Five questions

 Q.  Is college football ready for Notre Dame in the playoffs?

It sure looks like a smooth path to 12-0 now for the Fighting Irish after they easily handled Virginia Tech in Blacksburg on Saturday. But will that be enough for Brian Kelly’s squad to earn a playoff spot? Think about it: Alabama goes undefeated, Georgia only loses to the Crimson Tide in the SEC championship game, and Ohio State and Clemson go unbeaten (we’re not banking on West Virginia to finish unbeaten with the rugged remaining schedule the Mountaineers have). So would the Irish, based on their schedule, deserve to be in over unbeatens Alabama, Ohio State or Clemson? Probably not. How about a one-loss Georgia? That’s a tough call. Here’s the problem: Notre Dame has a quality win over Michigan, but the Stanford and Virginia Tech wins have been devalued – and may get worse. There doesn’t appear to be another chance for a quality win on the schedule either. It’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out.

Q. The Top 25 team that was most exposed on Saturday – Kentucky, LSU, Oklahoma, Auburn, Stanford, Michigan State or Oklahoma State?

The SEC sure gets its fair of credit (and always the benefit of the doubt) so the league has to be able to absorb a few shots when its nationally ranked teams are shown to be remarkably flawed, as was the case with Kentucky, LSU and Auburn. Not one of the three has a championship caliber offense, and that cost all three any chance at a victory on Saturday. How about this: Kentucky didn’t have an offensive possession on Texas A&M’s side of the field until overtime. And Auburn managed three field goals as its offense. LSU at least had an excuse, playing a good Florida defense in a tough environment. But the Tigers are limited on offense, too. Stanford, Michigan State and Oklahoma State were flimsy Top 25 teams going in, since all three already had a bad loss. Oklahoma was in a rivalry game against a much-improved Texas team and showed heart in coming back to force a tie before losing.

Q.  Just how good are Colorado and North Carolina State, the two unbeaten under-the-radar Power 5 teams?

Let’s be real here. Colorado is 5-0 because of a schedule that is a combined 6-21 to this point, including two winless opponents (UCLA and Nebraska) and a 1-4 FCS team (New Hampshire). N.C. State is 5-0 thanks to a schedule of James Madison, Georgia State, Marshall, B.C. and Virginia. We’ll know more about the Wolfpack when it visits Clemson on Oct. 20. We’ll also find out about the Buffalos over the second half of the season, with USC next up and Washington after that. N.C. State would be more of a known quantity if its game with West Virginia had not been cancelled due to a hurricane.

Q. Just how good can Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins be?

It’s still early in his career, of course. But the sophomore has already engineered epic comeback wins against Michigan (last year) and Penn State (last month) and tied a school record on Saturday with six touchdown passes in a 49-26 victory over Indiana, a game in which he also threw for 455 yards. In his first full year as a starter he has 25 TD passes to four interceptions with 1,919 passing yards. We may be looking at one of the best quarterbacks in Buckeyes history. Though he played high school ball in Maryland, Haskins lived in Highland Park, N.J. until ninth grade. That’s just a swing pass from the Rutgers campus. Just saying.

Q. Will the Big 12 join the Pac-12 being on the outside looking in during the college football playoffs?

 Look at the Big 12 standings after OU’s loss to Texas and here is what you will see: seven of the 10 teams already have two losses, while Texas and Oklahoma have one apiece. West Virginia is the last Big 12 team unbeaten but still has to play both Texas and Oklahoma. What that probably means is the appearance of a two-loss team in the Big 12 championship game. How will that help the league’s case for a playoff representative? And does anyone outside of Morgantown really believe the Mountaineers will escape both Oklahoma and Texas unbeaten? WVU having its early season game against N.C. State, currently 5-0, cancelled due to weather doesn’t help its case. But it will be interesting to see how the Mountaineers are viewed if they do manage to go unbeaten.

 

On the rise

Utah State (4-1)

Since a 38-31 opening game loss to Michigan State, Aggies have ripped off four straight victories and are 4-1 for the first time since 2012 after routing BYU on Saturday. USU has scored 30 or more points in its first five games for the first time in school history.

Florida (5-1)

Are the Gators finally back? Defensively, yes. But offensively they’re still painful to watch at times. They’ve won four straight since losing to Kentucky with only one last obstacle – at Georgia on Oct. 27 – before the bounce back is complete.

Hawaii (6-1)

A 17-13 victory over Wyoming has the Rainbow Warriors 3-0 in Mountain West play for first time in school history. They won with a true freshman (Chevan Cordeiro) subbing at QB for injured Cole McDonald too.

 

On the decline

UConn (1-5)

Are we looking at the worst defense in college football history? Could be. Huskies are last in the country in points allowed per game (53.7) and yards allowed per game (658.2) and haven’t allowed fewer than 49 points in any game so far.

Rutgers (1-5)

Another dis-ASH-trous showing in a 21-point home loss to Illinois (really, who loses by 21 to Illinois any more?) after a 29-point home loss to Buffalo and a 41-point loss to hapless Kansas. The remaining schedule starting Oct. 29: Northwestern, at Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State and at Michigan State. 1-11 here they come.

Boise State (3-2)

Looks like the end of a pretty good run by the blue carpet gang. A 19-13 home loss to San Diego State on Saturday stamps the Broncos as just another average Mountain West team. Nothing special any more.

 

Who’s hot

Brock Purdy, QB, Iowa State

In relief of Zeb Norland, the true freshman threw for 318 yards and four TDs and ran for 84 yards and a score as the Cyclones won at Oklahoma State.

Cameron Dicker, PK, Texas

Was there any doubt he’d make the honor roll this week after the freshman’s 40-yard field goal with nine seconds left lifted the Longhorns to a 48-45 victory over No. 7-ranked Oklahoma?

Scott Young Jr., S, Arizona

A pair of fourth quarter interceptions by the junior – one returned 24 yards for a touchdown with 3:13 to play – helped the Wildcats to a 24-17 victory over Cal.

 

Who’s not

College football in Oklahoma

Last week’s tally: Tulsa loses 46-21 to Houston, No. 25-ranked Oklahoma State loses at home, 48-42, to Iowa State and No. 7 Oklahoma loses 48-45 to Texas.

Benny Snell, Jr., RB, Kentucky

The SEC’s leading rusher at 133 yards per game coming into the Texas A&M game was held to 60 yards on 13 carries in the OT loss to the Aggies – just as Kentucky launched an on-line Heisman campaign for him.

Drew Lock, QB, Missouri

So much for the great start and his maturity as a player. His numbers from Saturday’s loss to South Carolina: 17-of-36 for 204 yards, no TD passes, two interceptions.

Playing it forward

The top games of the coming week

 Georgia at LSU, 3:30, CBS

It’s not quite the epic showdown it could have been before LSU’s loss at Florida, but it’s still one of the top games on the year in the SEC.  Bulldogs will look to stay unbeaten, and in a difficult environment, and don’t want to leave the door open in the SEC East race for surging Florida. Tigers will be out of the SEC West race with a loss here.

Wisconsin at Michigan, 7:30, ABC

A key cross-divisional meeting between the Big Ten West leader (the Badgers) and co-Big Ten East division leader Michigan. Both are unbeaten in conference play, with a loss putting their conference championship game hopes in that no-margin-for-error territory.

West Virginia at Iowa State, 7, FS1

This was a far less intriguing matchup before last week. That was before West Virginia – the Big 12’s last unbeaten team – looked shaky and mistake-prone against bottom feeder Kansas and before Iowa State upset Oklahoma State in Stillwater thanks to an impressive performance by freshman QB Brock Purdy.

 

Story Lines

1. College football lost one of its giants on Sunday when legendary Division 3 coach John Gagliardi – the winningest coach in the sport’s history – passed away at the age of 91. Gagliardi carved out most of his 489-138-11 career record as the coach of St. John’s University in Minnesota, where he produced unparalleled success from 1953 to 2012. He was an old-school type who knew how to adapt to the times, and the sport will miss the Hall of Famer’s presence dearly. RIP, coach.

2. What is going on at Louisville – and will Bobby Petrino survive it only because of a reported huge buyout and because the basketball program is such a scandal-plagued mess? Saturday’s 66-31 loss to Georgia Tech was Louisville’s worst ever at Cardinal Stadium, and the defensive unit of fairly new coordinator Brian VanGorder – fired in mid-season by Notre Dame in 2016 – looks as if it didn’t watch a single on the Yellow Jackets’ triple option. Georgia Tech, a mediocre-at-best ACC team, rushed for 542 yards against the Cardinals. That’s three blowout losses in a 2-4 season, and it’s not as if Petrino has built up any equity with his behavior through the years. It has never been easier to be the second or third-best team in the ACC and the Cards are nowhere close to that).

 

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