Ohio State is finally playing somebody. It probably won't matter. The competition to date for the No. 2 Buckeyes has been fairly soft. Notre Dame (No. 5 at the time of kickoff) has been the only ranked challenger. The next six opponents have been trounced by an average of 38.6 points.
It's Ohio State, and it's blowing everyone away. That should be enough to have faith in the Buckeyes as they play their biggest game of the year at No. 13 Penn State. The Nittany Lions' most significant accomplishment to date might be getting into a tunnel war at Michigan.
This game has been a fork in the road for Penn State as of late. Ohio State has won nine of the last 10 meetings while establishing itself as the Big Ten big dog across the last decade. It is part of a try-not-to-yawn weekend. The top-four ranked teams (Georgia, Ohio State, Tennessee, Michigan) are favored by a combined 73.5 points.
This matchup foreshadows the future of the Big Ten. As the conference edges toward one-division play (likely in 2024), the goal will become finding your team among top two for a spot in the league title game. Until further notice, it's going to be the same old, same old: the Big 2 (Ohio State, Michigan) and the little 14.
There will be more postseason opportunities in an expanded playoff. That's why the Big Ten is soon going to be a 16-team league. The more brands you have under one tent, the more potential playoff spots you can fill.
Penn State will be one of those contenders. It traditionally has been. But can it break into the elite? It has lost seven straight against top-five teams and 10 in a row against top-10 opponents. Maybe it doesn't matter in the new playoff age when you don't have to win the league.
Meanwhile, critics haven't piled on because of Ohio State's easy schedule. Some things you have to take on faith. Ryan Day has yet to lose his second Big Ten game in Year 4 as coach. Ohio State is winning with an established Heisman Trophy finalist in quarterback C.J. Stroud but without expected top stars running back Treyveon Henderson and wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba (both injured).
Smith-Njigba injured his hamstring in the opener against Notre Dame and has been limited since. In fact, he may have reinjured the hammy after running a route last week in the third quarter against Iowa. He was on a play limit (20) in that game and might face the same barrier again this week at State College, Pennsylvania, according to Day. Going into the season's ninth game, Smith-Njigba has just five catches for 43 yards.
That hole in the lineup hasn't mattered. The Buckeyes still have one of the best receiver rooms in the country. Smith-Njigba's absence allowed sophomore Emeka Egbuka (41 catches, seven touchdowns) to be inserted into the All-America conversation. Don't forget sophomore Marvin Harrison Jr. (38 catches, 10 touchdowns).
Penn State has to get more consistent play from QB Sean Clifford. It has to get closer to Ohio State in general.
Crack those cocktails
My advice to you, Gators, is to start drinking heavily. That's going to happen anyway in and around TIAA Bank Field. The question is whether Florida can give Georgia a challenge in this rivalry game. The answer is probably "no," but the 22.5-point line for the Bulldogs is the largest in series history.
Florida under Billy Napier is still off broadway, but it has a chance if only Anthony Richardson can put it together this time. The Gators quarterback's first career start came in last year against the Dawgs. A second-quarter implosion led to a 34-7 victory as Richardson threw for just 82 yards with a lost fumble and two interceptions. Otherwise, Florida played Georgia close.
"Before the game, I'm not going to lie, I had a lot of jitters. I was in my head a lot," Richardson said this week. "I was a little nervous. First career start against the No. 1 defense. So, of course, I was thinking a lot."
Georgia's defense isn't as good as last year, but it doesn't have to be. The Dawgs just need a tune-up, while ...
Tennessee warms up
Look for No. 19 Kentucky to blitz the heck out of Hendon Hooker in this one-sided rivalry at No. 3 Tennessee. That and run Chris Rodriguez (197 yards vs. Mississippi State). These teams have played it close lately, but the matchup doesn't look good. Kentucky plays zone coverage at the 13th-highest rate in the country. Tennessee is second-best nationally against zone.
It's not likely the Volunteers will be looking ahead to the Dawgs. The Wildcats have won only 26 times in 117 meetings. Quarterback Will Levis (shoulder, turf toe) must have a big game for UK. Tennessee's weakest point is its secondary. This is the first time the teams meet as ranked opponents since 1951.
Let's cut to the chase for No. 15 Ole Miss at Texas A&M. Here are five offensive coordinators who could replace Jimbo Fisher as play callers for the Aggies.
- Kenny Dillingham, Oregon offensive coordinator: Though only 32, Dillingham is the force behind the resuscitation of Bo Nix.
- Joe Sloan, LSU quarterbacks coach: The brains behind the Jayden Daniels' career year is a dervish who is going to be a head coach before you blink. For now, A&M should go full A&M and throw whatever money it takes to get this emerging talent.
- Brian Hartline, Ohio State passing game coordinator: Hartline is getting all kinds of buzz. Only 35, he was promoted in the offseason. I Stroud wins the Heisman, he deserves a piece of it.
- Sherrone Moore, Michigan co-coordinator: When Josh Gattis bolted for Miami, it was Moore's time. He already had coached Michigan's offensive line, which was named best in the country (Joe Moore Award) last season.
- Todd Monken, Georgia offensive coordinator: OK, so a move to A&M in the conference might be a lateral one, and Monken may be seeking a head coaching job, but look what he squeezed out of Stetson Bennett -- a national championship.
A 12-team bracket through a 2022 lens
November is bringing us a hint of what a 12-team College Football Playoff bracket would look like. There are 25-30 teams that would be in the running right now in an expanded playoff. Instead, heading into Week 9, there are currently about 10 in the current four-team playoff -- if you really squint. Some considerations in a 12-team bracket ...
- No. 21 North Carolina (at Virginia) would go from ACC Coastal favorite into legitimate playoff contender.
- No. 23 Tulane (7-1), No. 20 Cincinnati (6-1) and UCF (5-2) wouldn't be battling just a New Year's Six berth in the top-heavy AAC but a playoff spot -- perhaps two. For now, Gus Malzahn is trying to become the third Knights coach since 2017 to lead UCF to a New Year's Six berth. Tulane, leading the conference at 4-0, is at Tulsa.
Bret Bielema in Nebraska … beyond Saturday?
Nebraska might have its next coach visiting this week. Illinois coach Bret Bielema wasn't on my original list of candidates, but he makes total sense with the No. 17 Illini visiting the Cornhuskers. That was before his breakout season played out. In his second campaign, Bielema has quickly developed a roster that had been lacking. Illinois' last winning season was 11 years ago under the immortal Ron Zook.
Bielema fits the labels that Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts put on the next hire. He wants a "grinder" and "culture builder."
"A lot of principles I believe in winning have stayed true, it's just a different recipe," Bielema said.
The Illini are in control of the Big Ten West for now. Like his Wisconsin days, Bielema still pounds the rock with Chase Brown. Unlike at Wisconsin, Bielema's Illini have adopted tempo and huddle a lot less.
In a recent conversation with CBS Sports, he evaluated the speed bump in his career -- a 29-32 record during a five-year run with Arkansas.
"I watched my mentors," Bielema said. "Hayden Fry come to Iowa and built it. I saw Bill Snyder do it at Kansas State. I saw Barry Alvarez do it at Wisconsin. I thought Arkansas might be that opportunity. Bottom line, it didn't want to be built at the time. Now, to come here, it's a pretty cool time."
On the other side, if Nebraska interim coach Mickey Joseph pulls off the upset, he'll go a long way toward planting his flag. The former Huskers quarterback and elevated wide receivers coach is 2-2 with the interim tag. Judge for yourself: Under Joseph, the Huskers got blown out by Oklahoma and lost a squeaker last week to Purdue.
As for this game that has as much going off the field as on it, Nebraska is 3-15 in its last 18 games decided by seven points or less. Ask Scott Frost about that number.