The hottest, the best and the brightest from Week 13 of the 2015 college football season.
Indiana QB Nate Sudfeld
For the first time in eight years, the Hoosiers are bowl eligible. And Sudfeld deserves plenty of the credit, along with the rest of the IU offense. Indiana reached six wins by walloping Purdue, 54-36, to capture the Old Oaken Bucket on Saturday. Sudfeld threw four touchdown passes to four different receivers, giving him 17 over the last six games since missing the Penn State trip on Oct. 10 to a foot injury.
The changing of the guard in Conference USA is almost complete now that the Hilltoppers have ended Marshall’s bid for consecutive conference titles. Western Kentucky ran circles around the league’s best defense to capture the East Division behind five Brandon Doughty touchdown passes. Head coach Jeff Brohm, who’s getting looks from Power Five ADs, has manufactured an unstoppable attack that’s scored at least 49 points in seven of the last nine games.
Miami interim head coach Larry Scott
Scott is doubtful to be the full-time successor to Al Golden at Miami, but he did a heck of a job keeping this program together during the second half of the regular season. Scott is 4-1 as the interim head guy, losing only to Coastal Division champ Carolina, while beating Duke and Pitt on the road. If nothing else, he has aced his audition for his next coaching assignment, wherever that might be.
Houston QB Greg Ward Jr.
Had Ward not rolled his ankle two weeks ago, his Heisman momentum might have carried him all the way to New York City. And his Cougars might still be unbeaten. Though still playing at less than full strength, the junior put forth a gutsy effort to lead Houston to an AAC West Division-clinching win over Navy. Ward, who played sparingly in last week’s loss to UConn, singed the Midshipmen for four total touchdowns and almost 400 yards of offense.
In the three seasons prior to 2015, the Golden Eagles had won a grand total of four games. This fall? Nine after obliterating Louisiana Tech, 58-24, to win the Conference USA West Division. The offense remained balanced and prolific, but the defense was the unsung hero with seven takeaways. Todd Monken’s Eagles have scored no less than 56 points in each of the last three games, setting the stage for a fascinating title game next week at Western Kentucky.
USC interim coach Clay Helton
Helton has begun to channel his inner-Orgeron, leading the Trojans to an impressive rout of UCLA and a Pac-12 South crown. Over the last two years, Helton and former USC assistant Ed Orgeron are 12-4 as the program’s interim leader, bringing stability to Troy in the aftermath of the firings of Steve Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin, respectively. Helton has one enormous, high-profile job audition next Saturday in Santa Clara against North Division champ Stanford.
Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly
With all due respect to Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott, who’s had an outstanding final year, Kelly was the best dual-threat quarterback in this year’s Egg Bowl. The junior transfer accounted for three touchdowns and more than 300 total yards in the Rebels’ 38-27 win, capping the regular season on a tear. Over the last four games, Kelly accounted for 15 touchdowns and now has a chance to use his bowl appearance as a launching pad to serious Heisman contention in 2016.
In the span of a few hours, the Hokies beat rival Virginia a 12th straight time, secured one more bowl game for Frank Beamer and improved the outlook of the future by landing one of the coaching carousel’s biggest prizes. Yeah, for a 6-6 finish, it was a pretty special Saturday in Blacksburg. Shortly before qualifying for a 23rd consecutive bowl game, it was learned Justin Fuente would succeed Beamer, and that Bud Foster would be his defensive coordinator. Finally, the D AND the offense will be in good hands at Va Tech.
LSU head coach Les Miles
Yup, he’s still in charge in Baton Rouge, and it appears that he will be in 2016 as well. And that is a rather unexpected turn of events, considering that all signs just a few days ago pointed to his dismissal. On Saturday night, Miles got a streak-busting win over Texas A&M, a ride on the shoulders of his players and a vote of confidence from AD Joe Alleva. While we may never know for certain how much of Alleva’s decision hinged on Jimbo Fisher’s decision, Miles has gotten a reprieve to coach a team returning a ton of talent next season.
On Oct. 10, the Sooners were just another team, fresh off a demoralizing loss to rival Texas … a weak Texas squad. The fact that Oklahoma has been able to roar back from that defeat to win the final seven regular season games speaks to the leadership of Bob Stoops’ staff and the moxie of QB Baker Mayfield. The Sooners smoked Okie State in Stillwater, 58-23, to win the Big 12 title and undoubtedly seal up a playoff berth. Few teams are hotter, and OU’s blend of talent on both sides of the ball sets the team up nicely for the New Year’s Eve semifinal game.
The disappointments from this week in the college football world.
Late Thursday night, the Knights and their fans were thankful that the season had come to a merciful end. For the third time since beginning football in 1979, UCF went winless, losing to rival South Florida, 44-3. In 2015, the program also lost its architect, head coach George O’Leary, and every ounce of momentum from the past three seasons, which produced 31 wins and a Fiesta Bowl upset. Who replaces O’Leary will need to wear his tool belt, because an extreme makeover is required.
Great regular season for the Rockets. But they’ll have a difficult time forgetting how it ended. Needing just one more win to qualify for its first MAC Championship Game in 11 years, Toledo gagged at home to Western Michigan. And just when it looked as if Northern Illinois’ stranglehold on the division had ended, the Huskies were whisked into their sixth conference title game in a row. The Rockets failed to handle the moment … or Bronco WR Corey Davis, who caught six balls for 139 yards and two scores.
No one is looking to pile on the Jayhawks or rookie head coach David Beaty, who has undertaken the latest massive rebuilding job in Lawrence. But Kansas did what no Power Five program has in the last seven years, and just three have over the last decade—lose every game in a season. Once the Jayhawks dropped the opener to South Dakota State, 0-12 was practically a fait accompli, as they came close to breaking through just one other time.
Sure, no one expected the Gophers to lose their head coach, Jerry Kill, midway through the season to retirement. But it’s not as if this program wasn’t accustomed to being without Kill for long stretches of time. Or that it lacked the personnel to be considered a preseason sleeper to rise up in the Big Ten West. Instead, Minnesota failed to even achieve bowl eligibility, losing Paul Bunyan’s Axe Saturday to border rival Wisconsin for the 12th season in a row.
Whoever succeeds Gary Pinkel in Columbia better have a defined gameplan for the offense … and, possibly, a magic wand. The two-time defending SEC East champs couldn’t even achieve bowl eligibility in 2015, because the offensive attack has been flat-lining since the FCS portion of the schedule ended in early September. Mizzou failed to reach the end zone Friday in waterlogged Arkansas, marking the sixth time in the last 10 games that the team was held to single-digits.
Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong
In many respects, the Huskers outplayed unbeaten Iowa on Friday afternoon; accounting for twice as many first downs and 183 more yards. But Nebraska was minus-three in turnovers, the difference in a game that otherwise could have gone either way. Armh3 made a series of bad decisions, throwing four interceptions, including one that LB Parker Hesse returned for a score. The junior was picked a Big Ten-high 16 times in 2015, nine in the last three games, which should compel Mike Riley to open up the competition this offseason.
The Wildcats reached a low point of the Mark Stoops era on Saturday. Hungry for its first bowl game in five years, Kentucky needed only to beat rival Louisville in Lexington to extend the season. And it looked promising into the third quarter, with the Cats leading comfortably, 24-7. And then the choking ensued. The Cards scored the final 31 points to send Kentucky to its sixth straight defeat to a Power Five opponent. Louisville had just one viable offensive option, running QB Lamar Jackson, yet the Wildcats couldn’t stop the athletic rookie playmaker.
For the first time in more than a quarter-century, the Longhorns are enduring back-to-back losing seasons. And after going 6-7 in 2014, supposedly a time for Charlie H3 to lay a foundation, this once-mighty program has actually regressed in the staff’s second season. Injury-ravaged Texas fell to 4-7 following a home loss to Texas Tech Thanksgiving night, with a road game left at Baylor. Assuming H3 survives, he’ll be in do-or-die mode from the day the offseason begins until the start of the 2016 season.
Michigan in The Game
Great first season for Jim Harbaugh. The start of something real special in Ann Arbor. But it was business as usual on Saturday as far as the rivalry with Ohio State goes. Ezekiel Elliott and the Buckeyes crushed the Wolverines, whose two previous losses were by 11 combined points, 42-13, in the Big House. The Big Ten’s top run defense was no match for the OSU ground game, which churned out 369 yards and five scores, dropping the Wolverines to 3-13 this century versus the Buckeyes (yes, that includes the 37-7 vacated 2010 win).
Six. It was the Tigers’ preseason AP ranking, as well as their number of regular-season losses. It was a brutal year on the Plains for pretty much all things Auburn in 2015, from head coach Gus Malzahn to QB Jeremy Johnson, who became a microcosm for the program’s issues. It was fitting that Johnson misfired in Saturday’s Iron Bowl loss, save for an electrifying tip-drill to Jason Smith, as the Tigers slipped to 2-6 in SEC play.