Welcome to the college football overreaction index, where we examine the most important storylines from the past weekend of games to determine what’s worth paying attention to and what’s getting a little too much attention.
Here are the biggest takeaways from Week 4.
That’s it for Notre Dame’s playoff hopes.
Welcome to “quality loss” season.
The Fighting Irish entered a top-10 matchup with Georgia as two-touchdown underdogs and held their own, falling 23-17 on Saturday night. But the game never really felt as close as the score might indicate.
Notre Dame entered the half leading 10-7, but it needed to recover a muffed punt deep in Georgia territory to set up a touchdown. The Irish didn’t exactly punch it in after that, needing four attempts from inside the 2 to score.
Once Georgia finally opened up its conservative offense in the second half by taking some shots downfield with quarterback Jake Fromm, Notre Dame looked overmatched. But it didn’t show up on the scoreboard.
Had Kirby Smart elected to go for it on fourth-and-1 on the Irish 26 with 6:54 to go instead of kicking a field goal to go up 23-10, the Bulldogs likely would have converted and perhaps score a touchdown. All of the sudden, what ended up being a close loss could have easily been a 27-10 disappointment.
Why does any of it matter? The playoff committee will look at this matchup when it comes time to weigh Georgia’s and Notre Dame’s merits against other top contenders. If the Irish win out and finish 11-1, a spirited showing in a hostile SEC environment will be a feather in their cap. For Georgia, a close win at a top-10 team’s home might not be enough to make up for a conference loss and/or possible defeat at the hands of Alabama in the SEC championship game.
Because of how close the final score ended up being, Saturday’s loss doesn’t eliminate the Irish from playoff contention. Though they won’t play a conference championship game, they have games remaining against Virginia, Southern California and Michigan, which are all reputable enough to give credence to a Notre Dame team with a “quality loss” to the possible SEC champ.
It looks hopeless in Ann Arbor. Even with an extra week to prepare, the Wolverines were flattened on the road against Wisconsin, 35-14. Michigan looked lifeless, rushing for just 40 yards while giving up 359 on the ground to the Badgers. Jonathan Taylor needed just 23 carries to get 203 yards, and quarterback Jack Coan even scrambled for a 25-yard touchdown.
Since 2015, when Jim Harbaugh took over, Michigan is 0-7 outright as an underdog, the only Power 5 school to go winless in that span. Harbaugh is also 0-8 on the road or at a neutral site against teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 15 since taking over.
It’s no secret that Michigan fans have been feeling angsty about Harbaugh’s record against his rivals in the Big Ten East, especially Ohio State, who he has failed to beat in his first four seasons. Saturday’s loss only raised more questions about his ability to compete for conference championships, which became the expectation the moment he stepped foot in Ann Arbor.
It’s easy to pile on when Michigan is down. But just look at Harbaugh has done in his career, both in college and the NFL, and how quickly he turned things around with the Wolverines. He certainly isn’t slipping on the recruiting trail, having pulled in a top-10 recruiting class in 2019 with another likely on the way in 2020. He’s been able to develop that talent, too, as Michigan just had five players picked in the NFL draft, including two in the first 12 selections.
The question for fans during these coaching discussions is always: Who is your team going to hire instead?
If the Wolverines continue to play the way they did Saturday, there will certainly be big changes afoot on Harbaugh’s staff. But there are plenty of games left, and there’s no shame in losing to what could be a powerful Big Ten West champion on the road. Let’s see how Michigan fares against Iowa, Penn State, Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State before drawing any major conclusions about the state of the program.
The Knights certainly didn’t do themselves any favors by losing to Pittsburgh, 35-34, on a last-minute trick play. It marked their first regular-season loss in 27 games, a remarkable stretch for any team in any conference, regardless of the level of competition.
If it was so easy to do what UCF is doing in the Group of 5 (the non-Power 5 conferences), more teams would. Consider the strides made by fellow American Athletic Conference teams like Memphis, Houston and Cincinnati in recent seasons, and even their accomplishments pale in comparison with what the Knights have done under Scott Frost and now Josh Heupel.
What makes UCF’s defeat Saturday all the more frustrating is how it affects the perception of the rest of the Group of 5. After their loss, the Knights slid all the way from No. 15 to No. 22 in the AP poll, leaving themselves and No. 16 Boise State, representing the Mountain West, as the only ranked G5 teams.
In the past three seasons, starting with its 13-0 campaign in 2017, UCF is 4-2 against the P5 with wins over Maryland, Auburn, Pittsburgh and Stanford. It has proven it can punch above its weight — provided another team is brave enough to schedule the Knights.
It’s easy to point to the loss to Pitt as a reason why UCF should never have been included in the playoff discussion in the first place. You can also point to their strong showing against LSU in the Fiesta Bowl last season as a reason why they deserve a chance.
College football is more enjoyable with teams like UCF in the mix, and the Knights will continue to be a discussion point as the playoff moves toward inevitable expansion. They deserve to be in that discussion, and quickly dismissing their achievements only serves to diminish the sport as a whole.
Four weeks in, and we already might have our nuttiest game of the year.
While you were (hopefully) sleeping late Saturday night, UCLA came back from a 32-point third-quarter deficit to stun No. 19 Washington State in a — wait for it — 67-63 victory.
1,377 total yards. Eighteen touchdowns. Seven turnovers. Fifty-six first downs. Ninety-nine passes.
In a matchup between two of the decade’s foremost offensive innovators, it somehow exceeded anyone’s wildest dreams.
While Mike Leach has found a steady home in Pullman, the Chip Kelly era is off to a rocky start at UCLA. After going 3-9 last season, the Bruins started 0-3 and should probably be winless if not for that miracle comeback. But is it the spark Kelly needed to get his offense going?
It remains to be seen whether Kelly is still the brilliant offensive mind he was at Oregon and later with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he brought his fast-paced spread attack to the NFL. Kelly’s concepts are now the norm in college football, especially in the Pac-12. Even Nick Saban is running an up-tempo spread at Alabama.
This might be Kelly’s last best shot to establish himself as a head coach. He might never reach the same heights he did with the Ducks, but, with the benefit of some time and patience, there’s a chance Kelly can at least make the Bruins one of the most exciting programs in the country.
Appalachian State can make a New Year’s Six bowl game.
Verdict: Not an overreaction.
If you don’t know about the Mountaineers, you just haven’t been paying enough attention.
App State nearly knocked off Penn State in Happy Valley to open the 2018 season, and now they have their first win over a Power 5 team since making the jump to the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2014 after beating North Carolina, 34-31.
The Mountaineers’ claim to fame will always be that stunning upset of No. 5 Michigan in the Big House in 2005 as a Division I-AA team, sealed by an unforgettable blocked field goal. But, despite losing coach Scott Satterfield to Louisville in the offseason, App State has quietly built itself into a formidable Group of 5 power.
In their first season under Eliah Drinkwitz, the former offensive coordinator at North Carolina State, the Mountaineers have a chance to reach one of the New Year’s Six big bowl games, most likely the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. That could mean facing an independent power like Notre Dame, or even a conference heavyweight like Wisconsin.
Getting to Dallas would likely mean having to go undefeated, but it’s possible. Per ESPN’s Football Power Index, App State has an average win probability of 79.1% for its remaining nine games. Big tests remain at Louisiana (36.7% chance to win), at South Carolina (22.5%) and home against Troy (59.7%). The Mountaineers would also need the best ranking in the Group of 5, which means leap-frogging UCF and Boise State.