The hottest, the best and the brightest (and then the also-rans) heading into Week 6 of the 2016 college football season. Here’s who’s hot and who’s not after a thrilling Week 5.
Scott Frost’s impact in Orlando: immediate and profound. The Knights were winless a year ago. Through the first five games of 2016, the team is above .500 after defeating Florida International and East Carolina on the road in back-to-back games. Sure, UCF is raw, especially behind center, but backs Dontavious Wilson and Adrian Killins are providing a spark, and the team returns home for a Friday night visit from Tulane knowing bowl eligibility is now a very realistic goal.
Colorado QB Steven Montez
A week after Montez came off the bench to light up Oregon for 468 total yards and four scores, he threw three touchdown passes, all to WR Shay Fields, and had no picks in a 47-6 obliteration of Oregon State. The 6-5, 225-pound rookie from El Paso has given the Buffs unexpected depth at quarterback in the aftermath of an ankle injury to starter Sefo Liufau. And with a trip to the Coliseum to play USC this Saturday, Colorado is brimming with confidence about the state of its passing game.
Running back Jeremy McNichols is running into fringe Heisman contention, QB Brett Rypien continues maturing and the D ranks No. 17 nationally in yards per play allowed. Toss in San Diego State’s shocking loss at South Alabama, and the Broncos are the clear-cut favorite to recapture the Mountain West Conference. This week in Albuquerque marks the first of a string of games in which Boise State ought to roll, as it takes aim at a league title, a perfect season and a New Year’s Six bowl game.
Texas Tech WR Jonathan Giles
The Red Raiders weren’t quite certain who’d be this year’s Jakeem Grant, the go-to guy in the passing game. Well, Giles has ended the mystery with authority. Through four games, Giles has been unstoppable at “Y” receiver, catching a team-high 31 balls for 565 yards and seven touchdowns. He enjoyed a career night Thursday versus Kansas, and was equally comfortable with backup QB Nic Shimonek, encouraging in the event Patrick Mahomes’ shoulder is less than 100% for this week’s game at Kansas State.
It’s not so much that the Terps are 4-0, since they’ve yet to face a quality opponent. But the way they mauled Purdue, 50-7, in the Big Ten opener could be a sign that D.J. Durkin is starting to peek around the corner in College Park. Led by Ty Johnson, Maryland went for 400 yards on the ground, while the defense never let the Boilermakers up for air. The Terps are just two wins shy of bowl eligibility, though the schedule is about to get much tougher, starting with this week’s trip to Happy Valley to play Penn State.
Go ahead and dish out some credit to the Mountaineers, which won a game in which they only managed to score 17 points. Yeah, the K-State offense is awful and it did a poor job of clock management, but West Virginia is finding ways to win games it might not have in recent years. And that can become contagious, when things starts getting really serious, like two weeks from now in Lubbock, Texas. West Virginia is unbeaten heading into the break, having survived nail-biters with BYU and the Cats, and that’s reason for a small celebration in Morgantown.
USC QB Sam Darnold
True, it’s only two starts, but the Trojans appear to have found their quarterback to build around. And it’s impact everyone from head coach Clay Helton to star WR JuJu Smith-Schuster. Darnold was outstanding as Troy bounced Arizona State, 41-20, from the unbeaten ranks, throwing for 352 yards and three scores, all to Smith-Schuster. Even the defense is playing with more grit, which will be needed this Saturday versus Colorado and upstart Steven Montez in a looming battle of rookie quarterbacks.
The Hurricanes passed their biggest test of the season so far, winning at Georgia Tech, just in time for the annual showdown with Florida State. Miami did a solid job of containing the Yellow Jacket triple-option, no small ask for a young D, while producing a pair of decisive defensive scores. The Canes are increasingly gaining confidence, and all of those rookie contributors are playing with more confidence now that they have a month of games under their belts.
If there was a Hall of Fame for interim head coaches, there’d be a statue of Orgeron in its lobby. No one does a better job of picking up the pieces after the main guy is axed. Less than a week after the Tigers canned Les Miles and offensive Cam Cameron, they established a school record for yards in an SEC game … all while star RB Leonard Fournette rested his ankle injury. Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams more than picked up the slack on the ground, and LSU has a head of steam and a whole new outlook heading into Saturday’s trip to Gainesville.
Tennessee When Backed Into A Corner
The Vols had Georgia just where they wanted it Saturday in Athens, trailing by double-digits and seemingly headed toward their first loss of 2016. Uh-uh. This Tennessee team has no quit in it, taking full control of the SEC East race on a Hail Mary heave from Joshua Dobbs to Jauan Jennings as time expired. It marked the fourth time this that UT had rallied from a deficit of at least 10 points, and that’s a powerful feeling of what’s possible to carry into Saturday’s showdown with Texas A&M in College Station.
The Tigers stopped Lamar Jackson and the Louisville Cardinal train. Florida State lost for a second time. It ought to be smooth sailing for Clemson toward a second consecutive ACC championship. Ben Boulware and the entire D continue to impress, and Deshaun Watson is going to be helped by Saturday’s reemerging of RB Wayne Gallman, WR Deon Cain and TE Jordan Leggett. Having cleared their tallest hurdle—by a yard—the Tigers will be very tough to keep out of the playoffs.
The Huskies did to Stanford Friday night what Louisville did to Florida State back on Sept. 17, throttling a league power with unexpected ease. U-Dub treated the defending Pac-12 champs as if they were visitors from the Big Sky Conference, steamrolling to a statement 44-6 win. The newest member of the playoff discussion was dominant in all phases, cranking out 424 balanced yards and stifling Christian McCaffrey and the Cards with eight sacks, three from OLB Psalm Wooching and two from DE Joe Mathis.
San Diego State
It’s going to be a tough turnaround this week versus UNLV for an Aztec team that fell from the ranks of the unbeaten—and the ranked—with an improbable collapse at South Alabama. Before Week 5 began, No. 19 San Diego State was considered a threat to cop a New Year’s Six bowl berth if Houston stumbled along the way. But it squandered a lead at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, getting outscored 21-0 by the Jaguars in a fourth quarter that could haunt the team for some time.
Hurry back from injury, Luke. Actually, the healthy return of QB Luke Del Rio might be merely window dressing for this feeble Gator offense, which managed just 236 yards Saturday in Nashville. Florida was fortunate to escape Vanderbilt, 13-6, the week after nearly getting blanked in the second half in Knoxville. The Commodores have a scrappy D, but life won’t get much easier for the Gators in upcoming games with LSU, Mizzou, Georgia and Arkansas.
Okay, this is now an indisputable trend, an obvious indication this is not the same Hawkeye team that almost qualified for the playoffs in 2015. Yeah, other FBS teams have lost to North Dakota State, and Rutgers can lull opponents into a catatonic state, but losing at home to Northwestern? That’s a major problem, particularly when allowing 38 points to a team that was averaging 16 when the weekend began. Up next is a tough road trip to face Minnesota with a ton of work needing to be done in all phases.
All of a sudden, the Horned Frogs have become Texas Tech, a team that can score a ton but can’t slow down decent opponents. And it has to be killing Gary Patterson, who’s long been one of the top defensive coaches in the game. TCU hosted reeling Oklahoma in Week 5, and the offense clicked behind Kenny Hill’s five touchdown passes. However, the D was mauled in all phases in a 52-46 loss, an ominous fact with West Virginia, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Texas and, yes, those Red Raiders still left on the schedule.
Football in Arizona
The Sun Devils and the Wildcats tested themselves against the Pac-12’s L.A. schools, USC and UCLA. Didn’t go too well. Both were bounced, unable to make defensive stops in lopsided losses. Plus, quarterback health will continue to be an issue, as ASU prepares to host UCLA and Arizona treks to Utah. Football in the desert was brimming with possibilities in 2014, when both teams won 10, but it’s been a series of ups-and-downs in Tempe and Tucson ever since.
“Year Of The Running Back”
Remember when running backs were going to resume ruling the college football world, like it was some kind of 1970s, tear-away jerseys rewind? Yeah, that hasn’t happened. None of the superstar backs, from Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette to Dalvin Cook and Nick Chubb, have been able to dominate the landscape. Certainly not all their fault, with injuries and a lack of support seeping in, but the odds of a back winning the Heisman for a second straight year has plummeted considerably after the first five weeks of the season.
Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate is going to matter on Nov. 26, because, well, it always does in this state. It’s just not going to matter outside the region, based on how the Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets have been playing. Georgia Tech has been outclassed in each of its last two games, bowing meekly to Clemson and Miami, without much help from Paul Johnson’s trademark ground game. And Georgia blew what could have been a turning point in 2016 by allowing a 43-yard walk-off TD chuck from Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs. The Jackets and Dawgs must now go on the road to face Pitt and South Carolina, respectively.
Washington is a very good team. But the Cardinal is in trouble. The Huskies didn’t just defeat Stanford—they toyed with the defending Pac-12 champions. Furthermore, the Cardinal struggled to move the ball on UCLA a week earlier, barely pulling out a win in the final seconds. Stanford is not as physical as recent David Shaw teams, the corners are banged up and QB Kevin Hogan’s veteran presence is sorely missed in the huddle. In others words, the Cardinal hasn’t lost for the last time in 2016, as it prepares for Luke Falk and the high-powered Wazzu passing attack this week.
The Brady Hoke Experiment
Hoke came out of coaching retirement to bring toughness and accountability to the Oregon D. It hasn’t happened. Not even close. In fact, the wheels are flying off the entire Duck program, ensuring that another staff shakeup is likely at some point within the next two months. The program dropped its third straight game Saturday at Wazzu, with the defense being shredded for 651 yards, including 280 on the ground from a team not known for its running prowess. And here comes undefeated U-Dub, which wants revenge for its 12-game losing streak in the rivalry.
Whatever momentum and confidence the Horns amassed in the opening week upset of Notre Dame is now gone. And after losing consecutive games to Cal and Oklahoma State, allowing 99 points in the process, everyone from Charlie Strong down will be feeling this pressure this Saturday in Dallas versus Oklahoma. Texas performed miserably in Stillwater on Saturday, particularly on defense and special teams, where three extra points were somehow blocked in the opening half of a 49-31 loss.
The Florida State D
Someone, possibly coordinator Charles Kelly, is going to lose his job on that Seminole defensive staff. Florida State has now yielded at least 34 points in all four games with FBS opponents, capped by a late collapse to Carolina Saturday to snap a 22-game winning streak at Doak Campbell Stadium. The Noles held a one-point lead with 23 seconds left, but allowed the Heels to get into field goal range in the blink of an eye. And now they’ll head into the Miami game with the worst possible frame of mind and sinking motivation.
The Spartans won’t defend their Big Ten title in 2016. Yeah, Michigan and Ohio State must travel to East Lansing this fall, but Michigan State has shown nothing the past two weeks to indicate its ready to take down either of the league’s two best programs. The Saturday after getting schooled by Wisconsin, 30-6, MSU fell in overtime to Indiana to suffer back-to-back losses for the first time in four years. The Hoosiers captured the Old Brass Spittoon, while the Spartans head into this week’s visit from BYU with no momentum, no Malik McDowell for the first two quarters, mounting injuries and waning confidence in the offense.