Q. Does any coach in the country produce hollower 10-win seasons than Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh?
With the Wolverines trailing 35-0 at one point at Wisconsin on Saturday it triggered a mad scramble for Harbaugh stats. He’s won 10 games or more three of the previous four seasons at Michigan, but peel back the layers on those years and here is what you find: He has never even won a division title, he’s 0-4 vs. Ohio State, he’s 1-9 vs. Top 10 teams, he’s 0-7 as an underdog and he’s 1-6 vs. on the road vs. ranked opponents.
So the guy who won’t reveal his two-deep, loathes the “cheaters” he has to face on a weekly basis, needs satellite camps to recruit and tries to gain an advantage with bonding trips to Europe is basically an empty pair of khakis when it comes to winning games that matter in Ann Arbor.
Remarkably, Michigan has not won a Big Ten title since 2004.
By the way, reports say it will cost Michigan $15 million to buy out Harbaugh if he is fired after this season and $10 million if it happens after the 2020 season.
Q. Have UCLA and Washington State stopped scoring yet?
Imagine throwing nine touchdown passes in a game – and losing. Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon doesn’t have to imagine it. He lived it Saturday. UCLA, which had scored exactly 14 points in each of its first three games, overcame a 32-point second-half deficit for a 67-63 victory in a game that featured 1,377 yards of combined total offense and 1,077 combined passing yards.
Gordon’s school-record nine TD passes weren’t enough because the Bruins scored 50 second-half points in a game where the over/under was 60.
For what it’s worth: The Cougars’ basketball team scored 67 points when it lost to UCLA in the only meeting between the schools last year.
Q. Is it time to re-assess the overall strength of the Pac-12?
It doesn’t boast a playoff-quality team just yet, but top to bottom you can make a case for the Pac-12 being better and deeper than the ACC this year. Cal’s 28-20 win at Ole Miss – the Bears are 4-0 now – was a signature victory the league desperately needed. Here’s the thing about the Pac-12: It has an abundance of teams in the 12 to 25 range in the Top 25. Besides Cal, Oregon, Washington, USC, Arizona State, Utah and Colorado are all lower Top 25 caliber teams.
By comparison the ACC can offer up Wake Forest behind Clemson and maybe – maybe – a 4-0 Virginia team that keeps begging to lose to inferior teams.
Perhaps the Pac-12 isn’t back just yet. But it is better.
Q. Can we finally stop having to be subjected to the constant whining and playoff campaigning from UCF?
No matter how you dissect it, the Knights’ 35-34 loss to an exceedingly mediocre Pitt team chips away at some of their credibility and their case to be included with the big boys. UCF has had a nice run and does have some exciting offensive talent but when forced to contend with a big boy defensive line for the first time in a while the Knights allowed six sacks (they’d given up just one through the first three games). UCF can still have a good year and reach double-digits in wins again, but any talk about an outsider crashing the Power 5 playoff party will now shift to Boise State or – at least for now – SMU, which is coming off a quality 41-38 win at TCU. We’ll see how long it lasts, but the Mustangs are 4-0 for the first time since 1984.
Q. Are we starting to see some separation now between the top eight teams and the rest of the country?
Just based on what we’ve seen to this point, it sure looks like the playoff teams will (not surprisingly) come from among LSU, Georgia, Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Auburn and Wisconsin. It’s a small sample size to be sure, but it doesn’t appear as if there are many playoff-caliber teams beyond those eight at the moment (Florida needs to beat a quality opponent before joining the group). That can and will change, of course, because teams will play each other and incur defeats, but based on what we see right now the Power 5 is a Group of 8 when it comes to playoff contenders.
On the rise
San Jose State (2-1)
Spartans notched their first win against a Power 5 team since 2006 with a 31-24 victory at Arkansas in yet another devastating setback to Chad Morris during his rebuilding efforts with the Razorbacks.
Nice bounce-back for the Buffs following that wrenching OT loss to Air Force a week earlier. The 34-31 victory at Arizona State was Colorado’s first over a ranked team on the road since 2002, a span of 36 games.
Mustangs are 4-0 for the first time since 1984 after winning 41-38 at TCU, with QB Shane Buechele, the Texas grad transfer, continuing to look sharp. SMU has seven grad transfers on its roster.
On the decline
South Carolina (1-3)
Gamecocks looked like a hot mess in a bad 34-14 loss at Missouri, meaning they may only win three games the rest of the year (Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt). Not that anyone expects much from a Will Muschamp-coached team.
Illini yielded 690 yards in a 42-38 home loss to Nebraska, and you really have to wonder if Lovie Smith is just collecting a paycheck at this point.
Clay Travis got the coach he wanted in Jeremy Pruitt, and what he got Saturday in a 34-3 loss to Florida was a point total that was the Vols’ lowest against the Gators since 1994. Following an off-week, Tennessee faces Georgia, Mississippi State and Alabama. Ouch.
Joe Burrow, QB, LSU
He’s the primary reason the Tigers lead in the country in scoring at 57.8 ppg. In Saturday’s 66-38 rout of Vanderbilt Burrow threw for a school-record six touchdowns. He’s the first LSU QB to throw for 350 yards or more in three straight games.
Evan Weaver, LB, California
His 22nd and final tackle in the Bears’ 28-20 win at Ole Miss was a stop of Rebels QB John Rhys Plumlee at the one-yard line on the final play of the game.
Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin
Despite fighting leg cramps the reigning Doak Walker Award winner rushed for 203 yards and two scores and basically buried Michigan in the first half during a 35-14 victory.
Nick Starkel, QB, Arkansas
In his second career starts he suffered five interceptions – two in the red zone – in a 31-24 loss to San Jose State.
Ryan Hilinski, QB, South Carolina
The true freshman got a dose of big-time college football reality at Missouri, going 13-of-30 with an interception that resulted in a 100-yard pick six and a bizarre fumble that was returned for a score.
The entire Miami football team
If the Hurricanes weren’t playing Central Michigan (they won 17-12) they probably would have suffered a humbling defeat after allowing four sacks, incurring 13 penalties, giving up a safety, having a punt blocked, going 1-for-10 on third-down conversions and rushing for all of 51 yards on 34 carries.
Playing it forward
The top games of the coming week (all times Eastern)
Ohio State at Nebraska, 7:30 p.m., ABC
A minor road test for the Buckeyes against a Nebraska team that went for nearly 700 yards against the Illini last week. Just how good is Ohio State?
USC at Washington, 3:30 p.m., FOX
Time to start sorting out the Pac-12 contenders from the pretenders. Can the Trojans keep it going with their third-string QB?
Texas Tech at Oklahoma, Noon, Fox
Put the over/under at about 75 for this one. If you like offense and passing this is the game you want to see.
Mississippi at Alabama
Alabama is a little banged up right now but Ole Miss is coming off a home loss to California. Should be another stats-pad day for Tua.
1. There are plenty of coaches pushing to be the first to be fired this year, but that distinction may have to go to Rutgers’ Chris Ash after yet another half-Ashed effort in a 30-16 home loss to a Boston College team that was routed at home by Kansas a week earlier. Ash is 8-31 for his four years, has lost 15 straight to Power 5 opponents and his offense has scored more than 20 points just nine times in his 39 games, having been shut out seven times. This is what happens when you let an AD with zero football background make a coaching hire – and he miraculously gets it done in five days.
2. Kudos to Appalachian State (now 3-0), which can only beat a Power 5 team, it seems, when it blocks a field goal on the last play of the game. The Mountaineers did that in a 34-31 victory at North Carolina on Saturday – 12 years after they stunned Michigan in their last win over a Power 5 opponent by blocking a field goal in Ann Arbor.
Tom Luicci was the national college football and basketball writer for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. from 1979-2014.