So here we sit, exactly four weeks from the finality of it all, and everything is nice and neatly unpacked.
For the time being, dysfunction and controversy are absent. The speculation that so often fuels a typical college football season, at least momentarily, is out back having a cigarette. Over the coming days, it will put its feet up for a while and rest.
That seems strange and perhaps even a bit uncomfortable for many of us—the fact the College Football Playoff and the Heisman Trophy are essentially mapped out with paths clear as day with still so much to be decided.
But after 10 Saturdays, that’s precisely what we have. Order. Calm. Clarity.
The favorite to win the Heisman is not just any favorite. We’re talking an overwhelming, “something would have to go woefully wrong for him not to win” type of favorite.
And the College Football Playoff everyone’s talking about after making its triumphant television return last Tuesday? In the two-plus years of its existence, the Top Four of the CFP has never been as defined as it is now, even though they will not be officially cemented until early December.
There are two important points one must digest before embracing such clarity, which we don’t care to do. It is far less fun and interesting than the alternative.
The first is that history tells us such clarity will not have the type of necessary staying power to remain as such, and that chaos will at some point in this unpredictable sport have a say about all of this. More on that in a bit.
The second, and this part cannot be emphasized enough, is that such clarity did not come without the help of the unexpected. Week 10 alone produced at least a handful of wildly unpredictable results.
Less than 96 hours after it was deemed to be No. 4 in the nation by the College Football Playoff selection committee—a decision that was not received well by those along the Pacific Coast—Texas A&M saw its playoff hopes torn in pieces.
Dealing with injuries and a sheer lack of production, the Aggies lost to Mississippi State 35-28.
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“We got whipped,” Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin told reporters following the game. “It just came down to Mississippi State did a lot better job at running the ball. We couldn’t stop the run today, and we couldn’t run.”
It felt early on that other peculiar scoreboards would follow suit, and that theme indeed followed along in a few places. But in general, that major movement never came.
Michigan demolished Maryland, as was expected. Clemson did the same to Syracuse, which again you probably saw coming. Washington, as the day was wrapping up, buried Cal in a sea of points. No shock there.
Alabama, which felt vulnerable for at least a portion of the evening, eventually scored enough against LSU to stay unbeaten. “Enough” in this instance was only 10 points, although that was still 10 more than the Tigers managed to post in one of the toughest environments in sports.
As a result, the College Football Playoff selection committee will have an announcement to make Tuesday. It will tell you Alabama, Clemson, Michigan and Washington are in the playoff.
Perhaps there will be some slight movement within the Top Four. Maybe a team will jump another for good measure. Outside of that, attendance will likely be sparse. It is an election day, after all.
Meanwhile, the Heisman has become a simple conversation. It’s no longer a discussion of teams or records or the position. It’s now a matter of just how far Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson can continue to separate from the rest of the pack until something else happens.
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On Saturday, Jackson accounted for seven more touchdowns. It was his third game of the season with at least seven scores.
Jackson has now scored 45 touchdowns in nine games. He’s put together a Heisman-like season by early November. He has three more games to add to that total, which he is going to do. It’s merely a matter of how much.
Week 10 had moments where it felt like everything was bound to turn on its side, but even the chaos helped sort out the bigger picture for the time being. It provided further separation for the sport’s biggest award. It helped craft a Top Four that will only have arguments from within. Nice. Neat. Orderly.
It’s hard to find a true comparable. Each season operates under its own unique pacing, but rarely do we arrive at a place so defined and clear.
But to assume the remaining weeks will follow along this path would be a misstep. We know better than that by now. Even though it’s hard to pinpoint where it will diverge, there’s a general sense that there is much more to come.
There are meaningful games to be played, some as soon as next weekend. Washington will play arguably its toughest game of the season against a USC team that has seemingly found itself over the past month.
Come Sunday morning, the playoff could have a fascinating vacancy. Or perhaps such chaos will emerge from somewhere else, as true chaos always does. The line that defines calm and chaos is so minute. It only takes one result to spin it off its axis.
In the meantime, all is well. Alabama is still the No. 1 team in the country; the next three are clearly defined and will be announced as such come Tuesday. The selection committee can rest easy these next seven days.
Lamar Jackson is still the guy. Heisman voters can sit back, relax and take a look at the players who might serve as a deserving runner-up. Enjoy the peace and quiet while you can, college football.
History has shown us time and time again, no matter how simple this all looks, that it is not long to last.