Some called college football’s Week 6 the greatest in the game’s history, and while that may be hard to say given the game has been around since 1869, I certainly can’t remember a better one. Here’s a recap of the winners, losers and other interesting stuff from the weekend that was.
Underdogs. Seven underdogs (Arizona, Utah State, Ole Miss, TCU, Utah, Notre Dame, Northwestern) beat teams in the Top 25 of the coaches’ poll last weekend, though it should be noted that Ole Miss and Notre Dame were already ranked, and that the Fighting Irish were less than a field goal underdog. Arizona and Utah State were road ‘dogs who came in spotting Oregon and BYU more than 20 points, too… more on those guys in a moment.
The Southeastern Conference’s Western Division. One could argue that the SEC West ended up being a bit of a loser, given that Alabama, which was the country’s No. 1 team in the minds of many, picked up its first loss, as did Texas A&M, a squad that some had started to think could contend for a national title. I would argue that what you saw instead was more evidence that the West is even stronger than we think. That Ole Miss team that beat ‘Bama was underrated a year ago, and with most all of its key players coming back, the Rebels demonstrated that yes, at least for now, they belong among the nation’s elite. Mississippi State, on the other hand, has now thoroughly smacked both A&M and LSU in back-to-back weeks and like its in-state neighbor, remains undefeated. Meanwhile, Auburn’s thrashing of LSU kept the Tigers at the top of the national title race, and though the polls will have nothing to do with who makes the College Football Playoff, it should be noted that Auburn, MSU and Ole Miss are ranked second and tied for third, respectively, in the AP Poll, with Alabama coming in at No. 7.
TCU. While the Horned Frogs were 3-0 coming into this weekend, with some pretty dominant numbers behind that (a per-game yardage margin over 300 yards, with a per-game scoring margin of nearly 38), I was withholding judgment until I saw more; after all, TCU went 4-8 last year and its only win even somewhat respectable this season came against Minnesota. But when TCU beat an Oklahoma team that I’m certain is legitimate this weekend, in a legitimate fashion (it out-gained OU, 318-309), I’m now buying what coach Gary Patterson is selling. I spend a couple of days putting my rankings together and so I don’t know quite where I’ll rank TCU yet, but it’s hard to imagine I won’t have the Horned Frogs in my top dozen teams somewhere.
Georgia’s Todd Gurley. Is there anything that the Bulldogs’ star running back can’t do? On Saturday in a 44-17 win over visiting Vanderbilt, Gurley ran for 163 yards, caught passes for 24, and even threw a 50-yard pass, most of the distance of which came through the air. It’s not so much that Gurley has now run for 773 yards, but the fact that he’s averaging 8.2 yards per carry against a decent schedule while playing for a team that’s having trouble throwing the ball. Everyone knows Gurley’s coming, and yet no one can stop it, which is why he seems to be the Heisman Trophy favorite at the moment.
Northwestern. Few teams took more unexpected lumps on the chin last year than coach Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats, who started the season ranked in the Top 25 and then preceded to lose their first seven conference games in a weakened Big 10 until they beat woeful Illinois by a field goal in the season finale. After an 0-2 start that included close losses to Cal and Northern Illinois, the ‘Cats are suddenly 3-2 after following up last weekend’s commanding win at Penn State with an excellent win over a ranked Wisconsin squad. I’ve always thought of Fitzgerald as one of the country’s better coaches, and it would not shock me now if NU ended the season as an eight-win team.
Cal. Speaking of the Cal and turn-arounds, don’t look now, but the Bears have quadrupled last year’s win total of one, and were it not for that miracle Hail Mary that Arizona pulled off two weekends ago, Cal would be undefeated. Coach Sonny Dykes’s defense could use some work, but an offense that’s averaging 48 points per game is one any team should now fear.
Air Force. While the Falcons’ slate of wins doesn’t quite match Cal’s, Air Force followed up a surprising upset of Boise State with a good win over Navy. Air Force is now 4-1 after going just 2-10 a season ago, which perhaps shouldn’t be too shocking since the Falcons, according to Phil Steele, returned more lettermen than any team in the country.
Unbeatens. There are now just 10 of them; in no particular order, they are Florida State, Notre Dame, Marshall, Auburn, Baylor, Ole Miss, TCU, Arizona, Mississippi State and Georgia Tech. Each played this weekend.
The Pac-12. No conference took on more water than this one. The carnage started early when Oregon, thought to be the league’s best hope for a national title, fell as a 23-point underdog to unranked Arizona. Of course, that was debatable because previously undefeated UCLA appeared to be getting things after whipping Arizona State on the road, but alas, the Bruins couldn’t connect on a last-second field goal in losing to Utah. But wait, it gets worse: Stanford, which might have had a real argument for the Playoff as a one-loss team, picked up a second loss to Notre Dame, while Southern Cal picked up another head-scratching loss when it made a half-hearted attempt at defending ASU’s Hail Mary and paid the price on the game’s last play–on their home turf, no less. The league now has no unbeaten teams outside Arizona, and will have to hope that its elite teams don’t beat each other up if it wants to play for a national title.
BYU. There were a lot of surprising scores, but believe it or not, none surprised me more than this one: Utah State 35, BYU 20. Yes, that was Chuckie Keaton-less Utah State waxing the Cougars, at BYU no less. Worse, BYU lost superstar quarterback Taysom Hill for the year to injury. It would have been a long-shot for the Cougars to make the Playoff even if they were undefeated, but now, they have no shot.
South Carolina. The Gamecocks entered 2014 with tons of experience returning, and perhaps even faint hopes of a national title. Halfway in, Carolina now has three losses, the latest to a Kentucky team that had lost 17 straight SEC games until it beat lowly Vandy last week, and now might struggle just to make a bowl.
Michigan and coach Brady Hoke. Wolverine fans might argue that I should leave the “Michigan” off this entry, now that this weekend’s latest defeat (Rutgers) is one more step in a journey that assuredly will now end with a new coach in Ann Arbor.
Tennessee. I’ve been a big admirer of what coach Butch Jones has done in Knoxville, but the Vols really had no excuse to lose to Florida in Knoxville this weekend. Speaking of no excuses, there should be none for those profane chants echoing through Neyland Stadium as the clock ran down on Saturday. It was going to be an uphill struggle for the Vols to make a bowl game with their brutal schedule, and a win over the Gators was certainly one I had circled in the path of least resistance to six UT wins.
Texas San-Antonio. Remember a month ago, when the Roadrunners were that up-and-coming, feel-good story under coach Larry Coker, a team that had just whacked Houston in the opener the same night the Cougars were dedicating their new stadium, and darn-near beat Arizona on a nationally-televised Thursday night game? Yeah, well, that team is on the side of a milk carton somewhere. UTSA hasn’t won since the opener, and the last two weeks, has lost to two of the the country’s 20 worst teams in Florida Atlantic and New Mexico.
The Syracuse offense. Four weeks ago, Syracuse scored 40 points in a road defeat of Central Michigan. The next week, it was 20 in a loss to Maryland, followed by 15 in a defeat against Notre Dame, and then six on Saturday against Louisville. To make things worse, quarterback Terrel Hunt broke his fibula and is out 4-6 weeks, and coach Doug Marrone is fed up enough with the play calling that offensive coordinator George McDonald will no longer call plays.
North Carolina State. It may have been a weak 4-0–you’d have to look long and hard to find a Power Five team that played a worse schedule than the Wolfpack–but that start for N.C. State was a heck of a lot better than the 3-9 effort the team turned in last year. A 15-point loss to Florida State last week hinted that maybe, just maybe, there were much better things to come, but a 41-0 rout at Clemson in which State was out-gained 493-154 and quarterback Jacoby Brissett was 4-of-18 for 35 yards quickly brings expectations back down to earth.
Texas Tech. Coach Cliff Kingsbury started his career 7-0 in Lubbock, but is 3-8 since. Saturday’s 45-13 drubbing at Kansas State is the Red Raiders’ seventh-straight Big 12 loss, the last six all coming by double digits.
Winless teams. Only five FBS teams–SMU, Idaho, Kent State, Troy and Massachusetts–have yet to taste victory in 2014. Troy was the only idle team in the bunch. UMass bears the biggest shame this weekend after falling 42-41 to previously-winless Miami (Ohio).