The hottest, the best and the brightest from Week 11 of the 2015 college football season.
It’s not often that the Land of Enchantment is one of the epicenters of the sports world, but such was the case on a weekend flush in upsets. On the same night that New Mexico native Holly Holm shocked Rhonda Rousey in arguably the biggest stunner in UFC history, the Lobos snapped Boise State’s 18-game home winning streak. New Mexico won despite being a 30-point underdog—and getting outplayed—qualifying for the postseason for the first time since 2007. With two more wins, Bob Davie’s Lobos will be Mountain Division champs.
Bowling Green head coach Dino Babers
Looking for a leader who can ignite an offense and boost attendance? Babers might be your man. The fourth-year head coach, two at Eastern Illinois and two at Bowling Green, is bucking for a well-deserved promotion. Babers took the Panthers to back-to-back FCS playoff appearances, and now has the Falcons in the MAC title game as East Division champ. Bowling Green lost this week in a game that didn’t mean anything to its chances, but won seven straight before that beating two Big Ten teams and ranks among the nation’s scoring leaders. Babers is ready for a bigger spotlight.
For the second straight year, the Falcons have swept their home schedule, slapping 35 points on Utah State on Saturday. Air Force has now won four consecutive games to remain alongside Boise State in the race to a Mountain Division crown in the Mountain West Conference. The Academy, which amassed 580 yards against a talented Aggie defense, will take its hot hand into Boise next week, with divisional supremacy resting on the outcome.
Head coach Willie Taggart has been searching for a signature win since arriving in Tampa three years ago. He finally captured it Saturday night against Temple, hammering the Owls to become bowl eligible for the first time in five years. The Bulls have won five of their last six, and have really turned things around on offense. The team is averaging 12 points more per game than in 2014 behind the backfield tandem on RB Marlon Mack and agile QB Quinton Flowers.
For the second straight year, the Razorbacks are surging late under Bret Bielema. The Hogs have won four in a row, including the last two over Ole Miss and LSU to have a legitimate shot of finishing No. 2 to Alabama in the country’s thorniest division, the SEC West. The offense is producing big plays, but how about defensive coordinator Robb Smith? Arkansas has now held two of the nation’s premier backs, Derrick Henry and Leonard Fournette, below 100 yards on the ground.
Tom Herman with backup quarterbacks
Houston rallied from a 20-0 deficit to defeat Memphis with Kyle Postma, not Greg Ward Jr., behind center Saturday night. The same Kyle Postma who began the year doubling as a wide receiver and third-string quarterback. But that’s what’s expected from a pupil of Herman, who helped coached two Ohio State backup QBs to a Big Ten and national title in 2014. The Cougars are the last undefeated team in the state of Texas, another impressive milestone for Herman in his debut season.
North Carolina coach Larry Fedora
It’s taken a couple of years to get the Tar Heels going, but Fedora has his program rolling. And if he has the itch to leave Chapel Hill, the offers will be there in the coming weeks. Carolina has won nine in a row since losing the opener to South Carolina. And the last two over Duke, 66-31, and Miami, 59-21, demonstrated the offensive inventiveness of Fedora. The Heels aren’t just a big fish in the shallow Coastal Division pond. Fedora’s fourth Carolina team is good enough to challenge Clemson for an ACC crown, which is not being lost on select athletic directors.
The Ducks got payback on Stanford for crushing losses in 2012 and 2013, derailing the Cardinal’s national title dreams on the Farm. Oregon has been a completely different team over the last month, shaking off an ugly and improbable 3-3 start to win four straight and remain in North Division contention. The Ducks averaged more than nine yards a play against a quality Stanford D, unleashing an expanding array of weapons around QB Vernon Adams.
Alabama RB Derrick Henry
With all due respect to Leonard Fournette, Henry is the back to beat in the race toward a Heisman Trophy. The junior trucked Mississippi State for 204 yards and a pair of scores the week after pounding LSU for 210 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. What’s remarkable about Henry, besides his rare blend of size and acceleration, is that all of his best games in 2015 have come against the toughest opponents on the Tide schedule.
Forgotten after the Oct. 10 loss to Texas, the Sooners might now be the team to beat in the Big 12. And if they can build off Saturday’s upset in Waco over previously unbeaten Baylor, a playoff berth could be the prize. Oklahoma has been surging for the past month, but the competition level was low. However, against the Bears, OU showcased all of its potential, from QB Baker Mayfield’s grittiness and the power of RB Samaje Perine to a defense that held WR Corey Coleman to one of the worst games of his career.
The disappointments from this week in the college football world.
Not since the early years of the Greg Schiano era have the Scarlet Knights muddled through such a difficult campaign. Rutgers failed on the field—and off—making headlines in 2015 for all of the wrong reasons. Head coach Kyle Flood’s future is in jeopardy, and the players won’t have a bowl trip to celebrate for the first time since 2010. The Scarlet Knights fell to 3-7 with a feeble home loss to Nebraska, and this season’s only wins have come over Norfolk State, Kansas and Indiana.
Florida State QB Everett Golson
Golson may have started his final game at this level. After a decent start to his one-season Seminole career, it’s been all downhill the last four weeks. The Notre Dame transfer was ineffective in the team’s first loss to Georgia Tech on Oct. 24, missed the following game with a concussion and then did not get the start for the big game with Clemson. Jimbo Fisher went back to his veteran on Saturday, but Golson was replaced by Sean Maguire after three early turnovers. Since Maguire rallied FSU, there’s a good chance he’ll keep the job for the rest of the way.
Remember when the Blue Devils were one of the favorites to win the ACC Coastal Division? It was just a few weeks ago, despite feeling like ages ago. Head coach David Cutcliffe is in the midst of one of his roughest patches on Tobacco Road, losing three in a row to Miami, North Carolina and Pitt. And Duke is fortunate to have already achieved bowl eligibility, because it might not win again the way the defense is routinely getting stampeded.
It’s been such a rough year in Manhattan that you hope it isn’t Bill Snyder’s final one on the sidelines. A coach this legendary should ideally exit on a higher note. The perennial overachieving Cats simply haven’t had it in 2015, losing the last six games, all against Big 12 opponents. The last time this program went winless in conference play? 1989, when Snyder was in his debut season as a head coach and the Big Eight was Kansas State’s home.
The Wildcats are in serious danger of missing the postseason, and that’s a darn shame for a program that began the season 4-1, with wins over South Carolina and Mizzou. Kentucky has since slumped to five consecutive losses, capped by another toothless offensive performance Saturday at Vanderbilt. To continue with the growth of the program, head coach Mark Stoops really needs that extra December bowl game and 15 practices. Getting there, though, requires two more wins, including versus instate rival Louisville in the finale.
The Yellow Jackets have ridden an unlikely path in 2015, travelling from Coastal Division—and Orange Bowl—champs in 2014 to clear out of the postseason this fall. With Thursday night’s loss to Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech sunk to 3-7 to miss a bowl game for the first time since 1996. Paul Johnson’s team has had a season-long problem pulling out tight games, but the running game’s struggles are especially perplexing. Sure, Johnson was a hero last season, but he’s just 42-37 since 2010.
Barring a surprising finish, the 4-6 Horns are unlikely to bowl in December. And that’s just unacceptable for a program of this magnitude and its second-year coach, Charlie Strong. True, UT is young, lending hope for the future. But where’s the progress of this youthful squad? By this time of the season, the Longhorns shouldn’t be getting blanked by Iowa State or turning it over five times in a loss to West Virginia, both of which happened in the last three games. If Strong does return in 2016, the pressure he’ll be facing to turn things around will be crushing.
The narrative surrounding the Horned Frogs has changed dramatically over the past eight days. One of the favorites to win the Big 12 and earn a playoff spot prior to Week 10, TCU has since been crushed by Oklahoma State and narrowly escaped winless Kansas at home, 23-17, on an afternoon that QB Trevone Boykin suffered an ankle injury. This is not the way Gary Patterson drew up how his team would be heading into upcoming season-ending clashes with Oklahoma and Baylor.
The Tigers are sinking. And with Ole Miss and Texas A&M still left on the regular season schedule, they may not be done heading south. A week after being outclassed in Tuscaloosa, LSU was no match for Arkansas in Baton Rouge, where the Bengals have dominated this series over the past two decades. The offense has gone in the tank, while the O-line isn’t getting it done for Leonard Fournette, who was held under 100 yards in both losses. All that’s left now is to play for bowl positioning and pride, a far cry from the climate pre-Bama.
After a hellish weekend, in which the league’s three ranked teams lost, the Pac-12 is well on its way to becoming this year’s Big 12. In a near consensus, the Pac-12 was considered the next best thing to the SEC before the season began. But too many programs have missed their mark in 2015, with Washington State and Utah being exceptions. The conference needed Stanford and the Utes to remain in the one-loss world, but losses to Oregon and Arizona, respectively, mean the league champ will play in the Rose Bowl and not a New Year’s Eve semifinal game.