College Football Review: Can the Pac-12 champ sneak into the Playoff if Clemson stumbles?

Wow, we finally made it to Sunday. Yesterday was one of my best college football gambling days in a while, and I went .500, so that should tell you all you need to know about my year so far. Let’s start at the beginning, when everything was rosy and nice; when the Michigan vs. Maryland game went exactly as I planned it to go.

Michigan returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and pounded out a 38-7 road win in smash-mouth fashion. The Wolverines weren’t even that great on offense, but their defense so thoroughly dominated Maryland that the spread barely came into question. Michigan added its second touchdown on a Zach Charbonnet rush before the 10-minute mark of the first quarter and cruised the rest of the way.

The game in Jacksonville didn’t go as well for me. It turns out that Jake Fromm is pretty good when he’s not playing in a tropical storm.

He went 20-for-30 with 279 yards and a pair of scores while leading Georgia to a 24-17 win, but give my Gators credit. Kyle Trask also threw for over 250 yards with two touchdowns, but Florida got nothing going on the ground while the Dawgs had D’Andre Swift. The Philadelphia native had a lunch-pail day with 86 yards on 25 carries. It’s wasn’t as flashy has he’s used to, but it made the difference on a day when Georgia went 12-for-18 on third down conversions. The Gators went 2-for-9 in the same category, but they still would have covered the 6.5 points if not for a successful two-point conversion by Georgia following its final touchdown.

Overall, it was a very balanced, well-played game. The only issue was that Georgia wore its road uniforms. This is the kind of neutral-site rivalry game that needs both teams to wear their home uniforms. If Georgia wears red, this is right up there with UCLA vs. USC in best uniform games of the year.

The Pac-12 was where I cleaned up yesterday. It didn’t feel great going with two road favorites, but Utah and Oregon both proved to be the superior teams, and they both came through with huge wins that set them on a collision course for the Pac-12 title game.

Utah wasn’t looking so hot early on, and it looked like the three-point spread was out of reach when Washington quarterback Jacob Eason connected with Hunter Bryant for a 40-yard touchdown to make the score 21-13 Huskies midway through the third quarter. However, the Utes buckled up and dominated the game from that point. Starting with a Jaylon Johnson pick six, Utah scored touchdowns on three straight possessions while holding Washington without a first down. By the time the Huskies got their offense going again late in the fourth quarter, it was too late for a backdoor cover. Utah won 33-28.

Washington did a good job holding Zack Moss to 100 yards on 27 totes, but Tyler Huntley took advantage by throwing for 284 yards on just 24 throws. The balanced attack allowed Utah to complete two touchdown drives of more than 80 yards in the final period.

In Los Angeles, Oregon played one of its best games of the season in a 56-24 rout of USC. The biggest plays in the game happened right before halftime. Following a pick six by Brady Breeze that put the Ducks up 21-10, USC bounced back with a Michael Pittman Jr. touchdown reception to draw within four. It appeared to be a one-score game going into halftime with just 20 seconds left in the second quarter, but then Mykael Wright ran back the kickoff to start a run of 35 unanswered Oregon points.

The Ducks completely dominated the second half with former Penn State wide receiver Juwan Johnson catching touchdown passes from Justin Herbert on three straight possessions. Oregon’s defense came to play, holding Kedon Slovis to 4.6 yards per pass with three picks.

The Pac-12 hasn’t been part of the College Football Playoff discussion in a while, but it’s looking a lot stronger this season than the ACC that’s being whipped by Clemson. If the Tigers stumble at some point over their next four games, I think the committee will have no choice but to put either one-loss Oregon or one-loss Utah into the Playoff ahead of Clemson. Clemson’s toughest game of the season so far has been at home against an underwhelming Texas A&M team. At least Oregon and Utah have feisty teams like USC and Washington to deal with. Plus, the Pac-12 contenders will probably play one another in the conference title game while Clemson gets Virginia or Pitt or North Carolina or even Miami.

That’s just absurd. If Clemson drops a game, they should be dropped to the back of the one-loss pack while everyone else argues about the Pac-12 champ, Oklahoma, and perhaps one-loss teams from the SEC and Big Ten.

We won’t be arguing about the validity of an undefeated AAC team though, because Memphis boat-raced SMU last night, winning 54-48 to hand the Mustangs their first loss of the season. Both teams kept the big plays coming all night long. SMU had five different receivers with a catch of 30 yards or longer, while Memphis had wide receiver Antonio Gibson go off for a 50-yard reception, a 78-yard run, and a 97-yard kickoff return, all for touchdowns. Neither squad turned the ball over in this clinic. It just turned out that the Tigers had a little more firepower, building a lead so large in the fourth quarter than not even two straight SMU touchdowns with two-point conversions were enough to complete a backdoor cover. Such sadness.

The real villain of this game was Memphis kicker Riley Patterson, who went 4-for-4 on field goals, including one from 49 yards and another from 50. If he misses just one, the Mustangs get within the 5.5-point spread.

My worst call of the game was Kansas. I really thought they looked nice as a home underdog in a rivalry game with Kansas State coming off a huge upset of Oklahoma. Turns out, there’s not always a letdown effect. The Wildcats ran for 342 yards with five rushing touchdowns and destroyed their rivals 38-10.

It didn’t ruin a fun day, though. Even with the top two SEC and top two Big Ten teams on bye — and Clemson on a virtual bye with a Wofford snack — there was still plenty of action. The Cocktail Party and Utah vs. Washington were high-stakes games that weren’t decided until late, and the AAC showdown provided fireworks. Next week we get LSU vs. Alabama, and as if that weren’t enough also a pair of juicy Big Ten battles with Penn State vs. Minnesota and Iowa vs. Wisconsin.

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