“Can’t anybody here play this game?”
Casey Stengel, “The Old Perfessor” himself, supposedly asked that question of his anemic 1962 New York Mets. Stengel managed that team to 120 losses, a mark of futility unmatched in major league baseball annals dating back to the 1890s. With the baseball playoffs in full swing, that comparison seems apt with the 2014 college football season.
Simply put, it seems there are no clear championship caliber college football teams in 2014.
In last week’s issue we gave out midterm grades and listed Auburn and Baylor as the nation’s best at the halfway point of the season. Then Auburn goes to Starkville, falls behind 21-0 to a fired up Mississippi State team, and never seriously threatens the Bullies before losing 38-23. In Waco, Baylor trailed nearly the entire game against TCU, but the Bears staged a terrific comeback from down 58-37 by scoring 24 unanswered points to win 61-58 (in regulation!). But, allowing 58 points at home? That is not championship material.
So, if our top two teams from last week showed blemishes, who now leads the championship chase?
The state of Mississippi does.
With the big victory over Auburn, Mississippi State moves to the top of the heap. The Bulldogs have tough road games with Kentucky, Alabama, and Ole Miss, but offensively and defensively they are impressive. Are they a championship squad? Time will tell, but QB Dak Prescott certainly is a force.
Ole Miss makes it a Magnolia State sweep of the top spots this week. The Rebels whipped Alabama, then went on the road and handled Texas A&M. However, with trips yet to come at LSU and Arkansas, and home games with Tennessee, Auburn, and State still on the docket, it is unlikely the Rebs can run the table.
Even with the success of the Mississippi schools, Florida State still holds the top spot in most college football playoff projections. Some of that loftiness is a remnant of the 2013 title, some is hype associated with the reigning Heisman winner Jameis Winston, and some is based on the soft schedule of the ACC . Still, the Noles must be considered a favorite to reach the football four, but they have not played like a champion (yet).
Nor has Notre Dame. The Irish escaped a home trap game with North Carolina by outscoring the Tar Heels 50-43. That win pushes ND to 6-0 on the season and sets up a big game with FSU in Tallahassee this weekend. The winning team controls its destiny in the playoff pursuit.
At this point, no team seems to be an overwhelming choice as champion.
Around the Nation
The marquee game of the week is Florida State hosting Notre Dame. The game evokes echoes of the old bloodbaths of the early 1990s, and should play a huge role in determining whether either squad makes it to the playoff. The Irish are the top-ranked team left on FSU’s schedule and possibly the last major hurdle to a Seminoles’ unbeaten regular season. Tennessee at Ole Miss, Texas A&M at Alabama, Georgia at Arkansas, and Missouri at Florida lead the SEC slate. The Pac-12 offers up Washington at Oregon and Stanford at Arizona State. OK State plays at TCU, and the loser is likely eliminated from the Big 12 race.
Note – this column originally appeared in The Blitz (Volume 4 Issue 8; Oct 16-18 2014)