By Alan Brads
Ohio Octobers are a whirlwind of change. Soybeans turn from green to yellow to brown in a week. Pumpkins sprout on front porches, leaves turn red, and iced coffees become pumpkin spice lattes.
With midterms right around the corner, and the school calendar brings my mind back, yet again, to football.
You can’t pass a class in October, but you can easily fail one in October. Likewise, you can’t win the national championship before the College Football Playoff rankings even debut, but you absolutely can lose it before then. Notre Dame did last week, and they will not be the last.
October separates pretenders from contenders. Just look at the matchups in the next three weeks alone, Washington vs. Oregon, Notre Dame vs. USC, Ohio State vs. Penn State, Florida State vs. Duke, Alabama vs. Tennessee.
We dove into October with probably 20 plus teams with a real shot at the College Football Playoff, we will leave with about 10.
#3- Heisman race has runners, but no favorites
Normally by the time I clear frost off my windshield there are two or three names at the top of the Heisman Trophy sweepstakes. This year we have about seven. Per usual, quarterbacks dominate the conversation, and rightfully so, given the level of QB play we’ve seen. Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. and USC’s Caleb Williams do technically hold frontrunner status according to Vegas, fitting in a season so heavily influenced by the transfer portal. Williams has all but secrued himself as the top draft pick of the 2024 NFL draft, and has cleared the field in passing touchdowns this year, but history tells us how difficult it is for any player to win the Hesiman trophy twice. Not even oddsmakers can agree amongst themselves.. Brock Bowers has 30:1 odds according to Draftkings, but 60:1 odds according to Ceasar’s. Drake Maye averages as the sixth most likely player to win, but his odds range anywhere from 28:1 to 10:1. When not even Vegas knows, it’s safe to say no one does, but if I laid my chips down now, my money would go on Dillon Gabriel as he now has an excellent chance to leadOklahoma to an undefeated regular season.
#2- Coastal conference confusion cluster
The ACC…I don’t know what to say. It’s just weird. Louisville, Florida State and North Carolina are flawless in conference play. That is not bizarre for mid-October, but it gets weirder. None of them play each other. Unlike the Big Ten East, which will be resolved head to head, these three teams just have to play well, and pray for the other teams’ downfall. Duke, who is also technically perfect in ACC play at 1-0, could serve as the ACC’s judge, jury and executioner, because they play all three ACC powers. Theoretically the Blue Devils could play themselves into the ACC championship game. But more than likely they will win win one or two, and drop the others to determine who’s worthy to play for the ACC title.
#1- Showtime in the Pac-12
The Pac-12 cannabilistic massacre starts this week. It will be bloody and it will be ugly. Spoiler alert: five of the six teams in my top three games belong to the Pac-12. By my count five teams can realistically win the conference and two more still have a fool’s chance. What other conference can say more than half its’ schools are viable championship contenders? I don’t see a scenario where any Pac-12 team escapes the regular season undefeated. Kelly Ford’s predictive model gives only Oregon a >50% chance to even go 8-1 in conference play, forget 9-0. With the Pac-12’s impending death, you have to survive the bloodbath to become the final champion of the conference of champions.
#3- #18 UCLA @ #15 Oregon State – 8:00 P.M. on FOX
I will avoid the temptation to overexplain since I just painted the picture of the Pac-12’s situation. These one-loss teams are backed up against a wall. Just one team in a do-or-die situation makes for an interesting and often heated game. With both teams in that spot in a primetime conference game, you can expect fireworks in Corvalis. Oregon State, led by DJ Uiagalelei are fun to watch. The Beavers’ offense scores at will, but UCLA’s defense held opponents to 12.2 points per game this season. I expect chaos, ad lots os it, but in the end I’d favor Oregon State to win by a score.
#2- #10 USC @ #21 Notre Dame – 7:30 P.M. on NBC
It looked like a much prettier matchup back in September, but even with Notre Dame’s stumbling it could headline many college football weekends, just not this one. The history, the tradition, the uniforms, this game is just so watch-worthy. Sure Notre Dame is out of the playoff picture, but USC is in the thick of it, and Notre Dame is primed to unseat them before they even get to their brutal Pac-12 schedule. When checking to see how many points Vegas favored USC by, I was shocked to see they are 2.5 point underdogs. At first glance that looks like free money, but USC’s defense has looked nothing short of atrocious all season. This angry Notre Dame will be plenty motivated to win a rivalry game regardless of their standing before the college football playoff committee.
#1- #8 Oregon @ #7 Washington – 3:30 P.M. on ABC
Have we seen a game in 2023 with higher stakes than this one? Conference titles are good as gold in the college football playoff era, and the winner here gets a tremendous bump toward that end. Add that on top of a top-10 win and this you will be sitting pretty in the eyes of the playofc committee.. Per Ford’s predictive model, Oregon has an 87% chance to make the conference championship game with a win, but drops to 54% with a loss. Washington’s number spikes to 76% with a win and plummets to 40% with a loss. It’s fitting that in the land of volcanoes and earthquakes, the Ducks or Huskies will erupt onto the college football playoff scene in Seattle.
I could write a lengthy and flowery conclusion, but unlike Miami, I think I’ll just take a knee and get out of here with a win.
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.