Everything you need to know in college football following Week 10
From playoff contenders to Heisman frontrunners, Steve Palazzolo rounds up the most important news and analysis in CFB.
Everything you need to know in college football following Week 10
It was a unique week of college football as we had our first peek into the eyes of the College Football Playoff committee, and teams took the field to either build upon or change perception. All of the top teams brought their best and this week’s debates will continue to rage on about the top four teams and the next few who appear on the doorstep of entering the playoff picture.
Beyond that, the Heisman Trophy leader played like it, the nation’s top defenses lived up to their billing and the battle for the No. 4 spot in the land has multiple candidates vying for the committee’s attention.
Your top takeaways from Week 10:
- Alabama’s defense does it again; QB Jalen Hurts the x-factor in the run game
To say LSU’s offense was overmatched by Alabama’s defense would be one of the biggest understatements of the season.
At one point, CBS color man Gary Danielson essentially asked out loud whether or not LSU QB Danny Etling could “hit an easy pass,” and on one 2nd-and-10 run by superstar running back Leonard Fournette, Danielson celebrated what seemed like a monumental win for LSU’s offense as they picked up four yards.
It goes to show just how difficult every yard was for LSU to obtain, and they only picked up 125 of them on the night. Etling was pressured on 17 of his 30 dropbacks including four sacks, with this week’s hero being edge rusher Ryan Anderson (84.2 game grade) who finished with two sacks, three QB hits, and two hurries on only 24 rushes, with one of those hits resulting in the ball popping up for an interception. On the other side, fellow edge rusher Tim Williams (84.7 game grade) had a sack and four hurries on his 21 rushes while playing the run as well as any game in his career.
There may be some concerns on the offensive side of the ball as the passing game struggled, but QB Jalen Hurts was a game-changer with his legs, just as we predicted on the PFF College podcast this week. He finished with a 54.1 grade as a passer, but a 90.1 grade on the ground as the “Year of the Running Quarterback” continues with middling passing effort being outdone with strong work in the ground game. It’s an important added dynamic to the Alabama offense, and it was the biggest difference in their win against LSU.
- Michigan and Clemson both state their case for No. 2
It was supposed to be an uneventful first playoff ranking last week with what seemed like a clear top four and the only real drama being whether or not Michigan or Clemson is the second-best team in the land. Both teams stated a strong case Saturday against mid-level conference opponents as Michigan defeated Maryland 59-3 and Clemson shut out Syracuse 54-0.
The story for Michigan is the continued development of quarterback Wilton Speight – mirroring last year’s late-season turnaround by senior starter Jake Rudock – as his improvement turns a defense-first Michigan team into an even more viable national title contender. Speight started the season with accuracy issues and some questionable decision-making against good defenses, but he’s been one of the nation’s best over the last three weeks, including a season-high 87.4 grade against Maryland.
As for Clemson, the story is the health of QB Deshaun Watson who missed the second half with a shoulder injury after perhaps his best half of the entire season. He finished with an 89.6 overall grade while going 13-for-16 for 169 yards and two scores with two of those three incompletions being dropped. Watson showed the accuracy we’ve been expecting to see all season and assuming he bounces back healthy, it’s the type of game he showed late last season when he was the top-graded quarterback in the country from Week 9 through the end of the year.
Both Michigan and Clemson boast two of the best defenses in the nation, but the quarterback position may determine their respective fates come playoff time.
- Did Washington do enough to move to No. 4?
This may not matter much in the long run, as Washington has ample opportunity to impress the voters with games coming up against USC and Washington State as well as a pending Pac-12 championship game, but they did their best to secure the No. 4 spot as early as Tuesday night with a dominant 66-27 win over Cal.
WR John Ross stole the show with 208 yards on six catches and three scores as he broke free on two deep balls and weaved into the end zone through the Cal defense. QB Jake Browning did his part with a 79.3 grade as he went 19-for-28 for 378 yards and six touchdowns. The offense made a statement for Washington while the defense slowed Cal’s high-powered passing attack, making a strong case for the No. 4 spot in the next rankings.
Why are they vying for the No. 4 spot? Well….
- Texas A&M will not be the story for the second Tuesday night in a row
Last Tuesday night, the talk of the first College Football Playoff rankings was Texas A&M being slotted in at No. 4 overall. After losing to Mississippi State, that won’t be the case this week. It was a curious selection in the first place as Texas A&M was off to a good, but not No. 4-worthy, season and they came crashing back down yesterday afternoon.
Injuries were certainly a factor for the Aggies as all-world defensive end Myles Garrett has already been playing banged up and he was limited to only 25 snaps while starting quarterback Trevor Knight went down after only 32 snaps. Backup Jake Hubenak threw the ball well in the defeat (70.4 passing grade) but it wasn’t enough to outlast Mississippi State who played the role of spoiler behind QB Nick Fitzgerald who has the No. 3 rushing grade among quarterbacks this season at 94.9 and he ran for 184 yards on 19 carries in the designed running game on the afternoon. It’s not a lost season for the Aggies, but they’ve been bounced out of the playoff picture.
- Ohio State vs Louisville: Battle of the one-loss resumes
While Washington stated a strong case for the No. 4 spot, Ohio State and Louisville may both be in the mix as well. A 62-3 drubbing of Nebraska – No. 10 in the first playoff rankings – will likely open many eyes on the playoff committee though Louisville’s 52-7 demolition of Boston College should turn heads as well. Ohio State sat at No. 6 last week and they’ll move to No. 5 at the very least with No. 4 a real possibility given how handily they defeated one of the top teams in the country. QB J.T. Barrett is throwing the ball much better in recent weeks – even with some offensive struggles – while running back/slot receiver Curtis Samuel continues to dominate in all phases when given the opportunity (eight catches for 137 yards, two touchdowns, 81.5 game grade). The big-play defense made their mark as well with Malik Hooker and Damon Webb both returning interceptions for touchdowns.
As for Louisville, they may not be as impressive from top to bottom like Ohio State, but they still hold the nation’s top trump card in QB Lamar Jackson who is still unstoppable. He rushed for 176 yards on nine designed runs (19.6 yards per attempt) while finding the end zone three more times. Of course he also threw for four more scores on 12-of-17 passing for 231 yards as the Louisville offense decimated a good Boston College defense. Louisville’s remaining strength of schedule may hurt them going forward, but they did their best to get the committee’s attention.
- No one wants to win the SEC East
There’s usually little margin of error for teams looking to earn a championship or a division title – unless you play in the SEC East. Front-runner Florida lost handily to Arkansas 31-10, yet they still control their own destiny as wins against South Carolina and LSU will secure their second-straight SEC East title despite their two conference losses. Kentucky was quietly in the mix until last night with two conference losses, but they fell to Georgia and they effectively sit two games behind Florida with the Gators owning the tiebreaker. Tennessee is now back in the mix despite a 2-3 conference record as they can win out against Kentucky, Missouri, and Vanderbilt and paired with a Florida loss, would be able to backdoor into the championship game. Either way, the SEC East winner is likely headed for a beatdown against Alabama in Atlanta, but it’s an important few weeks for each team as the title game berth is an crucial step for any program.
- Penn State on a roll
Since their 49-10 loss at the hands of Michigan, Penn State has been on a roll, including their upset of Ohio State two weeks ago and now a 41-14 domination over Iowa. The offense is carried by one of the nation’s best running backs in Saquon Barkley (No. 7 grade in the country at 82.8 overall, No. 7 in elusive rating at 82.4) as well as a defensive line that his suddenly pressuring quarterbacks at a high rate. Last week, Penn State came in at No. 12 in the first playoff rankings and yesterday’s efforts should move them up even further. Their ascent is more fodder for Ohio State’s case for No. 4 as it makes that loss look a little better for the Buckeyes. With three final games against Indiana, Rutgers, and Michigan State, Penn State is suddenly in the mix for a New Year’s Six Bowl and a top-10 finish.
- The Big 12 may be out of the playoff picture, but their title race is heating up
With Oklahoma is heating up and sitting at 6-0 in Big 12 conference play while Oklahoma State is at 5-1, Bedlam on December 3rd may be the title game the Big 12 wants. Oklahoma still has to go through Baylor and West Virginia along the way, while Oklahoma State has Texas Tech and TCU to contend with, but both teams are armed with top passing games as Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield has the nation’s top passing grade at 89.9 while Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph ranks seventh at 80.9. It’s unfortunate that both teams suffered early-season losses – Oklahoma to Houston and Ohio State, Oklahoma State to Central Michigan and Baylor – or this game would have even higher stakes. Either way, it’s setting up for a classic Big 12 shootout with a championship on the line and New Year’s Six Bowl implications. For Mayfield, a trip to New York may be on the line as well as he’s thrown the ball at such a high level this season, those losses should not keep him out of the Heisman discussion.
- Stats and Performances that caught the eye
- Washington CB Sidney Jones had been targeted only 17 times all season coming into the game against Cal. They targeted him 13 times on the night, resulting in four catches for 51 yards to go with two interception and a pass break up, good for a passer rating of 4.5 on throws into his coverage
- Washington State QB Luke Falk completed 32-of-35 passes with one pass batted at the line of scrimmage and another dropped, meaning he was on-target on 33-of-34 targeted passes (97.1 percent adjusted completion percentage)
- Michigan CB Jourdan Lewis was targeted six times, didn’t give up a catch, and got his hands on three passes. He’s now allowed four catches on the season while getting his hand on seven passes (two interceptions, five pass break ups)
- South Carolina true freshman QB Jake Bentley completed five of his six deep pass attempts for 130 yards
- Illinois edge rusher Dawuane Smoot had a sack, hit, and nine hurries on his 54 rushes against Michigan State as the potential first-round pick has put together his best games the last two weeks