College Plus: Right Now, To Repeat, Right Now, Is Clemson A Playoff Team?

Tom Luicci

Five questions

Q.If the playoffs started today – and based on team performances to this point – would Clemson be one of the final four?

First, this is not an over-reaction to the one-point escape on Saturday against a future sub-.500 North Carolina team. Now let’s set aside the hype, reputation, what the AP Top 25 poll says and the Tigers’ track record over the past four years. All of it is irrelevant when evaluating the four playoff teams for this year. The four best teams.

Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma and Ohio State have all been more impressive to this point. Georgia, Auburn and Wisconsin are not far behind. That’s based on results at this juncture of the season, nothing else. Clemson will continue to suffer because of the woefully weak ACC, which is historically bad this season. Because of how rotten things are in throughout the league, the Tigers won’t be able to post a significant victory until facing Wake Forest on Nov. 16. And the more Clemson struggles against ACC competition the more their case as a playoff qualifier suffers. It’s early, of course. But right now, despite the hype and the rankings and what has happened two of the past three years, Clemson is not a playoff team.

Go ahead. Have at me.

Q.Exactly how much quarterback talent has Nick Saban been stockpiling at Alabama the past couple of years?

Start with the day Tua Tagovailoa had in Alabama’s 59-31 rout of Ole Miss. The Tide QB passed for a school-record six touchdowns, ran for another and threw for 418 yards. He now has 23 touchdown passes without an interception this season.

Then there’s Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts, the Alabama transfer. He passed for 415 yards – his first 400-yard passing game -- and three touchdowns and rushed for another score in the Sooners’ 55-16 romp over Texas Tech, finally suffering his first interception of the season.

Wait. There’s more. In Arkansas State’s 50-43 win over Troy, Layne Hatcher, who transferred from Alabama after spring practice, passed for 440 yards and four touchdowns in his first career start. Hatcher, a redshirt freshman, became the Red Wolves’ starter because of a season-ending injury thumb injury to Logan Bonner.

All of it adds up to 1,273 passing yards and 13 passing touchdowns in one day by current and past Alabama quarterbacks.

Q.Is college football ready for a November that could see Minnesota 8-0 and Wake Forest 9-0?

The Golden Gophers are 4-0 after Saturday’s 38-31 victory at Purdue, and their upcoming four-game stretch makes 8-0 realistic, with Illinois, Nebraska, Rutgers and Maryland on deck. P.J. Fleck’s crew the hosts Penn State on Nov. 9 before closing with Iowa, Northwestern and Wisconsin.

Wake Forest is 5-0 heading into an open date after a 27-24 win at Boston College, with home games against Louisville, Florida State and N.C. State to follow and a trip to Virginia Tech before facing Clemson on Nov. 16.

Q.Just how good is Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard?

When rushing performances require invoking Barry Sanders’ name that’s something special. Hubbard looks as if he might be just that after rushing for 296 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries in the Cowboys’ 26-13 victory over Kansas State. After being “held” to 121 yards against Texas, the 6-1, 190-pound sophomore recorded his third 200-yard rushing game of the season on Saturday. That puts him at 938 yards for the year (with 10 TDs and a 7.3-yard per carry average), meaning he will be a 1,000-yard rusher at the mid-point of the season next week. That’s Sanders-like.

Q.Isn’t it about time the powers-that-be reduce the polls from 25 teams to 15?

Way back when, the polls were a Top 20. It was that way for decades. Then they expanded to 25 teams. Now? There’s really not much point ranking teams after 15 any more for a couple of reasons. One, there just aren’t that many quality teams. Two, the 18 through 25 spots are a weekly revolving door. Three, no team ranked lower than 15 is going to have an impact on the playoffs, so what’s the point?

Let’s make the polls about quality and elite teams. Not just teams that become ranked by default. Trimming it down to 15 would give meaning back to the polls and to being ranked. Seriously, who pays attention to rankings outside the Top 10?

On the rise

Baylor (4-0)

Slowly but surely Matt Ruhle is performing the same rebuilding miracle in Waco that he did with Temple. Bears aren’t there yet, but they’re competitive again and just two years away from being a factor in the Big 12 race.

Memphis (4-0)

Tigers, who opened the year by beating Ole Miss, beat an always-tough Navy team by rallying from a 20-7 deficit. The AAC West race now looks to be between SMU, Memphis and possibly Tulane.

UMass (1-4)

The Minutemen won a game – and how many people thought that would happen this season? Never mind that Akron is 0-5. UMass won 37-29 despite having six players suspended, three of them offensive starters.

On the decline

USC (3-2)

Clay Helton? Try Clay Pigeon for all of the shots he figures to be taking now. Just when you want to trust USC again the Trojans revert back to being average (and no excuse-making about having to rely on a third string QB).

BYU (2-3)

Erratic Cougars suffered their second straight loss, this one a 28-21 defeat to Toledo, and the reality is they are eight points away from being 0-5.

Georgia Tech (1-3)

Geoff Collins left Temple for Atlanta … so he could lose 24-2 to the Owls? Yellow Jackets are another one of those dreadful ACC teams.

Who’s hot

DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

The junior did in one day what most wideouts would like to be a month’s worth of production: 11 catches for 274 yards and five touchdowns in the 59-31 rout of Ole Miss. The yards and TD catches are school records.

Tanner Morgan, QB, Minnesota

It will be interesting so how the redshirt sophomore grades out after connecting on his first 14 passes before finishing 21-of-22 for a career-high 396 yards and four TD passes in a 38-31 win at Purdue. Say, 99.9 percent?

Tua Tagouvailoa, QB, Alabama

Hard to overlook a guy who sets a school record with six passing touchdowns, rushes for a score and throws for 418 yards in an SEC game – even if his greatness is easy to take for granted. He now has 23 TD passes without an interception this season.

Who’s not

Virginia’s offensive line

Notre Dame entered the game against the Cavs with four sacks all year. The Irish defensive line – no blitzing required – recorded eight sacks in a 35-20 victory. That’s truly an offensive line.

Adrian Martinez, QB, Nebraska

As inconsistent as an experienced college QB can be. He was 8-of-17 for 47 passing yards with three interceptions in a 48-7 home loss to Ohio State. Two of those INTs led to touchdowns. But he will be great against Illinois.

Matt Myers, QB, Buffalo

Bulls may be in a sudden decline and Myers didn’t help in a 34-20 loss to Miami of Ohio, going 4-of-16 with two interceptions. He also lost a fumble. Remember when Buffalo was sneaky good? Not any more.

Playing it forward

The top games of the coming week (all times Eastern)

Iowa at Michigan, Noon, FOX

Time to find out if the Hawkeyes are for real or if they’re headed for another one of those patented four-loss season Kirk Ferentz specializes in. Wolverines had a bye last week, beating Rutgers 52-0.

Auburn at Florida, 3:30, CBS

The game of the week. Tigers are battling to stay with Alabama and LSU in the SEC West. Gators are scrapping to stay with Georgia in the East. This is letting it rip, SEC style.

Michigan State at Ohio State, 7:30, ABC

Spartans have been a disappointment despite a 4-1 start, fluctuating between good offense and good defense with no identity yet. They better find one in a hurry against the Buckeyes.

Story Lines

1. So Rutgers AD Pat Hobbs finally pulled the trigger on his horrible hire, firing coach Chris Ash Sunday following a 52-0 loss to Michigan that left Ash 8-32 for his three seasons-plus. Hobbs, who is little more than a fundraiser, hired Ash in five days after conducting his own search – even though he has no football background (yes, it was a half-Ashed decision). It was a bad fit from the start, and that’s on Hobbs. The problem now is the at Hobbs’ enormous ego and arrogance may preclude a return by Greg Schiano because it’s hard to see those two co-existing. Good thing Hobbs is a fundraiser, too, because Rutgers owes Ash a reported $8.47 million. Wonder how long the Rutgers administration will be able to live with a mistake that costly from its AD, especially since the next guy will cost even more and will have to dig out from a massive hole (yet again) created by Hobbs’ hire.

2. Washington State coach Mike Leach can be among the most entertaining and quotable people in the sport, but he can also be among the least sensitive – while avoiding blame he deserves. Following the Cougars’ 38-13 loss to Utah Leach was quoted as saying “we’re a very soft team, fat, dumb happy and entitled.” A question: Who built this team? An observation: Maybe if Leach taught defense every now and then he would have a tougher group. Sorry, this is on Leach and his one-dimensional brand of football. He should have taken ownership for the performance. It’s too easy to insult the players he recruited and developed.

Tom Luicci was the national college football and basketball writer for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. from 1979-2014.

Comments (2)
No. 1-2

Time for a change at BYU, too. They are so mediocre and bland, this guy is never going to get them to the promised land...a mid level bowl game, against a Power 5, fourth place in their conference school.


Your question about Leach is legitimate. He runs the show, and brings these guys in. Maybe time to toughen up, himself, and cut the fat and entitled out of the program.

TMG Maven