Through six weeks of college football, most of the usual suspects are holding steady atop the rankings. Alabama and Clemson, participants in three of the last four College Football Playoff title games, sit in the top two spots in the polls. Other top-10 teams like No. 3 Georgia, No. 4 Ohio State, No. 5 LSU and No. 6 Oklahoma all took care of business with wins this weekend while the Crimson Tide and Tigers had an off week.
But what other teams have a really good chance to make a big move up the rankings and maybe, just maybe, even jump into the College Football Playoff picture in the coming weeks? There are quite a few you may not suspect.
While Ohio State and Michigan get all of the headlines — good and bad — Penn State keeps chugging along.
The No. 12 Nittany Lions improved to 5-0 and 2-0 in Big Ten play with a 35-7 win over Purdue on Saturday.
Entering the season, many wondered how Sean Clifford would step into the shoes of Trace McSorley at quarterback. He struggled in the 17-10 win over Pitt, a game that gave some pause about PSU’s place, but he has been playing well in Big Ten play. After throwing for 264 yards and combining for four touchdowns against Purdue, Clifford has thrown for 1,443 yards and 12 touchdowns while showing the ability to beat you with his legs.
But the focus for PSU should be on defense. Against the Boilermakers, PSU tallied a whopping 10 sacks and 13 tackles for loss and is now allowing just 7.4 points per game. After the win, James Franklin described his unit as “championship level.” And if PSU is going to challenge Ohio State in the Big Ten East, the defense may have to lead the charge.
Before the OSU-PSU matchup potentially comes into focus, PSU has the chance to leap into the College Football Playoff conversation in the coming weeks with games against Iowa, Michigan and Michigan State. That won’t be easy, especially with the Iowa and MSU games both coming on the road.
There are two undefeated teams remaining in the ACC. You know the first one. Aside from No. 2 Clemson, No. 22 Wake Forest is sitting pretty at 5-0.
The Demon Deacons showed signs of offensive potential down the stretch when Jamie Newman replaced the injured Sam Hartman at quarterback. Newman led Wake to wins in three of the team’s final four games last year and that success has carried over into 2019. Newman has thrown for 1,521 yards and 14 touchdowns while completing 69.6 percent of his passes.
That production from Newman and the Wake offense doesn’t figure to peter out in the coming weeks, either. We all know the ACC, to put it lightly, is having a down year.
Wake Forest hasn’t been dominating teams by any means. Three of its five wins are by six points or fewer, but the Demon Deacons still figure to be favored in its next four games. The next three — Louisville, Florida State and NC State — are at home. A trip to Blacksburg to face Virginia Tech precedes a road matchup with mighty Clemson on Nov. 16.
Stranger things have happened.
Entering the season, many outlets (us included) had Iowa State penciled in as the third-best team in the Big 12 behind Oklahoma and Texas. We were also high on TCU and Oklahoma State in the preseason. But through six weeks, it’s Baylor that is nipping at the heels of the Sooners and Longhorns.
Baylor improved to 5-0 and 2-0 in conference play with an impressive 31-12 road win over Kansas State on Saturday. It was a complete effort from the Bears. The offense put up 426 yards of offense while the defense kept the Wildcats out of the end zone until late in the fourth quarter. Charlie Brewer is one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the country and he has a balanced running attack and a solid group of receivers, led by Denzel Mims, to spread the ball to.
Baylor will enter the rankings on Sunday with games against Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and TCU ahead on the schedule. Trips to Stillwater and Fort Worth won’t be easy, but Baylor really has a chance to make some noise in the Big 12 — and shake up the CFP picture. The Bears play Oklahoma and Texas in back-to-back weeks in November. And both games will be played in Waco.
It would be foolish to appoint anybody other than Wisconsin as the favorite to emerge from the Big Ten West, but Minnesota is going to have its say.
The Golden Gophers cruised to a 40-17 win over Illinois on Saturday to improve to 5-0 overall and 2-0 in Big Ten play. Yes, Illinois is among the worst teams in the conference, but the Illini have been putting up points. The fact that the Gophers limited Illinois to 17 points is a positive sign for P.J. Fleck’s program.
Minnesota’s 4-0 start felt pretty fraudulent. The Gophers barely beat South Dakota State, an FCS team, in Week 1 before needing double-overtime to knock off Fresno State in Week 2. Minnesota fell behind Georgia Southern with under four minutes to go in Week 3, only to score the game-winning touchdown with 13 seconds to play.
But the Gophers have looked a lot better through two Big Ten games. Tanner Morgan torched Purdue a week ago for 396 yards and four touchdowns on 21-of-22 throwing. Morgan threw three more TD passes against Illinois, but Minnesota’s rushing attack — 332 yards on 52 carries — was the story of the game.
The next three games for the Gophers are very winnable: vs. Nebraska, at Rutgers and vs. Maryland. We could be in a world where a ranked and 8-0 Minnesota team hosts Penn State on Nov. 12.
Even before Cincinnati upset No. 18 UCF on Friday night, the depth of the AAC was well worth taking note of.
While No. 16 Boise State out of the Mountain West probably has the easiest path to represent the Group of Five teams in a New Year’s Six bowl game, the AAC had six teams with either one loss or no losses. UCF left that status with the loss to the Bearcats, but now Cincinnati (4-1, 1-0) and Temple (4-1, 1-0) are the top teams in the AAC East while No. 24 SMU (6-0 after a wild comeback 3OT win over Tulsa), Memphis (5-0, 1-0), Tulane (4-1, 1-0) and Navy (3-1, 1-1) in the AAC West all cannot be counted out in the NY6 bowl race.
Cincinnati will almost assuredly return to the top 25 after the UCF win. Memphis, still undefeated thanks to a decisive 52-33 victory over UL Monroe, could as well. SMU, which was ranked No. 24 entering the weekend, overcame a 30-9 fourth-quarter deficit to beat Tulsa in triple-overtime. On top of that, Tulane had arguably the conference’s most impressive win of the weekend when it knocked off Army on the road, 42-33, snapping Army’s 15-game home winning streak.
Even if Boise State goes undefeated, an argument could be made for the top AAC team grabbing hold of a NY6 spot, even if that team has a loss.
Here are this week’s winners and losers:
Florida: The Gators aren’t College Football Playoff contenders … yet. Check back with us after Florida plays at LSU next week. But No. 10 Florida moved to 6-0 with a win at home over previously undefeated No. 7 Auburn on Saturday afternoon. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s unit confused and overpowered freshman Auburn quarterback Bo Nix as Nix threw more interceptions Saturday (three) than he had in the Tigers first five games (two). Look for Florida to be ranked around No. 7 when the AP poll comes out on Sunday.
Wisconsin: Say hello to the undisputed favorite in the Big Ten West. The Badgers proved to be the best team on that side of the Big Ten through the first five weeks of the season but Iowa was undefeated as well. Until the Hawkeyes lost 10-3 to Michigan. Wisconsin, meanwhile, won 48-0 over Kent State as running back Jonathan Taylor rushed 19 times for 186 yards and four touchdowns and also added a receiving touchdown. Taylor hadn’t been much of a receiving threat in his first two years on campus but now has four touchdown catches this season.
Arizona: Don’t look now but the Wildcats are 4-1 after losing to Hawaii in Week 0. Arizona beat Colorado on the road 35-30 on Saturday for its fourth-straight win. Khalil Tate was an injury question entering the game but ended up playing. And he was fantastic. The QB was 31-of-41 passing for 404 yards and three touchdowns and a pick. That made up for the fact that he was limited as a runner because of a hamstring issue. Arizona may not be the favorite in the Pac-12 South but the Wildcats are well-positioned to play spoiler and could move into the AP Top 25 on Sunday.
Texas: The Longhorns are banged up. But they keep winning. Texas is now 4-1 after a 42-31 win over West Virginia. Sam Ehlinger didn’t have the best day but accounted for four touchdowns as the Longhorns scored 21 fourth-quarter points to put the game away even after RB Keontay Ingram and TE Cade Brewer both suffered injuries. Things get really tough in Week 7 with the Red River Shootout against undefeated Oklahoma.
Oregon State: The Beavers got their second Pac-12 win since the end of the 2016 season with a thorough 48-31 win at UCLA on Saturday night. Yes, UCLA, the team that had a crazy second-half comeback at Washington State two weeks ago, is now 1-5 after losing to Arizona and Oregon State.
But let’s get back to the Beavs. Jake Luton had five touchdown passes to just eight incompletions and Artavis Pierce ran for 119 yards. After going winless in the Pac-12 in 2017, the Beavers beat Colorado in 2018. We’ll see if UCLA is the springboard to multiple conference wins for the first time in four seasons.
Tulane: The Green Wave may have the best uniforms in college football and are legit on the football field as well. Tulane beat Army 42-33 to move to 4-1 on Saturday behind an impressive rushing performance. Tulane ran the ball 53 times for 324 yards and five touchdowns while holding Army to 193 rushing yards on 44 attempts and snapped Army’s 15-game home winning streak in the process. When Army QB Kelvin Hopkins is having to throw the ball 24 times you know it’s not going to be a good day for the Black Knights.
Cincinnati’s social media team: The Bearcats beat UCF on Friday night to stake a claim as the best team in the AAC. And the Cincy football social media department has the best in conference award all sewn up after creating the video in this tweet.
FINAL:— Cincinnati Bearcats (@GoBEARCATS) October 5, 2019
#18 Central Florida 24 pic.twitter.com/pGxu42SvqB
Navy: Don’t count out the Midshipmen for the Commander-in-Chief Trophy. Navy blew a big lead to Air Force and then somehow came back for a 34-25 win over the Falcons on Saturday. Air Force took a 25-21 lead with just over three minutes to go after trailing 21-9 in the second half. But Navy stormed down the field and scored the game-winning touchdown on an 11-play drive with 23 seconds left. The final touchdown came when Air Force tried for a miracle TD with one second left and Navy picked up the ball and ran it into the end zone.
San Jose State: The Spartans have three wins in 2019. That’s a really big deal as SJSU had combined for three wins over the past two seasons. SJSU moved to 3-2 on the season with a 32-21 win over New Mexico on Friday night. QB Josh Love threw for over 400 yards while wide receiver Tre Walker had seven catches for 130 yards. The schedule looks too tough for a bowl game to be achievable but SJSU could end up with four or five wins in 2019.
Miami: What good is a furious comeback if it ultimately falls short? Miami had five first-half turnovers and needed a Hail Mary touchdown to cut Virginia Tech’s lead to 28-7 at the break. Then, somehow, Miami came back. The Hurricanes got the game tied at 35-35 with 3:16 left, but would have taken the lead had Bubba Baxa not missed an extra point. But the tie score didn’t last long as Virginia Tech scored in 2:13 to take a 42-35 lead and held on for the win after that. Miami is now 2-3 on the season and faces No. 23 Virginia in Week 7. At this rate, it looks like Miami reaching a bowl game is going to be a close call.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights lost 48-7 to Maryland on Saturday. But that’s almost beside the point in the first game in the post-Chris Ash era. Johnny Langan started at QB as Artur Sitkowski didn’t play in anticipation of taking 2019 as a redshirt year. The same sentiment goes for running back Raheem Blackshear, who also didn’t play with the goal of taking a redshirt. The season was a lost one for the Scarlet Knights anyway, so we’ll see if the redshirts have their intended effect for 2020 and beyond — if those guys decide to remain in Piscataway.
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys looked to be the third-best team in the Big 12 after a close loss at Texas and a win over Kansas State. And then OSU promptly went to Texas Tech and lost on Saturday. The Cowboys are still a top-half team in the conference but Baylor is holding down the third spot in the conference behind Oklahoma and Texas for now. QB Spencer Sanders threw three interceptions while RB Chuba Hubbard rushed 34 times for 156 yards and three touchdowns in the loss to the Red Raiders.
Boston College: What’s up with the Eagles? And is Steve Addazio’s job potentially in jeopardy? BC fell 41-39 at Louisville on Saturday to drop to 3-3, allowing 664 yards in the process. To make matters worse, Louisville played a significant amount of the game with a third-string QB, and BC still could not stop the Cardinals. With losses to Kansas and Louisville, it’s getting harder to see how a winning season is possible in 2019, especially if the defense is going to continue to give up over 40 points per game.
TCU: The Horned Frogs gave up seven touchdowns to Iowa State in a 49-24 drubbing in Ames. TCU’s QB situation hasn’t been ideal all year but now the defense — thought to be a strength — is a problem too. TCU gave up 41 to SMU in a 41-38 loss in September and now has given up 49 to Iowa State. Kansas State, Texas, Oklahoma State and Baylor are all next on the schedule so things aren’t getting much easier.
Austin Kendall: The Oklahoma transfer had a hellish game against Texas. Kendall threw four interceptions as WVU went from being down 21-17 at the end of the third quarter to losing pretty convincingly at 42-31. Kendall finished the game 31-of-46 passing for 367 yards and three touchdowns (along with a rushing TD), but turnover avoidance is key. Especially against ranked opponents.
Vanderbilt: Are the Commodores the worst team in the SEC? It’s not a crazy question after a 31-6 loss at Ole Miss. Vandy is now 1-4 and has given up 30 or more points in each of its four losses. Ole Miss ran 44 times for 413 yards on the Commodores as QB John Rhys Plumlee carried the ball 22 times for 165 yards. Derek Mason is defensive-minded coach and, well, that’s not how you play good defense.
Buffalo: The Bulls were a home underdog to Ohio and went to overtime tied with the Bobcats at 14-14. Things started off well when Buffalo got the ball first and scored a touchdown. But the extra point was missed. You can guess what happened next. Ohio scored a TD on its possession and converted the PAT for a 21-20 win. Buffalo is now 2-4 on the season and 0-2 in the MAC despite beating Temple 38-22. College football is weird.
Marshall: What’s up in Huntington? The Thundering Herd started the season 2-1 with the only blemish coming in a seven-point loss at Boise State. Things have gone poorly since. Marshall lost 52-14 at home against Cincinnati last week and then fell 24-13 at Middle Tennessee State on Saturday. Marshall never led in the game as QB Isaiah Green threw three interceptions to help cancel out the team’s 202 rushing yards on 39 carries.
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