College football has essentially hit the midway point in the 2016 season. What have we learned?
Alabama is great. Ohio State is great. Michigan is probably great. Clemson has found themselves after a rough start. All of that summer hype about Washington was pretty much legit. Texas A&M playing defense is refreshing to see as well. You can probably set your playoff field now from four of those schools just mentioned. But of course, we still have a whole lot of college football to be played and the outlook for this season could change any given weekend.
It’s time to put Brian Kelly on the hot seat
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly is crumbling under pressure. The Irish are off to a dismal 2-4 start with losses to Texas (a team with zero defense), Michigan State (who just got smoked twice in a row at home and lost to Indiana), Duke (who has lost to Virginia) and now North Carolina State. Kelly has already fired his defensive coordinator this season and ripped his starting quarterback, DeShone Kizer. On Saturday, he took aim at his center after a poor snap ultimately sealed a loss for the Irish in swampy and soggy Raleigh…
Brian Kelly calls snapping "atrocious" by Sam Mustipher
— Irish Illustrated (@PeteSampson_) October 8, 2016
Yeah, you tell 'em, BK, he's the one making $5 million a year https://t.co/NNkaPFpLa6
— Joe Giglio (@jwgiglio) October 9, 2016
This is not the first time Kelly has deflected the blame on his players. It’s not even the first time this season he has done so. This is just how Kelly operates when he gets a little hot under the collar. He is hardly the first coach to take out his frustrations on his players, and he most certainly will not be the last. It’s just not a good look and the way this season is going, things could actually get uglier for Kelly and the Irish.
At 2-4 halfway through the season, Notre Dame still needs to win four more games just to become bowl-eligible. Tell me which four of these games you think Notre Dame will even be favored in!
#NotreDame needs to win four more games to be bowl eligible. They may not even be favored in four games the rest of the year. pic.twitter.com/pbXt79lUUy
— Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB) October 9, 2016
What may be Kelly’s ultimate undoing is his stubbornness. It’s no secret most head coaches have a certain stubborn factor in them, but those who choose to never change because of that are often doomed by it.
Brian Kelly: "I want to run the ball more effectively in those situations, but I'm not going to second-guess what I'm doing either."
— JJ Stankevitz (@JJStankevitz) October 9, 2016
Brian Kelly is a good coach, but he has now been the steaming red face of the program through a significant academic scandal, two blowout losses in major bowl games and is on track to finish his second season out of the last three outside the top 25 in the polls. Things are not Charlie Weis-bad in South Bend, not by a longshot, but you have to wonder how many more excuses Kelly can dish out before ultimately exhausting himself out of a job.
Dan Mullen’s seat should be smoking too
I already know what many will say. But Kevin, Mississippi State would be dumb to fire Mullen because he’d be hired in an instant by someone else! Yeah, that’s true, he probably would. If you are satisfied with the status quo, then keep Mullen by all means. But if you feel Mullen has reached his ceiling with the program (and I won’t overlook the fact he raised that ceiling quite high during his tenure in Starkville) and feel it is time for the program to take the next step, then you make a coaching change. That’s how sports works. We’re not naive here and think big-time college football programs are about more than just winning.
This season has seen Mississippi State lose a home game to South Alabama, narrowly avoid a big upset at UMass and go down 35-0 in the first half against Auburn. If getting to a Music City Bowl or Liberty Bowl is fine with Mississippi State, then Dan Mullen is a perfectly fine coach to have leading the program. If Mississippi State wants to do more, than a change may be necessary sometime soon.
Changing of the Guard in Pac-12 North?
The past two weekends have made one thing certain. The Pac-12 North no longer goes through Oregon and Stanford. Washington and Washington State have racked up back-to-back wins against the former powers of the Pac-12, and they did so in convincing fashion by combining to outscore the Cardinal and Ducks 207-76. As a result, Washington and Washington State are the already the last two unbeaten teams in Pac-12 play. Who could have possibly predicted that?
It’s time to strongly pay attention to what Washington is doing though, and maybe start throwing quarterback Jake Browning into the Heisman Trophy conversation. As Christian McCaffrey falls off the Heisman map, Browning is equipped to take over the Pac-12 Heisman hopeful role, hoping not to be a victim of East Coast bias (which he totally will).
Box Score of the Week: Michigan 78, Rutgers 0
I honestly could not stop looking at this box score. Considering we just celebrated the anniversary of Georgia Tech’s 222-0 whuppin’ of Cumberland, it was somewhat ironic to see college football’s all-time winningest program put up what has to be close to the equivalent in today’s game at the birthplace of college football.
Why can’t Arkansas run on Alabama? Because the Tide are just that good
The Arkansas Razorbacks ranked dead-last in the SEC in rushing offense in the lost season of 2012, when the Bobby Petrino came to a motorcycle crashing halt and the team was left to get through a year with John L. Smith as the head coach. The hiring of Bret Bielema instantly turned around the running game, which was a key to Bielema’s success at Wisconsin. The Razorbacks went from averaging 118.7 rushing yards per game in 2012 under Smith to 208.7 ypg in 2013 (3rd in SEC), 218.0 ypg in 2014 and 197.3 ypg in 2015. Despite the instant improvement running the football, Arkansas never seems to be able to get going on the ground against one team in particular; Alabama.
You can't do that, Bielema pic.twitter.com/lMaXafJDO5
— Heavens! (@HeavensHawkeye) October 9, 2016
Arkansas managed just 73 rushing yards in a 49-30 loss at home against Alabama on Saturday. Coming off a bloated 353 yards against Alcorn State, it was the first time all season Arkansas had fewer than 100 rushing yards in a game. The thing is, Alabama has a knack for stopping Arkansas from doing what they do best. This was the third season in a row Alabama held Arkansas below the century mark in rushing yards. It’s only been done five times under Bielema at Arkansas, and Alabama has done it three straight times (LSU in 2014 and Mississippi State last season are the others).
Is this really a shock? Alabama currently leads the nation in rushing defense, allowing just 69.2 ypg and just two rushing touchdowns all season. Last year, the Tide allowed a nation-leading 75.7 rushing ypg. Just one team this season has managed to hit triple digits on the ground against Alabama. Ole Miss put together 101 rushing yards in mid-September. With the talent Alabama has on defensive line, Arkansas is going to have to find some other way to give the Tide any challenge.
Group of Five Situation: Houston’s loss is Boise State’s gain
There was a bit of a shockwave that rippled through the college football world this weekend with Houston going down on the road against Navy. For now, the hopes of being the first Group of Five program to crack the College Football Playoff are dead, but the chase for the automatic spot in the New Years Six bowl lineup just got a lot more interesting.
Remember that only conference champions from the Group of Five are even considered for an automatic spot in the New Years Six. With Navy beating Houston, Houston is now at risk of not even getting to play for the AAC title, which makes them ineligible for automatic consideration. This appears to be favorable for Navy (it is), but it may be super beneficial to Boise State, who is undefeated and feeling pretty good about their chances.
— Boise State Football (@BroncoSportsFB) October 8, 2016
I offered my latest Group of Five power ranking on College Football Talk on Sunday, but I will tell you I would suggest Boise State is in the lead right now. The Broncos probably have to run the table though, and that is hardly a given. One loss by Boise state and the momentum swings back in favor of the AAC champion (Navy? Houston? Memphis? USF?), or potentially Western Michigan (ROW THE BOAT).
My Top Four
If the College Football Playoff started today, here is who I would have in…
- Ohio State
The College Football Playoff doesn’t start today. I’m still projecting the same four teams in the College Football Playoff, but with a slight twist on the ranking:
- Ohio State
Next in line? Michigan, Louisville.
Got a question? Fire away!
Have a question you’d like addressed in a future column? Drop them in the comment section below or tweet them to me (@KevinOnCFB) and I’ll try to include a reader question next week.