The Road Report: College Football America Week 5


The Road Report is College Football America/RoadTripSports.com Publisher Kendall Webb’s weekly review of the college football landscape – from the major colleges of the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision to the small colleges of the NCAA’s Division II and III along with the NAIA and the junior colleges of the NJCAA and CCCAA.

Penn State’s James Franklin keeps finding ways to win the tough ones with his Nittany Lions.

Week 4 had the potential to turn out a lot crazier than it did. Just consider the potential upsets that were brewing throughout the day Saturday including four that involved teams ranked in the Top 5:

  • Boston College was tied with No. 2 Clemson at 7-all heading into the fourth quarter in Clemson before the hosts finally erupted for 27 points in the fourth quarter.
  • No. 3 Oklahoma went to the fourth quarter at Baylor leading just 35-31 before scoring a couple of touchdowns and then outlasting another 10-point rally by the Bears late to escape from Waco with the win.
  • No. 4 Penn State needed literally every minute of its game at Iowa to beat the Hawkeyes scoring on a 7-yard Trace McSorley-to-Juwan Johnson touchdown on the game’s final play to win 21-19.
  • No. 5 USC was tied at 13-all with California heading into the fourth quarter before rallying on the road to beat the Golden Bears 30-20.
  • No. 7 Michigan trailed 10-7 at Purdue heading into halftime and held just a 14-10 lead heading into the fourth quarter before pulling away for a 28-10 victory.

And that was just the Top 10 which actually did include one upset when No. 16 TCU marched into Stillwater and knocked off No. 6 Oklahoma State 44-31 in our RoadTripSports.com Game of the Week. Throw in NC State’s 27-21 win at No. 12 Florida State, and it was quite the afternoon in college football.

FOOTBALL FLASHBACK

Justin Fields is the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2018.

College Football America Yearbook Editor-in-Chief Matthew Postins spent the weekend with family in East Texas, but he still found some time to watch some football on the tube. He gives you the rundown as usual in his latest edition of Postscripts.

CFA Associate Publisher Chuck Cox, meanwhile, was on-hand for an incredible event at Target Field in Minneapolis. The home of the Minnesota Twins’ transformed its diamond into a gridiron and played host to the Saint John’s-St. Thomas rivalry. Cox was on the sidelines as the No. 11 Tommies held the No. 6 Johnnies to a single yard of rushing in a minor 20-17 upset. Later that afternoon he took in St. Cloud State’s 26-14 win over Augustana (SD) in a game marred by heavy rain and two lightning delays.

Finally, yours truly, I headed down to Georgia Friday night and caught the nation’s No. 1 prep prospect for the Class of 2018 – Harrison (Kennesaw, GA) Hoyas’ dual-threat quarterback Justin Fields – lead his team to victory at the Allatoona (Acworth, GA) Buccaneers. Early Saturday afternoon, I paid a visit to Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field where the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets romped past the Pittsburgh Panthers. I slipped by Lakewood Stadium in south Atlanta afterward for the first half of the North Springs (Atlanta, GA) Spartans’ 36-29 loss at the Carver (Atlanta, GA) Panthers. Then finally, it was on to Athens, Georgia, for the Georgia Bulldogs’ big 31-3 win over the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

Our game/team count to date:

37 High School and College Football Games
NCAA FBS: 28 out of 130 teams
NCAA FCS: 7 out of 124 teams
NCAA D2: 5 out of 169 teams
NCAA D3: 5 out of 249 teams
NAIA: 7 out of 88 teams
Juco’s: 3 out of 135 teams

NCAA FOOTBALL BOWL SUBDIVISION

Texas quarterback Shane Buechele leads his Longhorns into battle at Iowa State Thursday night.

Week 5 of the major college season kicked off tonight with the Texas Longhorns paying a visit to the Iowa State Cyclones. Texas hasn’t taken the field since its double-overtime loss at USC two weekends ago so it will be interesting to see which team shows up tonight – the team that lost at home to unranked Maryland, the team that thrashed lowly San Jose State 56-0 in the second week, or the team that went toe-to-toe with the No. 5 Trojans in Los Angeles. So far it looks like the ‘Horns brought a top-notch defense to Ames, but there’s still plenty of time to go.

Speaking of the Trojans, their visit to No. 16 Washington State late Friday night is one of the best matchups of the week – on par with our RoadTripSports.com Game of the Week featuring No. 2 Clemson at No. 12 Virginia Tech which kicks off Saturday evening. That’s a nice 1-2 punch to start and finish the weekend, and we could look back to this weekend as one of the key ones that shaped the 2017 season when it’s all said and done.

Outside of those games, No. 15 Miami (FL)’s visit to Duke Friday night has our attention, and we’ll find out if either of those undefeated teams is for real. We’ll also keep an eye on No. 8 Georgia at Tennessee to see if the Bulldogs should be taken seriously, and we’re curious if 4-0 Wake Forest can pin another loss on 0-2 Florida State – a preseason favorite to make a national title run.

Can Mississippi State recover from its disastrous visit to Georgia last weekend at No. 14 Auburn? And can No. 13 Oklahoma State rebound from its damaging home loss to TCU with a treacherous visit to 3-0 Texas Tech which appears to have found a defense? That’s the best of the best this week, and it should be an exciting weekend once again.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF

We rolled out the first edition of our College Football Playoff Pool two weeks ago with 75 teams still in the running. That dropped to 61 a week ago, and last weekend trimmed it down even further to just 52 teams. Additionally, a couple of weeks ago we took a look at the 33 teams that have won a national championship in the poll era, and it’s worth noting that 23 teams on that list are still among the 52 teams in our Playoff Pool. History says that somebody from that list is likely to be your 2017 national champion in major college football.

Group 1 teams

We entered last week’s games with 28 teams still in Group 1 (undefeated teams from Power 5 leagues), but 10 of those teams lost to fall to Group 2 (one-loss teams from Power 5 leagues) this week. Oklahoma State was the biggest victim losing 44-31 at home to TCU. Other Group 1 losers included California, Colorado, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Oregon and Vanderbilt.

Of the 18 remaining Group 1 teams, four have byes this week, and they rank at the top of our pool as they will all maintain their undefeated status for at least another week. Oklahoma, Michigan, TCU and Utah will all return to conference play the following Saturday, October 7.

As for the teams in action this week, we do have a number of Group 1 Eliminators on the schedule that will pare this group down even further next week. That includes our RoadTripSports.com Game of the Week when overall No. 2 Clemson takes on No. 12 Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, Saturday night. (For pool purposes, Clemson is ranked No. 10 – as in, the 10th most likely team to remain in the pool after this weekend – while Virginia Tech is ranked No. 16.)

The three losers here will move to Group 2 next week, and they guarantee that we’ll have no more than 15 teams in Group 1 heading into the halfway mark of the 2017 season.

Group 1 Eliminators

  • No. 10 Clemson at No. 16 Virginia Tech
  • No. 11 Miami (FL) at No. 15 Duke
  • No. 12 USC at No. 14 Washington State

Group 2 teams

We entered last weekend with 24 Group 2 teams, but six of those lost last week to fall to Group 3 (Power 5 teams with two or more losses). But we also picked up the 10 losers from Group 1 a week ago, meaning we actually have more teams in Group 2 this week than we did last week – 28 to be exact.

The six teams that dropped to Group 3 include at least one huge surprise. Florida State entered the season ranked as high as No. 2 in some polls, but after a three-week layoff due to Hurricane Irma, the Seminoles were lethargic in a 27-21 home loss to NC State. Of course, the ‘Noles were also playing without quarterback Deondre Francois who was lost for the season with a knee injury in the opener against Alabama on September 2. In his place, James Blackman became the first true freshman to start for Florida State since 1985, and he played well enough (22-of-35, 278 yards, 1 TD) to give his team a chance. But the ‘Noles defense showed signs of rust, and the offense was ineffective in the red zone leaving Florida State in an 0-2 hole for the first time since 1989.

The other five Group 2 losers – Arizona, Arkansas, Purdue, Syracuse and UCLA – were largely underdogs last week, and didn’t figure prominently into the national title picture anyway. Of course, with 28 teams remaining this week, there are bound to be some Group 2/Playoff Eliminators as well. The losers in these games are essentially out of the playoff picture with only the most extreme circumstances allowing them to work their way back in. They’ll be placed in Group 3 moving forward.

Group 2/Playoff Eliminators

  • No. 44 California at No. 25 Oregon
  • No. 43 Vanderbilt at No. 31 Florida
  • No. 41 Mississippi State at No. 32 Auburn
  • No. 42 South Carolina at No. 33 Texas A&M
  • No. 35 Iowa at No. 34 Michigan State

Group 3 teams

As usual, we won’t list any Group 3 teams until it becomes apparent they might receive consideration for the College Football Playoff.

Group 4 teams

We entered last week with nine Group 4 teams, but three of those – Eastern Michigan, Houston and Toledo – were eliminated with their first losses of the season last week. Eastern Michigan and Toledo were the last hopes for the MAC in 2017, and that league joins the Sun Belt as the first two conferences out of the running for the College Football Playoff this fall.

That leaves just six teams representing the Group of 5 conferences, and four of them hail from the American Athletic Conference – Memphis, Navy, UCF and USF. Conference USA is still hanging around with undefeated UTSA which is guaranteed to swim in the pool at least one more week with a bye this weekend. And the Mountain West is pinning its hopes on an undefeated San Diego State squad that has a marquee win on its resume over Stanford of the Pac-12.

Two of those four AAC teams square off this weekend when Memphis travels to Orlando to take on UCF in our only Group 4 eliminator.

Group 4 Eliminator

  • No. 52 Memphis at No. 51 UCF

Other games involving two undefeated teams

These are games between undefeated Group 1 teams and undefeated Group 4 teams. Group 1 losers in this case would fall to Group 2 while Group 4 losers would be eliminated. There are, however, no such matchups this week.

Other Playoff Eliminators

This category is for games between Group 2 and Group 4 teams. Any Group 2 losers in these games would move to Group 3 where they would only receive playoff consideration under the most extreme circumstances while the Group 4 losers would be eliminated from playoff contention. These games are essentially playoff eliminators. There aren’t any games in this category on the schedule this week.

FWAA-NFF SUPER 16 POLL

As members of the FWAA, we rely on the FWAA-NFF Super 16 Poll as our official rankings at RoadTripSports.com. The Alabama Crimson Tide are still the nation’s No. 1 team heading into their game against Ole Miss. You can read this week’s update on the poll changes here.

FWAA-NFF Super 16 Schedule

  • Ole Miss at No. 1 Alabama
  • No. 2 Clemson at No. 12 Virginia Tech
  • Indiana at No. 4 Penn State
  • No. 5 USC at No. 16 Washington State
  • No. 6 Washington at Oregon State
  • No. 8 Georgia at Tennessee
  • Northwestern at No. 9 Wisconsin
  • No. 11 Ohio State at Rutgers
  • No. 13 Oklahoma State at Texas Tech
  • Mississippi State at No. 14 Auburn
  • No. 15 Miami (FL) at Duke

ROADTRIPSPORTS.COM GAME OF THE WEEK

Things were so tough for the Clemson Tigers Saturday against Boston College that the defending national champions were actually booed at home with the score tied 7-7 near the end of the third quarter.

Yes, in just their fourth game since winning that title, Clemson’s hometown fans weren’t going to settle for anything less than the blowout they signed up for when they bought their tickets. And, if it didn’t happen, they were going to let Dabo Swinney and his Tigers know about it.

The truth is, we all expected a blowout, but on a day when potential upsets were brewing all over the country, Clemson found itself in one of the day’s biggest dogfights. In the end, of course, they rallied and gave the spoiled Tiger fans just what they wanted – a 27-point fourth quarter to top off a closer-than-it-looked 34-7 victory.

So what exactly happened? Well, first of all, perhaps the biggest reason Clemson found itself in a close battle against the unranked Eagles is the same one that could surface throughout the season.

They’re wearing a target.

Clemson had its close games a year ago including an early season battle with Troy in Death Valley in which the Tigers prevailed just 30-24. And they needed overtime later in the season to vanquish the NC State Wolfpack which ultimately finished 7-6.

But they also had their blowouts including a 56-10 win over these same Eagles. Everybody wants their shot at the defending champs, and Clemson will likely see the best efforts from many of their opponents this year. From a football standpoint, there are issues, and they are mostly on the offensive side. The defense was its usual stingy self allowing 238 total yards and just 12 first downs to the Eagles. The running game is in good hands, and could be in even better hands if they hand the ball more to Travis Etienne who finished with 113 yards and two touchdowns on just nine carries. Quarterback Kelly Bryant also topped the century mark with 106 yards and two scores of his own.

The passing game, however, floundered against BC. Bryant connected on a solid 17-of-26 attempts, but they only went for 140 yards with a couple of interceptions to boot. The inability to stretch the field, no doubt, allowed BC to keep Clemson in front of them and force the Tigers to convert third downs. At least in the first three quarters, Bryant struggled in those situations when forced to pass going 1-of-4 for 0 yards and a sack in five opportunities. On other third-down possessions, he was able to convert when he went with running plays, but ultimately, the Tigers will have to improve in those situations to extend drives.

It won’t be easy on Thursday night. They’ll likely find themselves in similar situations against a fast-rising Virginia Tech squad before a soldout crowd in Blacksburg, Virginia. The Hokies have a balanced offense that might be one of the few that can challenge Clemson’s stout defense. They’re putting up more than 500 yards per game through four games with 289 per game through the air and 218.3 on the ground. Bryant and the Tigers’ offense, meanwhile, will encounter a defense that’s ranked No. 28 in the country. That’s a far cry from Clemson’s own No. 3 ranked unit, but it’s far better than the No. 104 ranked unit they faced in Boston College.

And it took them three quarters to crack that one.

THE BOWL PICTURE

We track the bowl status of all 130 major college teams throughout the season with our Bowl Eligibility List. And our Associate Publisher Chuck Cox will begin issuing a weekly report next week after the first FBS teams reach five wins. That’s guaranteed to happen this week, and Cox will weigh in on where everything stands next week.

NCAA FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP SUBDIVISION

Another week is in the book, and James Madison keeps on rolling along as the No. 1 team in the FCS Coaches Poll. They’re not unanimous, though, as pesky North Dakota State continues to earn one first-place vote with the other 25 going to the No. 1 Dukes. NDSU checks in at No. 2 while the rest of the Top 10 is Sam Houston StateSouth Dakota State, Jacksonville StateYoungstown State, Wofford, Eastern Washington, Illinois State and South Dakota. There are actually two ties in the Top 10 with Jacksonville State and Youngstown State sharing the No. 5 slot while Eastern Washington and Illinois State are tied at No. 8.

As for the FCS Game of the Week, well, last week was our second straight blowout when No. 23 Nicholls State fell back to earth in a 66-17 loss to No. 3 Sam Houston State. The Colonels had taken Texas A&M to the wire just a couple of weeks prior, but the Bearkats’ offense proved to be too much at home in Huntsville, Texas.

This week, it’s a battle of Top 10’s as No. 4 South Dakota State heads to Ohio to take on No. 5 Youngstown State. It doesn’t get much better than that during the regular season.

NCAA FCS Game of the Week: No. 4 South Dakota State at No. 5 Youngstown State

SMALL COLLEGE FOOTBALL

NCAA Division II

In D2, Northwest Missouri State remains the unanimous No. 1 pick here earning all 34 votes in the latest AFCA Division II Coaches Poll. The rest of the Top 10, however, was shook up by unranked Ashland’s huge upset over No. 2 Ferris State in our NCAA D2 Game of the Week. The Eagles held D2’s No. 1-ranked offense to just 228 yards and three points in a stunning 20-3 upset. Ferris State had entered the game averaging 645 yards per game.

Ashland jumped from the receiving votes category to No. 20 with the win while up in the Top 10, Texas A&M-Commerce moved up a notch into the No. 2 spot followed by Shepherd, Indiana (PA) and California (PA) in the Top 5. No. 9 LIU-Post was beaten by Bethany (WV) 40-21 and No. 10 North Alabama was upset at home by West Alabama 38-17. That gave the second half of the Top 10 a new look as well with Minnesota State jumping from No. 8 to No. 6 followed by Sioux Falls holding firm in the No. 7 slot. Colorado Mesa, Grand Valley State and Indianapolis all joined the Top 10 for the first time this year in the Nos. 8-10 positions.

There’s a couple of great matchups this week involving teams in the Top 25 including No. 5 California (PA) at No. 18 Slippery Rock. We’ll go with No. 8 Colorado Mesa at No. 17 CSU-Pueblo, however, in our NCAA D2 Game of the Week.

NCAA D2 Game of the Week: No. 8 Colorado Mesa at No. 17 CSU-Pueblo

NCAA Division III

Target Field in Minneapolis gave up baseball for a day to host the Saint John’s-St. Thomas football rivalry.

Our Chuck Cox was at the NCAA D3 Game of the Week last week and saw No. 11 St. Thomas beat No. 6 Saint John’s 20-17 in the first game ever played at Target Field in Minneapolis. It was another classic in a series filled with them, and it was also the largest crowd to ever witness an NCAA Division III game with 37,355 fans in attendance.

St. Thomas was rewarded with a jump to No. 7 in this week’s AFCA Coaches poll while Saint John’s tumbled to No. 12. The No. 1 slot, however, still belongs to defending national champion Mary Hardin-Baylor with 49 first-place votes while Mount Union checks in with the other three votes at No. 2. Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Wheaton and North Central all maintained their positions in the Nos. 3-5 positions.

Hardin-Simmons eased up a slot to No. 6 as the beneficiary of Saint John’s loss just ahead of St. Thomas. No. 8 Johns Hopkins, No. 9 Delaware Valley and No. 10 Wisconsin-Platteville held firm in the same spots as the previous poll.

It’ll be tough to match last week’s game of the week, and No. 21 Illinois Wesleyan at No. 4 Wheaton and No. 25 Wisconsin-Stout at No. 10 Wisconsin-Platteville are the top games on the board featuring ranked teams. But it’s hard to pass up No. 3 Wisconsin-Oshkosh hosting unranked Wisconsin-Whitewater just to see if the latter is ready to regain their Top 25 form.

NCAA D3 Game of the Week: Wisconsin-Whitewater at No. 3 Wisconsin-Oshkosh

NAIA

Last week’s NAIA Game of the Week was a great one as No. 2 Baker outlasted No. 14 Benedictine 44-37. That was enough for the Wildcats to keep pace with top-ranked Saint Francis (IN) which beat No. 11 St. Xavier 48-23.

The rest of the Top 6 was unchanged, too, with Reinhardt, Morningside, Montana Tech and Lindsey Wilson each holding their positions. No. 7 Doane was the highest-ranked team to lose last week dropping a 29-18 decision at home to Concordia (NE). Doane’s resulting drop to No. 14 allowed Grand View and Marian to each move up one spot, and No. 9 Southern Oregon and No. 10 Arizona Christian each moved into the Top 10 with previous No. 10 Southeastern’s 43-30 loss to Lindsey Wilson creating another opening.

This week it’s a battle of Top 10’s in our NAIA Game of the Week including the No. 1 Saint Francis (IN) Cougars who will travel to Indianapolis to take on the No. 8 Marian Knights.

NAIA Game of the Week: No. 1 Saint Francis (IN) at No. 8 Marian

JUCOS

In our NJCAA Game of the Week last week, Blinn continued its early season roll with a 27-16 win at No. 25 Kilgore. Out in California, No. 5 Fullerton handled No. 3 Mt. San Antonio in a relatively easy 49-23 win.

Fullerton will get what should be a bit of a breather this week at Moorpark, but Blinn will get another week in the spotlight, this time hosting No. 8 Tyler. Blinn eased up one spot after the win at Kilgore to No. 15. In the Golden State, No. 19 American River will hit the road to face red-hot No. 5 San Mateo in the CCCAA Game of the Week.

NJCAA Game of the Week: No. 8 Tyler at No. 15 Blinn
CCCAA Game of the Week: No. 19 American River at No. 5 San Mateo


ODDS AND ENDS

Oh, Kentucky. Thirty-one years and counting, you didn’t think we’d forget, did you?

You need a little bit of help and good fortune to beat a team 31 straight times no matter how bad they are. This is actually, we think, a pretty decent Kentucky team so maybe it even took a little more luck than usual, and in the final minute, Kentucky obliged as they often do in this series.

In fact, they pretty much handed it to the Gators by ending up with only 10 men on the field and leaving one Gator receiver completely uncovered on the winning play. And, of course, this being Kentucky vs. Florida, there was no way the Gators weren’t going to take advantage of the miscue.

Maybe next year, Wildcats. At least you’ve got Louisville and the Rick Pitino scandal to take your mind off your troubles.


 

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