Sometimes, we make the College Football Playoff conversation way harder than it has to be. This is a natural byproduct of the setup, of course. With weekly mock rankings unveiled starting in late October and going until December, there’s a lot of time to sift through nuances and overthink things.
That’s part of the fun, but it’s also tiring. What really matters most at the end of the day is whether you can win all your games and control your destiny. Notre Dame may not have been one of the two best teams in 2012 when it went to the BCS National Championship and lost, badly, to Alabama, but it did enough every week during the regular season to at least earn a spot there. Following their win over Northwestern on Saturday, you can say a lot of the same things about the 2018 Fighting Irish. Was it their best performance? No, but it didn’t have to be. Quarterback Ian Book’s late keeper not only put Notre Dame up for good, it also kicked down the front door cover — something Northwestern doesn’t allow often.
Notre Dame is one of the few college football teams that can keep things simple amidst all the chaos, even without a 13th game. The resume isn’t as strong as it once looked, but it’s still anchored by a key Week 1 win over Michigan. With three weeks left, all that separates Notre Dame from a semifinal appearance is a few more survive-and-advance games.
From Notre Dame’s big win, to Alabama’s statement against LSU and West Virginia’s thrilling victory at Texas, here’s all that happened in Week 10.
Alabama: So the Crimson Tide ain’t played nobody, eh? That talking point is officially dead courtesy of. This was supposed to be the game of the week and it was never a game. Then again, this was about a two-touchdown line. Bama would be a double-digit favorite against literally anyone, but LSU’s No. 3 ranking was misnomer; the Tigers never stood a chance. Alabama’s greatest opponent will be the one that can keep up with an offensive volley. That’s not LSU’s game. Maybe in the coming months some team will have an answer, but in the meantime at least we can put to bed the discussion about a one-loss Alabama with zero quality wins in the playoff race.
Notre Dame: There’s a growing amount of chatter about Notre Dame and Michigan in the playoff race — namely, who would get in if each team had one loss? Notre Dame has the Week 1 head-to-head win, but with a 42-7 win over Penn State, Michigan sure looks the part of a playoff team as of late. Of course, there’s an easy answer to this. If Notre Dame keeps winning, it won’t matter what Michigan does. Oh, sure, the selection committee might put the Wolverines ahead of the Irish one of these weeks. They’ve been known to throw a curveball or two for dramatic purposes. They may even have to walk their mental gymnastics back at a later point. But if Notre Dame, which beat Northwestern 31-21 in Evanston, wins its final three games, no Big Ten West team is good enough to give Michigan a boost that would leapfrog the Irish simply by virtue of having a 13th game.
UCF: It’s frustrating that everything the Knights do is framed within the playoff debate. UCF did not play its best game on Thursday, but still beat a pretty good Temple team 52-40. It’s a conference win; take it and move on. UCF is not making the playoff. It was never going to make the playoff. It wasn’t going to make it last year and it had a better team. For once, let’s not make everything about the postseason, especially when everyone knows it’s a pipe dream anyway. UCF has won 21 straight. Good on you. That’s hard to do. Appreciate that for what it is.
West Virginia quarterback Will Grier: Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa makes NFL-caliber throws so frequently that it’s hard to decide which one is the most unfair and absurd. As an unintended result, it can be easy to lose track of other great quarterbacks. In most years, West Virginia’s Will Grier would be a surefire Heisman finalist. Maybe he will be. The Mountaineers’ sparked by Grier’s sure seemed like the type of moment that could get Grier to New York. He won’t win the Heisman, but he could get to New York.
LSU: Look, the Tigers were not equipped to beat Alabama. They have a lights out defense and … not much else. That might have kept things close in the past when Alabama was a dominating team of the slow, boa constrictor variety. That’s not how you beat Alabama in 2018. Sure, quarterback Joe Burrow has been just good enough to give LSU plays when it needs it, but the lack of explosiveness on offense was eventually going to come back and haunt this team in a big way. If coach Ed Orgeron is serious about stealing Alabama’s West supremacy even once in a while, it has to change the way it plays offensively. LSU’s defense is great and Tagovailoa was still dropping dimes over them and running for long touchdowns. It needs an answer to that.
Miami: Not only did the Hurricanes drop another ACC game, 20-12 vs. Duke — the Blue Devils got their first win at Miami since 1976 — but with three straight losses it’s officially time to wonder whether Miami will make a bowl game. At 5-4, the Canes only need one more win, but there are no gimmes on the remaining schedule. Regardless, the fact that Miami likely won’t win this division when the leading team is 5-4 Pitt remains one of the more flabbergasting developments of the season. The Canes are 5-7 in their last 12 games dating back to 2017, and frankly, they haven’t looked the same since that upset loss to Pitt last November.
Florida and Florida State: Somehow, both teams lost to Missouri and NC State, respectively, by a combined score of 85-45, and it barely registered on the radar. Florida State makes some semblance of sense seeing as the Seminoles may not make a bowl game this year, but the Gators were the No. 11 team in the country, though they are now out of the SEC East race. My, oh my, that Nov. 24 game in Tallahassee is going to be, uh, something.
Utah: Not only did the Utes give up ground in the Pac-12 South race following a 38-20 loss to Arizona State — the Sun Devils now control their own destiny — but they might have lost quarterback Tyler Huntley for the rest of the season with a collarbone injury. That’s the textbook definition of insult to injury. Utah drops to 4-3 in conference play and now every Pac-12 team except for Washington State has at least three losses.
Conference championship weekend: I don’t mean to be a Debby Downer so far in advance, but I get the feeling conference championship weekend in early December is going to be a hot mess. As it stands now, every team in the ACC Coastal, Big Ten West and Pac-12 South has at least three losses and we’re still in the first weekend in November. That’s a reflection of how down most college football teams have been this season. There’s a lot of parity, but that’s not always a good thing. Some of these title games are either going to be a slaughter or result in ugly, playoff-excluding losses for the favorites. At least with the latter there’s chaos.
Best of the rest
Arizona QB Khalil Tate: The electrifying quarterback had a sharp game back from his ankle injury in a win vs. Oregon in Week 9. But he was back to the Khalil Tate of old in a 42-34 win over Colorado on Friday night. Not only did Tate at one point complete 11 straight passes as part of a five-touchdown, 350-yard night, he also had a signature 25-yard run. Tate is healthy now and he looks like he’s peaking at the right time.
Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray: Per OU, Murray is the first Sooners player in history to have 300 yards passing and 100 yards rushing in the same game. Murray overcame a slow start with two interceptions to help beat Texas Tech 51-46. He finished with 461 yards and four touchdowns. If not for Tagovailoa, Murray would probably be the Heisman frontrunner.
This unimpressed LSU fan: If a picture says 1,000 words, then this GIF says 1,000 more.
Georgia: The Bulldogs clinched the SEC East with a easy 34-17 win at Kentucky, becoming the first Power Five team secure a divisional title. Georgia gets a home game against Auburn next before finishing the regular season vs. UMass and Georgia Tech. Then it’s on to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game vs. Alabama.
Houston: Let’s see: Phase 1. Beat ranked South Florida in Week 9 and emerge as a top challenger to UCF in the AAC title race. Phrase 2: drop a letdown game to 3-5 SMU 45-31. Phase 3: ???????? Phase 4: Profit?
This Hakeem Butler display of disrespek: I don’t know who this Kansas defender is, but I do know he has to give up football forever. Butler had 164 yards and two touchdowns, including this one, in a 27-3 win.
UCLA coach Chip Kelly: Kelly’s return to Oregon was somewhat incredibly, like, eighth on the list of most interesting storylines for Week 10. It was unceremonious, to say the least, with the Ducks winning comfortably 42-21, dropping the Bruins to 2-7 and out of bowl eligibility.
Illinois: It’s been a rough season for the Illini, but they managed to literally average a first down per play (10.7 yards) in a 55-37 win over Minnesota. Illinois averaged 12.3 yards per rush, more than double its season average of 5.43.
Cal: The Golden Bears had Washington State on the ropes all night, but one costly mistake changed the tide of the game. Quarterback Brandon McIlwain threw a brutal end zone interception on a rollout, ending a 14-play drive that was on the verge of putting Cal up a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Washington State held on to win 19-13. You don’t want to boil a game down to just one play, but that six-point swing mattered.
Clemson defensive linemen: I’m running out of things to be impressed by during Clemson’s reign of terror on ACC opponents, so here’s a factoid for you. Defensive linemen Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence now have a rushing touchdown each with Lawrence getting a two-yard score in the Tigers’. Florida State running backs have five on the season. Akron, UT-San Antonio and Southern Miss had four total coming into Week 10.
UTEP: The Miners had the FBS’ longest losing streak at 20 games, but were practically a pick ’em at Rice. UTEP has been decent against the spread this season despite all of the loses, so with Rice struggling at 1-8, this felt like the right spot to get that first win. Congrats, UTEP, for winning 34-26 and finally getting that W.
Coastal Carolina: This weird pick-six off a helmet didn’t help the Chanticleers against Appalachian State in a 23-7 loss, but sure looked awesome.
Heidelberg punter Austin Baker: Have you ever seen a 95-yard punt? Well, now you can say you have. Baker, from his own end zone, unleashed a 95-yard beast that, by actual distance, went more like 104 yards. In any case, it set a Division III record. If you’re wondering, the NCAA record is 99 yards (by Nevada’s Pat Brady in 1950).