Five questions

What can be expected when the first college football playoff rankings are released Tuesday night?

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Alabama and Georgia will be 1-2 – and in either order. After that is where the playoff committee will begin to earn its money. Here’s how it shakes out at the moment: There are two other unbeaten power 5 teams (Miami and Wisconsin) but neither has shown enough yet to warrant the No. 3 or No. 4 spots. Miami has beaten its past four opponents by a total of 18 points and has Virginia Tech and Notre Dame the next two weekends. Wisconsin has fattened up against a schedule with a combined 29-37 record.

That means Nos. 3 and 4 will likely come from one of nine one-loss teams with a case to state. Among those, Notre Dame has the best credentials with three wins over Top 25 teams. Clemson, Virginia Tech, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Penn State and Washington all have their eyes on that No. 4 spot. For now, I’d give it to Oklahoma, which has beaten Ohio State and has a quality loss (to vastly-improved Iowa State). The Sooners are at Oklahoma State on Saturday so they can make or break their chances then.

 

Based on both the season to this point and Saturday’s results, who are the top five overpaid coaches in the country?

USA Today recently released its annual coaches’ salary report. So we’ll use that as the basis for this. In order of salary, the five guys not earning their keep this fall are Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher (2-5 record, $5.7 million annually); Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin (5-3, $5 million); Florida’s Jim McElwain (3-4, $4.4 million); Tennessee’s Butch Jones (3-5, $4.1 million), and Utah’s Kyle Whittingham (4-4, $3.8 million). All five lost on Saturday.

 

With all the attention in the state of Florida on the success that Miami, UCF and USF are enjoying – and the nightmare campaigns Florida and Florida State are in the midst of – have we lost track of the jobs being done by Butch Davis at FIU and Lane Kiffin at FAU?

The well-travelled Davis has FIU out to the best start in school history at 5-2 overall and 3-1 in Conference USA, with the Panthers posting a 41-30 road victory Saturday over a Marshall team that had been 6-1. Kiffin, equally itinerant, has FAU off to a 5-3 start following a 42-28 victory over Western Kentucky. The Owls’ best start since 2007 includes a 4-0 mark in the East Division of Conference USA.

 

Why is betting on college football so dangerous to your health and mental well-being?

Call this Exhibit A through Z and let it serve as yet another friendly reminder. UCF scored 73 points and won handily over Austin Peay on Saturday in a 73-33 romp. One problem if you bet the Knights: They were favored by 41. When does a team ever score 73 and not cover? Why, just last Saturday.

 

Has the race for the Heisman Trophy taken a sudden and surprising twist?

Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett had been on the periphery of the Heisman race until his signature game on Saturday, when he rallied the Buckeyes to a 39-38 victory over No. 2-ranked Penn State. It was as good a game as you will ever see from a quarterback, given the circumstances: 33-of-39 for 328 yards and four TD passes, as well as 95 rushing yards. Barrett completed his final 16 passes and was 13-of-13 for 170 yards and three TDs in the fourth quarter when Ohio State needed him. On the flip side, Nittany Lions RB Saquon Barkley – the Heisman frontrunner entering the weekend – showed up for just two plays: A 97-yard kickoff return and a 36-yard touchdown run. He finished with 44 rushing yards on 21 carries and three catches for 24 yards.

Meanwhile, emerging as strong candidates, especially with Stanford RB Bryce Love sitting out Friday’s game against Oregon State with an ankle injury, were Notre Dame running back Josh Adams (202 rushing yards and a touchdown in a victory over N.C. State) and Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson, last year’s Heisman winner, is having a terrific year statistically but the Cards are a mediocre team once again. That won’t fly two straight years with voters.

And Arizona QB Khalil Tate looks as if he is laying the foundation for a 2018 run at the sport’s most coveted individual trophy.

 

On the rise

Iowa State (6-2)

How much better can this season get for the surprising Cyclones? They’ve beaten two Top 5 teams and are in a four-way tie for first in the Big 12 – with victories over two of those other three teams.

Mississippi State (6-2)

Early losses to Georgia and Auburn seem like ancient history. Bulldogs extended their winning streak to three games with a 35-14 victory at Texas A&M on Saturday.

Boise State (6-2)

Broncos have recovered nicely from a rocky 2-2 start by winning four straight. They’re in firm control of the Mountain West’s Mountain Division at 4-0 too.

 

On the decline

College football in the state of Utah

BYU finally ended its seven-game losing streak by beating 1-7 San Jose State on Saturday, improving to 2-8. Utah (4-4) has lost four straight and Utah State fell to 4-5 after getting routed 41-14 by Boise State. Ski season has long been underway.

Eastern Michigan (2-6)

Though the Eagles have been competitive all year, with their losses by a combined 23 points, they’ve lost six straight since their “signature” win over Rutgers on Sept. 9.

Minnesota (4-4)

P.J. Fleck’s days as the new darling coach of the Big Ten after the 3-0 start are over. Gophers have lost three of four, with their only victory in that stretch over hapless Illinois.

 

Who’s hot

J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State

It bears repeating: 13-of-13 for 170 yards and three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to rally the Buckeyes to a 39-38 victory over No. 2 Penn State.

Greg Dortch, WR, Wake Forest

Okay, okay so it happened against Louisville’s matador defense. But Dortch set a school record with four touchdown catches (10 receptions overall for 170 yards overall) in a 42-32 victory over the Cards. A fifth TD catch was lost when he fumbled just before the goal line, resulting in a touchback.

Stephen Johnson, QB, Kentucky

His 11-yard touchdown run with 33 seconds left and ensuing two-point conversion pass lifted the Wildcats to a 29-26 victory over Tennessee, making Kentucky bowl eligible again at 6-2.

 

Who’s not

New Mexico quarterbacks

Tekava Turotti and Lamar Jordan combined for 69 passing yards and five interceptions in a 42-3 loss to Wyoming.

Will Grier, QB, West Virginia

The nation’s TD passing leader flopped on the big stage at home against Oklahoma State, suffering four interceptions while seeing his streak of 300-yard passing games end at seven.

Kenny Hill, QB, TCU

His interception with 1:16 left in a 14-7 game, along with two red zone turnovers, may wind up leaving the Horned Frogs on the outside looking in of the playoff picture. He was just 12-of-25 for 135 yards too.

 

Playing it forward

The top three games of the coming week

Oklahoma (7-1) at Oklahoma State (7-1)

Yes, it’s time for Bedlam. This one could serve as an elimination game in the Big 12 championship game quest. Great QB match-up too, with Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph.

Virginia Tech (7-1) at Miami (7-0)

The winner will likely wind up as the ACC’s Coast Division champ, which means a spot in the league title game. Hokies’ only loss was to Clemson; Hurricanes have won their last four by a combined 24 points.

LSU (6-2) at Alabama (8-0)

Both teams took the week off to prepare for this. Tide does not have many regular-season tests left, so this could be as good as any until the Auburn game, with LSU having won three straight since that inexplicable home loss to Troy.

 

Two others to keep an eye on:

Clemson (7-1) at North Carolina State (6-2)

Arizona (6-2) at USC (7-2).

 

Story Lines

 

1. Sometimes merely changing quarterbacks can make all the difference to a team. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh saw that on Saturday when he inserted redshirt freshman Brandon Peters into an offense that had been lethargic under John O’Korn. Peters helped the Wolverines to a 35-14 victory over Rutgers. Washington State coach Mike Leach tried the move as well, replacing ineffective record-setting Luke Falk with youngster Tyler Hilinski. It wasn’t enough for the Cougars to avoid a 58-37 loss to Arizona, but Hilinksi was 46-of-61 for 509 yards and two TDs, also rushing for two scores. And Houston turned to soph D’Eriq King for his first extensive action on Saturday against USF. All King did was drive the Cougars for the game-winning score, capping it with a 20-yard run with 11 seconds left, in a 28-24 upset.

But the biggest impact of any QB change this year remains Arizona’s Khalil Tate. Since taking over as the starter four games ago, Tate is 4-0 and has combined for 1,583 offensive yards and 14 touchdowns. And the Wildcats have gone from a wobbly 2-2 to a Pac-12 title threat at 6-2 overall. Saturday was a typical Tate game: 10-of-17 for 275 yards and two days with 146 rushing yards and a score. He has a 70-yard run (or longer) in four straight games.

2. For the three military academies, this is probably as close to the good old days as they’re ever going to get again. For the second straight year, Army, Navy and Air Force all have a shot at making a bowl game. Before 2016 the three had managed winning records in the same season just twice since 1963. All three made bowl appearances in 2010 as well as last season. Army (6-2) has already accepted a bid to the Armed Forces Bowl. Navy (5-2) and Air Force (4-4) have some heavy lifting to do to become bowl eligible despite being close already. Navy closes out at Temple, vs. SMU, at Notre Dame, at Houston and vs. Army. Air Force finishes with Army, Wyoming, Boise State and Utah State.

3. National Coach of the Year right now, as things currently stand? My top 3 would be:  1. Matt Campbell, Iowa State; 2. Kirby Smart, Georgia; 3. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame.

 

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.