Week 10 overreactions: Bama not a top-four team? Oregon a CFP lock? Not so fast

There’s less than a month left in the 2021 college football regular season, and the legitimate College Football Playoff contenders will begin to emerge over the next four weeks.

Can Georgia and/or Oklahoma go unbeaten? Who will win the Big Ten East? Can Cincinnati become the first Group of 5 team to claim one of the four CFP spots?

Those questions will be answered between now and Dec. 5, when the final CFP rankings are announced.

For now, college football’s pulse will ebb and flow with the weekly CFP rankings. We’ll get the second edition on Tuesday night.

In the meantime, here are some overreactions from Week 10:

Alabama isn’t a top-four team

While they’re not quite as explosive on offense as they were a year ago, the Crimson Tide still rank No. 4 in the FBS with 43 points per game. Quarterback Bryce Young, in his first season as a starter, has thrown for 2,755 yards with 28 touchdowns and only three picks. Receivers John Metchie III and Jameson Williams are potential first-round picks in the 2022 NFL draft, according to ESPN’s Todd McShay.

There’s only one problem: The Crimson Tide don’t block very well. The offensive line’s woeful performance in Saturday night’s 20-14 victory over depleted LSU was further proof. Alabama had 6 net rushing yards, tying for its lowest rushing total in a game dating back to at least 1940. The Tide also ran for 6 yards in a 9-0 loss to Penn State in 1990.

“I think there are a lot of things in the game that we probably didn’t do well,” Tide coach Nick Saban said Saturday night. “We didn’t block them up front really well. We didn’t run the ball very well on offense. We couldn’t run it at the end of the game when we needed to. We weren’t as effective on third down. We had some protection issues. A lot of things that we can fix, and I think we need to fix them so we can be a little more consistent.”

Surprisingly, the offensive line has struggled for much of the season. Alabama has allowed 22 sacks in nine games, including four in a 41-38 loss at Texas A&M and four more against LSU. The Tide’s sack rate of 6.6% is nearly three times as high as No. 1 Georgia’s (2.3%) and ranks 74th among FBS teams.

While left tackle Evan Neal has played well, right tackle Chris Owens has struggled in pass protection and left guard Javion Cohen hasn’t been great on run plays. Against LSU, the Tide lost starting center Darrian Dalcourt to an ankle injury, forcing Owens to move to center. Alabama has plenty to shore up before it closes the regular season at No. 13 Auburn in the Iron Bowl on Nov. 27 and a potential date against Georgia in the Dec. 4 SEC championship game. But that doesn’t mean the Tide won’t get it done.

Oregon is a lock for the CFP

The Ducks were No. 4 in the CFP selection committee’s initial rankings last week, and they might be even higher on Tuesday after No. 2 Alabama struggled against LSU and No. 3 Michigan State suffered its first loss, 40-29 at Purdue.

Oregon can clinch the Pac-12 North title if it defeats Washington State at home Saturday (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN & ESPN App) and Oregon State loses to Stanford at home. But then it will get tricky for the Ducks. They play at Utah on Nov. 20 and close the regular season against Oregon State in the Civil War at home.

ESPN’s FPI gives the Ducks only a 12% chance to win out, including the Pac-12 championship game, likely another meeting with Utah, and get to 12-1. FPI gives six other title contenders — Georgia (94%), Cincinnati (84%), Oklahoma (54%), Ohio State (40%), Notre Dame (37%) and Alabama (31%) — better odds of finishing the regular season with one or fewer losses.

The CFP selection committee will correct its Cincinnati mistake

There was plenty of outrage last week, at least on Twitter, that undefeated Cincinnati wasn’t included in the top four in the initial CFP rankings. I wrote in this space last week that the Bearcats deserved to be about No. 6, and the selection committee agreed.

So, after the Spartans lost to the Boilermakers, the Bearcats have to move up, right? Maybe not, or at least not very much. Cincinnati struggled for the third week in a row against a lesser opponent, needing two goal-line stands in the final minutes to secure a 28-20 victory over Tulsa, which dropped to 3-6. A week earlier, the Bearcats led Tulane just 14-12 at the half (the Green Wave are 1-8). Before that, they led Navy 13-10 at the half (the Midshipmen are 2-7).

My guess is the selection committee will penalize the Bearcats for another ho-hum performance. My guess is they’ll move up to No. 5 or stay at No. 6, behind Georgia, Oregon, Alabama, Ohio State and perhaps even Michigan State.

Florida will fire Dan Mullen

A day after Dan Mullen admitted he didn’t see the Gators‘ humiliating 40-17 loss at South Carolina coming, he fired defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and offensive line coach John Hevesy on Sunday. Anyone who has watched Florida’s defense the past two seasons probably saw that news coming from a mile away, but wondered why it hadn’t come sooner.

In the past three games, all losses, the Gators allowed 123 points, their second-most points allowed during a three-game span in the past 100 years, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Only in the final three games of the 2020 season, when LSU, Alabama and Oklahoma combined to score 144 points, has Florida allowed more.

“I looked at how we played Saturday and some things that built up to it, we weren’t where we needed to be,” Mullen said Monday. “We’re not better than we were earlier in the year. In fact we’re worse than we were earlier in the year, and so we had to make some changes with what we’re doing, with where we’re at.”

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Following another tough loss, Florida’s Dan Mullen says the Gators will make changes with what they’re doing and where they’re at.

Florida’s fall has been swift and shocking. Last season, the Gators whipped rival Georgia 44-28 and won the SEC East. They nearly knocked off Alabama in the SEC championship game in a 52-46 loss, then were run over by Oklahoma 55-20 in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic after many of their best players opted out.

On Sept. 18, Florida nearly upset the No. 1 Crimson Tide again in a 31-29 loss. That was the highlight of the 2021 season. Since then, the Gators fell at Kentucky for the first time since 1986, lost to an LSU team that had already fired its coach (and would announce it the next day), looked thoroughly overmatched in a 27-point loss to Georgia, then suffered its worst loss in school history against South Carolina, a rebuilding Gamecocks team no less.

The biggest indictment against Mullen is that the Gators just aren’t playing hard and aren’t disciplined. They’ve lost back-to-back games by 20 or more points for the first time in his tenure. They’ve dropped eight of their past 10 games against Power 5 opponents, with the only wins against Tennessee and Vanderbilt.

Linebackers coach Christian Robinson will direct the Gators’ defense the rest of the season, while former Syracuse and UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni, previously a special assistant, will move into an on-field role. Assistant Michael Sollenne will coach the offensive line.

Florida’s biggest problem is recruiting. The Gators’ current class for 2022 is ranked seventh in the SEC and 23rd in the country by ESPN. Missouri, Georgia Tech, Indiana, South Carolina and West Virginia have classes that are currently ranked higher. That’s not good enough for the flagship university of one of the most fertile recruiting states in the country.

Sure, Mullen’s comments last week about not wanting to talk about recruiting until after the season might have been taken out of context and blown out of proportion. But it’s no secret that recruiting isn’t his specialty and that he doesn’t particularly like it.

With games left against FCS opponent Samford, Missouri and Florida State, Mullen’s job seems safe for now. Losing any of those games might change that, however.

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