Matt Vautour: College Football Playoff could see new blood

Last modified: Saturday, October 10, 2015
Heading into the season, nearly every expert and pundit said the list of national championship contenders was more wide open than it has been in a very long time. Yet most of those same prognosticators picked many of the usual suspects to reach the College Football Playoff.

Before October even arrived some potential heavyweights are already out of contention. Oregon and Auburn have no chance of making the field, and Alabama is already on the ropes. The door is open for some new teams to sneak into the sport’s final four. Some of the best surprise candidates:

Utah — Any win by the Utes over Oregon would have been noteworthy, but this was a 62-20 hammering. For point of reference, Utah won on the road over the No. 13 team in the country by more points than what Notre Dame beat UMass by, and more points than what the Patriots beat Jacksonville by. The Utes’ win over Michigan looks better now too, after the Wolverines crushed BYU Saturday. It still takes some doing to think of Utah as a national title contender, but so far it’s playing like one.

Ole Miss — Among the hardest things to do in college sports is to upset the same team two years in a row. To be certain, Alabama was geared up and gunning for a shot at redemption against the Rebels and still Ole Miss beat the Tide anyway. If the Rebels can stay healthy they’ve got as good a shot as anyone of winning the now wide-open SEC West.

UCLA — The Bruins aren’t usually the biggest named team in their own city, let alone the Pac-12. But in this odd year UCLA, like Utah, could grab the Pac-12, which is stronger in the middle, but weaker on top than it is in most years.

Notre Dame — Is DeShone Kizer a championship-caliber quarterback? That and health are the biggest questions facing the Fighting Irish. If Notre Dame can win at Clemson Saturday, it has a manageable enough schedule to be in playoff contention.

Georgia — No school sets its fans up for disappointment quite like the Bulldogs, who are often spectacular early before fizzling down the stretch. But they don’t play either Mississippi school or LSU. If it can hold off Alabama at home this weekend, Georgia is well positioned to win the SEC East.

Michigan State — The No. 2 Spartans’ season will likely come down to their Nov. 21 game at Ohio State. Their win over Oregon doesn’t have the same luster it did before the Ducks got destroyed by Utah. But Michigan State has a strong defense and a reliable quarterback and that could be good enough to dethrone the Buckeyes.

GAMES OF THE WEEK: No. 6 Notre Dame at No. 12 Clemson, Saturday, 8 p.m. ABC — The winner of this game has a key new line on their playoff résumé. The loser is almost certainly out of contention.

MAC GAME OF THE WEEK: Toledo at Ball State, Saturday, 3 p.m. ESPN3 — There’s no real marquee game on the MAC slate in the first week of consistent conference action. The Rockets have a shot at being ranked and earning the Group of 5 elite bowl bid. Staying undefeated is critical to both.

UMASS-BOWLING GREEN KICK TIME — The official start time for UMass’ Oct. 10 game at Bowling Green is 2 p.m.

PLAYOFF BOUND — Michigan State, Ole Miss, UCLA, TCU.

IF I HAD A HEISMAN VOTE — While Georgia’s Nick Chubb has been outstanding, LSU’s Leonard Fournette is still the man to beat. He rushed for 244 yards and two touchdowns vs. Syracuse.

FINALLY — New UMass Athletic Director Ryan Bamford has stated that his scheduling philosophy includes playing one Championship Subdivision team each season and the Minutemen have Wagner (2016) and Maine (2017, 2019) scheduled in the future. If the Minutemen come up just short of reaching a bowl this year, it’ll be fair to wonder if that philosophy is arriving a year too late. Former Athletic Director John McCutcheon and former coach Charley Molnar were clear that they didn’t want to play FCS teams when UMass moved up. The Minutemen played Maine in 2013, but for the most part they’ve played top-level teams outside of the MAC. This year’s schedule looked more manageable, but Colorado and Temple were both better than expected.

Information from personal interviews, newspaper articles and sports information releases was used in this report.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage