It doesn't matter that Michigan beat Rutgers 48-42. It matters that the Wolverines needed a come-from-behind effort and three overtimes to do it.
The lament of Jim Harbaugh is a retread story, so we'll save it for another time. The thing that keeps standing out is that there is a competent Rutgers team that cannot be pushed aside. While every year is a new opportunity to start over, it's jarring how improved the Scarlet Knights look under coach Greg Schiano.
I was skeptical that Schiano 2.0 would work. It's not that I don't think Schiano is a good college coach, it's that he previously led the program at a time when there was more room for success in the skeleton Big East. And if Rutgers wanted to move forward as anything other than a doormat, its best option was to find the next Schiano, not literally hire him again. It's early, but I might have been wrong. The Scarlet Knights are 1-4, but they've been thorny, if not outright competitive.
The situation brings to mind how things might have played out if Schiano was indeed hired to coach Tennessee instead of Jeremy Pruitt in late 2017. The pressure from fans and media to move away from Schiano due to unsubstantiated claims of covering up Jerry Sandusky's crimes at Penn State ultimately worked, but it's not like Pruitt has delivered the goods. The Vols were one of the SEC teams du jour coming into the year, but they have lost five in a row by double digits. That's the first time such a streak has ever happened at Tennessee.
Schiano resurrected Rutgers from the dead once. It looks like he could do again. Every job comes with its own unique challenges and Tennessee is a vastly different job from Rutgers. Still, it would have been interesting to see what he could have done with the Volunteers.
Northwestern's defense can win the Big Ten West
An undefeated Northwestern is something that needs to be planted in our collective psyche. Following a 17-7 win over Wisconsin, the No. 19 Wildcats move to 5-0 and the remaining schedule of Michigan State, Minnesota and Illinois is very winnable. What's going to get Pat Fitzgerald's team to the Big Ten Championship Game is the same defense that's already taken them this far. The Wildcats have shut out four opponents in the second half already, including the Badgers on Saturday. I doubt Northwestern is good enough to beat Ohio State, but it is good enough defensively to share the field with them.
The JT Daniels era has arrived
Even after Daniels made his debut for No. 13 Georgia in a 31-24 win over Mississippi State, Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart remained tight-lipped about why it took the USC transfer so long to see the field this season. One can only surmise that Daniels simply hasn't been healthy enough coming off his season-ending knee injury in 2019. Otherwise, it'd be coaching malpractice. Daniels was excellent, throwing for 401 yards and four touchdowns -- and looking like the clear answer over Stetson Bennett and D'Wan Mathis. A bit ironically, Georgia has been able to win most of its games this year without needing great quarterback play because it could lean on its defense and running game. The opposite was true against a very short-handed Mississippi State team. Georgia needed Daniels to win with the rest of the team coming up short.
UCLA is the gift that keeps on giving
The Bruins would make a great Secret Santa because they give a bunch of gifts and they fly under the radar in total anonymity. A wild, but very true stat courtesy of Bryan Fischer tells the story. In three games this season, the Bruins have turned the ball over nine times, allowing opposing teams to score touchdowns off of said turnovers. Four of them came in a 38-35 loss to No. 11 Oregon on Saturday, resulting in 28 points for the Ducks. To watch UCLA, you'd actually think this is an improved team under coach Chip Kelly -- when they can hold on to the ball. But therein lies the problem.
Seven of UCLA’s nine turnovers on the season have led to an opponent touchdown.— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) November 21, 2020
BYU, Cincinnati and Coastal Carolina deserve their shots
I find myself at a bit of a crossroads with the College Football Playoff and teams from outside the Power Five conferences. I like the four-team format and I'm iffy on expansion. But I also recognize the inequity that is the plight of the BYUs, Cincinnatis and Coastal Carolinas of the world. These teams can flat-out play. Cincy and Coastal got two big wins against UCF and Appalachian State, respectively. They're getting a bigger spotlight than normal this year, which is good. But the reality of their playoff path remains the same -- which is to say, it's not great. Because of the largely conference-only slates this year, we didn't get to see Cincinnati against Nebraska or BYU against its normally tough schedule, rich in Power Five teams. It would seem as though a good compromise would be to allow them to play against Power Five competition in New Year's Six bowls -- but, again, space is limited. This is the best crop of high-end teams outside the power leagues in a while and it feels like they're going to be sold short again.
The Big 12 title race is taking shape
... sort of. There are still a lot of tiebreaker scenarios that could make things convoluted. In practice, we won't know what the matchup in Arlington will likely be for another week or two. But after Oklahoma's 41-13 win over Oklahoma State and Iowa State trashing K-State 45-0, those would be your two favorites. Texas and Oklahoma State remain in the running and the Longhorns' home game against the Cyclones in Week 13 is going to be massive. For all the early-season lumps this conference took, the ending is shaping up to be a fun one.