There are few guarantees in college football, but as we exit September, it’s becoming readily apparent that we are on an end-of-the-season collision course with Alabama and Clemson.

The two teams to play for and win the national championship in the past two seasons are yet again the cream of the crop. Most of us don’t want to admit it, but we’re all thinking it. The Tide and Tigers have crushed any expectation of parity at the top in this sport, as we all have to come to grips with the fact that these are the two best teams in the country … again.

On what you might call “Show Me Saturday,” No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Clemson put that dominance on display. First, it was Clemson strutting out of Lane Stadium with a commanding 31-17 win over No. 12 Virginia Tech. In Tuscaloosa, it was Alabama trying to outdo its 59-0 win over Vanderbilt by demolishing Ole Miss 66-3.

Clemson became the first team in AP poll history to beat three top-15 teams in September, and it did so by a combined score of 92-44.

The silly thing is that Saturday might be the first time some really start to take this Clemson team seriously. Yes, there are a lot of new faces, but the blueprint for how to win a national championship didn’t disappear, and the Tigers have been fueled by being somewhat overlooked to start the season.

“It’s something we used as motivation,” Clemson receiver Hunter Renfrow told ESPN after the win over the Hokies. “That’s not how we’re looked at now.”

No, it isn’t, and it’s why we are imagining a championship rubber match, because it’s not as if Alabama has lost a step.

The Crimson Tide haven’t surrendered a touchdown since Week 3 and have surpassed 600 yards in back-to-back SEC games. Alabama’s 63-point margin of victory is the largest in the SEC in the past 10 years, and it marked the first time Alabama has had consecutive 50-point wins against major conference opponents.

Clemson currently has zero ranked opponents left on its schedule, while the only one Alabama looks as if it’ll have to worry about is Auburn (more on that later). Losing the likes of Deshaun Watson and Jonathan Allen has meant little to these two behemoths, so if you’re looking for any national championship surprises, you’ll have to look elsewhere for now.

Which is not to say September’s final weekend was completely lacking in suspense. Take Friday night in Pullman, Washington, for example. In what was a gut-check game for No. 5 USC and a prove-it moment for No. 16 Washington State, the country saw yet another top team go down. Luke Falk carved up USC’s defense for 340 yards and two touchdowns, but it was Wazzu’s defense that really stood out.

Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold, who has gone from Heisman favorite to somewhat of an enigma in a month’s time, was bothered all night long. Just when we thought we’d see yet another fourth-quarter comeback, he literally fumbled it away to the Cougars with 1:27 left in a stunning 30-27 WSU win.

Another thing we knew we’d see in September is early hot-seat talk in the SEC, but we thought we’d be focusing on Butch Jones, Kevin Sumlin and Gus Malzahn. Heading into October, however, things look scary in Baton Rouge, and we have no choice but to zero in on LSU’s Ed Orgeron and wonder whether he’s fit for this job.

The journeyman defensive line coach who found himself in charge of LSU after Les Miles was fired last season watched his Tigers get blown out 37-7 by Mississippi State two weeks ago, but he outdid himself with a 24-21 loss to Troy at Tiger Stadium, ending a 49-game winning streak in nonconference home games.

No. 7 Georgia, No. 13 Auburn and No. 6 Washington were other standout performers Saturday and look capable of upsetting the status quo in the College Football Playoff race. The Bulldogs routed hapless Tennessee 41-0, further engulfing Jones’ seat in flames in Knoxville.

This is a game Georgia traditionally either plods through or loses, but backed by a pounding running game and an absolutely frightening defense, Kirby Smart’s Dawgs had an Alabama-like showing of dominance.

“The mindset — on defense and offense — is just to dominate the man across from you,” Georgia defensive back Tyrique McGhee told ESPN on Saturday. “You’re in a box, like a telephone booth. Everybody on this team understands that.

“We expect to dominate each opponent.”

After a sputtering start to the season, Auburn reminded the SEC of what a Malzahn-coached offense can look like with the right quarterback in a 49-10 thrashing of No. 24 Mississippi State. Jarrett Stidham is getting more comfortable behind center, giving Auburn an explosive passing and running game that has running back Kerryon Johnson (eight touchdowns in the past two games) thinking this group of Tigers can challenge — and beat — Alabama.

“When you look at the losses Alabama has taken for however long they’ve been good [under Nick Saban], you see a trend,” Johnson told ESPN on Saturday. “You see quarterbacks making plays, you see the passing yards are higher than the rushing yards, you see big plays being made on them, defenses that are able to hold them. When you look at those trends, you definitely see the same things this offense is capable of doing.

“We’re making explosive plays downfield in the passing game, and that opens up so much more. … It just makes the game so much more easier and so much more fun.”

While the Pac-12 felt a mighty pillar fall Friday with USC’s loss, Wazzu’s electric offense and stingy defense will be sharing time at the top of the conference with Washington. A week after running over Colorado, the Huskies beat Oregon State 42-7. Again, it was a game they should have won, but they did it with command, pushing complacency out into the Pacific Ocean.

There will be opportunities for these teams, and the likes of No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 4 Penn State, among others, to push the top two in the CFP race. But don’t expect any complacency from Alabama and Clemson — and don’t bother asking Nick Saban whether he cares about how many points the Tide have scored in recent games.

The Tide and Tigers each have few roadblocks remaining, and there’s no doubt they’ll continue to grow to scary levels in the months ahead.


Here is the best of the rest from Week 5:

A costly upset

LSU’s loss to Troy ended a streak of 49 straight nonconference home wins (the second-longest such streak in the AP poll era) and Troy improved to 2-22 all time against AP-ranked teams and 2-19 against SEC teams.

And when you go to LSU and win to ruin the Tigers’ homecoming, you can troll them mercilessly.

All you need is Love

With that run, Stanford’s Bryce Love went over 1,000 yards rushing. It’s not even October yet.

Northern Illinois’ Garrett Wolfe holds the record for most rushing yards through five games (1,181 yards to start the 2006 season). Love is the first Pac-12 runner with more than 1,000 yards in five games since USC’s Marcus Allen did it in his 1981 Heisman season.

You can leave your hat on … or not

A first for everything

  • Penn State is the second FBS team this season to score two special-teams touchdowns in a quarter (a Saquon Barkley kick return and a Nick Scott punt return fumble recovered and run in for TD), joining Louisiana.

  • Penn State’s 28 first-quarter points are its most in a first quarter since 2005 at Illinois (also 28).

  • Penn State has outscored its opponents 73-0 in the first quarter this season (best point differential in FBS).

Jumping into the bye week like …

Iowa salute from 800 miles away

With Iowa playing away from Kinnick Stadium this week, College GameDay fills in to continue the tradition of waving to the kids at Iowa Stead Children’s Hospital.

Fans on the College GameDay set do the wave after Tom Rinaldi’s feature on the Iowa children’s hospital.

Sam Strong, ESPN Staff Writer

0:25

Do as I do

Ron Dayne is teaching the good people of Wisconsin how to properly strike the Heisman pose this morning. He’s back on campus finishing his degree and enjoying watching fellow New Jersey running back Jonathan Taylor put up some Dayne-like freshman stats so far this year.

Dan Murphy, ESPN Staff Writer

New Heisman contender on the block?

Just looking at the numbers, Washington State’s Luke Falk has looked more like a Heisman favorite than Sam Darnold.

Falk on the mark

  • Falk, who overcame five sacks and three drops from his receivers, completed 10 of 12 passes in the fourth quarter for 90 yards and a touchdown.

  • Falk did most of his damage with short throws, completing 27 of 33 passes thrown 5 or fewer yards downfield for 183 yards and two touchdowns.

  • Washington State had 240 yards after the catch, the most USC has given up in a game since 2014 (267 at UCLA). The Trojans gave up 81 yards after the catch per game in their first four games this season.

Sam struggles downfield

— ESPN Stats & Information





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