When the dust settled from this weekend’s college football action, the usual suspects – Alabama, Clemson, Michigan and Washington – all remained undefeated and ready to claim the Top Four spots when the Playoff rankings are released on Tuesday.
But other teams boasting champagne dreams were shown to have malt liquor money in their wallets. Four undefeated squads took their first loss, while other contenders looked shaky in victory against opponents that they were expected to blow out.
Here are some of my more notable observations from another scintillating weekend:
In Michigan’s 32-23 win over Michigan State, redshirt sophomore Jabrill Peppers cemented his spot as Lamar Jackson’s closest competition for this year’s top individual honor. 19 years ago, Charles Woodson won the Heisman Trophy over Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning, becoming the first defensive player ever to take the stiff-arm bronze statue home. Don’t laugh, but Peppers, if he keeps it up, has a serious shot at becoming the second.
Jackson has been the runaway favorite early on, but now is when the games really count. Big performances in November, especially for exceptional players whose teams are in the national title hunt, go a long way in determining who voters will side with come judgment day. And no one made more of an impression as the season rounds into its most critical stretch than Peppers this weekend.
Against the Spartans, he played 10 different positions: 42 at linebacker, 12 at corner, nine at nickelback, six as a wildcat quarterback, one at safety, one as an H-back and one at receiver. He’s also the kick and punt returner and showed up on the field goal block team. Oh, and he also played Mabel Simmons, aka Madea, in Boo!
Well, not really, be he could upend Jackson like Madea upset Inferno at the box office this weekend.
Jackson rescued Louisville with a little over two minutes to play in the fourth quarter with the Cardinals trailing Virginia, 25-24. He proceeded to march his squad on a 75-yard drive that culminated in a 29-yard touchdown pass, his fourth of the day with 13 seconds remaining. The ‘Ville escaped Charlottesville with a 32-25 win, keeping their playoff aspirations alive.
It’s crazy to say that Jackson did not have his best performance, considering he completed 24 of 41 passes for 361 yards, while running for another 90 yards, and boosted his overall touchdown count on the season to 38. That just proves the type of miraculous season he’s having.
The day was filled with other memorable performances. Among them were Saquon Barkley’s 207 rushing yards in Penn State’s 62-24 win over Purdue, Dalvin Cook’s 169 rushing yards and four touchdowns in Florida State’s 37-34 loss to Clemson, which included runs of 43 and 70 yards, and USC’s Ronald Jones putting up a career-high 223 yards in the Trojans 45-24 win over Cal.
Oregon had flashbacks to the days of old with freshman QB Justin Herbert, who has 10 touchdown passes in the last two weeks, tying a school record with 489 passing yards and four scores in the Ducks’ 54-35 win over Arizona State.
Washington State’s Luke Falk threw for five touchdowns and 415 yards as the Cougars roared back from a 21-point deficit on the road to beat Oregon State, 35-31, Texas running back D’Onta Foreman rushed for 250 yards and two touchdowns while his twin brother Armanti Foreman had 142 receiving yards and a 40-yard scoring grab..
D’Onta’s accomplishments have been overshadowed by Texas’ mediocrity over the last few years. But he’s Texas first 1,000-yard rusher, with 1,105 yards on 173 carries this year, since Jamaal Charles in 2007, and is two games shy of Earl Campbells school record of 11 consecutive 100-yard games. There’s a lot of Big Willy in that last sentence right there.
Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald channeled his inner Dak Prescott with 417 passing yards and five touchdowns while rushing for an additional 119 yards and two more scores in a 56-41 win over Samford, while his favorite receiver Donald Gray snagged four passes for 207 yards. Three of those catches were 71, 74 and 51-yard touchdowns.
Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly threw for 465 yards in their 40-29 loss to Auburn on Saturday night, breaking the school record of 436 yards set by Archie Manning back when Temptations were popping with I Can’t Get Next To You!
On the defensive side of the ball, Florida State defensive end DeMarcus Walker was great against Clemson. The Houston vs Central Florida game featured two gems on the D-line, with Cougars freshman Ed Oliver, who has 13.5 tackles-for-loss on the year, continuing to show that he’s already among the best in the country, while UCF’s one-handed wonder, Shaquem Griffin, had 14 tackles, with three for loss, and 2.5 sacks.
Virginia might stink, but their middle linebacker Micah Kiser is the real deal.
And speaking of the truth, Clemson’s defensive line and linebacker corps is bananas. Just ask Seminoles QB Deandre Francois, who got his behind kicked worse than Antonio Margarito at the hands of Manny Pacquiao.
On special teams, the weekend belonged to Washington punt returner Dante Pettis, whose 58-yard score with less than four minutes remaining pushed the Huskies over Utah, 31-24, keeping their undefeated season and playoff dreams intact. Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk scored two TD’s on punt returns of over 70 yards against New Mexico State.
And while Houston’s Tom Herman is widely mentioned as the hottest young coaching candidate in the country, don’t sleep on the job the Matt Rhule is doing, in what was supposed to be a down year, at Temple.
There were nine undefeated teams heading into the weekend, and now we’re down to five. Alabama, Clemson, Washington and Michigan are all sitting in the driver’s seat, but as we’ve seen in years past, especially with huge rivalry games on tap soon, all of that can change in the blink of an eye. Stay tuned.