College Football Plus: What Impact Will Wisconsin's Loss Have; Will Tua Be Okay?

Tom Luicci

Five questions

Q. How does No. 6-ranked Wisconsin’s stunning loss to Illinois impact the playoff picture?

The reality is that it doesn’t change anything. Was anyone taking the Badgers seriously as a playoff contender with Jack Coan at quarterback and a trip to Ohio State this weekend? They built up some gaudy numbers against a bunch of mediocre teams (USF, Central Michigan, Northwestern and Kent State) and need the best running back in the country to be great every game. At best, they’re No. 3 in the Big Ten behind Ohio State and Penn State (and let’s see them beat Iowa and win at Minnesota before etching that in stone). This team was never going to win in Columbus. So the Big Ten playoff hopes will rest with the Ohio State-Penn State winner, just as it always did.

Q. How concerned should Alabama be about Tua Tagovailoa’s high ankle sprain?

Nick Saban said his star quarterback would be out a week or two. So what does that mean? Alabama plays Arkansas this week and would win that game if it ran direct snaps to a running back every play. Then the Crimson Tide have an open date. That’s two weeks. Then – what terrific timing – there’s a visit by LSU on Nov. 9 in the showdown for the SEC West title, by which time Tagovailoa’s ankle should be sufficiently healed. In some ways, this may be a blessing in disguise, since Tua won’t risk injury against Arkansas and gets to re-charge for two weeks – just in time for LSU.

Q. With Boise State’s loss to BYU which Group of Five school will fill the void for a New Year’s Six Bowl?

It’s sure looking like SMU is for real after the Mustangs easily handled a solid Temple team in a 45-31 victory to improve to 7-0. That’s the program’s best start since a 10-0 beginning in 1982. The challenge for SMU is navigating a balanced American Conference, with games remaining against Memphis, Navy and Tulane and then either Cincinnati or UCF in the championship game.

Appalachian State bears close watching as well, with the Mountaineers going to 6-0 by routing Louisiana-Monroe, 52-7 – their first victory ever as a ranked team.

Q. Have we seen the last of Miami as a national power?

First-year coach Manny Diaz said that “for lack of a better word, this is a rebuild,” following the Hurricanes’ ineptitude in a 28-21 OT loss to a Georgia Tech team that came in at 1-5. Let’s count the ways Miami managed to botch a sure victory: A lost fumble in the end zone that resulted in a Tech touchdown, a blocked field goal in the final seconds of regulation, three missed field goals overall and allowing a fake punt result in a Yellow Jackets TD.

The 3-4 start is the Hurricanes’ worst after seven games in 22 years, but this is not an overnight development. Miami has had one double-digit win season since 2003 – after producing 13 years of 10 or more wins in the 19 seasons from 1985-2003.

Hard to believe, but in college football circles Miami is now an afterthought.

Q. Is the new OT rule that forces teams to go for 2-point conversions – and only 2-point conversions – after the fourth overtime one that makes any sense?

We saw our first use of the rule during Virginia Tech’s 43-41 victory over North Carolina in six overtimes, when third-team quarterback Quincy Patterson ran in for a 2-point conversion while the Tar Heels failed to convert theirs. It just seems like an odd rule, since the 2-point conversion is not used all that often by teams – and it’s almost always out of necessity when it is used. It’s sort of like when tied soccer games were decided by the number of corner kicks. It just seems a little gimmicky, and college OT rules are gimmicky enough, aren’t they? No sure what the solution is for these prolonged OT affairs, but this just doesn’t feel like it’s the answer.

On the rise

Oregon (6-1)

Ducks look like the Pac-12’s best team – though Utah may have something to say about that if both reach the league title game – after rallying for a 35-31 at Washington. Oregon is still on the periphery of the playoff hunt.

Liberty (5-2)

Year two of the move to the FBS continues to be a positive one for the Flames, who stretched their winning streak to five with a 59-44 victory over Maine. Now they have a chance to knock off a Big Ten team (Rutgers) on Saturday.

Wake Forest (6-1)

Demon Deacons rebounded nicely from that odd loss to Louisville with a 22-20 victory over Florida State. They will have their chance to make a real statement on Nov. 16 at Clemson.

On the decline

Boise State (6-1)

Broncos saw their New Year’s Six Bowl hopes take a major hit by losing to a mediocre BYU team that was forced to have its third-string QB make his first career start. Boise was also playing without starting quarterback, Hank Bachmeier, but there are too many other options out there now besides Boise for the Broncos to gain that coveted bowl spot.

Missouri (5-2)

What SEC team loses to Vanderbilt? That’s like a Big Ten team losing to Rutgers. Yet the Tigers added another bizarre loss to their ledger with a 21-14 setback to Vandy. Remember, Mizzou opened the season by losing to Wyoming.

Michigan (5-2)

Jim Harbaugh has become one of the worst big-game coaches in the Power 5 ranks, considering what he has to work with. And he still has to face Notre Dame and Ohio State. How can it be that the best Michigan can come up with at quarterback is Shea Patterson?

Who’s hot

Shane Buechele, QB, SMU

Texas transfer continues to excel, throwing for six touchdowns and 457 yards as the Mustangs improved to 7-0 with a 45-31 victory over a stout Temple defense.

James McCourt, PK, Illinois

The junior was dead-center on his 39-yard field goal as time expired that gave the Illini, 30½-point underdogs, a 24-23 victory over No. 6-ranked Wisconsin. Why Badgers QB Jack Coan was throwing with 2:33 left and Wisconsin trying to protect a lead – when it has the best RB in the country – remains a head scratcher. The Coan interception at midfield that resulted set up McCourt’s heroics.

Kenneth Gainwell, RB, Memphis

The aptly-name redshirt freshman became the first FBS player since Troy Edwards of Louisiana Tech in 1997 to have 200 yards receiving and 100 rushing in a game. Gainwell had nine catches for 203 yards and two scores and gained 104 yards with a TD on 18 carries in a 46-17 win over Tulane.

Who’s not

Anders Carlson, PK, Auburn

Okay, so this is nitpicking after a 51-10 rout of Arkansas, but how does this happen: The sophomore had made all 74 PATs in his career, helping set an NCAA record for consecutive extra points made at 304 – then proceeded to miss the next one after the record-breaker.

Colorado quarterbacks

It sure looks like the Buffs are in a free fall after a 41-10 loss to Washington State, with the three Colorado QBs combining to go 17-for-34 for 141 yards with no touchdown passes and three interceptions.

Jeremy Pruitt, head coach, Tennessee

Yes, his QB (Jarrett Guarantano) made a bad mistake, trying to dive over the top on fourth and goal only to fumble. It resulted in a 100-yard return for a TD by Alabama’s Trebon Diggs. But grabbing Guarantano so violently by the face mask as he came to the sideline and having it caught on national TV is a bad look. That’s primitive coaching, Pruitt.

Playing it forward

The top games of the coming week (all times Eastern)

Story Lines

Wisconsin at Ohio State, noon, FOX

This one lost a lot of its luster when the Badgers were upset last week by Illinois, but it’s always fun watching Justin Fields do what he does for the Buckeyes.

Auburn at LSU, 3:30, CBS

The last gasp for Auburn to stay in the SEC West race and the latest in a scheduling gauntlet for LSU before the showdown at Alabama.

Notre Dame at Michigan, 7:30, ABC

Sure, let’s call this a big game because of the schools involved (in reality it’s not because Michigan continues to underachieve under Jim Harbaugh).

Story Lines

1. For those who don’t pay attention when Rutgers plays – and no one would blame you for that since Rutgers fans seem to be ignoring their team as well – there was a touching, emotional moment during Minnesota’s 42-7 victory over the Scarlet Blights. After the Gophers took a four-touchdown lead the special teams was led onto the field by redshirt sophomore Casey O’Brien for the extra point. O’Brien was making his college debut after having beaten cancer four times. He underwent numerous rounds of chemotherapy and more than one dozen operations, having now been cancer-free for a year. O’Brien worked his way onto the roster as a holder, and his successful hold resulted in his teammates mobbing him after what was anything but a routine PAT. Good stuff.

2. Five Power 5 teams remain winless in conference play at this juncture. Anyone want to venture a guess as to which ones will finish that way? Syracuse, Rutgers, Northwestern, Kansas and Arkansas are the five. But Syracuse is good enough to steal an ACC game down the road. Much improved Kansas’ best shot seems to be against Kansas State. Northwestern still has to play Illinois. So those three have a chance. Arkansas looks to have little chance to win an SEC game this year. Rutgers? The Scarlet Knights are 0-5 in the Big Ten with Penn State, Michigan State and Ohio State left.

Tom Luicci was the national college football and basketball writer for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. from 1979-2014.

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