It looks like Houston will be the Big 12's best bet for a spot in the 2016 College Football Playoff.
Just three weeks into the season, it appears all but certain that the conference will be missing out on the four-team playoff for the second time in three years (since expansion candidate Houston is still technically in the American Athletic Conference). The Big 12's last best hope died in Strawberry Canyon late Saturday night as Texas was buried under an avalanche of half-a-hundy Cal points.
There are only two unbeaten teams left in the Big 12 - untested West Virginia and tarnished Baylor. The conference so far this season is 2-10 against teams from Power 5 conferences, the American and the MAC. In the latest AP poll, only Baylor (No. 16) is in the top 20, but nowhere near sniffing the playoff.
All of this makes Houston that much more attractive as an expansion candidate. After beating Oklahoma in the season opener, the Cougars rallied to defeat Cincinnati, 40-16, the other favorite to land a spot in the Big 12 expansion game. Houston also has a Nov. 17 date with Louisville, which might be a contest pitting two top 5 teams with a playoff berth on the line.
Cincinnati missed its best chance to make a case for inclusion in the Big 12 by blowing a fourth-quarter lead against Houston. The rest of its schedule doesn't move the needle much, except for a Nov. 5 showdown against BYU in a game pitting the two best expansion candidates after Houston. It might even be viewed as a play-in game of sorts.
BYU, meanwhile, lost another close game to a Pac-12 foe, this time 17-14 against UCLA a week after losing 20-19 to Utah. The Cougars visit Morgantown next week and the Big 12 will get a good chance to evaluate them. BYU also still has games remaining against Power 5 teams Michigan State and Mississippi State, so there are opportunities to score style points.
But for now the absurd expansion show is pretty much all Big 12 has going for it the rest of the season. After the third weekend of September it's already played itself out of playoff contention - there are no more games against Power 5 opponents left and no conference title game to provide a "13th data point" as the selection committee likes to reference.
It's pretty safe to say that, Houston, you don't have a problem. Your membership invitation is in the mail and please sign and return, pronto!
Irish Famine: Notre Dame also has played itself out of playoff contention. After losses to Texas and Michigan State in their first three games, all the Irish have to look forward to is nine meaningless games and at-best an outside shot at a New Year's Six bowl game.
This is what Notre Dame bargained for when it opted to remain independent in the age of power conferences. The school signed a 10-year extension with NBC through the 2025 season to televise its home football games at $15 million per season, but that number is already dwarfed by new deals struck by Power 5 conferences. Members of the Big Ten and SEC are expected to collect north of $40 million each annually beginning this season.
Without a conference affiliation, the Irish have little to play for the rest of the season as its remaining schedule is dotted with low-wattage ACC games and a pair against the service academies. Other than an Oct. 15 date against Stanford in which Notre Dame may play spoiler to the Cardinal's playoff hopes, don't expect much more ink spilled on or eyeballs tuned to the Irish the rest of the season.
Game of the Week
Alabama 48, Ole Miss 43: The Rebels had beaten the Tide in each of the last two seasons and seemed headed for a third straight victory after taking a 24-3 early lead. But just as they did against Florida State in the season opener, they fell apart soon after. Ole Miss did rally late to make a game of it, and in the process exposed some glaring weaknesses of the still top-ranked Tide.
Player of the Week
Lamar Jackson, Louisville: Orchestrating the Cardinals' sensational destruction of Florida State, Jackson announced himself as the Heisman Trophy frontrunner by throwing for 216 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 146 and scoring four more TDs. The Louisville QB spearheaded an attack that shredded the then-No. 2 Seminoles with 530 yards on offense.
First, it was Cal running back Vic Enwere, in what seems to be a weekly occurrence in college football now, casually dropping the football before he crossed the goal line late in Cal's 50-43 victory over Texas. (And don't call it a potential game-clinching TD, because the Bears would've been better off if he had just gotten a first down and not scored.)
But then, the Big 12 officiating crew added to the farce first by failing to notice that Enwere did not cross the goal line with the ball, and then compounding the error by claiming that there was no "immediate recovery" of the fumble, when Texas clearly possessed the ball before the whistle was blown. The Longhorns should've had possession at their own 20 with 1:20 to play with a chance to tie/win the game.
1. Louisville, 2. Ohio State, 3. Alabama, 4. Houston, 5. Stanford, 6. Michigan, 7. Washington, 8. Michigan State, 9. Clemson, 10. Texas A&M, 11. Wisconsin, 12. Florida State, 13. LSU, 14. Nebraska, 15. Miami.