Starting 11: Ohio State’s For Real Edition

Over the years Ohio State Buckeye fans have dutifully arrived at the Starting 11 and read many times here that Ohio State is the most overrated team in college football.

But this year, at long last, the script has flipped — I believe Ohio State is the most underrated team in college football.

What the Buckeyes did against Nebraska was a flat out incredible destruction of a team, that while not particularly good, also isn’t awful either.

With the win Ohio State has now won four straight games by forty or more points, something that hasn’t been accomplished in the Big Ten in decades.

That’s why I believe there’s a strong argument right now that the five best teams in college football are four SEC teams and Ohio State.

We’ll get to why I believe that in a moment, but first, let’s start with why Clemson is the most overrated team in college football so far this year.

1. Pretend you didn’t watch football last year at all and were only able to judge teams based on what you’ve seen on the field this year. 

That would mean you hadn’t seen Trevor Lawrence’s performance in the national title game or his performance at all last year and you didn’t know about Dabo and Clemson’s recent history of national titles.

All you’d have done was watch Clemson play this year, including yesterday when the Tigers were very lucky to emerge with a one-point win over Mack Brown’s North Carolina team.

If North Carolina had won the game it wouldn’t have been because of crazy, zany outcomes, it would have been because North Carolina was pretty much Clemson’s equal. Clemson posted 331 yards of offense to North Carolina’s 290 and the two teams were nearly equal when it came to running the football — UNC ran it 36 times for 146 yards while Clemson ran it 31 times for 125 yards.

This was, for all intents and purposes, a very even game between Clemson and a 2-2 North Carolina football team, which was coming off a home loss to Appalachian State.

Where would you have this year’s Clemson team ranked based on what you’ve seen so far?

I don’t think you’d have them ranked in the top ten at all.

What’s the Tigers most impressive win so far? Beating Texas A&M by 14 at home. Is that really that impressive standing alone? Syracuse on the road? The same Syracuse team that gave up 63 to Maryland?

My point is, most of Clemson’s status as the top team in college football this year is predicated on hype from last year.

This team, at least so far, feels an awful lot like 2014 Florida State — a talented team in an awful conference, which never really distinguished itself and then got blown out in the playoff.

In that analogy Trevor Lawrence is Jameis Winston, a big-armed, pocket passing national title winning quarterback who plays very average in the title defense season. (Granted Lawrence doesn’t have any of Winston’s off the field issues, but the on field comparison is very similar.)

And here’s an interesting question for you, while everyone has Clemson penciled in for the playoff, would the Tigers really deserve to go if they lose to one of these awful ACC teams and finish 12-1? I’ll discuss that in a moment below.

It’s highly likely Clemson will finish the season without beating a single top 25 opponent.

Which means Clemson also resembles Ohio State back in the day, a good team in a conference filled with awful teams.

2. The ACC is hot garbage. 

With Virginia’s 15 point road loss at Notre Dame, who is the second best team in the ACC this year?

It might be Wake Forest or Duke.

Forget the top 25, I’m not sure either of those teams is in the top 50 in college football this year.

That’s not an attempt to denigrate either school — both are incredible, private academic institutions — it’s just to point out that their average talent level is really, really low.

Yet they are excelling in the ACC this year.

Which leaves me with this statement: I don’t believe Clemson has a playoff mulligan this year.

When you look at the talented teams at the top of the SEC, the Big Ten, and the Big 12, why in the world would a 12-1 Clemson team in this bad of a conference deserve a spot in the playoff if they can’t go 13-0?

Assuming that you had, for instance, an undefeated SEC champ, a one loss (or undefeated) Big Ten champ, a one loss (or undefeated) Big 12 champ, and a one loss SEC team with an out of conference win over Oregon, Texas, or Notre Dame, how would you put 12-1 Clemson into the playoff with their resume so far?

I don’t think you would.

3. The Pac 12 has no undefeated teams left. 

But the Pac 12 top to bottom is a much better conference than the ACC.

Having said that, every team in the Pac 12 having lost before October is major evidence of why Pac 12 commissioner Larry Scott should be pushing for an eight team playoff with automatic bids for each conference champion.

It’s not ideal for college football for the Pac 12 to be effectively eliminated from playoff contention before we even get to October.

That peels off many casual fans on the west coast, who aren’t going to invest as much time if they know their team has no chance at making the playoff.

That’s why it’s wild to me that the Big 12, Pac 12, and the Big Ten, three conferences that have all been left out of the playoff so far, haven’t gotten together and made an argument to expand to eight teams and guarantee themselves a playoff spot every year.

Why in the world wouldn’t you want to guarantee yourself a playoff spot every year if you were running one of these conferences? Especially, that is, is you’re the Big 12 because that guaranteed playoff spot would make it very likely Texas and Oklahoma would never leave the conference, keeping your conference intact.

Why would Texas and Oklahoma ever leave if they knew that they had a path to the playoff every year if they just won a conference they’ll typically be the two best teams in?

Expanding to eight is a true no brainer for these conferences.

4. The SEC will have five top ten teams again this week, which will be their 19th time to accomplish this feat. 

No other conference has ever done it before.

That’s staggering.

Right now I believe Florida is a pretender to playoff contention. But the Gators will get their chance to prove me wrong this upcoming weekend when Auburn comes to town.

In the meantime, how lucky is CBS to get all these massive games down the stretch this year? Including the SEC title game, which will probably be a default playoff game this year.

Remember, CBS pays just $55 million a year for the SEC game of the week and the SEC title game.

Putting that into perspective, ESPN pays over $120 million for every Monday Night Football game.

So CBS gets the best game of the week all season long, and the SEC title game, for less than half what ESPN pays for one Monday Night Football game.

That makes the SEC on CBS deal, from a profit per dollar cost, probably the greatest deal in the history of sports on television.

It’s just unfathomable how good this deal is.

It’s up, by the way, at the end of the 2024 season and it will be fascinating to see who steps up to the plate and pays big money for this.

That deal is probably worth at least $200 million a year right now and maybe much more depending on how many big bidders there are.

5. Auburn is 5-0 and each week they have gotten better all season. 

That’s why this year’s team is starting to remind me, at least a little bit, of the 2010 national title team and the 2013 team that narrowly lost the title to Florida State.

If you remember both of those teams, they weren’t great at the start of the year, but they just kept getting a little bit better every week on offense until by the end of the year they were a complete machine.

That’s what we’re starting to see happen this year.

We knew Auburn had a stout defense, but this offense with Bo Nix is coming along in a serious way — Nix passed for 335 yards last night against Mississippi State.

In fact, if you just look at resume and quality of wins, how in the world isn’t Auburn, with a road/neutral win over Oregon and a road win over Texas A&M, the most impressive team in college football right now? No one else has two top 25 wins on the year.

Hell, no other top ten team other than Georgia and LSU even has a top ten caliber win this year.

Now, again, I’m not saying they are the best team, but I am saying when you factor in quality of wins they have been the best team on the field this year.

But, boy, how about that Auburn schedule from here on out?

They play at Florida, at LSU, Georgia and Alabama in their final seven regular season games.

That’s absolutely insane.

If the Tigers can go 3-1 in that stretch they’d be deserving of serious playoff contention, even if they don’t win the SEC West.

6. Let’s talk about Alabama here for a second. 

Tide fans are going to be up in arms about me having them the fourth best team in the SEC right now, but this defense is alarming.

Yesterday the Tide gave up 476 yards to Ole Miss, including 279 yards on the ground, good for 4.8 yards per Ole Miss rush attempt.

Combine that performance with the South Carolina game, where Alabama gave up 459 total yards and we’re talking about Alabama beginning SEC play giving up 935 total yards to two mediocre SEC teams. In fact, that’s the best offensive production both teams have had against any big five conference opponent on their schedules so far this season.

Now, I get it, you can jump up and yell about how good the offense is — and it’s truly out of this world with Tua and the wide receivers, who might be the greatest collections of pass catchers in college football history — but this defense is the worst Nick Saban has ever put on the field.

Yes, there have been injuries.

And, yes, this defense is young.

But those are just excuses. Put simply, this defense doesn’t look like it belongs to a team that’s going undefeated in the SEC right now.

In fact, Alabama goes to Texas A&M in two weeks and I’m putting the Tide on upset alert right now in that game. (This feels like the kind of game Jimbo Fisher’s Aggies step up and pull off an upset win after two weeks to prepare. I know, I know, I watched the Arkansas game too, but college football team’s are filled by emotion and they have no memory, which is why the sport is so much fun to watch. You truly have no idea what your team will do.)

But even if that upset doesn’t happen I just don’t see the Tide beating both LSU and Auburn this year.

Especially not winning at Auburn.

And if Bama does win both of those games they’re going to have to win those last two games like 52-49 and still probably face Georgia in the SEC title game.

Right now, again, if you just look at the results on the field, Alabama, to me, looks like the fourth best team in the SEC.

7. They should rename the Heisman Trophy, the Lincoln Riley. 

Look at what Jalen Hurts did against Texas Tech yesterday: 415 yards passing and 70 more yards rushing.

It’s downright possible Riley could post three straight Heisman trophy winners at Oklahoma.

That’s unheard of.

Leaving me with this question: why wouldn’t every NFL team in America be competing to hire Lincoln Riley and pay him $10 million+ to leave Oklahoma for the NFL?

Think about it, everyone in the NFL wants a Sean McVay clone, isn’t Lincoln Riley the perfect NFL coach right now? He’s the next McVay.

And if he stays in college football, how does he not become the first $10 million a year coach? I honestly feel that if you have a top 25 program and you hired Lincoln Riley that he’d put you in the playoff.

His agent is going to have a field day this year.

He’s about to be the hottest college coaching candidate in…ever?

8. How about Penn State’s destruction of Maryland on Friday night?

While there has been quite a bit of discussion about Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan this year in the Big Ten, Penn State should beat Purdue this weekend and be 5-0 when they travel out to Iowa for a match up of unbeaten teams there.

But the biggest question I have about the Big Ten is will anyone actually give Ohio State a run?

Maybe Penn State can.

But I think it’s too much to ask a young Nittany Lion team to travel to Columbus and win.

Regardless, unlike in past years when Ohio State could run through the Big Ten without playing any real competition, the Buckeyes have Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Penn State all on the schedule at home before they travel to Michigan to finish out the year.

Can any of those teams challenge Buckeye hegemony?

It will be fascinating to find out.

But props to the Big Ten on rising up to excellence again.

Just like when the SEC rose up to a new level of excellence and Urban Meyer bailed, the Big Ten is doing the same thing and Urban Meyer’s bailed again.

(By the way, is it just me or is Ohio State far, far less easy to hate now that Urban’s gone? I actually enjoy watching this team play without Urban on the sideline.)

9. My Heisman Top Four:

1. Tua

2. Justin Fields

3. Jalen Hurts

4. Joe Burrow

10. Outkick’s National Top Ten

1. Auburn

2. Georgia

3. LSU

4. Ohio State

5. Alabama

6. Oklahoma

7. Florida

8. Wisconsin

9. Notre Dame

10. Penn State

Yes, I really don’t have Clemson in my top ten. They don’t deserve it based on what we’ve seen them do on the field so far.

11. SEC power ratings 1-14

1. Auburn

2. Georgia

3. LSU

4. Alabama

5. Florida

6. Missouri

7. Texas A&M

8. Mississippi State

9. Ole Miss

10. South Carolina

11. Kentucky

12. Vanderbilt

13. Arkansas

14. Tennessee

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