Breaking down the ballots for the AP Top 25 and wrapping up college football’s second weekend.
The Big Ten has already used up just about all its leeway when it comes to placing a team in the College Football Playoff.
Three marquee nonconference games for the league on Saturday produced zero victories. In the biggest game, Michigan State lost 46-27 at Oregon and dropped to No. 13 in the latest AP Top 25.
“It’s not a dispositive narrative, it’s a developing narrative,” Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said. “So many good teams haven’t played top competition.”
Florida State is still No. 1 and Oregon used the big-game boost to slip past Alabama into second. The Tide is No. 3, with Oklahoma No. 4. Alabama’s Southeastern Conference rivals Auburn (No. 5), Georgia (No. 6) and Texas A&M) (No. 7) give the SEC four of the top seven teams in the media panel voting.
Quarterback Connor Cook and the Spartans controlled a chunk of the game at Autzen Stadium and acquitted themselves well overall, before the Ducks made one last sprint. Still, in the end, the defending Big Ten champions couldn’t hang for 60 minutes.
Ohio State plummeted in the rankings 14 spots to No. 22 after losing 35-21 to Virginia Tech in front a record-setting crowd at Horseshoe in Columbus. The resurgent Hokies leapt into the ranking for the first time since the middle of the last season, landing at No. 17.
Anybody who was holding out hope the Buckeyes could still be a playoff contender without injured star quarterback Braxton Miller now has to face a stark reality: Ohio State’s rebuilt and inexperienced offense, especially its line, can’t avoid being exposed when it’s being led by first-year starter at quarterback. J.T. Barrett has the makings of a fine quarterback, but Ohio State needed Miller’s explosiveness and experience to mask its other deficiencies.
“We had all kinds of issues that we have to get a lot better at,” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said.
Then there’s Michigan.
The Wolverines were unranked to start this season, but the annual early season test against Notre Dame provided an opportunity to show that last season’s lackluster 7-6 performance — which included a victory against the Fighting Irish — was behind them.
Instead, it was 31-0 Notre Dame in the last scheduled game between the rivals.
It was the first time since 1988 that Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State all lost on the same day.
There were also shaky victories for Nebraska (31-24 against McNeese State) and Iowa (17-13 against Ball State).
With plenty of season to go, eliminating the Big Ten from the playoff race all together would be premature.
“The narrative is still developing for each team and for each of the conferences,” Delany said. “It will develop into a full narrative by Dec. 7 not Sept. 7.”
Nebraska can still go undefeated. There is still a chance for the Big Ten champion to go 12-1. And history tells us that at the end of the season, there are rarely more than a handful of teams from the power conferences with one or no losses.
Michigan State, especially, at 12-1 could still look pretty good compared to a bunch of teams with two or even three losses.
But the most sobering fact for the Big Ten is this: Does any of these teams look as if it can win the rest of its games?
Marcus Mariota’s great escape against Michigan State, when he eluded a rush and shoveled a pass to convert a first down in the third quarter, fueled Oregon’s comeback and provided a Heisman Trophy moment for the Ducks’ talented quarterback.
Mariota was good early and late against the Spartans, finishing with 318 yards passing and 42 rushing.
Mariota, along with last year’s Heisman winner Jameis Winston, were the clear preseason favorites for the award. Only one player has ever won two Heismans (Ohio State’s Archie Griffin in 1974-75), and the recent history of players trying to repeat suggests that Winston won’t, if for no other reason than he’s set the bar too high.
Winston’s off-field issues might also hurt him with voters.
Mariota should have received more Heisman recognition last year, when he put up numbers that matched well with Johnny Manziel and Winston, but wasn’t even a finalist.
This year he’s the feel-good story, having returned for another year after he could have jumped to the NFL and been a possible first-round pick.
The Heisman Trophy hasn’t been won by a player who would have been considered one of the preseason front-runners since Ohio State’s Troy Smith in 2006. Mariota is set up to make a similar run.
No. 25 BYU joined Virginia Tech in making its season poll debut this week. The Cougars beat Texas 41-7 in Austin, making it two straight routs against the Longhorns.
The Cougars schedule isn’t as daunting as it was last year, when they also played (and lost to) Wisconsin and Notre Dame. There are plenty of tricky games left for BYU, starting with Thursday night’s short turnaround against Houston, but quarterback Taysom Hill and the Cougars could be in for an interesting run.
Nebraska and North Carolina both fell out of the rankings after close home wins. The Tar Heels probably shouldn’t be lumped in with the Cornhuskers.
North Carolina won 31-27 against San Diego State, a contender in the Mountain West Conference coming off four straight bowl appearances.
The Huskers needed a late, pin-balling touchdown run by Ameer Abdullah after a catch to avoid losing to McNeese State, a good FCS team.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
The last time two ranked teams won and dropped out of the AP rankings in the same week was Sept. 5, 2011 (No. 23 Auburn defeated Utah State, 42-38 and No. 25 Southern California beat Minnesota 19-17).
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