Who’s Hot (and not) in college football entering Week 14. Ohio State defeats Michigan, but Penn State captures the Big Ten East with a victory over Michigan State.
Ragland and His RedHawks
Miami U. capped a most unlikely second half of the regular season by rallying Tuesday night for a sixth consecutive win to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2010. The RedHawks began the year 0-6, but have been sparked by the return of sophomore quarterback Gus Ragland from an ACL injury suffered in April. In six games, he’s thrown 15 touchdown passes and no picks, helping give a tremendous boost to Chuck Martin in his third season of rebuilding in Oxford.
Air Force owns Boise State. For the third straight year, the Falcons upset the Broncos, the Mountain West standard-bearer, denying them any shot of winning the Mountain Division or making a run at a New Year’s Six bowl game. Air Force will also carry a five-game winning streak into the postseason, with a chance to win 10 games for underrated coach Troy Calhoun for the second time in the last three seasons.
Missouri DE Marcell Frazier
If Charles Harris leaves for the NFL Draft, Frazier is ready to carry the torch for D-Line Zou in 2017. Actually, the way Frazier performed in November, he might want to test the waters as well. The 6-5, 260-pound junior from Portland caught fire down the stretch, picking up at least one sack in each of the last three games. And in Friday’s comeback win over Arkansas, Frazier was unstoppable, making four stops for loss and a career-best three sacks of Austin Allen.
It was a November the Yellow Jackets will long remember. Tech actually turned things around at the midpoint of the season, a time when it had lost three in a row to put coach Paul Johnson’s future in jeopardy. But the Jackets rallied with five wins in the final six games, including Saturday’s upset of hated rival Georgia in Athens. It was Tech’s second straight win Between the Hedges, catapulting the program into the postseason with an 8-4 mark.
It took almost the entire regular season, but the Hawkeyes finally look like the team that won the Big Ten West a year ago and was favored in the preseason to do so again in 2016. After bottoming out with a 41-14 loss to Penn State on Nov. 5, Iowa closed out the regular season with consecutive wins over Michigan, Illinois and then Nebraska this past Friday, 40-10. Phil Parker’s D has been the catalyst, allowing a total of 23 points during the three-game winning streak.
The Broncos throttled Toledo, 55-35, their toughest MAC opponent on the schedule. The two Group of Five teams ahead of Western Michigan in the College Football Playoff Rankings, Boise State and Houston, lost. Corey Davis set the FBS record for career receiving yards. It was anything but a black Friday in Kalamazoo. A date with Ohio next Friday night at Detroit’s Ford Field should be all that separates the Broncos from representing the Group of Five in the Cotton Bowl.
LSU RB Derrius Guice
As one perennial Heisman contender readies to take his game to Sundays, another is poised to fill the void. It’s only a matter of time before Leonard Fournette announces he’ll forego his final year of eligibility as a Tiger. Naturally, he’ll be missed, and not just for football reasons, but LSU is set in the backfield with Guice for 2017. The sophomore has filled in spectacularly well for a dinged-up Fournette, rushing for at least 250 yards in two of the last three games, including a school-record 285 yards and four scores in Thursday’s pummeling of Texas A&M.
Florida State Against In-State Rivals
The Seminoles own the Sunshine State, and it isn’t even up for polite debate. Florida State has beaten Miami seven straight times, including earlier this year. And after handling Florida in Week 13, 31-13, it’s now defeated the Gators four years in a row. This Seminoles senior class becomes the first in program history to finish undefeated against both Florida and Miami. FSU hasn’t even allowed an offensive touchdown in the last two meetings with its rival from Gainesville, abusing an overmatched O-line with DeMarcus Walker and his fellow line mates. The season didn’t quite unfurl as the Noles would have liked, but they can take consolation in still having the upper hand on the Canes and Gators.
The Atlantic Coast Conference had four cracks at the Southeastern Conference in rivalry games Saturday. Won three of them, including Georgia Tech’s upset of Georgia in Athens, Clemson’s blowout of South Carolina and a Florida State victory over SEC East champ Florida. The only loss was Louisville’s stunning collapse at home to Kentucky. The ACC finished the regular season 6-3 versus the SEC, providing a nice runway into the postseason, which will provide the league 11 more shots to shine against non-conference competition.
USC’s Adoree’ Jackson
As the college football orbit fixed its attention on Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers Saturday, Jackson dispatched his own resounding statement about who’s the game’s most dangerous triple-threat. The Trojans remained one of the nation’s hottest teams, with Jackson stealing the show this week. The junior corner scored three touchdowns three different ways, a 55-yard punt return, a 52-yard reception and a spectacular 97-yard kick return, resulting in a rather timely Heisman pose for voters looking for a candidate to champion.
If the Huskies land a playoff berth, no one can accuse them of backing into the picture. Since its lone loss to USC on Nov. 12, U-Dub has easily dismissed Arizona State and Wazzu to capture the Pac-12. The Sun Devils? No attaboys for handling Todd Graham’s team. But what the Huskies did to the ranked Cougars—in Pullman—should leave no doubt about their potential. Jake Browning was sharp, and the Washington secondary made sure Luke Falk wasn’t, picking him off three times.
The Lions were aware that Ohio State had defeated Michigan earlier in the day, paving a pathway to Indianapolis. Penn State then shook off a slow start and took care of business, blanking Michigan State in the second half, 35-0, to capture the Big Ten East Division. That James Franklin, not Urban Meyer or Jim Harbaugh, will be coaching against Wisconsin next Saturday is a stunning testament to the entire staff and QB Trace McSorley, who threw four touchdown passes and only six incompletions in the clincher.
One leg of the journey is complete. It’s on to Santa Clara to face Washington in Friday night’s Pac-12 Championship Game. Since losing to USC on Oct. 8, the Buffs had no margin for error, yet they never buckled once, winning the final six regular season games to become this season’s most improbable division winner in college football. The last two victories, a week ago over Wazzu and Saturday against Utah, showcased a defense with the physicality and the secondary play to go stride-for-stride with Jake Browning and the speedy U-Dub skill players.
Urban Meyer vs. Michigan
The Buckeyes weren’t great on Saturday. The O-line struggled with the Wolverine pass rush and PK Tyler Durbin missed a pair of field goals that could have prevented overtime. But Ohio State showed resiliency and found a way to beat Michigan on a nifty Curtis Samuel run to keep its playoff hopes alive. Meyer is now 5-0 against his biggest rival, providing further evidence why he trails only Alabama’s Nick Saban as the premier coach in college football.
College football's biggest disappointments entering Week 14
Mountain West Division Winners
Well, no one will have an edge in momentum when San Diego State and Wyoming this week in the Mountain West Championship Game. Sure, it was tough to locate the motivation this past weekend, since the Aztecs had wrapped up the West Division weeks ago and the Cowboys no longer faced a must-win after Boise State lost Friday. However, both teams were atrocious, San Diego State yielding 63 to Colorado State and Wyoming getting lapped by New Mexico. Technically, nothing has changed, but the teams better have short memories before kickoff Saturday evening.
Bronco Mendenhall knew he had a tough job when he left Provo for Charlottesville. It’s actually going to be more challenging than he or any of his assistants expected. The Hoos capped their second 10-loss season in the last four years by getting crushed in Blacksburg, 52-10, one of the worst losses ever in the rivalry with the Hokies. Virginia will need to spend the offseason coaching up both sides of the ball, while holding out hope that the team’s best junior defenders return for their amateur finales.
The Bruins began the season as one of the favorites to win the Pac-12 South Division. They finished it 4-8, bowing meekly to Cal, 36-10. While losing sophomore QB Josh Rosen midway through the year was certainly a factor in the school’s third 4-8 campaign in the last decade, it’s not as if the team was tearing the cover off the ball after six games. UCLA has lost its mojo, which could result in another offseason of staff changes.
Virginia Tech won the ACC Coastal, setting the stage for next week’s meeting with Clemson. But the Tar Heels sort of lost the division, too. Carolina failed to take care of business against its rivals this month, losing to Duke on Nov. 10 and NC State this past weekend. Neither the Blue Devils nor the Pack was very god this year. Larry Fedora’s trademark offense tallied decent numbers in the aggregate, but something was missing in both losses from the team’s overall efficiency and red-zone execution.
Arkansas Following a Win
Ever since starting 3-0, the Razorbacks developed an allergic reaction to winning streaks. After each of its last five victories, Arkansas suffered a black eye. The first four losses were by at least 19 points to an SEC West opponent. But the latest might have been the worst of all. The Hogs were seemingly ready to win back-to-back games, leading hapless Mizzou at halftime, 24-7, but were blanked in the second half, 21-0, to enter the postseason with a disappointing 7-5 mark.
Arizona State AD Ray Anderson promised last week that Graham would be back in 2017, but that decision had little to do with his team’s performance on the field in 2016. Or 2015. The Sun Devils have now had back-to-back losing seasons under Graham, capped by Friday’s defensive collapse to lowly rival Arizona. The 56-35 loss means ASU won’t even have a chance to mentor its young roster in December. Graham was saddled with youth and injuries this past year, but there’ll be no excuses next fall if he can’t chart a different course in Tempe.
Houston When the World Isn’t Watching
Most teams tend to get tight in the biggest games on the schedule. Not the Cougars, which bagged two marquee wins this season over Oklahoma and Louisville. Against ordinary opponents, though, Houston has been, well, ordinary. The team that was the consensus favorite to represent the Group of Five in a major bowl game didn’t even finish in the top two spots of the AAC West Division, losing to Navy, SMU and Memphis this past Friday. New Texas coach Tom Herman is a rising star, but his second Houston team played down to the competition this fall.
The Rebels began the season on the top 10 doorstep. It ended it below .500 for the first time in five years, courtesy of a blowout home loss to Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl. Ole Miss was stampeded for more than 400 rushing yards, most coming from QB Nick Fitzgerald and RB Aeris Williams. And by failing to pick up that sixth win, Hugh Freeze and the staff will miss out on the chance to mentor true freshman QB Shea Patterson throughout December. A year after winning 10, Ole Miss took a decided step backwards, going 2-7 versus Power Five opponents.
Tennessee Defensive Coordinator Bob Shoop
A year ago, Shoop left Happy Valley for Knoxville. Today, Penn State is in the Big Ten Championship Game and the Vols are home to one of the SEC’s worst defensive units. Yes, Shoop dealt with plenty of injuries in 2016, but the results in league contests were still unacceptable. In conference play, Tennessee allowed more than 36 points per game. And on Saturday, it surrendered 45 and more than 600 yards to a Vanderbilt offense that has struggled to move the ball consistently throughout the season.
Texas A&M in November
What happens in November is what everyone remembers. That’s really troubling news for Kevin Sumlin and his Aggies, which are 3-9 in the month versus SEC opponents since 2013. A&M was abused by LSU on Thursday, 54-39, allowing 622 yards to an offense that’s been hit-or-miss all season. After flirting with playoff and West Division contention at the midway point of the season, the Aggies finished the regular season 2-4, which will make it brutally difficult getting the kids motivated for a middling bowl event.
Michigan vs. Ohio State
The Wolverines, especially injured QB Wilton Speight, put forth a valiant effort in Columbus in a game that needed extra sessions to determine a winner. But they lost to the Buckeyes—again—ending hopes of winning the Big Ten East Division and remaining in contention for a playoff berth. Michigan has now dropped five straight to Urban Meyer and Ohio State, which will most definitely haunt Jim Harbaugh, who has been on the losing end of the last two since returning to his alma mater.
Florida With the Ball
It’s tough to get on Jim McElwain, what with winning back-to-back SEC East titles and all. But his Gators would score negative points versus Alabama this Saturday in Atlanta if that was mathematically possible. While Florida has survived with defense the past couple of seasons, something has to change on offense in 2017, or else there’ll be a hard cap on its potential. The Gators, who were abused by the Florida State D Saturday, have so many offensive problems that the situation might not be fully rectified until the 2018 season.
Well, it was a good thing to learn in November, instead of a month from now, that the Cardinals were an overrated team too reliant on the heroics of one individual. Louisville gagged when a playoff opportunity presented itself, losing back-to-back games to Houston and Kentucky, the latter as a four-touchdown favorite at home. Not only did the Cards play their way out of the playoff discussion this month, but they may now be out of the New Year’s Six bowl hunt as well.
Actions speak louder than words. Always have. Always will. And while it’s been nice to hear how much the Texas players love Charlie Strong the man, they failed to show it where the former coach needed it most—on the field. Strong and the staff deserve their fair share of the blame for a third consecutive losing season, made possible by another putrid effort Friday versus TCU. But those kids, who admire Strong so much, could have helped save his job in November. And they didn’t, with the Horns closing the year with consecutive losses to West Virginia, Kansas and the Horned Frogs.