The clock is winding down on the first half of the college football season. Instead of throwing it down to the sideline reporter for a word from the coach, we’ll keep it here and break down the first half, starting with some superlatives.
Top player: Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Jackson has been the dynamic standout of the first half, ranking second in the nation in total offense. He has rushed for 14 touchdowns and passed for 14 scores. From appearing on approximately zero preseason Heisman watchlists, Jackson has become the midseason favorite.
About that preseason watchlist, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson remains in the race. Coming from off the pace are Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, Washington quarterback Jake Browning and Michigan linebacker Jabrill Peppers.
Looking for a wild card? If Nebraska keeps rolling, watch for Tommy Armstrong to emerge if the Cornhuskers continue their undefeated season.
Best game: Several candidates here but Clemson’s 42-36 survival of Louisville lived up to the hype. Jackson and Watson were terrific and if it remains the Cardinals’ lone loss of the season, they’ll get a strong look from the College Football Playoff committee when measured against teams with similar records.
On second thought game: Texas’ 50-47 double-overtime victory over Notre Dame was a highlight of the opening weekend. Both teams received favorable reviews for the effort and the Longhorns seemed poised for a big season. But they’ve combined for a total of seven losses this season and seats are getting hotter for the Longhorns’ Charlie Strong and the Fighting Irish’s Brian Kelly.
Speaking of hot seats, LSU coach Les Miles wasn’t the first coach fired this season. One day earlier, Florida International handed Ron Turner his walking papers. But the college football viewing world got to witness Miles’ last stand, a loss at Auburn when a Tigers’ touchdown on the final play was ruled to have begun after time expired.
Besides Strong and Kelly and despite the victory that night over LSU, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn would help his job security with a strong finish. Same for Oregon’s Mark Helfrich.
First half surprises, by power five conference: Texas A&M, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Wake Forest, Washington.
First half disappointments: LSU, Michigan State, Texas, Florida State, Stanford.
Top second-half storyline: Big 12 expansion. Commissioner Bob Bowlsby is scheduled to hold a news conference on Monday and discuss the topic that has boiled on the front burner since July. Will the league expand? The guess here is not yet but won’t close the door on the possibility of growth over the next few years.
Among other stories to follow, potential CFP controversy. This could all work out nice and neat if Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State or Michigan and Washington run the table, and the Big 12 unbeatens — Baylor and West Virginia — lose. But nothing comes easily for the CFP committee, which will begin announcing its weekly rankings on Nov. 1.
Is this year the committee selects two teams from one conference, omitting two power five champions?
Houston’s loss to Navy last weekend all but ended the Cougars’ quest of becoming the first CFP semifinalist from outside a power five league.
Alabama and Ohio State. Half a season remains but the front-runners to play for the national championship in Tampa, Fla., on Jan. 9 look unbeatable.
Which means, naturally, they’ll both find a loss in the second half, perhaps as early as Saturday as both face tough tests.
Game of the week
No. 1 Alabama at No. 9 Tennessee, 2:30 p.m. Saturday on CBS
The Vols have to be more careful with the football. They lost for the first time last week, in double overtime at Texas A&M and committed seven turnovers. Quarterback Josh Dobbs has committed 10. Tennessee has no chance against the powerful Crimson Tide with sloppy play. Alabama has taken full advantage of opponent’s mistakes, with seven touchdowns on takeaways.
Indiana over No. 10 Nebraska, 2:30 p.m. Saturday on ABC
Cornhuskers’ quarterback Armstrong has an ankle injury but should be ready to go. The Hoosiers played Ohio State tough in Columbus a week after beating Michigan State. Can Indiana prepare for a third straight tough opponent or will it run out of fuel?
Others to watch
No. 2 Ohio State at No. 8 Wisconsin, 7 p.m. Saturday on ABC
The Badgers have a chance to beat a Top 10 team for the third time this season. That hasn’t happen in Wisconsin history. The Badgers are rugged up front and will challenge the Buckeyes’ running game. Ohio State’s Barrett will look to soften the defense with some deep accuracy.
No. 24 Western Michigan at Akron, 2:30 p.m. Saturday on CBS Sports Network
A ranked team is playing at Akron for the first time. Western Michigan entered the Associated Press poll for the first time in school history, checking in at No. 24. The Broncos have won at Northwestern and Illinois, and in one of the amazing stats of the season, hasn’t turned the ball over. No other team in FBS can make that claim.