If defense is what the College Football Playoff selection committee wants from its top teams, the 12-member panel is going to have a tough time filling out the front of its first rankings.
A day after Southeastern Conference fans scoffed at Oregon’s tackling-optional 59-41 victory against California, Mississippi State put up a similar performance against Kentucky on Saturday.
Surely Florida State fans took note, too. The second-ranked Seminoles were jumped by the Bulldogs in the AP poll a few weeks ago and a come-from-behind victory against Notre Dame wasn’t enough for Florida State to take the top spot back from idle Mississippi State last week.
While Jameis Winston has been brilliant, the Seminoles’ defense is nowhere near what it was during their perfect championship run last year.
The Bulldogs and Seminoles are the only remaining unbeaten teams from the Big Five conferences after Mississippi, the toughest team in the country to score against, lost for the first time. The third-ranked Rebels couldn’t muster enough offense in a 10-7 loss at LSU.
Figure Florida State and Mississippi State to be at or near the top of the committee’s first top 25 when it comes out Tuesday night. The sixth-ranked Ducks should be up there, too, among the best teams with one loss, a group that now includes Ole Miss, along with Alabama, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Auburn and Kansas State, just to name a few.
If anybody wants to take issue with Oregon’s defense, or Florida State’s, they’ll need to dock Mississippi State as well. The Bulldogs were 88th in the country in total defense before Saturday.
Heisman Trophy contender Dak Prescott and Josh Robinson continued to churn out yards and points for the Bulldogs on Saturday in Lexington, Kentucky– and they needed pretty much all of them in a 45-31 victory. The Wildcats put up 504 yards, 401 through the air.
The SEC is still the most powerful conference, but defense isn’t the calling card it used to be. Coming into this weekend, only Ole Miss and Alabama ranked in the top 10 in total defense out of the SEC.
No. 5 Auburn beat South Carolina 42-35 in the type of back-and-forth trading of scores that has become far more typical in the SEC in recent years.
In college football’s golden age of offense, good defense is hard to define and maybe not quite as necessary.
TCU coach Gary Patterson understood that after his team finished 4-8 last year. So he hired a new offensive coordinator to install an up-tempo, spread offense. The results have been spectacular for the 10th-ranked Horned Frogs, and never better than Saturday when they beat Texas Tech 82-27.
“I don’t think we played well all game,” said Patterson, the former defensive coordinator whose team gave up four plays of 48 yards or longer in the first quarter. “Fortunately for us, we didn’t play very well and we won a ballgame. That hasn’t happened around here in the last two years.”
The Horned Frogs don’t win with defense anymore, but they’re in the mix for the playoff so they must be doing something right.
Late-night Pac-12 never disappoints, and No. 19 Utah is emerging from the darkness as a legit playoff contender.
The Utes (6-1) started a five-week stretch of games as tough as any team in the country will face this season with a come-from-behind 24-21 victory against No. 20 USC.
Utah next four games — with no breaks — are at No. 14 Arizona State, Oregon, at Stanford and No. 15 Arizona. Only a blown 21-point lead at home against Washington State is keeping the Utes from being unbeaten. It’s an awful loss, but if the Utah and star receiver/kick returner Kaelin Clay, who caught the winning TD against the Trojans with 8 seconds left, can run the table their resume would be loaded with quality wins.
Minnesota. Sure it was a long shot, but the Gophers’ loss at Illinois takes them off the list altogether.
PROJECTING THE FIRST TOP FOUR
Mississippi State, Florida State, Mississippi, Alabama.
PROJECTING THE FINAL FOUR
Florida State, Alabama, Oregon, Ohio State.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP
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