Tablet Sports

Playing truth or dare with college football’s playoff hopefuls

Ideally, truth-or-dare challenges require face-to-face interaction.

But we’ll make an exception today as we sort through the latest round of evidence from an upset-filled season in college football.

In each case, we’ll offer a truth that has been uncovered by recent results and dare readers to respond with an action in light of that truth.

In a departure from the classic TV show, there are no consequences to accompany these truths. Just a lot of things to ponder as we head toward the playoff push for FBS teams:

Truth: For all practical purposes, college football’s inaugural playoff already has started. It’s taking place each week in the SEC West, home to four of the top five teams in Sunday’s updated Associated Press poll: No. 1 Mississippi State (6-0), No. 3 Ole Miss (7-0), No. 4 Alabama (6-1) and No. 5 Auburn (5-1).

Dare: Identify a more deserving team from outside that four-team group to join No. 2 Florida State (7-0) in a four-team playoff bracket, based on results posted thus far this season. A viable case cannot be made.

Truth: The SEC West teams will cannibalize themselves based on remaining schedules. By the end of the season, expect only one — and no more than two — of those schools to surface in the CFP’s four-team bracket.

Dare: Do the math. The answer is obvious.

Truth: The teams that wear purple, No. 10 TCU (5-1, 2-1 Big 12) and No. 11 Kansas State (5-1, 3-0 Big 12), will have the most staying power in the Big 12 championship race. They have become the Big 12’s primary playoff contenders, albeit CFP bracket long shots.

Dare: Consult the updated NCAA statistics if you want to make an argument in favor of No. 12 Baylor (6-1, 3-1). The Bears are the nation’s most penalized team (104.6 yards per game) after receiving a league-record 215 yards in stepoffs in Saturday’s 41-27 loss to West Virginia. Championship teams avoid that level of penalties.

Truth: Texas (3-4) and Texas A&M (5-3), the state’s two highest-profile college football programs, are both unranked in the same week for the first time since the final AP poll of the 2011 season.

Dare: Look in the mirror, both sets of fans, and realize “We don’t run this state.” Not this week. And not this season.

Truth: The balanced Big 12 may be hard-pressed to produce enough bowl-eligible teams to fill its six guaranteed bowl slots. The challenge goes beyond having four of 10 teams with losing records heading into this week’s games: Texas (3-4), Texas Tech (3-4), Iowa State (2-5) and Kansas (2-5).

Dare: Find a remaining game that Oklahoma State (5-2, 3-1 Big 12) will be favored to win to secure its bowl eligibility. The logical answer would be Nov. 15 against Texas (3-4, 2-2). But are you sure, based on how the Cowboys were dominated in Saturday’s 42-9 loss to TCU?

Truth: If the Big 12 produces seven bowl-eligible teams, one of them can expect to land a spot in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl on Jan. 2 in Fort Worth. Army (2-5) is contractually obligated to play in that game, pending bowl eligibility. But the Black Knights are not on pace to meet that obligation. If Army falls short, the contract calls for a qualified Big 12 team to serve as Army’s replacement against an opponent from the American Athletic Conference.

Dare: Try not to celebrate hollow victories, Big 12 fans. But realize the league might be able to send a 5-7 team to Fort Worth if there are not enough FBS schools with records of 6-6 or better to fill the 76 slots in this year’s 38 postseason games.

Truth: The FBS team with the best chance of posting an undefeated record is No. 23 Marshall (7-0), which is dominating opponents on a weekly basis in Conference USA. Marshall has trailed for only four plays all season while outscoring opponents by a combined margin of 332-116.

Dare: Without peeking at the answer in the next sentence, name the Thundering Herd’s record-setting quarterback and the NCAA career mark he just took from Russell Wilson, the reigning Super Bowl champ from the Seattle Seahawks. (Answer: Rakeem Cato threw a TD pass in his 39th consecutive NCAA game during Saturday’s 45-13 victory over Florida International).

Key number

2 Baylor starters in the offensive line lost to season-ending injuries in consecutive weeks: RT Troy Baker (torn ACL, Saturday vs. West Virginia) and RG Desmine Hilliard (wrist, Oct. 11 vs. TCU). No. 12 Baylor (6-1, 3-1 Big 12) has a bye week to shuffle personnel before its next game, Nov. 1 against Kansas.

Moving up

CFP bracket challenge: The Power 5 leagues are down to three undefeated teams (Mississippi State, Florida State, Ole Miss), with one of them guaranteed to lose when the Mississippi schools meet Nov. 29. That should place at least two one-loss teams in the inaugural College Football Playoff bracket. Let the endless debate begin for selection committee members trying to separate those schools.

Moving down

Will Muschamp’s stock: The Florida coach heard lots of “Fire Muschamp” chants from the home crowd during Saturday’s 42-13 loss to Missouri. In that contest, the Gators surrendered six touchdowns despite holding the Tigers’ offense to 119 yards and seven first downs. Mizzou scored four TDs via returns (kickoff, punt, interception, fumble).

Key games this week

No. 3 Ole Miss at No. 24 LSU: The undefeated Rebels face their toughest remaining road test of the regular season.

No. 1 Mississippi State at Kentucky: Bulldogs will play as a top-ranked team for the first time in school history at Kentucky (5-2, 2-2 SEC).

Texas Tech at No. 10 TCU: Horned Frogs (5-1, 2-1 Big 12) continue their trek toward a possible conference title.

Playoff projections

If the college football season ended today, here’s a projected playoff bracket based on games played thus far (including playoff seeds):

Semifinal: Mississippi State (No. 1) vs. Alabama (No. 4)

Semifinal: Florida State (No. 2) vs. Ole Miss (No. 3)