Sports in this Day and Age: The troubled road to the playoffs

This column seeks to cover significant current events in the sporting world as it navigates the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Five weeks have passed since college football played their first game of the season, and, yet, the top five teams have only played a combined 11 times this season. Sixth ranked Ohio State has yet to play at all. Despite this, this season of college football has featured plenty of upsets. In a review of the past week, we will talk more about some of the more notable matchups and look at the week six Associted Press (AP) rankings.

The most notable game last weekend also served as one of the biggest upsets of the season so far. Iowa State, ranked as 24, defeated Oklahoma, 37-30, on Saturday, Oct. 3, to move to 2-1, while the Sooners dropped to 1-2 and fell out of the AP top 25. After falling behind 30-23 halfway through the fourth quarter, Iowa State scored twice to go ahead 37-30 and intercepted Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler in the end zone on what would prove to be the last possession for Oklahoma in the game. 

This game also had major historical ramifications, as the last time Oklahoma had lost in Ames was in 1960, and the last time they lost two consecutive regular season games was in 1999. Iowa State’s future is looking up as they get off to a good start, while Oklahoma’s is looking bleaker than ever, as they are now unranked after starting the season third in the poll.

Alabama (2-0) is continuing to look like Alabama, as they rolled through and over Texas A&M (1-1) 52-24. The number two team in the country was led in its efforts Saturday by a strong showing from quarterback Mac Jones, who threw for 435 yards and four touchdowns. Alabama’s defense also got in the habit of scoring, as they intercepted a pass in the second quarter and ran it back 47 yards for a score. If they can continue this momentum, it may carry them into another playoff appearance or title.

In a game between two teams in the top 10, Georgia (2-0) proved that they were the better team as they limited Auburn (1-1) to just six points in a 27-6 romp. Georgia is looking to assert itself as the best team in the Southeastern Conference instead of Alabama, and they made quite the statement this past week. Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett threw for 240 yards and a score, decent stats for someone making their first collegiate start. When you are at the top, though, it is harder to move up but much easier to move down as both teams found out this week. Georgia went from fourth to third in the rankings while Auburn fell from seventh to 13th.

In total this week, five teams dropped out of the rankings, most notably Oklahoma and University of Central Florida (2-1), who dropped out after ranking as 18 and 11 last week, respectively. However, this allowed for five new teams to join or rejoin the rankings, including Iowa State and 4-0 Southern Methodist University. The top six teams remained relatively static as well, with only Florida (2-0) and Georgia moving as they swapped the third and fourth places this week. Ohio State also remained at number six, despite their season not starting until Oct. 24 when they play Nebraska in their season opener.

Speaking of conferences that have not yet played, the Big 10 will start their season on Oct. 24 while the Pac-12 have announced that they will be playing a seven-game season starting appropriately on Nov. 7. The Big 10 has several teams in the AP top 25, most notably Ohio State at six, Penn State at nine, and Wisconsin at 16. The Pac-12 only has one current representative: Oregon, ranked as 14. Oregon seems like the early pick to be conference champs this season. However, questions still remain as to whether an undefeated Pac-12 or Big 10 champion would be worthy of playing in the playoffs since both conferences are playing less games than their counterparts in the other Power Five conferences — the Big 10 is only playing an eight-game schedule this year. 

This argument does have some credulity, as, in a normal season, six wins is generally the minimum requirement just to be eligible for a bowl game, and the two conferences will barely be playing more than that. However, there has not yet been a season in the playoff era that did not create some sort of controversy, and in a season that so far has been rife with uncertainty and upsets, maybe the certainty of controversy will be a welcome respite to fans. Truly, this season, seemingly so short yet already in its sixth week, has already seen its share of ups and downs. This season has presented some Cinderellas and some spectacular falls, and surely will continue to moving forward.