Playoff Pulse: Michigan moving toward playoff contention
The rebuilding projects at Michigan and Florida have been kicked into overdrive, with new coaches turning the Wolverines and Gators into unexpected College Football Playoff contenders.
The 18th-ranked Wolverines pitched a third straight shutout, hammering previously unbeaten and No. 13 Northwestern 38-0 Saturday to set up a huge Big Ten rivalry game next week in Ann Arbor against No. 4 Michigan State.
The Spartans have owned Michigan in recent years, winning six of seven meetings. But this is Jim Harbaugh's Michigan and this looks like a very different bunch of Wolverines. Meanwhile, the Spartans (6-0) are unbeaten but laboring. For the second straight week, they slipped by a team at the bottom of the Big Ten, winning 31-24 at Rutgers.
Michigan (5-1), which went 5-7 under Brady Hoke last season, has outscored its last three opponents 97-0 and 160-14 during a five-game winning streak since losing the opener at No. 5 Utah.
''The fellas really came out ballin' right from the start,'' Harbaugh said Saturday after the latest rout.
Harbaugh's arrival at his alma mater was the story of the offseason, but conventional wisdom was it would take the former Michigan quarterback at least a year to get the Wolverines back into the national championship conversation.
Well, now Michigan is a win away from barging into the thick of the playoff race seven games into the Harbaugh era.
At Florida, it's Jim McElwain who has quickly returned the Gators to national relevance in his first season as coach. No. 11 Florida followed up its huge win against Mississippi at home last week with a smothering defensive performance in a 21-3 victory at Missouri on Saturday.
Next up for the Gators is a trip to Death Valley for a night game next week with No. 7 LSU and Leonard Fournette. After going 11-13 the last two seasons under Will Muschamp, the Gators (6-0) have raced out to a 4-0 start in the SEC with McElwain, the former Colorado State coach and Alabama offensive coordinator.
While the Wolverines and Gators are trending up, No. 19 Georgia is sliding fast.
A week after getting crushed at home by Alabama, the Bulldogs let a 21-point lead get away at Tennessee, losing 38-31. Georgia also lost Heisman Trophy contender Nick Chubb to a knee injury on the game's first snap. The severity is still unknown, but coach Mark Richt was hopeful after the game that his star won't need surgery.
Good news, yes, but the last two weeks have been crushing for Georgia. So much was expected of Richt's team and the SEC East looked ripe for the taking this season, with Tennessee still growing up, Florida rebuilding, and Missouri retooling after consecutive division titles.
With two SEC losses already, that division crown could already be out of reach for the Bulldogs.
''I feel like we're a resilient team and we'll be able to come back and move forward from this,'' quarterback Greyson Lambert said.
TWO UTES? OR MAYBE EVEN NO. 1
The unlikely battle of the last two unbeaten Pac-12 teams went to No. 5 Utah.
The Utes held off Jared Goff and No. 23 California 30-24, giving Utah fans another reason to believe their team should be No. 1 in the AP Top 25.
The Utes (5-0) received seven first-place votes last week and figure to pick up a few more and edge up the rankings again on Sunday when the latest media poll comes out. No. 1 Ohio State played another spotty game, pulling away from Maryland, 49-28. No. 2 TCU needed to rally from behind to beat Kansas State 52-45 in Manhattan. No. 4 Michigan State also needed a late touchdown to win 31-24 at Rutgers.
For another week the question will be: Why not the Utes as No. 1?
SEE YA SOONERS
No. 10 Oklahoma is not out of the College Football Playoff race after being upset 24-17 by Texas at the Cotton Bowl, but the Sooners simply don't look like a team that is a real threat to run the table in a very competitive Big 12.
Oklahoma got pushed around on both lines by the Longhorns, which does not bode well for next week's trip to Kansas State, not to mention November games at No. 3 Baylor and No. 2 TCU.
Sooners fans have been beyond frustrated with coach Bob Stoops' program in recent years. Oklahoma, which owned the Big 12 for so long, has slipped into the pack.
Stoops revamped his staff in the offseason, bringing in offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley to rev up the Air Raid offense, but the Sooners are still stuck outside the elite programs in the country.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP