Clemson entered Saturday’s game against Syracuse as a 45-point favorite. The Tigers won 47-21. They didn’t cover the spread. And the final score is a bit deceiving.
Yes, it was a comfortable win for Clemson. But only because it scored 20 straight points to end the game. Syracuse pulled within six points at 27-21 with 8:41 to go in the third quarter. And even had the ball with a chance to take the lead shortly after that.
That’s a scenario that doesn’t happen often against Clemson. The Tigers weren’t at their best for much of Saturday’s game, especially when you consider how poorly Syracuse has played this season. As you can imagine, there were questions about Clemson’s uncharacteristic play after the game. And coach Dabo Swinney wasn’t too thrilled about it.
“We did win the game, I think,” Swinney said after the questions weren’t glowing about Clemson’s performance. “Lemme make sure that I’m in the right spot. Am I in the right spot? OK I want to make sure. I think we won the game.”
On one hand, you can understand Swinney’s frustration. A 26-point win doesn’t typically elicit tough questions. But Swinney’s team also entered the game as more than a six-touchdown favorite after beating Georgia Tech by 67 points a week ago. The standards his program has set are pretty high.
After all, this is a Clemson team that beat No. 12 Miami by 25 points earlier this month. And a team that hasn’t lost a regular-season game since 2017 when it lost on the road to Syracuse. Clemson is expected to win most every conference game in convincing fashion because that’s what it does. When you’re consistently excellent, the standards are nothing short of excellence.
“There’s a lot of teams out there that would have lost this game with some of the mistakes that we made,” Swinney said. “We won the game by almost four touchdowns. I’m not getting any questions about ‘Are you proud of you guys for winning the game?’ It’s a lot of negative questions. You’re not going to get any negative stuff from me.”
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney reacts in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Syracuse in Clemson, S.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. (Ken Ruinard/Pool Photo via AP)
Swinney did, though, admit that Clemson wasn’t excellent for a lot of Saturday’s game. The Tigers’ downfield passing game wasn’t great with Trevor Lawrence completing just 27 of his 43 throws for 289 yards and two scores with an interception that was returned for a TD. The offense really missed RB Travis Etienne when he was out of the game because he was cramping.
The offense also misses Justyn Ross too. The star WR is out for the season because of a neck injury and Clemson doesn’t have a strong No. 2 receiver to complement Amari Rodgers. Rodgers has 33 catches for 520 yards and Etienne is the team’s second-leading receiver. WR Frank Ladson Jr. is third with 17 catches for 272 yards through six games.
Clemson has a receiving corps that’s still one of the better units in college football. But it’s not nearly as good as it was with Ross and Tee Higgins a year ago. Their absences shouldn’t impact Clemson’s ability to win the ACC. But unless someone emerges alongside Rodgers, Clemson’s playoff hopes may not be as strong as they could be.
– Nick Bromberg
What does Jaylen Waddle’s injury mean for Alabama’s CFP hopes?
Alabama sustained a huge blow on Saturday when receiver Jaylen Waddle, one of the best players in the country, suffered a season-ending ankle injury on the opening kickoff in the win over Tennessee.
The loss of Waddle wasn’t enough to impact the trip to Knoxville. The Crimson Tide cruised to a 48-17 win as Mac Jones threw for 387 yards and Najee Harris rushed for three touchdowns. But Waddle’s absence could prove costly as the season progresses.
Alabama still has a star receiver in DeVonta Smith, and John Metchie III had emerged as a deadly third option for the offense in the early going before Waddle’s injury. With Waddle out, Smith is going to attract a ton of attention from defenses without the over the top threat of Waddle drawing such a considerable amount of focus from opposing defenses. Metchie will draw more double teams, too.
The upcoming SEC schedule is very manageable with Mississippi State and a trip to LSU (with a bye in between) as the next two games on the schedule.
But what will happen when the level of competition increases? The Tide could be on course for a rematch against Georgia in the SEC title game, with teams like Clemson and Ohio State potentially looming in the College Football Playoff. The Tide will need a few other options at wide receiver to step up in the coming weeks to be ready to make plays on the biggest stage later in the year.
Waddle, Smith and Metchie make up 91 of Alabama’s 97 wide receiver receptions through five games. The other six receptions came courtesy of Slade Bolden, who moved into a far more prominent role on Saturday after Waddle’s injury.
Bolden, a redshirt sophomore, caught six passes for 94 yards against the Vols. He entered the game with two catches for 34 yards in his college career, and now appears to be in line for a role as the team’s No. 3 receiver behind Smith and Metchie. Bolden returned punts in place of Waddle, too.
“I thought he played well,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said of Bolden postgame. “He had a drop there in the end zone at the end but I thought he made some really good plays in the game.”
But who else could factor into the mix? Saban did not name any players specifically, but said the team will need some of its “young guys” to step up. Alabama signed three four-star receivers in its 2020 recruiting class — Javon Baker, Traeshon Holden and Thaiu Jones-Bell. They have yet to see much action, a byproduct of an SEC-only schedule for 2020.
“This is one of the things that not having a couple of games outside of the SEC where you could play some of these guys, we’re going to have to have some of those guys step up and be ready to play,” Saban said. “And they haven’t really gotten much experience.”
Expect to see a few of them thrown in the mix over the next few weeks. And don’t be surprised if one of them makes a big play later in the year — much like Smith did in 2017 when the eighth catch of his freshman year won the Tide the national championship.
– Sam Cooper
Les Miles is now 3-14 at KU
The Les Miles era at Kansas looks a lot like the David Beaty era. And the Charlie Weis Era. And the Turner Gill era.
Kansas fell to 3-14 in Miles’ tenure with a 55-14 loss on Saturday to rival Kansas State. And that game was an abject disaster. Kansas State had 140 yards at halftime and led 34-7 thanks to horrific special teams play by Kansas. Kansas State returner Philip Brooks returned two punts for touchdowns and Kansas ended up having three different people punt the ball over the course of the game.
Miles, the former Oklahoma State and LSU coach, was hired to bring some respectability to KU and build it up from the depths where it had plunged over the past decade. So far, that hasn’t happened. Kansas is 0-5 in 2020 and is getting outscored by an average of 45-15.
Over five games that works out to a point differential of -150. No one else in the Big 12 has a point differential worse than -27. How is Kansas going win more than one game in 2020?
No one expected the Jayhawks to be a mid-pack team in the Big 12 this season. But some basic progress was expected. Like competency in more than a couple games.
Instead, Kansas is looking a lot like the dumpster fire it’s been since Mark Mangino coached the Jayhawks. If Miles, 66, is going to be the recruiter that Kansas thought he could be to help build the program back then he has to give good recruits a reason to come to KU. And right now, the product on the field is not doing anything to persuade players to sign with the Jayhawks.
– Nick Bromberg
Sizing up the Group of Five race
The top contenders for the Group of Five spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game are beginning to crystallize, but the return of the Mountain West looms large.
Not including the Mountain West, which just wrapped up its first week of play, there are only three teams from the G5 conferences without a loss: Cincinnati, Coastal Carolina and Marshall.
Now ranked No. 7 in the AP poll, Cincinnati improved to 4-0 with a convincing 42-13 road win over No. 16 SMU. It was — by far — Cincinnati’s best performance of the year. The Bearcats used a dominant ground attack (313 rushing yards) and an aggressive defense to beat the Mustangs.
There’s still a long way to go before the AAC is decided, though. Along with Cincinnati, two other teams are 2-0 in AAC play: Houston and Tulsa. Three other teams — Navy, SMU and Memphis — have just one conference loss. Navy, at 3-3 overall, is definitely out of the New Year’s Six picture. But Houston, Tulsa, SMU and Memphis all just have one loss apiece.
Cincinnati is up to No. 7 in the AP Top 25 after a blowout road win over SMU. (Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Coastal Carolina is ranked in the AP Top 25 for the first time in school history. The Chanticleers are now No. 20 after improving to 5-0 with a win over Georgia Southern. It was the first win as a ranked team in program history.
CCU is in just its fourth season as an FBS program and had a 13-23 (6-18 Sun Belt) FBS record entering 2020. The team’s hot start is one of the best stories in college football, and that story would get even better if it made a run for a New Year’s Six bowl game. The Chanticleers are sitting alone atop the Sun Belt’s East Division, but a matchup with Appalachian State, the two-time defending outright conference champion, looms on Nov. 21.
No. 19 Marshall is 5-0 for the first time since 2014 after cruising past Florida Atlantic 20-9 on Saturday. Marshall is the only undefeated team in Conference USA and sits alone in first place in the C-USA East. UAB leads the C-USA West with a 4-2 (2-0 C-USA) mark, but Marshall is the conference’s only contender for a New Year’s Six spot.
Though a win over Appalachian State helps its resume, Marshall could end the regular season having played only nine games. The program has already seen games against East Carolina and Rice get postponed and ended up adding a home game against UMass. Even if it goes undefeated, strength of schedule could prove costly.
The return of the Mountain West throws a wrinkle into this race with Boise State, Hawaii, Nevada, San Diego State and San Jose State all winning on Saturday to start the year 1-0.
Boise State has already cracked the rankings at No. 25 and has the added benefit of playing No. 11 BYU as one of its eight games. Should BYU get past Western Kentucky next Saturday, it will be 7-0 and maybe even ranked in the top-10 for its matchup with Boise State on the blue turf.
San Diego State also will have its shot at BYU, but that game is far down the road on Dec. 12.
– Sam Cooper
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