Is Stanford’s Bryce Love pulling a Barry Sanders on us?

This is what we knew about Sanders coming off his sophomore season in 1987 at Oklahoma State: He was a dangerous kick returner (leading the nation in that category) and a solid back-up to Thurman Thomas. Then he exploded with a record-breaking season, rushing for 2,628 yards and 39 TDs (his 222-yard, five-TD bowl performance did not count in his stats back then, either) and became the Heisman winner without any of the requisite buildup. Love, who rushed for a school-record 301 yards and three TDs in Stanford’s 34-24 victory over Arizona State on Saturday, is coming off an excellent season (783 yards) that was lost in Christian McCaffery’s enormous shadow. His Heisman hype coming into the year? None. But he has a nation-leading 1,088 rushing yards (averaging 11.1 yards per carry) through five games, putting him on pace to break Sanders’ single-season rushing mark. And, yes, he’s a legitimate Heisman contender now.

 

Has the SEC become too top heavy?

We know how good Alabama is. Georgia is making noise about being a potential playoff contender as well. Auburn? Solid. Texas A& M and Kentucky, both 4-1? The jury is still out. Florida has a quarterback problem now. Tennessee, LSU, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Missouri and Arkansas are all mediocre at best. Remember when quality depth was the SEC’s calling card? It no longer is. Alabama looks untouchable. Georgia, even with a back-up quarterback, looks legitimate. After that, lots of flaws in too many teams. Way back when, folks used to sneeringly refer to the Big Ten (as it was known then) as the Big Two (Ohio State and Michigan) and the Little Eight. The SEC is trending in that direction.

 

If targeting results in an ejection and a suspension for the first half of the next game what should the penalty be for eye-gouging?

That was pretty gruesome to see what Northern Illinois’ Anthony Jones-Davis did to San Diego State star Rashaad Perry at the bottom of a pile following a kickoff return. Cameras caught Jones-Davis reaching into Perry’s helmet to deliberately gouge his eyes, causing Perry to require medical assistance. Aztecs coach Rocky Long was more than understanding about the incident, saying that a lot of ugly stuff happens at the bottom of piles, but that this one just happened to be caught clearly on camera. Kudos to NIU for acting swiftly and appropriately by suspending Jones-Davis for the next game.

 

Which undefeated top 15 team is the next one in danger of being exposed?

Washington State is riding high now – and rightfully so. The Cougars are 5-0 following their 30-27 victory over USC, the program’s first win over a top 5 opponent since 1992. But the reality is that Mike Leach’s team has opened with five home games and now finishes with a stretch of five road games over its final seven. That includes at Oregon, at Cal, at Utah and at Washington, with Stanford at home. It will be telling to see the Cougars navigate that.

 

How much trouble is Butch Jones in at Tennessee?

Reports have his buyout at between $6 million and $8 million, with the total cost for replacing the staff between $11 million and $12 million. That’s a lot of money, even for an SEC school. But Jones is making the big bucks less of an impediment after Saturday’s 41-0 home loss to Georgia – the Vols’ worst home loss since 1905. This is year 5 of the Jones era, and the results have been a 33-23 record with nothing better than a 9-4 season to show for it. Based on the 142 yards Tennessee managed against Georgia, things are getting worse in what should be Jones’ best year. They money is huge, though, because you also have to factor in the cost of a replacement – say, Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, who flirted briefly with Tennessee officials about the job when he was at Rutgers.

 

On the rise

UCF (4-0)

Knights have cracked the Top 25 following their impressive 40-13 victory over previously-unbeaten Memphis – and, yes, Scott Frost, Nebraska is paying attention to what you’re doing.

 

Miami (3-0)

Is the U finally back? That 31-6 rout of Duke was a possible hint. We’ll know for sure when the Hurricanes are done with games against Florida State and Georgia Tech the next two Saturdays.

 

Troy (4-1)

Trojans not only stunned LSU 24-21 in Death Valley, they took home a check for $950K and then taunted the Tigers on Twitter. Ouch.

 

On the decline

Vanderbilt (3-2)

Commodores started 3-0, allowing a total of 13 points over that stretch. The last two games? Two losses, 97 points allowed. Oh, and Georgia is next.

 

Rutgers (1-4)

If the Big Ten’s punching bag can’t win at Illinois on Oct. 14 it may not win again, since Maryland and Indiana would be the only remaining realistic chances after that. And they’re not that realistic.

 

BYU (1-4)

How’s this independent thing working out? Cougars have lost four straight – the most recent to Utah State – and now have issues at quarterback with Boise State next.

 

Who’s hot

Jalen Davis, CB, Utah State

Have yourself a game: The senior had three interceptions, returning two for touchdowns, in the Aggies’ 40-24 victory over BYU.

 

Joel Lanning, LB, Iowa State

His 20 tackles were not enough to prevent a 17-7 loss to Texas – but the remarkable performance came two years after he led the Cyclones to a 24-0 victory over the Longhorns as Iowa State’s quarterback. Yes, quarterback.

 

James Blackman, QB, Florida State

Frosh’s 40-yard touchdown pass to Auden Tate with 53 seconds left prevented an unthinkable 0-3 start for Florida State, giving the Seminoles a 26-19 victory at Wake Forest.

 

Who’s not

Sam Darnold, QB, USC

So much for that Heisman campaign: A pedestrian 15-of-29 for 164 yards with an interception (his eighth, after suffering nine all of last season) in a 30-27 loss at Washington State.

 

Akrum Wadley, RB, Iowa

The Hawkeyes’ top offensive weapon manages just 30 rushing yards on 17 carries as over-paid Kirk Ferentz’ gang lost 17-10 at Michigan State.

 

ESPN

Miami punter Zach Feagles shanked a punt for minus-one yard and we have to see multiple replays of it – including a highlight (lowlight?) on SportsCenter after the game? They just keep lowering the bar in Bristol.

 

Playing it forward

The top three games of the coming week

 

Alabama (5-0) at Texas A&M (4-1)

Hey, it’s a good one on paper at least. Aggies have won four straight, are 2-0 in SEC play and are at home. The problem: This is Alabama. Tide’s defense is no doubt champing at the bit for a crack at hotshot freshman quarterback Kellen Mond.

 

Miami (3-0) at Florida State (1-2)

Despite the Seminoles’ struggles this year this is generally a good one – and a chance for the Hurricanes to further show they’re legit. Florida State has won the past seven meetings in this rivalry.

 

Washington State (5-0) at Oregon (4-1)

Ducks’ sudden QB woes – starter Justin Herbert is out now for four to six weeks and backup Taylor Alie was knocked out in the fourth quarter last week – make this slightly less intriguing, but it’s still the Cougars’ first road test.

 

Story Lines

 

1. Now that LSU is saddled with a mediocre football team after replacing Les Miles with a proven mediocre coach in Ed Orgeron, what options does the school have? Orgeron’s buyout is $12.5 million this year, and he is due $17.5 million overall for the next five years – too exorbitant to consider a move at this point, even after the home loss to Troy. But what did they think they were getting in Baton Rouge in Orgeron? He was 10-25 as the head coach at Ole Miss, 6-2 as the interim at USC (inheriting pretty good talent) and 9-4 in his first season with LSU last year – the type of record that got Miles fired. Now the Tigers are 3-2 and reeling and on the hook for $17.5 million for a guy who may have peaked last year with more inherited talent.

 

2. There was nothing significantly worthy on the surface of Army’s 35-21 victory over 0-5 UTEP, but then this gem emerged: Black Knights QB Ahmad Bradshaw threw his first touchdown pass of the season (in game five). He had played two previous games this year without even completing a pass.

 

3. We remain firmly entrenched on the San Diego State bandwagon after the Aztecs moved to 5-0 with a 34-28 victory over pesky Northern Illinois. San Diego State plays just one team the rest of the way (New Mexico) that currently has a winning record, although the Oct. 14 home game against Boise State will provide a test. It’s looking more and more like a 12-0 regular season, health-permitting, for Rocky Long’s crew.

 

Tom Luicci was the national college football and basketball writer for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. from 1979-2014. The snarkiness is all Jersey.