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by | CBS Sports

Tony's Top 10: Here's your playoff

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I have a bunch of friends who want a playoff at the end of college football season even more than they want to eat when they are hungry. And in the South, where I'm from, that's saying something. So I love to write this sentence because it drives them absolutely crazy:

We have a college football playoff, and it starts on Saturday.

The first set of BCS standings will be released on Oct. 17. The first round of the playoffs will take place in the next 16 days when:

No. 1 Alabama plays No. 7 Florida and No. 20 South Carolina.
No. 2 Ohio State plays at No. 11 Wisconsin.
No. 4 Oregon plays No. 9 Stanford.
No. 6 Nebraska plays 4-0 Kansas State and No. 21 Texas.
No. 7 Florida plays No. 1 Alabama and No. 12 LSU.
No. 8 Oklahoma plays No. 21 Texas.

No. 12 LSU plays at No. 7 Florida.

The point is that everything that happened in September was simply to set the table. Now the real fun and the real arguments begin.

So here are just 10 tasty tidbits to consider as we arrive at the first Saturday in October:

1. The Florida defense: Everybody has been wondering when the Florida offense was going to improve. They got their answer last week when freshman quarterback Trey Burton scored six touchdowns in a 48-14 win over Kentucky. But if the No. 7 Gators (4-0) are going to upset No. 1 Alabama (4-0) at Bryant-Denny Stadium it will be because of the defense. In Florida's past two games its defense has met the SEC's leading rusher in Tennessee's Tauren Poole and Kentucky's Derrick Locke. In both games Florida was able to hold the opponent to less than 100 yards rushing. Alabama's Mark Ingram, who sat out the first two games with a knee injury, has averaged 154 yards in his first two starts against Duke and Arkansas.

2. Georgia fans had better enjoy their trip to Colorado: That's because it will be a while before the Bulldogs head West again. It's no secret that Georgia coach Mark Richt and former athletic director Damon Evans didn't exactly see eye to eye on scheduling. Evans, who resigned under fire in July, wanted to take the Georgia brand to exotic ports of call like Arizona State (2008), Oklahoma State (2009) and this season Colorado. Richt's position was that eight SEC games and an annual nonconference rivalry with Georgia Tech was all the branding the Bulldogs needed.

Georgia has a new athletic director in Greg McGarity, who spent the past 19 years at Florida and agrees with Richt. Georgia has now, through "mutual" agreement, decided not to play a home-and-home series with Oregon in 2015-16. Colorado, by the way, will be honoring its 1990 AP national championship team. Too bad Eric Bienemy can't suit up at running back for the Buffs.

3. LSU's fans are undefeated and miserable: LSU is 4-0 and ranked No. 12 in the nation. After Saturday's home game with Tennessee (2-2) the Tigers are going to be 5-0 and heading to their showdown at Florida. LSU's defense is rounding into one of the best in the SEC, if not the best. It's a good thing because the offense is just beyond atrocious. Quarterback Jordan Jefferson continues to struggle. Last week against West Virginia, Jefferson completed 10 of 22 passes for 75 yards and two interceptions. This much we know: If the offense doesn't get better, LSU going to really stumble down the stretch as there are games left with No. 7 Florida, No. 1 Alabama, No. 10 Auburn, and No. 15 Arkansas.

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4. A new quarterback for Boston College: BC coach Frank Spaziani went with 26-year-old Dave Shinskie as long as he could. Shinskie came back to football after a stint in minor-league baseball. But he doesn't have the decision-making qualities a 26-year-old quarterback should have. In a 19-0 loss to Virginia Tech last week, Shinskie threw an interception in the end zone. He also ran the ball and was stopped at the 1-yard line, inbounds, and the clock ran out on the first half. So Saturday against Notre Dame, Spaziani is going to go with freshman Chase Rettig or sophomore Mike Marscoveta. Spaziani would not confirm a Boston Globe report that he has chosen Rettig.

5. It's time for Miami's Jacory Harris to step up on the road: Miami put together an impressive performance in winning at Pittsburgh (31-3) last week. With Georgia Tech and North Carolina already losing once in the ACC, the Hurricanes can take a big step in the ACC Coastal on Saturday when it visits Clemson. But in order to do that quarterback Jacory Harris has to quit being an interception machine on the road. He threw four picks at Ohio State on Sept. 11 and two more last week at Pittsburgh. Coach Randy Shannon has defended Harris, saying some of those picks weren't his fault. Fair enough. Still, it's time for Harris to step up and win a big game on the road.

6. The Red River Rivalry turns blue: Needless to say, Texas's 34-12 loss to UCLA in Austin has taken some of the steam out of this Saturday's game with Oklahoma in Dallas. It was Mack Brown's worst home loss in his 13 seasons as the Longhorns' head coach. Brown was embarrassed and he should have been. His team was not ready to play. Now Texas has to win on Saturday or it will be totally eliminated from the BCS conversation on the first Saturday in October. "The only thing we can do to get fans to calm down is win," Brown said.

If I'm Oklahoma, I'm not exactly coming into this game brimming with confidence. The Sooners put it all together to beat Florida State 47-17 at home on Sept. 11. But the other three wins over Utah State (31-24), Air Force (27-24) and Cincinnati (31-29) have been by a total of 12 points. Last week against the Bearcats, Oklahoma had 452 yards of total offense and had to hang on because of 13 penalties for 113 yards. Could it be that Texas and Oklahoma are just average teams?

7. The Big East gets a much-needed break: There is no truth to the rumor that the ACC's new motto is: "Hey, at least we're not as bad as the Big East." No truth to that all.

But it is true that our friends in the Big East are now 1-10 against nonconference BCS opponents. So it's good that the league is stepping down a notch this week as Louisville goes to Arkansas State, Pittsburgh hosts Florida International, Rutgers hosts Tulane and South Florida hosts Florida Atlantic.

Remember that the lowest-rated BCS participant ever was 2004 Pittsburgh, the Big East champ, which was 8-3 and ranked No. 21 when it met Utah (and lost) in the Fiesta Bowl. This season's Big East champ could be worse than that. Pittsburgh (1-2) is not ranked after getting trounced at home 31-3 by Miami and losing its opener at Utah 27-24. West Virginia, which was expected to challenge the Panthers for the Big East title, lost at LSU and was very fortunate to beat Marshall 24-21 in overtime on Sept. 10.

8. Mark Dantonio and the press box view: Two weeks after he suffered a mild heart attack following a big win over Notre Dame, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio returns for Saturday's game with No. 9 Wisconsin in East Lansing. Dantonio will not manage his team from the sidelines but will work from the press box, where things will allegedly be less stressful. That's doubtful. Having to defend Wisconsin running back John Clay would make anyone's heart flutter. Clay has posted 10 straight games over 100 yards but the competition in September (UNLV, San Jose State, Arizona State, Austin Peay) has been token at best. These teams tend to play wide-open games. Wisconsin won 38-30 last season in Madison.

9. A contrast in styles in Eugene: You gotta like the attitude and the power football Jim Harbaugh brings to Stanford. The Cardinal, thanks to the splendid play of quarterback Andrew Luck (the best quarterback in the Pac-10), hung 68 on Wake Forest. Last week, when Luck took a step back and threw a couple of picks, Stanford still won at Notre Dame 37-14. And yes, this is the Stanford team that won 35-0 against UCLA, the victor over Texas. But Oregon has the speed and skill to combat Stanford's brute strength. The Ducks trailed 24-14 at Arizona State last week before turning on the switch and winning 42-31. How big is playing at home in Autzen Stadium? This big: Oregon has beaten Stanford by an average of 26.8 points over the past four meetings in Eugene. If not for Florida-Alabama, this would be the best game on the board this Saturday.

10. It's Show Me time for Penn State and Iowa: Iowa (3-1) has won seven of its past eight games against Penn State (3-1) and will be favored again on Saturday when the two teams meet at Kinnick Stadium. I'm still waiting to see how these teams are. Penn State's loss was at No. 1 Alabama, 24-3 on Sept. 11. No shame there. I was more surprised when Iowa went on the road and lost at Arizona 34-27 on Sept. 18. Somebody has to put some pressure on Ohio State in the Big Ten and the winner of this game gets that opportunity.

Watch The Tony Barnhart Show every Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on The CBS College Sports Network.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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