Week 9 Narratives
College Football Storylines and Top/Bottom Coaching Performances
Week 9 featured several big-time matchups. A couple of them lived up to the hype while others – like Georgia vs. Florida…well not so much. However, there is more clarity emerging. Here’s our Narratives following Week 9 action:
College Football Playoff race starting to congeal…We’ll have the first rankings from the College Football Playoff Committee on Tuesday night but it seems clear that Georgia, coming off a pounding of Florida (on the scoreboard anyway) will be #1. After that, it’s looking like it could be between Cincinnati and Michigan State (!) for #2 if the committee goes off of who is still undefeated with reasonably big wins. Oklahoma is undefeated but has looked shaky all year. Alabama and Ohio State both LOOK like Top 4 teams but had early losses – and of course Oregon BEAT Ohio State and has just one loss but has, like Oklahoma, looked uneasy in several games. What do you do with undefeated Wake Forest? Ole Miss is now out of contention as are Kentucky, Iowa and Pittsburgh. Will be really interesting to see initial rankings.
The Conference Down-ballot is getting interesting…Often national college football media can lose focus and interest on who is contending in conference divisions that aren’t in the playoff race. The PAC 12 South is a total mess now that Arizona State and UCLA have been beaten in multiple games and Utah has grabbed control of the division. Considering how Oregon has played down to their competition (but is still likely to win the PAC 12 North) – if Utah can make it to the PAC 12 Championship Game in December, they have as good a chance as any to win and make a Rose Bowl appearance which would be their first as a program – no small achievement.
The same goes for N.C. State who survived Louisville to stay within a game of super-story Wake Forest (the two haven’t played yet) in the ACC Atlantic. And Pitt’s loss to suddenly “off the mat” Miami keeps the ACC Coastal in play.
Fresno State upset San Diego State to seize control of the Mountain West Conference lead while Houston won a wild game over SMU to become the clear #2 in the AAC and top challenger to Cincinnati. The Cougars 44-37 win over the Mustangs is our Best Game of the Day.
In the Big 10 West, Iowa lost for a second time – to Wisconsin – falling to a three way tie for second, with Minnesota now in first place. Michigan State’s win over Michigan puts them in driver’s seat in Big 10 East but Ohio State looms.
Finally, Auburn’s strong win over Ole Miss (with some questionable decisions by Lane Kiffin – to be discussed below) has kept them in a tie for 1st in the SEC West with Alabama. They will play a dramatically improved Texas A&M next week to determine who’s the top contender if Alabama falters once more in regular season.
Surprising Coaching Moves…the season’s early going featured firings/resignations at places as disparate as USC, Georgia Southern and UConn. Then LSU opened. Suddenly we have a flurry – Washington State, Texas Tech, and now TCU surprisingly has parted ways mid-season with legendary coach Gary Patterson. We also have likely openings coming at Nebraska and Virginia Tech with Miami really on the edge – Manny Diaz may be saving his job with back to back wins over N.C. State and Pitt. 2020 and COVID may have made the cycle a little less crazy (although it was plenty eventful). Now it looks like we’re heading for a lot of openings – including two of the best jobs in the sport (USC and LSU). And…if a big name leaves say…Penn State…or another job…it will make it spin even crazier. I’ll have a ranking of job openings coming out on Twitter later this week (@ReadyCFB).
Top 3 Coaching Performances of Week 9:
Mel Tucker – Michigan State: The Spartans keep coming. Down 16 to Michigan late in the 3rd quarter, MSU bowed up, came back to tie it and then came from behind again to take the lead. Kenneth Walker, their outstanding RB, is now a frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy after scoring 5 – yes FIVE – touchdowns. Mel Tucker’s team has shown they can win a shootout like this against a very good team, a slog against Big 10 foes and back and forth on the road. Ohio State has more talent but this team has heart, their game should be something else in a couple weeks.
Dave Aranda - Baylor: The Bears are having an amazing season after a disappointing 2020. Dave Aranda deserves so much credit as a second year head coach for recognizing the problems he had on offense and going to get Jeff Grimes from BYU as OC. The Bears thumped Texas on Saturday – and that is no small thing in the state of Texas for their program. Only question tempering Bears fans’ enthusiasm is probably concern about whether LSU will come calling for Aranda – which he did address pretty openly in his post-game presser.
Bryan Harsin - Auburn: I’ll talk about Lane Kiffin below – but the suspect decision-making in their game does not take anything away from Harsin and Auburn’s plan. They gave up yards but they frustrated the Rebels, particularly on third down when Ole Miss was trying to at least get close enough to go for it – and then stopped them on fourth down. Auburn was not expected to be particularly good but Harsin has mercurial QB Bo Nix playing within himself and their defense is improving each week it seems. Now, a win over Texas A&M would put them in first place tie with Alabama in SEC West with year-end matchup looming.
Honorable Mention: Mike Leach, Mississippi State, Kyle Whittingham, Utah, Dana Holgorsen, Houston
Worst 3 Coaching Performances of Week 8:
Lane Kiffin – Ole Miss: I love Lane and his willingness to rely on analytics to go for it aggressively but you have to temper it with real-world, in game rationality. Multiple times Kiffin eschewed FG attempts to go for 4th and real real medium-to-long including with less than 5 minutes to go down 11. It’s one thing to do it when down one TD midway through third quarter or early in game but after Ole Miss’ defense actually got some stops, the Rebels needed to pay it off with points to put pressure back on Auburn and they did not. Lot of tough questions for Kiffin post-game. Rebels are basically out of the SEC West and certainly national title hunt now.
Pat Narduzzi - Pitt: Just when you think Pitt is going to have a magical, 10-win type year, they get a clunker against a team they should beat based on how the year as gone. Western Michigan earlier this year and now a Miami team that seemed to barely be hanging on with Manny Diaz. It was, again, the defense – Narduzzi’s specialty – that let the Panthers down moreso than anything else. Panther fans nightmare continues – with Narduzzi they are mostly competent – but can they get past 7-8 regular season wins…ever?
Herm Edwards – Arizona State: It’s been a weird year for the Sun Devils, possible major NCAA violations hanging over their head, some great wins and some puzzling clunker losses. This weekend it was a loss to Washington State with a short-handed coaching staff that was not as close as the final score indicated. It feels like the end is near for Edwards when the mediocrity is combined with the NCAA issues. But we’ll see.
Dishonorable Mention: Steve Sarkisian, Texas, Geoff Collins, Georgia Tech, Skip Holtz, Louisiana Tech
I’ll be back later this week with the Top 10 Most Meaningful Matchups of Week 10. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @ReadyCFB for more college football talk and debate.