First & 20: Be patient as CFP gets some clarity

Anthony Gimino

November 09, 2015 at 11:14 am.

Nov 7, 2015; Stillwater, OK, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys linebacker Chad Whitener (45) reacts against the TCU Horned Frogs during the first half at Boone Pickens Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 7, 2015; Stillwater, OK, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys linebacker Chad Whitener (45) reacts against the TCU Horned Frogs during the first half at Boone Pickens Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

It was just last week when fans of (insert your team here) were likely losing their minds over the first rankings from the College Football Playoff selection committee.

Patience, grasshoppers.

It’s impossible to please everybody with those kinds of things in early November, but the winnowing process made significant progress Saturday in terms of clarity.

To wit:

We no longer have an Ole Miss problem. There existed the chance the Rebels could win out, thereby blocking a one-loss Alabama team, ranked fourth in the initial rankings, from winning the SEC West. Ole Miss lost yet another of college football’s I-can’t-believe-it-endings to Arkansas on Saturday.

We no longer have a TCU problem. The Horned Frogs were ranked lower than many expected — eighth — but they couldn’t out-run their defensive injuries (and couldn’t cover or tackle Oklahoma State receiver James Washington) as they lost 49-29 to the Cowboys.

We no longer have a Group of Five problem. Unbeaten Memphis, holding a win over Ole Miss, went down to Navy. Houston, also of the American Athletic Conference, moved to 9-0 Saturday but the Cougars were only 25th in the initial CFP rankings and don’t have the same juice the Tigers did. For good measure, undefeated Toledo fell, too.

LSU and Michigan State each suffered their first losses, so let’s put them at the back of the line without argument.

It is now much safer to break out the “control their own destiny” line.

— Clemson (9-0). The Tigers knocked off Florida State 23-13 and has the easiest remaining path of the top contenders — although you haven’t been paying attention if you don’t think a potential ACC title game against North Carolina in Charlotte is really, really interesting.

— Alabama (8-1). Sure, the Tide was probably over-ranked at No. 4 last week. Whatever. Not now. The Tide’s silencing of LSU running back Leonard Fournette spoke loudly. Work to be done: Winning at Mississippi State and Auburn, and solving Florida’s defense in SEC title game.

— Ohio State (9-0). With games coming up against Michigan State and at Michigan, plus a potentially unbeaten Iowa in the Big Ten title game, Ohio State’s strength of schedule and momentum will be just fine. As for the quarterback position, that issue reignites this week with J.T. Barrett coming off a one-game suspension.

— Baylor or Oklahoma State. An undefeated Big 12 champ would trump the rest of the field. Tune in Nov. 21 when the teams play in Stillwater.

For now, assuming form holds (ha!), the teams standing on their tiptoes, eyes closed, waiting for a kiss that may never come could be Notre Dame and Stanford. Both can’t win out. They play each in Stanford on Nov. 28. The potential one-loss winner of that game could still be a playoff loser.

5 things we think we learned in week 10

1. Missouri players find their voice. A group of 32 black players announced Saturday night they will stop participating in football-related activities until university system president Tim Wolfe steps down or is removed. The players are protesting what they see as a lack of appropriate response from Wolfe regarding racial tensions on campus. Wrote defensive back Anthony Sherils on social media: “The athletes of color on the University of Missouri football team truly believe ‘Injustice Anywhere is a threat to Justice Everywhere.'”

2. Hold off on anointing Baylor QB Jarrett Stidham. The true freshman was fabulous to the tune of 419 passing yards against Kansas State in his seamless plug-and-play starting debut, but he’s still a true freshman. Don’t overreact. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU await. All it takes is a freshman moment or two to scuttle Baylor’s perfect season.

3. It’s not 2011 for the Alabama D, but close enough. The Tide stuffed and mounted LSU running back Leonard Fournette as its latest big-game trophy, holding him to 31 yards on 19 yards. This is easily Nick Saban’s best defense since the historical outfit that carried Alabama to the 2011 national title.

4. The next great USC back is here. True freshman Ronald Jones II ran for 177 yards, including a 74-yard touchdown, and also had a receiving score to help the Trojans hold off Arizona. Interim coach Clay Helton is giving Jones more run each week. Said Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez: “Big, fast and strong; has great vision. He’s special.”

5. We want to be a Nebraska beat writer. C’mon, scribes. You’ve been handed award-winning material all season: all those painful Cornhusker losses — BYU’s Hail Mary, the for-naught comeback at Miami, the scores by Illinois and Wisconsin in the final seconds — and now a win to help balance the karma: The gift of a call as Brandon Reilly came back in bounds to catch a 30-yard touchdown pass with 17 seconds left to beat previously undefeated Michigan State 39-38. Officials ruled Reilly had been pushed out of bounds, making it legal for him to come back in. Not really, but coach Mike Riley deserved one good thing to happen to him this season.

5 top coaching vacancies

There are already 10 openings, with the dominoes just beginning to fall …

1. USC. A Rose Bowl berth is still in reach for the Trojans, and if interim head coach Clay Helton gets them there, don’t over-think it, USC. Just give him the job. USC recruits itself — and all on a tank of gas — so the school just needs to worry about having an adult in charge of all of the team’s ridiculous young talent.

2. Virginia Tech. Passionate fans. Tradition. A there-for-the-taking ACC Coastal Division. In-place talent. Coach Frank Beamer is leaving behind a gem. Much of the early focus on a replacement has been on Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez.

3. South Carolina. The Gamecocks have SEC money to throw around and the league’s East division doesn’t supply the big barrier to success as the West does. The new coach can reach out and touch all the great recruiting hubs in the region. Hello, Houston’s Tom Herman?

4. Miami. We can think of a lot of reasons to stay away — facilities, fans and money haven’t been top-shelf (and do you really want to deal with all the high-expectation football alums?) — but coaches have been known to stumble upon a good recruit or two in south Florida.

5. Maryland. Three words: Under Armour money.

5 top Heisman candidates

1. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama. If by elevating him to No. 1 we’re guilty of a knee-jerk reaction to his 210 rushing yards and three touchdowns against LSU, we can live with that.

2. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson. Watson accounted for 404 yards in the win over Florida State, including a season-high 107 on the ground. He’s completing almost 70 percent of his passes and is averaging 310.8 passing yards in the past four games for the nation’s No. 1 team.

3. Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor. Twenty touchdown receptions in eight games? Who does that? Only Coleman. He has 18 scrimmage plays of 30 yards or more; that’s six more than anybody in the nation.

4. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford. He really can do it all. He rushed for 147 yards against Colorado, threw a 28-yard touchdown pass, and is averaging 241.56 all-purpose yards per game.

5. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State. He’s rolling along with 138.2 rushing yards per game. While the previous frontrunners — LSU running back Leonard Fournette and TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin — fizzled in spotlight games Saturday, Elliott’s showcases are still ahead of him.

5 best week 11 games

1. Oklahoma at Baylor (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET). The season-ending gauntlet begins for each. The Sooners have averaged 58 points in the past four games. The Bears are averaging 57.4 for the season. Super fun.

2. Alabama at Mississippi State (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET). The Tide faces one of the few good quarterbacks in the league, and Dak Prescott is the kind of no-mistake, running threat that can give Bama fits.

3. Oregon at Stanford (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET). The Ducks are playing their best ball of the season now that QB Vernon Adams has gotten healthy. The Cardinal are up two games in the Pac-12 North, so that’s not up for grabs as much as Stanford’s continued viability for the College Football Playoff.

4. Washington State at UCLA (Saturday, 10:45 p.m. ET). Don’t miss this nightcap. The Bruins still control their destiny in the Pac-12 South, the Cougs are hot, and the next wave of great Pac-12 QBs are on display — WSU sophomore Luke Falk and UCLA true freshman Josh Rosen. #Pac12AfterDark

5. Memphis at Houston (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET). Memphis is no longer in the fringe of the big-bowl discussion after its loss to Navy, but the AAC West still needs sorted out. The unbeaten Cougars will also play host to the Midshipmen to end the season. Film Room Review

Analyst Rob Rang’s five prospect takeaways for this week. Players listed including position, school, year (Height, weight and current overall rating and by position).

5. ILB Kentrell Brothers, Missouri, 6-0, 238, Sr. (#98 overall/#4 OLB in Class of 2016): Snubbed from the Butkus Award semifinalist list, Brothers went out and forced a key fumble and blocked his third kick of the season. He lacks elite size and speed, but Brothers offers terrific instincts, reliable open-field tackling skills and a knack for making the big play.

4. DT A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama, 6-3, 312, Jr. (#25/#4): Robinson led an Alabama defense that held LSU running back Leonard Fournette to 31 yards on 19 carries. He won with brute strength and stunning agility to record two tackles for loss and even block a PAT. Powerful, athletic and built like a vending machine, Robinson is a picture-perfect run defender.

3. QB Dak Prescott, Mississippi St., 6-2, 230, Sr. (#88, #7): The Heisman hopeful accounted for four touchdowns over the first three quarters against Missouri, including a beautiful scoring pass to wideout Fred Brown while rolling right.

2. RB, Derrick Henry, Alabama, 6-2, 242, Jr. (#38/#2): Henry (210 yards, three TDs) deftly side-stepped would-be tacklers and drove forward off strong cuts to accelerate quickly into the secondary. Once at the second level, Henry’s power and surprising breakaway speed showed up, helping him pick up yardage in chunks.

1. CB Jalen Ramsey, Florida State, 6-1, 202, Jr. (#4/#1): Ramsey stood out even in a losing effort, starring in coverage, as a rusher and in run support. He ended four different Clemson drives, showing the versatility that has scouts so excited about his fit in the NFL.