Five questions

 

Why do so many one-loss teams suddenly find themselves with renewed playoff hopes?

Three losses by Top 10 teams (No. 2 Clemson, No. 5 Washington and No. 8 Washington State) will have that effect. Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Ohio State and USC were the biggest beneficiaries of the upsets, with flawed outliers Michigan, Michigan State, Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech firmly on the periphery now if they run the table. Overall, five unbeatens went down on Saturday, with Navy and San Diego State included in that group. That leaves eight unbeaten teams: Alabama, Georgia, Miami, Penn State, TCU, UCF, USF and Wisconsin. Only five can finish unbeaten, since Alabama and Georgia would meet in the SEC title game, Penn State-Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game and because UCF and USF play on Nov. 24.

 

Clemson isn’t out of it yet, either. Washington is, however, sabotaged by a horrendously weak schedule. Washington State? It’s a daunting task to hope for a top four finish after a loss as lopsided as the Cougars had to Cal.

 

Have we seen the last of any meaningful football in the Pacific Northwest for this season?

Tim-ber!!! Talk about being chopped down. Despite Nike’s money, Oregon has become run-of-the-mill, falling to 4-3 after a 49-7 loss to Stanford. Oregon State is 1-6 following a 36-33 loss to Colorado, and either Washington or Washington State will now end up with at least a second loss since they play at the end of the season, completely scuttling one team’s hopes for a playoff bid. Those playoff aspirations were not unrealistic before last weekend, since both Washington and Washington State were 6-0 and ranked in the top 10 prior taking the field. Then Washington State was embarrassed by Cal, 37-3, prompting head coach Mike Leach to call his team “pathetic front-runners,” while Washington lost 13-7 at Arizona State in an offensive performance that can only be described as inept. The Huskies have such a soft schedule that a return to the playoffs is now a longshot. Washington State still has to navigate a schedule that features three tough road games – Arizona, Utah and Washington – and Top 25 wannabe Stanford at home.

 

So the short answer is: if Pacific Northwest football is played in the woods but there is no one around, does it make a sound?

 

Why in the world was Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez keeping Khalil White in hiding for the first four games of the season?

Breathtaking is one way to describe the Wildcats’ sophomore quarterback. Dazzling works too. So does Lamar Jackson-like. But it took an injury to starter Brandon Dawkins early in the game against Colorado two weeks ago – with Arizona struggling at 2-2 – for Rich Rod to turn to White. The results: An FBS rushing record for a quarterback with 327 yards, 142 passing yards and five combined touchdowns (four rushing) in a 45-42 victory over Colorado. White followed that up on Saturday by rushing for 230 yards and two TDs while throwing for 148 and a score in a 47-40 victory over UCLA. Dawkins is now college football’s Wally Pipp.

 

Has coach Dino Babers transformed Syracuse into a winner again?

Lost in the Orange’s 3-3 start were a couple of hints that things were changing: a competitive nine-point loss at LSU and a competitive eight-point loss at North Carolina State. Now Babers has a signature win with Saturday’s 27-24 upset of No. 2 Clemson, and the school’s first winning season since 2013 is within reach. The victory also served as a reminder that a coach can have an immediate impact in football, since this is just Babers’ second season. A year ago, the Orange lost 54-0 to Clemson. So drastic improvement is possible in just two years.

 

Hotter coaching hot seat: Tennessee or Nebraska?

It’s a coin flip at this point. Vols’ 15-9 home loss to South Carolina, coming on the heels of a 41-0 home loss to Georgia, has Tennessee at 3-3 overall and 0-3 in SEC play. It also has coach Butch Jones, in year five, at 33-24 overall and 14-21 in conference play. Oh, and the Jones gang travels to Alabama on Saturday. Nebraska was overwhelmed at home in a 56-14 loss to Ohio State, allowing 633 yards and the most points in Lincoln since 1945. That puts the Cornhuskers at 3-4 overall and 2-2 in Big Ten play, with the victories over Arkansas State, Illinois and Rutgers. It also has coach Mike Riley at 18-15 in his third year with Nebraska. That Oregon State opening/homecoming has to look pretty appealing to Riley at this point.

 

On the rise

Army (5-2)

By stopping a late two-point conversion try, Black Knights held on for a 28-27 victory over an Eastern Michigan team that owns a win over a quasi-Big Ten team (Rutgers). That’s three straight victories now for Army.

 

South Florida (6-0)

Bulls’ 33-3 victory over Cincinnati helped them equal the school’s best start (achieved in 2007) and marked the 23rd straight game they have scored 30 points or more, tying the longest such stretch in college history.

 

LSU (5-2)

Guess who’s back and making noise in the SEC again? Tigers’ 27-23 upset of No. 10 Auburn followed a 17-16 victory at Florida. Hot seat? What hot seat for Ed Orgeron?

 

On the decline

Pittsburgh (2-5)

A promising start to Pat Narduzzi’s coaching career – a couple of 8-5 seasons – has become a nightmare in year three, with the Panthers 0-3 in the ACC and still playing musical quarterbacks.

 

Kansas State (3-3)

A 26-6 loss to TCU was the Wildcats’ third in four games – including a head-scratcher to a Vanderbilt team in free fall – and has Bill Snyder’s team at 1-2 in the Big 12 with Oklahoma next.

 

Illinois (2-4)

When you lose at home to Rutgers you’ve bottomed out. Yes, rebuilding Illini are painfully young, but they’re also the Big Ten’s worst team, with suspect coaching and ongoing erratic quarterback play.

 

 

Who’s hot

J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State

Since the loss to Oklahoma, the senior is 99-of-137 (72 percent) with 18 touchdown passes and no interceptions during the Buckeyes’ five-game winning streak.

 

Karan Higdon, RB, Michigan

In the Wolverines’ first five games, the 5-10 junior had 45 carries for 201 yards and two TDs. In Saturday’s 27-20 overtime victory at Indiana, he rushed for 200 yards and three TDs on 25 carries, including the game-winning 25-yard scoring run in OT.

 

A.J. Dillon, RB, Boston College

In a much-needed 45-42 win over Louisville, Dillon rushed for 279 yards and four TDs, setting up the game-winning field goal with a 29-yard run to the Cards’ 10 yard line in the final 30 seconds.

 

Who’s not

Luke Falk, QB, Washington State

After suffering just two interceptions in 252 pass attempts, Falk was picked off five times as the Cougars fell from the unbeaten ranks and the top 10 in a stunning 37-3 loss at Cal.

 

Zach Abey, QB, Navy

Despite rushing for 146 yards and three TDs, the 6-2 junior was guilty of five turnovers (three lost fumbles, two interceptions) as Memphis dealt the Midshipmen their first loss of the year in a 30-27 victory.

 

Jarrett Guarantano, QB, Tennessee

Call his first career start a forgettable one in a 15-9 home loss to South Carolina: 11 of 18 for 133 yards, minus-two yards rushing on 17 carries, three straight incompletions into the end zone in the final 10 seconds.

 

Playing it forward

The top three upcoming games

 

USC (6-1) at Notre Dame (5-1)

One of the country’s best intersectional rivalries – this time with two playoff hopefuls – gets the prime time treatment Saturday night on NBC.

 

Michigan (5-1) at Penn State (6-0)

It’s time to start weeding out the Big Ten East contenders, with this key showdown also going prime time – on ABC.

 

UCF (5-0) at Navy (5-1)

This was expected to be a showdown between two AAC unbeatens until Memphis upset the Midshipmen, but it’s still a good one between cross-division contenders.

 

Story Lines

1. We know what a good offensive mind Louisville coach Bobby Petrino has. But can’t he care just a little bit about defense? Once again, the Cardinals’ inability to stop opponents has turned a promising season into a mediocre one, with Louisville getting steamrolled on the ground in a 45-42 loss to Boston College. That’s four times this year that the Cards have allowed 35 points or more, and why they are 4-3 overall (1-3 in ACC play) despite having a once-in-a-lifetime talent in QB Lamar Jackson. He accounted for 512 yards and five TDs against the Eagles – and it wasn’t enough because Louisville is an average defense at best overall and a bad one against the pass. After going 9-4 last year, Jackson – yes, he won the Heisman despite the defensive failings – has consistently been negated in Petrino’s one-sided system.

 

2. In most years, no one would question the credentials of three unbeaten teams based in Florida – assuming Florida State and Florida were two of them. But that’s not the case this year, with USF (6-0), UCF (5-0) and Miami (5-0) all unbeaten as FSU and the Gators struggle. How good are the unbeaten trio? Tough to say yet, though USF has a rare QB talent in Quintin Flowers. But the Bulls lack a quality win, though UCF – coached by former Nebraska QB Scott Frost – has beaten Maryland and Memphis. Miami has been both lucky and good – but not yet dominant – during its start, beating Florida State and Georgia Tech by a combined five points, both thanks to late-game heroics.

 

3. Funny how the coaching hot seat keeps shifting. Early in the year, Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin looked to be in trouble after the Aggies squandered a 34-point lead in a 45-44 loss to UCLA. But A&M has quietly righted itself, winning for the fifth time in six games by beating Florida 19-17. The only loss during that stretch was a 27-19 defeat to No. 1 Alabama. And by beating the Gators, Sumlin may have put third-year Florida coach Jim McElwain on shaky footing in his third season in the Swamp. The Gators are 3-3 overall, 3-2 in the SEC, and McElwain is 22-11 overall at a school that expects much more. With quarterback issues and a schedule that still includes Georgia, Florida appears minor bowl-bound at best in a wobbly season.

 

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.