Dawgs leave no doubt as Saturday exposed Bama, Clemson

ByDavid M. Hale ESPN logo
Sunday, November 6, 2022

Georgiaentered Saturday's showdown with Tennesseeas the No. 3 team in the country, which says something about how these evaluations are made.

It's true, of course, that the Bulldogs looked listless at times against miserable competition like Kent Stateand Missouri. And it's true, too, that after a dominant Week 1 win over Oregon,there's been little on the Dawgs' schedule to get excited about. And no one can dispute that Tennessee had been impressive in a narrow win over Alabama and dominant victories against LSU and Kentucky.

None of this was wrong.

Yet, how could anyone doubt these Bulldogs?

The defending champs delivered their reminder in Saturday's 27-13 win over the Volunteers, and barring an unlikely meltdown in the season's final three games, they've essentially punched their playoff ticket.

For so many of the rest of college football's top contenders, Saturday was nightmare material.

Alabamalost in overtime to LSU, giving Brian Kelly a signature win and upending the SEC West hierarchy. Bryce Young struggled, the Alabama defense had no answers for Jayden Danielsand the Crimson Tide became the third top-10 team to lose Saturday.

Ohio State slumbered through a miserable day in Evanston, as Northwestern held C.J. Stroud to just 76 passing yards. The Buckeyes prevailed 21-7, but it was the "Star Wars" prequels -- part of the canon, but no one wants to watch it ever again.

Clemson's top-four ranking will be short-lived. DJ Uiagalelei was benched for the second straight game, only Cade Klubnik entered in relief just long enough to throw an INT deep in the Tigers' own territory to set up an easy Irish TD. Notre Damemarched to a dominant 35-14 win that may well have been a death blow to Clemson's playoff hopes.

Michiganrebounded to an easy win over Rutgers, but the Wolverines trailed at the half. TCU trailed entering the fourth quarter. Illinois' magical season came to an end against Michigan State. Kansas State, Oklahoma Stateand Syracuse-- all riding a wave of enthusiasm just weeks ago -- all lost, too.

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, six teams had 40-to-1 or shorter odds to win the national title entering Saturday. Three of them lost.

And then there was Georgia, defending champs, simply taking care of business.

A year ago, the narrative Georgia endured was one of doubt -- doubt because of history, doubt because of its former walk-on QB, doubt because we demanded proof every week, and no team can deliver that.

This year, however, Georgia is powered not by the doubters, but by its own rabid confidence. This team is like the Kobe Bryant-era Los Angeles Lakers. Why get too excited over a road trip to Sacramento? Conserve your energy, bide your time.

After the season-opening win over Oregon, Georgia didn't need its A-game. Heck, Stetson Bennett might as well have relaxed on a lawn chair, dangling his feet in a kiddie pool for the first half in each of Georgia's past seven wins. These games simply didn't matter beyond ensuring that Georgia finished with more points than the other team -- a job that's become exhaustingly easy.

Just look at how Saturday's win unfolded. There were moments of pure brilliance, of course, like Bennett's throw in the back of the end zone, hitting Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint. And indeed, the matchup problems Georgia presents with Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington are utterly unfair, but that duo accounted for just 34 yards against Tennessee.

Bennett completed just 17 passes (and one run that offered an answer to a few hundred prank callers). There were no 100-yard receivers, no 100-yard rushers, no pick-sixes or long kick returns. Between rain-soaked hedges, Georgia was simply better at all the little things, and it forced Tennessee to play by that same blueprint, a plan foreign to the high-flying Vols. Tennessee climbed to the No. 1 ranking by outflanking all comers, by seeing how the magic trick was done, then plowing through the smoke and crashing through the mirrors. But Georgia offered none of that. The Dawgs just lined up, mano-a-mano, and won.

Nothing Georgia did Saturday was remarkable in a micro sense, but to view the win from a macro level was utterly breathtaking. This is what championships are built upon -- not fireworks and drama, but 11 guys doing the right thing at the same time, one play after another, again and again. This is what Georgia does better than anyone else can.

Georgia is 9-0 and has two wins over top-eight opponents by a combined score of 76-16, not because of a treasure trove of highlights and otherworldly performances, but because they're just repeatedly, relentlessly better.

Tide, Tigers dealt daggers

Alabama is the fulcrum on which all good playoff resumes are built, but this year, the Tide's chances of punching their own playoff ticket now look all but over.

Dabo Swinney assured the world he had his QB even after benching DJ Uiagalelei against Syracuseand, turns out, he was right. Cade Klubnik's interception deep in his own territory doomed the Tigers to a brutal 35-14 loss to Notre Dame, which may well cost Clemson a playoff berth, too.

For the Tide, it's their third loss in their past 10 games, its worst stretch since losing three of 10 in 2013 and 2014. But back then, those three losses were surrounded largely by dominance. The 2013 campaign ended with back-to-back losses, but the nine games that preceded them were all wins by 13 or more, and the 2014 season included a trip to the first College Football Playoff.

Now? Alabama could easily have four losses to its name already, if not for an injury to TexasQB Quinn Ewers and -- well, whatever the heck you want to say about Texas A&M. Since winning the 2020 national championship, Alabama has had 10 games that either ended with a loss or a one-possession win.

So what's gone wrong? Certainly, the receivers have not played well this season. The defense, too, has struggled at times, and had no answers for Daniels' mobility on Saturday. And then, of course, there's offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien, who spent Saturday looking like a dad really trying to relate to his teenage kids as he talked to them about the birds and bees.

Whatever the reasons, the bigger takeaway is this: Alabama used to beat teams getting off the bus. Now, that air of invincibility is gone, and that 2020 dominance feels like an awfully long time ago.

The same is true for Clemson, which ruffled feathers with its No. 4 ranking in the committee's initial top 25 after close wins against Wake Forest, Florida State and Syracuse. But wins are wins, and the Tigers continued to pile them up, in spite of all the red flags. The luck came to a screeching halt Saturday, as Notre Dame utterly annihilated the Tigers' O-line, frustrated Clemson's QBs into two brutal INTs and scored on a botched punt.

It's not enough for Notre Dame to doom the ACC to a slow death by refusing to join full time. Now the Irish have all but knocked the ACC out of playoff contention. Notre Dame has now won 28 straight games against the ACC in the regular season, including beating both of 2022's likely division champs this season. Jack Swarbrick also stole Jim Phillips' lunch money just for fun.

Clemson's path to 11-1 is still fairly straightforward -- home against Louisville, Miamiand South Carolina to close out the regular season -- but there's a real question of whether turning over the offense to Klubnik with an eye toward 2023 makes sense. Clearly the young QB needs reps, but it seems equally clear he doesn't make Clemson immediately better.

Alabama and Clemson have combined to win five of the eight national championships in the playoff era. There's never been a season in which neither team made the playoff. After Saturday, 2022 is shaping up as a new era.

TCU gives us the drama we deserve

It's a shame the College Football Playoff committee doesn't see the beauty of TCU's modus operandi in 2022. The Horned Frogs entered Saturday ranked No. 7 in the committee's initial top 25, a slap in the face for a team that had yet to lose, that had four wins on the road, that had toppled four straight ranked foes.

The argument, it seemed, was that TCU doesn't win impressively enough, but "impressive" is a subjective term, and frankly, we can't imagine why anyone would prefer a blowout to what has become the Horned Frogs' weekly three-hour drama.

The narrative played out just as it always does on Saturday. TCU jumped out to an early lead over Texas Tech. The Red Raiders charged back and took a 17-14 lead into the fourth quarter. Then TCU pounced. The Horned Frogs are predators, and they enjoy toying with their prey.

Against Texas Tech, TCU scored 21 points in the fourth quarter. Sonny Dykes' crew has now outscored opponents 55-14 in the final frame of its past four games.

The committee believes these late-game heroics are a sign of weakness. But perhaps TCU is just too cool for the committee. The Horned Frogs are the team that arrives to a party fashionably late, sporting a tuxedo T-shirt, a belt buckle the size of a Ford Focus and carrying a bottle of Hennessy it's not intending to share.

Who needs blowouts? The college football season gives us far too many of those. TCU gives the people want they want -- drama, intrigue, purple. It's as if Prince were a college football team.

And sure, the dominance of other teams might impress the committee, but dominance is a tricky thing to maintain. Just look at Ohio State's Saturday trip to Evanston, Illinois. The usually dominant Buckeyes went to halftime tied at 7 with lowly Northwestern, pulled into the depths of misery by a team that knows that terrain far better. C.J. Stroud's Heisman Trophy campaign hit its biggest roadblock of the season against an opponent that surrendered 33 points to Iowa last week. Stroud averaged less than 3 yards per pass in Saturday's 21-7 win. Now that is a real reason for committee skepticism.

But TCU? Those close games aren't a reason for doubt. They're a mark of certainty. TCU is consistent, and there's genuine value in that. The Horned Frogs are like an episode of "Law and Order: SVU." The early scenes might be tough to watch, the bad guys will have the upper hand and Ice-T will seem confused about what's happening -- but in the end, the audience knows the good guys always find a way to win.

So, what's not to like about that? The committee wants blowouts, wants boredom. Well, not everyone gets the luxury of playing in the same division as Rutgers and Indiana.

We'll take drama every time, and TCU -- those guys know how to deliver the goods.

Noles win big

A year ago, Florida State's final-drive comeback to beat Miamilikely sealed head coach Manny Diaz's fate. He was fired at year's end, despite the Hurricanes winning five of their final six games. That loss was too much to ignore.

And the move paid off, because this year's loss to Florida State is definitely one Miami fans will want to ignore.

Jordan Travis threw three touchdowns in Florida State's 45-3 win over the rival Canes, the largest road win by either team in the history of this series.

Trey Benson, who was entirely overlooked by Mario Cristobal when the two were together at Oregon, got a good taste of revenge, carrying 15 times for 128 yards and two touchdowns.

The win was so dominant that John Ruiz's next Miami stadium proposal will actually be just a circus tent in the Everglades, while the Seminoles now have a genuine shot to run the table and finish the regular season with nine wins.

Heisman Five

The three leading Heisman contenders all had a brutal Week 10. Bryce Young, C.J. Stroudand Hendon Hooker combined to complete just 53% of their passes, averaged 5.4 yards per throw and had just one passing TD with two picks. Their Heisman campaigns certainly aren't over, but after performances like that, we're dropping all three from the list for this week, at least. So, who should be in the mix if we forget about the top contenders?

1. North CarolinaQB Drake Maye

The redshirt freshman threw for 293, ran for 74 and accounted for three touchdowns in North Carolina's 31-28 win over Virginia. Maye has been borderline flawless this season and has led UNC to come-from-behind wins against Georgia State, Duke, Pitt and the Cavaliers.

2. Oregon QB Bo Nix

Four more touchdowns for Nix in Saturday's 49-10 win over Colorado, and he's now accounted for 35 touchdowns on the season. That's one more than he had in 2020 and 2021 combined at Auburn.

3. USCQB Caleb Williams

Williams has accounted for 14 touchdowns in his past three games after Saturday's 41-35 win over Cal, with a date against woeful Colorado up next. But the final two games on USC's slate -- at UCLAand home against Notre Dame -- are what will likely make or break Williams' Heisman chances.

4. UCLA QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson

DTR had his fifth career game with multiple rushing and passing touchdowns in Saturday's 50-36 win over Arizona State.He's just the ninth Power 5 QB of the playoff era with five such games, joining the likes of Jalen Hurts, Lamar Jackson, Marcus Mariota and Patrick Mahomes.

5. MinnesotaRB Mohamed Ibrahim

He missed Minnesota's Week 5 game against Purdue(and the Gophers' offense disappeared) but he's still well over 1,000 yards on the season after Saturday's performance which included 32 carries, 128 yards and two touchdowns. Ibrahim has now eclipsed 100 rushing yards in 17 straight games dating back to Minnesota's bowl win over Auburn at the end of the 2019 campaign. Since at least 2004, no other running back has had a longer streak.

Going for two

Florida41, Texas A&M24

Point 1: Texas A&M was down more than a dozen players for this one, in large part due to the flu.

In fairness, there was no room in the budget for flu shots what with everyone checking their couch cushions to afford Jimbo Fisher's buyout.

Point 2: Anthony Richardson accounted for four touchdowns -- two passing, two rushing -- and turned in his best game of the season, and Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper is already wondering if he can just go ahead and draft Richardson now.

Liberty21, Arkansas 19

Point 1: Liberty is a failed 2-point try away from being undefeated with wins over two Power 5 teams and BYUright now. The Flames' remaining schedule is a road trip to UConnand home against Virginia Techand New Mexico State. There's a good chance this team will finish 11-1 in the regular season. It's honestly a bit heartbreaking to consider how close we might've been to Liberty holding a parade through Lynchburg and claiming a national championship based on some rather murky language in an obscure passage in the Book of Revelation.

Point 2: Unless Houston Nutt has any pending litigation at Auburn, doesn't it seem like Hugh Freeze makes a ton of sense there?

Temple54, USF28

Point 1: Temple running back Edward Saydee entered Saturday with just 290 rushing yards on the season. But against USF, Saydee carried 24 times for 265 yards and three touchdowns in the 54-28 win.

Point 2: It's fair to wonder if this was the last straw for USF's Jeff Scott. The Bulls are 1-8 on the year and haven't won a conference game. The 54 points allowed to Temple are 24 more than the Owls had scored in a game this season. Under Scott, USF is 4-26, and with SMU, a road trip to Tulsa and the finale against No. 25 UCF remaining, it's unlikely things will get much better.

Kansas37, Oklahoma State16

Point 1: Kansas is going bowling. Well, sure, we assume the Kansas football team spends much of December bowling anyway -- probably using those lanes with the gutter barriers because no one can endure more failure after a typical Jayhawks season. But this year, Kansas is actually going to a football bowl game, thanks to Saturday's win over Oklahoma State. It will be Kansas' first bowl game since 2008. In the interim, every FBS team except UMassand James Madisonhave played in a bowl.

Point 2: Saturday also marked Kansas' first win over an AP top-25 opponent since 2010, when the Jayhawks knocked off No. 15 Georgia Tech. According to ESPN Stats and Information, the longest current losing streak against ranked opponents now belongs to Rutgers.

SMU77, Houston63

Point 1: There were 140 total points scored in this game. That is more than nine different teams had for the entire season entering Saturday. In Iowa, the broadcast of this game was censored as obscene content and replaced with images of Kirk Ferentz enjoying a warm glass of milk.

Point 2: Clayton Tune threw for 527 yards, ran for 111 and had eight touchdowns. And he lost. Tanner Mordecai, on the other hand, accounted for 10 touchdowns in the win -- Ten! -- and the combined effort of 16 passing touchdowns is the most ever in a game in FBS, FCS, Division II or Division III history, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Texas34, Kansas State27

Point 1: Bijan Robinson is a bad, bad man, and perhaps the most overlooked superstar in college football. He finished Saturday with 30 carries for 209 yards, and now has more than 1,100 rushing yards on the season. If Texas can win out, there's a non-zero chance Robinson can fight his way into the Heisman conversation.

Point 2: Kansas State has to be the most difficult team to pin down this season. Lose to Tulane, beat Oklahoma. Get edged by TCU late, destroy Oklahoma State, then lose to Texas. It's hard to blame Adrian Martinez for any of it. He threw for 329, ran for 52 and accounted for three touchdowns Saturday. Still, he clearly brought too much Nebraska with him to Kansas State. The Cornhusker curse cannot be erased by a simple trip through the transfer portal.

Michigan52, Rutgers17

Point 1: Rutgers led 17-14 at the half. Never forget that. On the other hand, in its past four games, Michigan has outscored its opponents 100-3 in the second half.

Point 2: Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards each ran for 109 yards, and Michigan's ground game continues to dominate. The Wolverines are one of just three teams to rush for 150 yards or more in each of their first nine games this season, along with Oregon Stateand Air Force.

The most college football thing to happen in Week 10

For years, we'd foolishly assumed that the "Tech" in Louisiana Techinsinuated some type of boring technical education, like mechanical engineering or learning how to fix computers by unplugging them and then plugging them back in. But no. All this time, La Tech has been working on a far greater marvel of human achievement.

Did any of the previous 21 Tech mascots have their own cars? Does it make any sense that the dog is driving a Bugatti rather than, say, a perfect scale model of the General Lee from "Dukes of Hazzard"? And what does Uga think about all of this?

On second thought, don't bother asking any of those questions. Something this perfect does not need a backstory.

Oh, and Louisiana Tech beat Middle Tennessee40-24, so honestly any team that doesn't have a live mascot in a remote-control car is probably just throwing away wins.

The other most college football thing to happen in Week 10

Hey, kid. Do your impression of what's happened to Virginia's offense this season.

Under-the-radar game of the week

Marshallwon a game in which it didn't score a touchdown, had just 89 passing yards, and turned the ball over twice. Iowais so jealous right now.

On the other hand, Marshall's defense forced four turnovers, held Old Dominionto just 209 yards of offense, and stuffed the Monarchs on 14 of 16 third- or fourth-down tries.

The Thundering Herd beat Old Dominion, 12-0, in the fourth game this season without a touchdown being scored. The first two, of course, included Iowa. The third came last week between Miami and Virginia. So, congrats, Marshall. We're sure you're excited to add your name to that illustrious crew.

Under-the-radar play of the week

After back-to-back losses in ACC play, the league's defending champ finally got back in the win column with a 19-9 victory over Syracuse.

That's not to say all went well forPitt, however.

See, this is why the analytics said to go for it.

Nothing could be finer ...

There haven't been many easy ones for North Carolina this season, but the Tar Heels escaped Virginia 31-28 on Saturday to give Mack Brown his first win in Charlottesville in his career. Drake Maye threw for 293 yards, ran for 74 more and accounted for three touchdowns to further bolster his Heisman credentials. UNC is now 8-1 and looks all but assured of winning the ACC Coastal.

But the party doesn't end in Chapel Hill.

On Friday, Duke toppled Boston College 38-31 to move to 6-3, meaning all four of the North Carolina schools in the ACC -- including NC State and Wake Forest, too -- are bowl eligible for the first time ever.

None of this makes up for the fact that vinegar-based barbecue sauce is like wringing out a gym sock onto your pulled pork, but it's still deserving of a serious Ric Flair "Woooooooo!" to celebrate.

UConn gets chesty

We don't want to alarm anyone, but UConn is one win away from bowl eligibility. It's fine. The odds are still not in its favor, but if you've been considering building that bomb shelter in your backyard, now might be a good time to plunk down the deposit.

The Huskies picked up win No. 5 on Friday by beating UMass, which comes just one week after toppling Boston College, and that had UConn's social media team feeling its oats.

This is new territory for UConn, so we'll forgive the mashup of John Irving and George R.R. Martin, but what's utterly unforgivable is this total erasure of Holy Cross. The Crusaders are 9-0, and until UConn beats them, there will be no official title of Kings of the North bestowed upon anyone.

Big bets and bad beats

The safest bet in sports paid out again Saturday. Whenever two service academies get together, it's limbo time -- go low, lower and even lower on the game totals. The total for Saturday's matchup between Army and Air Force was just 40.5 -- a number Army had eclipsed by itself in each of its past two games, and a total Air Force had hit alone four times this season. But we know how this story ends. Army's offense managed just 145 yards total, and the two teams combined to run the ball -- and run out the clock -- 85 times. Final: Air Force 13, Army 7. The win ensured the Falcons the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy for the first time since 2016, and since 2005, the under in any game featuring two service academies is 43-9-1, including the past 10 straight (and 15 of the past 16).

Michigan Statepulled off the shocker against No. 16 Illinois, despite managing just 294 total yards -- 147 fewer than the Illini -- and going 3-of-11 on third down. The Spartans were 16-point underdogs in the game and the money line on a Michigan State win paid out at +550. We're hoping Spartans boosters had plenty of cash on their guys in this one, since a win like this undoubtedly means a hefty extension is coming for Mel Tucker.

Entering Week 10, Ohio State had the shortest odds to win the national championship at +190, according to Caesars Sportsbook. But after Georgia's domination of Tennessee, the Bulldogs are now the clear betting favorite at +150. Ohio State is the second-shortest odds now at +200.

The game total for SMU-Houston closed at 65.5. The Mustangs and Cougars hit that with 5:34 left in the second quarter, then doubled the total with 5:13 left to play in the game.

Related Video