And somehow, Week 7 of the college football season left us with more questions.
Our reporters put this wild week into perspective and break down the college football world.
Oklahoma still has two quarterbacks
While Caleb Williams appears to have all the makings of becoming another superstar quarterback at Oklahoma, Sooners coach Lincoln Riley seems very intent on doing what he can to hold off on the expectations of outsiders. Appeals to the coach to explain what makes Williams so dynamic are explained away as the rest of the team — the offensive line, the receivers — doing their jobs. It’s like asking a parent which of their children are their favorite.
Spencer Rattler was still a captain for Saturday’s game against TCU, but he didn’t play a snap. After the game, Riley spoke often of both quarterbacks. They were both into it, helping each other, making adjustments. While Williams got the start, Riley said he would “absolutely” have had no qualms about putting Rattler in the game depending on any number of scenarios and added, “I’m confident had Spencer got the opportunity tonight, the way he practiced, he would’ve played well tonight, too.” Oklahoma averaged a season-high 9.1 yards per play with Williams at the helm, but Riley again pointed to the rest of the team having the right mindset and pieces starting to come together.
It’s clear this is going to continue to be a storyline for Oklahoma, despite the juice the offense seems to get from Williams and the way the fans enthusiastically embrace him. And why wouldn’t it be? Teams across the country have had to play multiple quarterbacks, and losing one can wreck your season. Of all the different quarterback scenarios Riley has had to manage at Oklahoma, this one might require the most sensitivity. And it’s clear he’s not going to tip his hand one way or the other. — Dave Wilson
Hoos’ that putting together an under-the-radar season in Virginia?
Take a few guesses at who leads the nation in passing right now.
Matt Corral? Nope.
Bryce Young? Nope.
Even though Corral and Young have emerged as Heisman contenders, neither is close to the passing yards leader.
That would be Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong, who has thrown for 2,824 yards so far this season and is averaging 414.6 yards per game in total offense — second to Bailey Zappe of Western Michigan.
In a 48-0 domination over Duke on Saturday, Armstrong threw for 364 yards in three quarters, the sixth time this season he has passed for 300 or more yards.
“I think he’s the best quarterback in the ACC,” Mendenhall told reporters after the Duke game. “I wouldn’t trade him for anyone. And I don’t know what else he has to do.”
For starters, it does not help that Virginia has already lost twice — to Wake Forest and North Carolina. It remains incredibly difficult for a player not on a contending team to get much national publicity.
But that should not dismiss what Armstrong has done to date, nor his development as a passer. A year after rushing for 552 yards and throwing for 2,117, Armstrong’s completion percentage has shot up 5 percentage points to 63.8%, and he already has 19 touchdown passes through seven games. Last year, he had 18 touchdown passes in nine total games.
Because he has had an injured knee, Armstrong has not run nearly as much this season. So it is quite possible the best is yet to come.
“The quarterback is playing so well,” one ACC coach said. “Last year, you worried about him beating you with his feet. Now, he’s going through progressions, making reads, throwing beautiful throws. They’ll win games just because he’ll beat people.”
Because Virginia has already lost twice in the ACC, the Cavaliers face a steep climb to the division title — especially because Pitt is undefeated in league play. But their showdown Nov. 20 in Pittsburgh could prove crucial.
Especially if Pickett and Armstrong keep playing as well as they have to date. — Andrea Adelson
Joey Galloway and Jesse Palmer give their college football top five following Iowa’s defeat to Purdue.
Iowa‘s loss shifts B1G spotlight fully to the East
The Big Ten East Division always commands more attention than the West, even when the group of teams isn’t necessarily stronger. That’s how it goes with three traditional powers — Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan — and an often-relevant Michigan State program in the same group. But as long as Iowa kept winning and creating turnovers at a historic pace, the West would remain in the national discussion.
Iowa stopped winning Saturday, falling 24-7 to unranked Purdue, and the ugliness of the Hawkeyes’ first defeat will fully shift attention away from the division. Although Iowa isn’t out of the CFP chase, the team’s problems on offense, especially in the passing game, suggest Saturday won’t be the team’s last setback.
“That’s part of it, I’m sure,” coach Kirk Ferentz said when asked about his team being a target at No. 2. “We haven’t been up there that often. And it’s conference play. Everybody wants to beat each other. That’s what makes it tough to compete in the conference.”
While Iowa played poorly and lost, Michigan State played poorly and won, keeping its perfect season intact. Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State all were off Saturday, but if the three teams take down unranked opponents this coming week — Michigan hosts Northwestern, Ohio State visits Indiana and Penn State hosts Illinois — it sets up the biggest weekend in the Big Ten in quite some time.
The Oct. 30 slate could feature two top-10 matchups pairing teams in the same division: Michigan at Michigan State and Penn State at Ohio State. The Michigan-MSU game hasn’t paired top-10 teams since 1964.
“We’ll rest up,” Spartans coach Mel Tucker said after the Indiana win. “We’ve got a few things we need to fix and correct. We’ll do that, and we’ll get ready for the next one. We all know what that one is.” — Adam Rittenberg
Paul Finebaum details what Cincinnati needs in order to make the College Football Playoff.
Stop talking about Cincinnati‘s schedule
It has already started: the excuses for why a team with one (or more) losses should make the College Football Playoff over Cincinnati. With Alabama rebounding from its loss to rout Mississippi State, and Ohio State dominating since its loss to Oregon, talk has already begun about putting a one-loss blueblood ahead of upstart Cincy. Would the Tide be favored over Cincinnati in a head-to-head matchup? Of course! And the same is probably true for Ohio State, Penn State, Oklahoma and possibly Michigan, Oregon, Ole Miss and a handful of others. But that’s not the point. If this chaotic season has taught us anything, it’s that all those things we think should happen are far from guaranteed to actually play out as expected.
What happens on the field has to matter, and Cincinnati is simply demoralizing its opponents. After beating Notre Dame in South Bend, it might’ve been understandable for the Bearcats to have a hangover. Instead, they’ve beaten Temple and UCF by a combined 108-24. They hung 56 on a decent (if far from 2017 levels) UCF despite QB Desmond Ridder‘s pedestrian afternoon. They’ve beaten every team on their schedule — including Indiana and Notre Dame — by double digits.
Cincinnati still has a serious test ahead with SMU (6-0) set for Nov. 20 and a possible AAC title-game showdown with Houston (5-1). The schedule is fine. It’s not the SEC West, but that was never in Cincinnati’s control. And yet, there are still plenty of folks — including, almost certainly, a few on the committee — who’ll say it’s not enough. What if Notre Dame loses another game or two? Indiana hasn’t met expectations (even though all the Hoosiers’ losses are to ranked teams). SMU and Houston? They’re not Power 5, so they don’t really count.
We hold teams like Cincinnati to an impossible standard. The Bearcats had a solid nonconference slate. That’s all they can control. They’re beating the doors off every opponent. What more do we want? There is no mythical schedule in which a team beats Alabama 12 times in a season. What Cincinnati has accomplished thus far in 2021 is deserving of a top-four ranking, and if the Bearcats run the table, every over-simplistic, straw-man argument used against them should be taken with a grain of salt. — David Hale
Everyone else still needs to worry about two SEC teams until Alabama loses again
The Big Ten winner is probably the exception to this, which is why the Pac-12, Big 12 and Cincinnati should be concerned.
If Alabama, Georgia and the Big Ten winners are all in the selection committee’s top four, there could be some controversy over that fourth spot. Would the selection committee take an undefeated Cincinnati team over a one-loss or undefeated Big 12 champion? Oklahoma looked like a different team offensively this past weekend. The change to Williams could impress the committee too.
Oregon would have a win over what could be the Big Ten champs if Ohio State runs the table.
While upsets continue to shift the playoff picture, there is arguably no bigger weekend than the conference championship games. It’s the only time of the year the committee watches games together, and it’s the final piece of the puzzle.
So while Cincinnati might look like a lock this week, skyrocketing to No. 2 thanks in part to Iowa losing, the reality is the Bearcats won’t truly know where they stand until the Power 5 winners are determined.
Unless, of course, there is even more chaos along the way. — Heather Dinich