In their final games before the first College Football Playoff rankings are released, Georgia, Ohio State and Tennessee made compelling cases Saturday to start the race for the national championship in pole position.
Save for about six sleepy minutes in the third quarter, the AP top-ranked Bulldogs romped past rival Florida. Georgia shrugged off the Gators' third-quarter uprising and cruised home.
The second-ranked Buckeyes faced a tougher test at No. 13 Penn State and found themselves down in the fourth quarter — for about 35 seconds. Ohio State ripped off 28 points in a little more than six minutes to leave Happy Valley with its best win of the season.
The third-ranked Volunteers were the most impressive of all, blowing out No. 19 Kentucky in a tuneup for their showdown at Georgia next week.
Buckeyes coach Ryan Day called his a “matchup” game, basically saying Penn State is one of the few teams with the talent and athleticism to line up with Ohio State.
“When you play these types of of games you have to look at the entire body of work for four quarters,” Day said.
Day probably wasn't talking directly to the CFP selection committee, but he was speaking their language with “body of work.”
The 13-person panel weighs in for the first time this season on Tuesday night with the first of six top 25s. The only one that really matters is the last on Dec. 4, of course.
The first rankings are frequently filled with teams that never come close to entering the postseason with a chance to play for the national title. Famously, the very first CFP No. 1 in 2014 was Mississippi State. The Bulldogs did not make the playoff.
But that was the only team to be No. 1 in the first CFP rankings of the season and not reach the final four.
So starting first seems to have its benefits.
The defending national champion Bulldogs seem like the safe bet to be on top Tuesday night. Georgia had one tight spot to get out of against Missouri this season, but has otherwise done a pretty good impersonation of last season's dominant team.
The Bulldogs' victory against No. 8 Oregon to start the season is aging nicely a s the Ducks have been rolling ever since leaving Atlanta.
The Volunteers were already in possession of maybe the season’s best victory, 52-49 against No. 6 Alabama, before a rather routine dismantling of Kentucky. The Vols intercepted Will Levis three times and held him to 98 yards passing.
“Our defense was suffocating tonight,” Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said.
Tennessee has now beaten five teams that were ranked at the time they played, which sounds nice but is deceiving. Pitt, Florida and Kentucky are unlikely to earn a spot in the CFP rankings come Tuesday.
The Buckeyes have rarely been tested through the first two months, but the competition hasn't been particularly daunting.
Notre Dame gave them a good game for about three quarters and Penn State did the same. But when C.J. Stroud and Ohio State get rolling they seem impossible to stop.
Ohio State has scored at least 40 points in seven straight games, the most by a Big Ten school since 1936, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
The Buckeyes appear to be on a collision course for another monumental game with No. 4 Michigan to end the regular season.
The Wolverines probably want in on that No. 1 discussion, too. Michigan shut out rival Michigan State in the second half to give Jim Harbaugh has first victory against Michigan State coach Mel Tucker.
“I thought Tuck was comin’?” Wolverines running back Blake Corum said, mocking the Michigan State bravado that came with a two-game winning streak in a series that is as nasty as ever.
The weakest nonconference schedule in the country will probably relegate Michigan to vying for fourth with Clemson on Tuesday.
Don't forget about No. 7 TCU. The Horned Frogs stayed unbeaten in yet another wild Big 12 game at West Virginia.
“Some crazy stuff happened in this game today,” TCU coach Sonny Dykes said.
As the season heads into its final month, we'll see if the crazy keeps up or if the playoff contenders fall into place.
AROUND THE COUNTRY
Texas A&M's losing streak is now four, the Aggies' longest since 2005. Freshman quarterback Conner Weigman gave Jimbo Fisher's offense a boost, but Lane Kiffin's 15th-ranked Rebels from Mississippi ran wild. "Three-hundred and ninety yards rushing against a bunch of five stars is pretty good,” Kiffin said. ... Lincoln Riley is the first coach to start his USC career 7-1 since John Robinson in 1976 after the No. 10 Trojans rolled over Arizona. A Pac-12 championship between the 10th-ranked Trojans and Oregon might be first team to 60 wins. ... No. 21 North Carolina pretty much wrapped up the ACC Coastal by beating Pitt. The Tar Heels have four games left, but essentially a three-game lead thanks to victories against their closest competitors. Also, put Drake Maye (five more TD passes) in the Heisman conversation. ... The back end of the AP top 10 was blown out in surprising fashion. No. 9 Oklahoma State was shut out by No. 22 Kansas State and No. 10 Wake Forest turned it over eight times — six (!) in the third quarter — against Louisville. It was the first time since 2009 that Oklahoma State was blanked. As for Wake, this was only the second time it has played as a top-10 team. The Demon Deacons are now 0-2. ... Maybe Notre Dame is better off playing away from home. The Fighting Irish (5-3) are 3-1 outside of South Bend, Indiana, after beating No. 16 Syracuse and have looked far more functional in almost every way ... UCF snapped No. 20 Cincinnati's 19-game American Athletic Conference winning streak at the Bounce House, leaving No. 23 Tulane as the lone unbeaten team in conference play. ... Break up that Iowa offense. The Hawkeyes broke out of a season-long fog against Northwestern, with season highs of 33 points and 393 yards. Northwestern still hasn't won a game in the United States after starting the season with a win over Nebraska in Ireland. ... This week's offensive debacle was brought to you by Miami and Virginia, which needed four overtime periods to reach 26 points. The Hurricanes (4-4) avoided yet another embarrassing loss. ... Who's up for an Iowa-Miami Pinstripe Bowl?
Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com
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