First & 20: The resurrections of Michigan & Florida

Anthony Gimino

October 12, 2015 at 1:53 am.

Oct 10, 2015; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines players run over to the student section after the game against the Northwestern Wildcats at Michigan Stadium. Michigan won 38-0. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 10, 2015; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines players run over to the student section after the game against the Northwestern Wildcats at Michigan Stadium. Michigan won 38-0. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

And college football’s coach of the year at midseason is Jim …



The immediate resurrections of Michigan and Florida are foremost among the storylines after six weeks of the season, with Harbaugh’s Wolverines posting three consecutive shutouts and McElwain’s Gators snarling in a similar way on defense, in great position to win the SEC East.

Nothing was so wrong with either national powerhouse that the right coach, with the right sense of toughness, couldn’t fix. The USC Trojans will eventually learn this lesson, but that’s a story for a different day.

If you can play shut-down defense, you have a chance, and that’s what’s happening at Michigan and Florida.

The Wolverines allowed 24 points in their opener at still-undefeated Utah, but have given up just 14 points since, including a 38-0 dismantling of Northwestern on Saturday. The Wildcats, who entered leading the Big Ten with 248.8 rushing yards per game, managed just 38. Harbaugh graded the whole effort on defense an “A-plus-plus.”

“With a couple of exceptions, we really shut down their running game,” Harbaugh said. “Then, in coverage, our guys were in their hip pockets on most every route, getting hands on the ball. And then the pass rush was intense. All three phases were at the highest levels.”

Meanwhile, everyone knew that McElwain inherited a very good defense. The Gators were 15th nationally in total defense and 20th in scoring defense last season, but they managed to win only seven games. McElwain’s team is already 6-0, stunning Tennessee with a fourth-quarter comeback, stomping Ole Miss 38-10 and suffocating Missouri 21-3.

The Gators are tied for seventh nationally in sacks (3.5 per game) and are tied for eighth nationally in turnover margin (plus 1.3 per game), while getting enough of what they need on offense from quarterback Will Grier and running back Kelvin Taylor. Florida is two games up on Georgia, Tennessee and Missouri in the loss column in the SEC East standings.

While other big-name schools already falling out of contention for the College Football Playoff (Auburn, Oregon, USC), the Jimmys have their first-year teams looking like playoff contenders. Believe what you see — but huge challenges are coming just this weekend.

Michigan plays host to Michigan State on Saturday, a rivalry that has tilted toward the Spartans, who have won six of the past seven. Florida travels to LSU.

“Next,” Harbaugh said. “Onward.”

5 things we think we learned in Week 6

1. Utah could the No. 1 team in the country. It’s not wrong to rank the Utes No. 1, because that’s the kind of resume they have: They beat Michigan, won at Oregon (OK, that might not be a huge deal this season, but the complete demolition was still impressive) and dispatched a ranked Cal team on Saturday night.

2. Charlie Strong is off the hot seat. Funny how one week changes everything. Strong body-surfed atop his players at the Cotton Bowl after a 24-17 upset of 10th-ranked Oklahoma, a rock star after most Longhorns fans wanted to throw rocks at him last week. Texas has four losses, two of which came after brutal, late-game miscues on special teams. Those four teams to beat UT are 22-2, by the way. Now, let’s let Strong do his job in peace.

3. Go for it! USC coach Steve Sarkisian, his team down five to Washington with one timeout left, opted for a 46-yard field goal on fourth-and-9 with just under four minutes to go. It missed; the Huskies ran out the clock. Likewise, Kansas State coach Bill Snyder chose a game-tying 37-yard field goal with 1:47 left against TCU, a questionable move because you don’t want to leave that much time for Frogs quarterback Trevone Boykin, who promptly hooked up with Josh Doctson for a 55-yard TD.

4. It’s time to retire “Clemsoning.” Losing to a team you’re not supposed to? Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has reached his limit of that kind of talk after beating Georgia Tech on Saturday. “I think it’s ridiculous that you’re even asking me that question, that you even say the word,” Swinney said. “I’m serious. I’m sick of it. I don’t even know why we bring up the dadgum word. How about some of these other teams out there that lose to unranked opponents all the time? That’s our 33rd (straight) win vs. an unranked opponent. We ain’t lost to anybody unranked since 2011, but I have to come to a press conference in 2015 and get asked that? That’s all media bull…”

5. Urban Meyer has a new wrinkle. The Ohio State coach inserted J.T. Barrett into the game as a red-zone quarterback, replacing Cardale Jones, and the Buckeyes scored touchdowns on all six of their trips inside the 20 against Maryland. The OSU quarterback situation has been fluid, but it might solidify into the kind of situation Meyer had at Florida in 2006 with Chris Leak and Tim Tebow.

5 Week 6 losers

1. Dan McCarney. Soon after North Texas suffered a 66-7 home loss to lower-level Portland State, the school fired McCarney, who was in his fifth year with the school. The Mean Green is 0-5 this season. McCarney exits with a record of 22-32 at the school.

2. College football fans. Another week, more devastating injuries to star players. On Saturday, it was Georgia running back Nick Chubb suffering a major knee injury. Earlier in the week, West Virginia safety Karl Joseph, playing at an All-American level, suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice.

3. Georgia. Not only did the Dawgs lose Chubb to injury, it lost the dang game to SEC East rival Tennessee, 38-31. Now with two losses, an uphill climb in the SEC East and limited chances to pick up signature wins … well, the playoff talk was nice while it lasted.

4. Oregon. The Ducks lost at home in double overtime to Washington State, which lost at home to Portland State (there are those Vikings again), and now we know what Oregon looks like without competent quarterback play. It looks like a 3-3 team.

5. Clock management. Rutgers spiked the ball on fourth down in the final seconds, trailing Michigan State 31-24. Hard to believe, except … Rutgers. Almost as bad: Boston College had first-and-goal from the 1 with 29 seconds left, got stuffed on a run play, and, without a timeout, failed to get off another snap before the end of the game. “It didn’t work out, so it’s on me,” said BC coach Steve Addazio. “That’s life. I’m a big boy, got to handle it and we’ll move forward.”

5 top Heisman candidates

1. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU. His list of long plays now includes an 87-yard touchdown run against South Carolina. He has 1,057 yards in five games, averaging 8.59 per carry.

2. Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU. He’s making this a two-man Heisman race, with 301 passing yards and 124 rushing yards in the win at Kansas State. His late-game brilliance included a 69-yard TD run and a 55-yard game-winning TD pass.

3. Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M. Midseason Defensive Player of the Year? He has 9.5 tackles for loss, including 7.5 sacks, six quarterback hurries and three forced fumbles. This week’s game vs. Alabama provides another showcase.

4. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State. The Seminoles’ offense would be lost without him, and he came to the rescue with 222 rushing yards in the win over Miami, plus 47 receiving yards.

5. Seth Russell, QB, Baylor. He benefits from uneven games from other quarterbacks who lost games (USC’s Cody Kessler, Cal’s Jared Goff), but Russell can’t really make a statement until Baylor’s schedule toughens.

5 best Week 7 games

1. Alabama at Texas A&M (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET) — The 5-0 Aggies, flush with young talent and coming off a bye week, will be trying to make amends for a 59-0 loss in Tuscaloosa last season.

2. Michigan State at Michigan (Saturday, 3:30 p.m.ET) — If 6-0 can be unimpressive, the Spartans are unimpressive. The surging Wolverines have a much better chance of putting “little brother” back in his place than anyone could have imagined this season.

3. Florida at LSU (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET) — Leonard Fournette against a Florida defense that is allowing just under 100 rushing yards per game. Big-boy football.

4. Arizona State at Utah (Saturday, 10 p.m. ET) — Huge Pac-12 South battle between undefeated Utah and a talented ASU team that has found its footing in past two weeks.

5. USC at Notre Dame (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET) — This time around, this college classic features a USC offense that sometimes forgets it can run the ball against a Notre Dame defense that can shut down everything. Film Room Review

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

5. RB Devontae Booker, Utah, 5-11, 212, Sr. (#76 overall prospect, #4 RB in 2016): In gashing Cal for 222 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns, Booker demonstrated the vision, agility and quick acceleration that could make him the first senior running back off the board next spring.

4. OLB Travis Feeney, Washing, 6-3, 223, Sr. (#477/#39): Feeney enjoyed a breakout performance in the upset of Southern Cal. He was everywhere, showing terrific closing speed and an explosive pop to rattle Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler. Feeney showed the burst, bend and enough strength to harass off the edge as well as fluidity and acceleration in run support and coverage.

3. C Dan Voltz, Wisconsin, 6-3, 312, Jr. (#39/#2): Facing a stout Nebraska defensive line anchored by tackles Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine, Voltz worked hard to assists first-year starting guards Walker Williams and Michael Deiter. Voltz impressed with his recognition, stout anchor and agility.

2. QB Cody Kessler, USC, Jr. (#85/#7): Kessler struggled from the outset against Washington as he was often pressured and appeared rattled by the pass rush. He played well at times, but ultimately completed just 16 of 29 passes for 156 yards and two interceptions without a touchdown.

1. QB Jared Goff, Cal, 6-4, 210, Sr. (#3/#1): As bad as a five-interception stat line looks in losing to Utah, Goff was downright surgical at times, showing deft touch on deep balls down the sideline and up the middle. Two of his interceptions were bad luck, and rather than panic after pick No. 4, he should encouraging poise in leading a quick scoring drive.