Week 6 observations: College football is often random, so don't write off Auburn just yet
Dan Wolken
Posted: 2019-10-06

The thing we too often forget is that college football is a game played by young men who are not yet at their physical peak, who must spend time every week going to math or history classes and who aren t paid to perform.

In other words, they re sometimes going to look like college kids which is, technically, what they are.

That s about the only fair way to explain Florida 24, Auburn 13 in a game that was tense, sloppy, mistake-filled, oddly coached and generally impossible to figure out from possession to possession.

After four turnovers apiece and a whole bunch of other weirdness, it was No. 8 Florida blowing the game open on Lamical Perine s 88-yard touchdown run with 9:04 remaining, giving the Gators a terrific win and a 6-0 record despite some very clear flaws.

And for No. 7 Auburn, it was a reality check about life with a true freshman quarterback in Bo Nix, who seemed rather overwhelmed with the whole thing and made some truly terrible decisions under pressure.

Auburn played poorly, no doubt, gaining just 269 yards of offense in the Swamp and committing nine penalties. And maybe it was bound to happen, as the series of tough opponents the Tigers had to tackle early in the season left their tank a little bit empty going into Gainesville.

But it would be silly to write off Auburn at this point. The defense is real and created all kinds of havoc for Florida. Nix will get better, and he s got a bye week coming at a really good time. Auburn should be recharged by the time it plays at LSU on Oct. 26, and don t forget the Tigers will have Georgia and Alabama at home.

In the end, though, the only real takeaway from that game is that you never know what you re going to get with college players. Unlike the NFL, where everything is buttoned up and mistakes are kept to a minimum, college games can take a turn into crazyville. But that s also why we love it.

Here are nine other takeaways from Week 6 in college football:

The Buckeyes handled their first real challenge

Though No. 5 Ohio State had looked terrific on both sides of the ball over the first five weeks of the season, its marshmallow-soft schedule had left some lingering questions about what those blowout scores really meant.

But in their first test against a good team, the Buckeyes still looked pretty dominant, putting away No. 23 Michigan State 34-10 in Columbus. Though Ohio State didn t get off to a flying start on offense, it scored touchdowns on three straight possessions in the second quarter and was able to run the ball pretty effectively behind J.K. Dobbins, who had 172 yards on 24 carries. Quarterback Justin Fields was solid against the first top-quality defense he s seen as a starter, completing 17-of-25 passes for 206 yards with two touchdowns and mostly taking what Michigan State gave him rather than trying to force the issue. (Fields did throw his first interception of the season trying to force something off the back foot.)

Although Michigan State is probably no more than a borderline top-25 team, this is how you re supposed to look if you re a real contender to win the national championship. The Buckeyes have a bunch of new players in key positions and a first-year head coach in Ryan Day, but they look remarkably organized and smooth for this early in the season with plenty of room to still improve.

The Pac-12 averted disaster

With Oregon trailing Cal for much of the evening in Eugene, the Pac-12 was facing its worst-case scenario for the College Football Playoff. With Cal having already beaten Washington earlier this year, the Bears would have held tiebreakers over both of the still-alive playoff contenders while not really being one themselves. Needless to say, Cal winning the Pac-12 North would have basically meant a third straight year being shut out of the Playoff.

But the Pac-12 got a huge sigh of relief when Oregon finally scored a touchdown late in the third quarter and held on for a 17-7 win. Though the Ducks still look fairly sloppy on offense, they re 4-1 and still on track for an Oct. 19 meeting at Washington that will loom large if they can both win out.

Oklahoma State turned in its annual stinker

As much success as Mike Gundy has had at his alma mater, his program is developing a rather odd habit of turning in one completely out-of-nowhere brutal performance per season against an unranked opponent. In 2016, it was a home loss to Central Michigan. In 2017, the Cowboys were ranked No. 10 and got swamped at home by Kansas State, trailing by as many as 29 points in the third quarter. Then last season, Oklahoma State was 3-0 after a big win over Boise State only to lose 41-17 at home the very next week to Texas Tech. And Saturday, the Red Raiders were able to pull the upset again, jetting out to a 27-7 lead and holding on for a 45-35 win.

When you re minus-5 in the turnover battle as 25th-ranked Oklahoma State was on Saturday including three interceptions from quarterback Spencer Sanders you re not going to beat anyone. But also, Texas Tech racked up 586 yards of offense, which is quite a lot for a team that didn t do much with the ball last week against Oklahoma and scored just 14 earlier this year against Arizona.

Oklahoma State is certainly going to factor into the Big 12 race, if for no other reason than its tendency to play well against good teams makes them a scary matchup. But the inconsistency, particularly against teams Oklahoma State should be beating, is starting to take some shine off what Gundy accomplished during his prime years from 2010-16.

West Virginia is winning respect

The Mountaineers didn t beat No. 12 Texas on Saturday, but their 42-31 loss was the kind that should earn them a lot of respect for how far they ve come this season. It appeared early this season like Neal Brown inherited a real roster mess from Dana Holgorsen, whose best players last year went to the NFL. But the Mountaineers have really improved in a pretty short time, notching wins over N.C. State and Kansas before giving the Longhorns a real fight in Morgantown.

West Virginia put up 463 yards on a banged-up Texas defense but was undone by four interceptions from quarterback Austin Kendall and a couple missed field goals early on when the game was in doubt.

But even in defeat, West Virginia has served notice that it won t be an easy out in the Big 12. And in the bigger picture, what Mountaineer fans have seen the last few weeks should be reassuring that they hired the right guy in the 39-year-old Brown, whose first season at Troy in 2015 looked similar in terms of improvement and competitiveness even though the team won just four games. Brown went on to notch three double-digit win seasons before going to West Virginia, and now he s got a more national platform to show that he s a quality head coach.

Tulane looks like a legit AAC threat

Among the 28 FBS coaching changes that followed the 2015 season, few have looked better in retrospect than Tulane grabbing Willie Fritz from Georgia Southern. Though Fritz had dominated the Sun Belt during his two years there, losing just two conference games and going 17-7 overall, he didn t get a ton of interest from the Power Five. Perhaps that was a product of the option-hybrid offense he ran in Statesboro, which carries a stigma for big-time schools. Or maybe it was Fritz s coaching pedigree, which had been built on years of toiling in Div. II and the FCS.

But give Tulane athletics director Troy Dannen full credit for recognizing that Fritz could turn around the Green Wave s floundering program, a promise he has fully delivered on in his fourth season. After a 42-33 win at Army on Saturday, Tulane looks like a sneaky contender in the suddenly rugged AAC West alongside Memphis and SMU and could very well land in the Top 25 for the first time since 1998.

Until this season, the most noticeable thing about Tulane had been its uniforms, which almost always look terrific with alternate helmet logos and a heavy dose of powder blue. But now the football product is getting some traction, starting two weeks ago in its 38-31 win over Houston with a fake kneel-down play at the end of regulation followed by a 53-yard touchdown pass with three seconds left. But winning in West Point, where Army hasn t lost since Nov. 5, 2016, adds some real heft to the r sum . Alongside a competitive 24-6 loss at Auburn in Week 2, Tulane looks on track to have its best season since at least 2002 when it won eight games.

Michigan-Iowa should never be spoken of again

Can we just forget that ever happened? If you re a fan of aesthetically pleasing football, you weren t going to find it in Ann Arbor as No. 18 Michigan plodded to a 10-3 win. You rarely see a game these days where neither team reaches 300 yards of offense, but Michigan finished with 267 and 14th-ranked Iowa had 261 with just one net yard rushing. Both quarterbacks played poorly in this one, but Iowa s Nate Stanley went 23-for-42 with three interceptions while also taking eight sacks. And despite all that, Iowa was driving to potentially tie the game inside the final five minutes with a first down at Michigan s 25-yard line. But then, the Hawkeyes went into full circus mode, committing back-to-back holding penalties, getting called for an ineligible man downfield and then a false start to back themselves into third-and-24. To put the cherry on top, Stanley was sacked to remove any possibility of a field-goal attempt. When you botch one of your few promising drives that badly, you don t deserve to win.

UCF s amazing run is over

Though it probably shouldn t have been a huge surprise, it was nonetheless a landmark result Friday night when Cincinnati held off No. 19 UCF, 27-24, delivering the Knights first conference loss since the final regular season game of the 2016 season. It also ends an era, in a sense, given the prominent place UCF has had in the national college football discussion.

No matter how you felt about the Knights declaring themselves national champions in 2017 or arguing that they deserved a spot in the College Football Playoff last year or campaigning for a higher ranking this season after they dominated Stanford, let s be very clear: UCF has been extremely relevant for the last two-plus years.

Though some of the aggressive tactics from athletics director Danny White to put UCF in the conversation irritated his colleagues around the country, the Knights lost nothing from becoming a polarizing program. In fact, if anything, they elevated their profile around the country and sparked some interesting and important debates about whether four teams is enough for the playoff.

Now, those conversations will be hard to have. UCF s second loss will make it almost impossible for them to be the Group of Five representative in a New Year s Six bowl game. Moreover, there s not much of a gap this year between the Knights and the other top teams in the AAC, which means they could very well lose again and currently wouldn t be favored to win the conference title. That means the spotlight ends, at least for now. But it was a heck of a ride.

Arizona is just fine after all

There were some ominous rumblings coming out of Tucson after Arizona s season-opening loss at Hawaii, but credit Kevin Sumlin and the Wildcats for bouncing back and putting themselves in pretty good position to be a factor in the Pac-12 South at 4-1 overall and 2-0 in the league.

One of the draws for quarterback Khalil Tate to stay at Arizona after Rich Rodriguez was fired a couple years ago was the chance to play in a system where he could develop his passing skills. It seems to be paying off, as Tate threw for a career-high 404 yards on 31-of-41 completions Saturday in a 35-30 win at Colorado.

Things are about to get much tougher for the Wildcats, who host Washington next Saturday and then go to USC after that. But for a program that was pretty underwhelming in Sumlin s first season at 5-7, getting some of these early wins will remove some doubts about whether Arizona hired the right coach.

Memphis has another insane running back

Over the last three years, running back Darrell Henderson made Memphis one of the nation s must-watch teams due to his sheer ability to explode through holes and accelerate away from defenders for long touchdown runs. Henderson had some truly absurd games, breaking the 200-yard mark three times last season and posted a per-carry average of 8.9 yards over his final two seasons before going to the NFL.

Now it appears No. 23-ranked Memphis has a player in the same mold in fellow Mississippi product Kenneth Gainwell, who has announced himself as a potential star through the first five games of his career. In Memphis 52-33 win Saturday at Louisiana-Monroe, Gainwell finished with 209 yards on just 14 carries, including touchdown runs of 68 and 40 yards. Gainwell had 104 yards on 14 carries last week against Navy and 145 yards on 16 touches against South Alabama, where he took over the starting job due to Patrick Taylor s injury.

To date, Gainwell is averaging 8.2 yards every time he takes a handoff, which puts him very much on a Henderson-like pace.



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