4 Washington State…The Washington State Cougars have taken over the fourth spot this week in our playoff rankings thanks to their 31-10 win at Oregon on Saturday night coupled with Oklahoma’s stunning home loss against Iowa State.
Senior QB Luke Falk continued his solid campaign on Saturday night by leading the Cougars to a huge road win in Eugene over the Ducks. Falk is now third nationally with 2000 yards passing and a completion percentage of 71.8. He’s also leading the nation with 19 touchdown passes.
But do you want to know the main reason why the Cougars are a realistic national championship contender? Because for the first time since Mike Leach started coaching here in 2012, the Wazzu defense is legit.
Since coordinator Alex Grinch was hired in 2015, the Cougars defense has seen marked improvement each season after allowing 442 yards per game the year before Grinch arrived, which was good for just 99th nationally.
This is how far the Cougars defense has come over the three seasons led by Grinch…
2017…275 yards per game/11th nationally
2016…405 yards per game/62nd nationally
2015…416 yards per game/84th nationally
That’s over 165 yards per game better than the year before Grinch took over. And the Cougars have proven themselves even against the preseason anointed top pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Sam Darnold. Grinch’s unit held the USC offense to 140 yards below their season average in a 30-27 win in Pullman on September 29th.
The Cougars defense continued to rock on Saturday night with four sacks, 11 tackles for loss while forcing three turnovers as they beat Oregon for a third consecutive season.
They’ve been able to stay a consistent unit all season even after losing their leader at linebacker, Peyton Pelluer, who went down with a season-ending broken foot injury against Oregon State on September 16th.
That’s the beauty of Grinch’s defense. There are no superstars here. You can’t scheme them by avoiding a player or two.
But the journey is only half complete. There are four more road games left on the schedule including the 100th version of The Apple Cup which will take place in Seattle this season against Washington, the defending Pac-12 Champions.
So while this is a nice story to discuss on October 10th, the fact remains that if Washington State can’t find a way to win their fifth-ever conference title including a third from the Pac-12, that’s all this will end up being in the end. A nice story.
I have a feeling there is more to this than just a nice story. Who knows? Maybe something historical.
Tune in to OFN College Football Preview every Friday for more in-depth analysis on the players and teams making our headlines each week and all season long.
OFN Rankings…Each week we rank our top teams projected to make the final four as well as leading contenders, risers and our “Group of Five” teams battling it out for a major bowl.
Final Four…Our current picks to make the playoffs.
6 Georgia…The Bulldogs defense continues to dominate as they prove once again that they’re the class of the SEC East.
7 Washington…After this week’s game at Arizona State the Huskies will have one road game left on the season, giving them a good chance to run the table. But that one game happens to be at Stanford against the nation’s leading rusher, Bryce Love. First things first though as Todd Graham has his best team since 2014 and a week off to prepare.
8 Auburn…Since looking over-matched against Clemson on September 9th, QB Jarrett Stidham has hit on 79% of his passes (72-91) over his last four games. But now the tests are ramping up again with three straight road games followed by a home game against Georgia and then another one at home with Alabama a week later. The Auburn defense has what it takes to get them to the Georgia game without another loss, but then it will be up to Stidham to grow up and get them over the top if he can.
9 Oklahoma…Once again the Big 12 gets the shaft.
10 TCU…Sorry, but I still don’t believe QB Kenny Hill will win when the chips are down and the pressure is on. Maybe the Wildcats will get them this week.
Also in the running…Miami, NC State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma State and Ohio State.
GROUP OF FIVE…Our leading contenders for the one major bowl invite extended to the top-ranked team from the non-Power Five FBS conferences.
1 San Diego State…Rashaad Penny gained 170 more yards on Saturday night and only trails Bryce Love as the nation’s leading rusher. I’m sure Penny is just fine with that considering the Aztecs came out ahead in the win column over Love’s Cardinal on September 16th, which gives Penny and his team an outside shot for the playoffs, let alone a “Group of Five” invite.
2 Central Florida…QB McKenzie Milton was spectacular on Saturday against Cincinnati passing for 374 yards on 16 for 19 and five TDs.
3 South Florida…The Bulls schedule is tailor-made for an undefeated run until they take on UCF to end the regular season in Orlando. Can’t wait.
4 Colorado State…Senior QB Nick Stevens is 40 for 56 with 644 yards passing, 6 TDs and no INTs in his first two MWC games for the Rams. It looks like we could be getting a Rams/Aztecs championship game for all the marbles.
5 Troy…A win over LSU gives the Trojans the edge for the final spot here. They have a good remaining schedule too until they face Arkansas State to end the season in Jonesboro. That could decide their fate.