Conference-only calendars have continued to chew up many of the SEC’s top contenders, leaving the league to hinge its college football playoff hopes on just four regular-season games.
After a tough Saturday, the SEC has just four teams with fewer than two losses and a narrowing list of options for the domestic semi-finals.
That’s not to say the SEC champion isn’t a lock for the top four, or even that the conference will have no reason to catch up to half of the playoffs, especially in this season. single regular.
And the SEC still has a monopoly on the spotlight on college football. Alabama’s 41-24 victory over Georgia was one of the most anticipated games of the regular season and perhaps the most important game in terms of impact on the playoffs.
Before the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs, however, Auburn and Tennessee fell to 2-2 after losing as favorites to longtime opponents – the Tigers to South Carolina and Tennessee at home to Kentucky.
The Tigers and Volunteers join LSU, Florida and others to fight the conference-only planning model that eliminated the warm-up period of non-league games against pushovers and forced teams into more clashes. demanding against opponents of the SEC.
Saturday was not a complete disaster. Texas A&M fell to 3-1 after beating Mississippi State 28-14, the Aggies’ second straight win after an unbalanced loss to Alabama in October. Arkansas are now a very impressive and unexpected 2-2 after beating Ole Miss 33-21.
And Alabama made a strong case for being No.1 in this week’s Amway Coaches poll. Even after a disappointing loss, Georgia will remain the team to beat in the Eastern Division and a threat to win the SEC and return to the playoffs.
Here are the rest of Saturday’s winners and losers in college football:
Georgia Tech’s Clemson rout’s breathtaking 73-7 roster list includes 17 players who made at least one reception, which is absolutely ridiculous. (Coach Dabo Swinney’s two children, Will and Drew, managed a catch.) Behind Trevor Lawrence’s 404 passing yards and five touchdowns, the Tigers went undefeated and could have done enough to stay on top. of the coaches survey.
The Wildcats followed two narrow losses, against Auburn (29-13) and Ole Miss (42-41), with back-to-back wins over Mississippi State and Tennessee. The two victories were punctuated by the defense. The Wildcats returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the first five minutes of the game and held Tennessee to just 287 yards of attack for 34-7, the program’s first victory at Knoxville since 1984.
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There was understandable concern over how the Hurricanes would bounce back after losing to Clemson, especially against a motivated opponent in Pittsburgh looking to rewrite his season after losing back-to-back single-point games. It wasn’t a banner performance: Miami’s 31-19 win didn’t include much of the running game (2.6 yards per carry) and saw quarterback D’Eriq King throw two interceptions for the second game in a row. But King threw four touchdowns, a season-high, and the Hurricanes held on to stay at the heart of the New Years Six Bowl conversation.
The Razorbacks are the Bowl Subdivision’s biggest surprise and one of the big hits in recent SEC history. After notching six Ole Miss assists in the 12-point win, Arkansas sit 2-2 under freshman coach Sam Pittman after being picked in some circles to win no more than once against this calendar reserved for the SEC.
The Mike Norvell era has its defining moment. After a horrific start – an unbalanced loss to Miami, Norvell pulled away after testing positive for COVID-19 – the Seminoles pulled off the biggest upheaval of the year, dominating North Carolina early, then retaining a win 31-28. The decision to name Jordan Travis as a starting quarterback paid off for the offense, which aligned with the former Louisville transfer. Travis finished with 191 passing yards and 107 rushing yards, one of two Seminoles to cross the 100 yards rushing mark.
Pushed and threatened by an attack from Georgia that hit explosive plays in the air and a defense from Georgia that is dangerous when able to attack the passer, Alabama responded to a 24-17 deficit. by scoring the last 24 points of the match. Credit goes to quarterback Mac Jones, who had another stellar day but the victory was sparked by an unlikely source: the Alabama defense. Criticized through three games, the Crimson Tide made two key interceptions in the third quarter to trigger the impressive victory.
South Carolina had never beaten Auburn as a member of the SEC. The Tigers hadn’t lost to the Gamecocks, period, since 1933. It was that kind of year. After spotting Auburn a 16-7 lead in the second quarter, South Carolina went on a 23-6 run to win 30-22 and knock the Tigers out of the playoff pursuit. Auburn lost despite rushing for 209 rushing yards, scoring the program’s first loss to cross the 200 yard mark since the start of the 2016 season.
This is where we pick a win, which is unfair given the number of other preseason contenders who have already suffered one, two or even three losses. But the Fighting Irish weren’t inspiring in a 12-7 victory over Louisville, who had allowed 38.7 points per game and 6.8 yards per game losing three straight games in ACC. While he is able to dominate the clock, direct the ball efficiently and avoid any crucial rolls, Notre Dame’s general apathy does not fuel confidence in how the Irish will fare against Clemson next month. .
Needing a win to stay within range of Cincinnati and SMU in the United States, UCF spat out leads of 21, 14 and 12 points in the second half and missed the potential winning basket with 19 seconds to lose. -49 against Memphis. . For the Tigers, who were led by senior quarterback Brady White, 486 passing yards and six touchdowns, the win ends a 13-game losing streak against the Knights dating back to 1990. After seeing his weak hopes to make the playoffs completely eliminated in an earlier loss. This month in Tulsa, falling in Memphis jeopardizes UCF’s chances of claiming the bowl access offer given to the best team in the Group of Five. Combined, White and UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel totaled 1,034 passing yards and 11 scores.
The sky does not fall. Even after losing to Alabama, the Bulldogs remain at the heart of the playoff race and are the most likely contender to come out of the East Division and meet the Crimson Tide in December for the SEC Championship. The loss raises questions about Stetson Bennett’s future as a starting quarterback and the health of a defense that had dominated for three games but allowed the Crimson Tide for 564 yards. These two issues can and will be resolved before these two teams meet again. Biggest Concern: Will Georgia and Kirby Smart ever beat Nick Saban and Alabama?
Follow USA TODAY Sports University reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg