May 28, 2024

The College Football Playoff selection committee’s first rankings released this week were hardly a surprise in terms of the top five teams.

Perhaps the rankings order confused some, since Georgia has been No. 1 for the entire year in the AP poll but debuted at No. 2 in the CFP rankings. Ohio State earned the top spot, followed by Georgia, Michigan, Florida State and Washington, all unbeaten.

But while those schools and others in the top 25 battle for a spot in the national semifinals, some teams are battling to reach the six-win threshold required to make a bowl game.

Here’s what to watch this weekend.

Can Week 10 help these teams become bowl eligible?

Clemson (4-4) (vs. No. 15 Notre Dame): It was just after Clemson wrapped a 39-10 stomping of North Carolina in last year’s ACC championship game that Dabo Swinney admitted to something he’d spent the bulk of the 2022 season denying. He’d been pondering a QB change.

The admission came after Cade Klubnik came on in relief of DJ Uiagalelei and torched the Tar Heels, completing 20 of 24 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown, and officially locked down the starting job for the foreseeable future. But that all came a full month after Swinney was expecting Klubnik to land the gig.

“He’s worked his butt off all year to get ready,” Swinney said of Klubnik. “Thought he might take [the starting job] against Notre Dame, but it didn’t work out.”

Instead, Klubnik entered the game against Notre Dame late in the third quarter with Clemson trailing 14-0, and on his first pass, he threw an ugly interception to Benjamin Morrison that the Irish quickly turned into a game-securing touchdown. Swinney admitted later that he had put Klubnik into a tough situation. Clemson lost — arguably its most lopsided regular-season defeat in eight years — and Klubnik’s ascendancy was put on hold.

A year later, Clemson and Notre Dame face off again Saturday (noon ET, ABC), and in some ways, the Tigers are still waiting on Klubnik. He has started every game this season, and there have been more than a few highlights. There have also been some brutal moments — from a poorly timed slide against Duke to a woeful pick-six against Charleston Southern to a bad read at the line of scrimmage that ended Clemson’s hopes against Miami to the pick-six that ultimately decided the game against NC State last week.

In all, Klubnik has been solid if unspectacular, completing 64% of his throws for 1,947 yards, with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions. For a Clemson team sitting at 4-4, mired in its worst season since 2010, beleaguered after three one-possession losses, every mistake is magnified.

Beyond the wins and losses, however, Swinney looks back on last year’s Notre Dame game and sees just how far his QB has come.

“It’s night and day,” Swinney said. “He’s just more prepared. He’s way more knowledgeable. He’s bigger and stronger, but he’s got some work still to do there. He’s progressed. He’s got some levels to go, but he’s way ahead of where he was last year.”

That might be the hardest pill for Clemson fans to swallow at the moment. After seeing Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence flourish as true freshmen, many expected Klubnik to blossom into a star last year. Certainly, as a sophomore, he’d make the leap. But in reality, Klubnik has gotten better but has yet to look the part of the next Tigers superstar at QB.

Clemson desperately needs a win, and Klubnik desperately wants his marquee moment. On Saturday against Notre Dame, the chance is there for both to happen. — David Hale


Colorado (4-4) (vs. No. 16 Oregon State): When Colorado was 3-0, it was all but assumed the Buffaloes would reach a bowl game — and for good reason. Since 2010, 91% of FBS teams that started 3-0 played in a bowl game. The thing about college football, though — especially in this era — is that nonconference wins can be incredibly deceiving. It was one thing when the Buffs beat “national runner-up TCU.” The context is quite different in the wake of TCU’s embarrassing 41-3 loss to Kansas State. ESPN’s Football Power Index now gives Colorado just a 28.7% chance of reaching a bowl game. It requires two wins from the following four: No. 16 Oregon State; Arizona; at Washington State; at No. 18 Utah. The Buffs will probably be the betting underdog in each game.

For a team that started the season with such fanfare and managed to become culturally relevant beyond college football, this potential collapse looms as a massive missed opportunity. But it hasn’t been missed yet. If the Buffs can turn the tide and finish the year on the upswing, it bodes well for how seriously they should be taken going into next season. It always figured to be too much of an uphill battle for a complete turnaround this year, but a bowl game would stand as a key milestone.– Kyle Bonagura


TCU (4-4) (at Texas Tech, Thursday): Sonny Dykes’ Year 2 after a dream season in his first year at TCU started with a nightmare in a season-opening upset loss to Colorado and continued with an injury to starting QB Chandler Morris, who could return later this season. It has been a roller-coaster ride since, with wins over a solid SMU team, blowouts of Houston and BYU, but losses to West Virginia and Iowa State. Then, Kansas State dominated the Horned Frogs 41-3 on Oct. 21 before a bye week. The Frogs still get a struggling Baylor team at home on Nov. 18, but have a fraught road ahead, beginning with Thursday night’s game at Texas Tech in front of a rowdy Lubbock crowd being nearly a 50-50 toss-up according to ESPN’s FPI. Caesars Sportsbook favors the Red Raiders by 3 as both teams will be going with backup quarterbacks. Lose, and TCU faces an uphill climb with No. 7 Texas (Nov. 11 at home) and No. 11 Oklahoma (Nov. 24 in Norman) still remaining. — Dave Wilson


Mississippi State (4-4) (vs. Kentucky): It’s been a struggle to score points for Mississippi State without quarterback Will Rogers the past two weeks. There’s still no word on whether Rogers will return from a shoulder injury this week. But whether he does or doesn’t, Mississippi State has to find a spark in its passing game. Mike Wright, a transfer from Vanderbilt, has started the past two games. He completed just 50% of his passes last week in a 27-13 loss to Auburn, a week after the Bulldogs managed 85 yards passing in a 7-3 win over Arkansas. Coach Zach Arnett has been tight-lipped on what the plan at quarterback would be this week. He was asked Monday about freshman Chris Parson starting and wouldn’t rule it out. Looking at the rest of Mississippi State’s schedule, this is a game the Bulldogs really need if they’re going to make a run at the postseason, particularly being able to protect their home turf. Three of Mississippi State’s last four games are at home. Kentucky has not won in Starkville since 2008, and this is an equally big game for the Wildcats, who’ve lost their past three. Quarterback Devin Leary had his best game of the season last week against Tennessee, but the Wildcats (5-3) couldn’t stop the Vols’ running game. Kentucky has given up 122 points in its past three games. The schedule doesn’t get much easier for Kentucky with games remaining against nationally ranked foes Alabama and Louisville. — Chris Low


Maryland (5-3) (vs. No. 11 Penn State): A three-game losing streak after the program’s first 5-0 start since 2001 has Maryland staggering a bit. The road to bowl eligibility resumes with Penn State coming to College Park on Saturday. The Terrapins squandered early 14-7 first-half advantages in the losses to Illinois and Northwestern the past two weeks as they found themselves trailing by double digits in the second half. Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa paces an offense that is third overall in the Big Ten (418.4 YPG) and averaged 38.6 points during the five-game winning streak to start the season. Mike Locksley’s team, which has won bowl games the past two years, will go as far as Tagovailoa and a trio of talented receivers (Jeshaun Jones, Kaden Prather and Tai Felton) take them. Five turnovers combined in the three losses (two each against Ohio State and Northwestern) is an area that’s going to have to be rectified in the season’s last four games, a stretch that includes a home game with Michigan on Nov. 18. A stout Nittany Lions defense that’s tied for fourth in FBS in passing defense (160.3 YPG) and third in scoring defense (11.5 PPG) looms first, providing an interesting chess match for Tagovailoa — the Big Ten’s leader in passing yards and touchdown passes — & Co. to navigate. — Blake Baumgartner


Wide receiver spotlight

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0:33

Keon Coleman only needs 1 hand for the TD catch

Jordan Travis lobs one into the end zone to Keon Coleman, who makes a one-handed touchdown catch.

Keon Coleman, Florida State: Coleman, a Michigan State transfer, made his presence felt in the season opener against LSU with three touchdown catches and has not looked back. Coleman leads the ACC and ranks fifth nationally in receiving touchdowns with nine — and has routinely made the difficult catches look routine, hurdling defenders, catching the game-winning touchdown against Clemson and the time he went sky high to catch a pass out of the air against Syracuse. That catch prompted Syracuse coach Dino Babers to say, “God was showing off when he made him.” With fellow receiver Johnny Wilson out several games this season, Coleman has stepped up his game even more despite facing double-teams and has become the most dependable receiver on the team, leading the Seminoles with 38 catches and 538 receiving yards. In addition, Coleman added punt return responsibilities for the first time in his career and ranks third in the ACC, averaging 9.9 yards per return. — Andrea Adelson

Marvin Harrison Jr., Ohio State: Harrison is a game-changer for the Ohio State offense, and he made a statement in the Buckeyes’ win over Penn State. Harrison had 162 receiving yards and a touchdown on 11 receptions in the 20-12 win. He followed that up with 123 yards and two touchdowns against Wisconsin and is second in the conference in total touchdowns with eight, behind Michigan’s Roman Wilson (10). While Wilson has more touchdown receptions with fewer catches, Harrison changes the way defenses have to game-plan and can disrupt the entire secondary with his skills. — Tom VanHaaren

Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas Jr., LSU: It’s a good thing Terrion Arnold has developed into one of the best cornerbacks in the country, providing balance opposite star corner Kool-Aid McKinstry. Because on Saturday, Alabama is going to need both of them to stop an LSU offense that arguably has two No. 1-caliber receivers in Nabers and Thomas. They’re the only teammates to rank in the top 20 in receiving yards nationally, and together they’ve combined for 20 touchdowns and only five drops. Nabers, in particular, is a threat in the open field, having caused 15 missed tackles. — Alex Scarborough

Adonai Mitchell, Texas: Mitchell already had a big-play reputation before he arrived in Austin after transferring from Georgia, where he had four playoff TDs (of his seven total TDs) in two years. He caught a 40-yard TD in the fourth quarter of Georgia’s national championship win over Alabama after the 2021 season then caught the game winner against Ohio State in last year’s semifinal game. At Texas, he’s second in the Big 12 in TDs (seven) after adding two more against BYU as a key target for new QB Maalik Murphy. He had 10 catches for 141 yards and a TD against Kansas. He’s been a huge addition for Texas to take pressure off Xavier Worthy, and the entire offense has benefited as a result. — Wilson

Troy Franklin, Oregon: Only two Power 5 receivers have more touchdown receptions than Franklin (nine), who has caught at least four passes in each game this season and has topped the 100-yard mark five times. Franklin ranks No. 7 nationally in receiving yards (867) is nearly assured to be a first-team All-Pac-12 selection and is jockeying for All-American honors. If QB Bo Nix stays in the Heisman race, Franklin will have a lot to do with it. — Bonagura


Quotes of the week

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0:30

Sarkisian on Texas CFP case: We have best win in the country

Texas coach Steve Sarkisian cites his team’s win over Alabama as part of his case for the Longhorns ahead of the first CFP rankings.

“I hear so much about how tough the SEC is, but I haven’t seen any of those teams go in Alabama and win, either, so I feel pretty good about our team.” — Steve Sarkisian, making a case for his 7-1 Longhorns in the College Football Playoff race after a win over the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa earlier this season.

“This is the Rose Bowl. They said the granddaddy of ’em all, right? I’m sure granddaddy had some money. Grandpa should have some money to give these kids.” — Deion Sanders, who wants Colorado players reimbursed for jewelry that was allegedly stolen from their locker room in Saturday game against UCLA.

“I can talk about the football game this Saturday. I can talk about the vibes in that preparation and where that stands today. It doesn’t seem like you’re interested in that.” — Jim Harbaugh, deflecting questions about his contract status or Michigan’s sign-stealing controversy.

“We obviously are aware of a picture floating around with the sign-stealer guy. … We were totally unaware of it. I certainly don’t condone it in any way, shape or form. I do know that his name was on none of the passes that were [given] out.” — Central Michigan coach Jim McElwain, on images that appear to show alleged Michigan sign-stealer Connor Stalions wearing CMU gear on the Chippewas’ sideline in a game against Michigan State.

“You’re part of the problem. The expectation is greater than the appreciation. That’s the problem. We’ve won 12 10-plus-win seasons in a row. That’s happened three times in 150 years. Clemson ain’t sniffed a national championship for 35 years; we’ve won two in seven years. And there’s only two other teams that can say that: Georgia and Alabama. … Listen, man, you can have your opinion all you want, and you can apply for the job. And good luck to you.” — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, responding to a fan who called into his coaches’ radio show and groused about Clemson’s record vs. Swinney’s salary.

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