Finishing 12-0 is Hard
It takes a special team to finish 12-0 or a soft schedule (cough, Iowa 2015, cough). Not every team is special. Most have to play somebody. Every undefeated team in action last week was on the road. There were casualties. Four – Nebraska, Baylor, West Virginia, and Boise State – lost. There were a couple top five close calls.
Nebraska losing to Wisconsin on the road in overtime is perhaps the best testament to the Cornhuskers being competent. Though, if still harboring doubts about Tommy Armstrong or Nebraska’s run defense, that game won’t convert you.
Baylor entered Saturday with the 125th ranked schedule in FBS per Sports Reference, weaker than every MAC team. Losing at Texas on a late field goal is not damning. But, this Bears team, as most anticipated, is not at the same level on either side of the ball. Baylor still faces Oklahoma and West Virginia on the road. Every opponent left is at least as formidable as Texas.
West Virginia has not excised last season’s propensity for self-inflicting wounds. Three Mountaineers turnovers set up three Oklahoma State scoring drives of less than 10 yards. The points produced on those drives, 17, provided the margin in the Cowboys’ 37-20 win.
Boise State, fresh off two one-score wins at home, lost 30-28 to Wyoming. You don’t just walk into (*consults Google*) War Memorial Stadium.
Next week: undefeated Alabama heads to Tiger Stadium. Undefeated Western Michigan must row the boat through a night game at Ball State.
Butch Jones’ Luck Is Running Out
Reignite the burner under Butch Jones’ seat. Tennessee lost 24-21 to South Carolina. The Vols needed a special teams touchdown to keep it that close. This Gamecocks team entered with perhaps the worst Power 5 offense and an awful run defense. They nearly blew a three-touchdown fourth quarter lead last week, against UMass. Tennessee still lost.
It’s hard to figure out a kinder SEC road game for the Vols, coming off a bye week. A talent-devoid roster outplayed Tennessee. Will Muschamp outcoached Butch Jones, which sounds familiar. Tennessee ranks 95th in yards/play offense, tied with Purdue. Rumors are flying. There are reports Jalen Hurd may transfer.
If Tennessee had not fallen on a fumble against Appalachian State, hit a hail mary against Georgia, and come back from the dead against Florida, things could look very different for Butch Jones right now. The “dreaded new athletic director” arrives this offseason.
Ohio State Does Not Look Right
Watching Urban Meyer pace and sweat like he consumed some questionable dairy products is magnificent (if you’re not a Buckeye fan). It has become familiar the past three weeks. Ohio State labored to a 24-20 win over Northwestern at home. That was the Buckeyes’ first win in regulation since beating Indiana on Oct. 8.
Most assumed Ohio State’s young team would start slowly and progress. Instead, the Buckeyes lit up September. Now, it looks like other teams are figuring them out (do they have anyone outside the backfield who can make a play consistently?). The Buckeyes will, without question, be up for Michigan. But, the route there – Nebraska, at Maryland, at Michigan State – does not look as automatic as it once did.
Michigan State Still Fights Like a Pesky Little Brother
Stats suggested a blowout. Psychology, history, and a refilled “disrespekt” reservoir made it much closer. Michigan held off a late Spartan charge for a 32-23 win. The Wolverines can reacquaint themselves with the Paul Bunyan trophy. First rivalry win for Jim Harbaugh at Michigan. First multiple-score win in East Lansing since Charles Woodson did this in 1997. But, for Michigan fans expecting catharsis, it was a moderate disappointment.
That’s the wrong way to look at it. Throwing out the records is a cliché. But, it’s valid for this rivalry. Michigan State has an inveterate chip. Michigan is the better school. Michigan has the bigger football program. The Spartans don’t even get the satisfaction of being Michigan’s biggest rival. Most often, even when MSU is 2-5, that game will be a knife fight. For the first time in a while, Michigan was the team that could walk away.
Appreciate where you are, Wolverine fans, and where you have been. Enjoy your Green and White friends on Facebook trying to rationalize a moral victory. Michigan football is back.
Mark Richt Has Not Brought “The U” Back
Miami lost 30-27 at Notre Dame. That’s not damning in isolation. Nor were the three-straight losses before it. The Hurricanes are now 1-4 against P5/ND. That one win was against Georgia Tech thanks to defensive touchdowns. Miami, with a veteran QB on NFL draft boards, must win out to equal last year’s 8-4 mark. Many sold Richt as a slam dunk hire. Many wanted “the U” to be back. They are not.
Clemson Is All But Into The Playoff
Clemson took every shot Dalvin Cook had and outlasted Florida State 37-34 in Tallahassee. Test passed, there’s little left between the Tigers and a return trip to the playoff. Clemson can afford to drop a regular season game. Their remaining schedule is Syracuse, Pitt, at Wake Forest, South Carolina. It’s hard to see a loss there. The only remaining impediment may be Virginia Tech in the ACC title game.
Lamar Jackson Has A Huge Heisman Lead
Dalvin Cook is spectacular. Jabrill Peppers can do many things. Leonard Fournette can make a statement on Saturday. Still, it’s hard to look past Lamar Jackson for the Heisman. The Lousiville QB is averaging 9.31 yards/pass. He’s two yards away from 1,000 for the season. He’s produced 38 touchdowns, with four games to add to it. “Heisman moment?” How about the two-minute drill and touchdown pass in the final seconds to beat Virginia?
Sam Darnold Is The Best College QB In Los Angeles
USC manhandled Cal 45-24 on Thursday. It was the Trojan’s fourth-straight win. Credit redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold. He ranks 7th nationally in passer rating and 11th in yards/attempt. Darnold has thrown 16 touchdown passes in his last four games, to just two interceptions. Again, he’s a freshman. There are extenuating circumstances. But, the best college QB in Los Angeles has not been Josh Rosen.
Kentucky Can Still Win The SEC East
Mark Stoops looked finished after brutal early losses. But, with a little bit of luck, his Kentucky Wildcats could be running amok in Atlanta for the SEC title game. Kentucky is 4-2 in conference. The remaining games are against reeling Georgia and Tennessee teams. Florida, 4-1, has the head to head tiebreaker. But, the Gators have tough trips to Arkansas and LSU left. You’d still favor the Gators, but the Wildcats are relevant.