7 things you need to know in college football
LSU's playoff hopes are over, where the Fighting Irish stand and much more following Week 11.
7 things you need to know in college football
1. Florida and Alabama are heading toward an SEC Championship showdown.
Even back when they lost to LSU and couldn’t really stop Leonard Fournette, the Florida Gators still looked like the most likely team to make it out of the SEC East and book themselves either a rematch with the Tigers, or against Alabama. Now, with the end of the season looming larger and larger, the Gators look to be on a crash course with the Crimson Tide to be crowned SEC champions. Like they had to do when facing LSU, it’s likely that they’ll be taking on one of the hottest hands at running back in the nation if and when they do meet Alabama, with Derrick Henry (+15.0) playing some outstanding football right now. From weeks one to six Henry was our 75th highest graded running back at +3.1, but in the past four games, only Christian McCaffrey has a higher grade as a runner.
2. Ohio State is rolling, but tough tests await the Buckeyes.
Even more so now that J.T. Barrett (+4.6) is the starting quarterback, the Ohio State Buckeyes are rolling towards the College Football Playoff, and looking like a serious threat to retain their crown. As well as Barrett being an improvement over Cardale Jones (-5.5), he meshes well with running back Ezekiel Elliott (+31.4), while Joey Bosa (+59.4) continues to dominate on the defensive side of the ball. Speaking of Bosa, many have pointed to his five sacks as a lack of production but he has still registered 18 hits and 33 hurries throughout the year. He doesn’t play on offense so doesn’t have the touchdowns to show for it, but if we’re talking about Heisman candidates, there may not be a better player in all of college football.
3. USC is the dark-horse Pac-12 candidate.
Back before the season began, many expected the Pac-12 to be the conference that effectively beat each other up and prevented themselves from reaching the college football playoff. For a while Utah looked to be proving that theory wrong, and after they lost Stanford looked like a team capable of leading the conference to glory. Here we are three weeks from the end of the season though, and the conference doesn’t have a team with fewer than two losses. Suddenly a team like USC, who were in such disarray that they had to go through a coaching change, are in position for a run at the conference championship game. Cody Kessler (+14.2) is playing much better in the second half of the season, while JuJu Smith-Schuster (+18.0) remains one of the best wide receivers in the nation. They aren’t making the College Football Playoff, but suddenly USC are beginning to look like the surprise team to win the conference.
4. Are the North Carolina Tarheels a serious threat?
In the ACC everyone is focussed on unbeaten Clemson, the number one team both in the College Football Playoff rankings and the in the AP Top 25. While they get all the attention, they are still going to have to get through the conference championship game in a few weeks. Suddenly, after putting up 125 points in the past two weeks, it’s time to keep an eye on the North Carolina Tarheels. Quarterback Marquise Williams (+22.0) continues to grade positively both as a runner and as a passer and when the time comes, Clemson will need to be careful that, despite wins over Notre Dame and Florida State, their season doesn’t yet come unstuck by a surprising foe.
5. Houston is the final unbeaten team in the AAC.
We’re down to one unbeaten team in the AAC in the Houston Cougars. There is a small injury concern over quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (+29.1), who injured his ankle in the thrilling win over the Memphis Tigers, but he has been practicing lightly so there is reason to believe he’ll be back at the helm for the big game against the UConn Huskies this weekend. They are a huge outsider in the College Football Playoff picture but with a two loss Pac-12, and possibly a one loss Big 12 champion, they definitely have a case to make as a potential entrant when the final rankings are announced later this year.
6. LSU drosp second in a row, ending the Tigers’ College Football Playoff hopes.
After a dominant first half of the season, Leonard Fournette (+32.2) and the LSU Tigers have seen their season slump and grind to a halt. The Alabama loss was tough, and made it difficult for them to get themselves into position for a shot at the College Football Playoff, but it wasn’t impossible. With a loss to Arkansas however, that dream looks certain to be over. Similarly, despite a dominant start to the year, Fournette’s “Heisman Moment” of running all over Auburn early in the year now seems like a distant memory. He may very well still be the best player in college football, but with players like Derrick Henry and Christian McCaffrey (+32.2) playing so well right now, it’s possible that he sees himself pushed out of the race.
7. Do the Fighting Irish just need to win out?
They were number four in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings, which would lead you to believe that all Notre Dame need to do to confirm a seat at the table is win out. Is it as simple as that though? With the Big 12 still battling it out, we could easily see an unbeaten Oklahoma State with wins over Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma on their resume. Even a one loss Oklahoma team would arguably be the hottest team in the country. The fact that their only loss so far has come against unbeaten Clemson, on the road no less, helps, but the Irish, with stars on defense in Jaylon Smith (+24.7) and Sheldon Day (+42.5) might not be in as simple a position as many believe.
Gordon McGuinness | Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst
Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.