The last three-plus weekends of college football have been a wild ride, bouncing all over the nation, careening out of control. And yes, it’s exhilarating.
The adventure has featured ambitious underdogs who do not give a … hoot … as they spring upset after upset to jolt ambivalent giants and leave the big boys scrambling to repair their damaged seasons.
These unpredictable dramas are one of the many reasons why CFB is so colorful, passionate, wonderful and zany — simply the greatest sport around.
Top 10 teams continue to fall.
Elites that got tipped over, including Ohio State, are moving closer back to a spot in the CFB’s premium seating area. Other programs, like the undefeated Wisconsin and Miami, are drawing notice after quietly advancing up the charts. And with every team in the Pac-12 having at least one loss, the westernmost conference is open for surfing. Who can hang on? What, if any, Pac-12 team can ride the biggest wave, into the four team CFB Playoff? We’ll see.
Is anybody safe out there?
A quick review…
— Week Five: No. 5 USC lost at Washington State. That came one week after TCU went to Oklahoma State, won by 13, and locked the wheels of the high-scoring No. 6 Cowboys.
— Week Six: No. 3 Oklahoma was stun-gunned by Iowa State in shocking setback, and No. 7 Michigan was left out in the rain in a home loss to the more physical Michigan State.
— Week Seven was probably the craziest weekend to date, with FOUR of the Top 10 teams in our great nation needing a cut doctor after getting savagely knocked down.
So if you’re keeping track, that’s eight Top 10 teams toppled over a three-week stretch … and we can make that nine if we go back a week and include Oklahoma State getting busted by TCU … though in retrospect TCU’s win was hardly an upset.
We should also note No. 19 San Diego State getting hammered (31-14) by Boise State in a loss that harmed SDSU’s chances to earn the “Group of Five” bid for a New Year’s Six bowl game. The upset was a positive twist for the best team in the American Conference (Central Florida? South Florida?) to eventually dance into a New Year’s Six bowl.
Let’s talk about the ramifications of the Week 7 madness.
CLEMSON: Last season the Tigers were upset by Pitt in Week 10 but recovered and made it to the CFB Playoff to capture the national championship by beating Alabama on the final play. So if Clemson survived a Week 10 loss a season ago, shouldn’t Dabo Swinney’s fellas be able to rebound and get to the CFB Playoff despite this Week 7 upset? In theory, yes. We can write this one off, and Clemson dropped only five spots in the new AP poll, down to No. 7. But it’s complicated.
The quarterback, Bryant is essential to the success of the Tigers offense. He went into the Syracuse game playing on a gimpy ankle, and was knocked out of Friday’s game with a concussion. Clemson’s ACC schedule presents challenges over the next three weeks with a home game against Georgia Tech, a crucial road game N.C. State, and home vs. Florida State. The Tigers, 4-1 in the ACC, are now playing catchup in the ACC Atlantic, with N.C. State sitting on top at 4-0. Clemson can still attain all of its goals, but the path is more treacherous now, and the Tigers can’t afford another blunder.
MIAMI: The Hurricanes keep winning, keep climbing, as other prominent teams take a tumble. After winning yet another game in the final seconds, this time 25-24 over Georgia Tech, Miami (5-0) jumped to No. 8 in the new AP poll. Deposed Georgia coach Mark Richt is doing a wonderful job of rejuvenating his alma mater but the ‘Canes are living on the edge, having trailed at the half in three of their victories. And for the second week in a row Miami won by madly driving the length of the field to score and win with time running down. I know Miami is better than it’s been for quite a while; I just don’t know if the Hurricanes are elite. But labels won’t matter much if Miami comes out ahead of 14th-ranked Virginia tech, Georgia Tech, and a sleeper team in Virginia to win the ACC Coastal and take a stand in the ACC title game. The schedule is favorable; Miami’s four toughest games will be played at home: Syracuse, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and Virginia.
Washington, Washington State, and the Pac-12: With the best teams (supposedly) in the Pac-12 now muddled with one loss apiece, the league is basically in the reset mode. The first defeats of the season for Washington State and Washington meant a loss of real estate in the latest AP poll. Washington went from 5th to 12th, and Wazzu plummeted from 8th to 15th. But they both remained viable, at least in term of Pac-12 positioning.
USC TROJANS: No. 11 in the new AP poll USC probably benefited the most from the spills by Washington and Wash State, and the Trojans lead the Pac-12 South with a 4-1 mark. And though Stanford is is at a disadvantage with two losses overall, the Cardinal (up to No. 22) has won four in a row to improve to 4-1 in the conference, taking a slight lead over the two Washington schools (both 3-1) in the Pac-12 North.
Here’s one potential hazard for the Pac-12: should Stanford prevail in the North, and go on to beat the South champion (likely USC), the Pac-12 will likely be shut out of the CFB Playoff. That, however, would likely be a moot point if USC loses this week’s game at No. 13 Notre Dame. After losing to Washington State a two-loss USC would be finished as a CFB Playoff aspirant.
THE OHIO STATE: After absorbing a 31-16 home drubbing by Oklahoma in Week Two that ejected OSU from the No. 2 national ranking, the Buckeyes have worked their way back, coming in at No. 6 in the new AP poll. Ohio State is overcoming the early-season knockdown but must carefully dodge its way through the remaining schedule. (More on that in a minute.) After getting drilled by the Sooners, the Buckeyes proceeded to destroy their next five opponents, taking full advantage of a pudding-soft schedule to rout Army, UNLV, Rutgers, Maryland and Nebraska by a combined score of 266 to 56. Ohio State’s roster is loaded with elite talent. Quarterback J.T. Barrett has blazed the weak-opponent defenses over the last five weeks, completing 72 percent of his passes for 18 touchdowns and no interceptions and rushing for 232 yards and four TDs.
Ohio State’s first big test since since getting run over by Boomer Sooner skunking comes Oct. 28 when No. 2 Penn State visits Columbus. (Can’t wait for that one.) After that, the remaining schedule includes games against Iowa (road), Michigan State (home) and Michigan (road.) It’s too soon to declare that OSU will run the table, win the Big Ten title and march into The Playoff. But with other top teams getting hit hard by defeats the Buckeyes have — at least for now — healed from the punishment inflicted by Oklahoma.
BIG TEN EAST: Just a footnote to our Ohio State update … the toughest of the B1G’s two divisions will begin the sorting-out process over the next few weeks. We mentioned Ohio State’s upcoming challenges, but Penn State is about to jump into the most daunting part of its schedule, with the next three games coming against Michigan at home, followed by road games at Ohio State and Michigan State. Oh, and don’t sleep on Michigan State. The Spartans already scored a win at Michigan and will get their crack at visiting Penn State (Nov. 4) and Ohio State (Nov. 11 in Columbus.)
BIG TEN WEST: What about Wisconsin, which leads the easier side of the B1G neighborhood? The Badgers are 6-0 overall, 3-0 in the conference, and AP voters were sufficiently impressed to upgrade Wiscy into the No. 5 spot this week. But unless Wisconsin wins out, including a triumph over the East champion in the Big Ten title game, forget about the CFB Playoff. Here are Wisconsin’s six victims to this stage of the campaign: Utah State, Florida Atlantic, BYU, Northwestern, Nebraska and Purdue. Based on ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI), the best of that group is Northwestern, at No. 40.
(B1G side note: depending on what happens, No. 2 Penn State also could have a strength-of-schedule problem; PSU’s most notable non-conference win came over Pittsburgh (No. 68, FPI.)
TCU, AND THE BIG 12: With the reordering of the Top 10 following the wave of upsets, TCU is all the way up to No. 4 in the new AP behind Alabama, Penn State and Georgia. The longer that TCU (6-0) keeps rolling to stay clean, there’s a good chance of being invited to the CFB Playoff. And coach Gary Patterson’s Horned Frogs keep winning, sweeping through their first three Big 12 games by 13 points over Oklahoma State, 7 points over West Virginia, and 20 points over Kansas State. And TCU has three Power 5 road wins at Arkansas, Oklahoma State and K-State.
That said, TCU will be challenged by a three-game sequence that opens with Texas (home, Nov. 4) then consecutive road games at Oklahoma (Nov. 4) and Texas Tech (Nov. 11.) The upsets have given some oxygen to one-loss teams (Oklahoma and Oklahoma State). They each gained ground in the new AP, with Oklahoma at No. 9, and Oklahoma State at No. 10.
The Oklahoma delegation is alive for an CFP slot but the position remains precarious. We’ll know substantially more after OU’s back-to-back games against rival Oklahoma State in Stillwater (Nov.4) and TCU in Norman on Nov. 11. But the Sooners can’t lose again, and in addition to Oklahoma State and TCU, three other teams on the schedule are capable of wiping out OU’s Playoff hopes: Kansas State, Texas Tech, West Virgina. As for Oklahoma State, it’s all about streaking through the remaining games on the schedule to get a second shot at TCU in the Bi2 12 Championship game. But even then, the Cowboys will be hurt by their eclair-filled nonconference strength of schedule.
AUBURN: The The choke job at LSU was bad … very bad. The Tigers’ second-half vanishing act at LSU was stunning. After putting up 23 points in the first half, War Eagle’s offense shut down, froze up, and lost all confidence. The gory details of the second half: no points, five punts on the first five possessions — one of which was returned for a touchdown — and only 73 yards on 32 plays. Moreover Coach Guz Malzahn is being pilloried again; one sore point in Auburn’s fainting was a predictable offense that ran the ball on 17 consecutive first-down plays. This sorry capitulation bumped Auburn all the way down to No. 21 in the latest AP poll. And now the Tigers are weighed down with two losses on the season. Sure, Auburn has only one SEC loss, but upcoming league opponents include improving Texas A&M, No. 3 Georgia and No. 1 Alabama. Good luck with that.
Let’s move on to some other winners and losers from Week 7…
— South Carolina: won 15-9 at Tennessee, and while the Gamecocks are far from being a great team, they moved to 3-2 in SEC play, and 5-2 overall, despite the injury losses to their top playmakers Deebo Samuel and Rico Dowdle.
— Notre Dame: I don’t understand why the Fighting Irish are No. 13 in the new AP poll. They should be higher than that. Notre Dame is 5-1, with the one loss coming by a point at home to No. 3 Georgia. The Irish also have an impressive 20-point road win at 18th ranked Michigan State,. Notre Dame’s five victories have come by a margin of 20+ points. A trump over No. 11 USC would presumably foster belated respect to the Irish.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron: Just three weeks ago, Coach O was being roasted by the fan base and media after spitting up a home loss to Troy, but he responded by challenging his players to dig in and fight and have pride. And Orgeron finally gave offensive coordinator Matt Canada the autonomy to run the offense. The result: consecutive wins over Florida and Auburn and a return to the Top 25, with the Tigers at No. 24 in the new AP.
Stanford running back Bryce Love: In a 49-7 gallop through the pliable Oregon defense, Love finished with 147 yards rushing on 17 carries including his usual breakaway — this one for 67 yards. For the third time this season, Love rushed for at least 100 yards in the first quarter of a game. He has a run of at least 50 yards in nine consecutive games. Love leads the FBS with 1,387 yards rushing, and has carried for 11 touchdowns. But here the astonishing numbers: Love is averaging 198 yards rushing per game, and 10.3 yards per rushing attempt. That’s insane.
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin: Yeah, the opening 45-44 loss was embarrassing, because the young Aggies yacked up a 34-point lead. But Sumlin has blocked out all of the nasty noise and firing rumors to lead his team to five wins in the last six games, and the only loss was to kingpin Alabama by a respectable nine-point margin. After playing with poise and purpose to grind out a 19-17 win over Florida at The Swamp, Texas A&M moved to 3-1 in the SEC West.
Two other winners: I don’t know who they are, sorry, but the agents who represent Syracuse coach Dino Babers and Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall are all smiles these days. Some big-time, monied programs will soon be on the prowl for new head coaches — Nebraska, Tennessee, possibly Auburn — and it’s a wonderful time to be talking bidness on behalf of two coveted head coaches.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones: this is redundant, I know. I’m at the point where I feel bad for this man. But when will the Tennessee administration make the inevitable move instead of allowing Jones to dangle and take abuse from increasingly disgusted Vols Nation? After getting creamed 41-0 at home by Georgia, Jones had a bye week to get his team refocused for the remainder of the season. But after having two weeks to prepare for South Carolina, Tennessee came out and sputtered its way to three field goals and 253 yards in a 15-9 home loss to SC. And Jones coached down to his sarcastic “Botch” nickname by completely fumbling the final-drive clock management. The Volunteers’ streak without scoring a touchdown has now spanned 10 consecutive quarters. They haven’t found the end zone since a first-quarter TD against UMass on Sept. 23. Next up: at Alabama, and you can only hope that Bama coach Nick Saban will have a little mercy on Lyle Allen “Butch” Jones.
Florida coach Jim McElwain: the inertia of the Gator offense continued in the home loss to Texas A&M, which followed a depressing home loss to LSU. Florida is only 16-11 in its last 27 games under McElwain. And the offense is so gummy and ineffective, McElwain’s Gators are now 5-11 over the last two-plus seasons when an opponent scores more than 14 points in a contest.
Illinois coach Lovie Smith: The Fighting Illini reached a new low Saturday, losing at home to Rutgers, 35-24. And for those who don’t follow the Big Ten, Rutgers was indisputably the worst team in the conference, having lost 16 consecutive games in league play before dumping Illinois. And it pains me to say this because I know and respect Coach Smith, but after getting slapped around by Ruthers, Illinois is now at the bottom of the Big Ten. The Illini are 2-10 and have been outscored 406-197 in Big Ten play since Smith’s hiring before the 2016 campaign. Illinois, 0-3 in conference action this season, has lost its last six Big Ten games by a combined score of 226-70. Granted, Smith had to clean up a huge mess. But the Illini have lost even more ground under his supervision.
Missouri coach Barry Odom: In the latest humiliation, the Tigers went to Georgia and were flattened by the Bulldogs for 696 total yards, 53 points, 370 yards rushing and 13 first-down conversions on 18 first downs. Mizzou’s defense has been pummeled for an average of 42.2 points per game this season, which ranks 126th among 129 FBS teams. Mizzou’s yield of 498.7 yards allowed per game ranks 123rd. And among Power 5 programs, only Oregon State and Kansas have given up more points than than the Tigers season. In his two seasons Odom’s defense has given up 35.1 points per game overall, and an average of 38.1 points in going 2-10 in SEC play. And keep in mind that Odom’s strength is supposed to be defense.
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema: As expected, the Razorbacks were stomped 41-9 by Alabama in Tuscaloosa. That gave Bielema a 3-8 SEC record since the start of last season, and his defense has been ripped apart for 30 or more points in nine of the 11 games. Bielema was coveted for his team’s effective physical style of play at Wisconsin; it seemed like a good way to go in the SEC West. But in the last 11 conference games, the Razorbacks defense has been mauled for an average of 256 yards rushing per game, 36 rushing TDs, and 7.0 yards per rushing attempts. Saturday night, Alabama out-gained Arkansas 308-27 on the ground.
Before I wrap up, please pardon my typos. Many words were cranked out here quickly in the last couple of hours … following my morning-drive radio show … and without much sleep or a safety net.
Thanks for reading …