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  • Who needs to be worried if Georgia wins the SEC title and throws Alabama into the mix for the final few playoff spots? Plus, Minnesota's defensive resurgence, the most disappointing teams of 2018 and the rest of the #DearAndy mailbag.
By Andy Staples
November 14, 2018

After the the least eventful College Football Playoff rankings reveal since the playoff began, you’re spinning forward and asking about a very intriguing scenario involving the final ranking…

From Vijay: How concerned should the one-loss teams vying for No. 4 be about the SEC stealing two spots if UGA beats Bama?

They should be very concerned if Georgia beats Alabama in the SEC title game. They probably should be less concerned about Georgia actually beating Alabama, because while this version of the Bulldogs gets better every week and the program will be a year-in, year-out national title contender for the foreseeable future, Georgia will have to play a near perfect game to beat Alabama.

But let’s say it happens. What happens next probably depends on how that game goes. No matter the score, a 12–1 Ohio State, Oklahoma, Washington State or West Virginia probably would get left out in favor of a 12–1 Alabama. Ohio State would have the same problem it had last year—a blowout loss to a lesser opponent. Concerns about Oklahoma and West Virginia’s defenses would buoy the Crimson Tide, and strength of schedule/strength of record would keep Alabama above the Cougars.

Given Vijay’s Block M Twitter avatar, I’m pretty sure he’s less interested in what would happen to those teams, though. And it feels like the situation would be different with Michigan.

Michigan can beat teams by outscoring them or by smothering them (or by doing both). The Wolverines have a loss, but in this scenario it would be a one-touchdown loss on the road against a playoff team. There are no strength of schedule/strength of record issues. Of this group, Michigan feels like the one team the committee might place ahead of a 12–1 Alabama—as long as Alabama’s loss to Georgia is decisive.

If Alabama lost by a field goal in triple-overtime—especially in a game with a controversial late call—then the committee might be more willing to keep Alabama above Michigan. That scenario probably would make the committee more willing to give Alabama a mulligan.

RAPAPORT: A Way-Too-Early Look at the SEC Title Game's X-Factors

From @MollyThePit1: Who’s had a more disappointing season: Miami, USC or Wisconsin?

This is a really interesting question because to figure out who is more disappointed, we have to decide if the initial expectations for the season were realistic.

Miami’s expectations were understandably high after a 10-win season and an ACC Coastal title. And while the Hurricanes’ defense has continued to play at a high level, the offense has gone off a cliff. The complaints out of the Miami fan base about coach Mark Richht now sound an awful lot like the complaints out of the Georgia fan base circa 2014 and 2015. I disagree with the notion that Richt should turn over playcalling to someone else. He’s at his best when he’s calling plays. He just needs to find his David Greene, D.J. Shockley or Aaron Murray. He also needs to hope some smart athletic director doesn’t hire Hurricanes defensive coordinator Manny Diaz as a head coach, because Diaz’s defense is what has kept the Hurricanes from being terrible this year. The disappointment in South Florida is real, but let’s see how it stacks up to the other two.

Wisconsin entered this season with playoff expectations coming from idiots like me on the outside, but internally Badgers coaches knew they didn’t have the roster to maintain the defensive dominance of the previous three seasons. That’s our fault for pumping them up without doing our homework. What blunts the disappointment in Madison is the probability that the Badgers will bounce back into the double-digit win club next year. Wisconsin won at least 10 games every season from 2014 to ’17. The Badgers have the most clearly defined identity in college football, and coach Paul Chryst and that staff recruit very well to that identity. This season probably hurts, but better days are on the way.

USC’s fans expected the Trojans to compete for a national title. That fanbase has expected national title contention pretty much every non-sanction year since Pete Carroll unlocked the formula for winning at USC. Internally, a Pac-12 South title was the realistic expectation. Now, that’s gone too. It’s highly unlikely that the Pac-12 South is going to be worse than it is now, and the fact that Clay Helton and his staff couldn’t win it this year erased any goodwill from the staff’s first two seasons, which featured a Rose Bowl win and a Pac-12 title. Fairly or unfairly, quarterback Sam Darnold now receives full credit for those achievements. Based on recruiting rankings, USC should have the most talent of any team in the Pac-12 year after year. The Trojans should be dominating a conference that is down at the moment. The fact that they aren’t is why Helton’s job is in jeopardy, and that’s why they’re the most disappointing of the three teams in this discussion.

I should have expected that one of the finest screengrabbers on the Internet would provide a visual aid. Minnesota has been involved in two of the season’s weirdest results in the past two weeks. On Nov. 3, Illinois—which has averaged 6.1 yards a carry in all other Big Ten games—averaged 12.3 yards a carry in a 55–31 win against Minnesota. After that game, Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck fired defensive coordinator Robb Smith and elevated defensive line coach Joe Rossi to interim coordinator.

What happened next? Purdue, which had averaged 6.8 yards a play in its other Big Ten games, averaged a measly 3.8 yards a play against the Golden Gophers. That’s a truly amazing one-week turnaround. Purdue coach Jeff Brohm blamed himself for the Boilermakers’ poor offensive performance, but he didn’t complain about an unsolvable scheme. He lamented allowing his players to get overconfident after beating Iowa.

It will be fascinating to see if the Gophers can maintain that improvement through the season’s final two games. They need one more win to get bowl eligible, but their last two games are against Big Ten West champ Northwestern and Wisconsin—a team Minnesota hasn’t beaten since 2003.

I can’t remember a dramatic turnaround that lasted the rest of the way after a midseason change. Oklahoma fired Mike Stoops after the Texas game this season and interim coordinator Ruffin McNeill’s defense looked good in wins against TCU and Kansas State. But we’ve found out from the Sooners’ games against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State that the improvement was a function of playing poor offenses. Against good offenses, Oklahoma’s defense looked about the same. LSU had a similar jump on offense in 2016 after Les Miles and coordinator Cam Cameron were fired and Steve Ensminger was named interim coordinator by then interim coach Ed Orgeron. The Tigers looked explosive against Missouri, Southern Miss, Ole Miss, Arkansas and Texas A&M—all of which had subpar defenses. Against Alabama and Florida, LSU scored a total of 10 points.

What makes the Minnesota situation so interesting is the fact that the Gophers didn’t respond to the coaching change by shutting down a bad offense. They shut down an explosive offense. And perhaps that means they might be able to win one of two games that previously looked unwinnable and make a bowl game.

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