By Zack Peñalva, Sports Editor
The Best of Times and The Worst of Times in Michigan
Here’s an interesting statistic for you. University of Michigan led for all 60 minutes of the game against Michigan State and still lost. After Michigan punter Blake O’Neil bobbled the snap and gifted the ball to MSU’s Jalen Watts-Jackson, the clock ticked down from eight seconds and expired as Watts-Jackson finally made it into the end zone. It was a complete smash-and-grab. ESPN’s Stats & Info gave the Spartans less than a one percent chance of winning before the final play blew up in the Wolverine’s faces. It was the type of play that will be replayed and canonized over the next 30 years as either a fluke or an outstanding example of hustle and grit.
In terms of this year, it’s a major blow to Michigan. While they may not feel like a two-loss team, their 5-2 (2-1 in the Big 10) record dropped them to 15th in the AP Poll, three spots lower than last week. With Ohio State, MSU and Iowa all beginning to run away in the Big 10, Michigan could be caught on the outside looking in when it comes time for the playoffs.
Michigan State meanwhile, is in good shape. Their win, narrow as it was, let them keep their spot a at seventh in the AP Polls and they sit even with conference rivals Ohio State at the top of the Big 10. With the Buckeyes steamrolling over Penn State on the back of Ezekiel Elliot and J.T. Barrett, MSU will have to up their level if they want to be legitimate challengers for the number one spot.
What about Utah, or Baylor?
The Utes are 6-0. They have a defense ranked in the top 30 in the country in terms of points against, a running back that has eight touchdowns and an average of five yards per carry, and a quarterback with a QB rating of 140. They sit at the top of the Pac-12 South with a perfect record. Seemingly in spite of all that, they still sit at third in the AP Poll behind Ohio State and Baylor.
Is that fair? You could make the argument that Utah’s conference isn’t as challenging, but a quick comparison between their schedule and Ohio State’s is anything but convincing. So far, Utah has grabbed wins from number seven Michigan, number 23 California and blown out number 13 Oregon. OSU on the other hand has yet to win against an opponent currently ranked in the top 25. They have a fantastic defense and a great run game, but have yet to go up against a truly challenging opponent.
Baylor’s story is similar. They’ve blown their opponents out and averaged 64 points a game, but they’ve done it against football “powerhouses” like Rice, Kansas and Lamar. Until they’re put up against some top talent teams, I think its hard to make a legitimate claim for their spot in the top three.
A Runaway Train in Baton Rouge
Leonard Fournette is a freak. At 6-foot-1-inch and 230 pounds, Fournette’s physique is reminiscent of powerhouses like Bo Jackson. His hulking frame has clocked a 4.35 in the 40-yard dash. So far, he’s averaged eight yards a carry and two touchdowns a game. He’s led a number of early polls for the Heisman, and that was before he dismantled Florida on the way to LSU’s 35-28 win on Oct. 16
Going into the game, the Gators were 6-0 with one of the best run defenses in college football. They were keeping opposing teams under 100 yards rushing per game and had only given up three touchdowns on the ground. Going up against that, Fournette was handed the ball 31 times where he smashed and cut his way to 180 yards and two touchdowns. It was easily the toughest test Fournette’s faced all year and his response was monstrous. The season’s far from over, but on his current pace Fournette’s got to be a favorite for the Heisman at the end of the year.