Winners and losers: Did September contenders turn to pretenders?

Dr. Saturday
Winners and losers: Did September contenders turn to pretenders?
Winners and losers: Did September contenders turn to pretenders?

It seems we were a bit premature in considering UCLA the favorite in the Pac-12 South.

A week after throttling Arizona on the road, the Bruins hosted Arizona State, a team that lost convincingly at home to USC in Week 4. And guess what? Arizona State jumped out to a three-possession lead in the second half and held on for a 38-23 win over the No. 7 Bruins.

UCLA pulled within six points at 29-23 and took an intentional safety when forced to punt deep in its own territory with a little more than four minutes to go. Coach Jim Mora figured it was a better bet to give ASU a longer field and make the Sun Devils punt. Instead, Arizona State marched down the field and scored a touchdown on this play by running back Kalen Ballage, which aptly summed up UCLA's night.

Scroll to continue with content
Ad

Freshman quarterback Josh Rosen's statline wasn't bad; he finished 22-of-40 passing for 280 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. But the Arizona State defense, which had not been anything special through the first month of the season, stopped the UCLA run game. The Bruins had just 62 yards on the ground.

Meanwhile, Arizona State ran for nearly 200 yards while quarterback Mike Bercovici threw for 273. Perhaps Saturday night was when UCLA missed its three defensive starters.

The Bruins' loss means Utah assumes favorite status in the Pac-12 South, especially since UCLA has to visit the Utes. It's hard to see this Bruins team making it through games against Utah, USC, Stanford and Cal unscathed. The margin of error for the division title, not to mention the College Football Playoff, is gone.

The same goes for Ole Miss, which looked nothing like the team that beat Alabama two weeks ago. Sure, the Florida defense is good, but so is Ole Miss', right? The Rebels' defensive line was supposed to savage a weak Florida offensive line and Chad Kelly's star turn was scheduled to continue. Instead, Kelly looked ordinary and Florida's offense, somewhat unbelievably, found the magic of the big play during a 38-10 blowout win. While Ole Miss has the tiebreaker on Alabama, the Rebels are now third in the SEC West as Texas A&M and LSU are so far undefeated.

Notre Dame's title hopes are also on the ropes despite it's late attempted comeback at Clemson. Because the Irish are an independent, anything but an undefeated or one-loss season means the Irish are likely out of the College Football Playoff discussion. With Saturday's 24-22 loss at Clemson, Notre Dame has to go undefeated the rest of the way. If Stanford and USC continue to win, the Irish's schedule will look really good if Notre Dame goes undefeated over its final seven games. But if Notre Dame loses even one game, welp, goodbye CFP.

Oh, and speaking of Alabama, the Tide looked the part of a contender in taking apart Georgia 38-10. While Alabama needs help to make it happen, it's not unfathomable to see a rematch of the game happening in the SEC championship game. If you were counting Alabama out after its loss to Ole Miss, you're being foolish. We've seen so far that there are no such thing as guarantees through this 2015 season. And the trend is showing no signs of stopping.

WINNERS

Pittsburgh’s defense: Either you side with the stance that Virginia Tech’s offense just isn’t very good, or that Pat Narduzzi has that Pittsburgh defense doing some things. We’re siding with both, but it doesn’t take anything away from how impressive the Panthers looked during a 17-13 win. The numbers for the Hokies were bleak. They were held to 100 yards of offense, and just nine rushing yards. Entering the day, Pittsburgh’s defense ranked 17th in the nation. Last year the Panthers finished 26th, so if they can keep up this pace, maybe Narduzzi really is the guy to turn things around there.  

Marquise Williams, North Carolina: Marquise Williams has had an up-and-down year for North Carolina, but he had a historic afternoon Saturday against Georgia Tech. In a 38-31 UNC win, Williams managed to lead the Heels in three statistical categories: passing, rushing, and receiving. Yes, you read that right. Williams threw for 134 yards, rushed for 148 yards and two touchdowns and also caught a 37-yard touchdown on a fourth-quarter trick play. 

Jared Goff, California: Utah and UCLA are getting all the love in the Pac-12 this year, but Cal is also making noise in the North division. The Golden Bears improved to 5-0 on Saturday with a 34-28 home win over Washington State. In the process, junior quarterback Jared Goff set his 23rd school record, this time setting the high mark for career touchdown passes. For the game, Goff completed 33-of-45 passes for 390 yards and four touchdowns to give him 1,630 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. 

Greg Ward, Houston: Houston has quietly gotten off to a 4-0 start in the first year under Tom Herman, and junior quarterback Greg Ward has been a big reason why. On Saturday in a 38-24 road over Tulsa, Ward combined for 455 yards of total offense – 273 through the air and 182 on the ground. Ward scored on runs of three, 32, and eight – all in the first half – for the Cougars. Ward now has 1,058 yards and eight touchdowns passing along with 472 yards and seven touchdowns rushing.

Trevone Boykin, TCU: Yeah, it's really easy to focus on the disaster that is the Longhorns' season after TCU's 50-7 win over Texas. But let's talk about TCU for a moment. Boykin threw five touchdown passes and is now the school-record holder for most career touchdown passes. Boykin, who now has 74, broke the mark of 71 that was previously held by current Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. Given the way TCU throws the ball around the yard, Boykin has a shot to hit 100 career touchdown tosses before his career is up. And if he does, a Heisman could be in the offing.

LOSERS

Texas Tech's defense: Texas Tech played the top two offenses in the Big 12 – TCU and Baylor – in back-to-back weeks and did not have good showings defensively. The Red Raiders gave up a combined 118 points and 1,430 yards in the two games combined, both losses – 55-52 to TCU and 63-35 to Baylor on Saturday. For the season, TTU is giving up an average of 581 yards and 41.4 points per game. The Red Raiders probably can’t wait to face lowly Iowa State next week. 

Maryland's passing offense: Maryland dropped to 2-3 with a loss to Michigan on Saturday and its offense, particularly its passing game, looked absolutely awful. In the 28-0 home loss to the Wolverines, the Terps put up only 105 yards of offense while quarterback Caleb Rowe went 8-of-27 for 47 yards and three interceptions. Backup Daxx Garman also saw action but wasn't much better. He went 2-of-9 for 29 yards. Saturday's embarrassing loss came a week after a 45-6 beatdown at the hands of West Virginia. Terps quarterbacks have combined for 15 interceptions through five games this season and Rowe has 12 of them. Randy Edsall needs to make a change next week when the Terps travel to Columbus to take on Ohio State.

Nebraska: Nebraska's first season under Mike Riley is not off to a great start. The Huskers dropped to 2-3 Saturday with a 14-13 loss at Illinois. The Huskers led 13-0 going into the fourth quarter but could not hold the lead, allowing Illinois to score the game-winning touchdown with 10 seconds left in the game. The numbers were ugly, too. Nebraska's passing attack was putrid with Tommy Armstrong Jr. completing only 10-of-31 attempts for 105 yards and an interception. It's another brutal loss for Nebraska, which also has lost in overtime to Miami and on a last-second Hail Mary to BYU. 

Tennessee: We're going to stop believing the hype now, Tennessee. The Vols are now 2-3 after losing at home to Arkansas, 24-20, on Saturday night. Thanks to Florida's win over Ole Miss, Tennnessee is essentially three games back of the SEC East lead, too. Butch Jones has been amassing talent on both sides of the ball. His teams just can't seem to put it together. It doesn't get any easier for the Volunteers next week either. Georgia, which lost to Alabama on Saturday, visits Neyland Stadium in Week 6. And guess who follows Georgia? Yep. Alabama. Tennessee is staring at an 0-4 conference start.

Georgia Tech: We've stopped believing in you too, Georgia Tech. Saturday was the Yellow Jackets' third straight loss as North Carolina won in Atlanta 38-31. And not only has Tech fallen from the ranks of the top 15 in the past three weeks, it's helping muddy up the ACC Coastal Division too. More and more it's looking like the winner of the game between Florida State and Clemson is the ACC's only hope for the College Football Playoff.

What to Read Next