Luicci’s College Football Plus: Week 7 Recap

Five questions

Q. Okay, so which two teams will join Alabama and Clemson in the College Football Playoffs?

There’s a half season to go, but the Tide and Tigers look like cinches for the playoffs now. Alabama reminded us that the time-worn adage about defense winning championships no longer applies after doing a number on Georgia’s vaunted defense in an impressive 41-24 victory over the Bulldogs. All that stands between Nick Saban’s team and a spot in the SEC title game is underrated Kentucky and improving Arkansas. The rest of the schedule will offer little resistance.

Now that North Carolina has been exposed and Notre Dame has been less than impressive the past two weeks, Clemson should breeze through the ACC.

Let’s wait to see what the Big Ten – which starts play this Saturday – has to offer before completing the four-team playoff. The Big 12 offers faint hope of having a contender. If Ohio State is as good as advertised that fills a third slot. The fourth one? That’s about the only drama left in this season.

Q. How good is BYU?

This much we can say: Zach Wilson is having as good a season as any quarterback in the country, completing 78.7 percent of his passes with 12 TD passes to just one interception. But the Cougars’ 5-0 start has come at the expense of Navy, Troy, Louisiana Tech, UTSA and Houston. Hardly impressive stuff.

The remaining schedule consists of Texas State, Western Kentucky, Boise State, North Alabama and San Diego State. That’s slightly stiffer competition but still leaves BYU short on strength of schedule.

A 10-0 season should be enough for a New Year’s Six bowl. But that’s the ceiling on what BYU can hope for this year.

Q. Should more coaches be doing what Arkansas State’s Blake Anderson did this week?

Anderson fired defensive coordinator David Duggan and pass game coordinator Ed Pinkham after the Red Wolves allowed 52 points and 583 yards (314 passing) to Georgia State in a win. Yes, Arkansas State won the game, 59-52. That did not sway Anderson, who felt a shakeup was in order.

If more head coaches reacted the way Anderson did, you could count about two dozen assistants across the country who would have been let go after last weekend. We can think of the entire defensive staff at UCF for starters.

Q. After watching the AAC – which should now be known as the Arena Athletic Conference – continue show its disdain for defense is anyone else getting tired of these ridiculous shootouts?

Let’s hold up Memphis-UCF as the latest example (but not the only one). Memphis rallied from a 35-14 third quarter deficit to record the biggest comeback in school history in a 50-49 win when UCF’s defense essentially stood around and watched the Tigers march down the field for the winning score. The teams combined for a conference record 1,501 yards, with Memphis’ Brady White throwing for 480 yards and six TDs.

Dillon Gabriel, the losing quarterback, threw for 601 yards and five TDs.

This is not football anymore. It’s a living video game. The AAC is not the only league guilty of it, of course. But with the exposure the league has received this year with other conferences on the sidelines it’s increasingly clear that there’s little or no defense being played in Mike Aresco’s league. It’s the football version of Paul Westhead’s days coaching Loyola Marymount basketball (look it up if you’re too young to remember).

Q. How much worse can things get for Syracuse?

Since we asked, we’ll answer: The hapless, hopeless Orange, overwhelmed at home by Liberty on Saturday, travel to Clemson this weekend. The line has to be 50. Or it should be.

Syracuse, 1-4, gave up 338 rushing yards to Liberty, with third-team running back Shedro Lewis going for 170 yards and two TDs in the Flames’ 38-21 victory. A year ago, in a 24-0 victory over Liberty, the Orange limited the Flames to minus-four yards rushing.

The ACC has its share of truly bad teams – Louisville, Duke and Georgia Tech come to mind – but the Orange look to be the worst of all of them. Can’t imagine Dino Babers is feeling he has much job security these days.

On the Rise

SMU (5-0)

The Mustangs are 5-0 for the second straight season for the first time since 1983 after pulling out a 37-34 OT victory over Tulane. Are they for real? We’ll know more when Cincinnati visits on Saturday.

Coastal Carolina (4-0)

The Chanticleers stunned No. 21-ranked Louisiana Lafayette 30-27 on Massimo Biscardi’s 40-yard field goal with :04 left for their first victory over a ranked opponent and first 4-0 start since moving to the FBS level.

Kentucky (2-2)

Wildcats’ defense gives them a chance in most games despite their offensive limitations, as the 34-7 rout at Tennessee proved. That marked Kentucky’s first win in Knoxville since 1984.

On the decline

Mississippi State (1-3)

Since the opening-game victory over LSU, Mike Leach’s offense has gone south, managing one offensive touchdown the past two games. The Pirate seems to be coaching with patches over both eyes during the current three-game losing streak.

Tennessee (2-2)

Let’s just say the Vols are not back yet. In the past three halves of football they have been outscored 61-7, with the 34-7 home loss to Kentucky exposing Jeremy Pruitt’s team as a not-quite-ready bunch.

Mississippi (1-3)

Wait. Isn’t Lane Kiffin supposed to be an offensive genius as a play caller? So he left in a QB to throw six interceptions and saw his offense stuffed twice at the one-yard line on fourth down because of predictable play calling in a 33-21 loss to Arkansas? Those are not the swamps of Mississippi giving off that stench. It’s the college football teams in the state.

Who’s hot

Grant Morgan, LB, Arkansas

The redshirt senior had himself a day in the win over Ole Miss: 19 tackles, three TFLs, a sack and a pick six. That’s as good as it gets.

Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

Time for some love for one of the guys we take for granted. Against Georgia’s top-ranked defense, Jones threw for 417 yards and four TDs to trigger the Tide’s 41-24 victory.

Jordan Travis, QB, Florida State

His passing numbers weren’t much (8-of-19 for 191 yards) but he ran for two scores and threw for another in the Seminoles’ 31-28 upset of North Carolina. Since the redshirt sophomore took over as the starter at Notre Dame last week, FSU looks vastly improved.

Who’s not

Matt Corral, QB, Mississippi

Seriously, who stays in a game long enough to throw six interceptions? Corral did in the loss to Arkansas. Three of those pics were by walkon corner Hunter Clark, with the six picks handing the Razorbacks 24 points. Think Lane Kiffin has a bit of a stubborn streak?

Jarrett Guarantano, QB, Tennessee

The senior makes our “Who’s not” Hall of Fame for consistently appearing on this list. He did it again in the 34-7 loss to Kentucky, throwing three interceptions, with one returned 41 yards for a TD and the other resulting in an 85-yard score. The hits just keep coming for this turnover machine.

Bo Nix, QB, Auburn

Let’s ask this again: When does he start to show some improvement? The sophomore was guilty of three interceptions in a 30-22 loss to South Carolina while also being sacked three times. The three picks by the five-star recruit led to 21 points for the Gamecocks. Nix was also stopped short on a scramble while trying to engineer the game winning drive to end the game.

Playing it forward

Previewing the top games coming up this weekend (All times Eastern)

Nebraska at Ohio State, Noon, FOX

The Big Ten gets underway with the whiniest team in the league facing what appears to be the best. Are the Buckeyes able to prove immediately that they are playoff caliber?

Iowa State at Oklahoma State, 3:30, FOX

Are these the two best teams in the Big 12? Kansas State may have something to say about that, but the winner here rises to the role of conference frontrunner.

Michigan at Minnesota, 7:30, ABC

It will be interesting to see how P.J. Fleck follows up the Gophers’ breakout season of a year ago – while also getting a read on how good Michigan is.

Georgia at Kentucky, 7 or 7:30 p.m, ESPN or the SEC Network

Two of the league’s best defenses collide and the Bulldogs, off a tough loss at Alabama, can’t be caught sleeping here. Wildcats need to show more on offense to be taken seriously.

Cincinnati at SMU, 9 p.m., ESPN2

If the AAC is going to have a team go unbeaten and make a New Year’s Six bowl game it will be the winner of this one. It’s an offense vs. defense showdown.

Tom Luicci was the national college football and basketball writer for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. from 1979-2014. 

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