On College Football: We Have No Idea Who Belongs In The Top 5
By Ty Duffy
We spent eight offseason months setting the table with intricate conceptions. Preceding weeks pulled out the table cloth. College football’s fifth week took a hobnail boot to the remnants.
Four top ten teams lost, with varying degrees of exposure. Multiple teams in and around them eeked out wins against inferior opponents. It was ugly. Here is a team-by-team damage assessment.
Ohio State: 274 yards from Ezekiel Elliott, three touchdown runs of longer than 55 yards in the 2nd half. Ohio State needed that to beat Indiana by a touchdown, after the Hoosiers’ starting quarterback went down. When does a “slow start” become “this is Ohio State?” There’s more than a trifling stench of 2014 FSU in here.
Michigan State: The Spartans took a 21-0 lead into halftime against Purdue, and got outscored 21-3 in the second half. They have been outscored in the second half four times in five games. The fifth game, against Central Michigan, was a one-score game entering the 4th quarter. You can’t get offended by us rattling off scores, Mark.
Ole Miss: The bandwagon went down to the Swamp, then broke an axle and collided with a land mine. Ole Miss could not run the ball, committed turnovers, got torched through the air by a redshirt freshman, and trailed Florida 25-0 at halftime. The Rebels may not be playoff material.
Notre Dame: The Irish outplayed Clemson on paper. They could not hold onto the ball in a monsoon. They fell on a missed two-point conversion. It was a loss, but not a season-redefining one. Ronnie Stanley won’t face Clemson’s defensive line every week.
UCLA: The Bruins beat Arizona by 26 on the road, came home, and had themselves a let down. Josh Rosen played like a freshman. UCLA ran for 62 yards on 28 carries. They converted 3/14 third downs. Fear Todd Graham the week after a 28-point loss…
Georgia: “Underdog” Alabama beat Georgia comprehensively, in every aspect of playing football. Nick Chubb’s late, meaningless TD run made things look closer than they were. Mark Richt did nothing to silence those highlighting his record of rank underachievement. Here are some Dawgs fans confronting another meh 9 or 10-win season in real time.
LSU: Leonard Fournette ran for 233 yards and three touchdowns. Leonard Fournette was running in the 4th quarter of a one-score game against Eastern Michigan. The Tigers tried to make the pass happen. Brandon Harris completed four of 15 passes, against Eastern Michigan.
Florida State: You don’t just walk into BB&T Field… The Seminoles weren’t Top 10, entering the weekend at No. 11. It’s still worth noting the Seminoles escaped with a one-touchdown win at Wake Forest.
Whew. So, who do we feel good about? Utah let the impression of that crazy, 42-point win at Oregon linger, taking a bye week. The Michigan win keeps looking better. Baylor is better than Texas Tech. We can say that with conviction. TCU beat down a distressed and distressing Texas team. It seems Gary Patterson is hearing voices…
Those are three good teams. We’re not putting down a pound of flesh on any of them to finish unscathed. TCU and Baylor may not be the best team in their own conference.
The Top 15-20 looks to be in utter disarray. Polls did as polls do. We thought certain teams were good entering the season. The AP and Coaches kept the ones that have not lost outright – Ohio State, Michigan State, TCU, Baylor – in the top four.
[Related: Is Alabama the Best Team in the Country?]
SRS combines schedule strength with victory margin. Here are the returns with limited data. Football Perspective has a top four of (1) Alabama (2) Oklahoma (3) Michigan (4) USC. Michigan State is 42nd. Sports Reference‘s tabulation has (1) Oklahoma (2) Alabama (3) Michigan (4) Texas A&M.
Football Outsiders’ S&P+ rankings have a similar take: (1) Alabama (2) Oklahoma (3) Michigan (4) Clemson.
We can’t offer you resolution, or a rational way to sort this out. Even if we had one, next week would make it look silly. Your best bet is to stay calm and be non-committal. Five weeks is still within the Kenny Trill zone. No one is in yet.
(Photo by Jeff Golden/Getty Images)
ARE WE HEADING FOR ANOTHER 2007?
The 2015 season has offered us a power vacuum at the top. An interesting parallel is 2007. That year finished without an undefeated team in the regular season. Three playoff teams, including eventual national champion LSU, had two losses. The way things are progressing, a similar end is conceivable.
However, 2007 had its own unique blend of insanity. It had the App. State over Michigan and Stanford over USC upsets. Pitt knocked off West Virginia, setting off a chain reaction that affected multiple coaching futures. By this time in 2007, South Florida, Boston College and Kentucky were top 10 teams. Hawaii and Purdue were in the Top 20. We’re not there yet.
ON TWO POINT CONVERSIONS
Butch Jones effed up against Florida. Now, we must all become armchair two-point conversion experts. Brian Kelly went for two down 21-9 against Clemson. Notre Dame missed. They ended up having a two-point conversion to tie instead of an extra point, which they also failed. In hindsight, Notre Dame would have been better off kicking the extra points. But, hindsight wasn’t available at the time.
Kelly made the correct decision per the standard chart, in the 4th quarter. Had Notre Dame converted the two-point conversion and everything else happened, they would have won 25-24. If anything, Kelly was not aggressive enough, overruling the chart to kick the extra point after cutting the lead to nine with nine minutes remaining.
Even if Kelly had been conservative and kicked the extra points, Notre Dame would have went to overtime. That would have been a 50/50 prospect with a slight edge to Clemson at home, or roughly the chance of converting a two-point conversion.
Kelly’s decision did not work out. But, it was, at the very least defensible. Not every two-point decision is as cut-and-dry as going for two when a touchdown puts you up 12 in the 4th quarter.
That Michigan Defense: Michigan pitched its second-consecutive shutout 28-0 against Maryland. The Wolverines rank 2nd nationally in yards/play allowed (3.10). They rank 1st in opponent 3rd down conversions (19.44 percent). Over their last 15 quarters of football, Michigan has permitted two red zone trips and seven points. If the Wolverines keep that up…
Kirk Ferentz: Iowa upset Wisconsin 10-6 in Madison to move to 5-0. That was, perhaps, their toughest game this season. The Hawkeyes are capable of disappointment. But, if this team is solid, checks its punctuation and brings the requisite number of life preservers, they may be a win over Northwestern away from an undefeated regular season.
Navy: The Midshipmen joined the AAC. It’s gone well for them so far. They have started 4-0, 2-0 in conference. They dropped Air Force 33-11 last weekend. By one metric they have been a top five team so far. The sails will be full heading into the showdown in South Bend next weekend.
The Mike Riley Era: Nebraska fired Bo Pelini and hired Mike Riley. They have started the year 2-3, after a crushing 14-13 loss to Illinois. The Cornhuskers coughed away a 13-0 lead entering the 4th quarter. Illinois’ final touchdown came after Tommy Armstrong went off script, tried to pass, and stopped the clock with 51 seconds left. Senior captains are acting up. Remember when Nebraska fired Frank Solich because five Top 20 finishes in six years wasn’t good enough?
Tim Beck: Tim Beck replaced Tom Herman. He inherited three Heisman-caliber quarterbacks. Ohio State’s passing game has been putrid. Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett combined rank 57th in yards/attempt and 78th in passer rating. They have produced as many interceptions (7) as touchdowns. The soup is off, and there’s one major ingredient that wasn’t there last year.