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Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (Get-Back Coach sold separately in South Bend, where Brian Kelly joined the hands team on a USC onside kick Saturday):
NOW, THE NEGATIVE
The five worst things we have seen in college football this season:
The Mark Dantonio intransigence (12). When the Michigan State coach dismissed a reasonable query Saturday about his failed offseason staff decisions as a “dumb-ass question,” it underscored the mentality that got him into this mess. Namely, stubbornness and ego.
There was an abundantly clear fix to the Spartans’ offensive ineptitude last offseason, and Dantonio refused to do it. He needed to fire some assistants and bring in new ideas, but instead he just shifted around some job titles and kept everyone onboard. Doing what's best for the program was sublimated in favor of Nobody Tells Me What To Do arrogance.
In three games against ranked opponents, Michigan State has averaged 5.7 points and 279 yards — and, of course, lost them all. Now, Wisconsin may be fielding a generationally great defense, and Ohio State could have its best defense in years as well. But the Spartans were utterly futile against both — their longest play of the day against the Badgers was a 20-yard run on a fake punt, for crying out loud. And then there was the seven-point home dud against Arizona State.
Michigan State’s national rankings offensively are incrementally better than last year — but they needed to be dramatically better. And dramatic improvement wasn’t going to come with keeping the same staff and same philosophy.
The Year 2 hype (13). You heard it from fans all offseason — with a second year in Coach X’s system, we’ll start to see results on the field. The culture (so much talk about culture) has been built. The payoff is near.
Here’s the update on that: It’s not working for Scott Frost at Nebraska. Or Chip Kelly at UCLA. Or Willie Taggart at Florida State. Or Jeremy Pruitt at Tennessee. Or Chad Morris at Arkansas. Or Joe Moorhead at Mississippi State. Or Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M. Their combined record in Year 2: 18-25. Their combined record against Power Five competition: 8-19. Their combined salary in Year 2: $31.35 million, or roughly $4 million per Power Five victory thus far.
(It is, however, working for Sonny Dykes, 6-0 at SMU. And Dan Mullen, 6-1 at Florida. And Herm Edwards, 5-1 at Arizona State.)
The persistent ranking of Texas A&M (14). Aggies fans are still waiting for their breakthrough in the SEC West, but two groups sure seem like believers in the program — the voters in both the AP and coaches’ polls. Texas A&M began the season No. 12 in the AP poll and No. 11 with the coaches. It has since proceeded to lose three times, twice at home, while trailing by double digits for 88:48 of 90 second-half minutes in those losses. In other words, the Aggies were not close to winning any of them. They did, however, beat powerhouses Texas State, Lamar and Arkansas (all of whom are winless against Power Five opponents).
And yet this week is the first time the Aggies have fallen out of the Top 25. They did, however, still receive votes in both polls. Beating mighty Mississippi this week might be enough to get them back into the rankings.
Quarterbacks eternally running backward (15). When Georgia’s Jake Fromm was pressured in the second quarter Saturday against South Carolina, he kept retreating and threw the ball off his back foot, serving up a pick-six interception — a huge play in a huge Gamecocks upset. With the line of scrimmage at the Georgia 47, Fromm took the snap at the 42, retreated to the 37 and set his feet — then fled another three yards before throwing the ball with all his momentum going backward.
The play epitomized what seems to be an increasing QB trend — instead of climbing the pocket under pressure, quarterbacks are going the other way, farther backward. And not always with great results. Just because Patrick Mahomes and others are doing it at the NFL level doesn’t mean collegians can succeed the same way.
Perhaps this is unrelated, but perhaps not: Sack yardage and frequency are on the rise thus far in 2019. The top 10 teams in sack yardage are averaging 7.1 yards per sack this season, up from 6.6 last year (a 7 percent increase). And in terms of frequency: Six teams are averaging 4.33 or more sacks per game, all of which would surpass the highest single season in the previous decade (Utah at 4.23 sacks per game in 2014).
Worth watching to see if the trend continues the rest of this year.
Rutgers (16). Scarlet Knights football hasn’t been fun to watch in years, but 2019 has the makings of a new low — even by the standards of a program that has gone 4-8, 2-10, 4-8 and 1-11 the previous four seasons. Rutgers canned fourth-year coach Chris Ash last month, and since then it’s only gotten worse: a 48-7 home loss to Maryland and a 35-0 loss to Indiana that featured fresh embarrassments to the program. The Hoosiers (nobody’s idea of a juggernaut) jumped to a 21-0 lead in less than seven minutes. And the Scarlet Knights set a new standard for offensive ineptitude in the game, completing five passes for a grand total of one yard.
Per sports-reference.com, it’s the first time this century (at least) that a team has netted so few passing yards on multiple completions. Also: Rutgers has scored 10 or fewer points in seven straight Big Ten games. The last time a Big Ten team did that was Minnesota in 1962-63.
The five things we’re not paying enough attention to:
Penn State (17). The Nittany Lions are undefeated and outscoring their opponents by 33.8 points per game — more than LSU, more than Oklahoma, more than Clemson. Yet Penn State — of all brand names — has been almost unanimously relegated to seventh among the top seven unbeatens. (On this week’s AP ballots, only four voters had the Nittany Lions as high as sixth. Nobody had them in the top five.)
Sleep on James Franklin’s squad at your peril. This has the makings of his best defensive team, potentially by a wide margin. First-year starting quarterback Sean Clifford has been a pleasant surprise, receiver KJ Hamler is a playmaker, and watch out for freshman running back Noah Cain (consecutive 100-yard games against Purdue and Iowa). Franklin’s recruiting prowess is perhaps more visible now than ever, as Penn State keeps rolling after the departure of cornerstone talents at key positions.
The defensive issues facing the Nos. 1-2 teams in the AP poll (18). Alabama and LSU, bedrock defensive powerhouses for time immemorial, are nothing special at stopping people in 2019. The buy-in to high-octane, uptempo offense has undoubtedly had some bad side effects for the defenses of the Crimson Tide and Tigers, and they are showing.
In SEC play, ’Bama is allowing 27 points per game — an unheard-of number under Nick Saban. LSU is even worse, giving up 33 points to SEC opponents.
The two teams will meet in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 9 in what is shaping up as the national game of the year, some eight years after another LSU-Alabama game in Bryant-Denny Stadium featured the top two teams in the polls. That slobber knocker ended 9-6. This year it might be closer to 49-46.
Oregon’s defensive prowess (19). Conversely to the LSU-Alabama dynamic, a Ducks program that made its reputation on offensive flash-and-dash is excelling on defense in 2019. Oregon is third nationally in points allowed per game (8.7), fourth in yards allowed per play (3.94) and eighth in yards allowed per game (267.7). The hire of coordinator Andy Avalos from Boise State has yielded a spike in disruptive plays — sacks, tackles for loss and takeaways — for the 5-1 Ducks.
The Mountain West (20). UNLV’s romp over Vanderbilt on Saturday marked the league’s ninth win over a Power Five team this season. The MWC has upset teams from the SEC, ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12, with eight of the league’s 12 members putting a P5 skin on the wall. The league has been down in recent years but this has been a bit of a revival — led, as usual, by undefeated Boise State.
Boise is the bell cow, but the latter half of the Broncos’ schedule won’t be a cakewalk. After playing four of their first six games on the blue turf, four of the last six will be on the road. Pay special attention to the game at Utah State on Nov. 23, which may hold the key to Boise’s New Year’s Six bowl hopes.
The weekly crapshoot in the non-Clemson ACC (21). It’s mayhem out there. The league is no good beyond the defending national champions, but that parity has at least produced some wildly entertaining games. Eleven of the 17 ACC games not involving the Tigers have been decided by one score, including some crazy shootouts (Louisville 62, Wake Forest 59; Louisville 41, Boston College 39), crazy comebacks (Miami-Virginia Tech, Duke-Pittsburgh), and significant upsets (in three league games, the Hokies have lost twice as a favorite and won once as an underdog).
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