Ohio State’s College Football Playoff hopes aren’t dead after a surprising 35-28 home loss to Oregon on Saturday, but the Buckeyes now have absolutely no margin for error.
Ohio State was a two-touchdown favorite at home against a Ducks team playing without their top two defensive players: defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux and linebacker Justin Flowe. But the absence of those two stars wouldn’t matter. Ohio State had plenty of offensive success, but the defense had absolutely no answers for what Ducks offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead was dialing up over the course of 60 minutes.
Ohio State’s defense showed flaws throughout the 2020 season, particularly against the pass. The secondary still has holes (Oregon had 236 yards and 2 TDs through the air), but Kerry Coombs’ unit had no answer for the variety of run looks Oregon was throwing at it all afternoon long. Minnesota RB Mohamed Ibrahim was able to pick up yards in bunches last week, but the Ducks were even better.
Oregon racked up a whopping 269 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, routinely outflanking a confused OSU defense on the perimeter with C.J. Verdell, Anthony Brown and Travis Dye. It was a master class by Moorhead, one of the game’s top play-callers, and a head-scratching performance from Ohio State that leaves one of the main preseason national title contenders teetering early in the month of September.
Despite Saturday’s disappointment, all hope is not lost for Ryan Day and the Buckeyes. Especially since Clemson started the season with a loss.
OSU has an electric offense. The Buckeyes put up more than 600 yards on the Ducks on Saturday, with C.J. Stroud passing for 484 yards in just his second career start. Stroud made a few mistakes in the loss, but he’s still got a deep group of running backs and the best receiving corps in the country on his side. In fact, three receivers — Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson — all topped 100 yards on Saturday. That’s elite production.
On the heels of Saturday’s loss, the Buckeyes has the respite of visits from Tulsa and Akron before diving back into Big Ten play. And it’d be a shock if Ohio State wasn't the favorite in all 10 of its remaining regular season games. Clemson is in that situation too. The Tigers should be favored in all of them.
But Ohio State's schedule looks far tougher than Clemson's. And that could be a deciding factor if both teams finish 12-1 with conference titles.
Ohio State has an Oct. 30 home game with No. 11 Penn State on the schedule in addition to an annual rivalry game with Michigan. Other than a 2016 heartbreaker in Happy Valley, Ohio State has had Penn State’s number throughout the James Franklin era in State College. OSU’s road games are against Rutgers, Indiana, Nebraska and the Wolverines while Maryland, Purdue and Michigan State are the other conference home games other than Penn State.
If the Buckeyes take care of business and avoid another slip-up, there’s plenty of precedent in the playoff era of a one-loss team cracking the field of four. If Iowa keeps playing at a high level and represents the Big Ten West, a potential Big Ten title victory over the Hawkeyes will serve as an excellent resume boost as well.
But all of that is easier said than done. If the Ohio State defense continues to play at the level it has through two weeks, this team is very susceptible to another loss.
Oregon OC Joe Moorhead: The former Mississippi State head coach called one of his best games as Oregon’s offensive coordinator in the Ducks’ big win at Ohio State. Moorhead clearly saw something on tape on the perimeter of Ohio State’s defense as Oregon kept finding success running to the edges. That run game also set up opportunities in the passing game as Anthony Brown threw two TDs and didn’t turn the ball over. If Oregon’s offense keeps playing like this, it’s only a matter of time before Moorhead gets another head coaching job.
Iowa’s defense: The Hawkeyes’ defense dominated in Week 1 against Indiana and continued that fine form on Saturday against Iowa State. Iowa forced four turnovers as ISU QB Brock Purdy threw three interceptions in the 27-17 win. Iowa has now forced seven turnovers in two games — that’s a rate that won’t continue. But Iowa isn’t worrying about that right now. The Hawkeyes have the best two wins of any team in college football right now and look like the favorites in the Big Ten West.
Georgia QB Stetson Bennett: With JT Daniels out with an oblique injury he suffered against Clemson in Week 1, Stetson Bennett got the chance to start for the first time since Daniels took over in the second half of the 2020 season. And boy, Bennett played better in Georgia’s romp over UAB than he did at any point last season. Bennett was 10-of-12 passing for 288 yards and threw five touchdowns in the 56-7 win. It doesn’t seem like Daniels is going to be out for a while, but if he misses next week’s game against South Carolina, Georgia fans should have more confidence in Bennett than they did last year.
Florida QB Anthony Richardson: Is there a quarterback controversy in Gainesville? Richardson was 3-of-3 passing for 152 yards and two touchdowns while rushing four times for 115 yards in Florida’s 42-20 win over South Florida. That was in contrast to Emory Jones going 14-of-22 for 151 yards and a TD and two interceptions with 13 carries for 81 yards and a score.
Florida was obviously much more explosive with Richardson on the field and coach Dan Mullen has a huge decision to make ahead of Week 3 because the Gators are up against Alabama. There’s little margin for error in his decision. Will he go with Jones, the guy who has been the presumptive starter ever since Kyle Trask left? Or did Richardson earn the job on Saturday?
Kentucky: The Wildcats are 2-0 and have looked pretty good doing it. Kentucky beat Missouri 35-28 in what could be a pivotal game for the SEC East standings at the end of the season. Kentucky rushed for 340 yards against the Tigers as Chris Rodriguez rushed 27 times for 206 yards and three touchdowns. Nebraska transfer Wan'Dale Robinson might also be one of the best offseason additions in the SEC. He had 174 yards rushing and receiving in the win. So far, so good with the new and improved UK offense.
BYU: The streak is finally over. For the first time since 2009, BYU beat Utah. Saturday night's 26-17 victory in Provo snapped a nine-game losing streak for the Cougars in the series. In the win, BYU QB Jaren Hall threw three touchdown passes while the defense limited the Utes to 2-of-9 on third down, 0-for-2 on fourth down and forced two turnovers. Finally beating Utah and joining the Big 12 in the same week? The vibes are really good for the Cougars.
Arkansas: How about Sam Pittman and the Razorbacks? After an uneven Week 1 performance against Rice last week, Arkansas demolished No. 15 Texas at home, 40-21. The Razorbacks put up 471 yards of offense, including 333 yards on the ground. Texas looked overmatched from the start and finished the game with only 118 passing yards.
Purdue WR David Bell: We’re starting this entry with the caveat that UConn is going to make a lot of teams and players look good this season. But David Bell is legitimately good. And he had six catches for 121 yards and three scores in Purdue’s 49-0 win over the Huskies. Bell was overlooked over the last two seasons as Rondale Moore was Purdue’s star receiver. But he had 86 catches for 1,035 yards as a freshman in 2019 and had 53 catches for 625 yards in the shortened 2020 season. This season he’s already caught 14 passes for 255 yards. He’ll be playing on Sundays soon.
Army: How do you beat a team that throws for 435 yards on just 40 passes? You run the ball 67 times for 339 yards. Army held off Western Kentucky 38-35 to move to 2-0 on Saturday. QB Christian Anderson carried the ball 22 times for 119 yards and was five-of-six passing for 77 yards and a score. Army had four touchdown drives of at least 10 plays as Western Kentucky tried to keep up in the second half. The Black Knights are looking very good through two weeks.
Texas A&M: Yeah, the Aggies are 2-0 and got a win over a Power Five team, but there wasn’t much to like from A&M’s 10-7 win over Colorado. The defense was fantastic, but the offense struggled to move the ball and QB Haynes King could be out a while after suffering a left leg injury during the first half. He was replaced by Zach Calzada and he threw the game-winning TD to Isaiah Spiller with less than three minutes left. But it shouldn’t have taken A&M nearly 57 minutes to score a TD no matter who was playing QB. We’re intrigued to see where the Aggies end up in Sunday’s AP poll.
Notre Dame: This is no way to keep living, Notre Dame. A week after getting taken to overtime by Florida State the Irish had to score a TD with less than two minutes left to beat Toledo. Notre Dame RB Kyren Williams fumbled with 3:26 left and that led to a go-ahead TD for the Rockets. Notre Dame didn’t take long to get back into the lead, however, and escaped with a 32-29 win after Jack Coan’s go-ahead TD pass to Michael Mayer. With Purdue, Wisconsin and Cincinnati looming on the schedule over the next three weeks, Notre Dame needs to start playing better if it wants to keep winning.
Washington: This is a brutal start for the Huskies. Washington is 0-2 to start a season for the first time since it went 0-12 in 2008. The Huskies lost 31-10 at Michigan on Saturday night after losing to Montana in Week 1. The good news is that there are no more teams with names that start with "M" on the schedule for Washington. The bad news is that Washington has an offense that is struggling to run the ball. The Huskies rushed 32 times for 50 yards against Michigan. When you run a conservative "pro-style" attack like Washington, you have to be able to run the ball effectively.
Florida State: FSU put forth such a valiant effort in its overtime loss to Notre Dame in Week 1. In Week 2, the Seminoles completely laid an egg. Florida State lost to Jacksonville State, an FCS team, in brutal fashion. The Seminoles had a 17-14 lead in the final seconds of regulation, yet allowed Jacksonville State to score the game-winning touchdown as time expired via a 59-yard touchdown pass. It was an inexplicable coverage bust and an inexcusable loss for Mike Norvell's program.
USC: Welcome back to the hot seat, Clay Helton. USC turned in an ugly performance on Saturday night, losing 42-28 at home to Stanford. Stanford barely put up 200 yards of offense in a Week 1 loss to Kansas State, yet had no issue moving the ball up and down the field against the Trojans. USC hurt itself too. There were costly penalties and a brutal pick-six thrown by Kedon Slovis. At one point in the fourth quarter, Stanford's lead was 42-13. That's a horrific look for Helton and the Trojans.
Syracuse: The Orange had a prime chance to go to 2-0 on Saturday and instead lost 17-7 to Rutgers at home. The game was 0-0 at half before Rutgers scored two TDs in the third quarter that effectively put the game out of reach. Syracuse had just 258 yards of total offense and played both Tommy DeVito and Garrett Shrader at QB to little success while fumbling inside its own 20 and, inexplicably, punting in Rutgers territory in the fourth quarter. Rutgers, meanwhile, had less than 200 yards of offense and averaged less than three yards a play and still won by two possessions.
Cal: The Bears lost 34-32 to TCU to drop to 0-2. And that two-point loss could have easily been a one-point win. Cal long snapper Slater Zellers had a bad snap on the first TD and the conversion failed. Coach Justin Wilcox then went for two on the next TD to make up the lost point and that failed. Cal scored with 4:09 to go and the extra point would have been for the tie had it converted PATs on the first two TDs of the game. Instead, Cal had to go for two again and that failed.
Ohio: The post-Frank Solich era is not going well. Ohio lost by 20 to Syracuse to start the season and then suffered an even worse loss on Saturday. The Bobcats inexplicably lost 28-26 at home to Duquesne — the same Duquesne team that lost by 42 to TCU in Week 1 after the teams agreed to play shorter quarters in the second half. Ohio scored with nine seconds left to cut Ohio’s lead to two and had the chance to send the game to overtime. But Kurtis Rourke’s pass fell incomplete and the Dukes beat their first FBS opponent ever.
Navy: You know it’s a bad loss when you fire your offensive coordinator hours after the game. Navy fired offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper after the Midshipmen lost 23-3 at home to Air Force on Saturday. Jasper had been the OC at Navy for 23 years and it’s fair to wonder if the offensive showing on Saturday was the worst of his tenure. Navy rushed the ball 34 times for 36 yards and threw it 10 times for 32 yards. Yes, that’s 68 total yards. Navy lost 49-7 to Marshall in its opener, giving it a total of 10 points through two games.
Colorado State: There's not much to be optimistic about right now if you're a Colorado State fan. The Rams embarrassingly lost 42-23 to South Dakota State in Week 1. On Saturday night, they followed that up by losing 24-21 to Vanderbilt, a team that lost 23-3 to East Tennessee State in Week 1 and was mired in an 11-game losing streak. CSU is now just 1-5 under Steve Addazio, whose hire looks worse and worse by the week.