Welcome to the Week 5 edition of The Professor, a weekly wrap-up of everything you need to know about the weekend in the college football.
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The Aesthetics of SEC Football
For years, wide-open, high-scoring football has entertained us, whether it was in the obscure confines of the WAC, or especially over the past decade, in the Big 12 and the Pac-12. Obviously, spread offenses and increased scoring have become widespread and accepted as the current status quo. And why not? Entertainment is 38-35, not 9-6. But what happens when it trickles into the SEC?
College football is the rare sport in which perceptions actually matter, where humans help decide the outcome of the national championship through flawed voting systems in which biases, conflicts-of-interest and other problematic issues arise, yearly. Saturday was as good of a test of attitudes toward the game as any, thanks to the two headlining SEC battles. First, Georgia hosted LSU in a matchup of top-10 teams, and the Bulldogs prevailed 44-41 in a shootout filled with blown coverages and precision passing that took advantage of sloppy defense. Second, Alabama hosted Ole Miss in a top-25 matchup featuring the No. 1 ranked team in the country and an upstart looking to break into the SEC's top tier. Alabama started slow, leading 9-0 at halftime, but broke the game open in the second half and cruised to a 25-0 shutout win.
This leaves us with two questions: One, which game was better? Two, which win was more impressive? It's an important distinction, and there are no clear-cut answers -- well, at least for No. 2. But the answers to the two questions aren't necessarily the same.
Georgia-LSU was a brilliantly entertaining back-and-forth affair featuring a duel between quarterbacks Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger. It was a showcase for formerly maligned offensive coordinators Mike Bobo and Cam Cameron, while celebrated defensive coordiantors Todd Grantham and John Chavis watched their game plans get shredded. It was the best game of the season, likely the best game since last year's SEC title bout between Georgia and Alabama, and I don't know how someone could claim to be a college football fan without enjoying what happened between the hedges at Sanford Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
But the strange thing is that, for years, the Big 12 was mocked for playing a similar game. Talented quarterbacks picked apart young, overmatched defenses, neither of which could get off the field (this game featured only three punts). Now that this type of game has clearly infiltrated the SEC, it's become more universally accepted. College football spent years building up to this, and now most good offenses are ahead of defenses, regardless of conference affiliation. Perhaps we're accustomed to it, or perhaps the SEC really does control the narrative, and when the SEC does it, it's entertaining and great football.
Alabama-Ole Miss was ugly. There was almost nothing appealing about watching the game. Alabama took one look at Hugh Freeze's Johnny Football/Mike Evans-free, up-tempo attack and decided to suffocate it, allowing Ole Miss to finish with only 205 total yards on only 57 plays (46 rushing yards on 25 attempts), while Alabama had 434 yards on 72 plays and held the ball for 38:29 of 60 minutes. Despite the close first-half score, the game was never within reach for the Rebels. Alabama dictated the pace and crushed Ole Miss in doing so.
Nick Saban famously asked last year, "Is this what we want football to be?" when talking about no-huddle offenses. We know what he wants it to be: more old-school, less improvisational, more Alabama-Ole Miss than Alabama-Texas A&M. But he's also smart enough to adapt, and he has the players to do all of the above. That is what makes Alabama so impressive and nearly invincible. As a viewer, give me LSU-Georgia any day, or, better yet, Alabama-Georgia, which seemed to combine the best of both worlds.
It's possible -- maybe probable -- that LSU or Georgia or both will develop great defenses and become adaptable enough to beat anyone, anywhere. But for now, entertainment value or not, Alabama has done nothing to prove it isn't still the best college football team in America. It may be the team that can best adapt to the game at hand ultimately has the best chance to win. Based on what we've seen this year, against Virginia Tech (in which Alabama rode big plays on defense and special teams), Texas A&M (in which Alabama won a shootout) and Ole Miss (in which Alabama methodically broke down the Rebels' offense), and what we know about the coaches and the players, it's hard to imagine Alabama not being that team, again. The Crimson Tide may lose once, to LSU, or to Georgia in the SEC title game. But it's unlikely they'll lose twice.
Change is a good thing. Georgia-LSU on Saturday was a good thing. Unfortunately for the SEC, nobody can change more quickly, from game to game or moment to moment, than Alabama, which continues to prove how adaptable it really is.
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Be honest: Part of you will miss USC head coach Lane Kiffin. I know part of me will. Not because I want to see USC fail, by any means, but because quirky coaching characters help make sports even more entertaining. There have been few characters as unique as the unjustly brash and arrogant Kiffin, who has spent his head coaching career burning every bridge possible.
In a column about the hot seat in the offseason, I wrote that it's sort amazing that Lane Kiffin is still only 38 years old -- and after the events of early Sunday morning, it's now only more amazing. At 38, most coaches are only dreaming of getting a head coaching gig anywhere, let alone the Raiders. Or the Raiders and Tennessee. Or the Raiders, Tennessee and USC. Yet Kiffin has taken the coaching profession into his own separate category of falling upward.
Before his 40th birthday, Kiffin has:
1) Been raked over the coals by Al Davis just four games into his second season.
2) Coached Tennessee for one season before leaving in a spectacularly abrupt fashion after a 7-6 season, with angry students left in his wake.
3) Been fired from one of the most coveted jobs in college sports in the parking lot of Los Angeles International Airport upon returning from a September road game at Arizona State. Read that sentence again, and then wonder if that could happen to anyone except Kiffin.
Lane Kiffin got pulled off the team bus at Los Angeles International Airport by Pat Haden when he was fired #USC- InsideUSC (@InsideUSC) September 29, 2013
Eventually, USC will be fine. Not immediately, with Ed Orgeron stepping in as interim coach, but it's not as if Kiffin didn't recruit well, and whoever replaces him won't have to deal with the worst part of NCAA sanctions. After losing 10-7 to Washington State and giving up 62 points to Arizona State, there's really nowhere to go but up. This is one of the best jobs in college football, and the list of interested parties is sure to be quite long. In what could be a busy offseason, at least former AD Mike Garrett won't be doing the hiring this time, and at least USC has a head start on hiring before a possible opening at Texas, which is one of the few jobs that's arguably better.
But I'm almost more interested in finding out where Kiffin ends up. USC will likely land a good coach, we know that. Kiffin, I have no idea. He's now flamed out at three high-profile gigs before the age of 40, and any label as some sort of offensive whiz kid has long since expired. Maybe his alma mater, Fresno State, will take pity on him if Tim DeRuyter leaves for a more high-profile gig. Maybe Western Kentucky will hire him to replace Bobby Petrino whenever Petrino leaves for a bigger job again. Or maybe Kiffin has finally become too toxic to rationally hire as the head coach of an FBS team.
Or maybe he'll become the next head coach of the New York Jets.
Every option seemingly remains on the table, based on the coaching history of Kiffin, and while going out in a massive recruiting scandal, as colleague Michael Weinreb wrote, would have been the perfect ending at USC, somehow, this bizarre airport firing seems just as fitting, because nobody could have predicted it would have gone down exactly like this. With apologies to his future players, I, perhaps morbidly, can't wait to see what happens next.
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The Reintroduction of Braxton Miller
As the Kenny Guiton hoopla grew louder over the last few weeks, something was lost: People forgot how good Braxton Miller was last year, when he was arguably the nation's best runner at quarterback and finished fifth for the Heisman in a 12-0 season. And they forgot how good he might become.
Guiton admirably stepped in and kept Urban Meyer's offense moving, completing 68.4 percent of his passes for 664 yards with 13 touchdowns and two interceptions while averaging 7.4 yards per carry. He looked sharp, but how anyone thought great performances against San Diego State, California and Florida A&M translated into pressure on Miller to keep his job is baffling. There was no doubt a healthy Miller would return to the starting lineup, and there was little doubt he would take another step forward in his second year under Meyer, becoming an even better player than he was a year ago, when he was certainly raw as a passer.
Saturday was just one game, but Miller returned from his knee injury against Wisconsin, and he was everything the Buckeyes could have hoped. He completed 17-of-25 passes for 198 yards and four touchdowns, and he ran the ball 22 times for 83 yards -- in addition to throwing blocks. He looked more confident as a passer against a solid Wisconsin defense that held him to 97 yards passing and 48 yards rushing last November. He looked like a quarterback ready to diversify an Ohio State offense that was overly reliant on big plays from his legs and arm, even as it went undefeated.
Despite the best efforts of Jared Abbrederis, Ohio State held off Wisconsin 31-24, taking firm control of the Big Ten Leaders Division after only one conference game. The Buckeyes have not lost under Meyer, and they will be favored in all their remaining games. Last year was filled with close wins and the right breaks; for the record to repeat itself, they need a more efficient passer behind center.
They can be comfortable knowing Guiton is waiting in the wings and he may be just as good as Miller as a passer. But Miller, finally, was able to prove again how capable he is of making the Ohio State offense fly. It's Miller's running that makes Ohio State good; it's his potential improvement as a passer that could put the Buckeyes over the top.
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And Then There Were Two
The Big 12 was expected to be wide-open this year, especially if Texas didn't follow through on its advantages in talent and resources. The Longhorns obviously haven't, meaning the race is wide-open, only maybe not as much as was previously thought. The league is undoubtedly weak, its depth having already taken a hit with games like Texas' devastating loss at BYU and Kansas State's loss to FCS power North Dakota State. But now it's beating itself up and ruining its own credibility.
After 37-0 loss to Maryland, Dana Holgorsen shook up his West Virginia roster, named Clint Trickett the starting quarterback, shuffled nearly the entire depth chart and proceeded to somehow shock No. 11 Oklahoma State and Holgorsen's former boss, Mike Gundy, with a 30-21 win. The Big 12's preseason favorite, the Cowboys managed only 2.8 yards per carry, including Jeremy Smith's 15 carries for one yard. Remember, this is West Virginia's defense we're talking about.
Now, everything is out of whack, except for two: Baylor and Oklahoma. The Bears haven't played anyone of note, but their defense continues to look better than the first half of last year, and their offense looks better than, well, anyone ever. We can't know for sure just yet, but Baylor has to be considered one of the two favorites in the Big 12. The other is Oklahoma. Oklahoma quietly navigated its first three games, including a 16-7 win over West Virginia, but on Saturday the Sooners got the statement win they needed. They went to South Bend and beat Notre Dame by two touchdowns 35-21, getting another impressive performance out of quarterback Blake Bell, who suddenly looks like the obvious choice as starter after completing 22-of-30 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns and rushing 12 times for 59 yards in his first road start. Oklahoma's defense intercepted Tommy Rees three times to give the Sooners an early edge, and in the fourth quarter Bell put the Fighting Irish away with a 54-yard pass to Sterling Shepard.
There are plenty of big games left on the conference schedule, from Texas-Oklahoma to Oklahoma-Oklahoma State, to Baylor's games against everyone. But, through the first month at least, it appears nothing is going to matter more than the Thursday, Nov. 7, showdown between Oklahoma and Baylor in Waco. If there's a great team in the Big 12 this season, it has to be the Sooners or the Bears, and on that night what was thought to be a wide-open race could trim itself to one.
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Grading the Weekend
A+: Clemson. Wake Forest is not a good team. It lost at home to Louisiana-Monroe, and its two wins are against Presbyterian and Army. But winning 56-7 always means something to Clemson. The Tigers are in a season-long battle to detach themselves from the past, and doing things like leaving no doubt against a clearly inferior opponent is what everyone needs to see. There are plenty of traps left, surrounding the big games against Florida State and South Carolina, but Clemson has made it to October unscathed, 4-0, and on Saturday it did so by out-gaining the Demon Deacons 573-222, averaging 11.3 yards per pass attempt and not turning the ball over. It was virtually a flawless performance, which is exactly what national contenders are supposed to do when hosting Wake Forest.
A: Oregon and Stanford. Not that there was any doubt about who runs the show in the Pac-12, but Oregon and Stanford both played through bad weather to convincingly dismiss flawed conference opponents with offensive mastermind head coaches. At home against Cal, Oregon scored 27 first-quarter points en route to a 55-16 win, despite the absence of star running back De'Anthony Thomas, who injured his leg on the opening kickoff. To be fair, Cal handed Oregon the game on a silver platter, losing a fumble on each of its first four drives in the rainy weather. Oregon was actually sort of sloppy, but a 55-16 win in a bad storm is certainly good enough, no matter how it happened. Stanford, meanwhile, nearly duplicated Oregon, winning 55-17 in Seattle against Washington State. The Cardinal gained 560 total yards, headlined by Kevin Hogan's 286 passing yards and three touchdowns. Wazzu never had a chance to matchup physically with Stanford, but at least the hapless performance inspired one of the greatest televised moments in college football fan history. That Oklahoma-Baylor game we discussed earlier? Stanford-Oregon is on the same Thursday night. Might want to clear your schedule.
A-: Washington. Coach Steve Sarkisian has been something of a lesser Bo Pelini in Seattle; whereas Pelini loses four games every year at Nebraska, Sarkisian has recorded three straight 7-6 seasons, minus the very public anger. Last year, that included losing 52-17 to Arizona. Returning one of the most experienced teams in the country, there was no excuse for Washington not to make a significant leap forward, and a leap like that requires handling teams like Arizona instead of getting embarrassed. Despite lousy weather, that's exactly what the Huskies did, taking care of business with a decisive 31-13 home win before a brutal three-game stretch against Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State. In the rain, Washington turned the ball over only once, and running back Bishop Sankey grinded out 161 yards and a touchdown on 40 carries.
B+: Iowa. We probably shouldn't get ahead of ourselves here, but Iowa did look good in a 23-7 beatdown of Minnesota to keep possession of a glorious bronze pig and move to 4-1. The passing game is undoubtedly better -- by Iowa's non-Brad Banks standards -- with Jake Rudock settling in to complete 15-of-25 passes for 218 yards with a passing touchdown, a rushing touchdown and a pick; and running back Mark Weisman did what an Iowa running back is supposed to do, methodically moving the chains for 147 yards on 24 carries. This game was essentially the ideal of Iowa football under Kirk Ferentz, with a balanced offense and a dominant defense that held Minnesota to 165 total yards. But, considering the next four games are against Michigan State, Ohio State, Northwestern and Wisconsin, it's also possible Iowa will move from 4-1 to 4-5 and we'll forget this ever happened.
B: Florida. Florida is basically Iowa, but much better because its defense is as good as any defense in the country. Against an overmatched Kentucky, the Gators gave up 173 total yards and seven points, and the Wildcats' leading rusher gained 25 yards on only one carry. This is despite the absence of arguably Florida's best player, defensive tackle Dominique Easley, who tore his ACL last week. The Gators won 24-7, and it was much prettier than the previous Saturday's slopfest against Tennessee. Starting for the injured Jeff Driskel, Tyler Murphy successfully managed the game, completing 15-of-18 passes for 156 yards with a two touchdowns and a pick, while Matt Jones ran 28 times for 176 yards and a touchdown. Florida's offense still has a lot to prove, with LSU, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State on the schedule, but because of the defense, the game was never in doubt after Trey Burton's touchdown put Florida up by seven with 9:40 left in the second quarter. That's how any game against a lower-tier team should play out for this defense.
B-: South Carolina. Playing at noon, in a weird road game at UCF, South Carolina's Week 5 trip couldn't have possibly screamed TRAP GAME anymore than it did. Of course, after UCF's win at Penn State, maybe it wasn't actually a trap; maybe it was a game in which South Carolina could play decent football and lose to a legitimately good Golden Knights team. On Saturday, we saw all of the above, only South Carolina did ultimately win 28-25, despite the loss of quarterback Connor Shaw to a shoulder injury and backup running back Brandon Wilds to an elbow injury, and despite Jadeveon Clowney's never-ending Rolodex of excuses. Trailing 10-0 after an ugly first half, South Carolina got a second-half jolt from breakout star running back Mike Davis, who finished with 167 yards and three second-half touchdowns, although the Gamecocks still nearly blew the lead as Blake Bortles threw for 358 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions for UCF. Shaw's backup, Dylan Thompson, threw for 261 yards in an uneven performance, but at least he is experienced as the Gamecocks head into a tricky stretch that features consecutive road trips to Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri following what should be a gimme vs. Kentucky next week.
C+: Texas A&M. Texas A&M edged Florida State for the added plus on the grade because Arkansas is a tougher place to play than Boston College. But it wasn't necessarily pretty for the Aggies, mostly on defense. Texas A&M looked poised to blow Arkansas away after another circus connection between Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans put the Aggies up 24-10, but the Razorbacks hung around and traded blows, taking a 38-33 deficit into the fourth quarter thanks to Jonathan Williams' balance (which is certainly better than Bret Bielema's) before A&M shut the door 45-33. Manziel can beat anyone, of course, and in sloppy weather he completed 23-of-30 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns, but the defense, which is young and lacks proven playmakers, remains a pressing a concern after Arkansas put up 483 yards and mostly kept pace.
C: Florida State. Given its loss to N.C. State last season, it's reasonable to wonder if Florida State should have the reputation Clemson does. And for a while at Boston College, it appeared the Seminoles were poised to do everything in their power to stake a claim to it. That is, until Jameis Winston showed up and destroyed any expectations of an upset in Chestnut Hill after the Eagles jumped to a shocking 17-3 lead. Winston ended up completing 17-of-27 passes for 330 yards and four touchdowns with a pick, and he also led the team in rushing with 67 yards, carrying Florida State to a 48-34 win that raised plenty of concerns about the team's rebuilt defense under new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, questions it must answer quickly to avert pulling a Florida State against Maryland next week before the highly anticipated showdown at Clemson.
C-: Tennessee. Look, this game was not important. Tennessee is in the midst of a terrifying schedule, having lost back-to-back road games to Oregon and Florida, one an embarrassing blowout and one just embarrassing. Its next three games are against Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama. For a rebuilding team with a new coach and a quarterback problem, there is nothing ideal about the way this season is built, and a game against a new Sun Belt team is hardly interesting. But, still, in the middle of that all, you can't beat South Alabama only 31-24, losing the second half 17-7. Quarterback Justin Worley threw three interceptions, and the Vols escaped only after intercepting a pass on fourth-and-goal at the eight-yard line with 1:51 left, causing a 16-play Jaguars drive to come up empty. On the plus side, Rajion Neal ran for 169 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. On the negative side, a team that needed a late interception to hold off Alabama now needs to face Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama.
D+: USC*. First, credit where credit is due: Arizona State rebounded from a deflating loss to Stanford and embarrassed USC, who they lost to by three touchdowns last year. The Sun Devils forced four turnovers and finished with 612 yards and a 28-point third quarter led them to a 62-41 win. And, hey, it isn't all bad if USC actually scored 41 points and had two 100-yard rushers, Tre Madden and Justin Davis, without Silas Redd. But now we also know that USC can lose any type of game. The same team that lost 10-7 at home to Washington State, but looked like it had a great defense, has now lost 62-41 to Arizona State, meaning there is no part of this team that is completely trustworthy. Even star wideout Marqise Lee has been uneven, at best, and to make matters much worse he was carted to the locker room with a knee injury late in the game (according to teammate Xavier Grimble, Lee should be OK)**. They're now 0-2 in the Pac-12 with obvious depth issues, and on top of all that the NCAA predictably shot down an appeal for a reduction of sanctions. But, you know, other than that things are going great.
*Hours after this was written, USC fired Lane Kiffin. See the added section toward the top for reaction.
**On Sunday, it was reported that Lee has a severely sprained knee.
D: Purdue. It was obvious new coach Darrell Hazell had a significant rebuilding effort ahead of him, but good Northern Illinois team or not, a Big Ten team giving up 55 points to a MAC team is never acceptable. This was never a game, thanks to Purdue's five turnovers, with starting quarterback Rob Henry completing only 5-of-16 passes for 130 yards before Hazell decided to burn touted freshman Danny Etling's redshirt. The move makes sense, and with a 1-4 record -- the only win being 20-14 over Indiana State -- Hazell might as well look to the future and get Etling some experience. For what it's worth, off the bench in a blowout, Etling completed 19-of-39 passes for 241 yards with two touchdowns and two picks. Entering the season, the hope was at least Purdue could stay out of the Big Ten Leaders basement by beating Illinois, but Illinois has already surpassed its 2012 win total with a 3-1 record.
D-: Connecticut, Temple and South Florida. The bottom of the American Athletic Conference is nothing short of a depressing existence for three teams that have actually had recent success. UConn went to the Fiesta Bowl three seasons ago; Temple went 9-4 two years ago; South Florida went to six straight bowls from 2005-10 and was ranked as high as No. 2 in 2007. Now, they're a combined 0-12, with losses to Towson, Buffalo, Fordham, Idaho, McNeese State and Florida Atlantic, proving that they're all terrible or are all conspiring to ruin Louisville's schedule. That's right, each team has a loss to an FCS team and a bad FBS team, erasing any goodwill built up by, say, UConn's near upset of Michigan. Temple and USF are at least breaking in new coaches (not that it excuses two-yard punts). Given Paul Pasqualoni's likely fate, UConn will be able to say the same thing soon.
F: North Carolina. OK, sure, North Carolina is used to being the big brother here, having not lost a home game to East Carolina since 1975, but there's no excuse for mailing it in against a good Pirates team that went 8-5 last year and returned most of its starters. Behind QB Shane Carden and RB Vintavious Cooper, ECU piled up 603 total yards in a 55-31 win, and afterward UNC running back A.J. Blue said: "I saw it earlier today. Just from the hotel, the bus ride over, you know, the lack of focus, guys talking about other things. Like I said, it's ECU and nobody expects to lose to ECU, especially us. So the complacency was there definitely there, the lack of focus was there." North Carolina was supposed to contend for the ACC Coastal title, but now it's 1-3 overall, 0-1 in the conference, with Virginia Tech and Miami in its next two games. The second half of the schedule is much lighter, but the Tar Heels' season could be lost by mid-October after Saturday's debacle in which they didn't realize they had to try until it was already too late.
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More Lessons Learned
Virginia Tech has a top-five defense, at worst. Really, who do you like better? I'll take Florida and Alabama, with Stanford and Michigan State also in the mix. That's probably it. Remember, the Hokies defense gave up only 14 points in the 35-14 loss to Alabama, and they suffocated Georgia Tech on the road on Thursday night, holding the Yellow Jackets' prolific option attack to 129 rushing yards on 42 carries in a 17-10 win. They allowed only 10 points to East Carolina, who dropped 55 at North Carolina on Saturday, and after a rough start against Marshall, they shut out the Thundering Herd's up-tempo attack in the second half and all three overtimes. The 4.15 yards per play allowed to Marshall was the most in five games. Bud Foster has built a great unit across the board, from dominant tackles Luther Maddy and Derrick Hopkins to ends J.R. Collins and James Gayle, to linebacker Jack Tyler, to cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Brandon Facyson and more -- and that's all without presumed top corner Antone Exum. Virginia Tech may go only as far as quarterback Logan Thomas and the offense can take it -- and, honestly, that could mean 8-4 -- but the Hokies' defense, with its incredible talent and depth, can shut down any remaining regular-season opponent, especially with neither Florida State nor Clemson on the schedule. That is, until the ACC title game, which the Hokies have a nice path to if they can somehow win at Miami, which spent Week 5 eviscerating hapless South Florida 49-21.
Northern Illinois remains in the BCS buster race. Last week, I indicated that Fresno State was probably the only candidate to crash the BCS, especially given that Northern Illinois hadn't looked impressive in tight wins over Idaho and Eastern Illinois. But the Huskies aren't going away. They thoroughly dismantled Purdue on the road 55-24, meaning they're the first team with a 2-0 record against Big Ten opponents so far this season, thanks to their opening win over Iowa. NIU got to the Orange Bowl even after a loss to Iowa last year, but it can't afford a loss this season, and it can't afford Fresno State going undefeated either. After the Bulldogs nearly blew a big lead in a 42-37 win over a bad Hawaii team late Saturday, now the two are the only non-AQ teams left unbeaten entering October. My prediction remains that neither team will crash the party (the Huskies will likely stumble at some point, perhaps in a dose of Wednesday MACtion vs. Ball State), but NIU reminded us all that, with Jordan Lynch in the lineup, it shouldn't be forgotten.
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Honor Roll: Week 5's Best Players
Reserved for performances against FBS teams.
1. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia; and Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU. Barring a successful final drive, neither of these quarterbacks could have done much more. They took advantage of weak opposing secondaries and put on a show for us, trading scores all game until Georgia finally prevailed 44-41. Murray completed 20-of-34 passes for 298 yards with five total touchdowns and a pick, leading an offense operating mostly without star tailback Todd Gurley, who sprained his ankle. Mettenberger completed 23-of-37 passes for 372 yards and three touchdowns, overcoming the surprising lack of an LSU running game to consistently hit amazingly precise throws to Jarvis Landry (10 catches for 156 yards), mostly, as well as Odell Beckham and Kadron Boone.
2. Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin. If we can point to one reason Wisconsin stayed in the game in a 31-24 loss to Ohio State, it's obviously Abbrederis, who had All-American Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby's number most of the night. Abbrederis caught 10 of Joel Stave's 20 total completions for 207 yards, including a 64-yarder and a 36-yard touchdown, keeping the Wisconsin offense moving despite a lousy night for the running game. Special mention also must go to Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland, who was all over the field in making 16 tackles.
3. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State. Did he put up Johnny Manziel numbers? No. But Miller returned from his knee injury and looked nearly perfect from the beginning, carving up the Wisconsin defense for 198 yards and four touchdowns through the air and 83 yards on 22 carries. Any lingering concerns about his health were erased as he looked like a quarterback who made significant improvement as a passer in the offseason.
4. Shane Carden, QB, and Vintavious Cooper, RB, East Carolina. Why should North Carolina not have taken its neighbors lightly? Proven playmakers like Carden and Cooper. Carden entered the game having completed 74.5 percent of his passes, and he rebounded from a predictably rough outing vs. Virginia Tech by completing 32-of-47 passes for 376 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 22 yards and three touchdowns, with one interception. Carden got all the goal-line work with three one-yard rushing scores, but Cooper managed 186 rushing yards on 35 carries and also caught eight passes for 70 yards. ECU's offense demolished UNC, running 101 plays and picking up 36 first downs.
5. Sean Mannion, QB, and Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State. Preface: Oregon State's schedule in the first half of the season is a joke. The Beavers should have started 7-0, had they beat Eastern Washington, an FCS power. They're 4-1 now, but reality could strike quickly starting Oct. 26, when they face Stanford, USC, Arizona State, Washington and Oregon to end the regular season. That said, the Beavers' passing game is absolutely on fire. In a 44-17 win over Colorado, Mannion completed 27-of-52 passes for 414 yards with six touchdowns and a pick. Cooks caught nine passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns. Cooks now has 52 catches in just five games, while Mannion has already cracked 2,000 yards passing.
6. Nathan Scheelhaase, QB, Illinois. Sure, Miami (Ohio) is really, really awful, with 35 total points in four losses to Marshall, Kentucky, Cincinnati and the Fighting Illini, but Scheelhaase finally has found life again under new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit. In a 50-14 win on Saturday, Scheelhaase threw five touchdown passes in the first half, ultimately completing 19-of-24 passes for 278 yards before exiting the blowout after one drive in the third quarter.
7. Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina. Here's the reason South Carolina avoided an upset in a 28-25 win at a good UCF team. Davis put the team on his back in the second half, finishing with 26 carries for 167 yards and three touchdowns in a game in which both starting QB Connor Shaw and No. 2 RB Brandon Wilds left with injuries. Not that Davis was perfect: His late fumble set the stage for the Golden Knights' near-comeback. But Davis was the reason the Gamecocks led in the first place, and his explosiveness gives the offense a spark it was previously lacking.
8. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State. Let's just watch this over and over:
And also read Michael Weinreb's reaction from Chestnut Hill.
9. The UNLV-New Mexico game. We like to try to recognize the quirkiness of college football when we can, and thus the Week 5 Professor cannot be published without some mention of UNLV's 56-42 win over New Mexico in Albuquerque. Maybe it's just the Breaking Bad fan in me, or maybe we should applaud Bob Davie for coaching a Lobos team that ran for 400 yards in one half and still lost by two touchdowns. So let's salute the key players in this masterpiece: UNLV running back Tim Cornett, who ran 25 times for 179 yards and three touchdowns; New Mexico running back Kasey Carrier, who ran 25 times for 192 yards and a touchdown; and New Mexico running back Carlos Wiggins and quarterback Cole Gautsche, who also ran for 100 yards each.
10. Sam Carter, S, TCU. On a day in which TCU All-American cornerback Jason Verrett injured his shoulder, Carter was all over the field in helping to fuel TCU's 48-17 Iron Skillet-win over SMU. He finished with two interceptions, returning one 66 yards for a touchdown late in the game, a forced fumble, a sack and five tackles.
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Week 6 Syllabus
1. Ohio State at Northwestern. Ohio State's obvious trap game on a generally weak schedule. The Buckeyes survived against Wisconsin, and now they go "on the road" to a place that will likely be overrun with scarlet and gray anyway to face a 4-0 Northwestern team.
2. Washington at Stanford. Both teams are 4-0, and last year's 7-6 Washington team actually upset Stanford 17-13. Washington could leap into the top 10 if it somehow pulls the upset again.
3. Maryland at Florida State. Maryland's blowout win over West Virginia looks even better after the Mountaineers beat Oklahoma State. The Terps aren't the pushover they had previously been under Randy Edsall, and this is Florida State's last game before the Oct. 19 showdown with Clemson.
4. Arizona State vs. Notre Dame. Notre Dame's national schedule leads to an odd October neutral site game in Arlington, Texas, against an enigmatic Arizona State team that was steamrolled for a half by Stanford but is coming off a 62-point effort against USC.
5. TCU at Oklahoma. Blake Bell looks to keep rolling against what is probably the second-best defense in the Big 12, behind the Sooners.
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