Column: Finding Inspiration From a Winless Team

Today marks one month since I began working as sports and education reporter at The Clayton Tribune in Clayton, Ga.

Over the last month, I’ve grown comfortable with the job and the area, and I’ve enjoyed the stories I’ve covered and the people I’ve met.

But I’ll be honest: for the first few days, I was internally a nervous, anxious wreck.

Learning the duties of the job was almost overwhelming, while at the same time the logistical side of moving to another state and being as far away from home as I’d ever been was hanging heavily over my head.

But things changed when I found inspiration from where I least expected it: the winless Rabun County High School softball team.

On Thursday, Sept. 21, one week after I started, I went to cover their senior night game against Monticello. I had covered two of the team’s games earlier in the week, which they had lost 11-0 and 20-1. I expected more of the same on this night, especially when the Lady Cats fell behind 10-0.

In the bottom of the third, however, the team fought back. They battled, scratching and clawing for runs. The effort that coach Danette Holcombe said was missing two nights earlier was back, even though they were down big.

They got frustrated with a blatantly bad call, but channeled that emotion productively and scored five runs. Even as they still trailed by five, they were fired up as if they had tied the game.

The rest of the game had the feel of a tight game, even though the Lady Cats never got closer than five runs and eventually lost 11-6.

I was impressed how hard the team had played, how much emotion they had shown, and how genuinely they cared in a situation where many teams would have simply mailed it in. After the game, the players were disappointed they had lost, but Holcombe was, rightfully, proud of their effort.

The team honored its five seniors, then set up for a pizza party as part of their senior night celebration.

There’s no way they could have known this, but after witnessing the team’s spirit in spite of their circumstances, I was inspired by them. I was less anxious than before, and felt more at home.

My appetite hadn’t been good for the whole week before due to nerves and anxiousness–and if you know me, you know that’s unusual–but it was back. My plan of leftovers was scrapped and, prompted by the Lady Cats, I went out and got some pizza of my own.

The athletic teams of Rabun County High School are doing some amazing things this fall. The football team is undefeated, and the volleyball team hosts their state playoff opener on Tuesday after winning the area championship.

The softball team didn’t win a game this season, but they did accomplish something.

They helped a young journalist feel better acclimated to his new home, and for me that was a victory in itself.

 

For more coverage of Rabun County High School athletics, subscribe to The Clayton Tribune or visit theclaytontribune.com.

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College Football Power Rankings for Week Six

1. Clemson (6-0, Last Week: 1st, AP Poll: 2nd)
The Tigers beat Wake Forest 28-14 Saturday, but led the Demon Deacons 28-0 in the fourth before allowing two late scores. Clemson won this game doing what they’ve done all year: dominate on defense, and supplement that with a more-than-sufficient offense. The offense isn’t without questions, however, heading into this week’s game at Syracuse, as quarterback Kelly Bryant is questionable with a sprained ankle. The Tigers biggest remaining regular season game isn’t Florida State, as everyone would have predicted, but a trip to NC State on Nov. 4.

2. Alabama (6-0, LW: 2nd, AP: 1st)
The Crimson Tide didn’t dismantle Texas A&M quite like they did Ole Miss and Vanderbilt the previous two weeks, but the Tide outrushed the Aggies 232-71, including 124 yards from Damien Harris, and forced three turnovers to win in College Station, 27-19. The SEC isn’t as strong this year, and it shows in the Tide’s schedule: they have yet to play a team that is currently ranked (that win over Florida State hasn’t aged well), and only have one ranked team on the regular-season agenda the rest of the way, as they travel to Auburn on Nov. 25.

3. Penn State (6-0, LW: 4th, AP: 3rd)
Both teams struggled on the ground–it wasn’t a traditional Big Ten ground-and-pound affair–but despite only rushing for 95 yards, the Nittany Lions used their running game in the right spots to beat Northwestern 31-7 in Evanston. Three of Penn State’s touchdowns came on the ground, including the game’s biggest play: a 53-yard Saquon Barkley run that gave the Nittany Lions some third-quarter breathing room. The Nittany Lions have a bye this weekend, which comes at a good place in the schedule–the next three games are against ranked opponents (Oct. 21 vs. Michigan, Oct. 28 at Ohio State, Nov. 4 at Michigan State)

4. Georgia (6-0, LW: 5th, AP: 4th)
After a 45-14 win over Vanderbilt, it’s safe to say the state of Tennessee doesn’t like the Georgia Bulldogs; the last two weeks, they’ve beaten the state’s two SEC teams by a combined 86-14 margin. The rushing duo of Sony Michel and Nick Chubb dominated in the win, with Michel gaining 150 yards and a touchdown, and Chubb rushing for 138 yards and two scores. The Dawgs host struggling Missouri this weekend, before a bye week ahead of their rivalry game with Florida.

5. Washington (6-0, LW: 7th, AP: 5th)
Saturday, the Huskies defeated California 38-7, doing so with an exceptional defensive performance. Cal only gained 93 yards in the game, and the Golden Bears actually lost 40 yards rushing against the Washington defense. The Huskies are ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency as they try to return to the College Football Playoff. Washington travels to Arizona State this weekend before a bye, and while coaches don’t like to look ahead, I will:  the “Apple Bowl” rivalry game against Washington State on Nov. 25 looks bigger and bigger every week.

6. TCU (5-0, LW: 10th, AP: 6th)
The Horned Frogs were outdone by West Virginia in nearly every stat category on Saturday, but TCU won the most important one–points–by a 31-24 margin after quarterback Kenny Hill’s go-ahead rushing touchdown with 2:53 to go. Hill became the just second player with passing, rushing and receiving touchdowns in the same Big 12 conference game. This week the Horned Frogs head to Kansas State; the Wildcats are unranked, but Manhattan is always a hard place to play.

7. Washington State (6-0, LW: 9th, AP: 8th)
A week after beating USC, the Cougars went on the road and dominated Oregon 33-10 for another impressive win. People focus on the Cougars offense, but their defense contained Oregon to 277 yards and held the Ducks scoreless after the first quarter. The Cougs play their second Friday game in three weeks tonight, when they travel to Cal.

8. Wisconsin (5-0, LW: 8th, AP: 7th)
Jonathan Taylor ran for 249 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries Saturday in a 38-17 win at Nebraska, as the Badgers further cemented their status as the heavy favorites in the Big Ten West. Taylor’s performance was his second 200-plus-yard game this season, after gaining 223 on Sept. 9 against Florida Atlantic, and the freshman is averaging 153 rushing yards per game. The Badgers host Purdue this weekend.

9. Miami (4-0, LW: 13th, AP: 11th)
Even in a rivalry with an abundance of classic games, Miami’s win over Florida State on Saturday is one that will be remembered for a long time by Hurricanes fans. The win, which snapped the team’s X-game losing streak to their rivals, came after Darrell Langham barely crossed the goal line (if he even did at all–the play was the subject of a very tough replay review) after a 23-yard pass from Malik Rozier with 0:06 to play, giving the Hurricanes the 24-20 triumph after a back-and-forth thriller. The Hurricanes return home Saturday to face Georgia Tech.

10. Auburn (5-1, LW: 12th, AP: 10th)
The Tigers dominated Ole Miss even more than the 44-23 final score sounds; Auburn led 41-10 after three quarters, to the tune of a 561-yard offensive explosion. Auburn outrushed the Rebels 326-83, with 204 yards coming from Kerryon Johnson, who scored three touchdowns on his 28 rushes. The Tigers have an interesting schedule the rest of the way, as they have three straight road games, starting Saturday at LSU, before finishing with three straight home games.

Worth a Mention: Iowa State (3-2)
Iowa State is not one of the more prominent Power Five-conference programs, as they haven’t had a winning season since 2009, and have combined for an 11-37 record the last three years. Yet once every three or four years, the Cyclones program has a knack for sneaking up on a big-name team and pulling off an upset. It most notably happened to Oklahoma State in 2011, costing the Cowboys a BCS Championship Game berth, but it happened again on Saturday when the Cyclones traveled to Norman and upset #3 Oklahoma, 38-31. With a win on Saturday against Kansas (the worst team in the Power Five by far), Iowa State would win their fourth game, a mark they haven’t reached since a 6-7 season in 2012. Don’t look now, but second-year coach Matt Campbell, who came to Iowa State after a successful stint at Toledo, has vastly improved this program.

11. Oklahoma (4-1, LW: 3rd, AP: 12th)
12. Ohio State (5-1, LW: 11th, AP: 9th)
13. USC (5-1, LW: 14th, AP: 13th)
14. Oklahoma State (4-1, LW: 15th, AP: 14th)
15. Michigan (4-1, LW: 6th, AP: 17th)

16. Virginia Tech (5-1, LW: 17th, AP: 15th)
17. South Florida (6-0, LW: 19th, AP: 18th)
18. San Diego State (6-0, LW: 20th, AP: 19th)
19. NC State (5-1, LW: 23rd, AP: 20th)
20. UCF (4-0, LW: 22nd, AP: 22nd)

21. Stanford (4-2, LW: unranked, AP: 23rd)
22. Michigan State (4-1, LW: unranked, AP: 21st)
23. Notre Dame (5-1, LW: unranked, AP: 16th)
24. Utah (4-1, LW: 18th, AP: unranked)
25. Navy (5-0, LW: unranked, AP: 25th)

Also ranked in AP Poll:  Texas Tech (4-1, AP: 24th)

Fell from Rankings:  Florida (3-2, LW: 16th), Louisville (4-2, LW: 21st), Florida State (1-3, LW: 24th), West Virginia (3-1, LW: 25th)

College Football Power Rankings for Week Five

1. Clemson (5-0, Last Week: 3rd, AP Poll: 2nd)
After the Tigers’ 31-17 win at Virginia Tech, they clearly have the best resume of anyone. Clemson has three wins against the current AP Top 25 (Virginia Tech, Louisville, Auburn)–no one else has more than one–with two on the road. They are playing better than anyone, including Alabama, and have only been kept from the top spot because the Tide, who were the top-ranked team in the preseason, hasn’t struggled with anyone (more on that below). It’s the Tigers, not the Tide, with the best resume right now.

2. Alabama (5-0, LW: 1st, AP: 1st)
Pushing Alabama down to the second spot is in no way a knock to their early-season success. In fact, it’s almost unfair to knock the Tide down a spot, given their 125-3 advantage over the last two weeks, and a majority of the AP Poll voters decided not to punish Alabama for Clemson’s success, which is out of the Tide’s control. But while Alabama has simply been dominant, they don’t have the resume to match Clemson, at least not right now.

3. Oklahoma (4-0, LW: 2nd, AP: 3rd)
The Sooners are coming off a bye week, and face Iowa State on Saturday. As is the case with Alabama, Oklahoma dropping a spot is not a slight to them, but is simply because Clemson has earned the right to move up.

4. Penn State (5-0, LW: 4th, AP: 4th)
Penn State’s game against Indiana had the narrative of Nittany Lion domination from the opening kickoff, which was returned for a touchdown by Saquon Barkley, as they went on to beat Indiana 45-14, led by DaeSean Hamilton’s three receiving touchdowns. The Nittany Lions travel to Northwestern on Saturday before a bye next week, but have back-to-back games against Michigan and Ohio State lurking on Oct. 21 and Oct. 28.

5. Georgia (5-0, LW: 8th, AP: 5th)
A year after losing to Tennessee in a heartbreaking last-second Hail Mary, the Bulldogs found revenge and then some with a 41-0 drubbing in Knoxville, giving the Volunteers their worst home loss since 1905. While the Dawgs lack the resume of some of the teams above them–their best win is at Notre Dame–they have nonetheless looked more and more impressive each week.

6. Michigan (4-0, LW: 6th, AP: 7th)
The Wolverines are coming off a bye week as they face in-state rival Michigan State on Saturday night. While Michigan clearly has the better team on paper, history shows you should throw out the records and the stats as bragging rights are on the line in the Great Lake State.

7. Washington (5-0, LW: 7th, AP: 6th)
After leading by just seven at halftime, the Huskies scored 35 in the second half to pull away from Oregon State, 42-7. The Huskies schedule gets progressively tougher leading to a huge November against Oregon, Stanford, Utah and Washington State.

8. Wisconsin (4-0, LW: 9th, AP: 9th)
The Badgers held Northwestern to 25 rushing yards in a 33-24 win over the Wildcats, coming off a bye the previous week. Wisconsin will travel to Nebraska this week before back-to-back Big Ten home games with Purdue and Maryland.

9. Washington State (5-0, LW: 20th, AP: 11th)
While Washington gets a lot of the attention in the Pac-12 after reaching the College Football Playoff last year, the Cougars made their own statement on Friday night with a 30-27 win over USC. The win was the Cougars’ first over a top five opponent since 1992, and their first over USC since 2002, giving them a 5-0 record for the first time since 2001. Staying perfect won’t be easy, though, as the Cougs travel to Oregon on Saturday.

10. TCU (4-0, LW: 10th, AP: 8th)
The Horned Frogs enjoyed a bye, fresh off their big 44-31 win over Oklahoma State. TCU enters Saturday’s game against West Virginia with a 17-0 record at home as a top 10-ranked team under coach Gary Patterson.

Worth a Mention: Troy (4-1)
In 2008, Troy led LSU 31-3 before the Tigers pulled off their largest-ever comeback in a 40-31 win. Saturday, Troy was able to finish off the upset, winning 24-21 in Baton Rouge to hand the Tigers their first home non-conference loss since 2000, ending a 49-game streak. The Trojans, who were paid $985,000 to come play LSU, are now 4-1, and have steadily progressed since their season-opening loss to Boise State.

11. Ohio State (4-1, LW: 11th, AP: 10th)
12. Auburn (4-1, LW: 14th, AP: 12th)
13. Miami (3-0, LW: 13th, AP: 13th)
14. USC (4-1, LW: 5th, AP: 14th)
15. Oklahoma State (4-1, LW: 15th, AP: 15th)

16. Florida (3-1, LW: 16th, AP: 21st)
17. Virginia Tech (4-1, LW: 12th, AP: 16th)
18. Utah (4-0, LW: 17th, AP: 20th)
19. South Florida (5-0, LW: 19th, AP: 19th)
20. San Diego State (5-0, LW: 19th, AP: 19th)

21. Louisville (4-1, LW: 21st, AP: 17th)
22. UCF (3-0, LW: unranked, AP: 25th)
23. NC State (4-1, LW: 24th, AP: 24th)
24. Florida State (1-2, LW: 25th, AP: unranked)
25. West Virginia (3-1, LW: unranked, AP: 23rd)

Also ranked in AP Poll: Notre Dame (3-1, 21st)

Fell from rankings: Mississippi State (3-2, LW: 22nd), LSU (3-2, LW: 23rd)

Trends of a World Series Champion, Volume III

For the last two Octobers, I’ve looked at the trends of past World Series champions, and how each team in that year’s MLB postseason field compared to the trends that a typical World Series-winning team fits.

(2015: Trends of a World Series Champion)
(2016: Trends of a World Series Champion, Revisited)

As we enter the 2017 postseason, starting with the AL Wild Card game tonight, let’s look at the 10 teams in this year’s postseason and how they stack up to the trends of a World Series champion.

 

Trend:  Team batting average of .250 or better
Within the trend:  Astros (.282), Rockies (.273), Nationals (.266), Indians (.263), Yankees (.262), Twins (.260), Red Sox (.258), Cubs (.255), Diamondbacks (.254)
Outside the trend:  Dodgers (.249)

Trend:  Number of offensive starters hitting .290 or better (min. 50 games)
Within the trend:  Astros (5), Rockies (5), Nationals (4), Indians (3), Diamondbacks (3), Dodgers (2), Cubs (2), Red Sox (2), Twins (2)
Outside the trend:  Yankees (1)

Trend:  Team ERA of 4.00 or better
Within the trend:  Indians (3.30), Dodgers (3.38), Diamondbacks (3.66), Red Sox (3.70), Yankees (3.72), Nationals (3.88), Cubs (3.95)
Outside the trend:  Astros (4.12), Rockies (4.51), Twins (4.57)

Trend:  Starting rotation ERA of 4.25 or better
Within the trend:  Dodgers (3.39), Indians (3.52), Diamondbacks (3.61), Nationals (3.63), Yankees (3.98), Astros (4.03), Cubs (4.05), Red Sox (4.06)
Outside the trend:  Rockies (4.59), Twins (4.73)

Trend:  Bullpen ERA of 3.92 or better
Within the trend:  Indians (2.89), Red Sox (3.15), Dodgers (3.38), Yankees (3.44), Diamondbacks (3.78), Cubs (3.80)
Outside the trend:  Astros (4.27), Rockies (4.40), Twins (4.40), Nationals (4.41)

Trend:  Home winning percentage of .550 or better
Within the trend:  Dodgers (.704), Diamondbacks (.642), Yankees (.630), Indians (.605), Astros (.593), Cubs (.593), Red Sox (.593), Nationals (.580), Rockies (.568)
Outside the trend:  Twins (.506)

Trend:  Away winning percentage of .520 or better
Within the trend:  Indians (.654), Astros (.654), Nationals (.617), Dodgers (.580), Red Sox (.556), Cubs (.543), Twins (.543)
Outside the trend:  Diamondbacks (.506), Rockies (.506), Twins (.494)

Trend:  Win percentage after Sept. 1 of .500 or better
Within the trend:  Indians (.867), Astros (.724), Yankees (.690), Cubs (.655), Red Sox (.607), Diamondbacks (.607), Nationals (.552), Rockies (.517), Twins (.517)
Outside the trend:  Dodgers (.433)

Trend:  Win percentage in one-run games
Within the trend:  Cubs (.605), Rockies (.600), Astros (.594), Nationals (.588), Indians (.571), Dodgers (.568), Diamondbacks (.558), Red Sox (.537)
Outside the trend:  Twins (.455), Yankees (.409)

Trend:  Baseball-Reference.com Simple Rating System of 0.2 or better
Within the trend:  Indians (1.5), Yankees (1.3), Astros (1.2), Dodgers (0.9), Red Sox (0.8), Diamondbacks (0.8), Nationals (0.6), Cubs (0.6), Rockies (0.3), Twins (0.2)
Outside the trend:  none

 

Here are how many trends of a World Series champion each playoff team fit:

Indians 10
Cubs 10
Red Sox 10
Nationals 9
Diamondbacks 9
Dodgers 8
Astros 8
Yankees 7
Rockies 6
Twins 5

By this analysis, the Indians, Cubs and Red Sox would be World Series co-favorites, and each certainly have a very strong team with a great chance at hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy.

But only eight of the 22 World Series winners in the Wild Card era (since 1995) have fit all 10 criteria, so those who have missed in a category or two still have a great statistical shot at winning the World Series.

18 of the last 22 champions have fit eight or more criteria, and 21 of those 22 have fit at least seven (the 2006 Cardinals, with just three, are the huge outlier.)

More recently, the 10 champions since that 2006 Cardinals team have all fit eight or more criteria, and four of the last seven have fit all 10.

That said, seven of the 10 playoff teams, including all six that have already advanced to the League Division Series, fit eight or more criteria and fit the trend to win the World Series.

Though the shoe fits some better than others, the race is absolutely wide open as the playoffs begin.

 

 

Using these trends (and homefield to break ties where applicable), here is how the playoffs would play out–with the very World Series matchup and outcome I predicted in March:

AL Wild Card: Yankees def. Twins
NL Wild Card: Diamondbacks def. Rockies
AL Division Series: Indians def. Yankees, Red Sox def. Astros
NL Division Series: Diamondbacks def. Dodgers, Cubs def. Nationals
AL Championship Series: Indians def. Red Sox
NL Championship Series: Cubs def. Diamondbacks
World Series: Indians def. Cubs

Column: Don’t Mourn for Pitino

Louisville men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino was placed on unpaid leave on Wednesday (with the expectation that he will be fired once his contractually-required 10-day notice expires) after the Cardinals program was among several implicated by an FBI investigation into bribery and corruption in college basketball.

Pitino is a Hall of Fame coach with great on-court success at multiple stops throughout his career, but that has all come to a very blunt ending.

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Louisville head basketball coach Rick Pitino, who was placed on unpaid leave on Wednesday. (Bradjward/Flickr)

Yet there’s no need to mourn for the legacy Pitino has lost, as his impending termination is the end of a long, winding and, to be frank, disgraceful road that got him here.

Yes, Pitino is the only coach to lead two different schools to national championships, winning them in 1996 at Kentucky and 2013 at Louisville.

Yes, he has seven Final Four appearances, and is the only coach to take three schools to the Final Four, also doing so at Providence.

Yes, he has 12 conference tournament championships (one at Boston University, five at Kentucky, six at Louisville), and been to 21 NCAA Tournaments, including 19 of the last 21 years his team was eligible.

Yes, Pitino has 770 collegiate wins, and may have 900 if not for six seasons as an NBA coach with the New York Knicks, who he took to the playoffs twice, and the Boston Celtics.

But with the revelation of the scandal that has brought Pitino’s career to a crashing end, real questions exist about Pitino’s on-court accomplishments, as the legitimacy of his players, their amateur status and their reasons for coming to Louisville (or Kentucky, Providence or Boston University) is now under a black cloud of doubt.

The FBI alleges that the family of a highly-ranked recruit (the overwhelming consensus is that the player, unnamed in the FBI report, is Louisville commit Brian Bowen) agreed to be paid $100,000 by Adidas executives–who were working in conjunction with a Louisville assistant coach–for the recruit play at Louisville. As part of the agreement, the recruit would represent Adidas when he turned professional.

This scandal reaches far beyond Louisville, as 10 individuals, including four Division I assistant coaches, were arrested in the case on Tuesday. But it’s Pitino who has the highest profile of anyone implicated in this case, even as he was not directly named in the FBI report (though he reportedly was listed as “Coach 2”).

Pitino was already suspended for five games this coming season as the result of his program’s previous scandal, in which former assistant coach Andre McGee had paid for the services of prostitutes and strippers for players in the team dormitory.

The program self-imposed a postseason ban for the 2015-16 season, and Pitino was suspended by the NCAA for “lack of institutional control.”

Pitino has also admitted to an extramarital sexual encounter in 2003, in which he impregnated his mistress and paid for her abortion.

In each previous case, Pitino’s job has seemed bulletproof. He downplayed both his affair and the escorts scandal, and claimed ignorance regarding the escorts.

With Pitino’s habitual refusal to accept any responsibility, and the pattern of athletic director Tom Jurich–who was also fired–releasing a passive statement of support (which he’s also done in regards to the football program’s issues), I assumed we would see the same movie this week, and Pitino would be pacing the sidelines of the KFC Yum! Center this winter.

Yet this scandal, which figures to bring down more than just Pitino over the coming months, finally ousted a man who could have, and should have, been out of college basketball years ago.

From purely an on-the-court perspective, Rick Pitino can legitimately say he has had a good career.

But don’t shed a tear for Pitino’s career coming to an end the way it did.

He’s done plenty to deserve this.

College Football Power Rankings for Week Four

1. Alabama (4-0, Last Week: 1st, AP Poll: 1st)
In arguably Vanderbilt’s biggest home game in years–the Commodores entered undefeated–the Tide destroyed them, 59-0. Now they face old nemesis Ole Miss, although the Rebels are nowhere close to the team that beat the Tide in 2014-15.

 

2. Oklahoma (4-0, LW: 2nd, AP: 3rd)
The Sooners trailed winless Baylor 31-28 late in the third, but responded with a strong fourth quarter to survive. The Sooners enter a bye week with the  nation’s longest road winning streak at 13 games, and have also matched longest conference win streak in school history at 17.

 

3. Clemson (4-0, LW: 3rd, AP: 2nd)
After the Tigers, as five-touchdown favorites, entered the final quarter tied against Boston College, they outgained the Eagles 213-37 in the fourth on their way to 27 unanswered points and a 34-7 win. Now the Tigers will face a tough road test against Virginia Tech, though they aced the last such test at Louisville two weeks ago.

 

4. Penn State (4-0, LW: 4th, AP: 4th)
Night games in Iowa City tend to be dangerous for highly-ranked teams, and it took until the last play for the Nittany Lions to avoid such doom, scoring on a 7-yard pass from Trace McSorley to Juwan Johnson as time expired. The Lions now host Indiana, with a Happy Valley showdown against Michigan looming.

 

5. USC (4-0, LW: 6th, AP: 5th)
Following the theme among several highly-ranked teams, USC’s win at Cal wasn’t convincing–they were tied 13-13 going to the fourth quarter–but it was enough, with a 17-point fourth leading to a 30-20 win, although they did force six turnovers in the game. The Trojans will be tested this week as they head to Washington State.

 

6. Michigan (4-0, LW: 7th, AP: 8th)
After trailing 10-7 at half, the Wolverines shut out Purdue in the second half, holding the Boilermakers to just 10 yards of offense in the second half on their way to a 28-10 win. Now the Wolverines get an off week to figure out the health of quarterback Wilton Speight, who left Saturday’s game in the first quarter and was relieved by John O’Korn, who helped lead the team’s second-half surge.

 

7. Washington (4-0, LW: 8th, AP: 6th)
In last year’s Pac-12 Championship Game, Washington beat Colorado 41-10; Saturday, they put on an encore performance, winning 37-10 on the road in Boulder. Myles Gaskin rushed for 202 yards in the win for the Huskies, who will travel to Oregon State this weekend, where they will likely be 30-plus point favorites.

 

8. Georgia (4-0, LW: 12th, AP: 7th)
A week after Mississippi State’s impressive blowout of LSU, it was the Bulldogs from Athens–not the ones from Starkville–that impressed on Saturday in a 31-3 rout. Running back Nick Chubb scored twice, giving him six touchdowns for the year, as the Dawgs collectively rushed for 203 yards. Georgia faces back-to-back SEC East road games at Tennessee and Vanderbilt, but then won’t play a true road game again until November 11.

 

9. Wisconsin (3-0, LW: 9th, AP: 10th)
Coming off a 40-6 road thrashing of BYU, the Badgers enjoyed a bye week Saturday and return to action this week as they host Northwestern. The Badgers have the easiest schedule of the top ten, as they won’t face a currently-ranked team until November 18 (Michigan).

 

10. TCU (4-0, LW: 20th, AP: 9th)
The Horned Frogs picked up one of the most impressive wins of anyone so far this season when they beat Oklahoma State in Stillwater, 44-31, leading my as many as 20 early in the fourth. Darius Anderson ran for a career-high 160 yards and three touchdowns, and the Horned Frogs forced four Cowboy turnovers in the game. TCU now has a bye ahead of next week’s home game against #23 West Virginia.

 

Worth a Mention: UCF (2-0)
After missing two games due to Hurricane Irma, the Knights of UCF showed some serious meddle–and no rust whatsoever–when they went to previously unbeaten Maryland and won 38-10. The Knights should contend in the American Athletic Conference, and may threaten to be the “Group of Five” representative in the New Years Six bowl games.

 

11. Ohio State (3-1, LW: 11th, AP: 11th)
12. Virginia Tech (4-0, LW: 13th, AP: 12th)
13. Miami (2-0, LW: 14th, AP: 14th)
14. Auburn (3-1, LW: 15th, AP: 13th)
15. Oklahoma State (3-1, LW: 5th, AP: 15th)

 

16. Florida (2-1, LW: 16th, AP: 21st)
17. Utah (4-0, LW: 18th, AP: 20th)
18. South Florida (4-0, LW: 19th, AP: 18th)
19. San Diego State (4-0, LW: 21st, AP: 19th)
20. Washington State (4-0, LW: 22nd, AP: 16th)

 

21. Louisville (3-1, LW: 25th, AP: 17th)
22. Mississippi State (3-1, LW: 17th, AP: 24th)
23. LSU (3-1, LW: 24th, AP: 25th)
24. NC State (3-1, LW: unranked, AP: unranked)
25. Florida State (0-2, LW: 10th, AP: unranked)

 

Also ranked in AP Poll: Notre Dame (3-1, 22nd), West Virginia (3-1, 23rd)

 

Fell from rankings: Colorado (3-1, LW: 23rd)

College Football Fast Five and Power Rankings: Week Two

Fast Five:  Week Two Storylines

Mayfield, Oklahoma top Ohio State

A year after Ohio State beat Oklahoma in Norman, the Sooners returned the favor in Columbus with a 31-16 victory over the Buckeyes.

Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield led the Sooners to 28 second-half points, going 27-35 for the game with three touchdowns.  His Ohio State counterpart J.T. Barrett completed just 19 of his 35 attempts with an interception.  Mayfield outpassed Barrett 386 yards to 183.

The Sooners also controlled the ball well, possessing it for 35:17.  The result, despite a 3-3 halftime tie and a 17-13 game through three quarters, was a convincing Oklahoma win that moved them to second in the AP Poll.

Clemson defense stifles Auburn

In a battle of Tigers, Clemson’s offense totaled just 284 yards, but that was enough to beat Auburn 14-6 after an incredible defensive effort by the Tigers in orange and purple.

Clemson held Auburn to 117 total yards, including just 38 rushing yards in 42 attempts.  While Clemson’s own offense didn’t have their best night (284 yards), and while Clemson had two turnovers against none by Auburn, Clemson made enough plays to win–they were 9-for-16 on third down, and got two rushing touchdowns from QB Kelly Bryant, while Auburn’s failure to get touchdowns on two first-half red zone trips came back to haunt them.

Auburn was unable to return the favor for a 2011 loss at Clemson–their first as defending national champions–and their 2016 loss to Clemson in Auburn; Clemson passed their first big test in their title defense.

USC races past Stanford

USC dominated Stanford in every statistical category–the Trojans outgained the Cardinal 623-342, outpassed them 316-172, outrushed them 307-170, and had 28 first downs to Stanford’s 16–on their way to a 42-24 win.

Several Trojans had huge nights:  QB Sam Darnold was 21-26 for 316 yards and four touchdowns, with nine of those receptions for 121 yards on connections with Deontay Burnett, who scored twice, while Stephen Carr rushed for 119 yards on just 11 carries and Ronald Jones II ran for 116 with two touchdowns on 23 attempts.

If not for two pro-Cardinal factors, Stanford may have lost by more than 18.  Darnold did throw two interceptions–the only knock on an otherwise excellent game by the early-season Heisman candidate–and Bryce Love ran for 160 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.

A week after struggling to top Western Michigan, the Trojans reasserted themselves as Pac-12 favorites by this commanding win over Stanford, who was coming off a 62-7 win over Rice in their opener.

Late turnover dooms Irish in slugfest

Neither team was particularly awe-inspiring in the first regular-season meeting between traditional powers Georgia and Notre Dame, but a late fumble recovery by the Bulldogs sealed a 20-19 win in South Bend.

It was a sloppy game by all accounts–the teams were a combined 7-35 on third down, totaled 20 penalties for 189 yards, and committed two turnovers each.  Irish QB Brandon Wimbush was 19-39 for 211 yards and rushed for the team’s only touchdown, as the Irish rushed for just 55 while settling for four field goals.  Georgia managed just 141 yards in the air, but 185 rushing yards helped lead them to the win.

After a back-and-forth game, Georgia took the lead with 3:39 left on a go-ahead field goal by Rodrigo Blankenship, a former walk-on who was just placed on scholarship this past week, before the fumble with 1:27 to play clinched the Georgia victory.

Hurricane Irma alters schedule

While the sports impact is a minor detail of Hurricane Irma, given its sheer magnitude and its impact on Florida and the southeast, the storm has affected college football’s schedule for both Week Two and Week Three.

Games in the state of Florida that were cancelled over the weekend include Memphis at Central Florida, Louisiana-Monroe at Florida State and Northern Colorado at Florida.  Miami’s game at Arkansas State and South Florida’s game at Connecticut were also cancelled due to travel concerns.  None of these games are expected to be made up (all are non-conference games except South Florida-Connecticut).

The Miami at Florida State game scheduled for this weekend has been postponed to Oct. 7, which was originally an open week for both teams.  As a result, Miami’s game against Georgia Tech that was originally scheduled for the following Thursday (Oct. 12) has been moved to Oct. 14.

Week Two Power Rankings

1. Alabama (2-0, Last Week: 1st, AP Poll: 1st)
After QB Jalen Hurts rushed for 154 yards in a 41-10 win over Fresno State, the Tide will face Colorado State; the Rams should be one of the best non-Power Five teams this season, but don’t expect them to be competitive in Tuscaloosa.

2. Oklahoma (2-0, LW: 6th, AP: 2nd)
The Sooners have the most impressive win so far after their convincing win at Ohio State.  They begin a stretch of three ranked opponents in four games on October 21, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t enter that stretch at 6-0.

3. USC (2-0, LW: 4th, AP: 4th)
The win over Stanford was a defensive improvement for the Trojans, who had looked sluggish against Western Michigan.  While they’ll be heavy favorites in the coming weeks, the next three teams they face can each score a lot of points if that defense doesn’t continue improving.

4. Penn State (2-0, LW: 3rd, AP: 5th)
The Nittany Lions avenged last year’s loss to Pittsburgh with a 33-14 win.  Looking ahead, their two biggest games (and the only two they won’t be favored in) are back-to-back, against Michigan and Ohio State the last two weekends in October.

5. Oklahoma State (2-0, LW: 5th, AP: 9th)
A 44-7 win at South Alabama isn’t impressive on paper, but give the Cowboys credit for agreeing to play the Jaguars, who were hosting their biggest home game ever, on the road.  This week they travel to Pittsburgh, who they beat last year in a 45-38 track meet.

6. Clemson (2-0, LW: 9th, AP: 3rd)
I still have questions about Clemson’s offense, but they answered a lot of questions about their defense in holding Auburn to 117 yards.  That said, the defense isn’t out of the woods–this week the Tigers travel to Louisville and face defending Heisman winner Lamar Jackson.

7. Michigan (2-0, LW: 7th, AP: 7th)
On one hand, the Wolverines looked unconvincing at times against Cincinnati, even in a 36-14 win.  On the other hand, they have two games they should win easily and a bye week before facing Michigan State on Oct. 7.

8. Washington (2-0, LW: 12th, AP: 6th)
The Huskies have been quietly solid, outscoring their first two opponents 93-21, although their toughest opponent so far was Rutgers.  This week they finish their non-conference slate with Fresno State, before a Pac-12 Championship Game rematch with Colorado to open league play.

9. Wisconsin (2-0, LW: 11th, AP: 10th)
The Badgers, who beat Florida Atlantic 31-14 over the weekend and travel to BYU this weekend, have the easiest schedule of any top 10 team–they will face one team that is currently ranked the entire season (Nov. 18 vs. Michigan).

10. Florida State (0-1, LW: 10th, AP: 11th)
Hurricane Irma has compromised the Seminoles’ schedule; they will resume play Sep. 23 against N.C. State after a 21-day layoff.

Worth a Mention:  Duke (2-0)
Northwestern was ranked 23rd in these rankings last week, reason being that they were an experienced team from a Power Five league that I thought could be a sleeper in the Big Ten West.  Then they met Duke:  the Blue Devils outgained the Wildcats a staggering 538-191, held the Wildcats to 22 rushing yards, and gained 34 first downs to Northwestern’s 15 while possessing the ball for 41:18.  I don’t have the Blue Devils ranked, but I’m surprised they didn’t get any AP Poll votes (they did get three votes in the Coaches’ Poll).

11. Ohio State (1-1, LW: 2nd, AP: 8th)
12. Georgia (2-0, LW: 13th, AP: 13th)
13. Auburn (1-1, LW: 8th, AP: 15th)
14. Miami (1-0, LW: 14th, AP: 17th)
15. LSU (2-0, LW: 16th, AP: 12th)

16. Kansas State (2-0, LW: 17th, AP: 18th)
17. Virginia Tech (2-0, LW: 18th, AP: 16th)
18. Utah (2-0, LW: 20th, AP: unranked)
19. Florida (0-1, LW: 19th, AP: 24th)
20. Stanford (1-1, LW: 15th, AP: 19th)

21. Louisville (2-0, LW: 21st, AP: 14th)
22. South Florida (2-0, LW: 22nd, AP: 22nd)
23. Tennessee (2-0, LW: 24th, AP: 23rd)
24. UCLA (2-0, LW: 25th, AP: 25th)
25. TCU (2-0, LW: unranked, AP: 20th)

Also Ranked in AP Poll:  Washington State (2-0, AP: 21st)

Fell from Rankings:  Northwestern (1-1, LW: 23rd)