By Joel Silverberg / @JoelSilverberg
It’s starting to look very unfamiliar within the ranks of the unbeatens.
Of course we have the usual faces with Oklahoma, LSU, Clemson and Ohio State cruising to wins over the weekend. Alabama needed to shake off a pesky performance from Tennessee and Penn State outlasted Michigan at home. The Power 5 conferences will sort themselves out no later than the first weekend in December. Alabama and LSU play on Nov. 9 after each team has a bye. The ACC continues to be puzzling with no clear challenger to Clemson.
P.J. Fleck has Minnesota off to a 7-0 start after a 42-7 win over Rutgers and the Golden Gophers have a great opportunity to make it eight wins with a home game against Maryland next Saturday. Minnesota’s schedule avoids the Buckeyes, but the Gophers will host Penn State, visit Iowa and welcome Wisconsin all in November. We’ll see what this team is really made of.
SMU was unfazed by a potential test at home against Temple and ran away in the second half to a 45-21 win to make it 7-0 for the Mustangs.
In the Big 12 Baylor was undefeated and ranked 18th in the country yet an underdog on the road against Oklahoma State. After a slow first half the Bears scored 35 second half points in a 45-27 victory to improve to 7-0. It’s an impressive start. Baylor still has to play Oklahoma and Texas and does so on consecutive weeks in November.
Appalachian State is 6-0 after pummeling Louisiana-Monroe 52-7. The Mountaineers have beaten a Power 5 team already when they stunned North Carolina and they’ll visit South Carolina on Nov. 9.
Speaking of North Carolina, the Tar Heels have been one of the most exciting teams to watch this season. I don’t mean specifically the Tar Heels, but six of North Carolina’s seven games have been decided by six points or fewer and Saturday’s 43-41 loss to Virginia Tech in six overtimes was pure chaos. North Carolina has lost four games by a combined 12 points, including a failed two-point conversion against Clemson and a blocked game-tying field goal against App State. Mack Brown’s first year back in Chapel Hill has been a wild one.
The Good: Penn State. Yeah, the Nittany Lions have been here before, but Penn State punched Michigan in the mouth early and held on for a 28-21 win. A week after getting a tough test from Iowa, Penn State was able to get up for a big primetime game at home. For the first time this season the defense was tested and it passed. Granted it needed a dropped game-tying touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter, but this defense still looks legitimate enough to carry a team if it can navigate the rest of a tough schedule. The Nittany Lions visit Michigan State next week and head to Minnesota the week after. Oh yeah, and there’s that road trip to Columbus in late November. If Penn State makes it through the regular season unscathed and wins the Big Ten it is an undisputed playoff team. But that is a ginormous “if”.
Honorable Mention: Oregon. Down by 14 in the second half on the road in a big division game against Washington and the Ducks came through in a 35-31 thriller in Seattle. We know that Justin Herbert is terrific, but Cyrus Habibi-Likio was outstanding for Oregon, carrying 14 times for 81 yards and a touchdown. Oregon got big plays when it needed them and the defense came up with three straight stops in the second half to aid the comeback. Oregon is in the driver’s seat in the Pac-12 North, but can it run the table to keep its playoff hopes alive?
The Bad: Boise State. Missing your quarterback hurts. Falling behind by 18 points in the second half to a 2-4 team hurts worse. Boise State couldn’t overcome either of those in a three-point loss to BYU after a late rally fell short. Two turnovers and a missed field goal didn’t help and the Broncos fell from the ranks of the undefeated on Saturday. Boise State is always interesting late in the year when putting together potentially unblemished seasons, but it might’ve been the Group of 5’s best hope to do it. The American looks deep enough for SMU to stumble and Appalachian State has only played six games.
Honorable Mention: Texas. I don’t care if the Longhorns won. I don’t care if Kansas now has a national championship winner as its head coach. You don’t lose to Kansas if you’re Texas, especially in Austin, where it has never happened and still hasn’t thanks to Cameron Dicker’s heroics again. His 33-yard field goal as time expired allowed the Longhorns to hang on for a 50-48 win. The field goal came after Texas squandered a 10-point lead in the fourth and saw Kansas take a late lead after hitting a two-point conversion instead of tying the game with 1:11 remaining. Tom Herman’s defense gave up 569 yards, 48 points and didn’t force a turnover. If Texas wants a rematch against Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game it needs to be better than that.
The Ugly: Wisconsin. C’mon, Badgers! We mocked the Big Ten West as a division and stepped back a little when you opened the season with back-to-back shutouts. Then we gave you a slight nod as a favorite to Michigan at home, which you turned into a 21-point rout. We praised your defense as you ran off back-to-back shutouts again. But a loss to Illinois? Don’t give me that it-was-a-conference-road-game crap, either. This is an Illinois team that lost to Eastern Michigan at home. Three turnovers in a loss to an inferior opponent is ugly. I’m not buying the “looking ahead” excuse, either. You have to take care of business in Champaign before worrying about the trip to Columbus next week. Good luck bouncing back.
Honorable Mention: Missouri. Just when everyone slowly starts to forget about the season-opening loss to Wyoming and let the Tigers back in the polls again, Missouri matches its lowest point total in a game since last October in a loss to a Vanderbilt squad that got pounded by UNLV last week. Missouri is 5-0 at home, but 0-2 on the road in losses to the Cowboys and the Commodores. The Tigers are on the road for its next two games against Kentucky and Georgia. Can this team get both units to travel? It hasn’t yet.