Let’s consider this “Show-Me-Something” Saturday. This was a chance for a few of the top teams in the country to give us a little more clarity on who they truly are.
Well, it’s pretty clear that Oklahoma isn’t going to let Bob Stoops’ retirement spoil its chance to make a run to the College Football Playoff. The fifth-ranked Sooners absolutely manhandled No. 2 Ohio State 31-16 in Columbus.
A year after hearing chants of “O-H, I-O” inside their own stadium, the Sooners brought the boom to The Shoe, thanks to a runaway fourth quarter and another stellar performance by Heisman Trophy hopeful Baker Mayfield, who threw for 386 yards and three touchdowns (all three coming in the second half).
Baker Mayfield just did that. pic.twitter.com/Qo2Aw1pPE8
— ESPN (@espn) September 10, 2017
Sans Stoops, the Sooners are dispelling the preseason narrative that they’ll be too shorthanded to make a run with newer, younger coach Lincoln Riley. Mayfield, who proudly planted a giant OU flag in the center of Ohio State’s midfield scarlet “O” after winning his 10th straight road game, is a special player, and this team played special football against a Buckeyes team many picked to make the playoff and win it all.
On Saturday, Oklahoma looked like a playoff contender — maybe even the favorite — while Ohio State was a total pretender, completely out of sorts against a much better Sooners team.
While two of the three national champions in the playoff era have suffered home losses in September (Ohio State in 2014, Alabama in 2015), the Buckeyes still have a lot of defensive issues, and their offense continues to be an inconsistent mess against good defenses.
The other sure thing in college football right now is that No. 3 Clemson’s defensive front is absolutely the real deal, turning in a magnificent performance against one of the SEC’s best offensive lines in a 14-6 win over No. 13 Auburn. Clemson sacked Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham — supposedly a savior at quarterback — 11 times and held Auburn to 117 total yards (15 in the second half), including only 38 rushing yards — both are the lowest for Auburn during Gus Malzahn’s head coaching tenure.
Clemson only needed two rushing touchdowns from quarterback Kelly Bryant, but as long as that defense is as dominant as it was Saturday, the offense won’t have to carry much water post-Deshaun Watson.
Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois’ season-ending injury helped thrust Clemson into the ACC driver’s seat, but it’s the defense that is going to put the Tigers’ paws on that gas pedal.
Looking like another stock on the rise, No. 6 USC just shot back to the top of the charts in Hollywood. Coming off a disappointingly close win over Western Michigan last week, the Trojans looked every bit the playoff part with a commanding 42-24 win over No. 14 Stanford.
With their remaining schedule, the Trojans will be the overwhelming Pac-12 South favorites, but it’s important that this defense start to grow up some. Their second-half adjustments the past two weeks have been superb, but these slow starts will catch up with them.
The gap between USC and Stanford probably isn’t as wide as the score indicated, and few would be shocked to see them meet each other again in the Pac-12 championship game.
Looking for a possible sleeper? Maybe 15th-ranked Georgia is a team to keep an eye on. Even without starting quarterback Jacob Eason, the Dawgs escaped South Bend with a 20-19 win over No. 24 Notre Dame because of that ravenous defense.
Freshman quarterback Jake Fromm wasn’t perfect, but he didn’t let the moment get too big on the road. This offense currently lacks an identity and much explosion, but the defense more than made up for it. The SEC East might not be overflowing with offensive fire, so keeping things simple on offense and keeping that defense hungry might be all the Dawgs need for a big 2017 run.
It’s hard to declare a season-defining win in September, but several playoff contenders cleared difficult hurdles on their schedules and separated themselves from the pack in the process.
College football has a short attention span, and we are quick to anoint the next big thing. Still, how did we get to the point where we ignore the reigning Heisman Trophy winner even when he returns a season later with the same insanely offensive-minded coach who helped him earn that bronze beauty?
With Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson struggling at the end of last season and the Cardinals losing their last three games, much of the Heisman focus heading into this season became fixated on USC QB Sam Darnold. Jackson felt like an afterthought.
We can just stop that nonsense. Jackson shouldn’t have been knocked off his pedestal before the season, and he better be atop everyone’s list now. He looked like his old self in an opening win over Purdue, throwing for 378 yards and two touchdowns and running for another 107 yards, but Saturday brought another reminder of why Jackson ran away with the trophy last season. In the 17th-ranked Cardinals’ 47-35 win over North Carolina, Jackson threw for 393 yards and rushed for 132 more with six total touchdowns (three pass, three rush) to become the second quarterback in FBS history — and the first from a Power 5 school — to throw for 300 and run for 100 in back-to-back games.
He bounced off defenders like a pinball, and he’s learning how to stand in the pocket like a true dropback passer. He’s crazy slippery and smooth with everything he does, and it’s time we start realizing it … again.
A post shared by ESPN College Football (@espncfb) on Sep 9, 2017 at 3:25pm PDT
North Carolina linebacker Andre Smith said this week the Tar Heels did not want Saturday’s matchup to become “a Lamar Jackson show” before adding: “So if he’s able to beat us with his arm, then, well, he’s not going to beat us at all. I take that back. He’s not going to beat us. We’re just going to stop anything he tries to do.”
So much for that game plan. Jackson seems to be playing with a chip on his shoulder this season. He told ESPN’s Andrea Adelson this spring that he’s using the disappointing finish to 2016 as motivation.
“We didn’t finish last year,” Jackson said. “A lot of people have seen that and feel like we quit. It wasn’t right. I’m still hot about that. I don’t like that. I’m just teed off about it. I can’t wait to play.”
Against UNC, Jackson became the third player in the past 14 seasons to record 500 yards of offense, six touchdowns and no turnovers on the road. He has started the season with 1,010 total yards and eight touchdowns with just one turnover.
Cardinals receiver Jaylen Smith, who caught nine passes for 183 yards and a touchdown, put it best after the game: “They say the roof is the ceiling here. Lamar has no roof and no ceiling.”
Jackson might have been pushed behind a few players in the Heisman Trophy race to start the season — it’s hard to deny he’s got formidable competition from Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield — but he’s ahead of the pack after Week 2.
Three questions for Week 3
How will Hurricane Irma impact games in Week 3?
There were no college football games in the state of Florida on Saturday, and there’s nothing that says that won’t happen next week, either. The Florida State-Miami game, which was going to be played in Tallahassee, has already been moved to Oct. 7, but depending on the amount of damage caused, it could be tough for schools such as Florida, UCF, USF and FAU to play at home next weekend.
Also, consider that emergency personnel that work games could be unavailable because of relief efforts around the state. Moving Florida-Tennessee out of Gainesville could become a reality, and while UCF-Georgia Tech is still on the schedule, UCF players won’t be back together on campus until at least Tuesday and would only have three days to prepare for the Yellow Jackets’ triple-option offense. The outcome of these games won’t be determined until the full extent of the damage is known.
Will Tom Herman sprinkle fairy dust on Texas for its trip to Hollywood?
Urban Meyer might disagree with Tom Herman about first-year excuses, but if Texas is going to pull a major upset over USC, the Longhorns are going to need that fairy dust Herman was talking about after the loss to Maryland.
Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando said a win over San Jose State would show the nation that the Longhorns have “the grit to win a championship.” Despite a 56-0 win over the Spartans, that isn’t close to being true. The Longhorns are two weeks removed from surrendering 482 yards and 51 points to Maryland and now face a USC team that just registered 624 yards against Stanford. If you want to show the grit needed to win a championship, beat — or at least stay competitive — with a surging USC team on the road.
Is it time for Urban Meyer to consider making a change at quarterback?
Meyer said he isn’t ready to make a change, but for some reason J.T. Barrett just doesn’t look comfortable on the field. He struggled early against Indiana last week and looked disoriented for most of the night against Oklahoma. He was 19-of-35 for 183 yards and an interception Saturday, and when the Sooners brought pressure, Barrett looked overwhelmed. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Barrett was 2-of-10 for 18 yards and an interception when under duress. For now, the No. 2 QB is sophomore Dwayne Haskins, but true backup Joe Burrow could be getting healthier after breaking a bone in his hand in camp.