Takeaways from College Football Week 8:
1. Penn State Nittany Lions, hear them roar. I don’t think anyone thought Penn State was overrated, or a fraud … but it’s also true that we wouldn’t know the extent of this team’s excellence until PSU marched into a three-game stretch that would validate them, or expose them. In Saturday’s 42-13 destruction of visiting Michigan, Penn State looked like best team in the nation located outside of Tuscaloosa.
Running back Saquon Barkley wrecked a Michigan defense that came in having allowed the fewest points per game in the FBS. But Penn State hit up the Wolverines for 25 first downs and 506 yards. And let’s not overlook the Penn State defense, which has given up only 67 points in seven games.
Coach James Franklin’s team is 16-1 since Oct. 1 of last season, and only Alabama has won more games (18) over that time. Penn State was absolutely great in all phases Saturday, but this was just the first test. Next up: road games at Ohio State and Michigan State.
Penn State at Ohio State will be the biggest game of the season to date, a showdown likely to determine the Big Ten East champion and have considerable influence positioning for the four-team CFB playoff.
2. Michigan is an ordinary team. After his team was flattened at Penn State, criticism of coach Jim Harbaugh will get louder now. Thirteen months ago, Harbaugh’s Wolverines wiped out Penn State 49-10 in Ann Arbor. That result is just a reminder of Penn State’s spectacular growth — and Michigan’s stagnation.
Michigan had to replace many starters (mostly on defense) going into 2017. So the current difficulties aren’t totally unexpected. But enormous expectations come with the Michigan job, and over the last three weeks the Wolverines staggered through a 14-10 home loss to Michigan State, barely escaped Indiana with a seven-point win, and got smashed by 29 points at Penn State.
Harbaugh’s superb skill at self-promotion doesn’t cover the fact that he’s on the way to finishing no better than third place in the Big Ten East for the third consecutive season. When Michigan fans looked at the division standings Sunday morning, they may have gagged on their breakfast bagels upon seeing their team tied with RUTGERS at 2-2 for fourth place.
Urban Meyer won a national championship in his third season at Ohio State. James Franklin walked into the college-football equivalent of a toxic spill when he took the Penn State job, and he won the Big Ten title in his third year. This is Harbaugh’s third season and he has the same record, 25-8, as former Michigan coach Brady Hoke through 33 games. Goodness.
3. Notre Dame was underrated through the first seven weeks … and Notre Dame is still underrated through Week 8. The Fighting Irish were ruthless Saturday in putting a 49-14 whomping on visiting USC. The Irish are working their way into CFB playoff contention, and coach Brian Kelly’s 4-8 record in 2016 seems like a bad dream that’s nearly been forgotten. In a mighty display of physical power, Notre Dame’s rushing attack was a tank that rolled USC’s defense over for 377 yards rushing on 47 carries.
Running back Josh Adams (191 yards, three touchdowns) delivered another exceptional performance, and QB Brandon Wimbush’s rushing-passing production added up to 226 yards and four scores. And I don’t think Notre Dame’s defense gets enough credit; the unit hasn’t allowed more than 20 points in a game this season. And that’s a major development after Notre Dame’s defense was bullied for 27 or more points in eight games last season.
Notre Dame’s one loss, 20-19 to visiting Georgia early in the season, shouldn’t hurt the Irish in the inevitable comparison of one-loss teams that are contending for a spot in the tournament.
Obviously, Notre Dame will have to win out, and that won’t be easy because the schedule is tough the rest of the way: consecutive home games against good ACC teams, N.C. State and Wake Forest. Then Notre Dame closes the regular season with games against resurgent Miami (road), a quality Navy team (home) and a trip to Stanford.
Getting to 11-1 is a treacherous mission … but if the Irish can get through this five-game stretch without suffering a loss, an extremely impressive body of work will strengthen their case for a playoff invitation. According to the updated ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) Notre Dame’s remaining strength of schedule ranks 11th in the nation.
As for the new AP Poll, as the kids would say, LOL. The Irish moved from 13th to 9th … but based on how the Fighting Irish have performed, does any credible college football pundit really believe that there are eight teams better than Notre Dame? Why would Notre Dame be three spots behind No. 6 Ohio State? Both squads have one loss. Ohio State was blasted by Oklahoma in a 15-point loss in Columbus. Notre Dame also lost at home … by a point .. to Georgia which is has ascended to No. 3 in the nation. What about quality wins? Notre Dame won by 20 at Michigan State (now ranked 16th) and shredded USC (No. 11 going into South Bend.) And Ohio State? Well … a win at Indiana, a win at Nebraska … yawn. What a joke.
4. To the two Big 12 teams that rep the state of Oklahoma: you may exhale. For Oklahoma and rival Oklahoma State, Saturday was about persistence and survival and getting to the winner’s circle, no matter how it it looked. And if we want to be kind, we can throw West Virginia on the list. All three teams were dangerously close to getting hung with a second loss on the season. Oklahoma State, 11th in the latest AP, had to fend off Texas for a 13-10 overtime win in Austin. Oklahoma, 10th in the AP, couldn’t shake off Kansas State until the final minute, scoring on a 22-yard touchdown run by Rodney Anderson with 7 seconds left to get the hell out of Manhattan with a 42-35 win. As for West Virginia, the No. 22 (new AP) Mountaineers let Baylor go off for 23 points in the fourth quarter and needed a sack to foil a two-point conversion and a recovery of an onside kick to hang on, 38-36.
With frisky Iowa State thumping Texas Tech 31-13 for its third straight win, and getting a nod from the AP voters by coming in at No. 25 in the latest balloting, the Big 12 can boast of having more teams (five) than any Power 5 conference in the rollout of the fresh poll.
That’s swell … but only TCU — No. 4 again this week — has maneuvered through the first eight weeks without getting stung by a defeat. The Horned Frogs remain the Big 12’s best hope for a presence in the CFB playoff. From TCU’s standpoint, we’ll know a heck of a lot more by the end of the game day on Nov. 11. Coach Gary Patterson’s frogs host Texas on Nov. 4 and play at Oklahoma a week later.
And either Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are guaranteed of being tagged with a second defeat because they’ll throw down in their annual Bedlam rivalry game Nov. 4 in Stillwater.
5. USC’s flaccid appearance at Notre Dame reaffirmed that the Trojans were overrated all along. And after USC was pounded for its worst loss in South Bend since 1966, the Pac-12 can forget about having a representative in the CFB playoff. With eight weeks in the books, the Pac-12 is down to two one-loss teams, No. 12 Washington and No. 15 Washington State. The other 10 members have at least two losses, with USC being the latest to get knocked out of playoff consideration. The Notre Dame vs. USC rivalry game was a de facto CFB playoff elimination.
For the Pac-12 to have a Hail Mary of a chance, Washington or Washington State must run through the rest of the schedule unscathed. Both teams still must face Stanford and Utah before playing each other. And if you factor in the Pac-12 championship game, what are the chances of Washington or Wazzu gliding through without another loss? And even if, say, Washington avoids a second loss, the strength of schedule would work against the Huskies when measured against other one-loss candidates for the playoff.
6. Saquon Barkley’s large night against Michigan brought him closer to the Heisman Trophy. There are other excellent candidates including Stanford RB Bryce Love, who leads FBS in rushing yards (1,387), total yards from scrimmage (1,406) and is averaging an astonishing 10.3 yards per rushing attempt. But Barkley is the nation’s premier playmaker and game-breaker who comes up with video-highlight sensations in every game. Saturday, Barkley broke Michigan early with a 69-yard TD gallop to open the scoring. On his first six carries vs. the Wolverines, Barkley churned for 102 rushing yards and two TDs to give Penn State a 14-0 lead. He finished with 161 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns.
7. Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez has turned a spectacular talent loose to do terrible things to Pac-12 defense: sophomore quarterback Khalil Tate. After moving in as the starter three games ago, Tate has passed for 509 yards and four touchdowns, rushed for 780 yards and seven touchdowns, and is averaging a preposterous 15.1 yards per rushing attempt. That’s 1,162 yards of total offense, and 11 touchdowns, in only THREE games.
8. We learned that Florida State isn’t going to turn its season around in a dramatic way. After losing by a field goal to visiting Louisville on Saturday, Florida State is 0-3 at home for the first time since 1974. And at 2-4 overall, the Seminoles are in danger of not making a bowl game for the first time since 1976.
9. And in that game we were reminded of Lamar Jackson’s greatness. The Louisville quarterback won last year’s Heisman Trophy, and he’s still producing more than any player in FBS, having put up 3,346 rushing-passing yards from scrimmage, which leads the nation. Jackson has 868 yards rushing and 11 TDs on the ground. He’s thrown for 2,478 yards and 17 scores. But the Louisville defense is giving up about 30 points per game (ranking 87th) and has a losing ACC record (2-3) despite Jackson’s excellence. The flawed team around Jackson has basically scratched him from serious Heisman consideration for 2017, and that’s unfair.
10. Are the Miami Hurricanes for real? There’s a lot to admire here, including a 6-0 record and the No. 8 team in the AP, with the Canes steadily moving up from their No. 18 preseason ranking. And former Georgia coach Mark Richt knows what he’s doing — an opinion validated by his .740 winning percentage over 15 seasons in Athens, Ga. And that includes 11 finishes in the season-ending AP Top 25 AP poll/ Richt is enjoying coaching his alma mater, and Miami fans like having him home. The Hurricanes are 15-4 under Richt, and haven’t lost a game since falling by 3 points at Notre Dame nearly a year ago (Oct. 29, 2016.) Saturday’s triumph over Syracuse was Miami’s 11th consecutive win. But that 6-0 has featured some scary, narrow escapes that easily could have gone the other way. (The last three victories were all one-score affairs, down to the wire.)
Miami has no wins over currently ranked teams. And Miami has just one victory over a Power 5 opponent (Georgia Tech) that’s having a winning season so far. Six ACC teams have played more difficult schedules than Miami. No question, Richt has made Miami better in short time. But are the Hurricanes overrated? Here’s the only fair way to answer this: we’ll let you know after the first two weekends in November following Miami’s consecutive games vs. No. 13 Virginia Tech and No. 9 Notre Dame.
–– After pummeling Tennessee 45-7, Alabama now has won 72 consecutive games against unranked teams, one shy of the FBS record set by Florida between 1990 and 2000. The Crimson Tide have won 20 consecutive regular-season SEC games, the second-longest streak in program history.
— The coaching carousel isn’t spinning already, but the firing/hiring cycle will begin soon enough. Two of the hottest candidates out there are Scott Frost (UCF, Central Florida) and Dino Babers (Syracuse.) We can add Iowa State coach Matt Campbell to the list, should he desire to leave a lesser Big 12 program to move to a more prominent Power 5 program that can give him more generous resources and larger recruiting reach. The Cyclones, 5-2, are a buzz-generating team that’s won three in a row starting with the stunning 38-31 upset of Oklahoma in Norman … followed by a 45-0 dusting of Kansas … and then Saturday’s convincing 31-13 victory over a Texas Tech team that recently dropped from the Top 25. As mentioned, the Cyclones landed at No. 25 in this week’s AP Poll and have a chance to set off more Big 12 chaos. Check out ISU’s next three games: TCU, West Virginia and Oklahoma State.
— I’ve enjoyed watching Ole Miss quarterback Shea Patterson put on an air show this season, and so it’s disappointing to know that he won’t play againin 2017 after suffering a torn PCL in his right knee during the Rebels’ loss to LSU on Saturday.
— TCU held Kansas to 21 total yards in a 43-0 win, the fewest yards by any FBS team since at least 2000. That includes minus-25 rushing yards. It’s the fewest total yards ever for a Big 12 team, according to ESPN. Kansas’ road losing streak stretched to 44 games, dating back to Sept. 12, 2009 at UTEP. That ties for the second-longest in college football history. The record is Idaho State’s 48, from 2006-14. KU’s last road win against a Power 5 team was on Oct. 4, 2008 at Iowa State.
— South Florida has established an AP Poll-era record (since 1936) by scoring 30+ points in 24 consecutive games. The latest, a 34-28 victory at Tulane, gave No. 17 USF its first 7-0 start in school history. South Florida and No. 18 Central Florida are the class of the American Athletic Conference so far, and their Nov. 24 showdown at USF could settle the question of who’s the best “Group of Five” team in the nation … and that in turn could lead to a coveted spot in a New Year’s Six Bowl game.
— In Tom Herman’s first season Texas is 2-4 in contests decided by 10 points or fewer, 1-3 in one-score games and 1-2 in overtime games. The most excruciating defeats were to USC (then ranked No. 4), Oklahoma (ranked No. 12 at the time) and Saturday’s missed OT opportunity against No. 10 Oklahoma State. Those three losses came by a combined margin of 11 points. a
— Going into the weekend, Kentucky was 5-1 but that shiny record seemed counterfeit to a lot of folks … and it was. Kentucky was all but run out of Starkville in Saturday’s 45-7 no-contest loss to Mississippi State.
— Notes from the West: congrats to Oregon’s Royce Freeman who is now the Ducks’ all-time rushing leader with 5,103 career rushing yards … and Fresno State, 5-2, is one win away from bowl eligibility after a strong 27-3 win over San Diego State. Former Cal coach Jeff Tedford has given Fresno State a swift turnaround in his first season. Fresno State was 1-11 last season, and 10-28 from 2014 through 2016.
Thanks for reading …