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Last Week in College Football: Clemson and Bama Separate from the Pack While Awaiting Challengers from the Big Ten

Can Ohio State or any of the Big Ten’s other heavyweights emerge as a bona fide challenger to the Clemson/Alabama hegemony?

NCAA Football: Clemson at Georgia Tech Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Two college football teams appear to have separated themselves from the pack after seven weeks of action, and nobody who has followed the sport for the past half-decade should be surprised by the identity of the front-runners. Exceptional week seven performances from Clemson and Alabama showed college football fans precisely why they remain the class of the sport year after year and are the leading contenders to capture the national title this season as well…at least until Ohio State and the rest of the Big Ten and Pac-12 enter the mix.

Clemson’s absolute decimation of Georgia Tech was a thing of beauty and a clear reminder of how dominant Dabo Swinney’s club is on both sides of the ball. Heisman front-runner Trevor Lawrence had another scintillating performance, throwing for an absurd 391 yards and five touchdowns in the first half alone. The Tiger defense managed to keep pace with Lawrence’s sensational play as well, forcing five turnovers and recording thirteen tackles for loss against a woefully overmatched Georgia Tech offense and freshman quarterback Jeff Sims. Clemson’s November 7 trip to Notre Dame remains its biggest hurdle on the path to the playoff, and after watching the Golden Domers struggle to move the ball against the defensively inept Louisville Cardinals squad on Saturday, the prospect for an Irish upset seems increasingly unlikely.

Meanwhile, Alabama recovered from a slow start to dominate the #3 Georgia Bulldogs in the second half, holding their opponents scoreless in the final two periods and picking off quarterback Stetson Bennett three times during the contest. As pleased as Alabama coach Nick Saban must have been by his quick recovery from the coronavirus, he was likely equally elated by the way his defense rebounded after allowing 72 points over three halves of football, coalescing to stop the red hot Bulldog offense in its tracks. With an offense that boasts a fearless signal-caller in Mac Jones, an elite feature back in Najee Harris, and the most dangerous wide receiver in college football in Jaylen Waddle, the emergence of the Crimson Tide defense could squash the hopes of every SEC team currently chasing them.

Alabama/Georgia may have been something of a letdown in the second half, but another matchup airing concurrently provided enough late-game fireworks to make up for it. After ceding a 31-7 lead to a 1-3 Florida State team whose only win was against FCS Jacksonville State, #5 North Carolina came roaring back to make things interesting in the later stages of the game, scoring three unanswered touchdowns to draw the game within a field goal. The Tar Heels failed to get inside field goal range after three consecutive dropped passes ended the game, but their inspired comeback helped further establish them as one of the most exciting teams to watch in college football this season. The Tarheels have shown over the past two weeks that they are capable of dominating an opponent and completely checking out over the course of a single game, but if Mack Brown can help his young team develop greater consistency, they could be a fascinating ACC Championship opponent for Clemson come December.

In many ways, the week seven action was only a prelude to bigger things to come in week eight. College football is about to receive a huge shot of adrenaline with the Big Ten returning to action next week and the Pac-12 following shortly behind them, bringing an end to the bizarre pseudo-season we’ve witnessed over the past seven weeks. The start of the Big Ten season will send shockwaves throughout the sport and could completely change the college football landscape we’ve become accustomed to of late. Can Ohio State or any of the conference’s other heavyweights emerge as a bona fide challenger to the Clemson/Alabama hegemony? Will the conference cannibalize itself the way the Big 12 did in its early season, threatening to deny its champion a realistic shot at a playoff bid? Will the return of Justin Fields, Tanner Morgan, and Rondale Moore threaten to push players like BYU quarterback Zach Wilson out of Heisman contention? How will the conference navigate its COVID protocols, which are arguably more rigid and demanding than those of any other conference? What creative new ways will Nebraska find to disappoint its fans this season? The return of Big Ten football means that these questions and more will be answered over the next 8+ weeks, and the game of college football will be far better as a result of it.