Late November in college football brings us a host of rivalry games. Upcoming games include Michigan – Ohio State, Auburn – Alabama along with many others. Last week’s slate of games set up rivalry week while also crushing playoff dreams.
Ohio State almost got its playoff dreams shattered as it was nearly knocked off by Michigan State, a team that has won just three games this season. Michigan handled its business by taking care of Indiana after being shocked the prior week at Iowa. The winner of this week’s Buckeyes – Wolverines game will be in the driver’s seat for a playoff berth as both are currently ranked within the top four. Interestingly, if Ohio State beats Michigan and Penn State wins at home against Michigan State, then the Nittany Lions will win the Big Ten East over both those schools via tiebreaker rules. Nobody really considered this to be a viable possibility when the season began. Penn State was not even ranked and lost two of its first four games to open up the 2016 campaign. Since then, however, the Nittany Lions have rattled off seven straight wins, including the huge upset over Ohio State a few weeks back to give them the tiebreaker over the Buckeyes if they should tie in conference play at season’s end. If Michigan beats Ohio State, then it matters not what Penn State does, the Wolverines will claim the Big Ten East and will battle either Wisconsin or Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Houston crushed Louisville’s playoff dream by humiliating the Cardinals. Heisman favorite Lamar Jackson likely played his way off the Heisman list. Completing just 46.5 percent of his passes for 211 yards with one touchdown, Jackson also struggled running the ball. He gained just 33 yards on 25 attempts and lost a fumble in the endzone. Louisville didn’t score until the third quarter, and their 10 total points was the lowest scoring effort of the year, by two touchdowns. The Cardinals have lost twice now and I don’t see a two-loss team reaching the four-team playoff.
Then there is Alabama. Now 11-0 on the season, the top-seeded Crimson Tide will face Auburn in the Iron Bowl to close out the regular season before preparing to play in the SEC Championship Game. The Crimson Tide will face Florida in that pivotal game, which is the final step to being included among the final four for the College Football Playoff.
Another team hoping for losses amongst the top teams is Washington. The Huskies rebounded nicely after stunning loss to USC by destroying Arizona State by a 44-18 count. Washington is now 10-1 but are on the outside looking in. Next up is the interstate clash against Washington State that is for all the marbles. Win that game and the Huskies will have a shot to play in the Pac 12 Championship Game. If they win out, there is still a chance that the Huskies can make it into the College Football Playoff if other top teams lose in the next couple of weeks.
One school that used to be in the running for national titles is Texas. Not anymore and it looks like the Longhorns will be looking for a new coach as it looks like Charlie Strong is likely a goner. To say that the 2016 season has been a disappointment to the Texas would be quite an understatement. After opening the season with a huge win over Notre Dame and a blowout against UTEP in Week 2, it looked like this program was headed in the right direction. Not so fast. The Longhorns went on a three-game losing skid afterwards and have won just three games since. Then Texas lost to Kansas on Saturday. Kansas hasn’t beaten a Big 12 team since November of 2014 and the Jayhawks hadn’t beaten Texas since 1938. Strong is a goner. He’s had three years to turn things around at Texas. Barring a win next weekend against TCU, he’ll have finished each of his first three seasons with a losing record, if he’s around to coach next Saturday to begin with.
NFL Surprise Teams
The NFL season is beginning its stretch drive and some surprise teams are starting to emerge. Most of the NFL world has been captivated by how rookie quarterback Dak Prescott has the Dallas Cowboys off to an unexpected 9-1 start. But there have been other surprises.
The Oakland Raiders are off to a 8-2 start and look like a playoff team on both sides of the ball. Chasing Dallas in the NFC East are the 7-3 New York Giants and the 6-3-1 Washington Redskins. The Giants have won five straight and the Redskins are scoring alot of points with quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Some other surprises include the two 6-4 teams atop the NFC North, Detroit and Minnesota. They have a two-game lead on the suddenly awful looking Green Bay Packers who have lost four straight. And how about the 6-4 Miami Dolphins, winners of five straight.
Great Turkey Day Games
Thanksgiving and football go together and the NFL is giving us three great TV games this week. Six teams, none below .500, will matchup and should give us some drama. Plan your day around
12:30 p.m. ET (CBS): Minnesota (6-4) at Detroit (6-4). For first place in the NFC North.
3:30 p.m. ET (FOX): Washington (6-3-1) at Dallas (9-1). Dallas could pull away in the NFC East with a win.
8:30 p.m. ET (NBC): Pittsburgh (5-5) at Indianapolis (5-5). Ben Roethlisberger vs. Andrew Luck. The scoreboard should be busy.
How About Steve Smith?
Remember when Steve Smith graced the field for the Carolina Panthers? Well, he is still at it for the Baltimore Ravens and likely has achieved Hall of Fame status. Smith, now 37 years old and in his 16th year, passed the 1,000-catch mark last week. He now is 13th all-time in receptions, with 1,005, catches, and eighth all-time in receiving yards, with 14,448. I sure hope he chooses to be inducted as a Panther which would make him the franchise’s first inductee.
Photo: UT’s Charlie Strong