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College Football Check-In: Will the Real Buckeyes Please Stand Up?

College Football Check-In: Will the Real Buckeyes Please Stand Up?
College Football Check-In: Will the Real Buckeyes Please Stand Up?
Published: 2023-09-18

Depending on perspective, there have either been a lot of intriguing storylines or distractions to go along with the games taking place on the field to begin the college football season. With the non-conference schedule primarily behind us, let’s check in on some of the themes and how they might progress.

Pacific-12 Conference

The Pac-12 has eight teams ranked in the AP Poll. Deion Sanders and his Colorado Buffaloes have stolen the headlines with a perfect 3-0 start, though they did face a scare Saturday night against in-state rival Colorado State.

Colorado’s rise has been something akin to the Fab Five at Michigan three decades ago, as they aggressively used the transfer portal and NIL to rebuild their roster in short order. Sanders has made sure people are aware of their success, which has won him his fair share of fans and enemies.


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Though it’s been fairly smooth sailing so far, CU will be without two-way star Travis Hunter for two touch matchups against the Oregon Ducks and USC Trojans in the next two weekends. We’ll quickly get a true feel how good this team is.

Utah, Oregon, Washington and USC are ranked inside the top 11, making them legitimate contenders for the college football playoffs. As the teams square off against each other, some will inevitably fall down the rankings, but this conference is ironically on the rise in its final year of existence.

Will Ohio State contend again?

The Buckeyes are 3-0 and a +101-point differential to this point, so it’s difficult to say they have had a down season. However, quarterback Kyle McCord looked shaky in the opener against Indiana – the team’s only actual competition so far – but will have to put up a strong performance if the Buckeyes will win at Notre Dame.

As always, the Big 10 East is daunting, as Michigan, OSU and Penn State are ranked inside the top seven. Losing any two of the Michigan, PSU and Notre Dame showdowns would almost certainly cost the Buckeyes a shot at the playoff field – the standard set for the program.

What’s going on in the SEC?

LSU and Alabama took early season non-conference losses to Florida State and Texas, respectively. Even Georgia, still ranked atop the AP poll, didn’t look convincing in its SEC opener and needed a second-half rally to beat South Carolina on Saturday.

The Bulldogs will likely reach the playoffs again due to an exceptionally easy schedule that features non-conference foes Ball State, UT Martin and UAB, and a conference schedule that doesn’t include ‘Bama or LSU. However, for now, they look beatable in the context of other top teams in the county.

From there, the conference has been shockingly mediocre. Ole Miss will be the team to watch, as they have a daunting schedule that will make them a lock for the playoffs if they survive. The Rebels face the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa on Saturday followed by hosting LSU the following weekend.


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If they win both games, the Rebels may still have to beat Georgia before making it to the final four. That will leave coach Lane Kiffin begging for the expanded postseason field to come a year earlier.

Traditional Powers Revived

We’ve mentioned Texas and Florida State in passing, but they deserve a deeper dive. Both programs have a rich history of success, but not much of it has come in the last few years. That seems to be changing. They are ranked third and fourth, respectively.

The Longhorns will play host to Oklahoma in the Red River rivalry on Oct. 7, their toughest matchup remaining. Assuming the Big 12 gets a representative in the playoff field, the Longhorns should be penciled in.

Florida State has a more difficult path. They’ll travel to Death Valley this weekend, a tough test even though Clemson is having a relatively down season. Even if the Seminoles survive, they’ll face a pair of in-state rivalries against Miami and Florda to end the season.

Those matchups could decide whether Florida State manages to make the playoff field for the first time since the 2014-2015 season.

Can a Darkhorse Emerge in the ACC?

We’ll use Florida State to dive into our final topic – is there a darkhorse that can make a run up the polls? The Big Ten is playing out as projected towards the top, and we’ve covered the top contenders from the Big 12, SEC, and Pac-12.

That leaves the ACC as the best place to look for a surprise riser similar to what we’ve seen from Cincinnati and TCU the last two seasons.

North Carolina could be the team to keep an eye on, primarily because they have a likely top-five draft pick in 2024 under center in Drake Maye. The Tar Heels avoid Florda State in the regular season, leaving Miami and Duke – they draw both at home – as their toughest tests.

The Tar Heels should have a path to the ACC Championship Game and can either wait for Florida State to stumble or beath them in the conference playoffs to make their case for a chance to play the CFP.

Photo credit: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

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