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Seven-Step Drop: Truths and surprises that are defining the 2016 college football season

Chris Petersen

Chris Petersen

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Thanks to an incredible set of Week 6 games and a bunch of wild endings nobody saw coming, the race for the national title (and many conference championships) seemed to come into focus even further over the weekend as we come up on the halfway point of the 2016 college football season. While we got a few unexpected results from coast-to-coast, it was a pretty memorable slate of games that really codified the national landscape.

With this in mind, here are seven truths we know about the rest of the season heading into Week 7 and seven surprises few could have predicted back in August.

Seven Truths

1. Houston’s College Football Playoff chances are toast but we won’t stop talking about them

When Ken Niumatalolo was sprinting across the field in Annapolis following Navy’s upset of Houston, you probably could have felt Boise State fans jumping for joy at the same time. The academy’s first top-10 win since 1984 definitively knocked the Cougars out of the College Football Playoff discussion and only further underscored how difficult it is to go undefeated no matter how good you are or what league you play in. Because you need to win the conference to get the Group of Five bid, Houston will need Navy to lose twice just to get to the AAC title game and even have a shot at a major bowl game. That means Boise State has a good chance at making it back to a New Year’s Six game and probably need to be considered the front-runner for said bid until further notice.

Here’s the thing though, we still won’t be able to stop talking about the Cougars despite their loss over the weekend. There may be just enough chaos left where they could have one loss, are not eligible for the Group of Five bid but still are in the conversation for a major bowl game because the selection committee ranks them so highly. We’ll find out in the first set of rankings if it’s even conceivable but don’t rule it out from being a talking point — especially if they beat Louisville in November. Add in the Big 12 expansion drama that still isn’t completely dead and the constant talk of Tom Herman taking X, Y and Z coaching job and we surely won’t stop discussing Houston even with one loss.

2. The SEC has two viable playoff contenders but don’t completely rule out a Tennessee rematch

There may be some minor quibbles here and there but one of the few things the college football community can reach a consensus on is that Alabama is the best team in the land. That may not be true come November, December or even January but as we approach the halfway point, the Crimson Tide are the favorites to repeat for a reason. By beating Tennessee, Texas A&M has inserted themselves into the playoff discussion as well and have a far more favorable schedule than their fellow SEC West contender. Still, don’t go to bed completely on the Zombie Vols just yet even with a one in the loss column. It’s not inconceivable they beat Alabama at home this week and then wind up seeing either the Tide or Aggies in Atlanta for a rematch. Even if they were to lose twice, upsetting an undefeated team in the Georgia Dome could present a compelling enough case to put a two-loss SEC team into the final four too. Hey, you know the team loves to go on inexplicable second half runs if nothing else.

3. Florida and LSU will play at some point and that’s the story in the SEC off the field

LSU and their fans have been lobbing shots toward Gainesville ever since the SEC office announced the Tigers/Gators game would be postponed (or canceled, if you hail from Baton Rouge). The flak has traveled in the other direction too. The bottom line is these two must play this season and it will be fascinating to see how SEC commissioner Greg Sankey handles everything. The logistics won’t be easy but there will be a lot of pressure to make sure everybody’s happy and figuring out all that will be one of the bigger things to follow in the coming weeks off the field in the SEC.

4. The Pac-12 appears to be playing out the string aside from Washington

Everybody is still going to tune in to catch some #Pac12AfterDark because it’s the most entertaining thing on TV every Saturday night but, besides that, what drama is there exactly out West? Maybe you think sorting out the Pac-12 South will result in some interest but nearing the halfway mark of the year that appears not to be the case. Thanks to their beatdown of rival Oregon on Saturday, Washington has all but wrapped up the Pac-12 North title and has a schedule that may have just one remaining ranked team left on it. That trip to Utah in late October might be tricky for the Huskies, and the Apple Cup is in Pullman this year, but there really doesn’t seem to be much left to sort out in the Pac-12 the next two months. After the past year, that might be just what Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott wants to hear.

5. Look for more intriguing games in the ACC Coastal, not the Atlantic

The ACC Coastal has been the subject of more than its fair share of jokes over the years but this year it might actually be the most interesting division race left in college football as we near the halfway point. Yes, Clemson still has to play Florida State in a huge matchup at the end of October but things are pretty much set for the Tigers in the Atlantic after beating Louisville. In the other division however, there’s plenty of drama. Virginia Tech has the leg up right now at 2-0 and is really starting to get rolling under new head coach Justin Fuente. Miami looks to have made a bunch of strides under first-year head coach Mark Richt and the Hurricanes are very dangerous even after suffering their first loss in heartbreaking fashion. Pitt is still capable of beating just about anybody and North Carolina has some incredible offensive weapons when the Tar Heels are not trying to play in an actual hurricane. So circle your calendars for Canes at Hokies, the Heels heading to Miami, and Pitt playing all three of the division leaders over the coming weeks. There’s simply a lot more of a race in the Coastal this year and that’s no laughing matter this time.

Related: ACC Week 6 Awards

6. The Big 12 will be one big roller coaster from now until December

It seems like every week the Big 12 is finding a way to further underscore that it’s the fifth of the Power Five leagues and one that doesn’t have any elite teams and a still to be determined number of good ones. Baylor can become the first in the conference to hit bowl eligibility with a win over Kansas on Saturday and it might be a while until anybody joins them after a disastrous September started to spill into early October. Texas remains a mess and everywhere you turn they’re talking about Charlie Strong’s job status, Oklahoma can’t put anybody away despite looking like the best in the league and it’s too soon to put a lot of stock in the playoff hopes of Baylor and West Virginia. It could make for some fun shootouts but the Big 12 could be in store for a crazy, up-and-down final two months on the field and that’s not even bringing up any more drama that pops up off the gridiron.

7. Let the Ohio State-Michigan “Game of the Century” talk begin early

The Buckeyes still have to go on the road to Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan State. The Wolverines notably still have to play in East Lansing and go to Iowa. But honestly it would surprise exactly nobody at this point to see both bitter rivals undefeated for their annual game in late November. We got a ton of talk 10 years ago that the two, then ranked No. 1 and No. 2, were playing in the “Game of the Century” and it shouldn’t shock anybody if that becomes a talking point after this upcoming weekend. The biggest change between now and 2006’s matchup though? The talk of a rematch in a big bowl game isn’t as far-fetched as it was in the BCS era.

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Seven Surprises

1. Winless in the conference standings: Arkansas, Oregon, Utah State, Bowling Green, Michigan State, Texas, Duke, Cincinnati

2. Only two winless teams at this point in the year: Miami (Ohio) and Rice.

3. Wake Forest is one win away from a bowl game at the halfway marker.

4. Colorado can win the Pac-12 South and USC might just be the division favorite despite the Trojans’ disastrous start to the year. Oh, and Oregon State has more Pac-12 wins than Oregon.

5. Arkansas State is 1-4 but still has a chance to win the Sun Belt after keeping pace with Appalachian State and a surprising 2-0 Troy.

6. Army has more wins than Notre Dame and may have a better chance to get to a bowl game too.

7. North Texas is 3-3 after going 1-11 last year while Conference USA powerhouse Marshall is now 1-4. UCF is 3-2 overall after going winless last season while division rivals Cincinnati and East Carolina are 0-5 in the AAC.

Stat of the Week

Tweet of the Week

Superlatives of the Week

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Best player: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama

Heisman five: 1. Lamar Jackson (Louisville), 2. J.T. Barrett (Ohio State), 3. Jake Browning (Washington), 4. Dalvin Cook (Florida State), 5. Jabrill Peppers (Michigan)

Team of the week: Navy

Honorary Les Miles Goat of the week: Jim Mora, UCLA

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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 6.

1. Alabama

2. Ohio State

3. Clemson

4. Michigan

5. Washington

6. Louisville

7. Texas A&M

8. Houston

9. Florida State

10. Tennessee

11. Ole Miss

12. Wisconsin

13. Miami

14. Boise State

15. Virginia Tech

16. Utah

Best of the rest: Oklahoma, West Virginia, Baylor, Nebraska, USF, Western Michigan, Washington State, North Dakota State, Wake Forest 

Pre-snap Reads

Ohio State at Wisconsin

Camp Randall should be electric under the lights as the Badgers return to action off their bye with a big challenge ahead in Ohio State. The Buckeyes put away a pesky Indiana team eventually but it was their least dominant win of the season last week. Wisconsin has already surprised everybody with some big wins this year but something says the Badgers will be brought back to reality a bit more by Urban Meyer’s team in primetime.

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Alabama at Tennessee

Never, ever count out the Zombie Vols. Certainly not after what they did against a good Texas A&M team on the road by fighting for everything they could and surviving a bunch of turnovers to force overtime. They will be playing in front of a rocking Neyland this week but Alabama is a bit of a different beast than anybody else. The Vols are too beat up to win but things should at least be interesting in this rivalry game.

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North Carolina at Miami

This ACC Coastal matchup is oddly fascinating for both teams. The Tar Heels are clearly better than what they showed in actual hurricane conditions on Saturday but we don’t have the greatest sense of just how good the team can play. Even in a loss, Miami made believers in a lot more folks as to the job Mark Richt has done in just a few short months. The Hurricanes have a slight edge at home but this could be one of those back-and-forth games highlighted by a bunch of big plays.

College Football Top 25: Miami
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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.

(Top photo courtesy of Clemson Football's Facebook page)