By Alan Brads
At Cedarville, the midpoint of the semester means fall break, and fall break means academic at risk reports.
Here on Brads’ breakdown, the midpoint of the college football season means the same. So just like my geology professor tells my advisor I’m dangerously close to failing, I’ll issue some strern warnings. Then, as always, I’ll serve up three storylines and three games for week eight.
Who’s at risk?
USC – The pressure’s on. An ugly-as-could-be loss at Notre Dame, followed immediately by Utah, Cal, Washington, Oregon and UCLA? No one is more at risk than USC.
College Gameday – You took a big swing with Pat McAfee, I thought it would work, we were both wrong. Move on quickly. With Corso coming toward the end of his involvement in the program, some changes have to happen, but not like this. At the moment FOX has the far superior product.
Colorado – Normally the six-win bowl eligibility mark isn’t on the table for a team a year removed from a single-win campaign. But it shouldn’t even be in question for Colorado. It is, however, because of a horrendous collapse. What once was the biggest success story in college football is quickly becoming a slight disaster.
The NCAA – Given the Tez Walker situation, it feels timely to remind you that no one likes you. You aren’t at risk, you already failed.
Texas – At severe risk of being “not back” with another loss this season.
Group of Five – In severe danger of missing not only the College Football Playoff, but the New Year’s 6 bowls all together.
Alright, enough of that. They all need to get their act together while I go study earthquakes.
Back to your regularly scheduled programming.
#3- What’s up down South?
In the past two weeks I’ve done a story about every major conference except the SEC. So in the spirit of fairness, let’s set aside our Midwest colored glasses and talk about Georgia. They’ve regressed, it would be hard not to given how talent-loaded their defenses have been. But their route to the SEC championship game is painfully easy with no shortage of weak opponents. But it gets better for the Bulldogs. Ole Miss is already a freebie, Georgia can slip up there, and as long as they win the rest, they win the East. But that isn’t all. Because the Gators knocked off Tennessee, if Alabama also beats the Vols, the Tennessee game becomes a freebie for Georgia as well. So assuming a Crimson Tide victory over Tennessee, Georgia can freely lose to either of their biggest challengers and still skip their way to Atlanta for the SEC Championship game, just in time for Brock Bowers to make his return. 12-1 SEC champions coming off back-to-back natty’s? Forget about it, only three playoff spots left to fill.
#2- Penix owns the Heisman halfway through
Michael Penix Jr. shared the top spot in the Heisman hunt with Caleb Williams a week ago. A game-winning drive, four touchdowns, a win over eighth ranked Oregon, and a USC loss later, it’s no surprise that Penix owns exclusive rights to the frontrunner position. He should cruise through the next two weeks against Arizona State and Stanford, neither of which should pose a real threat. But the Huskies play USC, Utah, Oregon State and Washington State in November, no bye weeks, no easy games. Penix has earned the top spot, but it won’t be all smooth sailing from here, we’ll see how he weathers the storm.
#1- The UNC Tar Heels – America’s sneakiest team
We’ve tossed the ACC aside too quickly. I’ve been known to hate on the ACC for the better part of a decade. But in the rush of the storylines from the west coast, the ACC’s noise got drowned out. North Carolina has played six games, and handily won five. And they just got a lot stronger after the NCAA granted Tez Walker eligibility. Walker went for over 150 all purpose yards and three touchdowns against Miami, and for some reason the national media hardly batted an eye. Sure, they haven’t played anybody. But guess what? That’s not going to change. They host Duke, solid but very beatable, and travel to Clemson, which Florida State and Wake Forest proved does not hold as much weight as it used to. UNC’s path to the ACC championship game is wide open, yet they still receive no attention. To recap, UNC is undefeated, has an easy schedule, the pre-season projected Heisman runner-up at quarterback, a national championship winning coach, and a brand new star wideout. Basketball school or not, it’s time we stop sleeping on the Tar Heels.
Week eight is one of those beautiful weeks where none of the best games overlap, we get noon-midnight coverage of grade-A football.
#3- #14 Utah @ #18 USC – 8:00 PM on FOX
USC – what happened? 20 points won’t get the job done for the Trojans. At least not when the offense gives away three short fields via interceptions. Because the loss came outside the Pac-12, the Trojans’ conference championship hopes are alive and well, but given the daunting schedule in front of them, there’s reason for Trojan fans to fear. They still have to get past Utah this week, then Washington, Oregon and UCLA down the road. Utah has owned USC for two years. In the excitement of the Ohio State-Georgia semifinal, it’s easy to forget that the #4 spot belonged to USC before Cam Rising and the Utes knocked them off for the second time in a year in the Pac-12 championship game. Utah has a chance to cause three of USC’s last four losses, and knock them out of the playoff picture yet again.
#2- #17 Tennessee @ #11 Alabama – 3:30 P.M. on CBS
I expect we’ll go a year without any goalposts getting dumped in rivers, but nonetheless, I look forward to Bama-Tennessee. Two teams with big dreams, but not much to show for it get a chance for a crucial top-25 win. It’s Georgia’s weakness that makes this game so critical. Their wins look unconvincing, and Brock Bowers sidelined for 4-6 weeks will only serve to make life harder for the Bulldogs. The winner this weekend at Bryant-Denney Stadium will have a very real route to win the SEC. Too many people, myself included, wrote off the Crimson Tide as playoff contenders after they followed a loss with a pathetic 17-3 win against USF. Their wins against Texas A&M and Arkansas were equally unimpressive, but if they get by Tennessee, they really ought to make it to Atlanta with one loss. The college football landscape looks drastically different this year, and yet it’s hard to envision a once-defeated SEC champion missing out on the playoff. Don’t count the Tide out quite yet.
#1- #7 Penn State @ #3 Ohio State – 12:00 P.M. on FOX
Big Ten, top-10, Columbus, The Shoe, Joel Klatt, Gus Johnson, Jenny Taft, Fox Sports, Big Noon Kickoff. Need I say more? There’s nothing not to love about this game. Four great units, two defenses, two offenses battling for a massive lead in the war for the Big Ten East. Perhaps for the first time in the college football playoff era we don’t have to ask if Penn State can beat the Buckeyes, we ask if they should. The Nittany Lion defense leads the nation in several metrics, including yards allowed per game, with just 193.7, almost 40 yards better than Michigan, who ranks second. In yards allowed per play Penn State leads with 3.42, followed distantly by none other than the Ohio State Buckeyes, with 4.00. As much attention as Marvin Harrison Jr. and the Buckeye offense receive, the defense has rebounded from the early Ryan Day era, and held a gritty Notre Dame offense when it mattered most. Penn State hasn’t won in Columbus since 2011, that either means they’re cursed, or they’re due. Time will tell.
Alan Brads is a senior journalism student and sports editor for Cedars. He enjoys playing the drums, speaking Spanish and watching Buckeye football like his life depends on it.