First and 20: Breaking down the Power 5 unbeatens

The Sports Xchange

October 17, 2016 at 5:57 pm.

Oct 15, 2016; Knoxville, TN, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts (2) runs the ball against the Tennessee Volunteers during the first half at Neyland Stadium. Photo Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 15, 2016; Knoxville, TN, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts (2) runs the ball against the Tennessee Volunteers during the first half at Neyland Stadium. Photo Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Then there were nine.

As college football reached mid-October — two weeks away from the initial rankings from the College Football Playoff selection committee — a nifty nine teams from power conferences remained undefeated.

Two of those teams play each other in Week 8’s marquee game — Texas A&M at Alabama — and the field of those controlling their own destiny will be further winnowed, reduced to what could become a hot mess.

As of now, each of the Power Five conferences has a horse (or two or three) in the race. In the unlikely event that each of the leagues produces an unbeaten champ, the Big 12 is in the weakest position because of strength of schedule issues.

Let’s take a look at all the still-perfect teams and the reasons why each will have trouble staying perfect.

1. Alabama (7-0) — The Tide has scored 11 non-offensive touchdowns this season, as many as the defense has allowed. That can’t possibly hold up, can it? Highest hurdles: Texas A&M (Saturday), at LSU (Nov. 5).

2. Clemson (7-0) — The Tigers still seem to sometimes be fighting off a post-Championship Game malaise, eking out close wins and needing a missed North Carolina State chip-shot field goal to survive in overtime on Saturday. Highest hurdles: At Florida State (Oct. 29), Pitt (Nov. 12).

3. Ohio State (6-0) — The Buckeyes have one of the youngest teams in America and the passing game occasionally looks dysfunctional. Wisconsin gave them all they could handle before falling in OT. Highest hurdles: Nebraska (Nov. 5), Michigan (Nov. 26).

4. Washington (6-0) — Like Ohio State, Washington is still a very young team; difference is, these Huskies are breathing this rarified air for the very first time. Highest hurdles: USC (Nov. 12), at Washington State (Nov. 25).

5. Michigan (6-0) — That defensive front will give everybody trouble, but is the quarterback play good enough for the biggest games? Highest hurdles: at Iowa (Nov. 12), at Ohio State (Nov. 26).

6. Texas A&M (6-0) — Do the Aggies have the back-end defense to keep it going? Or will this be another A&M fade? Highest hurdles: At Alabama (Saturday), Mississippi (Nov. 12), LSU (Nov. 24).

7. Nebraska (6-0) — Senior Tommy Armstrong Jr. completed just 10 of 26 passes with two interceptions in a close call at Indiana. Highest hurdles: at Wisconsin (Oct. 29), at Ohio State (Nov. 5).

8. Baylor (6-0) — Bears are hard to read because of the least challenging schedule among the national contenders. Highest hurdles: TCU (Nov. 5), at Oklahoma (Nov. 12), at West Virginia (Dec. 3).

9. West Virginia (5-0) — This list’s biggest surprise, the Mountaineers will have to show they can hold up against the better running teams on their schedule. Highest hurdles: Baylor (Nov. 19), Oklahoma (Dec. 3).

5 things we learned in Week 7

1. You want Dino Babers in that locker room. The first-year Syracuse coach was Saturday’s Internet hero when video was posted of his speech after an upset of Virginia Tech. If you haven’t seen it, find it … and then have a kumbaya moment. Preach, Dino, preach.

2. Florida controls the SEC East. Tennessee is reverting to the mean with consecutive losses, so the Gators are the only team in the division with one league loss. How problematic will that rescheduled game — now at LSU on Nov. 19 — be?

3. Sam Darnold’s legs make a difference. USC has been playing much better since Darnold, a redshirt freshman, became the starting quarterback four games ago. He keeps plays alive with his feet, and his scrambles extend drives that end in touchdowns. The Trojans, just 4-3, look like the best team in the Pac-12 South.

4. Alabama is amazing. Yeah, file this under old news. Because of that defense, the special teams, the dynamic freshman quarterback, the unrelenting Lane Kiffin attack, Alabama just beat No. 9 Tennessee 49-10. That was the Tide’s largest victory ever over an AP Top 10 team in the regular season.

5. Tony Gibson’s stock is rising. West Virginia is allowing just 19.4 points per game under its third-year defensive coordinator. With a 48-17 victory on Saturday, the Mountaineers snapped Texas Tech’s streak of nine consecutive home games with at least 50 points.

6. It’s Heisman status quo this week. 1, Louisville QB Lamar Jackson; 2, Michigan LB/RET Jabrill Peppers; 3, Clemson QB Deshaun Watson; 4, Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett; 5, Washington QB Jake Browning.

7. Don’t forget about Donnel Pumphrey in the Heisman race. The San Diego State senior leads the country with 185.2 yards per game, nearly 40 more than the second-best runner.

8. The Sun Belt is better than anyone thinks. South Alabama is 0-3 in the Sun Belt. But the Jaguars beat Mississippi State and San Diego State. Go figure.

9. Get your Apple Cup tickets now. Washington State has won four in a row, rebounding — as it did last season — from a season-opening loss to an FCS opponent. Mike Leach is supplementing his Air Raid attack with a veteran offensive line and a better-than-you-think defense. Washington and Washington State are playing like the two best teams in the Pac-12, heading toward a season-ending rivalry showdown in Pullman.

10. LSU has the most difficult closing schedule in the country. The Tigers rallied to put away Southern Miss on Saturday. Deep breath, Tigers. Now, this: Ole Miss, Alabama, at Arkansas, Florida, at Texas A&M. Some see impending trouble; interim coach Ed Orgeron sees opportunity.

5 biggest flops

1. Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are 2-5 and have lost seven of their past eight games against schools from Power Five conferences. Coach Brian Kelly got into a heated exchange after Saturday’s 17-10 loss, telling reporters that a Stanford strength coach told him, “Bye, bye.” Do Irish fans agree?

2. Michigan State. Couldn’t blame the Spartans if they took a small step back from a College Football Playoff team, but Sparty has lost four in a row and gave up 54 points at home to Northwestern on Saturday. Being gashed in the run game is a high crime in East Lansing.

3. Oregon. The Ducks have allowed 49.25 points per game during a four-game skid, so if you like offense, tune into their Friday night game against Cal.

4. UCLA. The Bruins played without injured quarterback Josh Rosen in a loss at Washington State on Saturday night, but there is something wrong with their new pro-style-ish attack this season, even when he plays. UCLA, the media pick to win the Pac-12 South, hasn’t scored more than 24 points in any game while going 1-3 in the league.

5. Georgia. Are Dawgs fans sending love letters to deposed coach Mark Richt after a home loss to Vanderbilt?

5 games to watch in Week 8

1. Texas A&M at Alabama (Saturday, 6 p.m. ET). The Tide has averaged 49.7 points in three meetings against the Aggies since the Johnny Manziel game. Do it again, and Jalen Hurts becomes a legit Heisman candidate.

2. BYU at Boise State (Thursday, 10:15 p.m. ET). The Broncos are 6-0 and aiming for the Group of Five’s spot in the big-bowl lineup. BYU is coming off wins over a good Toledo team, Michigan State and Mississippi State.

3. TCU at West Virginia (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET). Two national Top 10 offenses meet in a game that has playoff implications for the Mountaineers.

4. Arkansas at Auburn (Saturday, 6 p.m. ET). The SEC West has a lot of shaking out to do below unbeaten Alabama and Texas A&M. This game, plus Ole Miss at LSU, will help tell the tale.

5. Wisconsin at Iowa (Saturday, noon ET). The Badgers are coming off the overtime heartbreak against Ohio State, while the Hawkeyes try to stay on Nebraska’s heels in the Big Ten West. Film Room Review

Analyst Dane Brugler’s prospect takeaways for this week. Players listed including position, school, year (Height, weight and current overall rating and by position).

–QB J.T. Barrett, Ohio State, 6-1, 225, Jr. (No. 5 QB in Class of 2018): Late in the game when it mattered the most, Barrett was relaxed and trusted his weapons to make plays in the overtime victory over Wisconsin. From an NFL perspective, Barrett still has a lot to prove as a downfield passer, but the mature make-up and resilient confidence will endear him to coaches at the next level.

–OLB T.J. Watt, Wisconsin, 6-4, 243, Jr. (No. 4 OLB in Class of 2018): His edge speed was a substantial reason why the Ohio State offense struggled, creating congestion in the pocket and forcing Barrett to use his legs. Although probably best known as the younger brother of J.J. Watt, T.J. is starting to make a name for himself with his unrelenting effort off the edge. He has outstanding speed to win the corner and arrives with violence, delivering blows with outstanding contact balance to work off the block and find the ballcarrier.

–S Malik Hooker, Ohio State, 6-2, 205, rSo. (No. 35 overall, No. 2 FS): The promising safety had a fantastic second half after several missed tackles earlier in the game.