If Bill O'Brien hasn't been the top coach in college football over the first six weeks of the season, the line in front of him is pretty short.
Penn State has now won four games in a row, including two straight Big Ten contests, after knocking off previously undefeated and 24th-ranked Northwestern 39-28. After a terrible summer, and more players leaving during the season, Penn State didn't seem like a lock for four wins all year.
O'Brien had a big influence on Penn State coming back after Northwestern took a 28-17 lead late in the third quarter on a long punt return. The Nittany Lions, a team shaped in O'Brien's tough image, didn't let down. And O'Brien made some gutsy calls in fourth down situations that gave his players a chance to win.
Trailing by 11 points early in the fourth quarter, Penn State had a fourth and 5 at Northwestern's 6-yard line. O'Brien gambled, went for it, and Penn State scored. Then the Nittany Lions went for the 2-point conversion, and got that too. Later in the fourth quarter, Penn State could have tried a 37- or 38-yard field goal, but O'Brien — knowing his field-goal unit has been shaky — went for it on fourth and 2. Penn State completed a pass down to the 7-yard line. On third and goal, quarterback Matt McGloin (who deserves a ton of credit for his clutch plays) ran into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. Penn State never trailed again. O'Brien deflected all the attention to the players after the game:
"You can't say enough about these kids," O'Brien said. "With what they've been through, they're smart, they're tough, they're committed to Penn State. They come to practice every single week. The practices aren't always pretty, but there's a lot of effort. There's great chemistry in that locker room. We're 4-2, who knows where it's going to end up. These guys are playing hard and it's really fun to see the smiles on their faces."
Just six games into the Bill O'Brien era, it certainly seems like Penn State has the right guy to lead the program.
Here are the other winners, and the losers, from Week 6:
Arkansas: While the biggest storyline to come out of Arkansas' 24-7 win against Auburn might be Tigers coach Gene Chizik's seat getting hotter, the Razorbacks don't care about any of that. They just know this was a much-needed win after four weeks of losing torture. Quarterback Tyler Wilson rebounded to complete 22-of-29 passes for 248 yards, and the maligned defense gave up just one touchdown. The only lingering issue for Arkansas coming out of the game is what has happened to standout running back Knile Davis (three carries, minus-3 yards).
Denard Robinson: At some point early in Michigan's loss to Alabama, Robinson completely fell off the list of Heisman Trophy candidates. For a player who has received so much publicity in his career, not much has been said about Robinson since the Crimson Tide bottled him up. But Robinson is still capable of great games, and he came up big for the Wolverines in their 44-13 win at Purdue. Robinson rushed for 235 yards, and threw for 104 more and a touchdown. He now has 3,905 rushing yards, setting a new record for a Big Ten quarterback:
Stanford: It's hard to give a thumbs up to a team that gave up 618 yards and 39 first downs, but Stanford did hang in against Arizona and came back to avoid a second straight loss. The Cardinal's defense — which shut down USC and Matt Barkley - was shredded (Rich Rodriguez is quickly putting his mark on the Arizona program, isn't he?) and Stanford trailed 48-34 with less than 10 minutes left. But the Cardinal converted on fourth and 9 in the final two minutes to set up the game-tying touchdown, then Stepfan Taylor ran through Arizona's defense for a 22-yard touchdown to win it in overtime.
Conner Vernon: Vernon, a senior receiver for Duke, became the ACC's all-time leader in career receptions against Virginia, as the Blue Devils handled Virginia 42-17. Vernon now has 239 receptions, and is one of the top players on a Duke team that is one of the better stories in college football. The Blue Devils are 5-1 and almost bowl eligible for the first time since 1994. Vernon also added a great highlight touchdown catch:
Rutgers: Greg Schiano left in the offseason to coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but Rutgers hasn't missed him. The Scarlet Knights are now 5-0, their best start since 2006, after shutting down UConn in a 19-3 win. Running back Jawan Jamison is somewhat quietly having a fantastic year. He rushed for 110 yards, the fifth time he has broken 100 yards rushing in five tries this season.
Virginia Tech's defense: The Hokies' 27-24 loss to Cincinnati last week was a respectable defensive performance compared to what happened at North Carolina. Virginia Tech allowed 532 yards and 48 points to the Tar Heels in a loss. That was the most points Virginia Tech has ever allowed in an ACC game, 10 more than the previous high of 38 to Georgia Tech in 2006. Virginia Tech looks nothing like the team that came into the season with such high hopes. Virginia Tech takes on 5-1 Duke next week in a game that is much more interesting than anyone would have figured a month ago.
Big Ten surprise contenders: With the Big Ten in shambles in September, experts starting touting Northwestern and Purdue as perhaps the best bets to win the conference title. Well, Northwestern blew an 11-point lead to Penn State, which is something a conference championship contender can't do. Then Purdue was dismantled by Michigan, 44-13. That will put the talk of Purdue perhaps being the best team in the conference on hold as well.
Every Heisman contender not named Geno Smith: West Virginia's quarterback is doing nothing to discount the notion the Heisman Trophy is already his to lose. Smith completed 25-of-35 passes for 268 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in the Mountaineers' 48-45 win at Texas. He now has 24 touchdowns and no interceptions this year. The Heisman race is over until further notice. Just sit back and see how much history Smith makes on the way to the presentation.
Boston College: When the Eagles stopped Army on fourth and goal with two minutes left, it seemed Army would lose its ninth straight game. But, that assumption underestimates Boston College's ability to find ways to lose this season. Boston College couldn't pick up a first down, then allowed Army to score in just 18 seconds, with Black Knights quarterback Trent Steelman running for a 29-yard touchdown to give Army the lead. Boston College is now 1-4, and wasted a 191-yard day from running back Andre Williams that included a 99-yard touchdown run.
Georgia: There's almost no margin for error in the SEC. Take on one loss, and it's hard to win a championship. The Bulldogs not only lost at South Carolina, the blowout sapped the momentum Georgia gained with its 5-0 start. Georgia looked feeble on both sides of the ball, a huge disappointment after a promising September. With South Carolina and Florida looking very strong in the SEC East, Georgia might already be out of the SEC championship mix.