Charlie Strong … had his team almost ready to beat Oklahoma on Saturday. The Longhorns actually held the lead three times before finally digging too big of a hole and narrowly losing by five points to their biggest rival. Texas has what should be two gimme wins against Iowa State and Kansas, but also has five Big 12 matchups that the ‘Horns could either win or lose. At this point, it’s hard to predict that Texas will wind up with a winning record, especially given how inconsistent they’ve been this season. That one fact alone is fairly damning for Strong, because a coach should be able to get his team ready every week. It’s doubtful that Texas will make a change right now because the Longhorns did put up a good fight against the Sooners. But if Strong loses too many more games – especially in a row – or if he loses one of those gimme games, all bets are off.
Mark Helfrich … might not be coach by the time you read this. That’s how bad Oregon was against Washington on Saturday. The Ducks went down 7-0 less than two minutes into the game and were trailing 28-0 before they finally scored in the second quarter. By the time the game was over, the Huskies had demolished Oregon 70-21, amassing 682 yards in offense. In their last three games, Oregon has given up an average of 642 yards and 54 points. It’s simply unbelievable that this is the same football program that played for the national championship two years ago. But this isn’t that same team. That team was still coasting a bit on the momentum created by former coach Chip Kelly. Now in his fourth year, this is truly Helfrich’s team, and it’s looking, well, putrid. The the murderer’s row schedule that’s facing Oregon the rest of the way, I fully expect the Ducks to be out of bowl contention by the first week of November. But by then, I don’t expect Helfrich (or defensive coordinator Brady Hoke) to be part of the Oregon football program.
Brian Kelly … should buy a mirror. That way he could look into it and stare straight into the eyes of the person responsible for his team’s 2-4 start. I was among the many who grossly overestimated this Notre Dame squad, in part because of Kelly’s success in recruiting quality players. In the five years leading up to the 2016 season, the Irish have averaged a recruiting rank of about 10th, including three Top 10 finishes. But the team we’re seeing line up each Saturday looks no better than a middle-of-the-pack ACC team, much like the NC State team that embarrassed Notre Dame in the rain this weekend. Oh sure, we could buy in to Kelly’s rant about how bad the snapping was. But who recruited that snapper? And who coached him. Other coaches – especially the good ones – don’t tend to blame their players when things go wrong. They put the blame on the coaching staff and pledge to get it right next time. Kelly tends to look around for the closest person to blame. In the hands of a coach like Nick Saban or Urban Meyer, Notre Dame might be a national power. With Brian Kelly, the Irish are, at best, just a decent team without a conference to help them get into a good bowl. Instead, they have to rely on their fan base to get them into games they don’t generally deserve, and that better teams with smaller fan bases will never get. Kelly may survive this season, but there are at least four games ahead that I don’t give the Irish much chance of winning. Three more losses will make them ineligible for a bowl. The last time that happened was 2009 – when the Irish gave Charlie Weis the boot.
Doc Holliday … probably isn’t going anywhere this year. But he has to be feeling the heat after losing to North Texas on Saturday. Holliday is in his seventh season at Marshall, and he’s only started 1-4 one other time – his first season in 2010, when the Thundering Herd actually started 1-6. Of course, that team had losses to ranked Ohio State and West Virginia. This Marshall team lost to Louisville, but also lost by double digits to North Texas and Akron, and has its only win over FCS underling Morgan State. There are definitely a few chances for wins ahead, but there are also several likely losses. The chances of Marshall going to a bowl are very slim, and that’s very disappointing for a team that was expected to contend for at least the Conference USA East title. Since Marshall won 10 games last season, it’s likely the Herd faithful will give him another season to right the ship. But going from 10 wins to four or five in one season won’t sit well, so expect Holliday’s leash to become very short.
Dan Mullen … is in his eighth season at Mississippi State, and ranks as the schools third-winningest coach in terms of wins and second in terms of winning percentage. (Jackie Sherrill won the most games – 75 – but also lost 75 games. And the highest winning percentage was Allyn McKeen, who roamed the sidelines during World War II and who guided the Bulldogs to the 1940 Orange Bowl against Georgetown.) It’s highly unlikely that one losing season will send Mullen packing. The problem is that the Bulldogs don’t look like a very good team right now. Mullen did have a lot of success the past two years, but it’s looking like that was due primarily to one player – Dak Prescott, who is now making the Dallas Cowboys look good. Mississippi State has three key games coming up – at BYU and Kentucky, and at home against Samford. It needs to win all three and go into a brutal stretch – Texas A&M, Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss – at 5-3 and with at least a remote chance of becoming bowl-eligible. If the Bulldogs lose one or more of those games, the heat on Mullen will crank up immensely.
- Lamar Jackson, QB, Soph., Louisville (Last week: 1)
This week: OFF
This season: 101-of-170 for 1,625 yards, 14 TDs, 4 INTs; 92 carries for 688 yards, 14 TDs
Jackson is so far ahead that not even a bye week can put a dent in his Heisman chances. Check that. There was a dent in the chances when Houston posted a loss to Navy, meaning that the Cougars won’t be an undefeated, Top Ten team when they face Louisville in November. Even so, Jackson will likely continue to put up such a highlight reel that he should stay on top of these rankings for a while, if not permanently. (Next: Friday vs. Duke)
- Deshaun Watson, QB, Jr., Clemson (Last week: 3)
This week: 14-of-24 for 266 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs; 8 carries for 28 yards
This season: 124-of-205 for 1,568 yards, 18 TDs, 7 INTs; 57 carries for 229 yards
Clemson (6-0), beat Boston College, 56-10
Watson seems to be hitting his stride at the perfect time. Clemson became the first team to hit six wins and become bowl eligible, though the Tigers’ goals are definitely set much higher than that. The only obstacle standing between Clemson and the division title – and perhaps the College Football Playoff – is the Oct. 29 matchup with Florida State. (Next: vs. NC State)
- J.T. Barrett, QB, Sr., Ohio State (Last week: 2)
This week: 9-of-21 for 93 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT; 26 carries for 137 yards, 1 TD
This season: 79-of-123 for 981 yards, 10 TDs, 2 INTs; 70 carries for 342 yards, 4 TDs
Ohio State (5-0) beat Indiana, 38-17
Barrett finally looked human as a passer, completing less than 50 percent of his passes for less than 100 yards. On the other hand, he was superhuman as a runner, and led the Buckeyes on the ground. No, he wasn’t amazing, but he was still effective. The big question is how Barrett and Ohio State will look in the next two months, which features matchups against their biggest rivals and leads to the ultimate showdown with Michigan on Nov. 26. (Next: at Wisconsin)
- Greg Ward Jr., QB, Sr., Houston (Last week: 4)
This week: 32-of-50 for 359 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs; 17 carries for 94 yards, 1 TD
This season: 131-of-190 for 1,684 yards, 11 TDs, 4 INTs; 80 carries for 269 yards, 6 TDs
Houston (5-1), lost to Navy, 46-40
Ward had some problems with accuracy on Saturday, as he threw two interceptions. The bigger problem was that he didn’t play defense, and his Cougars couldn’t find a way to stop Navy’s running attack. Ward did lead Houston on seven scoring drives, which should be enough to be any opponent. Still, a loss on Ward’s resume will probably derail his chances for the trophy, unless he can find a way to outshine Lamar Jackson and Louisville in November. (Next: vs. Tulsa)
- Jalen Hurts, QB, Fresh., Alabama (Last week: 5)
This week: 13-of-17 for 253 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT; 8 carries for 20 yards, 2 TDs
This season: 97-of-152 for 1,242 yards, 9 TDs, 2 INTs; 62 carries for 296 yards, 5 TDs
Alabama (6-0), beat Arkansas, 49-30
Hurts continues to look like a seasoned veteran in leading the Alabama offense. He’s far from spectacular, but he’s more than effective and makes very few mistakes. Alabama has three critical games ahed in the next month against Tennessee, Texas A&M and LSU. That stretch will determine just how ready the Tide is for a playoff run, as well as how ready Hurts is to lead them there. (Next: at Tennessee)
- Dalvin Cook, RB, Jr., Florida State (Last week: 7)
This week: 27 carries for 150 yards, 0 TDs; 1 reception for 59 yards, 1 TD
This season: 134 carries for 785 yards, 7 TDs; 20 receptions for 345 yards, 1 TD
Florida State (4-2), beat Miami, 20-19
The new and improved Dalvin Cook continues to show up and impress. While it’s impossible to ignore Cook’s disappearing act in the first few games, it’s nice to see him finally showcasing the skills we all knew he had. There’s still a chance that he’ll get on the podium, and he has a fairly easy schedule to help him get there. The biggest remaining games are Clemson (Oct. 29) and Florida (Nov. 26). (Next: vs. Wake Forest)
- Chad Kelly, QB, Jr., Mississippi (Last week: 6)
This week: OFF
This season: 115-of-174 for 1,896 yards, 13 TDs, 4 INTs; 38 carries for 124 yards, 1 TD
Kelly may be the best quarterback in the country, but he has been so inconsistent that even the most forgiving NFL scout has to have at least a few questions. Hopefully, he took the week off to work on his check-offs and alternate routes, as well as his decision-making. He’ll need it in the next three weeks with Arkansas, LSU and Auburn waiting to test him and the Rebels. (Next: at Arkansas)
- Patrick Mahomes, QB, Sr., Texas Tech (Last week: 10)
This week: 45-of-62 for 504 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT; 9 carries for (-3) yards, 3 TDs
This season: 166-of-228 for 2,274 yards, 20 TDs, 4 INTs; 50 carries for 162 yards, 7 TDs
Texas Tech (3-2), lost to Kansas State, 44-38
Even in defeat, Mahomes was still incredibly accurate and kept his team in the game until the end. With yet another huge passing performance, Mahomes added to his nation-leading yardage stats. If you’re looking for a player that’s the MVP of his team, you couldn’t do worse than Mahomes – without whom, Texas Tech would be definitely struggling. A gauntlet of opponents awaits him, with West Virginia the next to try and stop him. (Next: vs. West Virginia)
- Jake Browning, QB, Soph., Washington (Last week: NR)
This week: 22-of-28 for 304 yards, 6 TDs, 0 INTs; 6 carries for 21 yards, 2 TDs
This season: 104-of-144 for 1,414 yards, 23 TDs, 2 INTs; 26 carries for 48 yards, 3 TDs
Washington (6-0), beat Oregon, 70-21
Browning and the Huskies are this season’s biggest surprises. Most pundits expected them to be better. But no one expected them to be this good. Browning and the Huskies are hitting a stride that makes them look so scary that no one really wants any part of them – including every team in the Pac-12. Based on how both have run through their two closest competitors in the Pac-12 North (Stanford and Oregon), there doesn’t seem to be any team remaining on the schedule that will pose a realistic threat to either. (Next: Oct. 22 vs. Oregon State)
- Baker Mayfield, QB, Sr., Oklahoma (Last week: 8)
This week: 22-of-31 for 390 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs; 4 carries for 20 yards, 1 TD
This season: 100-of-146 for 1,457 yards, 12 TDs, 4 INTs; 37 carries for 79 yards, 3 TDs
Oklahoma (2-2), beat Texas, 45-40
Mayfield is definitely improving, though he threw two early interceptions that slowed the Oklahoma offensive attack. Still, he’s clearly the leader of the Sooners, and when he’s really on, Oklahoma is hard to defeat. With the Big 12 in a down year, the road for Mayfield to post some big numbers should be pretty clear. (Next: vs. Kansas State)
Falling off: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Jr., Stanford
On the bubble: Jake Browning, QB, Soph., Washington; Leonard Fournette, RB, Jr., LSU; 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 … Five more teams got their first lost on Saturday, leaving only 11 teams in the ranks of the unbeaten. Among those 11 are six teams that hit six wins and bowl eligibility after just six weeks. Nothing could be more perfect than that – unless four of them ended up reaching 13-0 in the College Football Playoff. That possibility does exist, as seven conferences still have undefeated teams – SEC (Alabama and Texas A&M), Big Ten (Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska), ACC (Clemson), Big 12 (Baylor and West Virginia), Pac-12 (Washington), Mountain West (Boise State) and MAC (Western Michigan).
… And look who hasn’t won yet. We’re down to just two teams that have not yet won – Rice (which had a bye in Week 6) and Miami (Ohio), which lost 35-13 to Akron and takes over as our lowest-ranked team in the Top 128. Rice gets Prairie View A&M in two weeks, so it’s likely they’ll leave the winless club then. The Redhawks have two-win Kent State and one-win Bowling Green and Buffalo ahead on their slate, so they’ll get a few good chances at winning at least one game.
Washington and Michigan are for real. Chris Peterson’s Huskies and Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines are both insanely good, and there’s a chance you’ll be seeing them play each other in the College Football Playoff. Both teams are hitting strides that will make them incredibly hard to beat as the season progresses. And both sent messages this week by putting up more than 70 points on their opponents. Peterson made the odd move of keeping starting QB Jake Browning in for the duration against Oregon, but he was spectacular throughout, accounting for six total touchdowns. Meanwhile, Harbaugh used three quarterbacks and a host of runners as the Wolverines amassed more than 600 yards on Rutgers and terrorized the Scarlet Knights on both sides of the ball. Michigan definitely has the harder road on its remaining schedule, especially with the season-ender against Ohio State. But both teams are going to give poll voters and playoff deciders a lot to think about as we get closer to the first playoff polls in November.
… And Notre Dame, Stanford and Oregon are not. In the preseason, I picked them for the Music City, Holiday and Alamo Bowls. Stanford still has a good chance at a halfway decent bowl, but it’s not because the Cardinal is so good, but because it has such a weak schedule. (In addition to Rice, Stanford also gets Oregon and Notre Dame, as well as Arizona and Oregon State.) But it’s looking more and more unlikely that either the Ducks or the Irish will be playing in the postseason this year. Instead, both might be looking for new coaches. Both teams still have a chance to turn things around before the season gets truly putrid. But given how horrid both have looked this year, it’s doubtful anything other than more disappointing losses.
Copyright © 2016 Doug DeBolt