Top Ten Showdowns Highlight Big Week in College Football
With three Top Ten games on the schedule, this week in college football delivered some exciting action and helped shape the playoff hunt. Here are some of the big storylines from Week 5 in college football.
Washington is the Real Deal
What was expected to be a key Pac-12 showdown turned into a laugher, as No. 10 Washington ran past No. 7 Stanford, 44-6. The first Top Ten matchup in Husky Stadium was never really in doubt as Washington scored on its first four possessions and took a 23-0 lead into the locker room. The 38-point beat down was the Huskies’ biggest ever victory over a Top Ten opponent and the Cardinal’s worst loss since 2007.
The Husky offense continued its hot play, racking up 424 yards and scoring on seven of eight possessions. Washington ranks seventh nationally in scoring and has put up at least 35 points in every game of it’s current eight-game winning streak, dating back to last November.
And while the potent Washington offense understandably gets most of the press, the Husky defense was dominant all night, holding the Cardinal to just 213 total yards and forcing two turnovers. Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey, the Heisman runner-up a year ago, was held to just 79 total yards and no touchdowns.
While there is still a lot of football to be played, the win over Stanford combined with down years for UCLA, USC and Oregon gives the Huskies a big leg up in the Pac-12 race and shows they are a legitimate playoff contender.
Clemson Isn’t Going Away Any Time Soon
Despite being the national runner-up last year, No. 5 Clemson had kind of gotten lost in the shuffle this year in the ACC discussion thanks to slow (by their standards) start and the Lamar Jackson hype train. But the Tigers showed they are still very much a factor in the national title race with a 42-36 win over No. 3 Louisville. But that’s not to say they didn’t make interesting.
The Cardinals erupted for 26 unanswered points in the second half to take a 36-28 lead midway through the fourth quarter. But Tiger quarterback Deshaun Watson took over when it mattered most, leading Clemson to two touchdowns in a four-minute span. But the game was far from over—Louisville put together an 11 play, 72-yard drive that fell just short when receiver James Quick was pushed out of bounds at the Clemson 3 yard line, just short of the first down marker on 4th-and-12 with 33 seconds left.
It was certainly not a flawless game as the two teams combined for eight turnovers and 17 penalties. But if you like high scoring shootouts, the game was as entertaining as they come. The two teams put up nearly 1,100 yards of total offense and scored on big plays, with five scoring drives of four or fewer plays.
While Clemson still has Florida State on the schedule at the end of the month, the Tigers are certainly in the driver’s seat to once again capture the conference title and a playoff spot.
The Road to the Heisman Runs Through the ACC
While many (myself included) billed 2016 as “The Year of the Running Back”, last night’s shootout showed that two quarterbacks from the same conference are clearly still the frontrunners for the Heisman Trophy.
While Louisville’s Lamar Jackson wasn’t able to run away with the award by knocking off Clemson, he certainly didn’t do anything to damage his credentials. The sophomore racked up 457 total yards and three touchdowns in the Cardinal loss. He is fourth in the nation in rushing, second in total offense and leads the nation in scoring. While Saturday’s loss is a speed bump in his campaign, he is still very much in the mix.
After a slow start, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson is also now at the top of the Heisman watch list. The preseason favorite coming in, Watson averaged just 231 passing yards per game in this first three. In his last two outings, however, Watson has averaged 305 passing yards per game while adding 127 on the ground and seven touchdowns. While his TD/INT ratio is problematic (he’s already thrown seven interceptions in five games this year, compared with just 13 in 15 games last season), his big offensive numbers and Clemson’s potential playoff run should keep him high in voters’ minds.
Barring injury or an unexpected collapse, both Jackson and Watson could find themselves in New York in December.
Michigan’s Defense Will Make the Wolverines Title Contenders
No. 4 Michigan held off No. 8 Wisconsin, 14-7, in a game dominated by the Wolverine defense. Michigan held the Badgers to just 159 total yards and eight first downs, plus forced three turnovers. It somehow seemed appropriate that the game was finally decided by a defensive play, when Michigan cornerback Jourdan Lewis made a spectacular one-handed interception with just 2:15 left to seal the victory.
The Wolverines rank sixth or better nationally in scoring defense, passing defense, total defense, sacks, tackles for loss and opponents’ third-down conversions. And with only one ranked team (No. 17 Michigan State) on the schedule between now and Thanksgiving, there’s no reason to think the Wolverine defense won’t still have them in playoff contention when No. 2 Ohio State comes to town on November 26.
The Heat is Officially On Charlie Strong
Texas fell to 2-2 this weekend with a 49-31 loss to Oklahoma State, just the second time in history the Longhorns had lost in Stillwater. With archrival Oklahoma on deck next week, everything coach Charlie Strong does from here out will be under the microscope. In two plus seasons on the Longhorn sideline, he is just 13-16 (9-10 in conference). And while upsetting Oklahoma bought him some goodwill last season, he would certainly benefit from somehow working that magic again this week.
While Texas reportedly will not make a move until after the season, it is clear that Strong is likely coaching for his job over the next two months. Although money is no object for a program like Texas, Strong would be owed a $10 million buyout and his firing could set off an epic bidding war between the Longhorns and LSU for Houston coach Tom Herman’s services.