Never pre-judge a college football schedule on paper. This is the greatest sport on Earth, and you just knew that this past Saturday’s slate would be fun despite not having a slew of Top 25 matchups.
The schedule was odd in that at one point East Carolina-Houston—delayed several hours by weather—was the lone game going on before Hawai’i kicked off.
Let’s open up the notebook and take a look back at Week 8 as we approach the initial College Football Playoff rankings, which will be released a week from Tuesday:
Panthers exorcise their demons
It’s been so fun to watch the strong play of Pittsburgh veteran QB Kenny Pickett, who has taken the Panthers from ACC Coastal division sleeper to potential College Football Playoff crasher if some teams ahead of them suffer a loss. Their lone setback—44-41 to non-MAC power Western Michigan—seems like eons ago and was a product of three turnovers and not possessing the ball all that long. That wasn’t the case this past Saturday against Clemson.
Pickett threw for 302 yards and 2 TDs and used his feet when necessary to help the Panthers beat Clemson 27-17, almost ensuring that the Tigers will see their run atop the ACC Atlantic division come to an end. Pat Narduzzi’s squad has been one of the best stories of the season, and there’s no doubt that Pickett enjoyed his “cold one” after the game. The Panthers can’t let up this week against a Miami (FL) team that surprised NC State this past week, but they are in position to become the first Coastal division team to win the league since 2010.
The historic 9-OT game
Okay, so the overtime rules have changed. But Saturday’s 9-OT, 20-18 thriller between Illinois and Penn State was a great way to kick off the day. Nittany Lions QB Sean Clifford, who was injured in the second quarter of the team’s loss at Iowa, was clearly not 100 percent and looked uncomfortable against the Illini, whose effort on defense had something to do with his uneven play as well. But what happened to PSU’s ground game? Noah Cain and Co. had 23 carries for just 88 yards, which put even more pressure on a wounded Clifford. It won’t be a Big Ten title season for PSU, but James Franklin and OC Mike Yurcich need to go back to the drawing board and find some solutions on the ground to make life easier for Clifford and try to finish the season on a high note after not being able to win the NCAA’s first-ever 9-OT contest.
Oregon was able to escape the Rose Bowl with a 34-31 win over UCLA after the Bruins hosted ESPN’s College GameDay. Mario Cristobal’s squad entered ranked No. 10 but was not playing great football since its big win at Ohio State in Week 2. While the Ducks still have a lot of work to do, they at least remain positioned to be in the College Football Playoff mix if they run the table. The head-to-head win over the Buckeyes remains perhaps the best win of the season when compared to other contenders.
Here’s my latest Top 25:
An early glance at Week 9
No. 6 Michigan-No. 8 Michigan State
No. 9 Iowa-Wisconsin
Texas-No. 16 Baylor
Miami (FL)-No. 17 Pittsburgh
No. 22 Iowa State-West Virginia
No. 1 Georgia-Florida
Texas Tech-No. 4 Oklahoma
UL Monroe-Appalachian State
No. 10 Ole Miss-No. 18 Auburn
No. 12 Kentucky-Mississippi State
No. 19 SMU-Houston
No. 20 Penn State-No. 5 Ohio State
North Carolina-No. 11 Notre Dame
Virginia-No. 25 BYU
Fresno State-No. 21 San Diego State
*Things are not pretty in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech allowed Syracuse to score 14 points in the final 2:28—including a Garrett Shrader to Damien Alford TD with :19 left—as the Hokies fell 41-36. Despite Malachi Thomas leading the way with 151 rushing yards and 3 TDs, VT lost its third straight game. It was another lost late lead for the Hokies, and it could be the final nail in the coffin for the Justin Fuente era. After Syracuse’s final score, Hokie fans started a “Fire Fuente” chant, and it’s at the point in which AD Whit Babcock has to make a change. VT lost its third game in a row, and it’s in danger of a third losing season in the past four.
*Speaking of potential coaching changes, Texas Tech led by 14 points on three different occasions while trying to win back-to-back Big 12 games for the first time under head coach Matt Wells. But the Red Raiders couldn’t get past K-State at home, and now Wells has his back firmly against the wall.
*After a rough abbreviated winless 2020 campaign, Thomas Hammock has Northern Illinois at 6-2 and unbeaten in the MAC heading into an off week. Rocky Lombardi threw for 320 yards and 3 TDs and helped set up a go-ahead field goal with under a minute to go to give the Huskies a 39-38 victory over Central Michigan after trailing 35-18 early in the second half. NIU won its fifth straight to remain the only MAC squad without a conference loss.
*Another great coaching effort is taking place in El Paso, where Dana Dimel and his staff have UTEP sitting at 6-1 behind solid defense and enough offense. Don’t look now but the Miners vs. UTSA on November 6 could be really big—perhaps GameDay big?
*Wake Forest moved to 7-0 for the second time in school history and is the favorite to win the ACC’s Atlantic division after a 70-56 (!!!) win at Army behind QB Sam Hartman, who threw for a career-high 458 yards and 5 TDs. Hartman completed 23 of 29 passes and connected on scoring throws of 41, 54 and 75 yards (twice). As a Heisman voter, I see you Mr. Hartman. A win over Duke this week puts Wake at 8-0 ahead of the release of the first CFP rankings.
*Ohio State is fielding an improved defense and a healthy C.J. Stroud surrounded by a plethora of playmakers. Look out. After sitting out of the game against Akron to rest his shoulder, this offense has been in sync as the Buckeyes have had four consecutive games with 50 or more points.
*Caleb Williams did not look very good in the first half of Oklahoma’s road tilt against Kansas, although the Sooners’ poor play was really across the board. But, when it mattered most, the freshman converted key fourth downs and broke off a 40-yard TD run to help OU rally and avoid what would have been an incredible upset at the same time Illinois was taking down Penn State in Happy Valley. OU trailed by double figures twice—including 10-0 at the half—but outscored the Jayhawks 35-13 in the second half to win its 16th straight game. Lincoln Riley’s squad was very lucky it was playing Kansas (sorry, Jayhawks) because this was by far its worst performance of the season.
*Offense hasn’t been a problem for TCU this season. Shockingly enough, defense has been an issue. The Horned Frogs are 3-4 and in danger of missing out on the postseason despite an improved offensive unit. But the defense has been leaky, and injuries have led to depth issues.
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