Who’s Hot (and not) in college football entering Week 9. Ohio State falls to Penn State, lowering the number of unbeaten teams to nine.
North Texas’ Seth Littrell
Littrell left a perfectly good gig as Larry Fedora’s offensive coordinator in Chapel Hill to take over one of the toughest jobs in America. The Mean Green won just a single game in 2015, and the roster was light in proven players. But Littrell, who’s just 38, has North Texas over .500 after beating Army on the Hudson. The Mean Green created six turnovers, got a big day on the ground from RB Jeffrey Wilson and are only two wins away from bowl eligibility heading into this week’s trip to UTSA.
Logan Woodside-to-Cody Thompson
The Glass Bowl is one of the best pitch-and-catch combos you’ve probably never seen in action. Toledo’s Woodside threw four touchdown passes in a key MAC West showdown with Central Michigan, his sixth straight game with at least four touchdown passes. And all four went to Thompson, who averages more than 23 yards a reception. If the Rockets keep their eye on the ball, they should finish the year in Kalamazoo in a winner-take-all game with Western Michigan.
Temple and Matt Rhule
This isn’t the same Owl team as a year ago. Noted. Yet, Rhule has his kids back on top of the Eastern half of the American Athletic Conference following an impressive win over division frontrunner South Florida. A week after defeating UCF in the final seconds, Temple got 210 yards and two scores on just 20 carries from Ryquell Armstead in a season-shifting victory over the one-loss Bulls. Rhule and his kids now control their own destiny in the final stretch against Cincinnati, UConn, Tulane and East Carolina.
Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson
Somehow, some way, the Wildcats are going to have a say in the muddled Big Ten West race. And the passing of Thorson will most definitely be a factor. The budding sophomore has tossed three touchdown passes in each of the last three games, all wins, as Northwestern has gotten off the mat following a rocky 1-3 start. The Cats have a chance to play spoiler over the next two weeks, this Saturday in Columbus and the subsequent weekend when Wisconsin visits.
San Diego State RB Donnel Pumphrey
The Aztecs are back on track after losing to South Alabama at the beginning of the month, in large part because of Pumphrey’s heroics. After rushing for 135 yards and two scores in a win over San Jose State Friday night, the senior has now gone over 100 yards in six consecutive games. Plus, San Diego State is cruising toward a West Division title, a date with Boise State in the Mountain West title game and possibly contention for the Group of Five berth in a New Year’s Six bowl game.
The Cougars are the Northwestern of the Pac-12, with a slow start to 2016 erased by a torrid run that shows no signs of stopping. Washington State actually began the year 0-2, including a loss to FCS Eastern Washington, but haven’t lost since. The team has won five in a row, including a blowout of Stanford and Saturday’s first victory in Tempe since 2001. With Oregon State, Arizona and Cal upcoming, the Cougs have a chance to inch closer to an Apple Cup showdown with Washington that decides the North Division champ.
What took you so long to join a conference, Mids? After a century of independence, Navy moved to 11-1 as a member of the American. Even more important, the last two victories came over Houston and Memphis, the biggest threats in the West Division. Ken Niumatalolo continues to do a remarkable job in Annapolis. Not only is the academy ranked the year after all-timer Keenan Reynolds graduated, but it’s thriving behind backup QB Will Worth, who rushed for more than 200 yards and three scores Saturday. Navy controls its own destiny, but has a tough upcoming trip to Tampa to play USF.
Utah RB Joe Williams
Earlier this month, Williams was an ex-Ute football player, enjoying his retirement from the game. Today, he’s the hottest player in the Pac-12. Williams returned to the game a week ago to bolster a backfield depleted by injuries, rushing for 179 yards and a touchdown against Oregon State. And then the senior took his game to a whole other level this past Saturday, rushing for a school-record 332 yards and four touchdowns on 29 carries. The Utes finally have an offensive playmaker, just in time for a stretch run that begins with this week’s visit from Washington.
Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield
With all due respect to unbeaten West Virginia and Baylor, the Sooners might be the team to beat in the Big 12. And the in-season turnaround following a 1-2 start is directly attributable to Mayfield’s play. The senior has sparked a four-game winning streak, during which Oklahoma has averaged 50 points per game. On Saturday, Mayfield responded by throwing for a school-record seven touchdowns and 545 yards on only 36 pass attempts when dragged into a track meet by Texas Tech and Patrick Mahomes. The Sooners don’t play much D, but they’re cranking out the production in anticipation of next month’s show-me games with the Mountaineers, Bears and rival Oklahoma State.
The Tide heads into its bye week as the undisputed favorite to win another national championship. Alabama took care of No. 6 Texas A&M in a game it actually trailed at halftime. But as the Tide has done now in 10 consecutive games, it produced a non-offensive touchdown. And a timely one at that. With his team only up six late in the third, DE Jonathan Allen scooped up a fumble and returned it 30 yards to give Bama a much-needed cushion. The team now gets two weeks to recharge and prepare for the next big showdown, a trip to Baton Rouge to play LSU.
Forget Texas A&M or LSU or Tennessee. Auburn might be the next best thing to Alabama in the SEC this season. And that means the Tigers are a pretty scary football team right now. Auburn has won four straight to take a lot of heat off the staff. The latest victory, 56-3 over No. 17 Arkansas, was a study in complete domination. The Tigers shut down every phase of the Hog offense, while barreling for 544 rushing yards behind Kamryn Pettway, a school record in a regular season conference game. They’re cresting in time for a challenging final month that includes road games at Ole Miss, Georgia and the top-ranked Tide.
It’s taken close to three years, but Franklin is finally beginning to peak around the corner in Happy Valley. His Nittany Lions shocked No. 2 Ohio State in front of a White Out crowd of more than 107,000, a potential turning point for a program that’s been mired in controversy and mediocrity since the Jerry Sandusky scandal became public five years ago. After winning seven games in each of the last three years, Penn State could be eyeing double-digits against a favorable back end of the schedule.
Iowa’s Big Ten West Hopes
The Hawkeyes are still the defending Big Ten West champs for the time being. But their reign atop the division is likely to come to an end in a few weeks. Sure, they’re mathematically alive, especially with the season-ender versus Nebraska taking place at Kinnick Stadium. However, after failing to generate any offense—or reach the end zone—in Saturday’s loss to Wisconsin, Iowa faces an uphill climb in the quest to keep its crown.
The Nebraska Offense
The Husker attack has hit a lull. And at the worst possible time, too, with crucial upcoming road trips to face Wisconsin and Ohio State. On a macro level, the offensive production looks fine, averaging 34 points per game. Drill down, though, and it’s clear that Tommy Armstrong & Co. are trending in the wrong direction. Nebraska is averaging only 27 points over the past month, against the collectively mediocre defenses of Northwestern, Illinois, Indiana and Purdue. That’s a troubling sign now that the level of defensive competition is about to spike in a very noticeable way.
Stanford’s QB Situation
Kevin Hogan wasn’t Andrew Luck on The Farm, but, boy, has he been missed this season. The Cardinal has adapted very poorly to new leadership in the huddle, mainly Ryan Burns, and the impact to the offense has been devastating. Stanford managed a field goal and a safety in Saturday’s loss to Colorado, marking the fourth straight game in which it failed to score more than 17 points. Burns threw three picks against a terrific Buff secondary, as Stanford kept sliding toward what could become its worst season since 2008.
Texas with the Ball
The bloom may be off the rose of Sterlin Gilbert, the first-year offensive coordinator who got off to such a fast start in Austin. The Longhorns were averaging more than 40 points over the first five games, but have misfired the last two. And considering the state of the D, that’s a huge problem heading into the final five games of the regular season. RB D’Onta Foreman is a sure thing and rookie QB Shane Buechele continues to mature, but Texas commits too many penalties and is struggling to deliver when it matters most, third downs and in the red zone.
Time to start using the underclassmen and prepping for 2017, because this season is over, for all intents and purposes. This has become shades of the John L. Smith era in East Lansing, because the Spartans have dropped five straight, with Michigan looking to add to the misery this upcoming Saturday. Michigan State’s latest collapse was yet another head-scratcher, to a middling Maryland squad that had been blown out in consecutive games, and was without one of its top defensive players, CB Will Likely.
The Rebels entered a pivotal stretch of the October schedule with a chance to blossom into the next best thing to Alabama in the SEC West. Instead, they’ve dropped back-to-back games to Arkansas and LSU to fall below .500 and out of the Top 25. Ole Miss was trucked for a Tiger-record 284 yards and three scores on only 16 carries by Leonard Fournette, and Chad Kelly was ineffective against the talented LSU secondary. With a visit from streaking Auburn next, it’s fair to wonder how much motivation and fight remains in High Freeze’s team.
Those warnings of a Hurricane sweeping through the ACC Coastal have been downgraded to little more than a gentle breeze. Miami has dropped three in a row, and the latest one, Thursday night at Va Tech, provided proof that Mark Richt’s debut is coming apart at the seams. The Canes were routed, 37-16, getting whipped at the line of scrimmage. They allowed eight sacks, netted just 42 yards on the ground and will be limping into this week’s trip to South Bend to face Notre Dame.
A trendy pick in the preseason to win the Big 12, the 4-3 Horned Frogs will spend the rest of the year seeking the banality of bowl eligibility. Over its last three games, TCU has lost at home to Oklahoma, needed a rally to defeat Kansas and bowed without much of a fight this past Saturday to West Virginia. The Mountaineers pitched a shutout after halftime, while QB Skyler Howard slapped four touchdown passes on Gary Patterson’s defense, which is struggling for a second straight year.
The Barry Odom era in Columbia is starting much the way the Gary Pinkel ended—miserably. After going 5-7 in 2015, the Tigers might be fortunate to reach five wins this fall. They entered Week 8 having lost three straight to FBS opponents, Georgia, LSU and Florida. But hosting Middle Tennessee on homecoming would surely be a recipe for a streak-buster, right? Uh-uh. The Mizzou D, once a source of pride and consistency in these parts, yielded almost 600 yards to the Blue Raiders in a 51-45 loss. Now 2-5, the Tigers hope to rally against the softest part of their conference schedule, Kentucky, South Carolina and Vandy.
Brady Hoke’s Future in Coaching
Hoke was given a chance to resurrect his coaching career in Eugene by fixing the dilapidated Oregon D. Hasn’t happened. And if Mark Helfrich survives to coach again in 2017, the Ducks will likely be using their fourth different defensive coordinator in the past five years. Oregon is a neon-clad sieve, ill prepared and fundamentally lost in coverage. The program has surrendered at least 51 points in each of the last three games, erasing the six touchdown passes thrown by true freshman Justin Herbert Friday at Cal.
October couldn’t have gone much worse for the Cougars, and there’s still one more game to be played this week versus UCF. Houston took it on the chin both on and off the field, losing to Navy and SMU to fall out of not just the New Year’s Six bowl mix, but also the American race. Oh, and then there was getting rebuffed by the Big 12, which is going to make it distinctly tougher to keep Tom Herman from being lured to a Power Five conference. Saturday’s loss to the Mustangs was downright ugly, a 38-16 drubbing to a longtime rival that was itching for a statement moment under Chad Morris.
Ohio State on Offense
There were hints of issues in the passing game earlier this month against Indiana, explained as a look-ahead to Wisconsin. And then there was the need to rally in Madison. But losing to Penn State on a night that J.T. Barrett was sacked six times served up indisputable evidence that Urban Meyer’s offense may have been overinflated by the Oklahoma rout. Things are clearly not right with the attack, a major concern with Northwestern, Nebraska and Michigan still left on the schedule.