Winners and losers Week 7: With the season halfway over, let's take a look at the playoff picture

We are now at the halfway point of the 2019 college football season. Where has the time gone?

Week 7 brought us our first huge upset of the year in South Carolina’s win over No. 3 Georgia in Athens and a top-seven SEC clash in Baton Rouge won by LSU. Meanwhile, teams like Minnesota and Baylor continued their unlikely undefeated runs and teams like Memphis and Wake Forest were dropped from the unbeaten ranks.

With the first 50 percent of the season now complete we figure it’s a good time to take a look at what the end of the season could look like. Who would be in the Playoff? Who would miss out? Let’s take a look.

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Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has 29 total TDs in 2019. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has 29 total TDs in 2019. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)

College Football Playoff

No. 1. Alabama (6-0)

The Crimson Tide beat No. 24 Texas A&M 47-28 on Saturday to move to 6-0. Tua Tagovailoa threw for four touchdowns to four different receivers and now has 29 total touchdowns on the season. The Crimson Tide get the edge here over No. 5 LSU because of their current ranking through the first half of the season and because they host the Tigers in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 9.

No. 2 Clemson (6-0)

Clemson fell from No. 1 after scraping by against North Carolina two weeks ago. Following an off week in Week 6, the Tigers were back close to peak form on Saturday in a huge 45-14 win over former ACC Atlantic contender Florida State. QB Trevor Lawrence threw for three touchdowns and running back Travis Etienne rushed 17 times for 127 yards as the Tigers carried it 53 times against Florida State’s defense.

No. 3 Ohio State (6-0)

The Buckeyes were off on Saturday and have proved to be the class of the Big Ten East so far. Justin Fields has been fantastic in coach Ryan Day’s offensive system and J.K. Dobbins is producing as a rusher like he did as a freshman in 2017. More importantly, the Ohio State defense hasn’t been nearly as susceptible to big plays as it was a year ago. The schedule gets tougher with games against Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan in the second half of the season, but the Buckeyes look legit.

No. 4 Oklahoma (6-0)

Oklahoma didn’t let Texas get a rivalry win for the second straight year. The No. 6 Sooners beat the No. 11 Longhorns 34-27 on Saturday on the strength of a much-improved defense. The Sooners look much more poised to be credible national title threats in 2019 thanks to Alex Grinch’s defense.

New Year’s Six bowl games

Peach Bowl [Playoff semifinal]: Alabama vs. Oklahoma

This playoff rematch from a year ago would be the rare sequel that has more storylines. Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts vs. his former team. Hurts facing off against Tagovailoa after the two potentially sit next to each other at the Heisman Trophy celebration in New York ... the list goes on. Which defense would be able to slow down the other offense the most?

Fiesta Bowl [Playoff semifinal]: Clemson vs. Ohio State

This would be a rematch of a New Year’s Eve semifinal in 2016 at the same stadium. Clemson beat Ohio State 31-0 in that game on the way to a national title over Alabama. The Buckeyes wouldn’t be shut out this time. It would also possibly be the only chance to see Fields face off against Lawrence in college. The two were far and away the top two quarterbacks in the 2017 recruiting class.

Rose Bowl: Wisconsin (6-0) vs. Oregon (5-1)

Oregon’s defense has been absolutely stellar this season. The Ducks have reeled off five straight wins after a Week 1 loss to Auburn and have given up just 25 points and one single touchdown in that span. Yes, Oregon has allowed just one TD over the past five games. At this rate, the Ducks could sneak back into the College Football Playoff conversation.

Wisconsin, meanwhile, gets the Rose Bowl spot as the highest-ranked Big Ten team behind Ohio State. The Badgers are far and away the favorites in the Big Ten West and completed a Michigan trifecta with a blowout win over Michigan State on Saturday to go with wins over Central Michigan and Michigan. Penn State could get this spot too, but Wisconsin has the early edge because the Badgers look like a lock for the Big Ten championship game.

Sugar Bowl: Texas (4-2) vs. LSU (6-0)

Yes, this is a rematch of a fantastic Week 2 game in Austin that LSU won. But there’s not much else to do with this game. The Sugar Bowl has contracts with the SEC and Big 12 and will take the No. 2 team(s) if one or both conferences have playoff teams. LSU also gets the edge here because Georgia went to the Sugar Bowl last season.

Besides, given how fun the Tigers’ 45-38 win in Week 2 over the Longhorns was, don’t you want to see it again? And with it being at a neutral site we can hopefully avoid all the postgame air conditioning back-and-forth.

Cotton Bowl: Notre Dame (5-1) vs. Boise State (6-0)

Notre Dame’s 30-27 win over USC on Saturday wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. But Notre Dame escaped a late re-kick of an onside kick attempt after coach Brian Kelly wandered onto the field trying to get his team in position after USC scored its final touchdown. The Irish’s only loss is a respectable one at Georgia and a one-loss Notre Dame will surely be in a New Year’s Six bowl game at the end of the season.

Boise State, meanwhile, occupies this spot as the best team from outside the Power Five conferences. The Broncos are undefeated and get in ahead of SMU, the lone undefeated in the American. Boise State does have to worry about a potentially serious injury to QB Hank Bachmeier, who left Saturday night’s game against Hawaii in the second quarter.

Orange Bowl: Wake Forest (5-1) vs. Georgia (5-1)

Yes, this isn’t the most enticing of matchups. Penn State could easily be here instead of Georgia after the Bulldogs’ loss to South Carolina and Penn State’s win at Iowa. It’s close to a toss-up at this point. Jake Fromm threw three interceptions on Saturday and Rodrigo Blankenship missed two field goals. That probably won’t happen again in the same game the rest of the season for the Bulldogs.

Wake Forest goes here because an ACC team heads to the Orange Bowl. And we really don’t have any other ACC suggestions even though Wake lost at home to Louisville on Saturday night. Every other team in the ACC that isn’t named Clemson has at least two losses and the ACC Coastal looks quite chaotic again. Wake will likely lose to Clemson in the second half of the season but they’re the best option right now.

WINNERS

South Carolina: South Carolina pulled out the biggest upset of the season thus far when it took down No. 3 Georgia in Athens, 20-17 in double overtime. And the Gamecocks wouldn’t have won the game without the efforts of Israel Mukuamu. Mukuamu, a sophomore cornerback, intercepted Georgia quarterback three times, including a pick-six late in the first half to give his team a 17-10 lead. South Carolina improved to 3-3 with the victory and greatly increased its chances at making a bowl game. But that may depend on the health of QB Ryan Hilinski, who left the game with an injury in the third quarter and did not return.

Wisconsin: Wisconsin’s utter dominance continued on Saturday as the Badgers throttled Michigan State, 38-0. While the offense had one of its typical methodical efforts, the defense continued its unbelievable start to the season. Here are some of the details. Wisconsin’s defense has scored as many touchdowns as it has allowed (4). Wisconsin has previously never had four shutouts in a season; the 2019 Badgers needed six games to accomplish that feat. UW became the first Big Ten team to register four shutouts in its first six games since Minnesota in 1962. And according to ESPN, Wisconsin’s 29 points is the lowest amount allowed by an FBS team through six games since Florida State in 1993. Got all that? Oh, and it’s now fair to say Wisconsin owns the state of Michigan.

Oregon: If you wrote off Oregon after its season-opening loss to Auburn, you shouldn’t have. In the weeks since, the 13th-ranked Ducks have rattled off five straight wins and have allowed a combined 25 points during that winning streak. On top of that, the Oregon defense has allowed just a single touchdown during that span. In Friday night’s 45-3 win over Colorado, the Oregon defense forced a Colorado offense that had been averaging 34.6 points per game to turn it over four times. Now 5-1 (3-0 Pac-12), Oregon is the Pac-12’s only College Football Playoff hope entering next weekend’s road game against Washington.

Arizona State: Arizona State is going to have a say in the Pac-12 South race. The 18th-ranked Sun Devils improved to 5-1 (2-1 Pac-12) by beating Washington State 38-34 at home on Saturday. WSU took a 34-31 lead with 2:30 to play, but ASU responded by marching 75 yards for the game-winning touchdown. Jayden Daniels, ASU’s true freshman quarterback, sealed the victory with a 17-yard touchdown run with 34 seconds to play. ASU travels to Salt Lake City next weekend to face No. 15 Utah in a game that could go a long way in deciding the Pac-12 South.

Baylor: No. 22 Baylor remained undefeated by knocking off Texas Tech, 33-30. But it wasn’t easy. The Red Raiders took a 20-17 lead with 1:37 to play. On the ensuing drive, a sack pushed Baylor back to its own 1-yard line. From there, the Bears marched 97 yards all the way to the Texas Tech 2-yard line. Baylor couldn’t win it then, but a chip shot field goal forced overtime and the Bears won it in 2OT. Baylor improved to 6-0 (3-0 Big 12) with the victory, continuing an impressive turnaround under Matt Rhule. Who thought we’d see Baylor next to Oklahoma atop the Big 12 standings at this point in the season?

Louisville: Not enough is being made of the job Scott Satterfield is doing in his first year at Louisville. That program hit rock bottom a year ago under Bobby Petrino, but Satterfield has got the Cardinals playing good ball. You could see it when they gave Notre Dame a scare in the season opener, and it was apparent yet again Saturday night in a road upset win over No. 19 Wake Forest — a team that was previously undefeated. It was a wacky game that ended 62-59 — but the Cardinals somehow were able to hang on and improve to 4-2 overall and 2-1 in ACC play. The trajectory of the Louisville program has flipped completely with Satterfield leading the way.

Lynn Bowden: What do you do when your starting and backup quarterback are both injured? If you’re Kentucky, you move your star receiver over to quarterback and he leads you to a conference win. Lynn Bowden played QB in high school and has thrown passes on trick plays throughout his college career. On Saturday in a 24-20 win over Arkansas, Bowden completed 7-of-11 passes for 78 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 196 yards and two scores. Bowden’s 24-yard TD run with 6:53 to play proved to be the game-winner for the Wildcats, who improved to 3-3 with the victory.

Kentucky quarterback Lynn Bowden Jr. (1) celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the first half of the team's NCAA college football game against Arkansas, Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)
Kentucky quarterback Lynn Bowden Jr. (1) celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the first half of the team's NCAA college football game against Arkansas, Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

Appalachian State: When you’re talking about the race to represent the Group of Five conferences in a New Year’s Six bowl game, you can’t discount Appalachian State. The Mountaineers improved to 5-0 and 2-0 in Sun Belt play with a 17-7 win over Louisiana on Wednesday night. App State led 10-7 when it regained possession at its own 3-yard line with 11:50 to play. From there, the Mountaineers embarked on a 19-play, 97-yard scoring drive that took 10:11 off the clock, essentially icing the game. App State is the clear favorite in the Sun Belt East, and may get a rematch with Louisiana in the Sun Belt title game later this year.

Temple: The divisional races in the AAC are going to be extremely fun. And thanks to a 30-28 upset victory over No. 23 Memphis on Saturday, Temple is sitting atop the East division standings next to Cincinnati at 5-1 overall and 2-0 in AAC play. The Owls forced three Memphis turnovers in the first half and jumped out to a 23-7 lead. Memphis stormed back and cut the lead to 23-21 in the third quarter, but the Owls ended up adding a fourth-quarter score before holding on for a 30-28 win. While Temple, Cincy and UCF duke it out in the East, SMU, Tulane, Memphis and Navy will have a chance in the AAC West.

Western Kentucky: Western Kentucky lost its season opener to an FCS team. Six weeks later, the Hilltoppers deserve some love. Since the loss to Central Arkansas, WKU has won four of five games, including Saturday’s 17-8 upset over Army. WKU limited Army’s option offense to just 208 yards in the win, including just 137 yards on the ground. That is 136.4 yards below Army’s average. WKU is now 4-2 on the year and a perfect 3-0 in C-USA play in its first season under Tyson Helton.

BONUS WINNER: Who doesn’t love a large-man touchdown? Here’s to you, Austen Pleasants — all 6-foot-7 and 328 pounds of you.

LOSERS

Vanderbilt: The bar to clear is never all that high at Vanderbilt, but it’s certainly higher than getting smoked by UNLV at home. That’s right, the Commodores got blown out at home by the mighty Rebels, a team whose only other win came over Southern Utah. Final score: 34-10. The score was tied 7-7 after one quarter. From there, UNLV outscored Vanderbilt 27-3. Vandy’s passing attack was putrid: 16 of41 for 140 yards and an interception between Riley Neal and Deuce Wallace. Could we be counting down to the end of the Derek Mason era? Vanderbilt is a tough job. Mason has gotten the school to two bowl games but never a winning record. Saturday’s loss drops his record to 25-43 (9-34 SEC) in Nashville.

Mississippi State: Things are not going well for Joe Moorhead at Mississippi State. Remember that vaunted offense Moorhead-led offense on the Penn State team that won a Big Ten title? That hasn’t shown up so far in Starkville. And it especially wasn’t on display on Saturday in a 20-10 loss to Tennessee. Yes, Tennessee. The Bulldogs mustered only 267 yards of offense and turned it over three times in the loss. All three of those turnovers were interceptions — two from Penn State transfer Tommy Stevens and another from true freshman Garrett Shrader, who replaced Stevens. MSU underperformed in 2018 despite having perhaps the most talented defense in program history. A year later, the Bulldogs are sitting at 3-3 (1-2 SEC) with games against LSU, Texas A&M and Alabama still to come. Will MSU even reach a bowl game?

Mississippi State quarterback Garrett Shrader (6) walks off the field after a 20-10 loss to Tennessee in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
Mississippi State quarterback Garrett Shrader (6) walks off the field after a 20-10 loss to Tennessee in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Michigan: Michigan improved to 5-1 with a 42-25 win over Illinois on Saturday, but UM fans probably don’t feel too good about it. The Wolverines jumped out to a 28-0 second quarter lead, only to allow the mighty Illini — playing with a backup quarterback — to storm back and get within three, 28-25, early in the fourth quarter. Michigan would avoid disaster with two late touchdowns, but the Wolverines have yet put together a complete game on both sides of the ball. With a trip to undefeated Penn State coming next weekend, those deficiencies — the ones that were very apparent in the loss to Wisconsin — may be too much for Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines to overcome.

Syracuse: What happened to that vaunted Dino Babers offense? In 2018, Syracuse averaged 40.2 points and 464 yards per game en route to a 10-win season. The Orange opened the 2019 season in the Top 25, and were projected as one of the better teams in the ACC. But that has not been the case. The Orange dropped to 3-3 (0-2 ACC) with a 16-10 loss to NC State on Thursday night. Babers’ squad fell behind 13-0 at half and needed a touchdown in the final minutes just to make things interesting. Through six games, Syracuse’s offensive averages are down to 25.5 points and 378.3 yards per game. Those figures drop to 12 points and 309.3 yards against Power Five teams.

Nebraska: Nebraska is not a very good football team. Saturday night’s 34-7 loss to Minnesota made that pretty clear. Yeah, Minnesota is undefeated and Nebraska was without starting quarterback Adrian Martinez, but the Huskers were supposed to be much better than this by this point in Scott Frost’s tenure. But Frost’s heralded offense has been underwhelming all year long while the defense has given up at least 34 points in four of its five Power Five games. The only P5 team that didn’t completely gash the Huskers was Northwestern, a team with one of the worst offenses in the country. Minnesota only needed to attempt 13 passes to throttle Nebraska. Instead, the Gophers rushed for 322 yards and four scores, improving to 6-0 in the process.

LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMBER 28: Head coach Scott Frost of the Nebraska Cornhuskers on the field before the game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Memorial Stadium on September 28, 2019 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images)
LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMBER 28: Head coach Scott Frost of the Nebraska Cornhuskers on the field before the game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Memorial Stadium on September 28, 2019 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images)

Virginia: It must be rough to be a Virginia fan. At 4-1 and 2-0 in conference play, the No. 20 Cavaliers seemed to be in the driver’s seat in the ACC Coastal entering the weekend. All they needed to do was beat a mediocre Miami team to keep the good vibes going. But that didn’t happen. Virginia put up only nine points in an ugly 17-9 loss. Virginia didn’t score a single touchdown. Early in the fourth quarter, Bronco Mendenhall opted to kick a 21-yard field goal instead of going for it on fourth-and-goal. Instead of trying to take the lead, Virginia cut the lead to 7-6 and would never go ahead in the ballgame. The Coastal race is going to be a wacky one.

BYU: Things have gone downhill since BYU’s upset victory over USC on Sept. 14. The Cougars have lost three straight games, including Saturday’s 27-23 loss to lowly South Florida — the same USF program that hadn’t beaten an FBS team other than UConn since Oct. 12, 2018. Sure BYU had to play with its backup and then its third-string QB, but blowing a 16-7 halftime lead and a 23-14 fourth-quarter lead is not a good look. The Cougars are now 2-4 with a game against No. 14 Boise State next week. The back half of the schedule is much easier, but a bowl game is going to be an uphill climb.

Maryland: Remember when Maryland was ranked? Since that 2-0 start, the Terps have lost three of four games. If the 59-0 home loss to Penn State was bad, the 40-14 beatdown the Terps suffered at the hands of an injury-plagued Purdue team was worse. Jack Plummer, Purdue’s backup QB, threw for 420 yards and three touchdowns. Now 3-3, it’s going to be tall task for Maryland to get to a bowl game.

Toledo: Entering Week 7, most observers of the MAC would have told you that Toledo was the best team in the conference. At the same time, most observers of the MAC would have told you that Bowling Green was the worst team in the MAC. So when the two sides met Saturday at the Glass Bowl, you would assume an easy win for Toledo, right? Wrong. Toledo, a 25.5-point favorite, was upset 20-7 by the Falcons. Against a Bowling Green defense that allowed an average of 50.25 points and 574.25 yards per game in its four contests against FBS opponents, Toledo went for 392 yards and just seven points. Not good.

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