First and 20: Four teams looking good in CFP mix

Anthony Gimino

October 30, 2016 at 11:52 am.

Oct 29, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Washington Huskies wide receiver Dante Pettis (8) returns a punt for a touchdown during the second half against the Utah Utes at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Washington won 31-24. Photo Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 29, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Washington Huskies wide receiver Dante Pettis (8) returns a punt for a touchdown during the second half against the Utah Utes at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Washington won 31-24. Photo Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Stop the season.

We have a fantastic four right now — a quartet of undefeated teams, each from a different major conference — and it’s hard to imagine we could end up with a better playoff than No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Clemson, No. 3 Michigan and No. 4 Washington.

That’s how the first ranking from the College Football Playoff selection committee is near-certain to look on Tuesday — well, maybe Clemson and Michigan will be switched — but here’s the bad news. There is still a month of the college football season to play. Wait, that’s the good news.

As tidy as the postseason looks in October’s final breath, college football always ends up being a happy mess, going from perfect to imperfect, which is exactly what one-loss teams like Ohio State, Louisville, Florida and others are counting on.

In the end, it (almost) always seems to work out.

The first two years of the playoff system portend a storm before the calm. In 2014, only one of the four teams in the committee’s initial rankings — Florida State — advanced to the playoff. Last season, just two did — Alabama and Clemson.

College football took a big whack off the top Saturday, culling Nebraska, Baylor, West Virginia and Boise State from the ranks of the unbeaten. That left the four unbeaten teams from the major conferences, plus Western Michigan of the Mid-American Conference. With Boise State’s loss, the 8-0 Western Michigan Broncos lead the herd among the Group of 5 conferences for their at-large berth in this season’s Cotton Bowl.

Saturday’s biggest loser: The Big 12.

The league’s best team is Oklahoma, which has two losses, including one in the opening week to Houston, a defeat that looks worse now, given that the Cougars haven’t gone on to be the expected juggernaut. Baylor is 6-1 but played another embarrassingly soft nonconference schedule and is otherwise the program the committee would most like to avoid, given the school’s offseason issues. West Virginia has been a nice, surprise story, but its 6-1 resume is thin, too.

There could end up being room, for the first time, for two teams from the same conference in the playoff. But there’s not enough time to go through all the possible scenarios; there is too much time left in the season.

It looks so simple now. But chaos is coming.

10 things we learned in Week 9

1. Sam Darnold is USC’s savior. The Trojans once again look like THE TROJANS, and it’s all because coach Clay Helton made the redshirt freshman his starting quarterback in Week 4. Darnold is a dual-threat — not like Lamar Jackson, but nifty with his feet nonetheless — who has opened up all the possibilities of the USC offense during a four-game winning streak.

2. Hot-seat coaches rankings are dumb. Early in the season, Kentucky’s Mark Stoops and Penn State’s James Franklin would have made the top 5 to-be-fired list among major-college coaches. Now the Wildcats have won five of six — losing only to Alabama — and are the only team that can remotely challenge Florida in the SEC East. The Nittany Lions followed up their upset of Ohio State with a 62-24 win at Purdue, the most points ever scored by an opponent at Ross-Ade Stadium.

3. And, oh yeah, Gus Malzahn. Auburn’s coach was another hot-seat guy at the start of the season, but the Tigers are nothing if not unpredictable. So, here they are, winners of five in a row after a 40-29 victory at Ole Miss, remaining an Iron Bowl threat to Alabama after beginning the season unranked.

4. The Big Ten West is fun. Nebraska, even after the overtime loss to Wisconsin, still leads at 4-1 in the conference. But the Cornhuskers have to play at Ohio State this Saturday, and another loss brings FOUR teams with 3-2 marks back into play.

5. We should be paying attention to Mason Rudolph. The Oklahoma State quarterback has passed for 1,236 yards, with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions, in the past four weeks. He solved the West Virginia defense on Saturday, which is not easy to do. Imagine what he could do to Oklahoma’s secondary to end the season — which could be for all the Big 12 marbles. Bedlam.

6. Sons of MLB players can play a little football. Arizona receiver Trey Griffey (son of Ken) caught a 38-yard touchdown pass versus Stanford. Notre Dame wideout Torii Hunter Jr. (son of Torii) got things started with a 5-yard score in a win over Miami. Texas quarterback Shane Buechele (son of Steve) threw for 291 yards in a key win over Baylor. Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes II directed a late scoring drive and then an overtime win over TCU. Washington’s Dante Pettis (son of Gary) had a game-defining punt return TD in a win at Utah.

7. Florida’s defense is all-the-way legit. The Gators held Georgia to 164 yards, their fourth game this season in which an opponent failed to reach 200 yards. Check the calendar. Is this 2016 college football?

8. It is Wyoming’s year. Widely picked to finish last in the Mountain division of the Mountain West, the Cowboys are sitting at the top after knocking off Boise State 30-28 on a late game-winning safety as the ball squirted out of the back of the end zone after a sack of Brett Rypien. Wyoming is 4-0 in the conference.

9. This shows how fall Texas has fallen. Running back D’Onta Foreman went over the 1,000-yard mark for the season Saturday, becoming the first Longhorn to do so since Jamaal Charles in 2007. Now, Texas needs to get to work on getting an offensive lineman drafted for the first time since 2008.

10. Oregon has found a quarterback. True freshman Justin Herbert completed 31 of 42 passes for 489 yards and four touchdowns as the woebegone Ducks earned their first Pac-12 win of the season by beating Arizona State. Herbert, replacing grad transfer Dakota Prukop three games ago, has 10 touchdown passes in the past two games.

5 top Heisman candidates

1. QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville. Comeback victory on the road? Check.

2. LB/RB/RET Jabrill Peppers, Michigan. He scored on a short run from the Wildcat formation, had a two-point scoop-and-score after a Michigan State fumble and he did a standing back flip after the final snap. He probably also picked out coach Jim Harbaugh’s eyewear.

3. QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson. He delivered in the clutch again, highlighting his 430 yards of offense with a 34-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Leggett with about two minutes to play in the win over Florida State.

4. RB Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State. The senior leads the nation with 1,469 rushing yards and is just 656 yards behind Ron Dayne’s FBS record of 6,397. Very do-able. Get him a Heisman invite.

5. QB Jake Browning, Washington. He wasn’t at his best in the win over Utah, but Browning has the November stages — USC, Washington State — to remain a Heisman factor.

5 games to watch in Week 10

1. Alabama at LSU (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET) — If the Tigers pull off the upset, does Ed Orgeron have a contract by the end of the night?

2. Nebraska at Ohio State (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET) — The young Buckeyes try to regain their stride in the first meeting between these cross-divisional foes since 2012.

3. Wisconsin at Northwestern (Saturday, noon ET). The Badgers have victories over three Top 10 teams this season but can’t lose focus against a Northwestern team that elevated Ohio State’s heart rate in a 24-20 loss Saturday.

4. Florida at Arkansas (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET) — Arkansas is coming off a bye, so maybe the Hogs have a fighting chance to solve the Gators’ D.

5. TCU at Baylor (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET). The stakes aren’t great this season, but this matchup has been great theater in the past few years.