Five questions

Did we just witness a couple of examples that help differentiate great teams from merely good ones?

There’s a reason Alabama and Clemson are unbeaten and ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively. Both were on the type of roll entering Saturday that made a national championship rematch seem inevitable. The Tide had outscored two straight opponents by a 125-3 margin. The Tigers had easily handled Louisville, BC and Virginia Tech. But both were listless this past weekend, with Alabama slogging to a 27-19 victory at Texas A&M and Clemson yawning its way through a 28-14 win over Wake Forest. The key is that they won. The same can’t be said for playoff wannabes Oklahoma and Michigan, who both found a way to lose at home – and with it any chance at greatness. It’s nothing new for either program. Oklahoma’s 38-31 loss to Iowa State – as a 30½-point favorite – marked the seventh straight year the Sooners have lost as a double-digit favorite. Michigan’s 14-10 loss to Michigan State was its eighth defeat in 10 years to the Spartans and dropped Jim “Why Can’t I Beat My Rivals?” Harbaugh to 1-4 against Michigan State and Ohio State.

 

What’s going on with all of these high-profile quarterback injuries?

Whether it’s an aberration or the start of a trend, the reality is that quarterbacks are dropping like they never have before – and the effects are being felt across the country and in the Top 25 Polls. Florida State, Oregon, Georgia, Florida, Maryland, Michigan and Notre Dame are among the marquee programs affected so far. And Clemson’s Kelly Bryant (sprained ankle) was last seen Saturday in a boot after leaving the game against Wake Forest early. Will it force coaches to re-think the risk/reward of having a quarterback who is also a running threat (something the NFL discovered a long time ago)? It might be time to do so, or it could be that schools will have to pull a Georgia and have two capable quarterbacks ready to go. That formula served Ohio State well a few years ago, too, when J.T. Barrett went down and Cardale Jones took over. It’s something worth considering given all the quarterback injuries thus far.

 

So ESPN can dish it out but can’t take it?

Kirk Herbstreit is arguably the best in the business, always prepared and professional, but there was no need for him to get on his soap box just because Washington coach Chris Petersen was critical of late starts for TV. Herbstreit shed his objectivity by claiming that he has been “an advocate for the Pac-12 … for the past 20 years” and that Pac-12 schools “should be thanking ESPN.” Come on, Kirk. ESPN is in a business deal with the Pac-12. ESPN benefits too. But it’s ok for the network to dish it out by placing three cupcakes on the turf at Washington to represent the Huskies’ non-conference schedule (Montana, Rutgers and Fresno State)? Childish stuff. Oh, and a memo to Mark Jones, who did the play by play for the Washington-Cal game and whined at one point that Petersen “didn’t have much time for us this week:” No one cares if your job is difficult. Certainly not the folks watching who have real jobs. So just do it and do it professionally, without the whining.

 

If Joel Lanning played for a more high-profile program would he be a Heisman candidate?

Knock one: He plays at Iowa State. Knock two: He plays linebacker. Well, most of the time, anyway. And if the best Troy Davis could do was finish fifth and second in the Heisman voting after consecutive 2,000-yard rushing seasons what chance does the Cyclones’ 6-2, 230-pound fifth-year senior have?  But the converted quarterback sure is fun to watch. He had eight tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery in Iowa State’s 38-31 upset of Oklahoma, and also rushed for 35 yards and passed for 25 during his cameo at QB. In last week’s 17-7 loss to Texas he had 20 tackles. Two years ago, he was Iowa State’s quarterback in a 24-0 victory over Texas.

 

Is it just us, or is UCF’s Scott Frost looking more like the next Nebraska coach with each passing week?

The former Cornhuskers quarterback has UCF off to its first 4-0 start since 1988 – when the program was still Division 2. A year before he took over, the Knights were 0-12. That became a 6-7 record in Frost’s first season a year ago. Now the Knights are unbeaten and ranked while Frost’s alma mater continues to struggle. The latest: A 38-17 home loss to Wisconsin, with Ohio State next. Nebraska is 3-3 under Mike Riley and looks very much like a 6-6 team at best.

 

On the rise

Michigan State (4-1)

Sure, the Spartans look as if they’re stuck in 1960s football at times, but they’ve beaten Iowa and Michigan in consecutive weeks and are ranked now. A nice bounce back year for Mark Dantonio after last year’s 3-9 disaster.

Stanford (4-2)

After a tough 1-2 start – with the losses to USC and San Diego State – Cardinal has rebounded to beat UCLA, Arizona State and Utah (on the road Saturday) in the past three. This team is still a factor in the Pac-12 North race.

Notre Dame (5-1)

Time to give the Irish their due. They’ve re-invented themselves with the running game and the only loss was by a point to Georgia. But the next two games (after a bye this Saturday) will be telling: USC and NC State at home.

 

On the decline

Louisville (4-2)

Lamar Jackson might be the most dynamic player in the country, but Bobby Petrino hasn’t provided enough defensive talent to help the reigning Heisman winner out. That’s why the Cards can’t beat top tier teams.

Minnesota (3-2)

In the Land of 10,000 Lakes there aren’t enough oars to help P.J. Fleck row this boat. Golden Gophers have lost consecutive Big Ten games after a 3-0 start and have Michigan State next.

Colorado (3-3)

From first to worst in the Pac-12 South. Buffs’ losing streak is at three straight following an inexplicable home loss to Arizona, when they allowed a backup quarterback to run roughshod over them. They’re 0-3 in league play now.

 

Who’s hot

Khalil Tate, QB, Arizona

In relief of injured starter Brandon Dawkins, he rushed for an FBS QB record 327 yards (and four TDs) and passed for 142 and a score in an upset victory of Colorado.

Malik Rosier, QB, Miami

He calmly drove the Hurricanes 75 yards in nine plays over the final 1:24, capping things with the game-winning 23-yard touchdown pass to Darrell Langham with six seconds left as Miami ended its seven-year losing streak to Florida State and remained unbeaten.

Kyle Kempt, QB, Iowa State

Passed for 343 yards and three TDs, highlighted by the 25-yard game-winner with 2:19 to play, in the Cyclones’ upset of Oklahoma – the program’s second victory over the Sooners since 1961.

 

Who’s not

John O’Korn, QB, Michigan

If only he could play Rutgers every week. Fifth-year senior fill-in threw three second-half interceptions as Michigan’s offense stalled in the rain in a 14-10 home loss to Michigan State.

Jeff George Jr., QB, Illinois

A mostly forgettable first start for the son of the former Illini QB standout. He didn’t throw a TD pass and was intercepted three times in a 45-16 loss to Iowa. That puts him ahead of dad’s college pace: 35 INTs in 34 career games.

Austin Allen, QB, Arkansas

Talk about plummeting stock. He was 12-of-24 for 84 yards, had a fumble returned 75 yards for a score and threw a pick six in a 48-22 loss to South Carolina.

 

Playing it forward

The top three games of the coming week

 

Georgia Tech (3-1) at Miami (4-0)

Time for a little separation in the ACC Coastal Division, though 5-1 Virginia Tech is hanging around. Miami’s defense has had the upper hand in slowing Techs triple option just enough for Canes victories in seven of the past eight meetings.

Oklahoma (4-1) at Texas (3-2)

Longhorns have won two straight to get back on track and intend to keep this rivalry interesting game – which it always seems to be. Sooners need a huge bounce back after the stunning loss to Iowa State.

Auburn (5-1) at LSU (4-2)

It’s impossible to figure out LSU. One week Ed Orgeron’s team is losing at home to Troy. The next week it wins at Florida. Auburn’s only loss so far was a 14-6 defeat at Clemson. The winner sets its sights on Alabama.

 

Story Lines

1. This is why people who enjoy college football love the MAC (this and the upsets the league consistently springs on the big boys): Western Michigan 71, Buffalo 68 in seven overtimes. Western won it on Jarvion Franklin’s 12-yard touchdown run. It marked the fourth seven OT game in FBS history (first since 2006) and highest-scoring game ever.

2. How does Navy do it? The Midshipmen, initially hesitant to join the AAC because of a forced schedule that school officials feared would take a toll, improved to 5-0 with a 48-45 victory over Air Force. Zach Abey, who rushed for 214 yards and two TDs, tossed the game-winning 16-yard touchdown pass with 15 seconds left after Navy squandered a 21-point second half lead. The Navy-Air Force winner has gone on to win the Commander-in-Chief Trophy every year since 1997.

3. There are ways to get off the winless schneid and then there’s this: Bowling Green held a 30-29 lead over Miami of Ohio but was in serious danger of falling to 0-6 in the final  two minutes with the Red Hawks perched at the one-yard line and about to go in for the go-ahead score. But a bad snap that bounced off the up back was scooped up by Bowling Green linebacker Brandon Harris, who raced 93 yards for a touchdown and a 37-29 Bowling Green lead (and victory) with 1:21 remaining.

 

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.