The Big Ten had a historically bad day. Outside of Ohio State, which asserted control in the second half to beat TCU 40-28, the league’s performance has been ordinary at best through three weeks of the season. Akron’s 39-34 win at Northwestern won’t have any impact on the playoff race, but it continues the well-established narrative that the middle of this league is exceptionally mediocre. This week, it was BYU coming into Madison and punking Wisconsin, 24-21. It was Troy upsetting Nebraska, 24-19. It was 0-2 Temple going to Maryland and dominating for a 35-14 victory. And it was Missouri coming away with a last-second field goal to beat Purdue, 40-37. Obviously, the Buckeyes are very good and are well-positioned to make the College Football Playoff. But this isn’t a one-week trend. Michigan State melted in the desert last Saturday night. Michigan’s loss to Notre Dame in Week 1 erased the Wolverines’ margin for error. Obviously the Buckeyes can carry the banner for the Big Ten all the way to the semifinals, but it would be hard to draw up a worse start for the league than what it has experienced.
The team of the day is Oklahoma State. What a revelation the Cowboys were in a 44-21 drubbing of Boise State. Certainly nobody knew what to expect from this team going into the year after losing quarterback Mason Rudolph and receiver James Washington, and blowout victories over Missouri State and South Alabama to open 2018 didn’t tell us much either. But Mike Gundy just keeps putting a great product out on the field, and Oklahoma State really looked good in all three phases of the game against Boise State. The Cowboys’ defensive front looked aggressive and fast, and a couple of blocked punts really set the tone for a comfortable win. The schedule sets up really well for Oklahoma State to be 9-0 going into Bedlam on Nov. 11 in Norman.
Team of the day, Part 2, is BYU. The Kalani Sitake regime looked like it was trending the wrong direction last year at 4-9, but the Cougars scored one of the signature wins of the season Saturday with a 24-21 upset of Wisconsin in Madison. Bringing in Jeff Grimes as offensive coordinator has made a world of difference.
Shout-out to Troy coach Neal Brown. In consecutive years, he’s guided the Trojans to wins at LSU and Nebraska, which is an accomplishment worthy of celebration regardless of the circumstances. This is Scott Frost’s first year with the Cornhuskers, and there’s clearly a lot of growth that needs to take place in his program before it can compete in the Big Ten. Still, Troy was able to find a way despite just 253 yards of offense. That’s a big-time performance for a Sun Belt team.
Two years in a row, Auburn has blown a double-digit lead against LSU and Ed Orgeron. That’s a tough one to swallow for Gus Malzahn, whose team seemed to have complete control early in the third quarter Saturday when it went ahead 21-10. After that, however, Auburn ran 20 plays for just 87 yards with one turnover and a missed field goal. Whether that’s Malzahn getting too conservative or Auburn just not executing doesn’t really matter at this point. LSU did what it needed to do to hang around, didn’t commit a turnover and was more opportunistic down the stretch. It’s still unclear how good LSU really is because there really does seem to be some offensive limitations, but Orgeron just seems to have Malzahn’s number. We will know a lot more about LSU on Oct. 13 when Georgia comes to Baton Rouge in an early Game of the Year candidate.
Go ahead and put Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson on the list of coaches whose job security is suddenly in question. It’s a long season, but the Yellow Jackets have looked really bad so far this year. Last week, their defense totally let them down at South Florida. This week, their offense was ineffective in the first half in a 24-19 loss at Pittsburgh. Now 1-2, Georgia Tech has Clemson coming up next week and a bunch of other tough games ahead. If the Yellow Jackets can’t get to a bowl game, it would be Johnson’s third losing season in the last four years. Johnson has had a good tenure overall, but apathy has kind of set in and his buyout is only $4 million, despite signing a contract extension this spring. In a year that doesn’t project to be very robust on the coaching market, Georgia Tech could absolutely be forced to make a big decision this fall.
One of the most impressive coaching jobs of the season is being done by Duke’s David Cutcliffe. The Blue Devils suffered a body blow this week when they learned that quarterback Daniel Jones (a legitimate NFL prospect) suffered a broken clavicle in last week’s win at Northwestern. The loss was perceived to be so significant, Las Vegas oddsmakers made Baylor a six-point favorite at home. But Duke dominated the game with Quentin Harris playing quarterback, winning 40-27 in Waco to go to 3-0.
Clay Helton’s seat at USC is getting really hot after a 37-14 loss to Texas. Following a loss to Stanford in which the Trojans scored just three points, they needed to rebound with a strong effort in Austin to turn the narrative a little bit. They didn’t get it. Rebuilding year or not, this isn’t what USC fans were looking for. The Trojans got manhandled in the second half by Texas, which scored 34 consecutive points in a 37-34 win. To say Helton’s job is safe because USC won the Pac-12 last year seems pretty short-sighted. This doesn’t look like an elite program in any way, and it’s hard to imagine how the Trojans get there. If they’re not seriously competitive at that top level under this staff, they need to consider their options. Athletics director Lynn Swann, who didn’t hire Helton, surely has some ideas on what he would do if USC had an opening.
No surprise Arkansas lost to North Texas. The Mean Green is one of the better Group of Five teams, and first-year Razorbacks coach Chad Morris didn’t inherit much from Bret Bielema. But a 44-17 beatdown in Fayetteville wasn’t part of the blueprint. The standout moment from that game came early when North Texas’ Keegan Brewer faked out the entire Arkansas team by pretending that he was going to fair catch a punt. When the Razorbacks stopped playing, Brewer took off, having never actually given the fair catch signal, and rumbled for a 90-yard touchdown. It’s one of the great fake-outs ever in football, though obviously embarrassing for Arkansas. But that wasn’t why Arkansas lost.
This just isn’t a good team, but losses like this will only intensity the criticism from some corners of that fan base about Morris spending his Friday nights watching his son (a highly-touted quarterback recruit who is playing for a high school in Dallas) rather than with the team. That surfaced last week when Morris flew in to Fort Collins at midnight, the night before Arkansas lost 34-27 to Colorado. Though it’s not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things, Morris probably should reconsider the optics of that, especially when Arkansas obviously has such a long way to go to be competitive.
On the flip side, North Texas and quarterback Mason Fine are both really nice stories. Fine, who had just one scholarship offer coming out of high school, has developed into a really good college player and had 281 passing yards (24-for-45) on a big stage against an SEC team. North Texas coach Seth Littrell has turned around a former bottom-dweller, going 5-8 in his first season, then 9-5 last year and now 3-0 with a chance to do something special.
We can go ahead and stop talking about whether Jalen Hurts is going to redshirt. It’s not happening, folks. Alabama coach Nick Saban put him in Saturday after Alabama took a 35-7 lead in the second quarter over Ole Miss, and he promptly led the Crimson Tide to another touchdown in a 62-7 victory. But that’s beside the point. Under the new NCAA rule, Hurts could play up to four games and still retain his year of eligibility, transfer as a graduate student, and have two years to play at a new school. But it’s clear by this point that Saban plans to use Hurts in every game this year, even if it’s just mop-up duty or as a change of pace. Whether you agree or disagree, that’s what is happening and Hurts doesn’t seem to be too bothered by it.
No need to get much more in-depth on the Florida State issues beyond what I wrote here. Obviously Taggart isn’t going to get fired after one year. Beyond the money, which absolutely matters, it would seem hasty to pull the plug after just one year given some of the issues in the program (particularly with the offensive line). But that’s not the only issue. Even when first-year coaches have a bad record, you can see something worth building on. That has not yet emerged for Florida State. It wouldn’t be a surprise if we looked back in a year or two at Saturday’s loss to Syracuse as the moment we kind of knew how this would go.
It won’t get much attention, but that was a huge win for Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury to beat Houston, 63-49. The problems at Texas Tech are still the problems, and until the Red Raiders can stop somebody consistently they’ll be susceptible to bad losses. But in a year that could be very important for Kingsbury’s future (he’s 7-6, 5-7 and 6-7 the past three seasons), beating Houston could matter in how he’s evaluated.