Tom Luicci

Five questions


Q.  With Ohio State’s stunning loss, which team will now fill the fourth and final available playoff spot?

We know we’re getting an SEC team – probably the winner of Alabama-LSU on Nov. 3 (okay, so Alabama). Clemson just cleared away the last of the clutter on the way to an unbeaten season with the way it manhandled N.C. State. And Notre Dame looks like it has a clear path to 12-0. So which team gets the last playoff spot? Michigan, Texas and Oklahoma are all viable candidates if they run the table. A second SEC team is also a possibility, especially if LSU beats Alabama and wins the SEC and the Tide finishes 11-1. Washington State? Tough to take a team seriously when its non-conference schedule consists of 2-6 Wyoming, 0-7 San Jose State and Eastern Washington. As for Ohio State, the Buckeyes are now on the outside looking in, needing to win out and then needing a lot of help to get back in the mix. We considered UCF, too – but not for long.

QAfter trying to make a case for Dwayne Haskins as a Heisman contender a week ago, we now concede the point: Is there any reason to invite anyone other than Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa to the Heisman Trophy announcement in December?

Ironically, the biggest landslide in Heisman voting history belongs to a player who no longer owns a Heisman Trophy. In 1968, O.J. Simpson collected 855 of a possible 1,002 first-place votes to beat Purdue’s Leroy Keyes by 1,750 points. Tagovailoa may top that margin, with Saturday’s latest gem – 306 passing yards and four TDs in a rout of Tennessee – making him 102-of-152 for 2,066 yards with 25 TD passes to just three interceptions. Most of that is done in less than three-quarters of work too. If Tagovailoa takes care of business against LSU on Nov. 3 this will be the most anti-climactic Heisman vote in the trophy’s long history.

Q.  How long will it be before Louisville makes a run at Purdue’s Jeff Brohm?

The Boilermakers’ rout of No. 2 Ohio State will no doubt stir the Louisville faithful even more to bring back one of their own, especially with the Cardinals in the midst of a train-wreck of a season. And it’s not like Bobby Petrino is a beloved figure. Money shouldn’t be an issue for Louisville, especially when it starts to examine what Petrino has done recently, going a combined 25-14 with Heisman winner Lamar Jackson at quarterback in the three years prior to this one. Brohm was a QB at Louisville from 1989-93, had success at Western Kentucky as a head coach (30-10 overall) and has led a revival at Purdue in his second year there. The Boilermakers have won four straight since an 0-3 start and look to be bowl-bound for a second straight year. The catch? It might be awkward for Brohm to replace Petrino, whom he has worked for at multiple coaching stops.

 Q. How much worse can things get over the final four games for 1-7 Rutgers, which is vying with Oregon State as the country’s worst Power 5 team?

The Scarlet Knights get a break from their losing ways with an off week now before embarking on a closing stretch that could turn an ugly season into one where people simply take pity on them. Consider the final four games for a team that has already been routed by lowly Kansas and lost at home to Buffalo: At Wisconsin, home to Michigan, home to Penn State, at Michigan State. Combined scores of those four? We’ll go with about 220-30.

Q.  Will LSU be able to score enough to beat Alabama when the Crimson Tide visit on Nov. 3 in one of the biggest games of the season?

To this point the Tigers aren’t getting much from QB Joe Burrow, leaning heavily on their running game and defense to get to 7-1. But that’s not a formula for beating Alabama, which boasts what is arguably the most explosive offense in program history. Consider: In five SEC games the Tide has scored 269 points. By contrast, LSU has score 141 in five league games. It’s hard to see Alabama being dragged into a low-scoring defensive affair – even in Death Valley. For the Tigers it will all come down to Burrow and getting better production in the passing game. To this point it doesn’t look as if he is up to that. And then there’s this: What if Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa actually has to play an entire game?


On the rise

Utah State (6-1)

Aggies’ high-powered offense sputtered in a 24-16 victory over Wyoming, but they still managed to win their sixth straight following a 38-31 opening game loss to Michigan State. They should have a clear path to 10-1 before facing Boise on Nov. 24.

Washington State (6-1)

Victories over Utah and Oregon have been the highlights of a three-game winning streak that has the Cougars eyeing the Pac-12 North title. Saturday’s game at Stanford will determine if that will happen.

Clemson (7-0)

If N.C. State couldn’t come close to competing with the Tigers how will any other ACC team? Answer: None can. So it’s on to the playoffs for Dabo & Co.


On the decline

Minnesota (3-4)

Since starting 3-0 Golden Gophers have lost four straight in Big Ten play, with Saturday’s 53-28 loss to previously-winless Nebraska putting their bowl hopes on shaky footing.

Arizona (3-5)

Wildcats have lost three of four heading into Saturday’s must-win game against Oregon, with their bowl prospects taking a damaging hit following a 31-30 loss to UCLA.

Kansas (2-6)

Guess who is being back to being terrible again, losing four straight since a 55-14 rout of Rutgers? Hoops season is well underway in Lawrence.

Who’s hot

David Blough, QB, Purdue

The senior shredded No. 2-ranked Ohio State’s defense by throwing for 378 yards and three TDs as the Boilermakers beat a top two team for the first time in 34 years. Buckeyes’ DC Greg Schiano looked lost.

Isaiah Sanders, QB, Air Force

A career day by the junior lifted the Falcons to a 41-35 victory over UNLV. How’s this for a stat line: 9-of-11 passing for 211 yards and one TD, 21 carries for 173 yards and three rushing scores.

Tyler Huntley, QB, Utah

Any notion that USC might be an upset threat to Notre Dame next month was put to rest in the Utes’ 41-28 victory over the Trojans, with Huntley going 22-of-29 for 341 yards with four TD passes and no INTs.


Who’s not

Ryan Finley, QB, N.C. State

Entered the Clemson game as the ACC’s leading passer at 324 yards per game and left it looking less than ordinary with 156 passing yards and three turnovers in a 41-7 loss.

Brian Lewerke, QB, Michigan State

Remember when the junior was viewed as a rising star? He was 5-of-25 for 66 yards in the 21-7 loss to Michigan and already has as many INTs (seven) this year as he did in 13 games last season.

Daniel Jones, QB, Duke

He’s now 0-3 with nine interceptions against Virginia during his career after throwing two more picks in the Blue Devils’ 28-14 loss to the Cavs.


Playing it forward

The top games of the coming week

Florida at Georgia, 3:30, CBS

Though there’s a three-way tie atop the SEC East standings with these two and Kentucky, there’s a feeling the division winner could come from this showdown of ranked 6-1 teams. The cocktail party is back on.

Iowa at Penn State, 3:30 ESPN

Wisconsin and Northwestern is actually for the lead in the Big Ten’s West Division, but 6-1 Iowa still has its sights set on a Division title. Penn State’s explosive offense and QB Trace McSorley face a major test against the Hawkeyes’ defense.

South Florida at Houston, 3:30, ESPN2

It’s worth stepping outside of the Power 5 routine for this one. QB Blake Barnett has USF off to a 7-0 start. Houston is 6-1 with the only loss to Texas Tech and has a dangerous QB in D’Eriq King, who has guided the Cougars’ offense to 41 or more points in all seven games this year.


Story Lines

1. It’s hard to take Texas Tech too seriously most years, but the Red Raiders will play a major role down the stretch in the Big 12 race, especially now that frosh QB Adam Bowman is back. After being sidelined three weeks due to a collapsed lung, Bowman – who had been the nation’s leading passer – returned to throw for 408 yards and three TDs in a rout of Kansas. The Red Raiders still have to play Oklahoma and Texas and believe they’re conference title contenders as well. Texas currently sits atop the league standings at 4-0, with West Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas Tech all 3-1. The Red Raiders first must get past a key test at Iowa State this weekend, but they’re a different – and much better – team with Bowman back.

2. A recent report claims Oregon QB Justin Herbert is likely to return to college for his senior year in 2019 instead of entering the NFL draft, where he has been projected as the No. 1 overall pick by some scouts. That’s actually a good move by the 6-6 junior, since he certainly doesn’t look NFL ready and still has to prove he can make it through an entire season injury free. Herbert was just ordinary again in Saturday’s loss at Washington State, and hasn’t followed up a solid sophomore campaign with a better year as a junior. That shouldn’t matter if he is going to be taken No. 1 overall, or even if he goes early in the first round, of course – unless he wants to be another Jeff George or David Carr. This probably won’t age well, but NFL scouts’ fascination with Herbert off this season is baffling.

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