It’s getting late early in the college football season. In this glorified season long-double elimination tournament to choose four playoff teams, teams are falling out of contention left and right.
On the flip side, teams are making statements every week that put them firmly in the playoff conversion. It was a statement Saturday across college football.
After 15 hours of watching college football, starting with a Texas blowout to an Oregon State miracle touchdown, it’s time to offer my thoughts on Week 6.
First off, Texas played great in their 49-0 win over Oklahoma in the Red River Shootout on Saturday. In fact, I don’t think there are four better teams in America than Texas when Quinn Ewers is healthy and playing.
But the story is about the Oklahoma Sooners.
I’m now 28 after my birthday Friday, and the first college football season I remember in earnest was 2000. So, I’ve never seen a bad Oklahoma football team before. Sure, some years they’ve been better than others, but they’ve never been non-competitive. Come to think of it, they’re really the only team that’s true for, save maybe Ohio State.
Well, they’re uncompetitive this year, and I need to eat some crow. I was wrong about them. When I named them the most overrated team in America on aarontorresonline.com before the season, I thought they could finish 7-5. Well, they’re a hell of a lot worse than 7-5. This is a team that got beat down in all facets. Texas outgained Oklahoma 585-195, and it seemed much worse than that. The first down count was 36 to 11. Yes, Oklahoma didn’t have quarterback Dillon Gabriel, and that hurt. But, they’d lost two weeks in a row with Gabriel anyways and he’s not particularly good himself. He’s better than Davis Beville, who I can say with complete certainty is the worst Oklahoma quarterback in my twenty-three years of paying attention to ever get meaningful snaps. But he would not have made that much of a difference today.
Texas simply overwhelmed them. Whether it was on the lines, or on the outside, special teams, the sidelines fan spirit at the neutral-site Cotton Bowl, and probably in the tailgating lots, Texas whooped them. Steve Sarkisian made first year Sooner coach Brent Venables look like he had never coached football before. Quite frankly, though, that’s not really that far off from the truth.
Yes, it’s Venables’ first year as a head coach at any level after spending his career as a defensive assistant turned coordinator. But, this team is significantly worse now than it was in Week 1. Even with a healthy Gabriel, Week 6 OU would lose to Week 1 OU by three touchdowns. Venables was supposed to bring back toughness and a good defense to Norman, something the Sooner faithful said had been forgotten by Lincoln Riley. Guess what? This is the least tough Oklahoma football team I’ve ever seen. And it’s the worst defense, too. Venables isn’t even calling the plays on defense, instead leaving it to Ted Roof. Roof has led bad defense after bad defense his entire career, and Venables is letting him call the plays for what will be the worst Oklahoma defense ever.
Oklahoma fans will tell you the team lacks talent. One Sooner fan told me the program needed saving by Brent Venables. Saving from what? 11-win seasons and playoff berths, which was the standard under Lincoln Riley? This is a team that, according to 247sports’ team talent index is ranked 9th in the country. Are they Georgia or Alabama? No. Are they as talented as Texas? Probably not. Do they have 75 scholarship players on their team that Kansas State and TCU, the two teams that lit up the Sooners before Texas, would do anything to recruit? You bet. There are high-four-stars and five-stars all over the field, and that applies to defense too.
They will tell you the last staff didn’t develop those highly touted players correctly. That just doesn’t stand up to any scrutiny. Alex Grinch arrived as defensive coordinator in 2019, and his three defenses ranked 39th, 28th, and 76th in total defense. That’s not elite, but it’s not bad considering that air raid attacks of the Big 12 require teams to have to play more plays in a game, thus running up yardage totals. It’s certainly not dead last. The 2021 team that finished 76th gave up 391 yards a game, a full 200 yards less than what OU is giving up now. And, Alex Grinch followed Riley to USC and USC is 58th in total defense this year despite having way less talent on defense and a much worse culture on that side of the ball than the one Oklahoma inherited. I watch both teams every week, and USC’s defense looks better and better, and Oklahoma’s worse and worse.
They were 109th in total defense coming into this week, and that includes games against UTEP, Kent State, and Nebraska. In conference play, they’ve given up 1768 yards in 3 weeks. That’s 589 yards a game. That would be the worst defense in America. In Oklahoma.
Even worse, Oklahoma simply quit against Texas. And, not late in the fourth quarter. No, they quit midway through the second quarter, after an ill-fated Eric Gray jump pass that was intercepted by the Longhorns. That’s not supposed to happen under Venables, who has a rep as a great motivator, a guy so emotional that he had to have a designated staff member at Clemson be in charge of keeping him in the coaches' box. We haven’t seen that version of Venables this year. He’s stoic on the sidelines, almost accepting his fate the way the coach of an overmatched high school team does. Only, this isn’t the small high school a few towns over that gets pummeled every year. This is Oklahoma.
Here’s the worst part. Oklahoma fans, boosters, and administration did this to themselves. They were so personally insulted by Lincoln Riley leaving what they view as a college football paradise for USC. They couldn’t believe the born and raised southerner Lincoln Riley would rather live in a place like Los Angeles, a place most Sooner fans would call a hellhole that doesn’t know real football, than coach at precious Oklahoma. They thought it showed that Riley was too soft to win, too soft to face the SEC head-on, and too soft to be the face of the Oklahoma program. So, they went and hired the Anti-Riley. They went and got, supposedly, the most tough-nosed, defense-focused, Anti-Riley they could find and hailed him as the savior. Calling in Brent Venables to be the savior for a Lincoln Riley program is like calling in Papa John to save a meal cooked by Wolfgang Puck.
Of course, Riley has the Trojans at 6-0 and with the fifth-best odds to win the national title according to most sportsbooks. Oklahoma’s odds are off the books on October 9th.
I don’t think Venables is on the hot seat this year, no matter how bad things get. But I can tell you right now, this is not going to work out. Venables wasn’t made to be a head coach, which is why I ranked him so low on my list of hires set up to succeed.
Some Sooner fans will try to point to Nick Saban, who went 6-7 in his first season at Alabama. They’ll say Venables just needs time. But Saban inherited a Ford Pinto. Venables inherited a Cadillac. Better check under the hood, because things are corroding fast.
Meanwhile, the coach Oklahoma should’ve hired…
I talked about Josh Heupel and Tennessee at length a few weeks ago in my column. He no doubt has improved Tennessee, and the former Oklahoma Heisman runner-up quarterback and Oklahoma offensive coordinator had his Volunteers make a statement on Saturday.
Tennessee traveled to Death Valley to play an LSU team most people, including me, thought was making great progress after that bizarre opening-week loss to Florida State. Tennessee exposed them, winning 40-13 and racking up 502 yards of offense including 263 on the ground. This is the best Tennessee team since the Philip Fulmer era. The defense is still a work in progress, but it refused to break against LSU. Most importantly, it’s probably the toughest group of kids Tennessee has had since the 1990s glory days. These guys compete hard for 60 minutes and make plays. Heupel has quarterback Hendon Hooker playing like the Heisman favorite and the entire team is behind both the head coach and quarterback in year two.
They will now face their stiffest test, as Alabama comes to town for what is likely the biggest home game at Neyland Stadium in two decades. Sure, better Alabama teams have come to town. But Tennessee was never really poised to beat them, save the Mount Cody game in 2009 in which Terrance Cody blocked the potential game-winning Volunteer field goal. Tennessee can win the game, and I think they can win the game even if Crimson Tide and their Heisman-winning quarterback Bryce Young plays through his shoulder injury. If Bryce Young does not play and the Tide are stuck with Jalen Milroe again, Tennessee should be the outright favorite.
If the Volunteers win, the playoff race becomes mightily muddled and all of a sudden, Georgia-Tennessee is the biggest regular season game of the year. And I’m not one for moral victories, but it’s quite the accomplishment for Heupel for us to even be talking about them seriously beating Alabama in year two.
UCLA Might Be For Real
Two weeks ago, many people were calling UCLA the most fraudulent undefeated team in the country. After all, the Bruins played four cupcakes to start the year, and there was nothing in the Chip Kelly-Dorian Thompson-Robinson era to prove they weren’t fraudulent. But, they beat the tar out of Washington in a game that was not nearly as close as its 40-32 score. Washington may have been a little fraudulent themselves. So, the Bruins were going to welcome Utah this weekend, a Utah team many thought was a real playoff contender and the Pac 12’s best team.
Nobody told UCLA. The Bruins racked up 500 yards of offense and ran the ball through the teeth of what is supposed to be one of the toughest defenses in all of college football as they won, 42-32 after Utah scored a late touchdown.
The Chip Kelly vision is finally coming together. As Aaron Torres astutely pointed out, Chip Kelly could’ve taken the Florida job in 2017, but took the UCLA job instead. Florida has seemingly every advantage over UCLA as a football program, but they couldn’t offer Kelly the one thing he wanted most: time. UCLA has now won nine games in a row, the third-longest in all of the FBS, and that power spread Kelly wanted to run looks excellent. It helps when you have a bonafide Heisman candidate at quarterback, and that’s what Dorian Thompson-Robinson has become. The stats are good, and he had four touchdowns on Saturday. But what stands out is the energy and the will to win the senior is playing with. His teammates are feeding off of his emotion. It sounds cliche, but that’s so important. And, to me, stuff like that should play a large factor in the Heisman trophy race.
UCLA now gets a well-timed bye, as they head to Oregon for their first road test of the year. In two weeks. Their only other road game this season was at Colorado, who, if you have not heard, is the worst football team in the country. If they can beat Oregon, all signs point straight ahead to one of the biggest games in the history of the USC-UCLA rivalry, as it could be two undefeated, top-ten or even five teams playing the second to last week of the season in a de-facto playoff play-in game. That’s a storyline I truly didnt expect.
I didn’t want to have to write another feature on Texas A&M, but you know I must comment on them. JImbo Fisher’s play call to win the game and upset Alabama and embarrass Nick Saban again was so bad you’d think he was point-shaving if he wasn’t getting $9 million to lose to Appalachian State anyways.
As for Alabama, I was not high on Jalen Milroe as a quarterback out of high school and he showed why. Their season, which becomes perilously close to being over if they lose to Tennessee next week, hinges on Bryce Young’s health.
Michigan State is just horrendous, and Mel Tucker is stealing money from that university. His expertise is supposed to be defensive backs. Problem is, Sparty’s have been among the worst in the nation two years in a row.
Speaking of bad things in the Big Ten, the Iowa offense is something else. Imagine watching the exact opposite of LSU’s 2019 offense. That’s where we are at. Iowa has the complete package of being bad. They have a bad coordinator, bad quarterback, bad running backs and bad wide receivers. They’ve played half of their games and they have one touchdown drive over 50 yards. It was a one-play, 55-yard run in the 4th quarter against Nevada. Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz should be sent on one of Elon Musk’s spaceships to a planet to be named later.
Credit to Bret Bielema and Illinois, who beat Iowa 9-6. That score sounds terrible, but Illini quarterback Tommy Devito got hurt and was replaced by Art Sitkowski, who I contend is the worst quarterback to get meaningful Power 5 snaps at two schools. Winning with him at quarterback should count as two wins. Don’t be surprised if Illinois ends up in Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship. A lot of good programs could do much worse than hiring Bielema.
Penn State and Michigan are playing a very similar game to Alabama and Tennessee next week. It’s two of the conference’s top three teams squaring off, and we will know a lot more about the playoff picture coming out of the Big Ten after that game.
Oklahoma State showed some guts by pulling away from a Texas Tech team that looked ready to pull the upset most of the game. A showdown with Texas looms in two weeks.
Speaking of Texas, they can make the playoff with two losses. I’m not saying they will, I’m saying they can.
TCU went on the road and beat Kansas to improve to 6-0 as Max Duggan is going to start gaining Heisman steam. Sonny Dykes has done a wonderful job in Fort Worth in year one. Credit to Gary Patterson for having such a strong foundation built there.
Mississippi State is really good. Yes, Arkansas didn’t have KJ Jefferson, but they dominated the Razorbacks and this looks to be Mike Leach’s best team since he arrived in Starkville.
I really want to believe in Florida State’s Mike Norvell, but boneheaded choices like the ones he made Saturday to help his team lose to NC State 19-17 make it really hard to do so.
People are going to be upset when Notre Dame winds up in the top 25 today, but they’ve improved tremendously with Drew Pyne at quarterback and they are definitely one of the best 25 teams.
1. Hendon Hooker, QB, Tennessee
2. Dorian Thompson-Robinson, QB, UCLA
3. Will Rogers, Mississippi State
No. 4 USC vs. No. 1 Georgia
No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Alabama
Follow Garrett Carr on Twitter - @RealGarrettCarr