By Brad Carroll
As the college football season heads into October, a number of programs have established themselves as championship contenders, while others have bit the dust, watching their national title dreams crushed early.
Florida State, Alabama, Oklahoma and Oregon are the class of the football world right now. But there are other contenders as well for the four spots in the first-ever College Football Playoff, including Auburn, Texas A&M, Baylor, Notre Dame, UCLA and one-loss Michigan State. After that, on the verge of contention are undefeated Ole Miss and Mississippi State, along with BYU, which has the best shot of anyone to finish without a loss.
You can say goodbye to South Carolina, which lost to Missouri last Saturday. Even Georgia, Stanford, LSU and USC are close to joining the Gamecocks in the no-shot club already.
My preseason selections for the College Football Playoff were No. 1 Florida State, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 4 Oregon. With how the games have played out so far, I would switch up the ranking a bit, but the teams would stay the same. My new rankings would have Alabama at No. 1, Oklahoma No. 2, Oregon No. 3 and Florida State No. 4.
Any way you rank them, I don't believe anyone could argue those four teams don't deserve to play in the College Football Playoff if the season ended today.
A lot will be learned in the coming weeks about those four teams, however. as there are a number of "elimination games" on the schedule. For Florida State, it hosts undefeated Notre Dame on October 18, where one of those teams should take a huge hit to their playoff chances. For Alabama, it plays at unbeaten Ole Miss Saturday and then hosts unbeaten Texas A&M on October 18. If the Tide survive, they will have most likely ruined the chances of the Rebels and Aggies along the way. For Oregon, it travels to take on undefeated UCLA on October 11. One of those title contenders will fall by the waist side after that mega-matchup. For Oklahoma, it plays at No. 25 TCU Saturday and is home to No. 23 Kansas State on October 18.
If you love college football, the next few weeks are going to have a ton of games with national championship implications all over the country. It's what makes this sport great. Every game means something and every loss could be a season-killer.
But before we all get ready for what should be a blockbuster slate of games this coming Thursday and Saturday, let's take a look back at the week that was, with our College Football GameDay Rewind column. As always, follow us on Twitter for all your college football needs, including our experts' picks against the spread. We're all over .500 in what has been a great season so far. Here's how we did in Week 5.
No. 11 UCLA (-4.5) 62, No. 15 Arizona State 27
Winners: Craig, Glenn, Craig's Ego
Losers: Brad, Matt
The worst part of this loss was Arizona State led the game 17-6 early on, giving me hope I made a great call on the upset pick. Even after UCLA scored two straight touchdowns in the second quarter, Arizona State was back driving deep into Bruins territory in the final seconds of the half. But UCLA intercepted Arizona State on the five and Ishmael Adams took it back 95 yards for a touchdown. The game went from being potentially 20-20 with an ASU field goal to game over in favor of UCLA. After the Sun Devils raced out to that 17-6 lead, UCLA outscored Arizona State 56-6 the rest of the way. A few days later at MetLife Stadium for the Jets game, Glenn said he had no idea why me and Matt took Arizona State, pointing out the Devils were playing a backup quarterback and it should have been an easy pick. In retrospect it was an easy pick, I just couldn't see it after an unimpressive, yet undefeated, start to the season for UCLA. Thursday night, I had to get texts from Craig that ranged from "Boom KO return," to simply reminding me of the score, to saying "all of you gave up on UCLA," to saying he couldn't believe Glenn also took UCLA, "I should have been the only one," he texted. Craig, who did pick UCLA to win the national championship this season, loses touch with reality every now and again, folks.
No. 9 Michigan State (-28) 56, Wyoming 14
Winners: All of us, even Matt, who finally took a big favorite
Losers: Big underdogs, as even Matt has given up on you
For the second straight week, the first game of the day featured a Big Ten school going up against a less-than-mid-major trying to cover a big spread. Last week, myself, Craig and Glenn all celebrated as Wisconsin destroyed Bowling Green, while Matt ended up making a public apology for going with the underdog plus the points. This week, Matt learned his lesson and was rewarded, along with myself, Craig and Glenn, with a big victory by Michigan State. The Spartans led 42-14 at the half and scored a touchdown in the third and fourth quarters to give us all a nice start to the day.
By the way, here's Matt's apology from last week: "Hi, my name is Matt Straub and I picked Bowling Green to cover against Wisconsin. I could sit here and tell you how the computer simulations I looked at gave me reason to think Bowling Green could keep it relatively close. I could tell you about how generally I hate laying more than two touchdowns, or that I wasn’t sure the Badgers could score enough to make the game ugly. In the end, I just have to face the fact I got too cute after a strong start to the season. Sometimes when you’re going well you try and over think things. I’m still in the hunt for the overall lead in our picks contest, but if it comes down to a tie, I should lose for making the worst pick of the year."
Give Strauby credit for the full mea culpa ... now we'll see if the college football point spread Gods look down on him positively for his actions. If so, this space is going to be filled with apologies from here on out. Anyway, back to Saturday's games.
No. 12 Georgia (-16.5) 35, Tennessee 32
Winners: Brad, Craig, Matt, Matt's Apology
Losers: Glenn, Anyone That Trusts Georgia, Craig's Whack Ego, Craig's Jinx Ability
Never trust Georgia. It's a motto I've lived by covering college football and picking games with the spread in mind for the past decade. The Bulldogs will always disappoint, no matter the circumstance. This was yet another instance where I was right on the money, as Georgia struggled to put away an unranked Tennessee team at home. This was a Vols team that was getting 16.5 points. Consider that one of the easiest victories of the year. At least it was for myself, Craig and Matt. Glenn hasn't been burned yet by Georgia, but is starting to come around after this defeat, as he was the only one to take a loss. Craig, of course, is living in Craig's World, asking if anyone else picked Tennessee to cover, as if he's surprised there are others with his power of selection. He did nearly jinx the pick, however, as Georgia scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery in the end zone with over four minutes to go, leaving it just one touchdown shy of a spread win, right after Craig's proclamation of future victory. "You know that a pick-six is coming next," Glenn texted. In college, yes, that happens way more than it should. One of my greatest picks moments was when LSU had a pick-six with seconds to play last year to pull out the ultimate shock of a cover. But on this occasion, Tennessee drove down field and scored a touchdown to put the game away for us with the points. "You guys need all the wins you can get to even stay in contention," Glenn, the picks leader, texted. Can't say much because he's got such a big lead right now, even with all four of our experts holding well over .500 records.
No. 1 Florida State (-18.5) 56, North Carolina State 41
Winners: Nobody on this game
Losers: Brad, Craig, Glenn, Matt, Anyone Who Wanted To See An Upset
If you told me before the game Florida State would score 56 points against NC State, I would put this game down as a sure-fire winner. I wouldn't even bother turning the game on. The Wolfpack would have no chance, right? Well, everyone knows how this game played out, with NC State giving the Seminoles all they could handle before finally succumbing in the fourth quarter. Florida State trailed 24-7 at the end of the first quarter and 24-21 at the half. Entering the fourth quarter, FSU led just 42-38 and there was still a chance for what would have been a shocking upset. But the Seminoles scored two touchdowns in the fourth, sandwiched between a Wolfpack field goal, to win the game by 15. As close as Florida State came to losing, it also lost this pick against the spread by four points. I'm not sure which one is the crazier outcome.
No. 6 Texas A&M (-10) 35, Arkansas 28 (OT)
Winners: Again, nobody on this game
Losers: All of us for the second straight time
"If Texas A&M is for real this season, it has to beat Arkansas by at least two touchdowns," is what I wrote in my preview for the game. Texas A&M not only didn't beat Arkansas by two touchdowns, the Aggies needed overtime to defeat the unranked Razorbacks at Jerry World near Dallas. Texas A&M also needed two fourth quarter touchdowns, and to pitch a shutout in the final 15 minutes just to get the game to extra time. It's not exactly the kind of performance you would expect from a team that is getting College Football Playoff hype. Auburn beat Arkansas by 24 in the season opener, putting up 45 points even with Nick Marshall on the sidelines for the first half. The Aggies are going to have a tough time navigating their upcoming schedule, with games against No. 12 Mississippi State, No. 11 Ole Miss and No. 3 Alabama over the next three weeks. The end of the line for A&M's undefeated run is drawing very near.
No. 16 Stanford (-7.5) 20, Washington 13
Winners: Matt, Fans Who Appreciate Defense
Losers: Brad, Craig, Glenn, Fans Who Appreciate Offense
This was just a sad, boring game to watch, and I'm sorry for all of the Cardinal and Huskies fans out there that felt compelled to watch the entire thing. The only score of the second half came with 4:29 to go to put Stanford up by seven. Neither team threatened to score after that and three of us suffered the dreaded half-point loss. Matt got to celebrate the other side, however, going against the grain to make up a game in the standings on all of us in the process. Heading to the night games, Craig and Matt are both 3-3, while Brad and Glenn are both 2-4. It's not exactly the start any of us were hoping for, especially considering our season records, which have admittedly been great for all four of us, even the rookie Straub.
Missouri (+5) 21, South Carolina 20
Winners: Matt is the lone wolf for his second straight win
Losers: The rest of us
This one hurt. I first went against Missouri, a team I've been high on for the last two seasons, and second, the game played out in the worst possible way. If Missouri didn't lose last week against Indiana, I'm nearly positive I would have taken the Tigers to upset the Gamecocks here. But Missouri suffered a terrible home loss, which ruined all the confidence I had in it. The decision actually looked great for most of the game, as South Carolina led 20-7 midway through the fourth quarter. But Mizzou's offense finally woke up, scoring a touchdown three plays and just 36 seconds after going down 13 to cut the deficit to six. South Carolina went three and out and Missouri drove right down field again, setting up a first and goal from the two with over two minutes to play. Missouri gained a yard on first down, lost a yard on second down, and gained a yard on third down to set up a fourth and goal from the one with the game on the line. South Carolina couldn't hold on fourth and the Tigers punched it in with 1:36 to play to go up one after the extra point. The Gamecocks did have one final opportunity to win the game, but threw four straight incompletions to hand myself, Craig and Glenn a seriously painful loss. Matt, on the other hand, gets another lone wolf victory, making up a quick two games in the standings. "So, I won one I had different than the rest by a half-point and another in last minute ... I'm going to Vegas," Matt said after his two-game swing in the standings. Maybe he'll take me with him.
Baylor (-21.5) 49, Iowa State 28
Winners: Those who like seeing us all lose
Losers: All four of us, Brad (2-6), Craig (3-5), Glenn (2-6), Matt (4-4)
With how the two 8 p.m. starts were playing out, I was confident I could finish with three straight victories, including the late game with USC, and make this horrible week end with a .500 record. Baylor led 35-7 at the half and 49-21 with under five minutes to go in the game. Then, disaster struck in the form of a 51-yard touchdown pass by Iowa State. Suddenly, a game I thought was a lock late, was now a half-point loss against the spread. But that was only the beginning of the heartbreak. Baylor recovered the ensuing onside kick at the Iowa State 42 with 4:42 to go. The Bears needed any kind of score to save me from having a heart attack for the third straight game. Baylor got an 18-yard run on fourth and three from the 35. The Bears got a nine-yard run followed by two two-yard runs to set up and a second and goal from the Iowa State four with a minute to play. Surely, I could get the ultimate back-door cover. I sent out texts that said, "Pleeeeeeeassssseee" score. But no, Baylor false started and then ran the ball for four yards back to the five with time winding down. The Bears didn't snap it again, and we all had to take one of the worst losses of the season. Maybe I should have texted, "Pretty pleeeeeeeassssseee."
No. 8 Notre Dame (-10) 31, Syracuse 15
Winners: Finally, we all get a victory
Losers: Finally, we all stay off this list
The only time this game was ever in doubt was when Syracuse returned an interception 29 yards for a touchdown to cut its deficit against Notre Dame to 13 with 5:09 to go. With how things were going on this night, that was enough to scare the bejesus out of me, as it would be fitting to lose yet another game where I thought I had a victory in the bag. But the luck of the Irish was on my side for the first time in a long while, with Notre Dame controlling the clock after that Orange score, kicking a field goal with 1:57 to play to go up 16. Syracuse could do nothing on offense after that and I finally add a victory to my total after five, yes five, straight losses. Craig, Glenn and Matt also get the win with the Irish.
No. 18 USC (-9.5) 35, Oregon State 10
Winners: Brad, Craig, Matt
Losers: Glenn, Morning Brad
I so needed a victory to end the night that I stayed up until past 2 a.m. to finish watching this game, even though I had to get up at 8 a.m. to begin the journey back home to Long Island to go to the Jets game Sunday afternoon. In the end it was worth it for my record, but not so much for Morning Brad, who had to deal with the jerk that is Night Brad, who doesn't give a darn about anybody but himself. USC actually completed a Hail Mary at the end of the first half that completely changed the direction of the game, as it gave the Trojans a 21-10 lead. After a scoreless third quarter, USC scored two touchdowns in the fourth to make this an easy victory for myself (4-6), Craig (5-5) and Matt (6-4). Considering the horrible stretch of five-straight losses, I could have done a lot worse than 4-6 this week. Glenn was the only one to take a loss, going against his new favorite team, USC, and finishes with his worst record of the season, at 3-7. He went 7-3 last week, so he could afford a rough one. He still leads the season standings. Glenn leads Matt by two games, Brad by three games and Craig by four games. All four of us are over .500, with even last place Craig being three games over that threshold. It's been a great season for our college football experts and we'll be back Thursday for Oregon-Arizona and then leading into Saturday's tremendous slate of games. Make sure to check back for those picks columns and follow us on Twitter to keep up-to-date on everything that is happening on the website and with our college football analysis and picks right here. See you next week.
Brad Last Week: 4-6 (spread), 8-2 (straight-up), 0-1 (upset picks)
Brad Season: 32-27 (spread), 46-13 (straight-up), 2-2 (upsets)
Craig Last Week: 5-5 (spread), 9-1 (straight-up), 0-0 (upset picks)
Craig Season: 31-28 (spread), 45-14 (straight-up), 3-4 (upsets)
Glenn Last Week: 3-7 (spread), 9-1 (straight-up), 0-0 (upset picks)
Glenn Season: 35-24 (spread), 48-11 (straight-up), 3-1 (upsets)
Matt Last Week: 6-4 (spread), 9-1 (straight-up), 0-0 (upset picks)
Matt Season: 33-26 (spread), 46-13 (straight-up), 3-3 (upsets)