The Red River Rivalry and Heisman-level performances headline college football’s Week 6 action.
Florida’s first-year coach beat rival Tennessee in September and a top-six opponent to open October. The Florida coach could be Dan Mullen, who has the surprising Gators at 5-1 following Saturday’s 27-19 win against No. 6 LSU.
The Florida coach could also be Mullen’s predecessor, Jim McElwain, who worked a similar number in his debut season, 2015, with wins against the Volunteers and then-No. 5 Mississippi in leading the Gators to an SEC East Division title and spot in the final Amway Coaches Poll.
In other words, we’ve seen this act before. Why is 2018 any different?
It was with cautious optimism that Mullen’s tenure began, and for good reason. He helped Urban Meyer lead the Gators to a pair of national championships as Meyer’s top assistant. He worked a lesser miracle in turning Mississippi State into a real national contender, even earning the Bulldogs the top spot in the College Football Playoff rankings in 2014.
And Mullen has delivered on that optimism. September included a loss to Kentucky, an uber-rare setback for the Gators in the series, but also featured wins against Tennessee and a Colorado State team that dismantled Arkansas. Now, one week into October, Mullen has landed the sort of win that can provide early and important validation for a new coach and his staff.
GATORS CELEBRATE: Trickery, defense help Florida edge No. 6 LSU 27-19
If Mullen has the Gators in the Top 25 at the midway point of his first season, what does that suggest about this program’s potential? Ignore that the same question was asked of McElwain during his debut. Despite the parallels, Mullen’s experience and track record as a head coach in the SEC supports the idea that Florida is going places.
Here are the rest of Saturday’s winners and losers:
The rivalry win against Oklahoma is the sort of moment that could change the trajectory of this series and the Longhorns’ program. Leading the way was sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who threw for 314 yards and two scores with another 72 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Texas is suddenly a player in the Big 12 race and the College Football Playoff.
North Carolina State
The Wolfpack are making a case for being the second-best team in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Saturday’s 28-23 win against Boston College marked the first real test of N.C. State’s season, which began with a bunch of winnable games against less-talented competition, and should open some eyes in the ACC as we head deeper into October. Senior quarterback Ryan Finley has been just as good as advertised for the Wolfpack. Next after a bye? A showdown with Clemson.
The Irish took another big step toward the College Football Playoff by acing a road trip to Virginia Tech. The 45-23 win was the team’s second in a row and first on the road under starting quarterback Ian Book, who threw for 271 yards and two scores in pacing a balanced offensive attack. It’s time to start thinking big about Notre Dame, if in some part thanks to a relatively easy second-half schedule. Notre Dame’s opponents the rest of way are Pittsburgh, Navy, Northwestern, Florida State, Syracuse and Southern California. Each of those teams has two or more losses.
Are the Hurricanes ecstatic about scratching out a 28-27 win against a Florida State team that has wobbled between pitiful and average through the first month of Willie Taggart’s tenure? Probably not ecstatic, no. But Miami still found enough in the tank to scratch out a narrow win against its in-state rival, in a series that has recently gone the Seminoles’ way. Any win against FSU, regardless of how it unfolds, is a banner day for Miami.
Before this weekend, the Aggies’ proudest moment of the 2018 season was a loss: A&M lost to Clemson 28-26 last month and rightfully felt cause for some celebration. The Aggies can now point to Saturday’s 20-14 win in overtime against previously unbeaten Kentucky as the hallmark moment of Jimbo Fisher’s first season with the program. It wasn’t the prettiest performance on offense, but A&M’s defense held Kentucky to just 178 yards. It was just the second time since joining the conference that A&M held an SEC opponent to fewer than 200 yards of offense.
The 34-24 win at Central Michigan moved the Bulls to 5-1, the best program’s best start since joining the Football Bowl Subdivision. After going a ridiculous 109-6 during eight seasons at Wisconsin-Whitewater, a Division III program, Buffalo’s Lance Leipold is proving that he’s among the best coaches in all of college football.
It’s just one loss, and in that sense won’t have a huge impact on the team’s postseason hopes: OU can still get into the playoff by running the table. That the loss came to Texas, on the other hand, doesn’t feel so great. The loss also revealed some serious concerns about the play of a defense that has been subpar for far too long and nearly paints the Sooners as a national championship pretender.
It’s pretty standard of Missouri to outgain South Carolina by more than 100 yards, run for 6.2 yards per carry while the Gamecocks go for 2.7, start a future NFL starter in Drew Lock against the Gamecocks’ backup quarterback, hit the go-ahead field goal with 78 seconds left … and still lose. This is how Missouri operates. South Carolina’s 37-35 win will be hard for the Tigers to shake.
Speaking of the expected: Syracuse took Clemson to the wire last week and then goes ahead and loses to Pittsburgh on Saturday. Again, this is par for the course for the Orange. Now 4-2, Syracuse is headed for a bowl game but likely won’t get back into the Amway Coaches Poll barring a hot streak to start the second half of the regular season.
The Wildcats’ offense went missing in a 20-14 overtime loss at Texas A&M, the team’s first setback of the season. The ugly totals: Kentucky converted just a pair of third downs, gained 178 yards of offense, averaged just 2.3 yards per carry and accounted for nine first downs. It’s a tough loss, especially when just one play here and there might’ve made the difference, but the Wildcats are still 5-1 with winnable games against Missouri and Vanderbilt to round out November.
So much for the Spartans being a factor in the Big Ten. Saturday’s 29-19 loss at home to Northwestern should toss Michigan State out of the Coaches Poll and be the latest disappointment for a fan base that expected much more out of Mark Dantonio’s team in 2018. The Spartans have been a mess.
ANOTHER STUMBLE: No. 19 Michigan State lackluster in loss to Northwestern
How bad are the Huskies? UConn has allowed at least 49 points in each of its first six games, capped by Saturday’s 55-14 loss to Memphis. The Huskies have now given up 322 points at the midway point of the regular season. In comparison, Alabama allowed a combined 362 points during the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
The Broncos’ hopes for a New Year’s Six bowl took a fatal hit in a 19-13 loss to San Diego State, which won in a tough road environment despite relying on its backup quarterback and running back. This loss joins an earlier setback against Oklahoma State to leave Boise State at 3-2, which is enormously underwhelming for a team pegged in the preseason as one of the best from the Group of Five conferences.