The Road Report: College Football America Week 9


The Road Report is College Football America/RoadTripSports.com Publisher Kendall Webb’s weekly review of the college football landscape – from the major colleges of the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision to the small colleges of the NCAA’s Division II and III along with the NAIA and the junior colleges of the NJCAA and CCCAA.

THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL AMERICA SPOTLIGHT

James Franklin’s Nittany Lions are looking like playoff material.

Penn State absolutely rolled Michigan last Saturday night 42-13, and if there’s a team that’s felt like it could stand up to Alabama in 2017 so far, it’s the Nittany Lions.

Granted, there’s a lot of football left, and it starts Saturday afternoon when Penn State visits Ohio State in a game that feels like it could possibly decide who makes it into the College Football Playoff. That is, at least until the following week when Penn State plays at a rejuvenated Michigan State that only has one loss heading into a road trip at Northwestern this Saturday.

And, of course, the following week Michigan State will visit Ohio State, and, well, you get the point – every week in the Big Ten right now feels like a quarterfinal game, if you will, for the playoff. It’s possible that one team will navigate that narrow path to the playoff or it’s possible those three teams will all beat up on each other until nobody is left standing.

At the moment, the Big Ten is definitely the league to keep an eye on, and if we had to pick the team we think will survive that gauntlet, at the moment, it feels like Penn State with its monster defense and some kid named Saquon Barkley. Barkley had been relatively quiet in back-to-back games against Indiana and Northwestern, but he reemerged with a vengeance against Michigan. He carried the ball 15 times for 108 yards and two touchdowns including a 69-yard touchdown run on his very first opportunity of the game.

He also caught three passes for 53 yards and another touchdown while re-establishing himself as the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy.

But first things first. Before they start handing out any trophies of any kind, Barkley and company will have to find a way to win at an Ohio State team that has recovered nicely since losing to Oklahoma at home back on September 9. The Buckeyes were struggling on offense at the time, but they seem to have fixed most of their issues putting up at least 54 points in their past four games.

It’s huge. It’s the RoadTripSports Game of the Week. And the winner will be one step closer to the playoff.

ROADTRIP REPLAY

It was a good week as the College Football America crew made it to four games.

Marshall’s defense was too much for Middle Tennessee to overcome in a 38-10 rout.

I got things kicked off with a Friday night visit to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (one of my alma maters) hosted the Marshall Thundering Herd in a game televised on ESPN2. Marshall proved too hot to handle for their hosts, however, and returned to West Virginia with a 38-10 win – their sixth, making the Herd eligible for the postseason.

Then on Saturday I made it down to Atlanta to see Georgia State’s second game at their new Georgia State Stadium – which is actually the old Atlanta Braves’ Turner Field. The Panthers lost to the visiting Troy Trojans in a 34-10 blowout to fall to 0-2 in their new digs. The stadium, by the way, retains much of the old Turner Field infrastructure, and it is one of the more unique stadiums in the FBS. It’s odd with part of the original grandstand wrapping around behind the new visitor stands, and I don’t know if the plan is to tear any of that down or not. But the important part is, it works – there was a decent crowd on hand, and it felt like Georgia State’s own unique home after spending their first few years with small crowds in the cavernous Georgia Dome.

Back in Texas, CFA Associate Publisher Chuck Cox paid a visit to his alma mater as well taking in Stephen F. Austin’s homecoming win over Houston Baptist. The Lumberjacks prevailed 27-10 on a steamy afternoon contest in Nacogdoches.

CFA Editor-in-Chief Matthew Postins covered the small college circuit for us with a trip to Commerce, Texas. He watched the NCAA Division II No. 10 Texas A&M-Commerce Lions score a late touchdown to hold off the unheralded Angelo State Rams in a 34-20 win.

Our game/team count to date:

61 High School and College Football Games
NCAA FBS: 39 out of 130 teams
NCAA FCS: 8 out of 124 teams
NCAA D2: 9 out of 169 teams
NCAA D3: 11 out of 249 teams
NAIA: 10 out of 88 teams
Juco’s: 11 out of 135 teams

NCAA FOOTBALL BOWL SUBDIVISION (NCAA FBS)

Week 9 kicks off Thursday night with four games, none of which have much impact on the national scene. Stanford is the highest-ranked team in action at No. 24 in our College Football America 130, and they’ll take on Oregon State on the road 9 p.m. ET. At 1-6, however, the host Beavers shouldn’t provide much of a challenge to the Cardinal.

Two of the other three games feature a couple of MAC contests – Toledo at Ball State and Eastern Michigan at Northern Illinois both kick off at 7 p.m. ET – while the third contest is a Sun Belt matchup between two middle-of-the-road teams with South Alabama at Georgia State at 7:30 p.m. ET.

There’s also a trio of games Friday night including Florida State at Boston College at 8 p.m. ET which is interesting mostly to see if the 2-4 Seminoles can rally to make it to the postseason. Another 8 p.m. ET contest features Tulane at Memphis in the American Athletic Conference, and finally at 9 p.m. ET, Tulsa will visit SMU in another American tilt.

The real action comes Saturday, however, and the first big test of the day is 12 noon ET when FWAA-NFF No. 11 Oklahoma State visits West Virginia, ranked No. 25 in our CFA 130.

Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and his Buckeyes have been in must-win territory since a Week 2 loss to Oklahoma. They’ll host the No. 2 Penn State Nittany Lions in one of the season’s biggest games Saturday.

Then at 3:30 p.m. ET, things really start to heat up when that big matchup between Penn State and Ohio State takes place. The Nittany Lions are undefeated, and Ohio State has one loss meaning it’s a must-win for the Buckeyes. But really, Penn State can’t afford a loss in Columbus either as Ohio State would then hold the tiebreaker so there’s a lot riding on this game for both teams.

At the same time, NC State will visit Notre Dame featuring two 6-1 teams in a playoff eliminator. The winner, however, will emerge in the thick of the playoff race heading down the final stretch.

Two other 3:30 ET games feature undefeated teams in difficult road contests. FWAA-NFF No. 3 Georgia will have to navigate their annual neutral site contest against Florida in Jacksonville in one of those ‘throw-out-the-records’ games. Florida is only 3-3, but Georgia is right at the top of the Gators’ list of biggest rivals. They’ll be anxious to pull the upset and salvage what they can from a season that has fallen short of expectations.

FWAA-NFF No. 4 TCU also has a tough road trip with a visit to Ames, Iowa, to face the suddenly relevant Iowa State Cyclones – 5-2 and ranked No. 26 in our CFA 130.

Finally, CFA No. 14 Michigan State still harbors its own playoff hopes at 6-1, and the Spartans will put those dreams on the line at a 4-3 Northwestern team.

If you have anything left in the tank after that remarkable line-up of afternoon contests, there’s an interesting 8 p.m. ET matchup featuring Georgia Tech at FWAA-NFF No. 7 Clemson. And the 9:30 p.m. ET contest featuring FWAA-NFF No. 14 Washington State at CFA No. 27 Arizona promises to keep you well-entertained until after midnight as the visiting Cougars try to keep their playoff hopes alive.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF

Last week, we entered the weekend with 22 teams still alive in our College Football Playoff Pool, and we trimmed that down to 18 teams by the end of the weekend.

We’re guaranteed to lose at least one more team as there is a Group 2/Playoff Eliminator on the board. Other than that, it’s theoretically possible that 17 teams could remain in the pool next week. There are some tough games for our Group 2 teams, however, and we take a closer look at those below.

Group 1 teams

For the first time all season, we didn’t lose any of our Group 1 teams as all six of last week’s undefeated teams from Power 5 leagues are still unbeaten.

This week, Alabama moves to the top of the pool. The Crimson Tide have a bye week, and are thus, the only team guaranteed to still be undefeated in this group by the end of Saturday night.

Wisconsin and Miami (FL) are ranked in the Nos. 2 and 3 positions with road trips to Illinois and North Carolina, respectively, that shouldn’t present any major challenges. Beyond that, however, things get interesting.

Head Coach Kirby Smart and his Georgia Bulldogs can’t overlook the Florida Gators Saturday.

It starts with CFP Pool No. 4 Georgia which will take on Florida, as always, on a neutral field in Jacksonville. Make no mistake about it, Georgia is a far better team, and the Bulldogs would be favored by even more than the 14.5 points they are currently favored by if this was anyone other than the Florida Gators. The reality is, this is a rivalry game with a desperate Florida team – a 3-3 Florida team – that will be trying to avoid falling under .500. Georgia can’t make the mistake of overlooking the Gators or a promising season will take a very sour turn.

CFP Pool No. 5 TCU is walking into a potential trap Saturday afternoon, too, with a visit to Ames, Iowa, to take on the Iowa State Cyclones who will be looking for their second monster upset of the season after taking down Oklahoma a few weeks back.

Perhaps, the biggest challenge for Group 1 teams, again, is CFP Pool No. 6 Penn State’s visit to CFP Pool No. 13 Ohio State. This is arguably the biggest game yet of the 2017 season.

Group 1 Eliminators

There are no more Group 1 eliminators possible for the remainder of the regular season.

Group 2 teams

With no Group 1 losers last week, Group 2 shrunk from 14 teams to 10 this week as Kentucky, Michigan, USC and Virginia were all booted from the pool and moved to Group 3 after suffering their second losses of the season.

There are some tough games for our Group 2 teams this week – CFP Pool No. 12 Oklahoma State’s game against West Virginia has danger written all over it. CFP Pool No. 14 Washington State’s visit to Arizona also feels like a potential upset along with CFP Pool No. 15 Michigan State’s trip to Northwestern. Of course, we covered Ohio State’s game versus Penn State above as well.

But the only game that’s guaranteed to knock a team out of the Pool this week is our Group 2/Playoff Eliminator below.

Group 2/Playoff Eliminators

  • CFP Pool No. 16 NC State at CFP Pool No. 11 Notre Dame

Group 3 teams

As usual, we won’t list any Group 3 teams until it becomes apparent they might receive consideration for the College Football Playoff.

Group 4 teams

UCF and USF are all we’ve got left here, but the beauty of it is, these two teams are both in the same division of the American Athletic Conference and, arguably, each is the other’s biggest rival. And if the football gods are inclined to allow it, they’ll both be undefeated when they meet on Friday, Nov. 24, with a potential longshot bid to the playoff on the line.

Other games involving two undefeated teams

These are games between undefeated Group 1 teams and undefeated Group 4 teams. Group 1 losers in this case would fall to Group 2 while Group 4 losers would be eliminated. There will be no more of these matchups in 2017.

Other Playoff Eliminators

This category is for games between Group 2 and Group 4 teams. Any Group 2 losers in these games would move to Group 3 where they would only receive playoff consideration under the most extreme circumstances while the Group 4 losers would be eliminated from playoff contention. These games are essentially playoff eliminators. There will be no more of these matchups in 2017.

FWAA-NFF SUPER 16 POLL

As members of the FWAA, we rely on the FWAA-NFF Super 16 Poll as our official rankings at RoadTripSports.com supplemented by our own College Football America 130 where we rank every team in the FBS (essentially, the Top 16 of our CFA 130 reflects how I would vote if I was voting on the FWAA-NFF Super 16). The Alabama Crimson Tide are still the nation’s No. 1 team. You can read this week’s update on the poll changes here.

FWAA-NFF Super 16 Schedule

  • No. 1 Alabama, Idle
  • No. 2 Penn State at No. 6 Ohio State
  • Florida vs. No. 3 Georgia at Jacksonville, FL
  • No. 4 TCU at Iowa State
  • No. 5 Wisconsin at Illinois
  • Georgia Tech at No. 7 Clemson
  • No. 8 Miami (FL) at North Carolina
  • No. 15 NC State at No. 9 Notre Dame
  • Texas Tech at No. 10 Oklahoma
  • No. 11 Oklahoma State at West Virginia
  • UCLA at No. 12 Washington
  • Duke at No. 13 Virginia Tech
  • No. 14 Washington State at Arizona
  • Houston at No. 16 USF

ROADTRIPSPORTS.COM GAME OF THE WEEK

What else can you say about this one that hasn’t already been said? Well, how about this: the winner of this game is in the playoff.

Seriously, I think that’s how big this one is. If Penn State wins, Ohio State will have two losses, and the Nittany Lions will hold the tiebreaker even if they stumbled at Michigan State the following week. With Rutgers, Nebraska and Maryland to close the season, this is the two-week stretch that will make or break this Penn State team.

Of course, a loss to Michigan State in that scenario could open the door to the Spartans, but only if Sparty goes on the road the following week and wins at Ohio State. Either way, it seems unlikely that this Penn State will let it get away from them if they can pull this one off in Columbus Saturday afternoon.

And, no, I haven’t forgotten about a potential undefeated Wisconsin waiting for them in the Big Ten Championship Game. That only makes it all that more enticing, and I think the best team from the East is still better than the Badgers.

But who the heck knows? That’s the beauty of college football, and somewhere in all that mess, there’s likely a big surprise waiting for us – maybe another upset somewhere that opens the door to somebody else.

For now, we’ll take it one game at a time starting with this one, our RoadTripSports.com Game of the Week.

THE BOWL PICTURE

We track the bowl status of all 130 major college teams throughout the season with our Bowl Eligibility List. Last week, 15 more teams reached the six-win plateau making them bowl eligible. That makes 28 teams that have reached bowl eligibility out of 78 potential bowl bids. Well, make that 77 remaining as one of those 28 teams has already accepted an invitation. The Army West Point Black Knights will play in the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 23 in Fort Worth, Texas, against an opponent to still be determined.

For the full report on bowl eligibility, check out Chuck Cox’s Bowl Eligibility Report.

NCAA FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP SUBDIVISION (FCS)

The No. 1 James Madison Dukes didn’t have any problems in a 46-14 rout of William & Mary on the road. They retained all 26 of the first-place votes in the latest coaching poll heading into Saturday’s home game against No. 16 New Hampshire.

No. 2 North Dakota State, meanwhile, prevailed in our FCS Game of the Week. The Bison bested the Western Illinois Leathernecks 24-12 to retain their position in the rankings, one spot ahead of the No. 3 Jacksonville State Gamecocks – a 30-14 winner at Eastern Illinois.

No. 4 South Dakota was the highest-ranked team to lose in a 37-21 setback to Illinois State on the road. The Coyotes dropped to No. 7 while No. 5 Wofford’s 24-21 loss to Samford dropped the Terriers to No. 10 opening up two spots in the Top 5.

Central Arkansas moved up from No. 6 to No. 4 to take one of those positions, and Sam Houston State jumped from No. 7 to No. 5 to take the other. No. 8 Eastern Washington’s 46-28 loss at Southern Utah opened up yet another spot in the Top 10, and the North Carolina A&T Aggies were the week’s biggest beneficiary of all the changes jumping all the way from No. 11 to No. 6. Eastern Washington, meanwhile, settled in at No. 12.

With South Dakota in the No. 7 spot, Samford powered into the No. 8 spot on the strength of its upset over Wofford. They were tied in that slot with the South Dakota State Jackrabbits who jumped five spots from No. 13 after a 62-30 win at Missouri State. Wofford, as noted, settled into the final position in the Top 10.

James Madison’s home game versus New Hampshire is one of the biggest games on the board this week, but we’ll go with a battle of two 5-2 teams when No. 8 South Dakota State visits No. 14 Western Illinois in a game that could end up being a playoff eliminator for the loser.

NCAA FCS Game of the Week: No. 8 South Dakota State at No. 14 Western Illinois

SMALL COLLEGE FOOTBALL

NCAA Division II

Northwest Missouri State beat Lindenwood 19-0 last Saturday to remain undefeated and No. 1 in the rankings with a unanimous 34 votes again. The Bearcats will visit Pittsburg State Saturday as they close in on another undefeated regular season.

Shepherd is still in the No. 2 slot, but No. 3 Minnesota State and No. 4 Indiana (PA) switched places from a week ago as Minnesota State pummeled Southwest Minnesota State 54-7 while Indiana eked out a win over Clarion 23-17.

No. 5 Midwestern State and No. 6 Indianapolis held firm this week, but last week’s No. 7 Grand Valley State lost 28-27 to the previous No. 12 Ferris State in our D2 Game of the Week. Grand Valley slipped all the way to No. 19 this week while Ferris State moved up on spot to No. 11.

Fort Hays State, Central Washington, Texas A&M-Commerce and Winona State each moved up one spot to fill out the Top 10 in the Nos. 7-10 positions.

This week’s D2 Game of the Week is a battle of two Top 10 undefeated teams as No. 10 Winona State pays a visit to No. 3 Minnesota State.

NCAA D2 Game of the Week: No. 10 Winona State at No. 3 Minnesota State

NCAA Division III

It’s still defending national champion Mary Hardin-Baylor at No. 1 and perennial powerhouse Mount Union at No. 2 in Division III as the top-ranked Cru blasted Belhaven 45-7 while the No. 2 Purple Raiders trounced Wilmington 66-7. Mary Hardin-Baylor will visit McMurry Saturday while Mount Union hosts Otterbein.

The rest of the Top 10 is unchanged as well with Nos. 3-10 still held by Wisconsin-Oshkosh, St. Thomas, Delaware Valley, Hardin-Simmons, Saint John’s, Linfield, Wittenberg and Washington & Jefferson. In fact, the Top 24 teams are the same with only No. 16 Wartburg and No. 17 Case Western Reserve trading spots from a week ago. No. 24 George Fox lost 12-6 to No. 8 Linfield in our D3 Game of the Week, but managed to retain the No. 24 position this week.

No. 25 Alfred was the only team to fall out of the Top 25 after losing to RPI 30-15. The loss was Alfred’s second in a row after a 15-game regular season win streak ended the previous week in a 20-17 overtime loss at Cortland.

Wabash was the lucky team to replace Alfred in the No. 25 position, and the Little Giants are immediately thrust into the spotlight this weekend hosting the No. 9 Wittenberg Tigers.

NCAA D3 Game of the Week: No. 9 Wittenberg at No. 25 Wabash

NAIA

One week after there was no changes in the NAIA’s Top 14, the organization proved to be remarkably consistent again with the Top 12 teams holding on to their spots.

That includes the unanimous No. 1 Saint Francis (IN) Cougars who spoiled Missouri Baptist’s homecoming with a 56-23 win. The Cougars will host Lindenwood-Belleville back in Fort Wayne this weekend.

The Nos. 2-10 positions are still occupied by Baker, Reinhardt, Morningside, Lindsey Wilson, Grand View, Southern Oregon, Langston, Georgetown (KY) and Saint Xavier.

No. 13 Marian was the top-ranked team to lose as they fell in a 39-36 shootout in our NAIA Game of the Week to No. 17 Concordia-Ann Arbor – a team that is quickly emerging on the NAIA scene at 7-1. Marian fell to No. 21 with the loss while Concordia inched up one spot to No. 16.

Our game of the week will feature a couple of Kentucky teams battling it out as No. 9 Georgetown pays a visit to No. 20 Campbellsville which is undefeated at 6-0 and jumped five spots in the latest poll.

NAIA Game of the Week: No. 9 Georgetown (KY) at No. 20 Campbellsville

JUCOS

Don’t feel bad if you’re having trouble figuring out what’s happening in the juco world right now because we aren’t sure either. That’s especially true for the NJCAA as yet another high-ranked squad from that organization bit the dust. The CFA No. 7 Trinity Valley Cardinals were bitten by the upset bug in a 37-31 loss at Kilgore – a team that had been all but left for dead in the SWJCFC.

Trinity Valley dropped to No. 19 in the latest edition of our CFA Juco Top 30, but the rest of our Top 6 remained steady with No. 1 Fullerton, No. 2 Arizona Western, No. 3 Riverside, No. 4 Bakersfield, No. 5 Snow and No. 6 American River holding their positions.

Northwest Mississippi, San Mateo and East Mississippi each moved up a spot into the Nos. 7-9 positions while Laney made the biggest move jumping up four spots from No. 14 to round out the Top 10.

Top-ranked Fullerton held on to its spot by beating the previous No. 13 Saddleback with a 56-35 result in our CCCAA Game of the Week. The NJCAA Game of the Week, meanwhile, was a closer affair as No. 24 Jones County slipped by No. 21 Hinds 41-36.

Our CCCAA Game of the Week this week will feature No. 8 San Mateo at No. 21 CCSF. The NJCAA featured game, meanwhile, is No. 9 East Mississippi at No. 29 Hinds.

CCCAA Game of the Week: No. 8 San Mateo at No. 21 CCSF
NJCAA Game of the Week: No. 9 East Mississippi at No. 29 Hinds

U Sports (Canada)

The regular season came to a close on the Ontario University Athletics regular season last weekend, and Canada’s other three conferences will wrap things up this weekend.

In the OUA, however, they’ll actually get the playoffs started this weekend as the road to the Vanier Cup begins. McMaster, ranked No. 7 in our U Sports 27, will host No. 12 Queens Saturday afternoon in one quarterfinal while No. 8 Guelph will visit No. 10 Ottawa in the other.

In the rankings, we’ve got Calgary from Canada West in the No. 1 position with Western of the OUA in the No. 2 slot. No. 3 is Laval of the RSEQ (Quebec), and the top-ranked AUS squad is Acadia in the No. 11 position.

The 2017 Vanier Cup is set for Nov. 25, 2017, at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, Ontario.


 

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