Not much solved on Sort ’em Out Saturday
A month before the first College Football Playoff selection committee rankings, the No. 1 team in the country is an open-ended question.
The first big Saturday of the season ended with more confusion than clarity. Four top-10 teams lost and Nos. 1 and 2 both barely squeaked by.
No. 13 Alabama came off the ropes in a big way. No. 3 Mississippi sank in the Swamp. No. 7 UCLA face-planted at the Rose Bowl. No. 12 Clemson was a yard better than No. 6 Notre Dame in soggy Death Valley.
Maybe top-ranked Ohio State hasn’t played like the best team in the country, but who has? Could we start the rankings at No. 5 this week?
”Look across the country and every day you better play,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. ”You better play.”
Nobody played better on Sort’em Out Saturday than the Crimson Tide (4-1). Alabama rolled into No. 8 Georgia knowing another loss would be devastating to its national championship hopes and ran right over the Bulldogs, 38-10.
Two weeks after people were asking whether Saban’s Crimson Tide was a fading dynasty, Alabama put together maybe the most dominant effort by any team this season in a game that very much suited its preferred style. Sure Alabama’s offense has stepped into the spread, up-tempo age with offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. But the Tide is still power at heart, both on offense and defense. Georgia is, too, but the Bulldogs were no match for Derrick Henry, Reggie Ragland and the Tide.
”I know they’ve been criticized a lot, but I thought we played an outstanding game today, every part of the game,” Tide coach Nick Saban said.
While Alabama looked great, the pressure isn’t off. That September loss to Mississippi doesn’t disappear. `Bama still needs some help just to win the SEC West and cannot afford another loss.
Some of that help came Saturday night in Gainesville, Florida. The No. 25 Gators (5-0) matched Alabama’s dominance in a 38-10 victory against the Rebels (4-1), who went from looking like No. 1 to being overmatched.
No. 7 UCLA could have made a move up the rankings, but lost at home 38-23 to an Arizona State team that got blown out by Southern California at home last week. The only unbeaten team left in the tough Pac-12 South is No. 10 Utah.
As for Georgia, technically the loss wasn’t devastating for its playoff hopes, if that’s any consolation for Bulldogs fans. If the Bulldogs win out and win the SEC, and their schedule sets up relatively manageable the rest of the way, they could still reach the College Football Playoff.
But after that performance, it’s hard to imagine Georgia easily righting itself. And while SEC East rival Florida looks as if it has found a quarterback in Will Grier, the Bulldogs (4-1) might be going back to square one in their QB search.
AP poll voters might be searching, too, on Sunday after the Buckeyes’ great escape from Bloomington, Indiana.
Ezekiel Elliot had three long touchdown runs in the second half, but Ohio State turnovers kept Indiana (4-1) in it right to the end – even with a backup quarterback and backup running back leading the Hoosiers offense. A bad snap blew up Indiana’s final play on fourth-and-goal and the Buckeyes (5-0) won 34-27.
Ohio State 2015 is starting to look like Florida State 2014. Much like last year, the defending champions have been less than dominant. But they are unbeaten. The winning streak is now 18, but you have to wonder if the Buckeyes will be on top of the new AP Top 25.
If not the Buckeyes, then who? No. 2 Michigan State (5-0) needed a late stand to hold off Purdue 24-21 at home.
Notre Dame might have been able to make a claim, but the Fighting Irish’s comeback bid at Clemson came up a yard short. The Tigers stuffed Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer trying to run in a tying 2-point conversion with 7 seconds left in a 24-22 win in soggy Death Valley.
”Tonight it was BYOG,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. ”Bring your own guts.”
No. 4 TCU and No. 5 Baylor both won huge. The Horned Frogs have never been No. 1, but maybe it’s time? But wasn’t it TCU escaping on the road last week with a miracle play in the final minute?
The opinions that matter most won’t be revealed for another month. The first College Football Playoff selection committee rankings come out Nov. 3.
There is plenty of time clear some things up. Or make them even more muddled. Probably the latter.
AP Sports Writers Paul Newberry in Athens, Georgia, and Michael Marot in Bloomington, Indiana, contributed.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP