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Seven-Step Drop: Fact-Checking College Football Claims on Election Eve

J.T. Barrett

J.T. Barrett

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If you watched any college football this weekend on television, you were probably like most of the country and inundated with political ads during commercial breaks. Thankfully our long national nightmare is almost over and Election Day will come and go on Tuesday.

Of course that’s not the only thing that will happen that day, as the College Football Playoff Selection Committee will release their second set of rankings that evening. With that in mind, we decided to channel PolitiFact and do our own fact-checking of some of the claims being made around college football. What’s truthful and what isn’t? Here are just a few things you can agree on no matter if you’re in a blue state or a red one.

Statement: The only team that can beat Alabama is Alabama

Truth-meter: Half True

Reasoning: If you’re playing the Crimson Tide, you know what you’re going to get: well coached, talented, physical and more likely to break you than you are to break them. We saw that against LSU over the weekend when they beat up the Tigers in the trenches and took what was given to them on offense. Quarterback Jalen Hurts had his moments where he looked like a young gun — a fumble, plenty of deep overthrows — and a budding young star, such as when he scrambled twice in the fourth quarter for big gains on the only two scoring drives.

At this point in the season, there is little the signal-caller hasn’t seen. USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast threw several unique schemes at him and he didn’t flinch. Nine games later it was the Tigers’ defense, loaded with as many first-round NFL Draft picks as the one he faces in practice, that did the same. He hasn’t been perfect, but he’s been very good and his legs certainly make up for any deficiencies he has with his accuracy right now. We need to get to the point where we stop bracing for a freshman moment and start realizing that Hurts is going to make plays at key times for an offense that is still evolving into something even more dangerous under coordinator Lane Kiffin. The margin for error isn’t smaller than it was last season when the team won the title, instead it appears to be a tad bigger in 2016.

That said, if Alabama turns the ball over several times and gives up a few big plays, of course the Tide will open the door for somebody to take advantage of those mistakes. But the other team is going to need plenty of talent and coaching if they want to overcome the Tide even when they are not at their best. These are still 18-25 year olds and no amount of talent is going to make up for the fact that sometimes they miss assignments or make a mistake. Clemson, Michigan, Washington, Ohio State and others are still capable of beating Alabama in a semifinal with weeks to prepare. But they’ll need the Tide to look mortal for a few series — which they did at times again this past Saturday — in order to do so and complete an upset.

Statement: Ohio State should jump Washington in the CFP rankings

Truth-o-meter: Mostly true

Reasoning: Ohio State beat Nebraska 62-3 and if you tuned in to any part of the game you would think that scoring margin just about sums things up, no further explanation needed. I mean, even the Buckeyes’ defense would have out-scored their opponent as the team looked like the one everybody was penciling into a semifinal at this time in October. Because the game was such a blowout and there were plenty of commercial breaks in Alabama/LSU, attention naturally turned to whether OSU would leapfrog Washington and take the vacated spot of Texas A&M in the playoff rankings on Tuesday.

And if the selection committee uses their same logic from a week ago, the answer is absolutely. Urban Meyer’s team has a non-conference win at Oklahoma, shutout that same Rutgers team the Huskies played and beat two teams in the top 20 in Wisconsin and Nebraska. The Buckeyes have won a lot, played well in most and are one of the more complete teams in college football that may be one of the best even with a loss on their record.

But if you managed to stay up for Washington’s thumping of Cal, you’d know that Chris Petersen’s team has a good on-field claim on being one of the four best teams in the country — no matter how strong or weak their schedule is. The offense is superb, the defense is better than anybody East of the Mississippi will give the unit credit for and the  Huskies have a top-notch special teams group. They beat the Bears much worse than the score indicated and have been in control of each game this season. Their ceiling in the CFP rankings is probably the No. 4 spot unless more chaos happens but the good news is that the Huskies control their own destiny.

Perhaps the committee gives into what everybody else has been saying about the top four but it seems more likely they’ll be trying to create some drama on Tuesday by putting two Big Ten teams in the top four.

Statement: The SEC East is the worst division in college football

Truth-meter: Half True.

Reasoning: Jokes have been made about the ineptitude of the SEC East for the past several years but it really does seem like we’re hitting rock bottom (the league overall is down, which doesn’t help either). It’s pretty telling that there’s a chance everybody could finish 4-4 in league play, which used to be a scenario reserved for the ACC Coastal — only now the Coastal has a pair of quality teams in Virginia Tech and North Carolina plus several other solid ones. Even the Big Ten West has a top-10 team and way better depth.

The only issue with the statement is that it says all of college football. Among the Power Five, it would be hard to argue given how the SEC East lacks a great team and is thoroughly mediocre. But if you look at the Group of Five, there are two divisions in the race to the bottom: the Mountain West West, and the MAC East. The former does have San Diego State to prop it up but the Aztecs have clinched the thing on Nov. 5, which should tell you plenty and the next best team might be 4-6 Hawaii. The Aztecs may be the only ones to go bowling among the six teams and the next highest in the Sagarin ratings is the Rainbow Warriors, which are behind 16 FCS teams.

As for the MAC East, only Ohio is bowl eligible right now and it might remain that way as the three teams that still have a chance at the postseason have to win out. The MAC teams are all bunched right around where the MW teams are in the Sagarin ratings but don’t get the benefit of a quality team like SDSU to boost their stock at the top. At least the Bobcats beat Kansas earlier in the season and surprised Toledo a few weeks ago.

Statement: Brian Kelly, Charlie Strong, Jim Mora, Rich Rodriguez and Mark Helfrich will be on the chopping block after the season

Truth-meter: Mostly false.

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Reasoning: If you spend any time on social media during a Saturday when some team is losing, chances are you’ll see a fair share of “fire everybody” talk. Reality isn’t that simple however, even if some coaches are experiencing their worst seasons in a long, long time. Let’s take these one-by-one:

Brian Kelly has already received a vote of confidence from athletic director Jack Swarbrick, who is one of the more measured folks in college athletics and realizes his head coach nearly had the Irish in the playoff just 12 months ago. Money wouldn’t be an issue if the school wanted to move on from Kelly (and they likely wouldn’t object if Kelly wanted to, say, explore a move to the NFL or somebody like LSU) but there’s little to suggest that he won’t be back even as fans clamor for a change. Staff changes will certainly be a part of the equation in December however.

As for Strong, winning out is pretty much the answer. If he does, he’ll be back. If he doesn’t (some leeway might be given losing in the bowl), he won’t. Mora and Rodriguez are both in the same boat, having had a ton of success in recent years but injuries and poor coaching have led to disastrous seasons. UCLA will likely be in for wholesale staff changes this winter and Mora has quickly gone from being a hot name in coaching searches this offseason to a warm seat. He won’t be facing the pressure from administrators that he is from the fan base and still has breathing room leading the program.

Rodriguez is a little trickier given how far the Wildcats have fallen, but he still gets support from the administration and has the benefit of playing at a basketball school. He’ll be back if he doesn’t take another job, which seems much tougher this year given how his stock has fallen. Next year things will certainly be much warmer, but AD Greg Byrne isn’t going to try and tap his small donor base even more than he already has to come up with a large buyout number to find a new football coach.

Of course, money isn’t an issue with Helfrich and his staff because of the school’s connection with some mega-boosters (perhaps you’ve heard of Phil Knight?). It will likely be around the $15 million mark if there is a change made and another Brinks truck for a new staff. If Knight and others decide they’ve seen enough after the Ducks’ trip to Utah, you’ll start to hear about feelers being put out about the job. Even so, it would still be a little surprising if a change is actually made at the top of the program, even as bad as things have gotten in Eugene. Complicating things is that there’s really no great candidate if the job does come open no matter how big of a check Knight and company are writing.

Statement: Everybody had Wake Forest and Colorado going bowling while Notre Dame and Michigan State would be at home this December

Truth-meter: Pants on fire

Reasoning: If you did, enjoy that new mansion in Las Vegas.

Stat of the Week

After what was undoubtedly his final game against Alabama, Leonard Fournette wound up 0-3 against the Tide with 145 total yards, 2.5 yards per carry and just a single touchdown.

Tweet of the Week

Superlatives of the Week

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Best player:D’Onta Foreman

Heisman five: 1. Lamar Jackson (Louisville), 2. Jabrill Peppers (Michigan), 3. Jake Browning (Washington), 4. Saquon Barkley (Penn State), 5. D’Onta Foreman (Texas)

Team of the Week: Mississippi State

Honorary Les Miles Goat of the Week: Mark Dantonio

Quote of the week: Louisville's Bobby Petrino: “Maybe I made a mistake. Maybe I should’ve left our starters out there against Florida State and scored 80.”

Play of the Week

Super 16

I’m a voter in the FWAA/National Football Foundation Super 16 Poll and will be releasing my ballot here every week. Here’s my ballot heading into Week 11.

1. Alabama

2. Michigan

3. Washington

4. Clemson

5. Ohio State

6. Louisville

7. Wisconsin

8. Auburn

9. Penn State

10. Oklahoma

11. Washington State

12. Texas A&M

13. Oklahoma State

14. West Virginia

15. Virginia Tech

16. Western Michigan

Best of the rest: Colorado, North Carolina, Florida State, San Diego State, USC, Tulsa, Wyoming, Navy, Boise State

Pre-snap Reads

Baylor at Oklahoma

The Bears have not played great on the road at all this season and are coming off back-to-back losses in which they were battered and bruised. There are still several all-conference players on this team, but the offense is misfiring and the defense has not stepped up its game as the opponents’ talent level has increased. Oklahoma at home is tough to beat anyway and these two teams are going in the opposite directions — something that will continue on Saturday.

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West Virginia at Texas

This is one of the more intriguing games for me on Saturday’s slate as West Virginia is still fighting hard to win the Big 12 and the Longhorns continue to make it a difficult decision on Charlie Strong’s future. This is surprisingly only the third true road game for the Mountaineers and they’ve split the previous two in very different fashion. They’re the better team overall and can get back on track against Texas in this one if they can contain D’Onta Foreman even a little.

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USC at Washington

The game of the week out West pits two of the most talented teams in the Pac-12 against each other. The Trojans have certainly played like a top-20 team ever since making the move to Sam Darnold and are now one of the hottest teams in the country. The Huskies are just vastly better in every area and need style points to impress the College Football Playoff committee. They get them in a comfortable fashion at home.

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— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.