First & 20: Chaos reigns as Michigan fumbles away W

Anthony Gimino

October 19, 2015 at 12:14 pm.

Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook looked to the heavens and wondered in a television interview, “What the hell just happened?”

Oct 17, 2015; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans defensive back Jalen Watts-Jackson (20) dives into the end zone for a game winning touchdown as the clock runs out in the fourth quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium. Michigan State 27-23. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 17, 2015; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans defensive back Jalen Watts-Jackson (20) dives into the end zone for a game winning touchdown as the clock runs out in the fourth quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium. Michigan State 27-23. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

He was talking specifically about Michigan’s dropped punt snap with 10 seconds to go, the ill-advised attempt to pick up the ball, the improbable trajectory of that loose ball into the arms of the Spartans’ Jalen Watts-Jackson, and Watts-Jackson’s 38-yard mad dash through Wolverines traffic into the end zone for a 27-23 win in which Michigan State never led during the 60 minutes of clock time.

But you could say that Cook was speaking about the entire week in college football.

It started the previous Sunday with USC placing coach Steve Sarkisian on indefinite leave and then firing him a day later as he entered treatment to deal with a drinking problem. North Texas fired Dan McCarney. Maryland parted ways with Randy Edsall. The NCAA suspended Florida starting quarterback Will Grier for failing a drug test.

Steve Spurrier resigned at South Carolina, then yukked it up with the ESPN GameDay crew on Saturday morning.

So, yeah. What the hell just happened?

We’ve reached the fuzzy mid-point of the season — some teams having played seven games, others six — and there are 10 unbeaten teams from the five major conferences. ACC: Clemson, Florida State. Big Ten: Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa. Big 12: Baylor, Oklahoma State, TCU. SEC: LSU. Pac-12: Utah.

Alabama, Stanford and Notre Dame look like the most-powerful one-loss teams.

File one-loss Oklahoma under “What the hell just happened?” The Sooners get handled by a down-and-out Texas squad one week and then a week later go on the road for a 55-0 demolition of Kansas State, which had taken TCU to the wire the previous Saturday.

Chaos reigns.

It doesn’t even make sense that Baylor’s Corey Coleman has 16 touchdown receptions in six games. Or that LSU’s Leonard Fournette is averaging more than 200 rushing yards through six games. Or that Stanford’s Chris Owusu made that no-look, behind-the-defender’s-back touchdown catch last Thursday night against UCLA.

It’s been silly, and we still have a whole lot of seriousness ahead of us.

Looking to the back stretch of the season, Florida State is at Clemson on Nov. 7. Ohio State plays Michigan State on Nov. 21 and then finishes at Michigan. The top schools in the Big 12 still have a round-robin against each other, led by Baylor at TCU on Nov. 27. Notre Dame plays at Stanford a day later.

When LSU is at Alabama on Nov. 7, Fournette and Tide running back Derrick Henry will be on the same field, drawing enough supernatural energy in one spot to potentially rip a hole in the space-time continuum.

So, buckle up. We ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.

10 things we think we learned in Week 7

1. It’s time to pick a QB, Urban Meyer. And that quarterback should be J.T. Barrett. Expanding his recent role from a red-zone quarterback, Barrett took over for Cardale Jones in the second half against Penn State, accounting for four TDs in the 38-10 win. The Buckeyes are responding to Barrett’s superior dual-threat abilities.

2. Justin Fuente is going to get paid. The 39-year Memphis head coach took his Tigers to 6-0 with a 37-24 home upset of No. 13 Ole Miss. And there wasn’t anything fluky about it, as standout quarterback Paxton Lynch picked apart the Rebels for 384 yards. Fuente should be on the list of candidates for every top opening this season.

3. Texas A&M isn’t ready for physical football. The Aggies have some amazing young skill — namely receiver Christian Kirk, who had a 68-yard punt return vs. Alabama — but it couldn’t run or stop the run vs. the Tide. Alabama had a 258-32 edge in rushing yards.

4. We can’t ignore Iowa any longer. The Hawkeyes are 7-0 after a 40-10 win at Northwestern, as backup running back Akrum Wadley ran for 192 yards and four touchdowns in relief of Jordan Canzeri, who left in the first quarter because of an ankle injury. Iowa’s final five foes — Maryland, Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue, Nebraska — are 2-12 in the Big 12. Iowa will be your Big Ten West champs.

5. There’s a good race in the Group of 5. Don’t anoint Memphis just yet as the team that grabs the big-bowl berth allotted to a team from outside the Power 5 leagues. The Tigers have to play at Houston and Temple in November in huge games within the American Athletic Conference. Meanwhile, Toledo marches on at 6-0 in the MAC but will have to navigate high-scoring Bowling Green next month.

6. Stop with the death threats. Sure, all Michigan’s Blake O’Neill had to do was catch the snap and punt the ball, but the Wolverines had ample chances to put the game away before the fateful final 10 seconds. Michigan had three possessions after Michigan State closed to within 23-21 but failed to get a first down in any of them. In other words, there is plenty of blame to go around.

7. Never doubt Nick Saban’s ability to reload. True freshman receiver Calvin Ridley is in the Amari Cooper/Julio Jones mold, leading the Tide with 38 catches for 437 yards and three touchdowns. True freshman cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick returned two interceptions for touchdowns vs. Texas A&M. And with the win, Saban moved to 18-7 against top 10 teams since 2008. The beat goes on.

8. Utah is getting nastier. Waiting for the Utes to slip up? Many were calling for Arizona State to pull the upset in Salt Lake City on Saturday night, but the Sun Devils managed just 257 yards in a 34-18 loss. “We have totally bought in,” said Utah linebacker Gionni Paul. “We are flying around, making plays. We know the recipe.”

9. Don’t sleep on North Carolina. After dropping a close opener to South Carolina, UNC has reeled off five consecutive wins, scoring at least 38 points in each game. Veteran quarterback Marquise Williams has the Tar Heels in the thick of a wide-open ACC Coastal race in which Georgia Tech is a shocking 0-4.

10. USC needs to hire an adult. The Trojans have entrusted its franchise to younger, modestly experienced head coaches in Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian. Didn’t work. Now, the position has been linked to NFL head coaches, such as John Harbaugh, Chip Kelly and Sean Payton — that’s the kind of coaching pool into which USC should be casting its line.

5 top Heisman candidates

1. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU. Ho-hum. He rushed for 180 yards and two touchdowns against Florida, which entered the game with the 12th-best rushing defense in the country.

2. Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU. He added 436 passing yards and four touchdowns to his resume as TCU eased past Iowa State 45-21. He has accounted for 30 touchdowns in seven games.

3. Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor. Just listen to West Virginia coach Dana Holgersen: “He’s the best player in college football. You can put me on record for that.” Coleman has 16 TD receptions and a potential for nine more games. At his current pace, that would mean 40 (!) touchdown catches.

4. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State. He kept the beat going with 22 carries for 163 yards in the Seminoles’ 41-21 win over Louisville. He’s second nationally with 158.4 rushing yards per game, but it’s a long way to Fournette (204.4).

5. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State. He rushed for 153 yards against Penn State, and you know he’s good for a couple of monster performances before Heisman ballots are due.

5 best Week 8 games

It’s something of a slow week as ESPN’s GameDay program is going to 7-0 James Madison — that’s in Harrisonburg, Va. — for JMU’s Homecoming game against Richmond in a key Colonial Athletic Association game …

1. Tennessee at Alabama (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET). The Vols had a bye after beating Georgia two weeks ago, so they will be plenty rested to give Bama a good shot.

2. Utah at USC (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET). Yes, the Trojans are a mess. But talent isn’t part of the problem. Toughness? That’s a big edge to the Utes.

3. Texas A&M at Ole Miss (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET). Sure, it might only be for third place in the SEC West, but there will be plenty of first-rounders per capita on the field, including Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil, who will make his 2015 debut after coming off an eligibility investigation.

4. Clemson at Miami (Saturday, time TBA). The Hurricanes, who couldn’t quite pull off the upset of Florida State a couple of weeks ago, get a shot at the other ACC co-frontrunner.

5. Western Kentucky at LSU (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET). Can’t wait to see if Les Miles needs to pull off another fake field goal. Can’t wait to see how WKU’s Brandon Doughty (387 passing yards per game) fares against the Tigers’ tenacious D. Film Room Review

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

5. WR Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss, 6-2, 212, Jr. (#10 overall prospect/#1 WR): Even when covered, he’s not because of his size, hand strength and catching radius to physically dominate defensive backs. Treadwell, who set a new career high with 13 catches for 131 yards, always picks up more yardage than he should after the catch because of his power and athleticism

4. DE Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State, 6-5, 252, Sr. (#27/#4): Calhoun had a pair of sacks in the Spartans’ victory and is well thought of in the scouting community as a potential first-round prospect.

3. QB Patrick Towles, Kentucky, 6-5, 240, Jr. (#11 QB in class of 2017): Even in a loss to Auburn, Towles flashed the talent that could make him consider leaving a year early for the NFL. Plagued by poor protection and several drops, Towles still demonstrated impressive velocity along with touch and effective ball placement on a variety of pro-style routes.

2. QB Connor Cook, Michigan State, 6-4, 220, Sr. (#9/#2): His 46.2-percent completion rate against Michigan is misleading because of numerous drops by his targets, including several on money downs in the second half.

1. QB Paxton Lynch, 6-6, 230, Jr. (#6 QB in class of 2017): Lynch posted his fifth consecutive 300-yard passing game in the upset of Ole Miss, and jumps off the screen with his size and arm to make all the necessary throws. The offense includes a lot of wide receiver screens and in-breaking routes and Lynch needs to work on his footwork and touch, but he was also consistent down the field Saturday, showing velocity and pinpoint accuracy.