Who’s Hot (and not) in college football entering Week 10. Clemson and Washington pull out gutsy road wins to remain undefeated and playoff-eligible.
They’re not the Buckeyes. They’re not even the Bearcats. But Frank Solich’s team is now Western Michigan’s biggest threat to a perfect season and possibly a New Year’s Six bowl berth. The Bobcats stunned heavily favored Toledo at the Glass Bowl behind the running of Dorian Brown and another solid defensive effort to seize control of the MAC East. Ohio controls its own divisional destiny, with Buffalo visiting Peden Stadium this week.
Chad Morris has the Mustangs pointing in the right direction … and a lot faster than many expected. The coach has been painstakingly changing the culture on the Hilltop, and it’s starting to pay dividends. SMU is 4-4, having beaten Houston and Tulane in consecutive weeks. And they’re maturing in a season that linchpin QB Matt Davis was lost before the tear ever got off the ground. If the Ponies can find two wins in the final four with Memphis, East Carolina, South Florida and Navy, Morris will really have this program soaring into the postseason and next season.
Oregon QB Justin Herbert
Someone, whether it’s Mark Helfrich or his successor, is going to really enjoy developing Herbert over the next two or three years. In just his third career start, the Eugene native completed 31-of-42 for 489 yards, four touchdowns and no picks to beat Arizona State and snap a five-game losing streak. Herbert has thrown 10 touchdown passes over the last two games, giving Duck fans something to cheer about in the final month of this otherwise miserable season. Oregon is 3-5, with a coach on the hot seat, but young No. 10 is providing hope for tomorrow.
The USC Offense
True, you don’t want to become too giddy about blowing up the toothless Cal D, as the Trojans did Thursday. But it’s hard not to be impressed by an attack that continues to improve and incorporate new weapons. It wasn’t just WR JuJu Smith-Schuster and RB Justin Davis, who was injured, getting in on the act. Darreus Rogers caught two of Sam Darnold’s five TD passes and Ronald Jones II and Aca’Cedric Ware combined to rush for 353 yards in Davis’ stead. And with Oregon defense next on tap, Troy will have a wicked head of steam heading into the show-me game at U-Dub.
The Wildcats will begin November in the thick of the SEC East race. And no, that is not a misprint. Kentucky has won three consecutive league games for the first time in a decade, routing Mizzou on the road behind the running of Stanley Williams and Benjamin Snell Jr. The Cats’ only loss since Week 2 was to Bama, and a Nov. 19 visit from Austin Peay pretty much assures bowl-eligibility. Plus, Mark Stoops is set to exit the hot seat, and it’s finally for a reason other than his lucrative buyout clause.
Penn State RB Saquon Barkley
Post-Ohio State letdown? Not a chance. Barkley, along with QB Trace McSorley, made certain of it in a 62-24 pasting at Purdue in a game that could have been a bear trap for the visitors. Barkley went north of 200 yards on the ground for the second time in the last three games to help lead Penn State to its fourth straight win. And with Iowa, Indiana, Rutgers and Michigan State left on the schedule, the Lions are eyeing a realistic shot at 10 wins in James Franklin’s third season in charge.
For the first time all year, the Cowboys played like the trendy offseason pick to win the Big 12, handing tenth-ranked West Virginia its first loss of the season. Okie State has now taken four in a row, none bigger than this latest one over a Mountaineer team that was cresting. The Cowboys had success through the air over the stretch run that begins this week in Manhattan.
Texas RB D’Onta Foreman
Is there a more overlooked and underappreciated back in the country right now than Foreman? That’s a rhetorical question. Without much national attention, Foreman has now rushed for more than 100 yards in nine consecutive games he’s played, including the 250 and two scores he piled up in Saturday’s upset of Baylor. The junior became the first Longhorn since 2007 to rush for more than 1,000 yards, shedding defenders like they’re tackling dummies. And he’s Texas’ best hope for finishing 2016 on a high and in a bowl game.
The Badgers remained in the Big Ten West hunt Saturday night by handing Nebraska its first defeat of the season, 23-17. The defense was once again the catalyst, holding Tommy Armstrong to 12-of-31 passing for 153 yards, no touchdowns and two picks. Meanwhile, Dare Ogunbowale and Corey Clement helped ignite an offense struggling badly with erratic quarterback play. Wisconsin remains a game behind the Huskers, but there’s optimism now that the thorniest portion of the schedule will be over after this week’s trip to Evanston.
Auburn RB Kamryn Pettway
A year ago, Pettway didn’t log a single carry as a rookie. This fall, he’s the embodiment of Auburn’s rise from a struggling program to one of the nation’s hottest teams. The sophomore has rumbled for almost 600 yards over the past three games, including 236 in this past weekend’s victory at Ole Miss. Pettway is a 240-pound load who’s virtually unstoppable when he picks up a head of steam. If the Tigers keep their eye on the ball, and keep riding Pettway, they ought to be on an eight-game winning streak in time for the Nov. 26 Bama game.
The Huskies took their biggest step to date toward a possible Pac-12 title and playoff berth, getting past Utah in Salt Lake City, 31-24. Washington was dragged into a more physical, closer game than it’s been accustomed to this season, and it lived to tell about it. U-Dub also showcased to the nation the completeness of this program. The Huskies have already proven they can win with offense and defense. On Saturday, though, it was a special teamer, PR Dante Pettis, who provided the clincher on a 58-yard return late in the fourth.
Clemson When it Matters
The Tigers have played in five games this season that were decided by a touchdown or less. Won ‘em all. Clemson has a knack for delivering in the clutch, even though it’s been a more flawed team than a year ago. So, when Florida State held an eight-point lead to start the fourth quarter in front of an electric Doak Campbell crowd, Dabo Swinney’s kids did what they often do—find a way to survive and advance. And with the toughest remaining hurdle now cleared, the Tigers will be a double-digit favorite in each of the next four contests leading up to the ACC Championship Game.
A few days after the firing of fifth-year head coach Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State fell to fading Air Force to join the 1929 Bulldogs as the only teams in school history to lose seven in a row. It’s been a slow and steady descent for the once-mighty Group of Five program, which hasn’t tasted true prosperity since winning the Mountain West in 2013. All eyes are now fixed on AD Jim Bartko, who’ll be tasked with hiring a coach who can turn things around in the Valley.
By most measures, the Huskies began this season as a sleeper contender out of the American—third-year coach, a little momentum from a year ago and a roster loaded with returning starters. Instead, the Huskies are on postseason life support after getting crushed by East Carolina to fall to 3-6. A poor Pirate team manhandled UConn, meaning it must win the final three over Temple, Boston College and Tulane to avoid a major regression under Bob Diaco.
Not terribly unexpected, yet still disappointing that the Dawgs haven’t shown more development throughout this season. Of course, it’s never easy entering a new campaign with a rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback. However, at this stage of 2016, neither Kirby Smart nor Jacob Eason is really a rookie any longer. Georgia has dropped four of its last five, capped by a sad effort versus rival Florida Saturday in Jacksonville. Smart needs the additional 15 practices that come with bowl-eligibility, but he’s been stuck on four wins since beating South Carolina on Oct. 9.
Mark Richt’s Current (and Former) Teams
Richt’s last employer, the University of Georgia, is 4-4. So is his current one, the University of Miami. The Canes rallied but couldn’t close the deal in South Bend, losing for the fourth straight time, 30-27. This project is going to take time, particularly since Miami is relying on so many young players. But what about the tough year QB Brad Kaaya is having? Richt has a reputation as a quarterback mentor, but Kaaya has struggled, much the way many of the coach’s Bulldog pupils did toward the end of his tenure.
Pitt on D
This season has to be causing an ulcer for head coach Pat Narduzzi, formerly one of the premier defensive coordinators in the country while at Michigan State. The 2016 Panthers are on pace to become the highest-scoring team in school history, yet the defense, mainly the secondary, has squandered that production in losses to Oklahoma State, Carolina and Virginia Tech, which now controls the ACC Coastal. Pitt is yielding an average of 36 points against FBS opponents, with tough tests still left with Clemson and Syracuse.
Didn’t you used to be the team that was a chip shot field goal from flooring Clemson? The Pack still hasn’t recovered from Kyle Bambard’s missed three-pointer in Death Valley, falling back to .500 with Saturday’s feeble and uninspired home loss to Boston College. Ryan Finley threw two picks, and the ground game was nowhere to be found. And with four games left, Florida State, at Syracuse, Miami and at Carolina, State is in serious jeopardy of not playing beyond Nov. 25.
Defense in the State of Mississippi
Rough fall in the Magnolia State, especially for defensive coordinators. Ole Miss has completely collapsed, getting trucked by the Auburn ground game for a third consecutive loss in Week 9. Heavy lifting will be needed just to qualify for a bowl game, troubling for a school that began the year on the lip of the top 10 cup. Mississippi State finally won a game for the first time in over a month, but also allowed 627 yards and 41 points to FCS Samford. Good seats will be available for next month’s Egg Bowl at Vaught-Hemingway.
Once considered on par with the Mountain West for Group of Five bragging rights, the American is looking for an identity and a face of the league as November begins. In fact, the conference no longer even has a ranked team after Navy was ambushed by South Florida for 412 rushing yards on Friday night. The Midshipmen will still probably win the West Division, since Houston tanked in October, and Temple has the inside track in the East. But no one has fewer than two losses, which will dog the American’s national image.
The Broncos flirted with disaster the past two weeks, narrowly escaping Colorado State and BYU by four points combined. Saturday night in Laramie living dangerously caught up to the nation’s highest ranked Group of Five program, which lost to resurgent Wyoming, 30-28, on a late safety. Boise State is now essentially two games behind the Cowboys in the Mountain West’s Mountain Division, needing to scoreboard watch in November rather than controlling its own destiny.
Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher
Terrific coach, with the resume to back it up. But he and his program haven’t been the same since Jameis Winston left for the NFL. The Seminoles lost three games a year ago, including to Georgia Tech and Houston. And they’ve already dropped three in 2016, a year they began as the nation’s No. 4 team. Fisher has also lost two straight to Dabo Swinney and Clemson, blowing a fourth-quarter lead in Tallahassee this past Saturday. This program has too much talent to be out of ACC contention before the Halloween decorations come down.
This is clearly no longer the same team that was weekly pulling rabbits out of its hat in the first half of the year. The Volunteers have evidently not recovered from the consecutive losses to Texas A&M and Alabama that altered the tenor of the season earlier this month. Tennessee fell for the third straight time Saturday, bowing to a South Carolina squad with inferior talent and a teenage quarterback to sink into third place in the SEC East. The schedule softens from here on out, but the Vols will stumble again if they play the way they did Saturday in Columbia.
The Big 12
Getting the league champion into the College Football Playoff was always going to be difficult for the Big 12, the worst of the Power Five conferences. The odds grew much longer in Week 9, as both of its remaining undefeated programs, West Virginia and Baylor, lost on the road. Now, the Mountaineers or Bears might run the table to make things interesting. A more likely scenario, though, is that all 10 members finish the year with at least two losses, and the eventual champ winds up playing an SEC runner-up in the Sugar Bowl.