Saturday begins the first week of the College Football Playoff in the 2014 season.
No, I know that the Playoff doesn’t start until New Year’s Day. And no, I haven’t lost my mind for making such a proclamation of an opening statement. All you have to do is look at the Southeastern Conference schedule in the next month – with a concentration on the teams in the Western Division of the Conference – to know what I’m talking about.
Not only are six of the seven teams in the Western Division of the SEC ranked in the Top 25, each of those squads are ranked in the Top 15 of the Associated Press Poll, and in the Top 16 of the poll you’re about to enjoy a few graphs down. Better yet, each of those six teams square off against each other on Saturday, making this a pseudo Round One of a playoff knockout series. The games on Saturday: LSU at Auburn, Alabama at Ole Miss and, to start things off at high noon, Texas A&M at Mississippi State. (Yes, I know Mississippi is located in the Central Time Zone, but saying 11 AM local time would ruin the use of “high noon.”)
What has made this leviathan of a division even more menacing and intriguing, as if that’s what the division needed, is the emergence of Mississippi State, which used a road upset in LSU on Sept. 20 to launch themselves into the SEC and national championship conversation. And because the SEC West is the way it is this season, there’s no need to ask whether the Bulldogs can be a legit contender to the even bigger and badder dogs in the league after that win in Baton Rouge. They’ll have a better assessment after Saturday; and after next week; and after Nov. 15; and after Nov. 29.
Almost every Saturday from now until, and including, the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 6 in Atlanta will feature a high-profile SEC West showdown, and that’s especially the case this month and at the very beginning of November. A few games will feature interdivisional match-ups (East vs. West) of great importance also. After this week’s triple main event, here’s what’s on tap. (The rankings reflect this week’s The A Lot of Sports Talk’s College Football Top 25.)
Next week (October 11):
No. 11 Ole Miss at No. 5 Texas A&M
No 6. Auburn vs. No. 12 Mississippi State
No. 13 Georgia at No 25. Missouri (See, we’re showing the SEC East some love as well.)
No 5. Texas A&M at No. 3 Alabama
No. 11 Ole Miss at No. 16 LSU
No. 6 Auburn at No. 11 Ole Miss
No. 3 Alabama at No. 16 LSU
No. 5 Texas A&M at No. 6 Auburn
To be honest, we have to stop here, or we’ll never get to this week’s poll. But still keep in mind that after Nov. 8, you still have Iron Bowl (Auburn-Alabama), the Egg Bowl (Miss. State-Ole Miss) and a loaded Nov. 15 which features interdivisional match-ups of great importance (Auburn-Georgia, Missouri-Texas A&M). And it would be naïve to ignore the only team in the SEC West that’s currently unranked, the Arkansas Razorbacks, and their many opportunities to play the role of spoiler. After playing Auburn tough in the season opener and almost derailing Texas A&M’s perfect start in Arlington in an overtime loss last week, the Hogs will host Alabama (next week), Georgia (Oct. 18), LSU (Nov. 15) and Ole Miss (Nov. 22).
Here’s hoping you don’t have any weddings to attend on a Saturday in the next two months. If so, make sure to ask the bride and groom if they can set up a television screen at the corner of the reception room or right by the wine bar. If the couple are sports fans, they’ll thank you later.
All of the pollsters on The A Lot of Sports Talk‘s College Football Top 25 poll are sure to be glued in every Saturday, keeping up with the vagaries of the 2014 college football season. Once again, let’s welcome our weekly sextet: T.J. Basalla (super fan, marketing professional, WJPZ Alumni Association President), Pavan Sandhu Eckhart (Texas A&M graduate, Sales Rep at Ferring Pharmaceuticals in Dallas), Basil Mitchell (former TCU and Green Bay Packers RB), Sandy Weintraub (super fan, Director of Student Conduct and Community Standards at the University of Oregon), Adesina Koiki (Football Writers Association of America member/voter, A Lot Of Sports Talk editor-in-chief) and an anonymous assistant coach who once coached at a Division I-FBS school. If you have any comments and/or complaints, write them below on the Facebook window or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you, as always.
The Sooners will know all about the Metroplex in the next two games, as they’re in Fort Worth to take on TCU followed by the Red River Showdown in Dallas against the Longhorns. Everything’s bigger in Texas, including the Sooners’ national title hopes when they visit. (Adesina)
You like points? Arizona and Oregon will oblige tonight! (T.J. Basalla)
Does the quarterback make the receiver, or vice versa? Whatever the case, Blake Sims has been much better than advertised under center for Alabama. But yes, it doesn’t hurt to have the nation’s best receiver, Amari Cooper, to throw to on many an occasion. (Adesina)
Do we have a greater appreciation for how good the 2013 Seminoles were after watching the 2014 version struggle in Raleigh? (T.J.)
Kenny Hill, son of former Major League pitcher Ken Hill, has shown he can lead comebacks Johnny Football style. The Aggies aren’t always making it easy on themselves, but Kevin Sumlin’s team is going to be tough for anybody to beat, even in that loaded SEC West. (Sandy Weintraub)
As much as War Eagle has been flying high the past year and a half, LSU knows more than any school how to clip their wings. The Bayou Bengals have defeated Auburn in six out of the last seven contests between the two, including handing Auburn its only regular-season loss last year. (Adesina)
Is this the team that nobody is talking about that is going to sneak into the Final Four before season’s end? (Sandy)
Everyone mark your calendars for October 11th, when UCLA and Oregon face off in the Rose Bowl. If UCLA wins, you can almost pencil them in into one of the final four slots for the national championship playoff because they should win the Pac-12 as well. (Pavan Sandhu Eckhart)
If people believe that the Spartans don’t have many more high-profile games left of their schedule, then it would behoove Michigan State to win Saturday’s game against a ranked Nebraska team, the only school in the Big Ten that still has a zero in the loss column. (Adesina)
First true “reality check” game coming up for the Irish against Stanford. (T.J.)
ESPN’s College Gameday is in Oxford for the Alabama game this Saturday. This is the biggest game on The Grove since…..since….let’s just say it’s been a while. (Adesina).
If you’re in Starkville to watch a football game, especially if it’s for this Saturday’s contest against Texas A&M, you’re going to leave Davis Wade Stadium either loving the sound of cowbells ringing or cursing the day the cowbell was invented. Either way, what an atmosphere it should be there when the Aggies visit. (Adesina).
So was Georgia’s closer-than-expected three-point victory an indicator of the Bulldogs not being as good as we thought, or Tennessee being close to becoming a factor in the SEC in the next couple of seasons? We’re going to say the latter, as well as say tat Todd Gurley (208 yards rushing vs. the Vols) is this voter’s Heisman frontrunner right now. (Adesina)
The Cardinal do not win pretty, but they do usually win, just like they did at previously undefeated Washington. (Sandy)
By this time next week, we could be talking about how BYU let an undefeated season slip because they weren’t able to handle a tricky road trip against UCF, the defending American Athletic Conference champions. It should be the Cougars’ toughest test remaining on their schedule. (Adesina)
Is Saturday night’s game at Auburn one of those contests that Les Miles comes away with a win for no apparent reason, other than the fact that he’s Les Miles? (T.J.)
Should the Badgers be worried they’re taking on a Northwestern team that might have gotten its mojo back after winning in Happy Valley last week? Maybe they shouldn’t be worried because, unlike Penn State’s offensive line, their O-line can actually sustain their blocks on a consistent basis. (Adesina)
If the Big Ten was more impressive collectively, I would have ranked the Huskers higher. Despite that, who would have thought Big Red would have made it into October as the only undefeated Big Ten team? (Pavan)
I actually was a little surprised how easily the Trojans dispatched Oregon State last week (35-10). Now it’s on to Arizona State, and hopefully for USC, they can deliver some more “L.A. Blues” to the Sun Devils after Arizona State was manhandled by UCLA last Thursday in Tempe. (Adesina)
Can we talk about Ohio State’s defense? It hasn’t gotten any better. In fact, it probably has gotten worse. Defensive end Joey Bosa, though, is pretty, pretty, pretty good. (T.J.)
East Carolina averages 43.3 points per game, and the Pirates dropped 70 on North Carolina a few weeks back. SMU has allowed at least 43 points in its first four games (all losses), just got shut out last week 56-0 by TCU and is being outscored on the year 202-12. Hence, I’m literally praying for SMU to get out of Greenville alive on Saturday. (Adesina)
TCU is sneaky, scary good. The Horned Frogs could catch the Sooners napping in a true definition of a “trap game,” with OU possibly thinking about revenge from last year’s Red River Showdown in next week’s game vs. Texas. (T.J.)
Arizona transfer Daxx Garman made the most of his first conference start, throwing for 370 yards and four touchdowns last Thursday in the Pokes’ 45-35 win over Texas Tech. He should have the same success in the air this week at home vs. Iowa State. (Adesina)
Even with Texas Tech at home on Saturday, you’d have to think the Wildcats are really looking forward to the following game, in Norman on Oklahoma on Oct. 18, to right the wrong of letting a big win against Auburn slip from their hands last month. (Adesina)
Just spin a wheel and pick a winner in the SEC East. (T.J.)
Others receiving votes:
Arizona State (7 points), Florida (7), Marshall (6), Clemson (5), Washington (2), Arizona (1), South Carolina (1)
* – To break ties, we used a three-step criteria; 1) higher number of first-place votes, 2) higher number of ballots (out of six) the teams appeared in, 3) highest single ranking by an individual pollster (e.g. if Team A and Team B are tied cumulatively and appeared in all six polls, but Team A’s highest ranking by an individual pollster was No. 7 and Team B’s highest ranking by an individual pollster was No. 9, Team A wins tiebreaker)
[Cover photo (Cody Prewitt) courtesy of Michael Chang/Getty Images]