Charlie Strong … has to be feeling the heat, and may be the next coach to get the axe. After a great start to the season, the ‘Horns have fallen to two teams that fans expected them to win. Honestly, Texas should be at least 3-1 right now, and it’s facing an absolute, must-win game against its biggest rival, Oklahoma. Yes, he’s only in his third year, but to date, Strong’s Longhorns still haven’t posted a winning record, and it’s beginning to look like getting there in 2016 might be a lot more difficult than most people assumed. Win against OU and Strong will likely live to fight at least one more game. Lose, and he might very well be headed out the door before the next practice.
Mark Helfrich … is in his fourth season, and the first three did have winning records. Heck, he coached the Ducks to a national championship appearance just two seasons ago. But the fact remains, you have to make progress in some way. And right now, the Ducks look like a team in a tailspin. After this week’s loss to Washington State, there is a distinct possibility that Oregon might not be favored again until it plays Oregon State in the season finale. The Ducks only have three home games remaining – against Washington, Arizona State and Stanford, and all three of those could definitely be losses. Add in road games at California, USC and Utah, and Oregon could realistically be facing a season-ender they’d have to win to avoid last place in the Pac-12 North. Even for Helfrich, that might earn him a spot on the unemployment line.
David Beaty … is only in his second year at Kansas, so he shouldn’t be going anywhere. Note, I said shouldn’t. But losing practically every game can get old pretty quickly. And that’s exactly Beaty’s Jayhawks are doing, and they’re doing it better than any Kansas squad in the team’s history. No Kansas coach has ever won just one game in a two-year span. There is maybe one winnable game remaining on Kansas’ schedule – at home on Nov. 12 against Iowa State – but even the lowly Cyclones are miles ahead of Kansas at this point. The truth is that the Jayhawks’ next good chance to win a game will come next year against Southeast Missouri State, and with the way things are in Lawrence, even that game might not be a sure thing. If Beaty finishes this season at the predicted 1-11, it would come as no surprise if Kansas tried to upgrade its coach this December.
Trent Miles … did take Georgia State to its first-ever appearance in a bowl last season, but this year, his Panthers are one of only four winless teams five weeks into the season. There will be a few good opportunities to win games this year, but aside from Tennessee-Martin on Oct. 22, Georgia State probably won’t be a sizeable favorite, if it’s ever favored at all. After four years, the admins and boosters at Georgia State had to be hoping for better development than this. So if Miles finishes year four with three or fewer wins, it would hardly be surprising if the Panthers brought in some fresh blood to help their team take the next step.
Chuck Martin … simply hasn’t gotten it done at Miami (Ohio). Now in his third season, he’s 5-24 with no signs of an uptick anywhere nearby. To be fair, Miami was in a slide when Martin came to town, but he’s done nothing to stem that wave. Now, his Redhawks are another of the four winless teams remaining at the FBS level. Yes, this is the Mid-American Conference, where practically any team can beat any other team, regardless of win-loss records. And ESPN is still projecting that Miami can get to three or four wins (Kent State, Ball State and Buffalo are still on the schedule). But unless Martin can get the ship righted, the Redhawk faithful will likely start calling for a change very soon.
- Lamar Jackson, QB, Soph., Louisville (Last week: 1)
This week: 27-of-44 for 295 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT; 31 carries for 162 yards, 2 TDs
This season: 101-of-170 for 1,625 yards, 14 TDs, 4 INTs; 92 carries for 688 yards, 14 TDs
Louisville (4-1), lost to Clemson, 42-36
Even in a loss, Jackson was stellar. Had his receiver known where the down marker was at the end of the game, there is still a very good chance that Jackson and the Cardinals would have scored at the end of the game and stayed undefeated. Even with the loss, Jackson stayed ahead of the winning QB – Deshaun Watson – and has a very favorable schedule leading up to the next big showdown with Houston on Nov. 17. (Next: Friday, Oct. 14 vs. Duke)
- J.T. Barrett, QB, Sr., Ohio State (Last week: 3)
This week: 21-of-29 for 238 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT; 5 carries for 46 yards, 0 TDs
This season: 70-of-102 for 888 yards, 9 TDs, 1 INT; 44 carries for 205 yards, 3 TDs
Ohio State (4-0) beat Rutgers, 58-0
Of all of the candidates not named Jackson, none have a greater chance to impress Heisman voters in more big games than Barrett. Already with a huge win over Oklahoma, Barrett and the Buckeyes still have major tests remaining against Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan State and Michigan. If Ohio State runs the table – and Barrett looks good in the process – and if Jackson and Louisville struggle once or twice down the stretch, the biggest beneficiary on the Heisman podium will likely be Barrett. (Next: vs. Indiana)
- Deshaun Watson, QB, Jr., Clemson (Last week: 4)
This week: 20-of-31 for 306 yards, 5 TDs, 3 INTs; 14 carries for 91 yards
This season: 110-of-181 for 1,302 yards, 14 TDs, 7 INTs; 49 carries for 211 yards
Clemson (5-0), beat Louisville, 42-36
Watson was great in the clutch against Louisville, but he continues to throw far too many interceptions (7 through five games, vs. 13 all season in 2015). On the other hand, he’s not taking very many sacks (just two thus far) and he does have the Tigers undefeated and still in the playoff hunt. Still, with Lamar Jackson likely to light up opponents for massive numbers the rest of the way, it’s doubtful that Watson will be able to climb to the top of the Heisman heap. (Next: Friday at Boston College)
- Greg Ward Jr., QB, Sr., Houston (Last week: 5)
This week: 32-of-38 for 389 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs; 12 carries for 65 yards, 2 TDs
This season: 99-of-140 for 1,325 yards, 8 TDs, 2 INTs; 63 carries for 175 yard, 5 TDs
Houston (5-0), beat Connecticut, 42-14
Ward was insanely accurate on Saturday against Connecticut, throwing only six incomplete passes and no interceptions. He ranks fifth in the nation in completion percentage, and at times looks like the next best thing to Lamar Jackson. If Houston avoids a slip-up against Navy this week, the coast looks clear for Ward and the Cougars to run the table until the titanic matchup on Nov. 17 against Jackson and the Louisville Cardinals. (Next: at Navy)
- Jalen Hurts, QB, Fresh., Alabama (Last week: 6)
This week: 20-of-33 for 262 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs; 9 carries for 25 yards
This season: 84-of-135 for 989 yards, 7 TDs, 1 INT; 54 carries for 276 yards, 3 TDs
Alabama (5-0), beat Kentucky, 34-6
Hurts looked good, but not great, against an overmatched Kentucky team that still managed to keep the Tide offense a bit in check. Hurts is doing well at this point in his young career and will likely be one of next season’s Heisman front-runners, but it’s extremely doubtful that he’ll climb much higher on the list this season. (Next: at Arkansas)
- Chad Kelly, QB, Jr., Mississippi (Last week: 7)
This week: 30-of-44 for 361 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
This season: 115-of-174 for 1,896 yards, 13 TDs, 4 INTs; 38 carries for 124 yards, 1 TD
Mississippi (2-2), beat Memphis, 48-28
Although he didn’t put up dazzling touchdown numbers, Kelly continued to direct the Mississippi offense with precision against Memphis last Saturday. He remains buried behind a host of quarterbacks in the Heisman hunt but has several huge SEC tests that, assuming he passes them, will elevate his stock considerably. (Next: Oct. 15 at Arkansas)
- Dalvin Cook, RB, Jr., Florida State (Last week: 8)
This week: 29 carries for 140 yards, 3 TDs; 6 receptions for 106 yards
This season: 107 carries for 635 yards, 7 TDs; 19 receptions for 286 yards
Florida State (3-2), lost to North Carolina, 37-35
Yes, Florida State lost last week, but it had nothing to do with Dalvin Cook – without whom, the Seminoles might not have been in a position to win at all. The real Dalvin Cook seems to have finally shown up and dominated when the Seminoles were on offense. Unfortunately, he didn’t play defense as well. Cook will get three more big chances to show the Heisman folks what he can do – against Miami, Clemson and Florida. (Next: at Miami)
- Baker Mayfield, QB, Sr., Oklahoma (Last week: 9)
This week: 23-of-30 for 274 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs; 12 carries for 55 yards, 2 TDs
This season: 78-of-115 for 1,067 yards, 9 TDs, 2 INTs; 33 carries for 59 yards, 2 TDs
Oklahoma (2-2), beat TCU, 52-46
Mayfield had his best day of the season, and the Sooners needed every bit of it to hold off the Horned Frogs. Winning the Heisman is probably out of the realm of possibility at this point, but Mayfield can still put together a very special season if he and the Sooners can win out – starting with a big day against their biggest rival this Saturday. (Next: vs. Texas at Dallas)
- Christian McCaffrey, RB, Jr., Stanford (Last week: 2)
This week: 12 carries for 49 yards, 0 TDs; 5 receptions for 30 yards, 0 TDs
This season: 91 carries for 485 yards, 3 TDs; 17 receptions for 149 yards, 1 TD
Stanford (3-1), lost to Washington, 44-6
McCaffrey finally ran into a wall against a fired-up Washington team that embarrassed both him and the Cardinal. With the loss, Stanford’s chances of getting in the College Football Playoff are practically rendered non-existent, and McCaffrey’s chances at the Heisman are about the same. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where he can post stats and impress voters at a level that will eclipse any of the contending quarterbacks on this list. (Next: vs. Washington State)
- Patrick Mahomes, QB, Sr., California (Last week: NR)
This week: 27-of-34 for 277 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT; 8 carries for 27 yards
This season: 121-of-166 for 1,770 yards, 18 TDs, 3 INTs; 41 carries for 165 yards, 2 TDs
Texas Tech (3-1), beat Kansas, 55-19
The newest addition to our Heisman countdown is Mahomes, who has lighted up opposing secondaries like no other quarterback this season. Mahomes is at or near the top of practically every passing statistic, and he’s one of the big reasons the Red Raiders are 3-1 and hoping for a breakthrough season. All Mahomes is missing to move further up this list is a signature win. He’ll get several chances after this week. Once Texas Tech clears Kansas State, six of its next seven opponents are West Virginia, Oklahoma, TCU, Texas, Oklahoma State and Baylor. (Next: at Kansas State)
Falling off: Leonard Fournette, RB, Jr., LSU
On the bubble: Jake Browning, QB, Soph., Washington; Kenny Hill, QB, Jr., TCU;Trevor Knight, QB, Sr., Texas A&M; Donnell Pumphrey, RB, Sr., San Diego State; Seth Russell, QB, Sr., Baylor; Mitch Trubisky, QB, Jr., North Carolina; Davis Webb, QB, Sr., California
Look who’s still undefeated … Ten more teams exited the ranks of the unbeaten last Saturday, leaving us with just 16 teams that have yet to lose. Still on that list are Maryland and Air Force – and of those two, the Falcons are much more likely to stay there for a while. Maryland plays at Penn State this week, while Air Force plays at upstart Wyoming, which could present an unexpected challenge. Still, Air Force should be favored in every game it plays until the season finale at home against Boise State.
… And look who hasn’t won yet. Only four teams remain on this list, including Arkansas State, which didn’t play last week. The remaining three are Georgia State, Rice and Miami (Ohio). It’s likely that all four teams will at some point get their maiden victories, but playing this far into a season without a victory always puts fans and university presidents on edge. The most likely candidate for a first win this week is Georgia State, which plays at home against my No. 122 team, Texas State, this Saturday.
Never say never. In the span of just a few minutes last Saturday, college football fans saw why if any time remains on the clock, any close game can still be won by either team. As Florida State tried to hold off North Carolina and Tennessee tried to win at Georgia, I found myself flipping between the two games to see how they both ended. First came the ending at Georgia. With just one minute left, Georgia QB Jacob Eason had the biggest moment of his career as he quickly navigated the Bulldogs to near midfield. Then, with just 10 seconds remaining, Eason hit Riley Ridley with a 47-yard touchdown pass that seemed to seal the game. There were, however, 10 seconds on the clock, and Georgia committed two penalties that gave Tennessee an extra 20 yards for its last play. So with only four seconds on the clock, Vols’ QB Joshua Dobbs threw a “Hail Mary” pass that was collected in the end zone by Jauan Jennings for another TD. Game over. Tennessee wins. Switch to the Florida State game, where the Seminoles fought back from 14 points down to take a one-point lead with only 23 seconds left in the game. Tar Heels’ QB Mitch Trubisky completed a big pass to near midfield, and an FSU interference penalty then placed the ball at the Seminoles’ 37-yard line with only four ticks on the clock. UNC coach Larry Fedora put the game on the foot of his place kicker – who had just had an extra point blocked a few minutes earlier. PK Nick Weiler had never kicked a field goal longer than 49 yards – but on Saturday snuck the game-winning 54-yarder inside the right upright to steal the victory from the Noles. All of that happened within a five-minute span, and it’s why college football is such an amazing sport to follow …
… And why it’s risky to bet on them. Yes, I publish ATS predictions, as do a number of other sites. But I never bet on games myself, largely because even sure things are never sure things. Take, for instance, the Tennessee game. With just one minute left, Tennessee had cleared or tied the point-spread victory (depending on which service you’re looking at), leading Georgia 28-24. But in that last minute, the lead changed hands twice, and because the last score came as time ran out there was no extra point. Thus, Tennessee won by only three points – one point shy of the 3.5-point spread that I posted. Meanwhile, look at a game like San Diego State at South Alabama, where the visitors were 20-point favorites. The Aztecs looked at least like huge favorites to at least win, and many (including myself) had them pretty easily clearing the point spread. Four quarters later, South Alabama had roasted the Aztecs, 42-24. That’s a 38-point swing for those who are doing the math. Not only did Vegas and bettors miss on that one, they missed by nuclear warhead range. So the next time you see someone posting a “guaranteed pick,” make sure that it’s a “money-back guarantee pick.” Otherwise, it’s best to just pick these games like I do – for an additional challenge, and for fun.
Copyright © 2016 Doug DeBolt