With just five weeks left in the college football regular season, the name of the game now is “survive and advance.” For those teams still left standing in the College Football Playoff race, every game takes on more and more significance, and the lights get even brighter as the calendar turns to November.
But even for the teams who are simply vying for the best bowl bid possible - or even for a bowl bid at all - this final month is critical to making one last statement. And if you’re able to string a few wins together against some top opponents? Who knows what waves you could make come selection time…
So to set the table for this all-important month of college football action, here are the teams trending up (and trending down), and the regular season enters the home stretch...
Stock Up: LSU
LSU notched their third win over a top 10 team this weekend, and I can’t believe I’m saying this - but I’m ready to declare them the favorite to win the SEC. Yes, even over Alabama.
The Crimson Tide have more talent, sure, and LSU’s defense makes me nervous on a week-to-week basis (had freshman Bo Nix hit a few more passes against them this past weekend, who knows what would have happened). But the Tigers from Baton Rouge are now, without question, the most battle tested team in the country. And even with Alabama’s talent advantage and the fact that they’ll be getting LSU at home, the Tide’s only game against a ranked opponent this season has been against Texas A&M - who has, er, dropped off in 2019.
With this past weekend’s win against Auburn, meanwhile, LSU has made its resume - to this point - completely untouchable, and have earned their top spot in this week’s AP poll.
Stock Up: Minnesota
You know what? Let’s give the Golden Gophers a little love here.
No, they haven’t “played anyone ranked”, and yes they won their three non-conference games against a non-major opponent and two teams outside of the power five by a combined *checks* 13 points (that’s an average margin of victory of 4.33).
But with their emphatic 52-10 win over Maryland this weekend, Minnesota is now 8-0 for the first time since 1941, and in the month of October their average margin of victory is up to 31.75. They’re 12th in the SP+, have the 9th ranked offense in the country, and even if it all ends in a few weeks against a scary Penn State team… this week, the Golden Gophers deserve a round of applause.
Stock Up: Michigan
Michigan earned a much needed victory over the then-8th ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish this weekend on a rainy night in Ann Arbor.
Saturday night, in a game that Jim Harbaugh has struggled to win during his current tenure, the Wolverines scratched, clawed, and leaned on a [surprisingly] effective running game, on their way to absolutely waxing Notre Dame by a shocking 45-14 final score when it was all said and done.
It’s the kind of win that won’t completely silence critics, but following a grind-it-out October that included barely beating Iowa at home then failing to come back to beat Penn State on the road - this victory over the Irish should give the Wolverines plenty of momentum as match-ups with Michigan State and Ohio State await down the line… stay tuned, fans.
Stock Down: Notre Dame
Of course, on the other side of Michigan’s rise was Notre Dame’s fall, and while I think the reaction to an unfortunate game at The Big House has all been a bit overblown, you can’t deny that there were some concerns for the Irish leaving this one.
Most notable was Ian Book’s sloppy performance, which saw him go just 8-25 for 73 yards on the day, which - when added to only 47 yards from the rushing attack - made for one of the uglier performances the Irish have had in recent memory under Brian Kelly.
Even the defense, the stalwart of the last few years in South Bend, allowed 303 yards rushing on a day when Michigan QB Shea Patterson was only 10-20 for 100 yards of his own. Overall, it was a devastating defeat for one of the country’s top-ranked one-loss teams heading into the weekend. Now, with a game against Virginia Tech upcoming, we’ll see if they can bounce back.
Stock Down: Oklahoma
When you play with fire, you’re bound to get burned, and as hot as the Oklahoma offense has been this season… this weekend their defense - long the concern under Lincoln Riley - burned them. Last week in my power rankings, I said of this defense…
“As always, however, the question with Oklahoma is their defense. To be fair, they’ve significantly improved from last year, when they ranked 84th in defensive SP+ and gave up over 453 yards per game (114th), and their victory over the Longhorns hinged on them holding Texas to just 310 total yards on the day. But I’m still in wait and see mode to make sure they’re for real, and am therefore skeptical about putting them ahead of the top three teams on the list.”
Turns out, I was right to be skeptical.
True, the story coming out of this week will be a moment near the end of the game, in which a Sooners player touched an attempted onside kick... but appeared to be engaged by a Kansas State player (which would have negating the downed ball by touch and allowed the live ball to continue). Oklahoma would have gotten the ball back, down a touchdown, with just under two minutes remaining - and with how good the Sooners’ offense has been this season, it’s easy to see why Oklahoma fans feel like the game was taken from them.
But that conversation misses a few key factors for the then-5th ranked Sooners. They allowed Kansas State, the country’s 62nd ranked offense heading into week nine, to log a 49% success rate, 213 yards on the ground (with six touchdowns), and, crucially, 48 points; the Wildcats had averaged just 16.3 points against B12 competition heading into this one.
Oklahoma is far from out of it at one-loss, but their defense will need to make some statements in November if they’d like to make their third-straight CFP appearance this season.
Stock Down: Wisconsin
It doesn’t really seem fair to knock Wisconsin for losing to Ohio State - but this coupled with their loss to the Illini (who might… actually be okay this season?) continues to defang them in the eyes of the rest of the country.
Jonathan Taylor’s Heisman hopes took a major hit against the Buckeyes, as he ran for just 52 yards and no touchdowns on 20 carries (a season low for him). Overall, the offense notched just a 30% success rate on the day - and for as bad as the rushing offense was, somehow, the passing attack was worse (18% success rate for 108 yards).
Meanwhile the defense - which I've praised again and again throughout the year as one of the nation’s best - were revealed to be a rung lower than the country’s best. They allowed a season-worst 431 yards and 38 points to OSU, and now, as they trail their cross-state rivals in Minnesota by two games in the B1G West race - it’s possible they may not even be making the trip to Indianapolis for a potential rematch.
As an aside, though… boy is Ohio State good.
College football may be hitting the home stretch, but there’s still time to get your team in the game!
We’ve still got weekend home rentals available throughout the final month of the regular season, so click below to get your team closer to the action now...