SO SOUTH CAROLINA and Clemson opened their seasons with a pair of 24-point losses, with the two Top-25 ranked teams taking it on their respective chins by a combined score of 97-49.
It is natural to compare the two drubbings. Yet comparing the two lopsided losses is no comparison at all.
No. 9 USC carried an 18-game home win streak into Thursday’s game as a 101/2-point favorite over a Texas A&M team ranked No. 21. Clemson, ranked 16th, was a 71/2-point underdog playing in one of the nation’s toughest environments at 12th-ranked Georgia.
On top of that, Texas A&M had scoring drives of 67, 75, 85, 75 and 80 yards in the first half. The game’s outcome was determined by then as it became apparent USC’s defense was incapable of stopping the Aggies.
USC was spanked, start to finish.
Clemson was tied with Georgia at halftime and trailed 24-21 entering the fourth quarter. Clemson’s inability to muster any kind of offense in the second half cost its defense. That exhausted unit began missing tackles, and Georgia running back Todd Gurley pushed himself to the fore of Heisman Trophy talk.
Clemson’s 24-point loss was a bit deceiving. The Tigers were competitive in defeat.
The only difference this season is that the final four teams will participate in the inaugural College Football Playoff.
The season began with 128 teams vying for the final four spots. There are 64 members of the Power Five conferences – the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC – and 64 members of five other conferences, plus four independents.
Without exception, a single loss during the regular season eliminates any member of the non-Power Five conferences and the independents. That means those 64 teams must go undefeated in the regular season and win their conference championship game.
Twenty-four teams from the lesser conferences were eliminated in the season’s opening round. Even Navy, which made a nice showing at Ohio State, fell by the wayside and now turns its attention to reaching a bowl game.
For the most part, a Power Five conference team can sustain one loss during the regular season and still qualify for the final four. The thinking is that a program like USC can lose its opener to Texas A&M, then run the table and win the SEC Championship Game and still make it to the final four. The same is true for Clemson.
There are exceptions, such as bad losses. More specifically, a loss to a non-Power Five conference team will eliminate a Power Five conference team. Four teams from the Power Five conferences were eliminated in the opening round. They included Colorado, which fell to Colorado State; Iowa State, which lost to North Dakota State; Vanderbilt, which fell to Temple; and Wake Forest, which lost to Louisiana-Monroe.
That leaves 100 teams standing after the first round of play.
The Commodores were involved in a uniform flack, believing they had permission from the NCAA to wear jerseys with the slogan “ANCHOR DOWN” on the players’ backs.
According to The Associated Press, Mason was informed by the lead official at the start of the second quarter of Thursday’s game against Temple that the uniforms were illegal and Vanderbilt would be assessed a timeout each quarter as penalty.
Vanderbilt officials then produced a letter from the NCAA that they believed permitted the wearing of the uniforms. The timeout was reinstated. Later, the SEC said Vanderbilt misinterpreted the letter, and the Commodores no longer will be allowed to wear the uniforms.
Matters grew worse for Vanderbilt during the game as Temple waxed the Commodores, 37-7. Vanderbilt turned the ball over seven times, and its only score came on a botched Temple punt attempt that the Commodores recovered in the end zone.