With three weeks left in the regular season, it’s now time to separate the cream from the crop in what promises to be a fantastic race to the playoffs.
The Campus Read Option was on location this past weekend at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown for the match-up between West Virginia and Texas. The Mountaineers have rebounded from a tough 0-4 stretch in October against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor and TCU to post back-to-back wins against Texas Tech and the Longhorns.
Wendell Smallwood was impressive, following up his 163-yard performance last week against Texas Tech by running for 165 yards as the opportunistic Mountaineers scored 24 points off of Texas turnovers. Coach Dana Holgorsen has long been known for his explosive passing attacks, but West Virginia ran Texas into the ground, attempting only 12 passes.
Texas was able to move the ball, outgaining the Mountaineers 439-379, but they weren’t able to hold onto it, coughing it up five times. They’d previously had only seven turnovers for the entire year.
Oklahoma’s 44-34 victory against Baylor, the two-time defending Big 12 champions, was an outstanding show of force for Bob Stoops’ Sooner squad as exceptional quarterback Baker Mayfield, who passed for 346 yards and four touchdowns, made a compelling late-season push for his own Heisman candidacy.
Winners of five in a row since bumping their head against Texas, Oklahoma will be back in the mix for that coveted playoff slot if they can take out TCU and Oklahoma State in their final two games. That will be no easy task, as the Cowboys and Horned Frogs have a current combined record of 19-1.
Sterling Shepard was indeed sterling for OU, catching 14 balls for 177 yards and two touchdowns. But the key to pounding Baylor was the Sooner offensive line. A unit that looked shaky early on while having to replace three starters from last year, they bullied Baylor’s defensive front, opening up the spaces that allowed sophomore running back Samaje Perine to gash, slash and dash for 166 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries, which effectively controlled the clock.
The Sooner defensive line and linebackers, led by Baltimore native Charles Tapper and the human projectile, Erik Striker, harassed gifted freshman quarterback Jarrett Stidham all game long. And the secondary, led by Zach Sanchez, limited Baylor’s explosive wide receiver Corey Coleman to a mere three catches.
Similar to Ohio State losing to a subpar Virginia Tech team early last year, Oklahoma could be on a similar trajectory this season. Their loss to Texas is a blemish on an otherwise solid resume, but if they continue to win, they’ll be invited to the playoff party.
With Baylor’s loss, along with Stanford, Utah and LSU falling to Oregon, Arizona and Arkansas, the race for the national title is beginning to thin out.
Right now, I’ve got Alabama’s Derrick Henry winning the Heisman Trophy. He became the first player in Alabama history (think about that for a minute) to post three 200-yard games in a season after his stellar performance in the 31-6 victory over Mississippi State.
His 204 yards on 22 carries and two touchdowns against the Bulldogs, where he averaged over 9 yards per carry, on top of his muscular 210-yard punishment of LSU last week puts him slightly ahead of the Tigers’ Leonard Fournette in my book.
Plenty can happen to change that over the next few weeks, but I’m happy to see running backs back in the mix.
It seems absurd that the only two runners to win the award since 1999 are USC’s Reggie Bush (Yes, he won it, deserves to keep it regardless of the decisions and money taken by his parents, and never should have been forced to surrender it in the first place) in 2005 and the Crimson Tide’s Mark Ingram in 2009.
With everyone talking about the suddenly muddled Heisman race now that Fournette has been somewhat slowed down, we need to start talking about and recognizing the finalists for the Nagurski trophy, which is annually awarded to the nation’s top defensive player.
Penn State defensive end Carl Nassib leads the country with 15.5 sacks, Duke safety Jeremy Cash has 17.5 tackles for a loss and Temple linebacker Tyler Matakevich is headed towards his fourth consecutive 100-tackle season.
Clemson linebacker Shaq Lawson anchors a dominant defense for the country’s top ranked team with 16.5 tackles for a loss, but my money is on Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland, who is simply a man-child that is the stalwart of one of the most devastating run defenses in recent memory.
I still can’t get Ragland and the Alabama D’s performance in their 30-16 bulldozing of LSU out of my mind, where they held the supernatural Fournette to 31 yards on 19 carries. That Crimson Tide defense, especially their ruthless front seven of A’Shawn Robinson, Jonathan Allen, Jarran Reed, Denzel Devall, Dillon Lee, Reuben Foster and Ragland, is utterly astonishing.
And speaking of props, how about showing some love for Michigan QB Jake Rudock, who passed for 440 yards and six touchdowns in the Wolverines' 48-41 win against Indiana, and Washington State’s Luke Falk, who leads the nation with 4,067 passing yards while throwing for 35 scores and completing over 70% of his attempts.
I know we’re a full week away, but if Houston and Navy both win this weekend, their nationally televised matchup next Friday will give incomparable Midshipman quarterback Keenan Reynolds, the undefeated Cougars and the outstanding American Athletic Conference the stage that they fully deserve.
And the Missouri players also deserve some acknowledgment for rallying to come from behind to defeat BYU, 20-16, in the wake of a turbulent few days that started with their promises of a boycott and concluded with head coach Gary Pinkel announcing his resignation at season’s end due to his Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnosis.
Don’t look now, but much maligned Arkansas is in second place in the SEC West after their 31-14 victory over LSU.
This weekend’s slate of games is excellent. I’m looking forward to watching Michigan vs Penn State, Cal vs Stanford, USC vs Oregon and LSU vs Ole Miss. But the heavy hitters that have me feeling like a kid on Christmas eve are the match-ups between TCU and Oklahoma, Baylor and Oklahoma State and Michigan State and Ohio State.
After the performances that Samaje Perine, Baker Mayfield and Sterling Shepard had against Baylor, I can’t wait to see how they follow up against TCU. Ever since losing to Texas, Oklahoma has been smashing its opponents like Sunshine in Harlem Nights while averaging 55 points and 618 yards per game. Their average margin of victory over that span has been 38 points.
This game was circled on my calendar, but lost some of its luster with the recent injuries to TCU’s elite QB-WR tandem of Trevone Boykin, who gave OU the business last year with 395 total yards and two touchdowns in their 37-33 win, and Josh Doctson. I really wanted to see them test themselves against the Big 12’s best defense, which Oklahoma walks into the game with.
As the Sooners’ season draws to a close, Perine will have an opportunity to prove that he’s up there with the best running backs in the country.
Oklahoma State looked like the real deal when they snuffed TCU two weeks ago.
But they looked flimsier than a diamelle-studded, Canal Street Rolex last week in their 35-31 win over Iowa State. Baylor’s freshman QB Jarrett Stidham might throw the prettiest ball in all of college football. Both of these teams will score more than Julio Iglesias at a model’s convention in Madrid.
Baylor is known for its prolific passing attack, and Stidham, who is completing a ridiculous 72% of his throws, and receiver extraordinaire Corey Coleman are a joy to watch. But the foundation of the Bears’ attack is running back Shock Linwood and the ground game, which averages close to 300 yards per contest. Yes, you read that right. 300 yards!!!
The Cowboys’ quarterback tandem of J.W. Walsh, who has ten rushing touchdowns and another ten passing, and starter Mason Rudolph, who has thrown for 3,161 yards and 18 touchdowns, can ball with the best of them.
And finally, the enigmatic and inscrutable Ohio State Buckeyes will face its first noteworthy team of the year in Michigan State. With Michigan and possibly unbeaten Iowa to follow in the Big Ten championship game, Ohio State’s true personality, after looking average against mediocre competition, will finally begin to reveal itself.
Fournette and Henry have gotten the majority of the national running back love, but the Buckeye’s Ezekiel Elliott is the truth. He’ll be looking for his 16th straight 100-yard rushing game against the Spartans. Ohio State has not looked in sync offensively all year. If they are a true national title contender, we’re about to find out.
But Urban Meyer is a phenomenal coach. He has won a mind-boggling 30 straight regular-season conference games since he took the job three years ago. Now that, my friends, is the dictionary definition of domination.
But guess who beat them in the Big Ten title game two years ago. Yessir, that would be Michigan State. Spartans QB Connor Cook is the real deal who has thrown 21 touchdowns against only four interceptions this year, but his sore shoulder should be a cause for concern in East Lansing for the folks who scream, “Go Green!”
The Spartans will be looking to make amends for their shocking loss to Nebraska two weeks ago, but they’ll go into battle with the best quarterback that the Buckeyes’ defense will have faced all year.
Cook thrives on the biggest of stages, and has pierced Ohio State’s defense for 304 yards and three touchdowns and another 358 and three scores over their previous two meetings.