Week 4 Findings in College Football
It's Wide Open!
Week 4 was another fantastic week – and it came with a schedule of games that, as I said, seemed very sparse as far as good matchups. Huge upsets and near upsets dotted the landscape of college football. If you ask me what we know for sure one quarter of the way through the season, it would be a very short list. Let’s talk storylines that have emerged –
Main Storylines from Week 4:
We could be headed for a 2007-like season…
In 2007, there were a number of out-of-nowhere, non-traditional power teams that had shots at being #1 and in the National Championship picture – and several upsets colored the entire year. From 12-1 Kansas – yes – Kansas – to West Virginia to Missouri to even teams like Boston College and South Florida being rated in the top 2 for a period of time, there was extreme zaniness. Eventually, LSU ended up being the champion but was the first, and so far only, 2 loss national champion in the BCS/Playoff era.
Could we be going back there? Clemson lost for the second time and is now out of the playoff in nearly all likelihood. Oklahoma remains undefeated by the narrowest of margins but they look extremely vulnerable. Ohio State has lost once so far and may not be the best team in the Big 10 (although we’ll see about that). We’ve had other teams that were expected to be really good lose twice already (North Carolina, Iowa State & Wisconsin are three examples) and everyone has looked relatively mortal in at least one game except maybe Georgia – but that opening win over Clemson doesn’t seem quite as big of a deal now.
We need to talk about end of game coaching in college football…
It’s often mediocre – but lately I’ve seen some real bad execution of when to use timeouts, how to run the clock to your advantage when up two scores in the fourth quarter, getting way too conservative for the “ghost of the long, late field goal” to quote my friend Matt Zemek, and more.
There were examples to be found from N.C. State AND Clemson late in regulation, West Virginia with a snap goof that was more execution but could’ve been caused by swapping the QBs out too often, and many more. I’ve harped on this in past columns but if you’re being paid millions of dollars a year to be the CEO Head Coach, you either need to really brush up on the best way to handle these issues OR designate someone as the end-of-game specialist to be in your ear in the final few minutes.
Potential Cinderellas getting sized for a slipper…
There are a bunch of real feel-good stories after the first four weeks of college football that are 4-0 or a surprising 3-1 with a big win. Baylor, UTSA, Wake Forest, Fresno State, Michigan State, Boston College, Maryland and even Rutgers are all off to really strong starts and teams like Iowa and Oklahoma State have started 4-0 when it was uncertain how good they would be. We’ll see what the next third of the season holds!
Next, let’s look at the Three Top Coaching Performances of Week 4:
Sam Pittman – Arkansas: This is Coach Pittman’s second appearance on this list this season and it is well-earned. The Hogs dominated top 10 Texas A&M, winning 20-10 at the neutral site in Jerry World – and it really wasn’t that close. Arkansas is 4-0, ranked in the top 10 and headed to Georgia for a huge matchup next week. His team is well-prepared and his staff is excellent.
Brian Kelly – Notre Dame: Before anyone rolls their eyes about the Notre Dame coach being on here – a lot of people felt the Irish were going to get their comeuppance on Saturday after struggling at times against inferior competition in their first three games. While it was a slog for three quarters, the Irish broke through and (may have) broke the Badgers, winning convincingly to head to 4-0. Kelly is making the best of a roster that lost significant talent on the offensive line, defense and it’s QB from last year. Now they head into a huge showdown with undefeated top 10 Cincinnati next week – the Bearcats had to be thrilled that ND won to set this up.
Dave Aranda - Baylor: Last year, Aranda’s opening act at Baylor landed with a thud, winning just 2 games and playing awful on offense in particular. He made major changes on the offensive side of the ball, bringing in Jeff Grimes to run more of a “wide zone” running game with passing off it and continued to recruit and work on the defensive side. The Bears started 3-0 but against an underwhelming slate. Well, on Saturday they beat an Iowa State team that was the Big 12 darling of the college football media before the season started. Is Baylor going to go 10-2? No, I don’t think so – but it was a proof of concept win for the Bears and Coach Aranda’s program.
Honorable mention: Jeff Traylor, UT-San Antonio (watch out for this guy for open jobs this winter), Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
**Honorable mention in a loss: Shawn Elliott, Georgia State – this fiery, old-school looking coach had his Panthers within a fingernail grasp (or a slip of their back out of the back field on a second and long late in fourth quarter) of upsetting Auburn on the road. This would have been the second SEC team Elliott and GSU took down in three years (they beat Tennessee in 2019). Alabama might’ve made him coach in waiting! This is a program on the rise in the Atlanta area.
Finally, the Three Worst Coaching Jobs of Week 3:
Scott Frost - Nebraska: Where to begin? Losing when you give up less than 50 yards total in the second half to Michigan State and have the lead late? A total special teams disaster for at least the second time this year alone that costs you the game? Total predictability on offense in crunch time, dependent on Adrian Martinez the good-but-not-great QB for the Huskers? I was not a “Fire Frost” guy at all this offseason – I thought if they make a bowl he gets another year. Looks like that probably won’t be an issue for AD Trev Alberts.
P.J. Fleck - Minnesota: Coach Fleck (who I love), was on our honorable mention for top performances last week. What a difference a week makes in College Football 2021. The Gophers lost 14-10 to Bowling Green, the team that up until this week was thought to be the worst or one of the 3-4 worst in the entire sport. It’s just a terrible loss. Not sure what injuries played a factor – but sloppy, turnover ridden play led to totally gacking this game away. They may recover ok – but it’s clear they are badly missing their top RB Mohamed Ibrahim who is out for the year.
Mack Brown – North Carolina: Speaking of glib media darlings, Mack Brown was being heralded all off-season for quickly rebuilding the Tar Heels into winners, including an Orange Bowl appearance last year. The trendy pick to win the ACC Coastal, this would have been a great year to ride pre-season All-America QB Sam Howell to take advantage of Clemson being down and win the conference. Instead, they’ve started off 1-2 in ACC play with a somewhat understandable loss at Virginia Tech to open the season but a less understandable loss to Georgia Tech, who has not looked particularly capable in several spots this year. Defense seems to be the worst part of what’s happening in Chapel Hill but Howell and the offense haven’t pulled their weight either.
Dishonorable Mention: Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M, Paul Chryst, Wisconsin
Well that was the week that was – it was a lot of fun. Stay tuned for Week 5’s “Most Meaningful Matchups” coming later this week. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @ReadyCFB to argue or agree and see my takes throughout the week – especially on game day as we hear from the sweet-sounding symphony called “College Football.”