Who’s Hot (and not) in college football entering Week 11. Top-ranked Alabama remains unbeaten, while Washington moves a big step closer to a playoff berth.
UTSA Coach Frank Wilson
Wilson was always considered an ace recruiter at LSU. Turns out he can lead a team as well. Wilson has been a revelation in his debut in San Antonio, putting the Roadrunners in position to appear in their first-ever bowl game. UTSA has won four of its last five to get to 5-4, with Saturday’s blowout of favored Middle Tennessee in Murfreesboro serving as the exclamation point. The next two are tough, at La Tech and at Texas A&M, but hosting Charlotte on Nov. 26 could earn the Roadrunners that pivotal sixth win.
Just three years after becoming an FBS member, the Monarchs are bowl-eligible at 6-3. Even better, they’re 4-1 in Conference USA play after clobbering Marshall, 38-14, and a Western Kentucky stumble from taking the East Division lead. Head coach Bobby Wilder is doing a terrific job in Norfolk, aided by the running of Ray Lawry and the multidimensional talents of QB David Washington. ODU has Southern Miss this week and then two very winnable games with Florida Atlantic and Florida International before awaiting its postseason destination.
Miami (OH) QB Gus Ragland
Talk about a shot in the arm. The RedHawks rise has been directly attributable to the insertion of Ragland into the lineup in the middle of October. Miami hasn’t lost a game since, battling back from an 0-6 start to win four straight, including Friday’s 37-17 rout of Central Michigan. Ragland is dangerous on the move, and has now thrown 13 career touchdowns without a pick. He has the RedHawks soaring into the final two games with Buffalo and Ball State, which could lead to the school’s first bowl game in six years.
Don’t sleep on the Gophers, tempting though it may be. Minnesota has lost just twice by 10 combined points. And they’ve won four straight, finally putting away Purdue Saturday behind three scores and more than 150 yards on the ground from RB Rodney Smith. Now, the Gophers haven’t really been tested like other Big Ten squads, and they don’t own a quality win. But at 7-2, they do control their own destiny in the West Division heading into a telltale stretch versus Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin.
Western Michigan WR Corey Davis
The Broncos continue to break new ground in this groundbreaking campaign in Kalamazoo. And while P.J. Fleck is the obvious leader on the staff, Davis is the frontman of the depth chart. The senior has long been a Big Ten-caliber receiver toying with MAC defensive backs, which he proved again Tuesday night against Ball State. Davis caught a season-high 12 balls for a career-high 272 yards and three touchdowns, enhancing his Biletnikoff Award and NFL resume.
Washington State QB Luke Falk
U-Dub’s Jake Browning is making most of the quarterback headlines in the Pacific Northwest, but Falk is going stride-for-stride as the Apple Cup draws near in a couple of weeks. Falk, and backup Tyler Hilinski for that matter, were throwing darts in Saturday’s obliteration of Arizona. Falk threw more touchdown passes, four, than incompletions, three, before heading to the bench. He’s thrown 28 touchdown passes and just five picks all year, and will continue to flourish this week against the mealy Cal D.
Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph
As separation takes place in the Big 12, the Cowboys are rising to the top. And Rudolph has been one of the chief catalysts of an in-season turnaround in Stillwater. Okie State has now won five in a row, including last week over unbeaten West Virginia and this past Saturday in Manhattan, despite trailing for much of the game. Rudolph threw eight touchdown passes in the two season-altering wins, and the Cowboys will be favored to handle Texas Tech and TCU before closing with a potential winner-take-all at Oklahoma.
South Carolina’s Will Muschamp and Jake Bentley
The Gamecocks have a new coach, Muschamp, a new quarterback, Bentley, and a bright future ahead. And the coach and the rookie hurler are likely to get 15 more practices together in December now that the team beat Mizzou for its third straight win. South Carolina is one of the hotter teams in the shallow SEC East pool of programs, in large part because of Bentley, who’s thrown two touchdowns and no picks in each of his three starts. South Carolina has two rough road trips to Florida and Clemson, but should become bowl-eligible no later than Nov. 19 against Western Carolina.
It’s never pretty. It’s often effective. In this day and age of college football, the Badgers continue employing an old-school approach to winning games. Wisconsin has now toughed out three consecutive wins over Iowa, Nebraska and Northwestern to keep Big Ten title hopes very much alive. It faced a tricky opponent in Evanston, but shut down QB Clayton Thorson and RB Justin Jackson to yield just seven points. The hardest part of the slate behind them, the Badgers should roll to 10-2 against Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota.
Remember back in September, when USC was 1-3 and there was nonsensical chatter that its first-year coach might be on the chopping block? Helton hasn’t just quieted his critics. He’s shut them up by overcoming injuries and the insertion of rookie quarterback Sam Darnold to win five straight games. And the Trojans have been making it look easy by finding new stars on offense each week and gradually improving on D. They head into this week’s showdown at Washington with an epic tailwind at their back.
It may have felt a little fluky when the Lions used a blocked field return to shock Ohio State, but this team is positively for real. The Nittany Lions have won five in a row, and the latest over Iowa was a 60-minute display of sheer domination. Penn State is now garroting opponents, including pretty good ones like the Hawkeyes. Between the running of Saquon Barkley, the rise of the D and the remaining schedule with Indiana, Rutgers and Michigan State, the Lions are destined for 10 wins, a top 10 ranking and even a New Year’s Six bowl berth.
Texas RB D’Onta Foreman
If Charlie Strong is invited back for a fourth year in Austin, he ought to put in escrow a portion of his salary, and earmark it for Foreman once he turns pro. The bulldozing junior has almost singlehandedly carried the Horns this season, but especially the past two weeks. In wins over Baylor and Texas Tech, he rushed for 591 yards and five scores to lead his team back over .500. And with games remaining against West Virginia, Kansas and TCU, he has a shot to barrel his way into serious late-season Heisman contention.
The Huskies whacked Cal, 66-27, showing no letup after last week’s key win over Utah. USC, this week’s opponent, continued to roll, which stands to help strength of schedule. Even Texas A&M, which was one controversial rung higher than U-Dub in the initial College Football Playoff rankings, lost for the second time. Short of a Wazzu loss, this was a perfect weekend in Seattle. True, the Huskies must still watch their backs and take care of business, but the path to the playoffs has never looked clearer for Chris Petersen’s team.
Tuberville is in serious danger of becoming the first Cincinnati coach since Butch Jones in 2010 to miss out on a bowl game. And it didn’t have to be this way. At least on paper, the Bearcats began the year with as much talent as anyone in the American. But the team hasn’t executed, an indictment of the entire staff. It slipped to 4-5 after being manhandled at home by BYU, 20-3. With a visit from Memphis and two tough trips to UCF and Tulsa ahead, Tubby could be entering hot seat territory after going 9-4 in 2013 and 2014.
The guy can coach quarterbacks and engineer record-setting offenses. But at what point will fans in Lubbock be looking for more? Kingsbury is still young, but no longer a kid. And he’s in his fourth season at Texas Tech, so the growing pains should no longer be an issue. After losing another shootout, at home to Texas, Kingsbury is a game below .500 this season and for his career. By Year 5, Mike Leach was perennially leading the Red Raiders into the Top 25. That ought to be where the bar is set for Kingsbury in his fifth season next fall.
Last year, Pat Narduzzi’s kids were one of the ACC’s biggest surprises. This fall? One of the league’s biggest disappointments. The Panthers appeared to have Coastal Division crown potential, since so many veterans were back, highlighted by the emotional return of RB James Conner. But the defense has been a disaster, capped by another dreadful performance against Miami, which entered Week 10 on a four-game losing streak. Next up for Pitt? A trip to Clemson and a likely loss that would drop the team back to .500.
Nice win, Buffs, beating UCLA Thursday to remain atop the Pac-12 South. But for this fairytale season to end with a spot in the conference title game, Mike MacIntyre must fix his failing offense. Colorado has scored just 30 points in its last two games, and QB Sefo Liufau has been regressing as a passer. Liufau and Steven Montez combined for just one completion of more than 20 yards against Stanford and the Bruins, providing a blueprint for the Arizona, Wazzu and Utah defenses in upcoming games.
FSU at the Point of Attack
The Seminoles showed a lot of heart rallying back on the road to beat NC State, especially the week after suffering a demoralizing loss to Clemson. But the O-line has been an issue all season long, disappointing considering the number of returning up front in 2016. Rookie QB Deondre Francois has taken a pounding all year, even when not being sacked. And RB Dalvin Cook was bottled up for just 65 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries in Raleigh. FSU still has two more physical defenses left on the schedule, BC this week and Florida on Nov. 26.
Football in Oregon
The last time neither the Ducks nor the Beavers appeared in a bowl game in the same season? 1996. Over the last two decades, the state could always count on one of its two major programs, usually the Ducks, playing beyond the regular season. But not this year. Oregon is shockingly on the verge of rebuild mode, from top to bottom, after losing six of the last seven games. And Oregon State is 2-7, as well as 4-17 under second-year coach Gary Andersen. For better or worse, the Nov. 26 Civil War will have to serve as a de facto bowl game for both this year.
For the fourth time in the past decade, Navy defeated the Irish, which is one more loss from a guaranteed losing season. DeShone Kizer was sharp through the air, tossing three touchdown passes, but it wasn’t enough to compensate for the defense’s inability to stop Midshipmen QB Will Worth on the ground. ND will play meaningless football in the final three games of November, guaranteeing a staff shakeup on the defensive side of the ball … at a minimum.
Well, that sure was fast. The Aggies’ tenure as a playoff contender lasted less than a week. And while it’s no shocker that A&M won’t be a part of this year’s final four, it was downright unexpected that fading Mississippi State ended the run. The Aggies played their worst game of the season in Starkville, unable to stop QB Nick Fitzgerald on the ground or recover from a shoulder injury to their own quarterback, Trevor Knight. With so many goals dashed at David Wade Stadium, the Aggies will struggle to locate the motivation this week versus Ole Miss.
This is the best that the SEC East has to offer? Really? The Gators are clinging to their divisional lead and limping into the most important stretch of the schedule. Saturday in Fayetteville, they were completely outclassed by Arkansas … on both sides of the ball. The offense has long been a liability in Gainesville. But the defense, which has mounting injuries, was blown off the ball by the Hog interior. And it doesn’t get much easier with improving South Carolina, and trips to Baton Rouge and Tallahassee to round out the regular season.
Leonard Fournette (Against Bama)
Rare talent. And he certainly hasn’t gotten much help. But after being stuffed once again by the nation’s top D, Fournette will likely finish his amateur career having rushed for just 145 yards and a touchdown on 57 carries in three meetings with the Tide … all losses by the way. After consistently absorbing contact at or near the line of scrimmage, Fournette might actually find it easier navigating NFL defenses a year from now than one coached by Nick Saban. Terrific athlete. Terrific kid. Never breaking through against the nation’s premier program, though, could stick in his craw for a long time.
A week ago, the Huskers earned attaboys for coming close to upsetting Wisconsin in Madison. However, after dropping a second straight to Ohio State, Nebraska no longer controls its own destiny in the Big Ten West. The Buckeyes handed the Huskers one of the worst losses in their history, 62-3, the kind of manhandling that can linger into this week’s important visit from Minnesota. And if getting trampled wasn’t painful enough, Nebraska also lost its leader, QB Tommy Armstrong, to a scary head injury, though he did return to the sidelines in street clothes.
The Bears staged a “blackout” Saturday, with the dark unis to match the theme. Fitting the team wore dark colors, because it felt like a funeral in Waco, particularly once fans bolted McLane Stadium after halftime. Baylor has gotten exposed the past two weekends, losing to Texas last Saturday and then getting embarrassed, 62-22, by a TCU team that staggered into Week 10 with its own issues. It would not be a shock if the wheels completely started coming off Jim Grobe’s team, especially with a trip to Norman to play streaking Oklahoma this Saturday.
The SEC East
The East has long been a step or two behind the West in the SEC, but the divide this season is becoming ridiculous. Florida is the heavy favorite to capture the weaker half, despite getting ransacked by Arkansas Saturday, 31-10, and still lacking any offensive punch. Kentucky, yeah Kentucky, had a chance to move up in the pecking order, but lost a late lead to Georgia. And one-time torchbearer Tennessee has dropped three straight games with FBS opponents. The hottest team in the East? South Carolina, which gets a chance to drag Florida down another rung this week.