Ten Things - Week Five
Posted By:Wes Mewbourne - Birmingham, AL Tags:
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There usually comes a time during the season where all of the contenders, or at least most of them, have flaws big enough to warrant earnest debate about their playoff candidacy. Usually, that time comes November, but not this year. Nearly every team in the top ten either has a loss or has nearly lost to unranked teams. Chaos has come early, which could be setting the stage for one of the most exciting seasons since 2007. There’s a lot on the horizon but lest we move to swiftly, here’s a look at the week that was in Ten Things…
1. Clemson Is For Real – Last week, I predicted that Clemson would, well…pull a Clemson and lose a game it needed to win. Despite a three touchdown Notre Dame rally in the fourth quarter, the Tigers held fast for their first win over a ranked team (let alone a top ten program) since a 40-35 win over Ohio State in the Orange Bowl following the 2013 season. Quarterback Deshaun Watson was far from perfect, completing only 50% of his passes for a mere 97 yards. But both of his touchdown passes came in the opening quarter, and adding a rushing score to open the second half was exactly what his team needed to take and sustain the lead in the monsoon from hurricane Joaquin. Meanwhile the defense bottled up the Irish for most of the night, including four second half turnovers and stuffing the potential game-tying two point conversion with seven seconds left in the game. With just one more ranked team on the schedule, Florida State on Nov 7th, this could be the year Clemson takes the step of reaching the playoff.
2. The Forgotten Undefeated – It’s not a big surprise that the American Athletic Conference still has four undefeated teams. They don’t play anybody, right? But between Temple, Navy, Houston, and Memphis, there are zero losses. Add to that each one of them has a win over a Power 5 team. Oh, and two of them, Temple and Memphis, have beaten fellow AAC member Cincinnati (the same Cincinnati that beat Miami this week without their starting quarterback, running back, and two wide receivers). I’m not saying they’ll be playing for a playoff spot come November, but there’s some quality football going on under the radar.
3. Infamous 25th Anniversary – October 6th marks the 25th year since the well-known 5th down game between Colorado and Missouri (both then with the now defunct Big Eight Conference), that has tainted an otherwise great season for the Buffaloes and led to a shadow cast on their shared national championship that year. I say that to say that the Big Twelve Conference, evolved from the aforementioned Big Eight, found a rather unique way to mark the occasion. As the first half wound down between Kansas State and Oklahoma State, the Cowboys found themselves on the receiving end of a fortuitous officiating snafu. On 1st-and-10 at the Wildcat 45 yard line, the Cowboys were flagged for holding. Somehow in marking the penalty off, the chain gang moved back five yards; what should have been 1st-and-20 was then 1st-and-15. Instead of needing to get to the 35 yard line, the Cowboys needed to get to just the 40. On 3rd down, they made it to the 39 and were mistakenly awarded a first down. That wouldn’t be as big a deal as it is had Oklahoma State not scored a touchdown and then later won by just two points, 36-34. It’s one thing to miss a pass interference call or incorrectly eject a player for targeting, but this was too basic an error to go unnoticed. Hopefully the Big Twelve office corrects this error.
4. Playoff Four: If the field were chosen today, here’s who belongs.
Ohio State – Even though the Buckeyes needed a fourth quarter defensive stand to escape at Indiana, they are still the undefeated defending national champs. So long as they keep winning, they should have a ticket to the playoff.
LSU – Allowing Eastern Michigan 22 points is hardly the dominating performance expected, but the Tigers are still running over everyone in their path. Leonard Fournette became the first running back in SEC history to rush for 200+ yards in three straight games. Until some team figures out how to stop him, no team is stopping LSU.
Utah – In a week that saw four fellow top teams lose, perhaps it’s best for the Utes that they watched the chaos from the comfort of their homes. It’s just as well. Utah pummeled Oregon two Saturdays ago, and is hosting a California team that is also on the rise.
Baylor – Replacing the Irish on this short list is the national leader in scoring offense. In fact, the Bears have scored 255 points in just four games. The #2 team, TCU, has scored 254 points but it took them five games.
5. The Next Four: Should one of the above teams stumble, these teams are chomping at the bit to take their place.
Clemson – It’s hard to deny the Tigers have a lot of talent. While their schedule may be a hindrance, an undefeated record would surely get them a nod. There is no room for error here.
Michigan State – While a narrow win against Purdue could be simply an off day, the Spartans look to improve both sides of the ball ahead of road trips to Rutgers and Michigan over the next two weeks.
Texas A&M – The Aggies are a well-balanced team that has a chance to really solidify itself on the national stage. After a bye week, Bama comes to College Station then a trip to Ole Miss awaits. Win those, and then they’re a virtual lock for the division.
Oklahoma – The Sooners are getting better at a good time. Winning 44-24 against West Virginia is a step in the right direction. No ranked teams appear before Nov 14th, so they have plenty of time to gel even more.
6. Social Media Strikes Again – It’s really difficult to understand why so many don’t understand responsible use of social media outlets. During halftime of Texas getting drubbed by TCU (it was 37-0 at the time), freshman cornerback Kris Boyd retweeted a message inviting him and another player to transfer from the longhorns to rival Texas A&M. It’s one thing to do that sort of thing on your own time, but at the half when your team is getting demolished? Bad form. Coach Charlie Strong spent the better part of last year weeding these kinds of knuckleheaded antics out of the program. With the Longhorns floundering, it’ll be interesting to see the response to these shenanigans.
7. Trending Up: Parity – As has been noted, four top ten teams (Ole Miss, Georgia, Notre Dame, and UCLA) lost this week. Ohio State and Michigan State looked less than dominant against overmatched teams. The same TCU that was pushed to the brink by Texas Tech demolished Texas 50-7, and that same Texas Tech team was beat like a drum by Baylor 63-35. That Florida team that utterly owned Ole Miss? They needed two fourth quarter touchdowns to escape Tennessee just the week before. The Northwestern team that shutout Minnesota 27-0 was losing to Ball State at the half a week earlier. The point is, no team is invincible. The ones who seem that way had best look over their shoulder.
8. Trending Down: Mike Riley – As good as he was at Oregon State, that success has taken a detour at Nebraska. Sure a transition period is expected, but at least the short term results do not look good. Losing on a fluke Hail Mary is one thing. Losing at Illinois is out of the question. It’s way too early to start making judgments about Riley’s hire, but continuing to play like this may not get the Huskers a 13th game.
9. SEC Rundown – For the first time since 2010 the SEC does not have a team in the top five nationally, but that has a lot to do with the surprising depth of the conference. Florida came out of nowhere and Bama appears back from the dead, as each won 38-10 against Ole Miss and Georgia, respectively. LSU and Texas A&M are the last two undefeated teams in the West, and neither looks to go anywhere anytime soon. Speaking of the West, Arkansas is apparently on the rebound after beating Tennessee (who, by the way, has given up a lead of 13 points or more in each of their losses). Auburn is hoping to have their own rebound, but a closer than desired win against San Jose State and now dismissing of star receiver Duke Williams are a haze. Kentucky needed overtime to get by Eastern Kentucky (just two weeks removed from pushing Florida to the brink, too). The Wildcats will meet up with Auburn this week and the loser can still hold onto good hopes for the season. Missouri just beat South Carolina for the second straight year, a sign that the Tigers aren’t ready to relinquish the East title and that the Gamecocks have fallen away from the success of yesteryear.
10. Three to See
#13 Northwestern at #18 Michigan – The Wildcats have turned some heads this year on their way to a 5-0 record. Similarly, the Wolverines continue to show that Harbaugh is ahead of schedule in his rebuilding project in Ann Arbor after a second straight shutout. Both are riding a strong defense, and it should be no surprise that Northwestern leads the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 7 points per game. Michigan, not to be outdone, is #2 at 7.6 ppg. This one looks to be a real pitcher’s duel (though, hopefully not a repeat on Auburn and Mississippi State’s 3-2 game from 2008). Michigan will come out on top, 17-13.
#11 Florida at Missouri – After getting back on the national radar, the Gators travel to the newest Columbia in the SEC to match up against the two-time division champs. Missouri was hoping that quarterback Maty Mauk would be ready to return from his suspension, but word came out that he is suspended indefinitely and will not be back. That’s good news for a Gators D that will eat backup Drew Lock alive. This one won’t be as ugly as the Ole Miss win, but it won’t be pretty. Gators dominate, 30-13.
#23 California at #5 Utah – Utah comes back from a week off to host a Cal team that is a surprising 5-0. The bigger games in the PAC-12 have been favorable to the visitors (Stanford @ USC, UCLA over Arizona, ASU over UCLA), is no surprise to Utes fans after the road win at Oregon. That streak will continue, and Cal QB Jared Goff will have a field day against the nation’s 85th ranked pass defense. Bears pull the upset, 34-24.
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