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December 7, 2019
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No Bama, no Clemson, no fun? SMU saves drama-free day with epic win

No Bama, no Clemson, no fun? SMU saves drama-free day with epic win
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Take a step back, soak in all that Week 6 had to offer, commit it to memory. It’s important to truly absorb every detail, every flubbed SMU kick return and every grooving Kansas cymbal player and every horrifying East Carolina mascot trick during a blackout.

Remember all of this, all the indignities of Week 6, because three months from now, when the collective groans about yet another Clemson-Alabama playoff matchup becomes the coolest of hot takes, we can point back to this moment and say, no, this is what college football looks like without its two best teams.

This marked the first time since 2015 that the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams were off in the same week, and they clearly were missed. College football without Clemson and Alabama is like a boy band without dancing. OK, we’ve seen the commercial too many times. But compared to what we were left with on the field, the commercial almost felt like a nice change of pace.

We had SMU, flubbing its way to a 21-point deficit, then partying like it’s the mid-’80s again, showing Pitt and Miami how to properly finish off a ridiculous second-half comeback.

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Bo Nix throws his first interception of the game as he forces a pass to the sideline and is picked off by Shawn Davis with one hand.

We had Florida and Auburn, with Bo Nix finally looking like a freshman. It was a stunning 24-13 victory for the Gators, who move to 6-0 and, despite playing without their starting quarterback, now appear squarely in the conversation for the College Football Playoff. Unfortunately, we finished with just eight total turnovers in the game — two shy of filling our punch card and getting a free sub at any Gainesville-area Blimpie.

We had Michigan and Iowa, punting their way into our hearts. The offensive struggles certainly did little to help Wolverines fans forget what happened against Wisconsin, but it does at least buy Jim Harbaugh another week as a Big Ten contender. We haven’t checked with our ESPN Stats & Information group on this, but we’re also fairly certain this marked the 23rd time in the past two years Iowa has been involved in a game in which the final score was 10-3.

We had a shared moment of collective bliss as Kansas scored on a touchdown pass from Carter Stanley to take a 7-0 lead over Oklahoma. For just a brief moment, anything seemed possible — life on Mars, a Pac-12 playoff berth, Snoop Dogg being invited back to Lawrence for an encore performance. Six plays later, however, order was restored, and the Sooners won by 25. But we’ll always have 7-0.

We had Notre Dame, welcoming home its prodigal son, Brian VanGorder. The Fighting Irish were less than hospitable, beating Bowling Green 52-0.

We had Georgia doing its civic duty by demolishing Tennessee. We had Wisconsin’s defense quashing yet another terrible offense. We had LSU and Penn State and Ohio State all winning with ease yet again. We had UTEP and UTSA setting football back a decade, and we had Rice and UAB waiting a decade — or something that at least felt that long — for the rain to clear up to start the second half.

No, it was not an epic Saturday of football. Aside from the party at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, we probably didn’t learn much of anything about this season’s playoff contenders, and we waved goodbye to only a few teams that had been hanging on the fringes of the conversation (we’ll miss you, UCF).

But it was a Saturday, and it was football, and at the very least, we had D’Andre Swift‘s dad. Without Clemson and Bama, life can get dull. Mr. Swift wasn’t the hero we deserved, but he was the hero we needed.

Who’s coming for Bama and Clemson?

With the Tide and Tigers off in Week 6, it was an opportunity to take a closer look at the teams vying to crack their stranglehold on the top of the rankings. So, who’s looking the part?

The real contenders: Teams that actually have the firepower to win it all

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Justin Fields makes a quick pass to J.K. Dobbins, who finds a hole and takes off on a footrace for the end zone late in the second quarter vs. Michigan State.

1. Ohio State: J.K. Dobbins had a huge game against Michigan State, and Justin Fields‘ mobility opens some running lanes that the Buckeyes just didn’t have last season. With a terrific receiving corps and one of the nation’s best defensive fronts, Ohio State has all the pieces to get the job done.

2. Oklahoma: The Jalen Hurts redemption story is so good it almost has to happen, and we’ve certainly seen some real strides from Alex Grinch’s defense. If Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray couldn’t get the Sooners over the hump, it’s hard to predict Hurts will, but this might be a better overall Oklahoma team than either of the previous two quarterbacks had to work with.

3. LSU: Joe Burrow has the offense humming, and while the defense has been shaky at times, the Tigers still have two of the top defensive backs in the country — a skill set primed to corral Tua Tagovailoa or Trevor Lawrence on a big stage.

4. Georgia: The Bulldogs have taken Alabama to the brink twice now, so it’s far from a stretch to think they could finally get over the top in 2019. The concern is that the downfield passing game has been inconsistent thus far, and it’s going to be hard to run the ball against either Alabama or Clemson if Georgia can’t stretch the field.

The ‘might get lucky’ group: They’re playing to an inside straight, but crazier things have happened

5. Penn State: Perhaps the quietest undefeated team in the country right now, the Nittany Lions have a stellar defense, as much blue-chip talent on the roster as Clemson and an offense that’s just scratching the surface. Whether James Franklin’s squad can progress at a pace to keep up with the elite teams remains a big question, though.

6. Florida: It’s hard to get too excited about the Gators’ title hopes even with Saturday’s huge win over Auburn. On the one hand, the defense probably is good enough to win it all. On the other hand, “Kyle Trask, national championship-winning QB” just doesn’t sound quite right.

7. Oregon: Simply getting to the playoff might be the tough task, but the Ducks’ defense is really good, and Justin Herbert is good enough to pull off an upset or two. Does Oregon have the supporting cast on offense to make it happen, though? Probably not today, but there’s a lot of season left.

8. Wisconsin: We love Jonathan Taylor, and the defense looks elite, but the competition — Michigan aside — hasn’t exactly offered proof that this is a team capable of winning it all.

Mustangs keep running

SMU already faced down the death penalty in college football once, so perhaps entering the fourth quarter trailing by 21 wasn’t so intimidating. Still, according to ESPN Stats & Info data, teams facing that kind of a deficit were a combined 9-3,000.

Sonny Dykes likes those odds.

The Mustangs engineered a 21-point comeback in the final quarter to tie the game and send it to overtime, finally taking the victory in the third OT period and winning for the first time as a ranked team since 1986 against Houston. This one might be a little more memorable.

According to ESPN’s win probability, SMU entered the fourth quarter with a 1.7% chance to win, but Shane Buechele led touchdown drives of 19 plays, 10 plays and 14 plays on consecutive possessions, going 12-of-17 passing for 135 yards in the process.

Heisman Five

There’s still not much room to think outside the box this week, as the big names continue to chug along. Week 7, however, should be a nice point of demarcation, with Jalen Hurts going against Texas, Tua Tagovailoa getting Texas A&M and Joe Burrow being tested by that terrific Florida secondary. So enjoy this order for now. What seems clear in Week 6 rarely looks so obvious by the end of October.

1. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama

The ho-hum schedule certainly hasn’t helped turn heads, and in part, Tagovailoa is a victim of his own success. It’s tough for him to do something we’re not expecting. But look at the stat line: 76% completions, 23 passing TDs, 0 interceptions. That’s pretty wild.

2. Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin

Let’s give the running backs a little love. Taylor had another big day against Kent State, rushing for 186 yards and four touchdowns. He now has hit 100 rushing yards with a touchdown in six consecutive games, and he has 19 such games in his career. More impressive, he has added pass catching to his résumé this season, with three grabs and another touchdown against Kent State, already eclipsing his career high for catches in a season.

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Jalen Hurts puts on a show, throwing two touchdown passes and running for two more scores in Oklahoma’s dominant win over Kansas.

3. Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma

There’s no arguing with Hurts’ numbers, but let’s also be clear: He has put up his gaudy stat line against Houston, South Dakota, UCLA, Texas Tech and Kansas. Given that the defenses aren’t going to get vastly more intimidating the rest of the way, though, Hurts is probably the safest bet to be atop the rankings at season’s end.

4. Justin Fields, Ohio State

Saturday’s effort wasn’t Fields’ finest — he threw a pick for the first time in more than two years — but he was solid once again, this time against a stout Michigan State defense. And as our ESPN Stats & Info group noted, Fields became the first Big Ten player in more than 20 years to have a passing and rushing touchdown in six straight games.

5. Joe Burrow, LSU

No, Utah State isn’t going to be the team that flashes across Burrow’s Heisman highlight reel, but the LSU signal-caller threw another five touchdowns on Saturday — his fourth game this season with four or more TD passes. Burrow’s overall outing was mediocre by his standards, however, with his season completions rate dropping below (gasp!) 80%.

Maybe Mullen?

Dan Mullen’s early attempts at a signature win didn’t go well. His first 10 games against AP top-10 teams as a head coach ended with 10 losses.

Since then, though, Mullen is coaching like a legitimate national title contender.

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Florida head coach Dan Mullen is excited over the atmosphere in Gainesville following the Gators’ victory over Auburn.

According to ESPN Stats & Info research, Mullen, Florida‘s head coach, has won seven of his past 13 games against AP top-10 opponents, dating back to 2014, including Saturday’s victory over Auburn. That’s more wins than any other coach in that span, save Nick Saban (15), Urban Meyer (13) and Dabo Swinney (9) — the three coaches responsible for every national championship over that span.

If Mullen is to crash the title party in 2019, however, he likely will need at least five more victories over top-10 teams, including LSU next week and Georgia on Nov. 2, along with potential dates in the SEC title game and the College Football Playoff.

Fun facts from ESPN Stats & Info

  • N’Kosi Perry came in off the bench in hopes of rescuing Miami from a horrendous start against Virginia Tech. The comeback attempt came up just short, but Perry finished with 422 passing yards in the game, the most by a Miami QB since Stephen Morris threw for 566 against NC State in 2012.

  • Wisconsin‘s defense has allowed just 29 points this season, which is the fewest surrendered by an FBS team through five games since … Wisconsin in 2004! The Badgers allowed just 26 through their first five games that season. That Wisconsin team won its first nine games, never allowing more than two touchdowns; but things fell apart after that, with the Badgers dropping three straight while allowing 103 points in the three losses.

  • Tennessee QB Brian Maurer got his first career start Saturday and tossed a 73-yard touchdown pass midway through the first quarter. For comparison, Peyton Manning had just 79 total passing yards — and no TDs — in his first start for the Vols. Perhaps this is what Kirby Smart meant when he said Tennessee was on the verge of something special.

  • Jerrion Ealy enjoyed a 78-yard touchdown run and Snoop Conner had an 84-yarder for Ole Miss on Saturday against Vanderbilt. It’s the first time in school history the Rebels have had two rushing TDs of 75 yards or more in the same game, and they came just more than three minutes apart. Add in a 33-yard TD run by John Rhys Plumlee and Ole Miss is the first team with three TD runs of 30-plus yards versus an SEC opponent since Georgia did it to Florida in 2017. Plumlee also had a 54-yard scamper in the game, making the Rebels the first SEC team with three runs of 50 yards or more in a game against the SEC since LSU did it to Ole Miss in 2016.

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Brian Maurer’s mother approves of her son’s first college completion that goes to Marquez Callaway for a 73-yard Tennessee touchdown.

Look who’s still standing

At what point do we start taking Baylor seriously in the Big 12? Or how about Minnesota in the Big Ten? Both teams entered Saturday unranked, but both are now 5-0.

Baylor went on the road and dominated a strong Kansas State team, while Minnesota finally snapped its streak of narrow wins by thumping Illinois. So, is it time to trust either or both teams?



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