Notre Dame Up, Penn State Down. Heroes and Villains Of CFB Week Five

Opening Kickoff:

1–Ohio State not only survived the annual “whiteout” game at Penn State, but got it done with nerve and verve, wiping out a 26-14 deficit in the final eight minutes for a 27-26 victory.

It was a tremendous road win for the Buckeyes, who didn’t capitulate despite struggles on offense and the failure to contain elusive Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley. The senior PSU quarterback was the star of the show, passing for 286 yards, rushing for 175, and scoring two touchdowns. Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins had a dull performance for three quarters but burned Penn State for two TD passes in the final seven minutes. The Buckeyes are the best team in the Big Ten for a reason. How many teams could go into Happy Valley and get out with a triumph over formidable Penn State without playing its best level of football?

The Associated Press  voters were impressed, moving Ohio State ahead of Clemson and into the No. 3 position in the new poll. And according to ESPN’s “Playoff Predictor” the Buckeyes have a 74% chance to make it to the CFB Playoff.

2-In smashing Stanford 38-17, Notre Dame strengthened its bid for a spot in the four-team CFB Playoff. It’s a little early for such speculation, but Notre Dame warrants hype for two reasons: One, the Irish have a marvelous quarterback in Ian Book. In two starts Book has completed 73 percent of his passes, thrown for 603 yards and six touchdowns, and rushed for three scores. Two, Notre Dame’s remaining schedule is favorable.

Yes, we’re talking a possible 12-0 for Brian Kelly’s team. It’s doable. Here’s what’s left on Notre Dame’s itinerary: at Virginia Tech … Pittsburgh (home) … vs. Navy in San Diego … at Northwestern … Florida State (home), Syracuse in New York City; at USC.

There are some threatening opponents in there; especially Saturday’s game at Va Tech. That’s a dangerous game for Notre Dame. But the point is, the Irish almost certainly will be the betting-line favorite to win every game. And if 12-0 happens, the Irish will cause a headache for the selection committee for an obvious reason: One or two Power Five conference champions will be left out.

The win over Stanford moved Notre Dame ahead of Oklahoma and into the No. 6 spot in the new AP poll.

3–Kentucky is really good. And maybe even very good. The Wildcats reaffirmed their status as a team to watch by clobbering visiting South Carolina 24-10 in a scrap between SEC East teams. The Cats forced four turnovers and handed off 28 times to sleeper Heisman candidate Bennie Snell, who is averaging 128 yards rushing (with eight TDs) in five games. Kentucky (5-0) isn’t a superpower; beware of Saturday’s road game at Texas A&M.

But if coach Mark Stoops’ team wins at Kyle Field, Kentucky will be 6-0 for the first time since 1950. And the Wildcats are off to their best SEC start (3-0) since going 6-0 in 1977.

Put this on your sports calendar: This year’s bout with SEC East kingpin Georgia will be played in Lexington on Nov. 3. That’s shaping up as main-event entertainment. As of now, Kentucky is the one team in the SEC East to pose even a moderate threat to Georgia.

4. What a crazy, thrilling game at Clemson, with the No. 4 Tigers coming back from 10 points down in the fourth quarter to overcome visiting Syracuse 27-23. And Clemson managed to avoid the upset despite having to turn to untested redshirt freshman QB Chase Brice. True freshman Trevor Lawrence (concussion) was removed from the game late in the first half and didn’t return. Big problem.

With last year’s starting QB Kelly Bryant quitting the team in a tantrum after coach Dabo Swinney rightfully named Lawrence as the starter for the Syracuse game, Tigers’ coaches had no choice but to go with Brice and hope for the best.

After a shaky beginning, Brice settled down and came through with two sensational plays on the winning drive. Forget the kid’s modest overall numbers (7 of 13 for 83 yards, no touchdowns, and an INT.) With defeat seemingly imminent, Brice threw a perfect strike to wide receiver Tee Higgins for a 20-yard save on fourth and six. And on the next play, Brice took off on a 17-yard run that put the Tigers in place to score the winning TD.

What about all of the talk about Bryant rejoining the squad? That angle received a lot of attention during Saturday’s broadcast on ABC.


“I’m going to talk about our team,” Swinney told reporters after the game. “We’re moving on.”

Clemson plays at Wake Forest on Saturday. If Lawrence can’t play, that’s a tricky matchup for Swinney’s team. But the Tigers have a bye week after that, and won’t play again until Oct. 20. If Lawrence is held out at Wake Forest, he should be ready for the Oct. 20 home game against N.C. State.

5. In recent years the Annual “Red River Shootout” between Texas and Oklahoma has served as a fantastic neutral-site setting for a massive cocktail party in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. But this year’s rivalry game may be more important than the drinking.

For the first time since 2012, No. 19 Texas and No. 7 Oklahoma will both be ranked going into the game at the Cotton Bowl.

After an opening-week stumble in a loss to Maryland, Texas is progressing under coach Tom Herman, and an upset victory over the imposing Sooners would lift the Longhorns into first place in the Big 12.


Army: A week after going to Oklahoma and losing to talent-rich Sooners in overtime, the Knights went on the road as a 7.5-point underdog to pulverize Buffalo, 42-12. It was a textbook Army win: Rush for nearly 300 yards, dominate time of possession with several 10-play drives, build a lead, and shut down the opponent’s passing game. I say this as a devoted Navy football fan: Army (3-2) is outstanding and a lot of fun to watch. And as a Navy fan, let me add this: The day Army hired Coach Jeff Monken I knew the Army-Navy rivalry would change … because the Cadets would no longer be a pushover for the Midshipmen. After taking two seasons to rebuild Army’s program and winning only six of 24 games, the Knights are 21-10 since the start of the 2016 season — including last year’s 10-3 mark. And Army has won the last two games against Navy.

Michigan:  The Wolverines rallied back from a 17-0 deficit at Northwestern on the road, winning 20-17. Michigan was tenacious on defense, limiting the Wildcats to  87 yards and no points on their last nine possessions. And give the tough-guy award to running back Karan Higdon, who carried the ball 30 times against Northwestern for 115 yards and two scores. That’s four in a row for coach Jim Harbaugh, and the season-opening 24-17 loss to Notre Dame now looks more honorable than it did at the time.

Until Saturday, the Wolverines had never eradicated a 17-point deficit during Harbaugh’s time as coach. In fact, before Saturday, Harbaugh was 0-17 as a college coach when his team trailed by 17 — including an 0-3 mark at Michigan.

Quarterback Shea Patterson, a transfer from Ole Miss, is playing with confidence after a shaky performance at Notre Dame. That said, it’s wise to wait and see how Michigan plays over the next month. After Saturday’s home game against Maryland, the Wolverines march into a brutal stretch of schedule: Wisconsin at home, at Michigan State, and Penn State at home.

Coach Dan Mullen and Florida:  In an emotionally-charged game against the team (and the town) he left last offseason to take the Florida job, Mullen went into Starkville and defeated his former team, 13-6. Mullen is one of the better coaches out there, and though it will take time for him to elevate the Gators to an elite level, he’s 4-1 overall this season, and 2-1 in the SEC. And that matters considering that Florida already has won as many games in 2018 as it did last season in sliding to an embarrassing 4-7. The Gators smothered the Mississippi State offense, which managed only 202 yards. And Bulldogs’ QB Nick Fitzgerald completed only 11 of 26 passes for 98 yards. Next up for No. 22 Florida: A home game vs. No. 5 LSU. Could be interesting.

Speaking of LSU…

LSU: If assessed against their modest preseason expectations, the Tigers of Coach Ed Orgeron have been one of the most impressive teams in the land over the first five weeks, going 5-0 and taking down two top-10 teams (at the time), Miami and Auburn. The latest win was Saturday’s 45-16 trouncing of visiting Ole Miss. But we’ll learn a lot more about the Tigers in the coming weeks. The upcoming schedule: at No. 22 Florida, a home game against No. 2 Georgia, home vs. Mississippi State, and home against No. 1 Alabama on Nov. 3.

Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray: After being late to a practice last week, Murray was benched for OU’s first possession in Saturday’s game against Baylor. Unfortunately for Baylor, Murray emerged from his disciplinary time out to connect on 17 of 21 passes for 432 yards and six touchdowns. And he rushed for 45 yards and a score. OU won, 66-33. Murray’s seven total touchdowns in the game tied the Oklahoma record set by Baker Mayfield.

Clemson running backs Travis Etienne, Adam Choice and Tavien Feaster: The trio eased Saturday’s quarterback crisis by combining for 305 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Etienne took over in the second half, leading the comeback against Syracuse, and finished with 203 yards (27 carries) and three touchdowns.

Washington: Did anyone really buy the idea that BYU loomed as a threat to the No. 10 Huskies in Saturday’s game? No chance. Final score: 35-7. Washington’s defense is exceptional, having allowed only 37 total points during the team’s four-game win streak.


Penn State coach James Franklin. The Nittany Lions should have won the game against Ohio State, and probably would have, if Franklin didn’t screw up a fourth-and-five play call with the outcome on the line. After calling two timeouts to come up with the ideal play, Penn State opted for a boring inside handoff to running back Miles Sanders. Ohio State had 28 players waiting to make the tackle (or so it seemed) and the result was a two-yard loss. Ballgame. You can’t go down in this game without putting the ball in the hands of McSorley, who flustered the Buckeyes’ defense all night. To make matters worse, on his way to the locker room Franklin stopped to argue with a Penn State student who heckled him from the stands in response to the idiotic play call.

Syracuse coach Dino Babers: The Orange had all three timeouts in hand Saturday when Clemson devoured most of the time remaining on a 14-play, 94-yard drive for the winning touchdown, which came with only 41 seconds left. By holding onto his timeouts, Babers gave his offense virtually no time to counter Clemson’s late score.

“We had to see what was going on, whether they were trying to score a field goal, were they trying to score a touchdown,” Babers told reporters after the debacle. “If I used those timeouts and then they go all the way down to the end, they score with one second left and I used two timeouts, you’d be asking me the other questions.”

Um … What?

Babers is doing a first-rate job in rebuilding Syracuse, which is 4-1 and playing very well. He’s a breakout coaching star. But his non-use of available timeouts was a blunder.

First-year Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead: The former Penn State offensive coordinator — praised for his innovative playbook in Happy Valley — was a popular and exciting choice to replace Mullen in Starkville this season. But in getting neutered in consecutive losses to Kentucky and Florida, the Bulldogs averaged only 6.5 points and 201 yards. And star quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is slumping in Moorehead’s system.

Kansas State coach Bill Snyder: All due respect, it may be time for the legendary coach to think about finding a comfortable rocking chair. Kansas State lost to Texas 19-14 Saturday but may have snatched a win had Snyder started his best quarterback, Skylar Thompson. Snyder benched Thompson in last week’s loss to West Virginia; according to media reports, his offensive assistant coaches were stunned by the decision. And Snyder went with the backup, Alex Delton, as his starter vs. Texas. Delton was awful in the first half, and Snyder went with Thompson in the second half. Kansas State scored all of its 14 points against Texas with Thompson at the wheel. Snyder, who has coached K-State for 27 years, turns 79 years old on Oct. 7.

Stanford: It was a rough trip to South Bend for the Cardinal. Stanford lost to Notre Dame by 21 points and got outgained 550 yards to 229. Running back Bryce Love — 73 yards on 17 rushes — isn’t much of a factor in the Heisman race. Stanford won’t have a shot at making the playoff unless it wins out, and that seems unrealistic giving a schedule that includes road games at Arizona State, Washington and Cal.

Nebraska coach Scott Frost: Look, a person had to be a loon, or just a hopeless Nebraska football addict to believe Frost would immediately transform the diminished Cornhuskers into winners in his first year on the job. But Saturday’s 42-28 home loss to Purdue dropped Nebraska to 0-4 on the season; it’s Big Red’s worst start since 1945. And going back to last season, the ‘Huskers have lost eight consecutive games — the worst losing streak in program history. And it’s ugly; Nebraska was penalized 11 times for 136 yards in falling to Purdue. I didn’t think Nebraska would be good this season. But I didn’t think Frost’s team would be this hideous.

Frost, who rebuilt Central Florida into a great program, clearly understand he has a lot of work to do at his alma mater. First challenge: Culture change.

After Saturday’s loss to Purdue, Frost referred to Nebraska as “one of the most undisciplined teams in the country, and it kills me.” And he criticized his players for dancing on the sideline during a kickoff despite trailing double digits. “We look like we love losing,” he said.

Bobby Petrino and thes spiraling Louisville football program: The Cardinals were leading Florida State 24-21 and on the verge of winning Saturday with fewer than two minutes remaining. Instead of taking a more cautious approach by running the ball three times and draining much of the clock, Petrino ordered up a first-down pass — even though his QB is terrible. And the off-target throw was promptly intercepted by the Seminoles, who moved in for the winning touchdown. Petrino is 2-3 overall this season, and 0-3 against Power Five opponents. Worst of all, the Cardinals have been shoved to the side by in-state rival Kentucky, which is supposed to be a basketball school. Only seven FBS teams are averaging fewer points per game than Louisville’s 18.4.

UCLA coach Chip Kelly: The Bruins are 0-4. In order they’ve lost to Cincinnati by nine, got beat by 28 points at Oklahoma, were routed by 24 points at home by Fresno State, and got splattered by 22 points in Friday’s loss at Colorado. Kelly, viewed as an offensive genius at Oregon, must be losing his touch. UCLA is averaging 17.1 points per game, which ranks No. 125 out of 130 teams. And the Bruins are giving up 37.8 points per game, which ranks 113th. Kelly lost just seven games in his four seasons at Oregon. He’ll lose more than that at UCLA this season. And if you combine the 0-4 start with Kelly’s final two seasons as an NFL head coach, he’s won only eight of his last 27 games.

Thanks for reading …


More: Five Ways The Cardinals Can Win Seven More Games in 2019 (And Get to the Postseason)