Starting 11: Week One 2016

BY foxsports • September 5, 2016

What a four days of college football we've had since Thursday's kickoffs. 

College football is the most entertaining sport in America and this opening weekend has been an orgy of excess for fans like you and me. And we're not even done yet. Tonight we have Florida State against Ole Miss, a perfect Monday night capstone to what has been the greatest opening weekend in the history of the sport. 

And what could make that even better? Come Tuesday morning Outkick the Coverage on Fox Sports Radio debuts at 6 eastern, 5 central, 4 mountain and 3 am pacific on 220 radio stations nationwide. You can find a station in your town here or you can stream it live on FoxSportsRadio.com or the iheartradio app. We have a ton of things to talk about for sure. 

Remember when curmudgeon critics tried to say that having a playoff would detract from the regular season? Good luck with that argument today. The playoff has already led to more top out-of-conference games than we've ever seen. There is more interest in the regular season already and when the playoff eventually expands to 8 teams there will be even greater interest than there already is.

The playoff is going to drive more college football interest than any event in the history of the sport.  

Okay, on to the Starting 11.

1. Start to think of college football as the equivalent of the NCAA tournament.

I don't think the ceiling has come down down in college football, but I do think the floor has risen. That is, the bottom teams in FBS -- and the top teams in FCS -- are much better than they ever have been before. That's why, increasingly, I believe we need to think about college football as less of a beauty pageant -- how pretty were your wins? -- and more like an early round NCAA tournament game -- it's all about surviving and advancing.

You know how a 15 seed often gives a 2 seed a tight game? Or a 14 seed sometimes pulls off an upset of a 3 seed in the NCAA tournament? If your favored team, the 2 or 3 seed, finds a way to win that game do you spend lots of time bemoaning how close the game was or do you immediately put it behind you and hope your team can play better in the next round?

You move on, right? That's because you recognize that there are tons of really good college basketball teams and that in any given game many of them are capable of pulling off big upsets over superior teams. The same is now true in college football. I believe the manifold types of offensive football -- the spread democratizes talent because small, fast guys are featured and there are more small, fast guys than big, fast guys -- coupled with the fact that talented quarterback play is more evenly distributed, means that upsets are happening more often in college football. 

The NCAA Tournament has 68 teams. The big five conferences in college football have 64 teams plus Notre Dame. Effectively the regular season of college football is one big NCAA tournament designed to see who advances to the Football Final Four.

And how do you advance?

Just win, baby. 

2. Houston is in great shape to make the playoff if the Cougars go 13-0 or even 12-1.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma is in a really rough playoff spot unless Houston drops two games this season. 

Let me explain. 

If Oklahoma goes 11-1 this season and wins out the rest of the way, but Houston goes 12-1 and wins the American Athletic Conference, how would you be able to justify putting Oklahoma in the playoff in front of Houston?

You can't.

Games have consequences. And Houston either dominated or was even with Oklahoma in all three game phases. Greg Ward, Jr. and Baker Mayfield had virtually identical passing stats. Houston held Oklahoma to just 70 yards on 26 carries while rushing for 88 yards themselves. In special teams Houston dominated, kicking four field goals and returning a missed Oklahoma field goal the length of the field for the winning margin the game.

Put simply, Tom Herman's team was more prepared and better coached than Bob Stoops's team.  

There was nothing fluky about that win.

In order for Oklahoma, even if they win the Big 12, to get in the playoff over Houston, the Cougars don't just have to lose one game, they have to lose two.

Good luck with that. 

3. Who is the best team in Texas?

You'll have five top 25 teams from Texas when the new poll is released: Houston, Texas, Texas A&M, TCU, and Baylor. 

I'm not an AP poll expert, but it's hard for me to believe that there's ever been a time when six teams from the same state were all ranked. It's possible Florida has had five teams ranked in a poll before: Florida, Florida State, South Florida, Central Florida and Miami, but I don't remember this occurring. 

Otherwise the only state that could pull off five ranked teams would be California -- UCLA, USC, Stanford, Cal, and Fresno State? -- but we're talking about a Lone Star renaissance. 

There's a very good chance that the playoff will feature a team from the state of Texas for the first time this season. 

But who will it be?

Your guess is as good as mine. 

4. What in the world happened to LSU?

It seems clear that LSU's coaching staff is convinced, contrary to virtually all evidence on the field, that Brandon Harris is a good quarterback. That's the only way I can explain the playcalling or the LSU performance against Wisconsin this weekend. 

Brandon Harris went 12-21 with two interceptions. His quarterback rating was 6.9!

On the final drive of the game, after Wisconsin took a 16-14 lead, LSU took over possession with 3:40 left. Here was their play calling: pass, pass, pass, pass, Leonard Fournette rushes for 15 yards, interception. 

What in the world? How is that your final drive? You have the greatest player in college football lined up in the backfield and you decide to put the game in Brandon Harris's hands? (I know Fournette was injured on his rushing attempt, but they didn't even give him the ball on the first four plays.)

And then to have that interception happen as it did? Where in the world was Harris throwing the football? LSU was in fairly decent shape at this point. There was a minute left in the game and they'd advanced to the Wisconsin 30 before a false start penalty backed them up five yards. They were well within field goal range. 

Moreover, it was 1st and 15. All Harris had to do was throw the ball out of bounds and go back in the huddle, it's not like it was fourth and 15. I just have no idea what he was thinking.

Which I think all too often while watching Harris play.  

So the big question after this loss has to be this: LSU fans, would you rather have Art Briles or Tom Herman take over your team if you got first pick? Can you imagine what Art Briles could do with the offensive talent in Louisiana? How about Herman? Or do you get Jimbo Fisher to leave FSU like he was going to do last offseason? What am I personally rooting for? Joey Freshwater -- as one of you suggested on Periscope, rename him Joey Swampwater -- taking over for LSU. Can you imagine Kiffin vs. Saban?

LSU's season isn't dead yet, but the Tigers looked like an 8-4 or 7-5 team against Wisconsin. So, by the way, did Wisconsin. This was just an ugly game. If Brandon Harris doesn't get much better, LSU's going to be a .500 team again in the SEC this year. 

5. How good was Alabama?

This was the worst defeat for USC in fifty years. And it was the worst defeat in a home opener of all time, eclipsing the previous worst loss to Whittier Reform School in 1896. (In fairness to USC, that Whittier Reform School squad was stacked).

Amazingly -- and crushingly to those of us with the under -- Alabama didn't even score in this game until 7:46 was left in the first half. That's when freshmen phenom Jalen Hurts uncorked a laser 39 yard pass to ArDarius Stewart. That throw reminded me of the one that RGIII made to beat Oklahoma back in 2011. It was just otherworldly.

From that moment on, Alabama poured it on, scoring 45 points in the next 26 minutes.

Leading to this incredible Tweet from Lane Kiffin, whom USC should have tried to hire back at the airport.   

When you look at Alabama's talent at the skill positions on offense, I think you can make the argument this is the most talented offense the Tide has ever had. Let's break it down: at wide receiver you've got Calvin Ridley, ArDarius Stewart and Gehrig Dieter. All three of these guys will play in the NFL, and probably be drafted in the first three rounds of the upcoming draft. (Remember that Dieter played at Bowling Green last year and torched Tennessee in the season opener for both teams. Ridley is just a sophmore, but he'll be 22 this December, making him eligible for the NFL Draft). O.J. Howard will be a first round pick at tight end, running back Damien Harris looks like a Mark Ingram clone and Bo Scarbrough looks like a Derrick Henry clone.

On the offensive line you've got a first round left tackle in Cam Robinson -- thanks to his air conditioning privilege he was allowed to play in this game. 

Really, so long as Lane Kiffin develops a first year quarterback, which he's shown he can do over the past two years, this Alabama team should get better and better each week.

And they were already capable of handing a top 20 team its worse loss in fifty years?

Look out. 

6. Let's talk about Auburn and Clemson.  

I understand that Auburn fans are all worked up and jumping off the Gus Bus after this loss, but I feel like Auburn acquitted itself pretty well in week one. The defense was vastly improved -- holding Clemson to 19 points should have been good enough to win -- and the offense had a ton of scoring opportunities in the second half. 

All in all I thought Auburn played Clemson pretty even on Saturday night. 

In fact, thanks to Dabo Swinney's idiotic decision to give Auburn back the ball with forty seconds left, the SEC's Tigers almost pulled off a big upset over the ACC's Tigers. (Seriously, what in the world was Dabo thinking here? Once your running back inexplicably ran out of bounds on third down to stop the clock, you have to adjust your play calling strategy and kick the field goal there. I understand that you weren't expecting your running back to run out of bounds and you didn't want to kick the field goal because you thought it was too risky, but this just explains my theory that most coaches have no idea how to manage the gameplan down the stretch. Every team should have a clock guy to make sure they make the smart statistical play. Hell, I could do this job.)

Anyway, my point here is that Auburn wasn't awful. With Texas A&M and LSU coming to Jordan-Hare Stadium on back-to-back weekends in September, the Tigers should have a pretty decent shot of splitting these games. (That's assuming they don't get caught in a trap game by Arkansas State this weekend). 

7. The SEC sucks!

At least that's what the SEC haters would have you believe. 

But the SEC posted three top 25 wins in opening weekend games, the other four major conferences posted just two, Wisconsin's win over LSU and Texas's win over Notre Dame. The SEC's 8th or 9th best team according to preseason expectations was throwing into the end zone at the end of the game with a chance to upset the nation's second best team. If Ole Miss pulls off an upset tonight then it would classify as a really good opening weekend for the SEC.

Already the SEC teams have gone 4-1 against the spread in top 25 games this weekend: Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M, and Auburn all covered.

Having said that, I think the bottom five teams in the SEC are pretty bad this year: Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Missouri, Kentucky and Mississippi State are not good.

I thought Vandy would be better than they were in week one, but I told you the other four teams weren't going to be very good.  

But this idea that the SEC is slipping at the top? Stop.

LSU was awful, otherwise the top teams in the SEC exceeded expectations in week one.  

By the way, you want to talk about a conference that really took it on the chin this week? How about the Pac 12: UCLA and USC both lose to SEC teams, BYU beats Arizona, Minnesota beats Oregon State and Washington State loses to Eastern Washington.

Sure, Stanford and Washington looked pretty good, but those five losses, three of which came from top teams, is tough to explain away.  

8. How about Nick Chubb rushing 32 times for 222 yards less than 11 months after his season-ending knee injury?

That's incredible. 

Good for him. 

And how about Jacob Eason at quarterback for Georgia? Damn, he's already good. Georgia is going to be excellent by the end of the season. 

This was a big win over North Carolina. 

Kirby Smart's team is under the radar, but Georgia should be 3-0 when they head to Ole Miss in a match up of the schools with the two hottest fan bases in the conference. And Ole Miss could be really wobbly at that point, having already played two top five teams in the first three weeks of the season.

It's not far fetched at all to think Tennessee will be rolling into Athens on October 1st for a match up of two top ten undefeated SEC teams.  

9. What's up with Tennessee?

I'd tap the brakes on panic in Knoxville. The Vols survived and advanced against an App State team that might finish with double digit wins this season. We'll get a good read on App State in two weeks when they host Miami. Yes, really, Miami is traveling to App State.

If the Vols beat Virginia Tech this weekend and then take care of Ohio the next weekend, Tennessee will be 3-0 with four straight brutal top 25 games upcoming: Florida, at Georgia, at Texas A&M, and Alabama.

I predicted the Vols to go 2-2 in those four games before the season and I'm sticking to that. That would put Tennessee at 10-2 this season, right around the top ten.

What has to happen to ensure that the Vols are a top ten team this year? Josh Dobbs has to play better. Dobbs and Brandon Harris have a lot in common, both are helming incredibly talented teams and not performing well as quarterbacks.

At least Harris is still a junior. Dobbs is a senior now and has started games in four staight seasons. He has to limit his floor and elevate his ceiling this year.

Every team is going to stack the line and make Dobbs beat them in the passing game. If Tennessee is going to be really good then Dobbs has to be excellent against top opponents.

So far he's 0-1 on good performances.  

10. Outkick's top ten.

I do something radical with my rankings, I only rank based on what we've seen on the field thus far. That is, I try to completely eliminate whatever preseason expectations we had and rank entirely based on the results we've seen on the field. This means my rankings fluctuate wildly over the first several weeks of the season.

But I also think that's fairer than just rewarding the teams we expect to be good before the season starts.

So here's Outkick's top ten. (I will rank my top ten every Sunday all season long.) 

1. Alabama

2. Houston

3. Texas 

4. FSU

5. Georgia

6. Texas A&M

7. Wisconsin

8. Ohio State

9. Clemson 

10. Michigan 

 

11. SEC power rankings 1-14

1. Alabama

2. Georgia

3. Texas A&M

4. Tennessee

5. Florida

6. Ole Miss 

7. Auburn

8. LSU

9. Arkansas

10. South Carolina

11. Vanderbilt

12. Missouri 

13. Kentucky

14. Mississippi State 

...

Reminder, come hang with the Outkick the Coverage radio show tomorrow from 6-9 am et. 

Can't wait. 

Here are the stations where you can find the show.


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