Week 10 boasted some of the most talented squads in FBS matching up for bragging rights, with Georgia battling Tennessee and LSU taking on Alabama in SEC play. It also featured some surprising blowouts, like Notre Dame’s big win over Clemson in South Bend and Kansas’ thorough dismantling of Oklahoma State in Lawrence. And, we were treated to an incredible offensive performance in Dallas, with SMU defeating Houston, 77-63.
Thankfully, we get another month of this wonderful sport, with plenty of accomplishments still on the line. Rivalry season is finally upon us, we have 10 conference titles to decide, and there are millions of bowl spots to fill!
📈 Trending Up:
- LSU: Any team that beats a Nick Saban-coached team is instantly in the “trending up” column. However, LSU’s upward arrow extends beyond the win against Alabama, as the Tigers manhandled Ole Miss in Week Eight and beat Florida handily the week prior. Since getting crushed by Tennessee a few weeks ago, LSU has rebounded well and now looks to be in the driver’s seat in the SEC West, with wins in hand on divisional rivals ‘Bama and Ole Miss. The Tigers are also now through the most difficult part of their schedule, as their three remaining games come against Arkansas, UAB, and Texas A&M, so we could see them take on Georgia in the SEC championship game.
- UConn: With their win over UMass on Saturday, Connecticut reached 5 wins in a season for the first time since the 2015-16 season. They’ve done so in spite of a rash of injuries to running backs; at one point, UConn was leaning on a true freshman and a fullback — neither of whom had significant running back experience — to shoulder the run game. Yet, they’ve now won 4 of their last 5 games, beating football powerhouses Florida International and Boston College as part of that stretch. With two games remaining in their season, the Huskies now have a realistic shot at bowl eligibility; they must beat either Liberty or Army to reach 6 wins and a bowl berth.
- North Texas: Speaking of teams that have won 4 of their last 5, the Mean Green reached bowl eligibility with a 52-14 beatdown of Florida International at home last week. In each of those 4 wins, UNT won by more than 17 points and put up at least 40 on the opposing defenses. Their only loss came by just 4 points against the Conference USA-leading UTSA in San Antonio. And, lest you think the Mean Green are winning all these games against scrubs, UNT crushed a solid Western Kentucky, 40-13, in Bowling Green just a few weeks ago. They also smacked around Florida Atlantic, 45-28, to kick off this solid stretch. UNT finishes out its regular season against UAB and Rice and has a pretty good chance of reaching the Conference USA championship game.
- Georgia: The Bulldogs are 9-0 now, with a win over formerly #1 Tennessee to their name. They’re a Playoff lock.
- Washington: Husky Stadium played lights out against Oregon State on Friday, as a bank of lights on the north side of the stadium flickered out with 11 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. The lights on the south side soon followed, and the Huskies and Oregon State had to sit through a 25-minute delay to play out the fourth quarter. Fortunately, both teams survived the delay and, thanks to a late field goal, Washington emerged victorious over the Beavers. Washington has now won three straight games and is on the rise again after losses to UCLA and Arizona State. UW plays rival Oregon this week in Eugene.
- Kansas: The Jayhawks don’t have the winning streaks or solid stretches of the other teams in this section, but they did finally win their 6th game of the season, making them bowl-eligible for the first time since the 2007-08 season. The last time Kansas football won 50% of their regular season games, Alabama had not yet won a championship under Nick Saban and Pete Carroll was still the head coach of USC. So, even if this year’s Kansas squad probably qualified for the “trending down” section because they were on a 3-game losing streak previously, it doesn’t matter, because Kansas is finally bowl-eligible, and things are looking up.
- Notre Dame: The Irish are no longer “heating up,” they’re “on fire!” Notre Dame has won 6 of their last 7 games, with their sole loss coming at the hands of Stanford a few weeks ago. Last week was the high-water mark of this torrid stretch, as Notre Dame crushed Clemson at home, 35-14, practically eliminating Clemson from Playoff contention and raising the Irish’s bowl selection ceiling in one fell swoop. Notre Dame’s resume now includes wins over formerly ranked Syracuse, Clemson, and North Carolina. ND now gets matchups against Navy and Boston College before traveling to South Central to take on USC on November 26.
- Troy: The Trojans are on quite the run now, having won 6 in a row and 5 straight against Sun Belt opponents. Thanks to their hot streak, Troy has a half-game lead over South Alabama for the Sun Belt West title, but the tiebreaking head-t0-head win over the Jaguars a few weeks ago makes it more like a 1.5-game lead. The Trojans also have the inside track to the Sun Belt championship game, since their remaining conference games come against the dregs of the SBC in Arkansas State and UL-Monroe, who are a combined 3-8 in Sun Belt play.
Also Considered: SMU, Wisconsin, Utah
📉 Trending Down:
- UAB: The Blazers have taken some heartbreaking losses this season, and last week’s game against UTSA tacked on another to the list. UAB fell to UTSA in double overtime, 44-38, for their third straight loss. The three losses have been by a combined 16 points, and all three losses have been by a single possession. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get much easier for the Blazers, as they take on the aforementioned North Texas, LSU, and Louisiana Tech in their final three games of the season. UAB will need to pull off a win against North Texas or LSU and take care of business against Louisiana Tech to reach a bowl this year.
- Syracuse: The Orange came ever-so-close to beating Clemson 3 weeks ago, but the loss to the Tigers has apparently kickstarted quite the backslide for Syracuse. They lost to Notre Dame by 17 points last week, and then could only muster 9 points against Pittsburgh at Acrisure Stadium. ‘Cuse has already surpassed most expectations this season, but the three-game slide has to be disappointing for fans who expected a wire-to-wire race with Clemson for the Atlantic title. The Orange don’t have a lot of time to recover from their latest loss, as they take on Florida State next week, followed by a visit to Wake Forest.
- Memphis: Speaking of teams that have taken some tough losses, Memphis has now lost four straight games by a combined total of 20 points. That’s a little misleading, as Tulane jumped out to a 35-0 lead in the first half against the Tigers two weeks ago and were content to rest on that lead for the remainder of the game, so Memphis was able to make up much of the deficit with the outcome already decided. Part of the problem is that the Tigers haven’t exhibited that killer instinct needed to put feisty teams away: their losing streak was kickstarted by an epic collapse against Houston, they lost to ECU in four overtimes, and they looked competitive with UCF last week deep into the third quarter, but weren’t able to deliver a knockout punch against any of them.
- James Madison: The Dukes were on a bit of a backslide heading into their matchup with Louisville last week, having lost back-to-back games to middling Sun Belt teams Georgia Southern and Marshall, but JMU looked especially lost against the Cardinals in the second half. They held serve for the first two quarters, holding Louisville to 10 points but then fell apart, dropping a complete goose egg on offense and allowing 24 points in the second half. The Dukes burst onto the FBS scene with 5 straight wins and an AP Top 25 poll appearance, but have since come crashing back to earth. They need to pick up the pieces quickly, as they still have games against Old Dominion, Georgia State, and Coastal Carolina still to come.
Also Considered: UNLV, Oklahoma State, California, Texas A&M
- Texas is the highest-ranked team with 3 losses, but for good reason. Their losses have come to quality teams — Alabama, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech, if we’re being generous — and they’ve looked competitive in all of them. The Longhorns haven’t been blown out in any of their games, and they’ve tacked on a couple of good wins to go with their quality losses by beating Kansas State, Oklahoma, and UTSA. I think I need a quality win or two more from the Longhorns before pushing them further up my board, but they belong in the Top 20 given the average quality of games they’ve played this season.
- Tulane and UCF continue to rise this week, thanks to wins over Tulsa and Memphis, respectively. Tulane’s lone loss against Southern Mississippi is their only blemish, while UCF has had puzzling but mostly forgivable losses to Louisville and East Carolina. Their resumes are comparable to North Carolina and NC State, with all four squads picking up wins over ranked squads but struggling with some opponents that good teams shouldn’t really struggle with, like Virginia Tech and Virginia. And, until North Carolina can beat a good team comfortably — or play defense? — I’m fine slotting Tulane above them.
- Notre Dame and Washington slot back into my Top 25, and both on the backs of some strong winning streaks, which I mentioned earlier. Notre Dame’s big wins over Clemson and Syracuse in consecutive weeks illustrate just how far the Irish have come since opening the season on a low note. The pieces are finally falling into place for them, and if they were to play Ohio State again in Columbus tomorrow, I wonder how much closer the game would be. Washington seems to be around their ceiling at #25, given that they squeaked by the formerly-#25 Oregon State at home. Nothing in the Huskies’ overall profile seems to suggest that they’re wholly underrated this season — their offense is really solid, thanks to the passing attack, but the defense is suspect enough that they can’t put teams away early.
- Coastal finally made it into the Top 25, thanks to its first signature win of the season, a 35-28 victory over Appalachian State. Coastal hasn’t played a ton of good teams this season, nor have they won many of their games in convincing fashion, which is why I was so apprehensive about including them in the Top 25 in previous weeks. But, the win over App. State finally convinced me to slot the Chanticleers in.
Also Receiving Votes:
- Kentucky — The Wildcats have been all over the place in the last few weeks, but that’s partially due to the injury to starting QB Will Levis. The Wildcats still have good wins over Florida and Mississippi State. However, I just can’t see past the ugly 44-6 loss to Tennessee two weeks ago, especially since Kentucky didn’t do anything to dispel those images last weekend, when they went down to the wire with Missouri. Missouri is a team any SEC contender is supposed to beat handily! They just don’t look like a team that’s going to be ready to host Georgia in two weeks, and they only have one more game to figure it out.
- Cincinnati — I appreciate that the Bearcats find ways to win games week in and week out. I don’t appreciate that they have to scrape by against Navy, South Florida, and SMU just to remain in the running for the American title. They need to win games more convincingly to reach the Top 25.
- Oregon State — The loss against Washington knocked them out of the Top 25, but the Beavers shouldn’t be out for too long.
- Troy — The Trojans have a similar issue to Cincinnati — no shortage of wins, but most of them have come in tight games or against low-quality opponents. Their last win by more than 1 possession came back on October 8.
- Mississippi State — The Bulldogs got back in the win column with a close victory over Auburn last week, but haven’t looked like the same team that dropped 40 points on Arkansas and Texas A&M in early October. They played ugly football against Kentucky and Alabama in the middle of October, indicating that they don’t really belong in the upper echelon of FBS teams this season. State has the chance to prove their mettle in the final 3 games of the season, as they have matchups with Georgia and Ole Miss still to come.
- UTSA — The Roadrunners have won 5 straight and look like the best of Conference USA, but they’re not winning with the authority you need from a Group of 5 team in an especially weak conference. Their most recent win, a double overtime thriller over the down-trending UAB doesn’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence in the Roadrunners, and the rest of their resume doesn’t look particularly strong after a few glances. If they keep winning, UTSA should be set up for a Top 25 spot soon enough, but they need a little bit of carnage in front of them to get there.
Playoff and Bowl Projections
The CFP Committee seems to like the idea of Tennessee and Georgia in the final four teams, as they continue to place UT and Georgia in the final four teams, even after Georgia’s resounding win over Tennessee last week. It’s very possible we have Tennessee in the final four, even without an SEC title game appearance.
Oregon slots in over TCU in this edition because I am more confident in Oregon’s ability to “run the table” on the rest of the Pac-12 and reach CFP decision day with a 12-1 record. The Committee seems to think of Oregon as one of the top teams, based on the Ducks’ initial Playoff ranking at #8, ahead of 1-loss squads like USC, UCLA, and Ole Miss. And, now that Clemson and Alabama are out of the way, Oregon’s got a fighting chance of reaching that final spot in the top 4. I’m more confident in Oregon getting into the Playoff than I am about TCU because I expect the Horned Frogs’ magic to run out at some point, and a loss in Big 12 play would probably kill TCU’s chances of getting into the Playoff.
NOTE: These projections do not reflect MAC-tion from Week 11. Also, it looks like the ACC will be short one team — barring a miraculous win or two by Miami — and the Big Ten will have one extra bowl-eligible team, so Michigan State fills the Fenway Bowl spot that was initially for the ACC.
Games to Watch This Week
Games with Significant Playoff Implications:
- TCU at Texas: It’s not often you see a top-ten team — and one that’s 9-0 — open as 7-point underdogs against anyone, let alone someone ranked 10+ spots below them in Playoff rankings. But, the oddsmakers apparently think that Texas deserves to be favored by a touchdown in the game that could be a preview of the Big 12 Championship game. A TCU win would lend some credence to their already-impressive resume and would hopefully force the Playoff Committee to place TCU in their top 4 soon. A Texas win would clear up the picture a bit for the Committee because the Committee doesn’t seem to believe in TCU right now, even with their run through a tough Big 12. TCU’s loss would allow them to remove the Horned Frogs from the Playoff picture without much complaining from anyone besides TCU fans.
Games with Fun Vibes:
- UCF at Tulane: This is the matchup that will decide the Group of 5’s representative in the New Year’s Six bowls, and it’s matching strength against strength. UCF brings an explosive offense, ranked 34th in expected points added (EPA) per game, which is centered around a three-headed rushing attack. UCF has two RBs with at least 500 yards per carry, plus QB John Rhys Plumlee has stacked up 532 rushing yards on his own. Tulane has racked up their wins by playing rock-solid defense, especially by shutting down opposing rushing attacks, as they rank 20th in opponent EPA on runs. Per EPA margin, Tulane is probably a little overrated relative to their ranking, but they’ve won 8 games, and who’s to say that overperformance won’t continue a little longer? A Tulane win would put the Green Wave on the doorstep of the American championship game, while a UCF win would give the Knights tiebreakers over each of Tulane and Cincinnati and put them in first place in the American with two games remaining.
- North Carolina at Wake Forest: Speaking of teams with great offenses, how about North Carolina’s 1st-ranked passing attack? The Tar Heels can put up points like nobody’s business — ask Appalachian State — but also suffer from the disease known as “no-defense-itis.” Their failure to play competent defense (118th in EPA) is what allows teams like Virginia and Duke to keep pace with UNC’s offense and make games closer than they should be. Wake’s got a solid passing offense of its own, ranking 26th in EPA, and its defense may be able to give UNC more trouble than some of the other teams the Tar Heels have played lately.
- Appalachian State at Marshall: This year’s edition of the Old Mountain Feud features two middling squads, both sitting at 5-4 overall and 2-3 in the Sun Belt. But, both teams have reached great heights this season, beating Power 5 schools on their home turfs, and feature strength against strength. Marshall has the nation’s top defense by EPA per game, while Appalachian State has top-30 rushing and passing attacks. It should be fun to see which team imposes their will on the other.
- Alabama at Ole Miss: This game doesn’t have significant Playoff implications anymore, since neither of these teams have the resume to be considered for the Playoff without a conference championship, and LSU has the tiebreaking win over both of these squads. But, this game still features Nick Saban and the Alabama machine battling against one of his former assistants, Lane Kiffin, and Saban is 25-2 against teams coached by former assistants. Ole Miss boasts an explosive offense (13th in EPA) and a questionable defense (84th), while Alabama is unsurprisingly good everywhere, so if Ole Miss wins this game, it will likely be via shootout.
- Washington at Oregon: This game features one of the best rivalries in college football. These two teams have met 113 times, with Washington leading the all-time series, 60-48-5 (.553 winning percentage). However, Oregon has won the last 3 straight and 16 of the 20 matchups since 2000, so the rivalry is looking a little one-sided at the moment. Oregon, which has serious Playoff aspirations and needs to win big here to keep that vision alive, boasts a mind-bogglingly good offense — the best rushing attack in the country by EPA and the 8th-best passing offense. Washington can counter with a top offense of its own, ranking 5th in passing offense by EPA and 22nd in rushing offense. Don’t ask either of these teams to play defense, though.
- Liberty at UConn: UConn needs just one more win to reach bowl eligibility, while Liberty could always use more wins to show that they deserve to be ranked by the Committee. East Hartford will be rocking, maybe?
Games with Terrible Vibes:
- Texas A&M at Auburn: This one features two teams in free-fall; one team has no head coach and the other has one of the worst head coaches this season. In fact, both teams have lost 5 SEC games in a row and are 1-5 in SEC games. Neither team can complete a pass, so if you want to see both teams run the ball hoping for an explosive play, you’re in luck! There’s not really much at stake here, as both teams are 3-6 heading into the game and still have ranked teams left on their schedules. It would be a minor miracle if either of these teams won all their remaining games to become bowl eligible.