Another week of college football has come and gone — Week 9 if you are keeping track — and the latest was nothing if not good to schools based in Utah.
BYU beat Virginia in a rip-roaring shootout and jumped up to No. 17 in the latest AP Poll. Utah handled UCLA in a key Pac-12 South matchup, establishing itself as the favorite (alongside Oregon) to play for a conference championship.
Oh and Utah State became bowl eligible and tightened its hold the Mountain Division of the Mountain West Conference.
Weber State won too, picking up a much needed conference win in what has been an up and down season.
Outside of Utah, college football was its normal crazy self, with upsets, unexpected coaching moves and more.
Here are six takeaways from the latest weekend of college football.
BYU showed a glimpse of greatness
What separates a great team from a good team? That is a question that is asked every year, in every sport, and the answer varies depending on who gives it.
At its most basic, the answer — obviously — is wins and losses. Teams that win more are better than those that win less. Michigan State (8-0) is a great team, for example, while Indiana (2-6) is not.
For most of the 2021 season, BYU showed — repeatedly — that it is a good team. The Cougars are 5-1 against Power 5 competition this year and 4-0 against the Pac-12.
Losses to Boise State and Baylor prevented any discussion about the Cougars being great, but there is no doubt that BYU is good this season.
Against Virginia, however, the Cougars showed flashes of being great. With the win over the Cavaliers, BYU proved it is learning how to win games in a variety of ways.
Early in the year, BYU had a template for winning. That meant a low-scoring game, run and defense heavy. That model proved successful, mostly. And while the Cougars definitely stuck to that model as best as they could against the Cavaliers, a shootout was needed to pull out the win and that is what BYU did.
Great teams find ways to win, no matter the game type or circumstances. For the first time this season, BYU showed it has the potential to do just that.
Welcome back classic Utah. It was nice to see you again
For years, Utah has left something to be desired on offense. Under Kyle Whittingham, the Utes have always been a run-heavy, defense-heavy, hard-nosed team that wins games.
Fans have bemoaned it — wishing for a more pass friendly attack — talented receivers have left because of it, but Utah has always been the team that wants to run the ball right down their opponents throat.
It has worked. And give Utah a good quarterback, and the approach has been pretty unbeatable (think the later years of the Tyler Huntley era).
There had been glimpses of a classic Utah team at times this season. Once Cam Rising took over at quarterback, those sightings grew more frequent.
Against UCLA, classic Utah was back. The Utes dominated on the ground against the Bruins, rushing for 290 yards, averaging 6.6 yards per carry. UCLA only managed 146 yards on the ground, partly because the Bruins played from behind from the second quarter on, and partly because Utah looked more like itself.
The modern era of college football doesn’t look as kindly on teams that are more one dimensional, but with Rising under center Utah has a viable passing attack (Rising has thrown for 1,318 yards, 12 touchdowns and two interceptions). More importantly, though, the Utes now seem to have a dynamic rushing attack again.
Per 247 Sports, since Rising took over the Utes have the top-graded running back in all of FBS in Tavion Thomas.
Welcome back Utah.
Time to recognize Utah State star receiver Deven Thompkins
Utah State is in the midst of one of the more impressive bounce back seasons and there are many reasons for it. Blake Anderson and his staff deserve credit, both for bringing in much-needed talent and also getting the most out of said talent.
Credit also belongs to the players themselves, though, and no Aggie deserves more recognition than wide receiver Deven Thompkins.
Thompkins has become one of the best receivers in the country, regardless of team, conference or Power Five status.
If you don’t believe that, here are the latest numbers.
- Thompkins had seven receptions for 176 yards against Hawaii, his sixth 100-yard receiving game of the season.
- That is the most 100-yard receiving games in a season for a USU player since Kevin Curtis had seven 100-yard receiving games in 2002.
- Thompkins finished the game against the Warriors with a career high 221 all-purpose yards.
- Thompkins has caught 63 passes for 1,099 yards this season.
- He is the 12th player in Utah State history to have a 1,000-yard receiving season, the first since Curtis.
- Thompkins ranks eighth all-time at USU for receiving yards (1,099) in a single season.
- Thompkins has 132 receptions for 1,914 yards in his career and is tied for 12th all-time in school history in receptions and is 11th all-time in school history in career receiving yards.
Take in any Utah State football this season and it becomes clear quickly. If any current Aggie is going to make it to the NFL, it will be Thompkins.
Well that wasn’t great ASU. Or Oregon State
The Pac-12 is a mess and nothing is more indicative of that than losses by ASU and Oregon State.
Entering Saturday, both teams had legitimate shots at winning division championships and contending for the conference title. So what did they do? Lost to a Washington State team sans its head coach and a Cal team that is the worst in the Pac-12 North.
ASU’s loss in particular was pretty egregious. The Sun Devils trailed the Cougars 28-0 late in the second quarter, before going on to lose 34-21, at home no less.
At one point in the game, ASU had been outscored 56-0 in conference play, dating back to its game at Utah.
Only a few weeks ago, ASU was considered by many to be a probable New Year’s Six team. Now, the Sun Devils are focused on simply becoming bowl eligible.
“Just three weeks ago, Arizona State was considered the Pac-12 frontrunner,” the Athletic’s Doug Haller wrote. “After Saturday’s loss, the season appears in jeopardy. When asked what he would tell fans who might think there’s nothing to play for over the regular season’s final month, (ASU head coach Herm) Edwards first mentioned bowl eligibility, which is a jarring drop on the expectation meter. “You never know what’s going to happen, but we don’t control our destiny by any stretch of the imagination,” Edwards said.”
So yeah, the Pac-12 is now a two-team league (Oregon and Utah) and the way things have gone this season, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see either school lose multiple times (the Ducks and Utes play each other on Nov. 20).
Hello again Fresno State
The race for the West Division title in the MW just got considerably more interesting. Or less depending on fandom.
Fresno State upset previously unbeaten San Diego State on Saturday, taking hold of first place in the division in the process. Now, Fresno State, SDSU and Nevada all have one loss in MW competition — Fresno to Hawaii, SDSU and Nevada to Fresno.
Outside that loss to Hawaii, the Bulldogs have had a pretty spectacular season, with an upset win at UCLA and a near upset of Oregon in Eugene. Fresno State is now in the driver’s seat in the division, with a likely matchup against Utah State in the conference championship. The Bulldogs have games remaining against Boise State, New Mexico and San Jose State.
SDSU, meanwhile, has a slate of Hawaii, Nevada, UNLV and Boise, while Nevada has San Jose State, SDSU Air Force and Colorado State.
The West Division has been the stronger in the conference by far this season, but the Mountain Division could decide the other division’s champion, with Boise, Air Force and Colorado State all having the change to play spoiler, while also hoping to catch Utah State in their division.
Goodbye to a legend
Week 9, like many of the weeks before it, was not without its drama, be it coaching or upset related.
In rapid fire fashion:
- TCU and longtime head coach Gary Patterson mutually agreed to part ways. Patterson was the second-longest tenured head coach in FBS, behind only Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz.
- Then No. 6 Michigan was upset by then-No. 8 Michigan State. Jim Harbaugh is now 2-13 vs. Top 10 teams as the Wolverines’ head coach, 3-9 against rivals Ohio State and Michigan State.
- No. 12 Auburn is in control of its own destiny, after upsetting then No. 10 Ole Miss. The Tigers are in their first year under former Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin and have games remaining against No. 13 Texas A&M, Mississippi State, South Carolina and rival No. 3 Alabama. Win out, and Auburn will play No. 1 Georgia for the SEC Championship.
- Mississippi State, led by the ever entertaining Mike Leach, upset No. 12 Kentucky and it wasn’t close. The Bulldogs have upset Texas A&M and Kentucky now this season and are a win away from bowl eligibility.
- Miami “The U” is back. Not really, but the Hurricanes upset a surging Pitt team. Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett was a dark horse Heisman contender and he threw for 519 yards and three touchdowns against Miami, but his campaign is probably over.
- Big 12-headed Houston upset then No. 19 SMU. The Cougars have steadily improved under Dana Holgorsen and now are the most significant hurdle standing in the way of No. 2 Cincinnati.
- Then No. 22 Iowa State was upset by unranked West Virginia, proving once again that the Pac-12 is not the only conference with parity.
This season, 61 ranked teams have lost, a new record, and six head coaches have been fired. Such is college football in 2021.