Welcome to the debut version of The Professor, our weekly examination of the college football landscape. For complete results from Week 5, check out USA TODAY’s scoreboard.
The Essay Question
One of my least favorite topics of conversation is debating what’s better: the NFL or college football. It’s a pointless argument, one that will never convince either side of anything, and NFL-centric fans will surely point to Saturday’s West Virginia-Baylor game, laugh and declare it inferior. But, whatever. Football comes in all shapes and sizes, and I prefer to just enjoy it all. No one’s forcing anyone to make a decision between Saturdays and Sundays, and it’s possible to enjoy both strong defensive football and wide-open offensive football.
Shake your head while perusing the box score of the West Virginia-Baylor game if you must. I’d rather enjoy the show. West Virginia won 70-63. The teams combined for 1,507 yards of offense. West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith threw for 656 yards and had two more touchdowns (eight) than incompletions (six). Baylor QB Nick Florence threw for 581 yards and five touchdowns and was somehow overshadowed. Six receivers had at least 100 yards -- four of them had double-digit catches, three of them had at least 200 yards and two of them had at least 300 yards. Yes, that’s right, West Virginia’s Stedman Bailey had 13 catches for 303 yards and three touchdowns, but Baylor’s Terrance Williams topped him with 17 catches for 314 yards and two touchdowns.
This is a game that came dangerously close to going into overtime, and, well, I can’t even imagine what stats would have looked like in a multi-overtime game. Both defenses are horrible, there’s no debate. Even when the two defenses played as soft as possible, the receivers won out. And, yes, it can be frustrating to watch two teams continuously whiff on tackles or give the quarterback 10 seconds to get rid of the ball. But what makes college football so great is how many different types of games you can experience in one day. West Virginia and Baylor played a shootout, then Ohio State and Michigan had a defensive slugfest in the next time slot. There’s plenty of room to enjoy it all.
What’s clear is that Art Briles looks like more of an offensive genius as Baylor rolls without Robert Griffin III, and Dana Holgorsen has found a near-perfect combination of players to run his Air Raid attack, between Smith, Bailey and Tavon Austin.
There’s enough to be cynical about in college football. I prefer to think of Saturday afternoon in Morgantown as an entertaining work of art created by two of the game’s brightest offensive minds, explosive receivers, a great quarterback in Smith and an up-and-comer in Florence. West Virginia’s inability to defend anything that moves will prevent it from seriously contending for the national title, but at the very least the Mountaineers have challenged Oregon for the title of funnest team in college football. If you want to watch well-oiled machines with the best football players in the world, watch the NFL. And if you want Saturdays full of constant surprises, watch college football. Or better yet, do both.
Texas can win with David Ash. Much of the attention after Saturday’s 41-36 win at Oklahoma State will focus on what may have been a botched call on Joe Bergeron’s game-winning two-yard touchdown run (he appeared to have fumbled before crossing the goal line). But let’s instead focus our attention on the embattled Ash, who has morphed into a highly effective passer after a brutal freshman year. Last year he never threw for more than 158 yards while splitting time. This year he threw for 326 yards and four touchdowns at Ole Miss and followed by completing 30 of 37 passes for 304 yards and three touchdowns in a crucial win in Stillwater. Even better, he got on the same page as WR Jaxon Shipley, who led Texas with five catches for 82 yards and three touchdowns. Regardless of Oklahoma State’s numbers, we know that Texas has a talented defense. Now, we know that Ash can be pretty darn good, too.
Georgia is the SEC’s most balanced team. The Bulldogs entered the season known for their quarterback, Aaron Murray, and a Jarvis Jones-led defense. Suddenly, the biggest news is they’re going to run all over just about everyone for the next few years. The dismissal of Isaiah Crowell left a big question mark in the backfield, but two freshmen have teamed to make Georgia’s running game even better. For the second time in five games, both Todd Gurley (24 carries for 130 yards and three touchdowns) and Keith Marshall (10 carries for 164 yards and two touchdowns) hit 100 yards, and that’s on top of another solid performance from Murray (278 yards, two touchdowns). Yes, it’s concerning that the Bulldogs nearly choked away the game and gave up 44 points to Tennessee, but the defense has a greater margin for error than expected.
Don’t take Oregon State lightly. The Beavers won three games last year. They're 3-0 this year. They beat Wisconsin by three, UCLA by seven and now Arizona by three, thanks to a nine-yard touchdown pass with 1:09 left. Perhaps Mike Riley’s squad can’t keep the heroics going, but there’s surprisingly a bunch of talent here. Sean Mannion threw for 433 yards, Storm Woods ran for 161 yards and Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks combined for 315 receiving yards. Arizona’s defense is lousy, but I don’t think anyone wants a piece of Oregon State right now. After Stanford’s loss to Washington on Thursday night, the Beavers look like the Pac-12 North’s second best team.
Penn State is entertaining to watch, in its own way. The Nittany Lions have already started to drift into the background nationally, but they made a nice little statement on the road at a bad Illinois team on Saturday. Penn State players had circled this game on their calendars after Illinois sent most of its coaching staff to State College to attempt to poach transfers in the summer. Now we can see why Tim Beckman was so desperate for players. Penn State dominated, 35-7, and linebacker Michael Mauti once again looked like one of the nation’s best defensive players. But there’s also something interesting happening on offense. The unit is not entertaining in the same way that West Virginia is entertaining. Instead, it’s fun to watch Bill O’Brien creatively work with what he has, post-transfers. Matt McGloin is playing well for being Matt McGloin, and O’Brien has an endless supply of running backs and tight ends. With Silas Redd gone in the backfield, Penn State has rotated in a former receiver (Bill Belton), a fullback (Michael Zordich), a walk-on (Derek Day) and a guy who tore his ACL in 2010 and was buried on the depth chart (Zach Zwinak). Somehow, it’s working.
The best non-BCS team is Louisiana Tech. OK, we’ve established that Illinois is pretty bad. Still, that doesn’t take away from the fact that the Bulldogs, a WAC team, won 52-24 in Champaign last week and followed by winning 44-38 at Virginia this week. No, Virginia isn’t very good either, but Sonny Dykes’ Louisiana Tech offense is averaging 52 points per game with a 4-0 record. A shootout with Texas A&M is still to come in two weeks after it was postponed in Week 1, but, with Boise State down (the Broncos barely escaped New Mexico, 32-29), the Bulldogs might be the best of the rest.
Never underestimate the mighty Sun Belt. Sun Belt teams usually get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to take beatings at the hands of SEC, ACC and Big 12 teams. In some cases, it’s been business as usual. But like the MAC up north, the Sun Belt is giving southern teams headaches. First there was Louisiana-Monroe beating Arkansas, taking Auburn to overtime and pushing Baylor to the brink. There was Western Kentucky beating Kentucky. Now there’s Middle Tennessee, which embarrassed Georgia Tech 49-28 in Atlanta. Round of applause for senior Blue Raiders running back Benny Cunningham, who ran 27 times for 217 yards and five touchdowns after posting only one 100-yard game in his career heading into Saturday. Making things worse for Georgia Tech? Middle Tennessee opened the season by losing to FCS McNeese State. Combine the Yellow Jackets’ loss with Virginia Tech losing to Cincinnati and Virginia losing to Louisiana Tech, and it was a disastrous day for the ACC Coastal. Don’t mess with the Sun Belt.
Grading the Rest of the Weekend
A: Ohio State
Via the essential Buckeyes’ website Eleven Warriors, Ohio State’s defense didn’t allow Michigan State to pick up one first down on the ground in its 17-16 win. The Buckeyes bottled up star Le’Veon Bell, holding him to 17 carries for 45 yards on the ground, and they sure look like the best team in a weak Big Ten.
All-name team captain Munchie Legaux completed only 19 of 42 passes, but in the fourth quarter against Virginia Tech he had TD passes of 76 and 39 yards. The latter came with 13 seconds left to give the Bearcats a 27-24 win and a 3-0 record. The Big East isn’t dead yet.
I have absolutely no idea how good Nebraska is, I have absolutely no idea how good Wisconsin is, and chances are you don’t either. The Big Ten is a mess. The best team is ineligible, Penn State may still be halfway decent but is also ineligible, and Purdue and Northwestern could end up in the Big Ten title game for all we know. If nothing else, Nebraska and Wisconsin delivered an exciting game on Saturday night. The Cornhuskers rallied from a 27-10 second-half deficit, Taylor Martinez ran for 107 yards and had three total TDs and the Blackshirt defense was dominant in the second half.
B: Texas Tech
Texas Tech spent a decade playing terrible teams in the nonconference schedule, scoring lots of points and getting its defense exposed by real competition. Tommy Tuberville is sticking with the creampuff non-Big 12 opponents, but what’s gotten into the Red Raiders defense? They entered Saturday No. 1 in the country in yards allowed, and they held Iowa State to 189 yards in a 24-13 win to move to 4-0. Of course, that defense will actually be tested the next few weeks with FIVE ranked opponents in a row: Oklahoma, West Virginia, TCU, Kansas State and Texas.
Clemson avoided Clemsoning, shaking off a rough start against Boston College a week after losing a high-profile game at Florida State. The Tigers trailed 21-17 late in the first half, but they turned things around with TD with 23 seconds left and went on to win 45-31 in Chestnut Hill behind 576 yards of offense, including 11 catches for 197 yards and a touchdown for DeAndre Hopkins in the absence of Sammy Watkins, who missed the game because of illness.
The race for the Leaders Division’s spot in the Big Ten title game comes down to four teams: Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Purdue. We can cross off Illinois and Indiana simply because they’re Illinois and Indiana. That leaves Wisconsin, which has played roughly two good halves of football this year, and Purdue, which is 3-1 with a three-point loss to Notre Dame. This week, Purdue looked great in rolling up 51 points on Marshall but looked terrible in allowing Marshall to put up 41 points of its own.
C: Alabama, South Carolina, Florida State and LSU
Four elite teams … four so-so performances. Each team received a scare to varying degrees but ultimately won somewhat convincingly. It’s unlikely that anything can be gleaned from these games, and they serve as further reminders that nobody can be perfect every week.
After their season-opening win at Penn State, the Bobcats were pegged by many to be a candidate to go undefeated because of a soft schedule. Well, they are 5-0, but they received a big scare from UMass in a 37-34 win at Gillette Stadium. On the positive side, Beau Blankenship ran 44 times for 269 yards and two touchdowns. But it feels like Ohio is bound to slip up somewhere, even if it’s not until the MAC title game.
D+: M.M. Roberts Stadium’s drainage system
Big East favorite Louisville overcame a 17-6 deficit to win 21-17 at Southern Miss. If you look at the box score, you might notice that Southern Miss completed two passes. Southern Miss entered the game ranked 116th in passing, so that’s not totally shocking. But it’s even less shocking when you look at the miserable playing conditions on an artificial surface in what turned into a swim meet in Hattiesburg.
D: The option
In addition to Georgia Tech’s miserable outing against Middle Tennessee, fellow option teams Army and Navy laid eggs against bad opponents. Army, the nation’s best rushing team, lost 23-3 at home to FCS Stony Brook. Navy lost 12-0 at home to San Jose State. At least there’s Air Force, which pulled back to .500 by beating Colorado State 42-21.
The Razorbacks lost 58-10 to Texas A&M. Their only win is against Jacksonville State. Nothing else needs to be said.
Kain Colter, Everything, Northwestern: Colter doesn’t have a position. He shares the field with fellow quarterback Trevor Siemian. In Saturday’s 44-29 win over Indiana, Colter threw just three passes to Siemian’s 32. Instead, all Colter did was run 14 times for 161 yards and four touchdowns and catch nine passes for 131 yards.
Stephen Morris, QB, Miami: OK, Miami did blow a 23-7 first-quarter lead, holding on to win 44-37 against N.C. State. But how about the numbers for the often-criticized Morris the last two weeks? In a comeback win over Georgia Tech, he threw for 436 yards and two touchdowns. Then, against N.C. State, he threw for an ACC-record 566 yards and five touchdowns, including a game-winning 62-yard TD with 19 seconds left.
Mark Weisman, RB, Iowa: The AIRBHG is missing. Weisman, a walk-on transfer former fullback from Air Force, obliterated the Minnesota defense for 177 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, giving him an unlikely 507 yards in the last three games.
Student of the Year
If I had a Heisman ballot …
1. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia. Four games, 1,728 yards, 20 touchdowns, zero interceptions, only 28 incompletions. Any questions?
2. Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame. Off this week, but Te’o is the heart and soul of a Notre Dame team that’s 4-0 and has played some of the best defense in the country. He was last seen intercepting two passes against Michigan.
3. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State. The passing numbers aren’t gaudy, but Miller’s the reason Ohio State is unbeaten and probably the best team in the Big Ten. He’s averaged 115 rushing yards per game and has 15 total touchdowns.
Ranking the remaining games based on national championship implications:
1. LSU at Alabama, Nov. 3
2. LSU at Florida, Oct. 6
3. Oregon at Oregon State, Nov. 24
4. Florida at Florida State, Nov. 24
5. Georgia at South Carolina, Oct. 6
On the Syllabus for Week 6
The SEC and Big 12 races begin to sort themselves out next week. LSU travels to Florida and Georgia travels to South Carolina in the SEC, while West Virginia goes to Texas in the Big 12. Toss in Miami at Notre Dame and Nebraska at Ohio State, and this could be one of the best and most important Saturdays of the season.