The Big Ten’s COVID problem, the College Football Playoff rankings, the NFC East and much more in Five Things From the Week.
1. The Big Ten is paying the price for the risk it took
The Big Ten put itself in a precarious position by reversing course so late on and building a schedule without bye weeks. Any COVID outbreak could put the conference’s best teams at a major disadvantage in the college football hierarchy. With two weeks left in the regular season, Wisconsin is ineligible to participate in the Big Ten title game and Ohio State is one more cancelation from being in the same position.
Northwestern’s loss to Michigan State leaves Indiana with the next best resume, but Hoosiers quarterback Michael Penix Jr. left their win over Maryland with a leg injury. Unless Indiana gets Penix back and wins the conference, any hope the Big Ten has of sending a team to the College Football Playoff rests with the Buckeyes. The exact scenario everyone hoped to avoid is unfolding, and there is no room for flexibility. Either Ohio State is going to play the rest of its games or the Playoff selection committee will have quite the conundrum to solve.
2. The best team in college basketball already announced itself
There was plenty of disagreement among AP voters as to who will be the best team in college basketball this season. Four teams got a first-place vote. Three teams got at least 11. In the end, Gonzaga was awarded the honor of being preseason No. 1 over Baylor by a single point. It took all of two games to confirm the voters made the right decision. While the Bears were sidelined due to COVID and Villanova trailed Boston College by nine in the second half, the Bulldogs dropped 102 points on No. 6 Kansas and beat Auburn by 23.
Drew Timme and Corey Kispert have 101 points in two games. Five-star freshman Jalen Suggs leads the Zags in assists and is third on the team in scoring. Andrew Nembhard, who started 67 games in two seasons at Florida, comes off the bench. Losses by Villanova and Virginia leave Gonzaga and Baylor as the two undefeated teams that received first-place votes. The Bears were excellent when they were able to take the floor, but both of the Bulldogs’ wins were better than either of theirs. Do not mistake best for most likely to win the NCAA Tournament though. If Mark Few’s team is to cut down the nets, it would be the first time since the 2008-09 season the preseason No. 1 won the national championship.
3. The College Football Playoff selection committee sent a clear message
It was obvious who the top four teams were going to be in the College Football Playoff selection committee’s first rankings. The more intriguing part was seeing who came next, and the committee was quite transparent with its thought process: Group of Five schools and independents will only be invited to the Playoff in a worst-case scenario. Cincinnati — 8-0 with wins over SMU (7-2 when the rankings were revealed), Memphis (5-2) and UCF (5-3) — came in at seven behind 5-1 Texas A&M and 6-1 Florida.
BYU — the other remaining unbeaten outside the power five conferences — was 14th behind three two-loss teams. The Cougars haven’t played anyone of note, so there is justification for ranking them that low. That argument doesn’t apply to the Bearcats. The three AAC teams mentioned are a combined 19-5 against teams not named Cincinnati. If the committee isn’t going to value the Bearcats’ wins now, an AAC championship probably isn’t vaulting Luke Fickell’s team over the Aggies and Gators at the end of the season. Nothing in the committee’s history suggests a Group of Five team or a BYU is making the Playoff any time soon regardless of what they do.
4. The Atlanta Hawks have built one of the NBA’s most intriguing rosters
The last time the Atlanta Hawks made the playoffs, Mike Budenholzer was the head coach and Dwight Howard led the team in win shares. Paul Millsap was their leading scorer. That was 2016-17. The Hawks are 73-158 since. They have acquired John Collins, Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish and Onyeka Okongwu through the draft thanks to a plethora of top-20 picks.
Young has turned into a star and Atlanta’s roster was full of potential, but the Hawks were sorely lacking in experienced high-level players to take some pressure off Young. They had money to spend this offseason and took advantage of other teams’ cautious approach to free agency, committing $133.4 million to Danilo Gallinari and Bogdan Bogdanović. Add Clint Capela, Rajon Rondo and Kris Dunn into the equation and the result is quite possibly the NBA’s deepest team. While the Hawks are not going to be winning a title this season, they now have the kind of pieces that could appeal to a big-time free agent or be dealt for a star to pair with Young. This flurry of moves made them a fringe playoff team. The next one might make them a legitimate contender.
5. The NFC East has been temporarily revived
At the end of Week 9, NFC East teams were a combined 9-24-1. The Philadelphia Eagles were on the verge of running away with the division at 3-4-1. Alex Smith had just thrown three interceptions in relief of Kyle Allen in a 23-20 loss to the New York Giants. The win was the Giants’ second of the season. Since then, Washington and New York are a combined 4-1 and are now tied atop the division at 4-7.
Context is important though: Those victories came against the Cincinnati Bengals and the other two teams in the division. New York faces the Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens in its next four games, potentially without Daniel Jones. Washington has the Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers, Seahawks and Carolina Panthers. Philadelphia gets the Seahawks on Monday Night Football followed by the Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints and Cardinals. It will take at least one victory outside the division for anyone to win more than five games. These teams did not get better; their opponents just got worse.
Argentinian soccer legend Diego Maradona leaves behind one of the most complex legacies in the history of sports. The five-minute span in which he scored the most controversial goal of all time and the Goal of the Century at the 1986 World Cup sums him up perfectly. His breathtaking displays on the field made him a god-like figure and the many demons he battled off it humanized him. No other athlete has combined those two elements the way Maradona did.
Photo by Dan Keck / Flickr