Hey college football fans, I have some good news and some bad news. Since I’m an eternal optimist, let’s do the bad news first, and here it is: Several teams have already reached the halfway point of their season (speaking of which, congratulations to Alabama and Clemson on clinching bowl eligibility Saturday. Glad their fans don’t have to sweat things out down the stretch of the season).
The good news is that we’re finally starting to get a real feel for not only how this season is unfolding, but for how it will continue to do so going forward.
Here are five takeaways from Week 6, and what they mean for the big picture:
1) Michigan’s problems (specifically on offense) aren’t going to fix themselves overnight, or maybe at all this season
Sometimes college football fans can’t see the forest through the trees, so I wasn’t totally surprised at the reaction Saturday night when Michigan lost to Michigan State 14-10. That reaction was pretty predictable and went something like this: “Of course Michigan lost. Jim Harbaugh is the most overrated coach in the sport!”
First off, stop. Jim Harbaugh is not overrated. But, I do think Michigan has big problems. And I don’t necessarily see how they get fixed this season.
Specifically the problem lies on offense. The Wolverines just can’t get things figured out, especially at quarterback. It’s incredible to me that Harbaugh – a guy who developed Andrew Luck and turned Colin Kaepernick into a competent NFL quarterback – is now in his third season and just can’t get the position right. He milked everything he could out of Jake Ruddock in Year 1, but it has been all downhill since as Wilton Speight and John O’Korn just aren’t good enough to beat quality teams and defenses. Saturday against Michigan State was more proof — O’Korn went just 16 of 35 and Michigan as a whole barely cracked 300 total yards of offense. Sure, you can blame some of it on the rain in the second half. But in the first half the weather was fine and Michigan couldn’t do much on offense either.
And really that leads to a bigger question: Is there any way for Michigan to fix its offensive woes this season? It doesn’t feel like it. The Wolverines rank 84th nationally in total offense and 75th in passing yards through five games. At this point in the season you kind of “are who you are” and right now the Wolverines can’t move the ball at all through the air.
It also leads to this question: If the Wolverines couldn’t beat Michigan State at home, why should we believe that they can beat the Big Ten’s best (Penn State, Ohio State and Wisconsin) going forward?
2) Chris Petersen might have a point on Washington’s schedule
Last week Washington coach Chris Petersen made national headlines when he basically blamed ESPN and the Pac-12 for putting the Huskies’ games on so late at night. The Huskies didn’t kick off until 10:45 ET on Saturday, a time when most people on the East Coast are either headed to bed, headed out for the evening or have maybe had a few too many beverages and can’t appreciate the good football on their screens.
Either way, Petersen might be onto something. Does anyone realize how well the Huskies are playing? It doesn’t seem like it.
That’s because while Alabama, Clemson and Georgia are consistently mentioned as the best teams in the sport, no one bothers to discuss Washington, which has been just as good this season. On the year the Huskies are 6-0 and have been especially good in league play, holding their three conference opponents (Colorado, Oregon State and Cal) to an average of just eight points per game.
And really, that has been the surprising thing about Washington. We knew the Huskies’ offense would be good (and it has been) but the surprise has been the defense. After losing three players in the first two rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft off that unit, the Huskies are somehow better. They rank second nationally in total defense, and lead the Pac-12 in both total defense and scoring defense.
Admittedly, Washington has not exactly played the toughest competition, and with a murder’s row down the stretch (Oregon, at Stanford, Utah and Washington State) to close out the year we’ll find out just how good this team is. But for now, this team is definitely being slept on – literally.
3) Notre Dame is the best team no one is talking about
I’m not sure whether people don’t like coach Brian Kelly or they think Notre Dame is overrated (because as a general rule it is perpetually overrated) but I’m shocked at how little notice the Irish are getting. Notre Dame is 5-1, already surpassing last year’s win total, yet it feels like no one is talking about the Fighting Irish. And I’m not sure exactly why. Their resume gets more impressive by the week.
Seriously, think about it. For starters, they’re 5-1 and their one loss was by one point to Georgia. Considering how fantastic the Bulldogs have been, that loss looks better by the week. Notre Dame’s best win also looks WAY better today; remember, the Irish beat Michigan State by three touchdowns on Sept. 23 in East Lansing.
So why isn’t Kelly’s team getting respect? I’m not entirely sure, but the Irish will have the chance to earn it. The back end of the schedule all of a sudden looks daunting, with traditional rivals USC, Stanford and Navy to come (combined record of 14-3 overall) and games against N.C. State and Miami look tougher today than just a few weeks ago. If they can somehow sweep that stretch, they will have a very strong case for the College Football Playoff. Even a 9-3 or 10-2 finish would be a vast improvement over last season.
4) Kevin Sumlin is going to have every opportunity to keep his job
There’s an old saying that “once you get on the hot seat you never really get off of it,” but Kevin Sumlin is going to have a chance to prove that wrong. The Aggies are playing well, and if they simply take care of the teams they’re supposed to – which hasn’t always been easy under Sumlin – he will be back for a seventh season in College Station.
For starters, give the Aggies credit for the way they played Saturday night against Alabama. A&M fell down 24-3 early in the third quarter against the Crimson Tide but continued to battle back, and incredibly, would have had a chance to tie the score late had they converted an onside kick. They didn’t, but it was clearly a pretty even game; the Aggies had the same number of first downs as Bama (16), were just barely outgained (355 yards to 308) and lost a one-possession game in which they had three turnovers. The simple truth is that A&M played their butts off in the second half and deserve credit for it.
Now to the bigger question: Can the Aggies do something they haven’t been able to do in the Sumlin era, and finish strong? Their remaining schedule includes games at Florida, Ole Miss and LSU, with home games against Mississippi State, Auburn and New Mexico. A 9-3 finish is absolutely in play. I also think 8-4, depending on the two losses, could save Sumlin as well.
Simply, if Sumlin just wins the games on the schedule he should he will be back for another season. But after watching so many seasons where the Aggies start strong but fall apart late, is there really reason to believe that A&M can win the games they’re supposed to?
5) Every one-loss team in a Power 5 conference should feel good
It’s always important to remember that the college football season is a marathon, not a sprint. And that’s especially the case in the playoff era, where a one-loss team has gone on to win the championship in all three seasons. It’s also why Power 5 teams which are undefeated or have one loss should feel good at this point.
Looking at the one-loss teams, it feels like Ohio State is in the best position going forward. The Buckeyes are absolutely rolling and have won their past four games by an average of 42 points. Forty-two! Right now an easy case could be made that Ohio State is the best team in the Big Ten, but the Buckeyes have the chance to prove it late. They play at Nebraska next week, followed by a bye and a matchup with Penn State.
In the Pac-12 USC is in great shape, despite losing at Washington State last week. The Trojans are the class of a watered-down Pac-12 South, and if they can get by Utah this week should cruise to the Pac-12 title game. I’d like USC’s odds there against whoever they would face, even Washington. In the Big 12 Oklahoma and Oklahoma State still have their seasons ahead of them, and it’s the same with Auburn in the SEC. Don’t let that loss to Clemson fool you; coach Gus Malzahn’s club is darn good. And with Georgia and Alabama left on the schedule the Tigers have everything in front of them.
Ultimately, about 15 teams or so are firmly in the playoff mix. And it will be fascinating to see how it all unfolds in the coming weeks.
- What AP Top-25 poll should look like after Week 6
- 5 things we learned from Michigan’s loss to Michigan State
- 5 things we learned from Notre Dame’s win over North Carolina