The Starting 11: Georgia Georgia’d Edition

It happened.

Again.

The Georgia Bulldogs, the perpetually star-crossed team which can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory more than any program in the country, lost a home game they were favored to win by 21+ over a South Carolina team playing its third string quarterback.

It was a bad loss, but it was also the kind of bad loss that top teams very often have during the course of the season.

And while everyone is dancing on the Bulldog playoff grave right now the truth of the matter is this, if Georgia wins out they’ll still be in the playoff.

All this did is eliminate their margin of playoff error.

Let me explain, let’s dive into the Starting 11.

1. Georgia’s still in the playoff race. 

I know there’s a desire to react with great hyperbole to every big college football upset, but the reality is this Georgia loss just eliminated the possibility a 12-0 Georgia team could lose the SEC title game and still get into the playoff.

That’s it.

Now Georgia has to win every game left on the schedule, including the SEC title game, to get to 12-1 and notch a playoff berth.

If Georgia goes 12-1 and wins the SEC title then the Bulldogs will still be in the playoff.

The reality is this is exactly the kind of upset we sometimes see happen for playoff contending teams.

South Carolina won despite Georgia outgaining them by nearly 200 yards of offense and only giving up one defensive touchdown all game, a 46 yard touchdown pass in the first half. Otherwise the Gamecocks scored on a 53 yard interception return and banged home two field goals to win 20-17.

This game was such a cluster of mishaps that the two teams played two full overtime periods and only three points were scored total.

While the focus will be on the end of game scenarios the real place this game was lost was in the turnover department.

Georgia turned the ball over four times to South Carolina, the Gamecocks didn’t turn it over at all, and ultimately South Carolina found a way to outlast Georgia in double overtime.

In other words, this is your quintessential statistical aberration college football upset.

I’d be really furious about this loss if I was a Georgia fan, but when you actually dive inside the box score and let the anger subside, this feels like Alabama’s loss to Ole Miss back in 2015, when the Tide turned the ball over five times and lost at home by six points.

That Tide team didn’t lose again in 2015, winning the national title.

It also feels a bit like Ole Miss’s win over Florida back in 2008, which led to the famous Tim Tebow promise statement — and a Gator national title.

I’m not saying Georgia is going to do the same thing as Alabama and Florida, but I’m just saying there’s a precedent for a team losing at home early in the season to an inferior opponent and then bouncing back to win the title.

Hell, look at Ohio State in 2014 as well.

What this loss did was eliminate all margin for error for Georgia.

But let’s not also forget to praise Will Muschamp and his South Carolina team either. I can’t even begin to imagine how sweet this win was for him. To go back home to Georgia and beat his old teammate Kirby Smart in Athens? Especially after the Gamecocks had already lost to North Carolina, Missouri and Alabama so far this year and to win this game playing his third string quarterback?

Truly a phenomenal win for him.

2. Let’s talk the playoff race as we begin the second half of the college football season. 

Right now my playoff four, in this order, would be 1. LSU 2. Alabama 3. Ohio State 4. Oklahoma

Now clearly that’s not going to remain the case because Alabama and LSU play in Tuscaloosa in early November, but that’s the way I’d break down the top four teams in the country right now.

The SEC’s route to two teams in the playoff now requires LSU or Alabama to go undefeated and then lose a close game to Georgia. (Or for Florida to win out and win the SEC title, but I just don’t see that happening).

But the reality is Clemson and Oklahoma will now both be prohibitive favorites over everyone remaining on their schedules and it seems highly likely both teams finish undefeated.

The Pac 12, notwithstanding how good Oregon is, has virtually no playoff chance barring a ton of upsets.

And Notre Dame, which survived against USC, now needs Georgia to run the table in the SEC in order to even be in the remote playoff conversation at 11-1.

So that leaves all the playoff drama likely to come from the Big Ten and the SEC, which still have a huge variety of potential title outcomes.

3. Florida’s very solid under Kyle Trask.

I was really impressed with how good Trask was on third down passing for the Gators last night in Baton Rouge. Time after time it seemed like LSU won first and second downs and then Trask converted on third and long to keep Gator drives alive.

You want a wild stat? Florida’s defense only put LSU’s offense in third down four times last night.

Four times!

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a team have that few third downs while posting over 500 yards of offense. (And LSU only went 1-4 on third downs, by the way).

Meanwhile the LSU defense put Florida in third down 17 times and the Gators converted on nine of them.

But when you look at the LSU offensive stats, they’re pretty remarkable: LSU only had 48 offensive snaps and they gained 511 yards on those plays.

Taking away the two kneel down plays at the end of the game, LSU averaged over 11 yards PER PLAY against the Florida defense last night, including over nine yards per rush attempt.

I mean, those are off the charts offensive numbers, especially against a Gator defense that’s supposed to be one of the best in the country.

Ultimately Kyle Trask kept this game from turning into a blowout with his third down passing. He was flat out fantastic in those situations.

So what’s the end result here?

The Gators go to South Carolina in what will be a wild game coming off South Carolina’s big win over Georgia. Then they play the Cocktail Party against Georgia, which will likely decide the SEC East.

I still think Georgia wins that game, but Florida at least gave me pause to consider whether the Gators might be able to snag the division in year two of Dan Mullen’s Gainesville reign.

And, remember, Missouri is lurking as well.

Only Missouri isn’t eligible to represent the SEC East in Atlanta because they remain ineligible for a bowl.

So the SEC East could get really wild if Missouri can beat Florida or Georgia, or both, and really throw a wrench into the entire season.

4. Oklahoma outlasted Texas to essentially punch their ticket to the playoff barring a Georgia-style loss disaster. 

The Sooners have one more top 25 game left on the regular season schedule — at Baylor — but the Bears don’t seem to have the horses to run with OU.

That means the Sooners will likely finish the season 12-0 and yet again play a Big 12 title game with nothing to gain and everything to lose.

Which Big 12 team will emerge to get the rematch with Oklahoma?

That remains to be seen, but what is pretty clear is that game is likely to be totally unnecessary to tell us who the best team in the Big 12 is.

I continue to believe the Big 12 title game is totally unnecessary. Every team plays every other team in this conference and the title game is guaranteed to be a rematch. Why in the world is it necessary?

Meanwhile, while the final score of this game against Texas ended up being close, Oklahoma outgained Texas by 200 yards and never trailed in this game.

Could Texas beat OU in a Big 12 title game rematch? Sure. Does it seem very likely at all? Nope.

5. Penn State got a huge road win over Iowa and now has a chance to eliminate Michigan from the Big Ten title race next weekend.  

Right now there are five teams with legitimate hopes to win the Big Ten. Four of those teams are undefeated: Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin and, this team will surprise many of you, Minnesota.

Michigan is 5-1 and has no real margin for error going forward given the fact that Penn State and Ohio State are both undefeated.

Games between these contenders really begin in earnest starting this upcoming weekend.

If Penn State beats Michigan in Happy Valley next weekend the Wolverines are done in the Big Ten race and attention will pivot to whether Jim Harbaugh might bail on Ann Arbor for life back in the NFL.

But while all the attention has been on the Big Ten East so far don’t sleep on Minnesota in the Big Ten West.

While Wisconsin has snatched up all the attention in this division, Minnesota is 6-0 and goes to Rutgers and then gets Maryland at home in the next two weeks. Then comes a bye week before Penn State comes to Minnesota.

So we’re talking about an undefeated Minnesota team very likely to enter into November.

Really.

Wilder still, Wisconsin travels to Minnesota to end the Big Ten season.

So it’s possible Minnesota could be in position to snag the Big Ten West’s crown that final weekend. I know, I know, Minnesota wasn’t very good to start the season, but they just crushed Nebraska and Illinois in back-to-back weekends.

So we’ll see what their ceiling is come November.

Regardless, I believe this is the first time we’ve ever mentioned Minnesota in the Starting 11 so that’s at least a substantial improvement by itself.

6. Oregon is really good. 

And what’s the best part of Oregon’s football team?

Their defense is outstanding.

Unfortunately Auburn is likely to lose three or four games in the SEC this year and the Pac 12 is effectively boxed out of the playoff barring complete chaos.

So let me reiterate this question for Larry Scott: why in the world would you not be advocating to expand the playoff to eight teams with guaranteed playoff spots for conference champions? That way your conference would actually be relevant right now instead of a complete afterthought.

It boggles my mind that the conference commissioners of the Pac 12 and the Big 12 aren’t screaming as loudly as they can for playoff expansion.

The Big 12 getting an automatic bid would probably keep the conference intact. As is, Oklahoma and Texas will have suitors, potentially, when their TV deals end in a few years.

7. Tennessee whipped Mississippi State pretty good. 

The Vols had two end zone interceptions or this could have been an even bigger shellacking.

Alabama will wax Tennessee this coming weekend, but after that Jeremy Pruitt has a decent shot at season redemption. He gets South Carolina, UAB, at Kentucky, at Missouri, and Vanderbilt to finish the season. Missouri’s clearly the best of these five teams, but Tennessee has an outside shot to get bowl eligible and probably a decent shot at equaling last year’s record, which will limit the sky is falling critiques.

The bigger question here is this: is Tennessee actually in better shape than Arkansas under Chad Morris and Mississippi State under Joe Moorhead?

I think that despite all the dirt that’s been heaped upon Pruitt and Tennessee’s grave you can argue that for sure.

And speaking of dirt on the grave, the SEC East’s Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee all won head-to-head games between division this weekend. I believe the era of SEC West dominance over the SEC East has officially ended. Yes, Alabama and LSU are still really good, but the top to bottom dominance has ended over the past couple of years. The bottom teams in the SEC East are every bit as good, if not better, than the bottom teams in the SEC West.

8. The ACC is absolute garbage. 

With Wake Forest’s loss to Louisville, every team in the ACC except for Clemson has now lost a game.

That sounds bad.

But it’s about to get worse — every team except for Clemson and Wake Forest has already lost TWO games.

Given the fact that Texas A&M has now lost three games and looks destined to lose at least five on the year, Clemson will not finish the season having played a single team that ends the year in the top 25.

That’s unbelievable and has never occurred in the history of the college football playoff.

That’s why Clemson can’t afford to lose a game. If they lose to anyone on this schedule they’re out of the playoff, period.

The analogy I continue to draw for Clemson is they’re Florida State in 2014. A team defending a national championship with a first round quarterback who never plays that well all season.

Clemson fans will argue they can turn it on once the playoff arrives.

I’m skeptical that’s the case.

But in the meantime the ACC isn’t just bad, it’s probably the worst big five conference we’ve ever seen in the playoff era.

9. My Heisman Top Four:

1. Tua

2. Joe Burrow

3. Jalen Hurts

4. Justin Fields

I continue to believe the LSU at Alabama game in November will decide who wins the Heisman trophy.

10. My national top ten

1. LSU

2. Alabama

3. Ohio State

4. Oklahoma

5. Wisconsin

6. Penn State

7. Florida

8. Clemson

9. Georgia

10. Auburn

11. SEC power rankings 1-14

(Look, these rankings after the top six are a big mess right now. Honestly I don’t think there’s much of a difference between 7 and 13 in this conference right now, but I do believe Vanderbilt has proven itself to be by far the worst team in the conference. In the meantime I’m trying to let head-to-head conference wins dictate the standings, which the exception of clear outliers — I don’t believe South Carolina’s overall resume, for instance, is above Georgia’s.).

1. LSU

2. Alabama

3. Florida

4. Georgia

5. Auburn

6. Missouri

7. South Carolina

8. Texas A&M

9. Ole Miss

10. Tennessee

11. Mississippi State

12. Kentucky

13. Arkansas

14. Vanderbilt

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