1. Final Four
The playoff committee will release its first poll Tuesday evening on ESPN. But why wait? We already know at least two one-loss teams will make the Final Four. It’s possible none of the four will arrive spotless. To somewhat simplify where we are entering Week 9, let’s lock up two spots with one of the Mississippi teams and FSU, both as unbeaten. The other Mississippi team, Alabama, Auburn, Oregon, Notre Dame, Michigan State, Georgia and TCU compose the AP Top 10. Nobody from Alabama on down can survive a second loss.
So who is in the best shape to claim the other two spots? Let’s take a look:
Alabama or Auburn
Not both. They play Nov. 29 in what likely will be a winner-moves-on game. Alabama has to win at No. 24 LSU and then knock off visiting No. 1 Mississippi State before its season-ending showdown against No. 5 Auburn. If the Tide cleans that table, they’ll be a playoff lock even if Ole Miss goes undefeated and wins the SEC West.
The other Mississippi team
Ole Miss could finish with one loss and still have beaten five ranked teams. It would have to beat six ranked teams to finish undefeated heading into the Final Four. Likewise for Mississippi State. It’s easy to argue both belong, as long as one doesn’t blow out the other in their season-ending Egg Bowl.
Oregon, Notre Dame or Michigan State
All three obviously need help and have to win out to have a chance. Oregon already beat then-No. 7 Michigan State by 19 and then-No. 18 UCLA by 12. To win out, it must win at No. 19 Utah on Nov. 8 and then beat another ranked team in the Pac-12 championship. It’s illogical to think Michigan State can jump Oregon on the strength of a 5-point home win against Nebraska, a home win over No. 13 Ohio State on Nov. 8 and a win over an inferior and possibly unranked team in the Big Ten title game.
Notre Dame is the ultimate wild card. The Irish will get credit for outplaying and nearly upsetting No. 2 FSU on the road. The Irish already beat No. 14 Stanford and would have to beat two more ranked teams on the road, No. 14 Arizona State and No. 20 USC, to finish 11-1.
Georgia or TCU
Georgia’s only loss came at then-No. 24 South Carolina, and the 38-35 setback was a head-scratcher. The Bulldogs had first-and-goal from the Gamecocks’ 4 with 5 minutes left. A touchdown likely wins it. A field goal likely forces overtime. Todd Gurley was dealing. What happened? Quarterback Hutson Mason was called for intentional grounding on first down, a loss of 10. Gurley ran for a short gain on second down, and Mason’s third-down pass fell incomplete. Marshall Morgan then missed a 28-yard field goal and South Carolina survived. The Bulldogs, who beat a ranked Clemson team a week earlier, later crushed then-No. 23 Missouri. If they beat two SEC West teams ranked in the top 5 (Auburn on Nov. 15) and the SEC West champion in the SEC championship game, they’re in.
Likewise, TCU’s only loss was at then-No. 5 Baylor in a game TCU led 58-37 in the fourth quarter. TCU beat then-No. 4 Oklahoma a week earlier, blasted then-No. 15 Oklahoma State 42-9 and would have to beat two more ranked teams, No. 22 West Virginia and No. 11 Kansas State, to finish 11-1.
2. About that call
Was it pass interference? Technically? Maybe. The better question is: Should they have called it? Replays clearly show Notre Dame didn’t gain a competitive advantage by the actions of those two receivers. Brian Kelly was correct. FSU blew the coverage, leaving Corey Robinson wide open and causing FSU’s defenders to immediately start pointing fingers at one another. FSU was in man coverage and nobody switched, which meant nobody went with Robinson as he sprinted to his right, all alone in the flats. The real shame is that, a week later, and probably longer, we’re talking about a call that didn’t have to be made. A referee altered the outcome of a game (and quite possibly the Final Four) by citing an iffy infraction that didn’t even impact the outcome of the play. Or, put another way: Would we still be talking about a no-call on this play? Of course not.
Tracking the Top 25
Saturday’s games ... comments where deserving.
No. 1 Mississippi State (6-0) at Kentucky (5-2), 3:30 p.m.: The Wildcats’ 2014 media guide shouted “Change the Game.” What better time than Saturday? Cats took out No. 1 LSU in 2007 but are 1-26 vs. ranked teams since.
No. 3 Mississippi (7-0) at No. 24 LSU (6-2), 7:15 p.m.: Night game in Death Valley is enough to scare anyone, but Mississippi State handled the Tigers and that crowd. LSU hasn’t lost to both Mississippi teams at home since 1963.
No. 4 Alabama (6-1) at Tennessee (3-4), 7:30 p.m.: Tide just crushed a ranked SEC West team 59-0. Rocky toppled, indeed.
No. 5 Auburn (5-1) vs. South Carolina (4-3), 7:30 p.m.: Raleigh’s redshirt freshman Connor Mitch made his debut in relief last week. He’s Steve Spurrier’s QB of the future.
No. 8 Michigan State (6-1) vs. Michigan (3-4), 3:30 p.m.: Series turned in 2008, when Spartans won at Big House for first time since 1990. Since then, MSU leads 5-1. Michigan’s next loss will be its 40th since they chased Lloyd Carr out of town after ... you guessed it ... the 2007 season. Carr lost 40 games in 13 seasons.
No. 10 TCU (5-1) vs. Texas Tech (3-4), 3:30 p.m.
No. 11 Kansas State (5-1) vs. Texas (3-4), Noon
No. 13 Ohio State (5-1) at Penn State (4-2), 8 p.m.: Jeff Sagarin’s computer says Lions are 48th in the land, behind teams such as Florida, Tennessee, North Dakota State, etc.
No. 14 Arizona State (5-1) at Washington (5-2), 10:45 p.m.
No. 15 Arizona (5-1) at Washington State (2-5), 5 p.m.
No. 16 Nebraska (6-1) vs. Rutgers (5-2), Noon
No. 19 Utah (5-1) vs. No. 20 Southern Cal (5-2), 10 p.m.: Pac-12 South has five ranked teams, including these two. Not that anybody has noticed.
No. 21 Clemson (5-2) vs. Syracuse (3-4), 7 p.m.
No. 22 West Virginia (5-2) at Oklahoma State (5-2), 3:30 p.m.
No. 23 Marshall (7-0) vs. FAU (3-4), 3:30 p.m.: Another South Florida team that could use Miami native Rakeem Cato. Last week, against FIU, Cato set an NCAA record by throwing a TD pass in his 39th consecutive game.
No. 25 UCLA (5-2) at Colorado (2-5), 2 p.m.
Number to know
0 Games featuring Top 15 vs. Top 15 teams. A letdown after three consecutive weeks of thrillers.
“(The Missouri loss) was tough to watch. If you’re a Gator fan, it was not easy to watch. They just didn’t play with the heart that I’m used to watching Florida Gators play with.” – Tim Tebow in an interview with ESPN.
Compiled by Chris Wright with help from AP, Stewart Mandel and team websites