What else is there to say at this point?
The 2021 college football season has been the wildest in recent memory, and that didn’t change over the weekend, aka Week 6.
Three top 10 teams lost, none more shocking than Alabama to previously unranked Texas A&M.
The Red River Rivalry between Oklahoma and Texas was storybook, with an untested freshman quarterback rallying the Sooners past their hated rivals in dramatic fashion.
As for BYU and Utah (Utah State had a bye), well, the Utes are thrilled after a genuinely history-making win, the Cougars less so.
Here are six takeaways from the latest weekend of college football.
Utah finally put it together on offense, and the hype may have been deserved
Throughout fall camp and even before that, conversation about the University of Utah centered on how the Utes’ offense had a chance to be something special.
“Experienced” was a descriptor thrown around. “Talented,” too. The Utes’ offense appeared primed to be the team’s best unit, a first in the Kyle Whittingham era.
Following the first scrimmage of fall camp, Whittingham noted, “‘A lot of good things out of the offense today. The offense had the better day. Some of the premier guys on ‘D’ were not out there but still, the offense had great juice, a lot of passion and they made plays. They were really good in the throw game. That was probably the highlight of the day — the production we had in the throw game.”
Through the first four games of the season, though, the offense was anything but special. There were flashes against San Diego State — after Cam Rising took over as quarterback — but by and large, Utah looked bad offensively. Too many turnovers and not enough production, especially through the air. And don’t talk about offensive line play.
That all changed Saturday against USC. For the first time this season, Utah looked dynamic on offense. The team finished with 486 yards of total offense and Rising threw for 306 of them. Tavion Thomas was strong in the rushing attack and multiple receivers and tight ends actually produced (you read that correctly).
Much of the credit went to Rising, who looked exactly like the quarterback Utah needs going forward.
“Cam had an outstanding night,” Whittingham told the Deseret News. “He had nearly 11 yards per attempt, which is an outstanding number.”
It was only one game, against a USC team that is in college football purgatory as administration hunts for a new head coach, but Utah finally flashed its potential on offense. Doing so in the wake of the Aaron Lowe murder made it all the more special and maybe, just maybe, the outburst was a sign of things to come.
“Overall, it was a very nice win. Credit to our players, for their preparation and overcoming adversity,” Whittingham said. “We’ve had a lot on our plate the last couple of weeks. … I’m proud of the guys, that’s the bottom line. They hung in there and just played with such passion and such inspired football.”
BYU has fallen out of the national conversation, but there’s a way back
BYU’s loss to Boise State was damaging. There is no getting around that.
Heading into the game, the Cougars were undefeated, ranked No. 10 in the country and a trendy pick to at least make it into a New Year’s Six bowl. There were even rumblings (faint ones) about the College Football Playoff.
Any hope of the playoff is now dead after BYU turned the ball over four times and lost 26-17 to the three-loss Broncos. BYU fell to No. 19 in the AP poll as a result, and no one thinks there is a shot for the Cougars to make their way into playoff contention, even if they manage to run the table the rest of the way, picking up wins over Baylor, Virginia, Washington State and USC.
Most pundits don’t believe there is a shot for BYU to get back into the New Year’s Six discussion either, which would mean BYU is headed to the Independence Bowl, likely against UTSA, as ESPNs Kyle Bonagura and Mark Schlabach currently project.
There is a chance, though, that the Cougars could rise back into the top 10-13 in the polls (ultimately the CFP poll is the one that matters, and it won’t be released until early November). Do that and a New Year’s Six bowl is in play.
Baylor is one of the darlings of the Big 12 currently, thanks to a 5-1 start that includes wins over Iowa State and West Virginia. A win at Baylor (the Bears would need to follow up a loss to BYU with wins over a least a few of Texas, TCU, Oklahoma and Texas Tech) would give BYU a fourth win over a Power Five opponent.
The following week, the Cougars travel to Pullman, Washington, to take on Washington State. WSU looks somewhat frisky after upsetting Oregon State, and a fifth win against Power Five opponent wouldn’t hurt BYU’s cause.
After that is Virginia, a 4-2 ACC team that seems assured of at least being a bowl participant this season. If BYU defeats the Cavaliers, that is six Power Five wins, and given the way the season has gone thus far, undefeated or even one-loss teams will be hard to find at that point.
BYU closes the year against USC, and while the Trojans are not what they once were, a win in Los Angeles would still be one more P5 win for the resume.
The loss to Boise knocked BYU out of the playoff conversation, but a one-loss Cougar team with wins over seven P5 opponents could break the top 13 in the CFP poll. Do that, and an invite to a New Years Six bowl is possible. Maybe not likely, but possible. Lose any games the rest of the way, though, and it is hello, Independence Bowl.
Arizona State is the best team in the Pac-12, but the conference needs it to be Oregon
ASU picked up the most impressive win in the Pac-12 over the weekend, handling Stanford 28-10 Friday night.
It was an eye-catching showing by the Sun Devils, particularly on the ground as ASU rushed for 255 yards and three touchdowns.
Afterward, ASU head coach Herm Edwards told reporters, “When you run for 200-plus, you’re going to win a lot of games. It was fun to watch the runners run.”
Now standing 5-1 overall and ranked No. 18 in the country, ASU appears to be the favorite to win the Pac-12 South Division. The Sun Devils have already beaten UCLA, and though games against Utah and USC remain — ASU travels to Salt Lake City this coming weekend — ASU should be the favorite to win both.
A quick glance at the rest of the Sun Devils’ schedule shows that they should probably be the favorite in every game remaining, save for maybe this weekend against Utah and a late season trip to Corvallis to take on Oregon State.
The Sun Devils were expected to contend for the conference title entering the season, but now they are playing better than any other team in the Pac-12, and that includes Oregon.
The Ducks are still the higher-ranked team, but outside their win over Ohio State, Oregon hasn’t looked all that great this season, eking out wins over Fresno State and, truthfully, Arizona.
ASU, on the other hand, has one blemish, but it is on the road against No. 19 BYU. Other than that, the Sun Devils have clearly been the better team in every game they’ve played.
For the sake of the Pac-12 and the conference’s playoff chances, Oregon needs to turn into the conference’s best team. The win at Ohio State is a resume booster that ASU just won’t have this season.
ASU could continue to rise in the polls, but will the Sun Devils ever get into the top 5? Probably not, even with a win over Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. The Ducks, on the other hand, are No. 9 in the country currently, and if they were to defeat a top 10 ASU team in the conference championship, the CFP would be hard pressed to exclude them.
The race for the Mountain West title is going to be brutal
Don’t look now, but the Mountain West is going to get fun this season. Six weeks into competition, and there isn’t a favorite to take home the conference crown.
No. 25 San Diego State is the top-ranked team and the only undefeated team remaining, but Nevada is 4-1 with a win at Boise State in hand. Fresno State is 4-2 with a win over UCLA and one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the country.
Boise State might be 3-3, but the Broncos just upset BYU on the road. Then there is Air Force, which is 5-1 with a win over previously unbeaten Wyoming (the Cowboys are 4-1).
None of those teams are the reigning champs either, though San Jose State isn’t the team it was a season ago.
In the coming weeks, every aforementioned team will have a chance to stake its claim to the conference title. SDSU, Fresno State and Nevada are all in the West Division and have yet to face each other, and the Aztecs and Bulldogs still have to play Boise State. The Broncos still have to play Air Force and Wyoming too, and the Falcons still get Nevada and San Diego State.
Few of the contending teams miss each other. Fresno Sate won’t play Air Force, but that is about it. All of which is to say, things are about to get crazy in the conference.
What does that mean for a team like Utah State? Sneakily, the Aggies have a real shot at winning the Mountain Division, with games remaining against UNLV, Colorado State, Hawaii, San Jose State, Wyoming and New Mexico.
The Aggies already have a win over Air Force and a loss to Boise State, but miss Nevada, SDSU and Fresno State. Given what is left, it would not be shocking to see USU win nine or 10 games this season and represent the Mountain Division in the conference championship game.
Of their remaining opponents, only Wyoming has a winning record (both Hawaii and San Jose State are .500 right now).
Is the Big Ten the best conference? Better question: Does it deserve two playoff teams?
For years, the chant of “SEC,” “SEC,” “SEC” has echoed across the college football landscape, and as annoying as that has been to fans of teams not in the conference, it was pretty justified.
Between Alabama, Georgia and LSU (with a smattering of Florida and Texas A&M thrown in), the SEC has regularly boasted some of the best teams in college football. For many, that meant the conference was the best in America, even if other conferences potentially had more depth.
This season has been no different for the SEC, and yet the Big Ten may have surpassed it.
Right now, the Big Ten has five teams ranked in the top 10 — No. 2 Iowa, No. 6 Ohio State, No. 7 Penn State, No. 8 Michigan and No. 10 Michigan State.
By way of comparison, the SEC has No. 1 Georgia and No. 5 Alabama, the Pac-12 has No. 9 Oregon and the AAC has No. 3 Cincinnati (it is probably best to pretend that the ACC doesn’t play football).
Of those top-ranked Big Ten teams, only Ohio State and Penn State have lost games this season, the Buckeyes to the Ducks and Nittany Lions to the Hawkeyes. Both of those loses are better than Alabama’s to a then-unranked Texas A&M team.
Right now (there is a lot of season remaining), it looks possible, if not likely, that the Big Ten could have two teams in the College Football Playoff.
Iowa has already played its biggest tests and should enter the conference title game undefeated, barring a shocking upset. Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State all still have to play each other, but if one team manages to emerge without a loss (or the Wolverines or Spartans only lose once) the conference title game will pit top 10 teams against each other at the worst.
At that point, Iowa and the winner of the East division could both make it into the playoff, if the East winner beats the Hawkeyes and wins the conference. It is a scenario often bandied about when talking about Alabama and Georgia, but this season it looks like the Big Ten has the best chance of making it happen.
What to do with Alabama and Texas A&M?
Speaking of Alabama ... the Crimson Tide’s loss at Texas A&M overshadowed almost everything else that happened over the weekend. That is what happens when Nick Saban’s juggernaut loses in the regular season.
Texas A&M entered the game reeling, with losses to Arkansas and Mississippi State, but that didn’t matter Saturday, and the Aggies now have the best win of the season by any team.
What should any of that mean for the rankings?
College football rankings have never been uniform and often don’t make all that much sense. For instance, Ohio State is ranked ahead of Oregon right now, even though the Ducks beat the Buckeyes in Columbus and both team have just on loss. ASU is ahead of BYU, even though the Cougars have better wins and beat the Sun Devils head-to-head.
So of course, Alabama dropped to only No. 5, despite losing to a previously unranked team (Texas A&M is now No, 21). Do the Crimson Tide have a better resume than the teams behind them? Only if you consider their win over Florida more important than a loss.
Behind Alabama are unbeaten P5’s like Michigan, Michigan State, Kentucky, Oklahoma State and Wake Forest. Kentucky also has a win over Florida and doesn’t have a loss, yet the Wildcats aren’t even in the top 10.
What about Texas A&M? The Aggies haven’t looked good at any point this season outside of the win over Alabama. They barely survived Colorado and were pretty handily beaten by Arkansas.
And yet, the Aggies beat Alabama where Florida did not, though the Gators are a spot ahead. The top-ranked two-loss team is Arkansas, which rightly is ahead of Texas A&M, but why are are the Razorbacks ahead of one-loss ASU? The Sun Devils have one loss and it was to a ranked opponent. Arkansas has two losses, both to ranked opponents. The Razorbacks do have a win over now-ranked Texas A&M, but ASU has a win over previously ranked UCLA.
Rankings are hard. There is no debate about that. And they will only continue to become more difficult as the season progresses (this may be why the college football playoff committee exists).
It would just be nice is there was a little bit of uniformity, whether it be weighing wins more than losses, or prioritizing win-loss record. Right now it is just all over the place.