College football Week 5 is in the books and TheSportsNotebook’s college football coverage hones in on the 11 results of the most interest to anyone tracking the road to January and the teams that will play in the biggest bowl games.
Georgia 44 LSU 41: I’m ready to buy in on Georgia as a legitimate national title contender. This is two wins over really good teams (including the South Carolina game in Week 2) that are noted for defense, and upon whom the Bulldogs hung 40-plus points. Aaron Murray was clutch, at 20/34 for 298 yards, four touchdowns and the game-winning drive inside of the two-minute mark.
Once again, Georgia showed it can run the ball extremely well. This time it wasn’t Todd Gurley–though he took off for 73 yards on just eight rushes–but Keith Marshall, who got the ball 20 times and picked up 96 yards. Georgia just physically beat the LSU defense up front, just as they did to South Carolina and it’s why the Dawgs look in firm command of the SEC East.
LSU showed how far its own offensive development has become. Zach Mettenberg was brilliant, at 23/37 for 372 yards, and he repeatedly connected with his great big-play tandem of Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry.
The race for who will be the BCS at-large team to come out of the SEC is an interesting one, and LSU would have taken a big step towards getting that spot with a win in Athens. The Tigers still might, if they beat Texas A&M and Ole Miss to finish 10-2 (presuming a loss at Alabama). Right now though, I’m moving the Dawgs into the spot joining Alabama in the BCS bowl lineup.
South Carolina 28 Central Florida 25: In past weeks, I had South Carolina in the at-large spot, figuring they would either catch Georgia in the SEC East, or even failing that, finish 11-1 and be like Florida in 2012, where you get the conference’s second bid because you don’t have to worry about losing a league championship game. But I don’t like the way South Carolina looks and I’m very concerned about this team’s mojo.
The Gamecocks were trailing this game 10-0 at half, and allowed UCF quarterback Blake Bortles to go for 358 yards in the air. This is a defense that has yet to play up to its own potential and its program’s recent solid history in that regard.
Offensively, the problems were due to the injury to quarterback Connor Shaw, who left the game in the first quarter with an injured shoulder. He’ll miss 2-3 games, which would be Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas. It’s not likely to cause a loss–though the game with the Razorbacks is on the road and Arkansas gave Texas A&M a tough go of it on Saturday night–but it underscores the concern I have with the general mojo. This doesn’t have the feel of South Carolina’s year to break through the 10-win/Capital One Bowl barrier. Though admittedly doing that in the SEC doesn’t exactly suck.
Alabama 25 Ole Miss 0: The Tide got the running game going, with T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake leading an attack that produced 254 yards. That’s a little bit of a turning of the corner for an offensive line that’s played poorly this year. But this was still just a 9-0 game at half. Ole Miss isn’t that far away and now it’s young team has some big-game experience. They’ve got a chance to still be a player in the BCS at-large race, with games against LSU and Texas A&M coming up, neither of whom is playing defense like the Crimson Tide.
Ohio State 31 Wisconsin 24: Ohio State was fortunate to escape this game at home. They lost on a fumble on a punt that was then overturned by a ticky-tack penalty on Wisconsin. The Buckeyes scored on a fourth-down desperation pass right before halftime, because the Badgers dropped an easy interception the play prior. Wisconsin missed an easy field goal in the first half. In spite of having only one viable receiver, Jared Abberderis, the Badgers found him 10 times for 207 yards, making one wonder who exactly Ohio State was covering.
The Buckeyes’ speed advantage is obvious and they are the best team in the Big Ten. But Wisconsin matched up with Ohio State on the road better than Arizona State on the road a couple weeks ago. There’s no reason to think the best team in the Big Ten is any better than say, fourth or fifth in the Big 12. And let’s not even do an SEC comparison.
Oklahoma 35 Notre Dame 21: Both teams ran the ball well, getting over 200 yards on the ground. But the problems Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees has with turnovers reared their ugly head, and he threw three interceptions while OU played mistake-free football. Nice win for the Sooners, though not overwhelming and a clear sign that Notre Dame is, at best, an 8-4 type of team this season.
West Virginia 30 Oklahoma State 21: I was ready to give Oklahoma State serious consideration as a possible second BCS team to come out of the Big 12, and also to challenge Oklahoma for the league title. No more. This was a shocking display in Morgantown, as the Cowboys did not run the ball effectively and allowed the previously inept WVA offense to get over 300 yards passing. Okie State committed ten penalties to complete the meltdown.
Washington 31 Arizona 13: Look, I get that Stanford and Oregon are far and away the class of the Pac-12 North and they both showed it with conference blowouts of Washington State and Cal on Saturday. I have both league heavyweights in the BCS. But we’ve got to start keeping an eye on Washington as a team in that division that could lurk and play spoiler.
The Huskies run the ball well, and Bishop Sankey went for 161 yards against what had been an atypical Rich Rodriguez defense, which is to say one where the players make tackles. Washington plays efficiently on offense–probably not explosive enough to beat Stanford or Oregon–but the Huskies are just a nice, solid football team that has at least the potential to throw a big monkey wrench in the mix.
Virginia Tech 17 Georgia Tech 10: It’s probably pushing it to say this game is going to impact the BCS. But Virginia Tech’s win gives them the inside track as the top challenger to Miami in the ACC Coastal Division, the winner of which will get a crack at the real league powers, Clemson or Florida State, in the championship game. So it’s about two steps removed from impacting the BCS. To keep progressing, Virginia Tech needs more games like this one from Logan Thomas, who was a sharp 19/25 for 221 yards.
Florida State 48 Boston College 34: Speaking of Florida State, this road win fell in the category of one that raises little alarm bells. Boston College has already been smoked by USC, a team so bad that they fired head coach Lane Kiffin this morning. Yet, the Seminoles trailed this game 14-3 early on, they got offense from no one other than freshman quarterback Jameis Winston and their run defense was non-existent, as Andre Williams led an attack that cranked out 200 yards.
If Florida State is going to make a big run, that can’t let a game like this get away, and against a better opponent in the future–Maryland for example, or N.C. State–it might.
Northern Illinois 55 Purdue 24: NIU isn’t going to get many breaks from voters, after not playing well in the Orange Bowl last year. Nor does beating Purdue constitute a heroic achievement. But there was a time, not long ago, when MAC teams couldn’t compete with any Big Ten team.
Northern Illinois has now beaten a good Iowa team (the Hawkeyes knocked off Minnesota on Saturday) and shown it can bury a bad Big Ten team. Looked at another way, NIU beat up on Purdue as bad as Wisconsin did, and I have the Badgers as a BCS at-large qualifier.
Fresno State 42 Hawaii 37: This was a bizarre game, and one that raises concerns about Fresno’s capacity to be a BCS-buster, a topic raised in last week’s projections. Fresno jumped out to a 42-3 lead, so it would be easy to say we shouldn’t be fooled by the final score. But the game closed to five points with 7:51 still to play, so the Bulldogs were actually in danger of losing a game to a terrible team that they led by 39 points. They turned it over five times against a defense that lacks the talent to put anyone under serious duress.
If Fresno runs the table and wins the Mountain West championship game, I’ll go to bat for them to get a BCS bid. But it’s stuff like this that make me doubt that the debate will ever get started.