Just when college football can’t get any crazier ...
Week 7 has come and gone and Iowa, formerly the No. 2 team in the county, is no longer undefeated, or even ranked in the top 10. National championship-winning coach Ed Orgeron is out at LSU. Oklahoma has found its next Heisman Trophy candidate in freshman quarterback Caleb Williams.
Oh, and Utah is now the only undefeated (in conference) team remaining in the Pac-12, Utah State somehow keeps finding ways to win late, and BYU’s slide could impact next season.
Here are six takeaways from the latest weekend of college football.
Is this the year Utah makes it to the Rose Bowl? Talk about storybook
Through the first six weeks of the season, the Utes were just another Pac-12 team. That isn’t meant to discount in any way what Utah has gone through this season or last — the deaths of Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe will not be forgotten anytime soon — but on the football field, Utah hadn’t done anything special.
That all changed with the Utes’ win over Arizona State last Saturday. Thanks to their dramatic second-half rally and decisive win over the Sun Devils, the Utes are the only team in the Pac-12 that hasn’t lost in conference play.
At 4-2 overall, Utah is banging on the door of the polls (it wouldn’t be shocking to see the College Football Playoff poll rank Utah higher than either the coaches or AP poll in a couple of weeks), and per ESPN, the Utes are the current favorite to win the Pac-12.
Cameron Rising has proven to be exactly the type of quarterback Utah needs, Devin Lloyd is one of the best linebackers in the country and all the weaknesses the Utes showed early in the season are starting to get shored up, even if there is still work to be done.
Preseason Pac-12 favorite Oregon is hurting, one of the reasons for Utah’s new status as conference title favorites, but with games against Oregon State, UCLA and the Ducks remaining, Utah’s destiny is squarely in its own hands.
A return to the Pac-12 title game is in the cards, and once there, a trip to the Rose Bowl is a real possibility for the Utes. It seemed unfathomable just a few weeks ago, but a trip to the Rose Bowl would be the perfect capper for the 2021 season. Disney couldn’t write a better sports story.
Shades of Jameis Winston and the Florida State Seminoles
The Utah State Aggies sure don’t know how to make things easy. The Aggies traveled to Las Vegas to take on winless UNLV, an almost surefire win given USU hadn’t lost to UNLV since 2008, and what did they do? Made it a hotly contested game.
UNLV played a part in that as well — running back Charles Williams was unstoppable for most of the game — but missed field goals and an inability to score in the red zone meant that even though the Aggies were the better team, the game was in doubt until the final seconds.
Afterward, Utah State coach Blake Anderson almost perfectly described the Aggies’ season with a single tweet.
It isn’t a perfect comparison, but the Aggies bring to mind the 2014 Jameis Winston-led Florida State Seminoles. Those Seminoles were the defending national champions, but throughout the 2014 season, they played close game after close game after close game, somehow surviving to win them all.
Much of it was self-inflicted, whether it be Winston interceptions or just the offense’s inability to get anything going until the game was on the line, but FSU won seven games by a touchdown or less that season, pretty unbelievable for a team that would go on to make the College Football Playoff.
Utah State is not that FSU team, not even close, but three of the Aggies’ four wins this year have been decided by less than a touchdown. Given the games remaining on the schedule, Utah State should roll to both bowl eligibility and perhaps even contention for the Mountain West Conference championship, but if the first half of the season has been any indication, the Aggies will make it stressful.
Can BYU rebound? Or will the slide continue?
Through the first five weeks of the season, BYU was one of the best stories in country. Facing off against one of the most difficult early season schedules, the Cougars were perfect, downing three Power Five teams, plus a feisty rival in Utah State and USF.
Throw in the accepted invitation to the Big 12 Conference, and everything was looking up.
It wasn’t shameful to lose to the Bears. At 6-1 and ranked No. 20 in the country, Baylor looks like it will contend for a Big 12 title this season. Still, back-to-back losses have upended the Cougars’ season.
With three games remaining against P5 opponents, plus two awful teams in Idaho State and Georgia Southern, BYU has a chance for redemption.
Georgia Southern and Idaho State are bad, gimme wins if ever there were such a thing. USC is in turmoil and Washington State might soon be without a head coach. And then Virginia comes to Provo, with former Cougars head coach Bronco Mendenhall in tow, an emotional game if ever there were one.
A 5-0 run to end the season is a possibility, but so is a 3-2 or 2-3 finish to the year. Washington State has proven to be a more difficult out than expected and just took down Stanford. USC still has all the talent in the world, and that game will be played in Los Angeles. And Virginia is 5-2, riding a three-game win streak.
The final five games of the season do matter, even if BYU is destined for the Independence Bowl. For proof, look no further than Cincinnati. If the Bearcats don’t finish 9-1 last season or play a competitive game against Georgia in the Peach Bowl, there is no way they’d be ranked No. 2 in the country today, nor have a perceived shot at making the College Football Playoff.
A 10-2 season would buoy BYU’s 2022 campaign significantly more than a 6-6, 7-5 or 8-4 season would.
The Cougars are reeling right now, that is certain, which only makes their upcoming games all the more interesting.
Parity is alive and well in the Pac-12 , but it is making an appearance everywhere
Every year there is talk about how one Pac-12 team will stand above the rest. Sometimes it is USC. Other years it has been Washington. For the last three seasons, Oregon has been the pick.
And yet, every year the Pac-12 proves that that isn’t how football works in the conference. Parity rules in the West, and this season is no different.
Utah leads the conference currently at 3-0 as the only team that is still unbeaten in league play. Oregon, Oregon State, Arizona State and UCLA all have one loss (the Beavers, Ducks and Bruins all still play the Utes). Every other team in the Pac-12 has lost at least twice to conference foes.
Stanford and Washington State have proven to be excellent spoilers. USC always has a chance to ruin someone’s season. As it stands, it would be foolish to count out Washington or Colorado making someone’s life miserable.
Parity is the thing that usually sets the Pac-12 apart from the rest of the Power Five conferences, but this year almost every P5 conference is doing their best imitation.
- The SEC has only one unbeaten team, No. 1 Georgia. Then there are four teams with one loss in conference (Alabama, Auburn, Kentucky and Ole Miss).
- The ACC has three undefeated teams (Wake Forest, NC State and Pitt) but future matchups mean those records won’t stand for long.
- The Big 12 has only two unbeaten teams left (Oklahoma and Oklahoma State) and the Big Ten has three (Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State), all of whom play in the same division.
Parity usually has been the Achilles’ heel for the Pac-12, but maybe, just maybe that won’t be the case this year.
Six or more teams still have a legitimate shot at the Mountain West title
A week ago, the Mountain West Conference race looked fascinating and was shaping up to be one of the best in years.
A week later, and things are even less clear than they were before.
Four teams currently have won five or more games this season — San Diego State, Air Force, Nevada and Fresno State. Of those, only the Aztecs remain unbeaten after they survived against San Jose State.
And yet, Colorado State is undefeated in conference play and Utah State is 2-1, putting both schools in the conversation with SDSU, Air Force, Nevada and Fresno State for conference supremacy.
Boise State, always a preseason favorite, is now 3-4 on the year and 1-2 in the conference. The Broncos will probably be playing the role of spoiler going forward.
Wyoming started the season 4-0 but has lost back-to-back games in conference play, all but knocking the Cowboys out of the race.
At this point, it wouldn’t be surprising to see division winners with two losses in the conference, which means 11 teams are still technically alive and kicking, with only three-loss New Mexico out of the running.
Clarity will grow as the season progresses, but right now the MWC is completely up for grabs.
This is less a takeaway and more a summation of everything crazy that happened over the weekend. It has been that kind of year.
- No. 2 Iowa lost at home against unranked Purdue. The Hawkeyes were brutalized in the AP poll, falling out of the top 10.
- LSU fired Ed Orgeron two seasons after he coached one of the best college football teams of all time to a national championship, and his team defeated rival Florida, too.
- Oklahoma finally looked like a top-10 team, thrashing TCU behind the efforts of new starting quarterback Caleb Williams.
- Oklahoma State has the appearance of a “team of destiny.” The Cowboys are 6-0 and somehow rallied to defeat Texas despite their offense doing nothing outside of the efforts of former East High star Jaylen Warren.
- The Ole Miss-Tennessee game was delayed after Vols fans threw anything and everything on the field in protest of perceived poor officiating. Rebels’ head coach Lane Kiffin was nearly pelted with a golf ball.
- And finally, a touchdown reception in the NC State-Boston College game that perfectly sums up the season thus far (watch the defensive back).