Starting 11: Oregon serves notice Ducks are for real 💥💥

At the end of the Oregon-Ohio State game, after all the bedlam and chaos, the field was empty except for one object: a tiny inflatable duck, the kind of toy that kids put in their bathtubs, left behind at midfield, right on the Ohio State Buckeye’s center logo.

It was a perfect metaphor for what we’d just seen over the preceding nearly four hours of kinetic football action. Oregon wasn’t a fluke winner on the road at Ohio State. They were a dominant and deserving victor. And for all the offensive sizzle that has frequently accompanied big victories for the Ducks, this game was won on the line of scrimmage. Oregon ran the ball 38 times for 269 yards, a whopping average of 7.1 yards per carry while Ohio State ran the ball for 128 yards on 31 carries.

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That was the game in a nutshell. The Ducks can play bully ball now too.

Oregon never trailed and notched the biggest win for any Pac 12 team since Oregon beat Florida State in the first year of the college football playoff way back in 2014.

So where does this leave Ohio State in the playoff race?

We’ll dive into the Starting 11 and discuss that momentarily.

But first, how about every Army player running on the field carrying a flag on the 20th anniversary of 9/11?

This was perfect. God bless America and god bless college football.

Here we go with the Starting 11:

1. Are Ohio State’s playoff chances gone?

No, they aren’t.

No loss in September, no matter how bad, as I’ve learned the hard way, eliminates a team from college football playoff contention. In fact, back in the first year of the playoff Ohio State bounced back from a crushing home loss to Virginia Tech in September to end up winning the national championship by beating Alabama and Oregon in the inaugural college football playoff.

So the Buckeyes have ample time to regather themselves and run roughshod over the remaining teams in the Big Ten. But what this loss does is eliminate any margin for error. And even if the Buckeyes run the table — right now they play only one additional top 25 team all year in the regular season, Penn State — there’s still no guarantee that Ohio State would find itself in the playoff at 12-1.

Why?

Because it’s possible two SEC teams — Alabama and Georgia — a Pac 12 team — either Oregon or UCLA most likely — an ACC team — Clemson most likely — and a Big 12 team — Oklahoma — might finish with better resumes, either as one loss or undefeated teams.

Indeed right now Alabama, according to this morning’s Fan Duel odds, is out to +150 title favorite. Then comes Georgia at 4-1, Oklahoma at 9-1, Clemson at 9-1, and Ohio State at 9-1. Oregon, interestingly, is still 40-1, suggesting Vegas doesn’t buy into the Duck hype.

Ohio State is now in the same spot as Clemson after an early loss to a good team. They need one of two things to happen, either Oregon runs the table and finishes 13-0, helping to burnish the quality of this loss, or the Ducks completely fall apart and aren’t in the playoff picture at all. Because if Oregon finishes, let’s say, 12-1 with the Pac 12 title, Ohio State is stuck behind them no matter what the Buckeyes do the rest of the season.

And, by the way, you knew it wasn’t Ohio State’s day when this happened in the pregame.

But at least when it comes to Vegas oddsmakers, they’re telling Buckeye fans to relax.

2. Arkansas baptizes Texas in the cool, refreshing waters of SEC dominance.

First, thank you to all the great Razorback fans we met on the Outkick bus tour this weekend in Fayetteville. It was absolutely phenomenal. I can’t wait until you guys see the behind the scenes documentary on SEC football we are filming. The first episode will be out at the end of the month and there will be three full hours of footage broken up into four episodes.

Second, what a spectacular win for the Razorbacks.

On Thursday night we were out filming at JJ’s Bar and Grill and Barry Odom, Arkansas’s whiz defensive coordinator was eating dinner with his family just down the street. So after he finished eating, he and his family came by to see us. (It’s an incredible college bar, by the way, and the atmosphere was fantastic because the Cowboys-Bucs game was going on while we filmed.)

We talked for several minutes about what Barry expected to see from Texas — his forecast was dead on — and then grabbed a photo with Odom and his two oldest sons. I didn’t post the picture until after the game was decided because I had a pretty good feeling his defense was going to play well, but I didn’t want to put it up before the game and jinx him.

Well, here that photo is.

Once more, the story of the game was on the line of scrimmage.

Arkansas, who may have the best pair of offensive and defensive coordinators in the country with Barry Odom on defense and Kendal Briles on offense, ran the ball 47 times for 333 yards while holding Texas to 138 yards on 41 carries.

That’s absolutely dominant.

Even with all the offensive pyrotechnics in football today, good teams have to be able to run the ball and stop the run.

Based on what we saw on Saturday night Texas football is not back.

But Arkansas just might be back.

The Razorback schedule, however, is, as always, brutal, with four top 25 teams in a row starting on September 25th.

In the meantime, I appreciate head coach Sam Pittman for taking time to sit with me for an interview on Big Noon Kickoff before the game on Saturday morning.

Pittman reminds me of former Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer, a no nonsense former offensive lineman who is calm and endearing as a leader. We’ll see if he can keep the Razorbacks rolling, but for one night, it was magical in Fayetteville.

3. Stanford crushes Clay Helton and USC.

This is the story of USC football writ large over the past 15 years or so, ever since the Leinart and Bush dynasty ended, just when you think they’ve found some measure of stability they lose a game that leaves you asking what in the world is wrong with the program.

Such was the case late on Saturday night when Stanford, who was whipped by Kansas State last week, came to USC and dominated from the opening snap.

The Cardinal never trailed and essentially put the game away late in the third quarter with a touchdown to make it 35-13.

Just when you want to doubt his program, David Shaw reminds you Stanford is still pretty good.

So where does this leave the Trojans?

Clay Helton is on the hot seat, the same place he’s perpetually dwelled for most of his seven years at the Trojan helm. Helton had a good 2016 and 2017 when he won the Rose Bowl and the Pac 12 title. He’s 46-24 overall, 36-13 in the Pac 12. But USC fans have never embraced him.

With Washington State and Oregon State on the schedule, USC should win those games and find itself sitting at 3-1. Then will come the perpetual Helton hot seat talk that always surfaces only to see Helton win an unexpected game to save his job. What win will that be this year? UCLA or Notre Dame would be my guess. It would be the most Pac 12 result for USC to knock UCLA from the ranks of the unbeaten and severely damage the Pac 12’s chances at a playoff spot in the process.

For all the celebration over Oregon’s big win over Ohio State, the Pac 12 conference as a whole had a pretty awful day. TCU beat Cal, Michigan beat Washington, San Diego State beat Arizona, BYU beat Utah, and Colorado lost to Texas A&M.

Oregon, UCLA, and Arizona State are the only three unbeaten teams left in the conference and we’re just two weeks into the season. Compare that to the SEC, for instance, which still has ten unbeaten teams left.

My point? USC and Clay Helton are still a mess and as excited as Oregon fans may be this morning, pump the breaks, the Pac 12 has a way of stealing all fan joy, often late at night after much of the country has already gone to bed.

4. Alabama and Georgia are the two best teams in the country right now and I’m not sure there’s a close third.

I know the Tide didn’t look great against Mercer, but games like these always seem to bring out the best in Nick Saban. He’ll have Alabama ready to roll at Florida this weekend and he’ll use the sloppy play against Mercer as motivation to tell his team why they all stink.

Meanwhile Georgia, even without J.T. Daniels at quarterback, put on an offensive show against UAB. We’d been questioning how good the Bulldog offense might be and whether they had playmakers on that side of the ball, well the mailman, Stetson Bennett, put on a clinic in relief duty yesterday. Bennett went 10 for 12 for five touchdowns, including touchdown passes of 73, 89, and 61 yards in the first 16 minutes of the game to effectively end the game.

Meanwhile the Bulldog defense has still not given up a touchdown through two games. (UAB scored on a pick six late in the fourth quarter.)

Given that Georgia plays South Carolina and at Vanderbilt the next two weeks, both of which have anemic offenses, it’s possible the Bulldog defense finishes September without allowing a touchdown.

I know it’s hard to go undefeated in conference play, particularly in the SEC, but I continue to believe we’re headed towards 12-0 Alabama against 12-0 Georgia in Atlanta.

And if that were to happen then both SEC teams would be in the playoff no matter the result.

5. Texas A&M survives against Colorado, but doesn’t look like a title contender at all in the process.

I know A&M’s starting quarterback, Haynes King, went out early and that was a huge part of the offensive struggles, but if you’ve watched Alabama and Georgia play there’s nothing you’ve seen out of the Aggies so far this year that suggests they’re on anywhere near the same level as either of those teams.

In particular, A&M couldn’t run the football on Saturday against Colorado — 29 carries yielded just 97 yards — and that won’t get it done against top SEC teams.

We knew before the season started that A&M’s season would come down to the Alabama game in College Station — the Aggies have to win that game to have a chance at punching their first ever ticket to Atlanta — but before they get there the game against Arkansas in two weeks looks like a donnybrook too.

Things can change, but right now the Aggies are 60-1 to win the national title.

That’s a longshot with worse odds than Michigan.

I’d love for the Aggies to make a real run in the SEC West because it helps to upset the Alabama dominance narrative, but it doesn’t feel like one is coming right now.

6. Notre Dame needs a last minute drive to stay unbeaten.

Credit to Notre Dame for finding a way to get a second last second win in a row, but I’ve seen enough of the Irish so far this season to be pretty convinced they aren’t a legitimate national title contender.

So have oddsmakers, who presently have the Irish at 100-1 to win the title this year.

Purdue next week won’t be an easy win, I don’t think, but then look at this roster of opponents in a row: at Wisconsin, Cincinnati, at Virginia Tech, USC, and then North Carolina. All five of these teams are ranked right now and I just don’t see any way the Irish run that gauntlet.

In fact, I think they lose at least two of those games.

7. Florida State lost in unbelievable fashion.

Just six days ago it felt like Florida State might pull off a storybook win against Notre Dame. Now this. How in the world do you let this happen on the final play of the game?

Leaving us with this perfect gif reaction.

Every time I think — why am I a Tennessee fan? — for the past several years there’s always been an FSU play that makes me think, “At least I’m not an FSU fan.”

By the way, which of these former national title winning powers gets back faster? Texas, Tennessee, Nebraska or Florida State? I’m defining “getting back” as making the college football playoff, likely when the playoff expands, or winning their conference.

I still think I’m voting for FSU here just because Texas is joining the SEC soon and the ACC is the weakest conference in the group.

But titles or playoff berths feel a long way away for all four of these teams right now.

8. Iowa wins the CyHawk trophy and looks like the best team in the Big Ten through two weeks.

Granted Iowa State didn’t play well — the turnovers were atrocious — but Iowa, arguably, has the best resume in college football through two weeks.

Very few teams have notched two power five conference wins like the Hawkeyes have.

And while all the focus is going to be on the Big Ten East, the Hawkeyes should beat Kent State and Colorado State the next two weeks. That gets them to 4-0. Then comes a Friday night game against Maryland before Penn State comes to town. Win those two and the Hawkeyers are 6-0 and at Wisconsin is the only remaining top 25 team on the schedule.

I know it’s early, but Iowa’s schedule sets up nicely for a trip to the Big Ten title game.

9. The most amazing thing to happen in any college football stadium this year? This cat rescue at App State-Miami.

Look up top in this video for a dangling cat hanging off the upper deck.

Yes, this really happened, they caught a cat in the American flag on the 20th anniversary of 9/11!

And then my man held him up like Simba!

USA, USA, USA!

This cat is down to eight lives for sure.

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10. Outkick’s National Top Ten

Remember that I rank teams based only on games that we’ve seen played. That is, not by what I expect to see, but based on what we saw on the field. Early in the season our rankings can fluctuate a great deal because I give particular early season credence to power conference wins, especially if those wins happen in road or neutral settings. Until a team has at least one power five conference win they typically won’t be eligible for the Outkick top ten.

1. Alabama
2. Georgia
3. Iowa
4. Oregon
5. UCLA
6. Penn State
7. Arkansas
8. BYU
9. Virginia Tech
10. Pittsburgh

11. My SEC power rankings 1-14:

Remember, I only rank teams based on what we’ve actually seen on the field, not based on what I expected to see happen on the field.

1. Alabama
2. Georgia
3. Arkansas
4. Auburn
5. Florida
6. Ole Miss
7. Texas A&M
8. Kentucky
9. Mississippi State
10. South Carolina
11. Missouri
12. LSU
13. Tennessee
14. Vanderbilt

We will be on the road at Gainesville, Florida this weekend for Alabama-Florida.

Look forward to seeing many of you there.

In the meantime, I’m leaving now to take my ten year old and three of his ten year old friends to Cardinals-Titans. I need some coffee as I stayed up too late last night watching the Vanderbilt-Colorado State ending — congrats to Clark Lea on a big win — and the USC implosion.

Starting 11: Oregon serves notice Ducks are for real

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