Who Said College Football Is Too Predictable?
September offered several surprises that have threatened the entrenched establishment at the top. Week 4 put those findings on display, and that involved some of the preseason contenders for the college football playoffs.
AFERIAT: Clemson lands in uncharted territory
Here are four surprises that no one saw coming:
Clemson won’t make it to college football playoff
Reality struck before DJ Uiagalelei’s fourth and fifth passes went over Justyn Ross’s head in double overtime.
“Cardiac Clemson” isn’t meant to be in 2021. The Tigers’ 36-win streak against unranked teams ended in a 27-21 loss to NC State on Saturday. Honestly, Clemson shouldn’t have been in that position.
The Wolfpack missed three field goal attempts in regulation time. The Tigers were limited to seven triples and outs and were limited to 2 of 11 in third-down conversions. Injuries to linebacker James Skalski and running back Will Shipley didn’t help.
“This point at 2-2, you look at it all,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. he said, via The Athletic. “There’s nothing you don’t evaluate. But I think DJ is our quarterback.”
Uiagalelei’s struggles in the passing game resurfaced (12 of 26, 111 yards, two TDs, one INT), but he ran nine times for 63 yards. He needs to be a bigger factor as a running back to get through some of his struggles early in the season.
The rare challenge Swinney now faces is keeping Clemson (1-1 in conference play) in pursuit of the ACC championship, which won’t be easy given the conference’s rampant unpredictability from week to week. Of course, no team with two losses has made it to the CFP.
That is also a reality for the Tigers.
Arkansas-Georgia is a top 10 matchup
The Razorbacks were 11-35 with a 4-30 record in the SEC over the past four seasons. Now, Arkansas is 4-0 and has swept Texas and Texas A&M in the first month of the season behind a dynamic running attack led by KJ Jefferson. The Razorbacks are likely to rank in the top 10 heading into a road test in Georgia.
Will sophomore coach Sam Pittman, the former Bulldogs offensive line coach, pull off another incredible surprise?
The makeover of an OSU leak is impressive
Kyle McCord started in place of CJ Stroud (shoulder) against Akron in Week 4, and the rookie quarterback completed 13 of 18 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns. That, combined with first-year teammate TreVeyon Henderson’s 93 yards and two rushing touchdowns, has to be terrifying for the Buckeyes’ opponents for the next three years. The much-maligned defense had eight sacks against the Zips.
Ohio State coach Ryan Day has been proactive and aggressive since the Week 2 loss to Oregon, but there are questions.
MORE: Backup LB Seems to Come Out of Buckeyes Mid-Game
Will McCord take over as incumbent? What does that mean for Stroud and a quarterback room that also features reclassified freshman Quinn Ewers and Jack Miller III? It’s a series of first world problems for the four-time defending Big Ten champions, but the Buckeyes will be in position for another Big Ten championship given the soft conference schedule of the next four weeks.
Spencer Rattler’s struggles persist
The Sooners improved to 4-0 with a 16-13 win over West Virginia, but preseason Heisman Trophy favorite Rattler was booed in the first half. Rattler hit 26 of 36 passes for 256 yards, a TD and an interception, part of a difficult first month in which he averaged 237.7 yards through the air, with three TDs and three interceptions against the Sooners’ three FBS opponents.
Rattler is among the college stars who benefited before the NIL season, and that makes him an easy target. Kaleb Williams, an acclaimed five-star freshman, saw action in Oklahoma’s first two games, but it seems like a long shot of taking over the starting job unless the Sooners lose. Would Lincoln Riley be bold enough to consider a change if Oklahoma continues to fight?
Rattler can ease those worries at Kansas State. He threw three interceptions in a 38-35 loss to the Wildcats in 2020.
Those are four surprises that no one saw coming in September. What will October bring?
With that, here are more takeaways from Week 4:
Notre Dame can alter the image of the playoffs
Notre Dame can’t run the ball, has another quarterback controversy with Brian Kelly and will be the thorn in the 2021 college football season.
So business as usual.
The Irish were tied 10-10 in the fourth quarter with Wisconsin at Soldier Field before making big plays in all facets of the game and taking a 41-13 victory. The Irish, underdogs 6 1/2 points in the game, changed the script with special teams and defense.
MORE: Kelly Talks About ND’s Legacy After Moving To Rockne
The Badgers took a 13-10 lead with 14:14 remaining, but Chris Tyree responded with a moment similar to Rocket Ismail’s: a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Third-line quarterback Drew Pyne, who replaced an injured Jack Coan, threw a touchdown pass to Kevin Austin Jr. The defense forced four turnovers in the fourth quarter, capped by pick-sixes by linebackers Jack Kizer. and Drew White.
This was incredible considering Notre Dame had 24 rushing attempts for minus 8 yards heading into the fourth quarter. The Irish also have a quarterback controversy now with Coan (leg) and Tyler Buchner (hamstring) dealing with injuries ahead of next week’s showdown with Cincinnati. Pyne, who finished 6 of 8 for 81 yards and a touchdown, could be the starter.
Kelly, who surpassed Knute Rockne as Notre Dame’s winningest coach of all time with his 106th win, might have a college football playoff team after all. The Irish are not in the ACC spotlight this season and would likely be squeezed out of a loss, but this is the team the rest of FBS will learn to support for the next two months.
Conference Call: Undefeated Surprise
What about the Power 5 teams that finished September with a perfect 4-0 record? Here’s a look at the undefeated who are not in the AP Top 25:
ACC: Boston College is 4-0 for the first time since 2007 after a 41-34 overtime victory against Missouri. Pat Garwo III (5-8, 214 pounds) emerged as the bowling ball on Jeff Hafley’s offense, contributing 175 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Tigers while averaging 6.8 yards per carry. The Eagles take Clemson next. Remember last year’s 34-28 thriller where BC held a 28-13 lead at halftime?
Wake Forest improved to 4-0 by shedding Virginia 37-17 on Friday night. QB Sam Hartman has nine touchdowns and one interception in four games, and the Demon Deacons don’t have a ranked opponent on the schedule until November.
Big ten: Taulia Tagovailoa is a rising star for Maryland, which improved to 4-0 with a 37-16 win against Kent State. Tagovailoa is averaging 335 passing yards per game with 10 touchdowns and one interception. The Terps will play the spoiler role for the next two weeks against Iowa and Ohio State.
Big 12: Oklahoma State is off to a 4-0 start after beating Kansas State 31-20. The Cowboys have a productive backfield with Spencer Sanders and Jaylen Warren. Bedlam could be in business.
Iowa State was supposed to be the breakthrough team in the Big 12. Baylor didn’t get the memo. The Bears improved to 4-0 by beating the Cyclones despite being outscored 469-282. Sophomore coach Dave Aranda has built faith in Waco, and Baylor is just two years away from a Big 12 championship appearance.
SECOND: Kentucky edged out South Carolina in an ugly 16-10 victory that led the Wildcats to 4-0. That leaves them the second undefeated team in the SEC East heading into Saturday’s game against Florida. Will Levis battled the Gamecocks with 102 passing yards and one interception. Can Kentucky claim as the second best team in the division?
A preview of week 5
– Ole Miss had an extra week to prepare for Alabama and the Rebels lead the FBS with 52.7 points and 635.3 yards per game. Lane Kiffin is 0-2 against Nick Saban, but those games are memorable for two reasons.
Alabama beat Tennessee 12-10 on October 24, 2009, on a last-second field goal block from Terrence Cody. Last season, Crimson Tide beat Ole Miss in a shootout 63-48. Alabama won national championships both seasons, but Kiffin’s teams were the toughest in the regular season both times.
– Michigan faces some doubts after an uneven second half in a 20-13 win against Rutgers. If the 4-0 Wolverines really want to be considered, it wouldn’t hurt to get a win at Wisconsin with two losses. They haven’t won at Madison since a 20-17 win in 2001, when Hayden Epstein kicked the winning field goal with 14 seconds left. This will be a force-over-force showdown with the Wolverines’ running game facing off against Wisconsin’s ground defense. A similar score could be in the works. The Badgers have won the last two games in spectacular fashion.
– Bowling Green stunned Minnesota in a 14-10 upset on Saturday. The Falcons, 30 point and a half losers, are trying to snap a streak of five consecutive losing seasons. Bowling Green is 4-5 against opponents from the Big Ten since 2014. Imagine.
– Looking for an out-of-the-ordinary Group 5 playoff eliminator? UTSA is looking good after Hunter Duplessis hit a 42-yard field goal in the final second to beat Memphis 31-28. The Road Runners also upset Illinois. Running back Sincere McCormick had 42 carries for 184 yards and three touchdowns against the Tigers.
– Army improved to 4-0 with a 23-10 win over Miami (Ohio). The Black Knights did that with zero passing yards. Christian Anderson finished 0 of 5 passes, but made up for it with 15 carries for 236 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Anderson is averaging 7.4 yards per carry. Army has an interesting showdown against Wisconsin on October 16.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.