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Sunday wrapup: SEC East, ACC races take shape

Florida and Notre Dame have crashed the party and are legitimate playoff contenders.

NCAA Football: Florida vs Georgia Gainesville Sun-USA TODAY NETWORK

There may not have been any Alabama football for us to watch yesterday, but there were season-defining matchups in both the SEC East and ACC, both of which could have ramifications for Alabama down the road.

Florida 44, Georgia 28

NCAA Football: Florida vs Georgia Gainesville Sun-USA TODAY NETWORK

Georgia’s defense came into the game ranked as the best in the country statistically despite being worked over by Alabama a few weeks ago, and things started out great. The Bulldogs scored on the first offensive play of the game as Zamir White found a crease off-tackle and took it to the house, then after forcing a quick three-and-out, marched down the field for a second score and 14-0 lead. That was about it for the QB-less Dawgs.

Kyle Trask carved up the Georgia defense to the tune of over 300 passing yards and 38 points in the first half of the game. Outside of a pick six on an ill-advised pass late in the half, the Georgia defense had absolutely no answer for him. On the day, Trask completed right at 70% of his passes for a whopping 474 yards and four touchdowns. It should be noted that Georgia was missing senior safety Richard LeCounte and saw his replacement, Lewis Cine, ejected for one of the more egregious examples of targeting that you will ever see, but no one man was fixing their issues. Like many modern offenses, Florida featured the running backs in the passing game, and they totaled more than 200 receiving yards.

Florida is very clearly the alpha dog in the East at this point, and will almost assuredly make it to Atlanta where they will hopefully be facing Alabama. The Tide will be favored in that one for sure, but bring the Maalox. There will be points.

As far as Georgia is concerned, surely the preseason claims from Dawg fans that Jamie Newman left because D’wan Mathis had beat him out were false. Kirby Smart and Todd Monken can’t be that bad at judging passers. Mathis might be the worst I’ve ever seen in the SEC. It boggles the mind that Georgia’s QB room is as poor as it appears to be.

Notre Dame 47, Clemson 40 (2 OT)

NCAA Football: Clemson at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Frankly, this is not the result that fans of SEC contenders wanted to see. Everyone knows that the CFP committee will dismiss this loss for Clemson, despite the fact that it’s tough to imagine Trevor Lawrence doing much better than D.J. Uiagaleilei did. The freshman passer put up a 29/44 line for 439 yards and two TDs, offering plenty of hope for Tigers fans as life after Trevor looms. Notre Dame actually did a fantastic job bottling up Travis Etienne for only 28 yards on 18 carries, but still surrendered the 40 points.

Notre Dame’s attack was more balanced. Ian Book wasn’t phenomenal as a passer but he put up 310 yards to go with 68 yards rushing on 15 carries, and star RB Kyren Williams ran all over Clemson’s vaunted front seven for 140 yards on 23 carries. To be sure, Clemson was missing some key members of the defense including MLB James Skalski, who has been out for a few weeks now, plus starting LB Mike Jones Jr. The success Notre Dame managed to find in the run game underscores the lack of upperclassman depth on this year’s Clemson squad. Dabo Swinney signed only 33 total players in the 2017 and 2018 cycles, and it’s showing up this season as they haven’t enjoyed the injury luck they have had in the past couple of seasons.

Those hoping to see two SEC teams in the playoff should have been rooting for Clemson in this one. If Clemson is able to avenge this loss in the ACC Championship Game by handing the Irish their first loss of the season, the only path to two SEC teams in the playoff would be Alabama losing its only game to Florida in the SEC Championship. Neither a one-loss Texas A&M nor a two-loss Florida are likely to crash the party at that point.

It was another sad day for college football purists, many of whom root for the Tide, as three of the top 10 defenses per Bill Connelly’s noted SP+ metric were shredded for 40+ points. It is legitimately fair to wonder whether defense matters anymore on the big stage. The modern game is a safer one, and that is a good thing, but one has to wonder if a couple of the rules that favor offenses, like the ineligible downfield rules, will get a tweak at some point soon. If not, offensive records will continue to break, and maybe that’s the intention.