its record unblemished, the Horned Frogs will probably have to get to the finish line at 13-0 in order to crack the top four. That’s asking a lot, even for this bunch that never seems to get rattled.
Three of TCU’s last five games are on the road, including a Nov. 12 date at Texas. Next week’s long trip to West Virginia is never an easy victory, even when the Mountaineers are out of the conference race. The Horned Frogs are in a good spot as far as the Big 12 is concerned, but we’re still several weeks away from playoff talk.
The SEC gap is widening
The arrival of South Carolina and the return of LSU to the USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll gives the SEC seven ranked teams this week, even with Mississippi State sliding out and preseason Top 25 squads Texas A&M and Arkansas now well outside the poll. But while this is an indication that the league’s overall perception remains as strong as ever, it does not mean the members will automatically be head and shoulders better when they take the field against non-conference opponents.
To be sure, the SEC has piled up its share of solid victories against Power Five competition, like those early results against the Pac-12 we discussed earlier. Furthermore, there is no disputing the league’s success in the playoff era. But a few results from this season suggest one shouldn’t just pencil in the SEC representative (or representatives) once the pairings are announced. LSU, which currently shares the SEC West lead with Alabama, has a loss on its ledger to Florida State, which could finish in fifth place in the ACC Atlantic. Tennessee, the toast of the nation after last week’s triumph over the Tide, needed overtime earlier this year to escape Pittsburgh, now a mid-pack team at best in the ACC Coastal. Even top-ranked Georgia hasn’t always looked invincible. The Bulldogs needed a second-half rally to escape Missouri. That would be the same Missouri that got trucked by Kansas State. And oh yeah, don’t mention Appalachian State to an Aggies’ fan.
To be clear, the SEC’s non-conference record is still the best in the bowl subdivision, but we might be closer to parity than that record suggests. Let’s wait and see before we hand the conference another CFP crown.