7 things you need to know in college football
The Pac-12 and ACC title races, Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett and Oklahoma all make PFF's list of the things you need to know in college football this week.
7 things you need to know in college football
Here are the seven things you need to know in college football this week:
1. Despite losses, Florida State and Utah aren’t done, yet.
The loss that many have been predicted week after week finally came for the Utah Utes, as the USC Trojans forced QB Travis Wilson (-6.6 game grade) into some uncharacteristic mistakes. It makes it tougher for the Utes to make the College Football Playoff, but certainly not impossible. If they make it to the Pac-12 Championship game, they’d likely take on one-loss Stanford, which would help repair the damage this loss has done, and they have talented running back Devontae Booker (one of the top-graded RBs in the nation) to help them get there.
Florida State lost in heartbreaking fashion, seeing their game-winning field-goal attempt blocked and returned all the way for a touchdown as time expired. It was a similar defeat like we saw in Michigan last week, but, like Utah, it doesn’t close the door on FSU entirely. The Seminoles still have a game on the horizon with undefeated Clemson, and then a potential ACC Championship game. So, powered by the talented Dalvin Cook at running back, who ranks second in the nation in yards after contact per attempt, there’s no reason to think they can’t reach December with just the one loss.
2. But Stanford and Clemson are the new favorites to win their conferences.
In the Pac-12, Stanford have been rolling since bouncing back from the Week 1 loss to Northwestern, and have looked like the strongest team in the conference in recent weeks. There is still the potential for a conference championship game against Utah, but what makes the Cardinal so formidable right now is how well running back Christian McCaffery is playing. The dynamic playmaker leads the nation in all purpose yards, and has propelled himself into the mix for the Heisman Trophy. He ranks No. 1 among running backs as a receiver, and is in the top five overall.
Meanwhile, with Florida State slipping up, Clemson now has the upper hand in the ACC. Obviously they still have to beat the Seminoles and then win the ACC Championship game, but if they do they’ll have some pretty notable wins on their record when you consider they have already knocked off a then-unbeaten Notre Dame. They steamrollered Miami on Saturday, with 15 defensive players finishing with a grade of +1.0 or better.
3. Michigan State’s Connor Cook is playing like the best quarterback in the nation right now.
Cook can be frustrating at times, because he leaves too many throws on the field. He’s picked the right time to hit form, though, grading at +22.3 over the past three weeks — the highest grade in the country. He and wide receiver Aaron Burbridge (+18.6) have formed one of the most dangerous duos in all of college football, and it’s propelling the Spartans on their way towards a must-win game against the Ohio State Buckeyes on Nov. 21. Now that the offensive line is getting healthy again, this is one of the better offenses in the country.
4. J.T. Barrett impressed as the new starting quarterback for Ohio State.
And while the Spartans continue to roll, the Buckeyes have themselves firing on all cylinders after making the change at quarterback. Barrett (+4.8) delivered the best performance from a Ohio State quarterback this season, forcing four missed tackles on the ground and completing 75 percent of his passes under pressure. The Buckeyes quarterback controversy has held them back all year, but Barrett looks ready to lead them with a late-season surge.
5. The battle for supremacy in the AAC is heating up.
It’s easy to get caught up in the battles to decide the major conferences, especially with nothing looking anything close to certain at this stage. However, more than halfway through the season, the AAC has three undefeated teams battling for a place in a New Year’s Six bowl game, or possibly even more, in Memphis, Houston and Temple, with Navy still undefeated in conference play.
Memphis and Houston boasts two of our highest-graded quarterbacks this season in Paxton Lynch (+27.5) and Greg Ward Jr. (+29.5), and are on course to meet on Nov. 14 in what will be one of the biggest games of the year, given what’s at stake, if they are both undefeated. Temple already has wins over Penn State and Cincinnati, but the Owls’ toughest test yet comes this Saturday against one-loss Notre Dame.
6. Oklahoma may yet surprise everyone in the Big 12.
In the Big 12 it’s all about Baylor and TCU right now, but with plenty of big games left to be played, the Oklahoma Sooners may still have a big part to play this season. Their lone loss came against Texas, but they can help repair the damage of that with a strong end-of-season run. They play Kansas and Iowa State in the next two weeks, two teams that have struggled this season, and then they get the chance to knock off their rivals, with games against undefeated Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State to end the year.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield is having a huge season, grading positively in every game so far and ranking in the top five of our QB grades so far. He’s been particularly impressive on passes thrown 20 yards or more downfield, going 15-for-31 with four touchdowns, no interceptions and a very impressive +9.5 grade.
7. Seth Russell’s injury doesn’t necessarily mean the end for Baylor’s title hopes.
The neck injury suffered by Baylor quarterback Seth Russell in Saturday’s win over Iowa State has likely ended an impressive season (although it’s unclear for now if he’ll miss the entire season), with Russell grading as one of the best quarterbacks in college football. But it doesn’t mean the end of the Bears’ College Football Playoff hopes.
Backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham (+6.0) has impressed in very limited action this season, and he’ll be throwing to a very talented receiving corps. Corey Coleman has averaged over 20 yards per reception and scored 18 touchdowns already this year, including catching nine of the 15 passes of 20-plus yards thrown his way. He has the ability to make defenders miss and take the ball the distance every time he touches it (he’s broken nine tackles and is averaging 8.1 yards after the catch per reception), so the offense should still flow through him with Stidham at quarterback.
Gordon McGuinness | Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst
Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.