The 2021 college football season will soon come to a close, as BYU has only two regular-season games remaining, while Utah and Utah State have three apiece. After that come conference championship games, and then it is bowl season.
This year has gone by quickly — don’t they all — and each and every week, unpredictability has proven the norm. That didn’t change Week 10, either.
Here are six takeaways from the latest weekend in a crazy college football season:
Utah is the best team in the Pac-12 (right now)
Throughout the season, when discussing the Pac-12, the Oregon Ducks always took precedence. Ranked in the top 10 nationally in the preseason, the Ducks were the Pac-12’s great hope, and frankly, still are.
At 8-1 overall and 5-1 in conference play, Oregon is the only Pac-12 team that has a shot at making the College Football Playoff. The Ducks have the respect of the CFP committee, which ranked them No. 4 in its initial rankings, and own the conference’s signature win — at Ohio State.
And yet, no Pac-12 team is playing better than Utah right now.
This goes beyond Utah’s shellacking of Stanford. Yes, the Utes were dominant in that game (and still had room for improvement), and yes, the Utes handled a team that upset Oregon earlier this year.
The win at Stanford was just the latest evidence, though, that the Utes are onto something.
Since Cam Rising took over as the starting quarterback, Utah is 5-1 with wins over USC, Arizona State, Washington State, UCLA and Stanford (the lone loss coming at Oregon State). Three of those teams have winning records this year.
Utah didn’t eke out those victories either. Utah outscored its defeated conference opponents 197-91.
Right now, the Utes are the only Pac-12 team with a top 5 offense and defense in conference (Utah is No. 5 in total offense, No. 3 in total defense). Utah has the second-best rushing attack in the Pac-12, and it only seems to get better every week.
Utah is also top 5 in the conference in run and pass defense, an overall balance unmatched by any team (Oregon is No. 2 in run defense but No. 10 in pass defense).
Right now, there isn’t a Pac-12 team playing better football than Utah, and with games remaining against Arizona, Colorado and Oregon, anything less than an 8-4 finish to the regular season should be seen as a disappointment.
Deven Thompkins needs to be talked about again
Utah State kept up its winning ways over the weekend, defeating New Mexico State to improve to 7-2 on the year (4-1 in Mountain West Conference play).
The Aggies did what they’ve done quite a bit this season: Played poorly in the first half only to bounce back and take the win in the second half.
There were some major positives — USU’s defensive front played its best game of the year — and a few negatives, but it is time to talk about Deven Thompkins again.
The Aggies’ star receiver was once again the best player on the field, and he was better than ever against NMSU. He had the first 200-plus yard receiving game of his career and is quickly climbing Utah State’s record books.
“I’m at a loss for words,” Thompkins said. “It’s something I’ve just been wanting, you know? I’ve been getting close every single week. One hundred-yard games, 177-yard games is cool and all, but I’ve just been waiting for this 200-yard game.
“In a way it’s a relief, but it makes me even more hungry. Being tied for ninth (most yards in a single game) in school history is cool, but I really want to be No. 1 in school history, so that’s what I’m after now.”
Thompkins isn’t just rewriting USU’s record books, though. Right now, he is arguably the best wide receiver in the country.
Thompkins leads the nation in receiving yards (146.0) and all-purpose yards per per game (173.1 ypg). His 1,314 total yards are the most by any wideout. Among the receivers with the most receiving yards this season, Thompkins has the best yards-per-catch average, at 18.25.
List at 5-foot-8, 155 pounds — he is not that tall — Thompkins has done nothing but astound this season, and there are still three games to go before the postseason.
BYU has proven that patience pays off
Follow the wide world of college football even remotely, and a certain trend has become clear in recent years: Few teams have patience with losing coaches.
Right now, there are seven open FBS head coaching jobs, with an additional two more that have already been filled after coaches were fired.
Schools have little patience with coaches who don’t win, and in the world of the transfer portal and early signing period, change is needed earlier than ever.
Or is it?
With Kalani Sitake, BYU has proven that a stable program often takes years to create. Sitake is in his sixth season as the Cougars’ head coach, and his team is currently 8-2 after its win over Idaho State.
Ten wins are a real possibility, and if BYU pulls it off, that’d be back-to-back 10-win seasons for Sitake.
Of course, prior to the past two seasons, BYU was mediocre or worse under Sitake. He went 9-4 his first season, but then regressed to a dismal 4-9, followed by back-to-back 7-6 campaigns.
At many other schools, as evidenced by this season, Sitake wouldn’t have lasted. He would be a defensive coordinator at a Power Five school right now, hoping to get another shot at head coaching at a Group of Five school somewhere.
Instead, because BYU was patient — it is fair to argue Tom Holmoe lacked replacement options — the Cougars are in a great place as a program, headed to the Big 12 and finding increased success in recruiting.
The current trend in college football is to move on quickly when things don’t go as planned, and that has worked out at times. Look no further than Utah State under Blake Anderson. But patience can also work, too.
The Pac-12 is pretty awful
The Pac-12 is not the worst Power Five conference this season. Let’s get that out of the way. The ACC is having a dismal year as a collective, one that just got worse after North Carolina upset Wake Forest.
(Humorously, the loss counts as a nonconference loss, because the Demon Deacons and Tar Heels scheduled each other outside of conference play. College football can be fun sometimes).
Things aren’t great in the Pac-12 right now, though. Parity is one thing, but things are just going off the rails.
Arizona and Colorado, widely considered two of the worst teams in all of FBS, both won over the weekend, beating Cal and Oregon State.
Arizona snapped the country’s longest losing streak. That is how bad things had gotten in Tucson. Things are bad in Berkeley, where COVID-19 protocols and injuries left the Bears a shell of themselves against the Wildcats. Even healthy and whole, though, the Bears aren’t good.
Stanford and Oregon State aren’t very good this year, either. Maybe they could be called mediocre. Maybe. Washington and USC are trending down, UCLA is rumored to be contemplating moving on from Chip Kelly and ASU loses games it shouldn’t (Herm Edwards might not be around for much longer).
Oh, and Washington State doesn’t even have a head coach.
Of the 12 teams in the conference, Oregon and Utah are really the only teams that might feel good about the 2021 season thus far.
But the ACC is worse.
Who wants to win the Mountain West?
The race for who will play in the Mountain West Conference championship game is getting interesting.
A week ago, things looked to be lined up in favor of Fresno State and Utah State, the former coming out of the West Division, the latter out of the Mountain Division.
Now? It is much more interesting.
Boise State, a forgotten team this season, crushed Fresno State, knocking the Bulldogs from their perch atop the West. San Diego State now takes hold of the division, and the Aztecs control their own destiny. Of course, two of their final three games come against Nevada — the No. 2 team in the West division — and Boise State.
Speaking of the Broncos, they are very much alive in the Mountain race. If Utah State wins out, the Aggies will play for the conference title, but lose a game against San Jose State, Wyoming or New Mexico, and tiebreakers come into play, with both Boise State and Air Force having a legitimate shot at the division.
San Jose State was seen as an easy win only a few weeks ago, but over the weekend, the Spartans got starting quarterback Nick Starkel back and gave the Wolfpack everything they could handle. USU has to play at San Jose State this weekend.
Don’t forget Fresno State, either. The Bulldogs have games remaining against New Mexico and San Jose State, while Nevada has Air Force, SDSU and Colorado State left (as mentioned previously, SDSU has Nevada and Boise State left, as well as UNLV). The Bulldogs are a loss away from being back at the top of the division.
At this point, the race for the division titles will come down to the final game of the regular season.
No longer undefeated (or winless)
Every weekend this season, there have been upsets. Some have been bigger than others, but Purdue’s win over Michigan State ranks among the most high-profile.
The Spartans came into the game ranked No. 3 in the country by the CFP committee and proceeded to lose, pretty badly, to a Purdue team that has now knocked off multiple top 5 teams this season.
That wasn’t the only upset, though. Unranked North Carolina beat No. 9 Wake Forest, handing the Demon Deacons their first loss of the season.
Unranked TCU beat No. 12 Baylor, all but knocking the Bears from Big 12 title contention.
No. 14 Texas A&M handled No. 13 Auburn, keeping the Aggies’ hopes of an SEC West title alive.
Arkansas upset No. 17 Mississippi State, Tennessee upset No. 18 Kentucky and Illinois upset No. 20 Minnesota.
Oh, and Boise State upset No. 23 Fresno State.
Perhaps bigger than all those upsets of ranked teams, though, were wins by Arizona and UNLV.
The Wildcats had the win over Cal, while UNLV defeated New Mexico.
Why does that matter? There are now no winless teams in all of FBS. Arizona and UNLV were the only winless FBS teams through the first nine weeks of the season.
Now, there are none.