Say this for college football: Through two weeks it hasn’t failed to deliver. Virtually every top team in the country has played at least one marquee opponent and – as early as it is – it seems we have a much better feel for the national scene two weeks in than in years past. In case you missed it, here is our top 25 after two weeks.
What are the biggest takeaways after two Saturdays of college football? Here are five:
1) Ohio State isn’t technically done … but honestly, Buckeyes are done
All offseason long, as everyone in the college football media continued to praise the Buckeyes, continued to rank them no worse than No. 2 in their polls, and continued to tout J.T. Barrett as a Heisman contender, I couldn’t help but scream from the mountaintops:
Am I the only one who remembered last year? How the Buckeyes’ offense stagnated down the stretch, needed a missed 2-point conversion to beat Michigan State, then was one yard away from losing to Michigan and got shut out in the playoff?
At times it felt like I was taking crazy pills.
Regardless, whatever everyone was missing a few weeks ago was confirmed on Saturday night for the whole world to see: Ohio State just isn’t good on offense. Yes, some credit has to go to Oklahoma’s defense in a 31-16 win over the Buckeyes, but again, the numbers don’t lie and the Buckeyes were abysmal. J.T. Barrett tossed for just 183 yards (5.2 yards per play). It once again looks like Ohio State doesn’t have playmakers in the pass game. Heck, had J.K. Dobbins not bailed them out in Week 1 (he had 181 yards rushing), it isn’t impossible to think the Buckeyes would have lost to Indiana.
Therefore, while it’s only September 10, I’m ready to make a proclamation: It’s over for Ohio State. By technicality their playoff hopes aren’t done, but they would also have to run the table against a loaded schedule that includes Penn State, Michigan and a Big Ten title game appearance (likely against Wisconsin). If we’re being honest, other teams such as Michigan State and Maryland look tougher on paper than they did when the schedule came out. It just feels really hard to believe – based on what we’ve seen the last five or so games dating back to last year – that Ohio State can go 11-0 against that schedule.
In the larger context, you have to wonder how long it will be until Urban Meyer has to at least consider a quarterback switch. Barrett has done nothing “wrong” per se, but it’s clear he’s incapable of throwing the deep ball, making the Buckeyes’ offense predictable and easy to defend. Only Meyer knows what he has on the bench behind Barrett, but at some point he must consider his other options, right?
2) Kirby Smart has his signature win
I’ll be honest: Over the last few years, there were few guys I was more critical of than Kirby Smart. In my defense, the combination of his hair (it looks like mine on my first day of kindergarten), sideline demeanor (more coordinator than head coach), disdain for the media, and mediocrity last year played into it. Keep in mind that despite that 8-5 record, the Bulldogs lost to Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech and needed come-from-behind wins over Missouri and Nicholls, with a last-second field goal against Kentucky for a victory. So yeah, you can understand why I was dubious.
Well, I am dubious no more. Smart got his signature win at Notre Dame on Saturday night.
Understand that the Irish team we saw on Saturday is better than its 4-8 record last year. Brandon Wimbush is a solid quarterback, there are weapons on offense, and the defense has at least a handful of guys who will play on Sundays. Despite playing a true freshman at quarterback, Smart’s club still went on the road and got a win (even if it wasn’t a “traditional” road game, since half the stadium was wearing red).
In the short term, Smart has his signature win (as well as a promise from me that I’ll stop making fun of his hair going forward). In the bigger picture, do we finally have another team that can threaten Alabama in the SEC title chase?
3) Clemson’s defense is once again filthy
If you didn’t watch the Auburn-Clemson game closely (and how could you, with Georgia-Notre Dame, Oklahoma-Ohio State, and Stanford-USC all going on at the same time), it would have been easy to look at the box score, see the results and say, “I guess Auburn isn’t very good again.” But if you watched closely you realized something else altogether: Clemson’s defense is once again insanely good, specifically on the defensive line.
On a night when Clemson knew it probably couldn’t expect a huge performance from its own offense (going against a solid Auburn defense in its own right), Brent Venables’ unit stepped up, limiting Auburn to just 117 yards of total offense. Even more incredibly, Auburn – which returned the SEC’s best rushing attack – was limited to just 38 yards on the ground, or 0.9 yards per rush. In the process, Dexter Lawrence, Clelin Ferrell and Christian Wilkins proved they once again might be not only the best defensive line in the ACC, but all of college football.
I honestly can’t believe I’m saying it, but even without Deshaun Watson, the Tigers are every bit the playoff contender they were in previous years. This year it won’t be the offense that carries them, but the defense.
4) “What could have been” at Texas A&M
Poor Texas A&M once again limped around on Saturday night. Just a few days after an epic collapse against UCLA on Sunday, the Aggies held on for a 24-14 victory over Nicholls in a game which was tied in the fourth quarter. True freshman Kellen Mond was respectable, completing 12 of 21 passes for 105 yards. However it’s clear that this offense has a long way to go.
What made Saturday even tougher for the Aggies was that while they were forced to throw a true freshman in at quarterback, former Texas A&M QBs thrived throughout college football. Kyle Allen (the former No. 1-ranked high school QB in the country) helped Houston to a 19-16 victory over Arizona, while Kenny Hill (the 2014 opening-night starter) went 21 of 31 for 166 yards as TCU pulled off a win against Arkansas. Even Kyler Murray – who spent time splitting reps with Allen in 2015 – got into the act for Oklahoma, with one carry for nine yards in an upset over Ohio State.
Admittedly, Mond (a 5-star recruit in his own right) will be good in time, but the Aggies sure could have used any one of those three last night.
5) The hot seat is heating up in the desert — and across college football
While most of you were sleeping Saturday night (or more likely watching the end of that wild Boise State-Wazzu game), things took a turn for the interesting in Arizona. There, within mere minutes of each other, Arizona lost at home to Houston and Arizona State lost at home to San Diego State. While those losses aren’t terrible in a vacuum – both the Cougars and Aztecs are great Group of Five programs – they didn’t temper hot seat talk for either coach at those respective schools.
We already told you that both Rich Rodriguez and Todd Graham were on the hot seat entering this season, and these were the exact kinds of losses neither could afford to have. Sadly things won’t get any easier.
Check this out: After a game against Texas Tech next week (which won’t be easy in its own right), Arizona State opens Pac-12 play with an unforgiving gauntlet of Oregon, at Stanford, Washington, at Utah and USC, with four of those teams in our new top 25. Arizona has more of a manageable path, with Utah, at Colorado and UCLA to open things up.
Overall, it felt like a pretty bad day to be on the hot seat. In addition to Rodriguez and Graham, Brian Kelly lost at Notre Dame, Gus Malzahn at Auburn, and Bret Bielema laid an egg against TCU, which sent his fan base into a fury. Kevin Sumlin didn’t help matters with that narrow win for Texas A&M.
If you’re a Group of Five coach, get your resume ready. You might be getting a call from a Power Five school soon.