We’re now about two-thirds of the way through the 2020 college football season, and like the rest of 2020, there are many things that aren’t going as expected. It will be interesting to see what the remainder of the season holds. Here are the winners and losers from the most recent weekend of college football action:
It appears that Indiana’s opening-day victory against Penn State was no fluke. After having the resiliency to come back and beat the Nittany Lions (0-3, 0-3 Big Ten) in overtime, the Hoosiers (3-0, 3-0 Big Ten) won both of their next two games by double digits. In their most recent game, the Hoosiers took apart the Michigan Wolverines, a team they hadn’t beaten since 1987. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Michael Penix Jr. continues to look good under center. He completed 30 of his 50 pass attempts for 342 yards and three touchdowns against Don Brown’s Michigan defense. All of a sudden the Hoosiers are up to 10th in the nation in the AP Poll, higher than every team in the Big Ten with the exception of No. 3 Ohio State. For a program that’s been a six-to-seven-win team seemingly forever, the opportunity to potentially make a New Year’s Six bowl is probably most welcome.
Loser: Penn State
As surprisingly good as Indiana has been, Penn State has been just as surprisingly bad. It’s one thing to lose a close game on the road in overtime to a team that has turned out to be very solid. It’s another to get swatted aside at home by Maryland. The Nittany Lions lost by 16 points to the Terrapins (2-1, 2-1 Big Ten), and the score is misleading, as Penn State scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns when the game was already out of reach. Led by sophomore quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa —Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s brother — Maryland’s offense had an efficient, easy day against the Nittany Lions. When Penn State had the ball, it could not muster any running game whatsoever, forcing redshirt junior quarterback Sean Clifford to throw the ball 57 times, and it was clear that he could not handle that load. Clifford completed fewer than half of his passes and turned the ball over three times, one of which was a fumble return for a touchdown. This season has been nothing short of a train wreck thus far in Happy Valley.
It’s only No. 22 Liberty’s third season in the Football Bowl Subdivison (FBS), and yet it already looks very comfortable in the top division of college football. The Flames (7-0) are off to a perfect start this season, as it hasn’t just been bad teams they’ve beaten along the way. Last month, the Flames earned at 17-point road victory against Syracuse, an ACC Division opponent, and this past week the Flames defeated another ACC opponent. Last week’s game against Virginia Tech was a lot closer than the game against Syracuse, but Liberty still managed to march into Blacksburg and put up 466 yards of offense and 38 points in the home of a program with a history of success. The game ended on a game-winning, 51-yard field goal by senior kicker Alex Barbir. With four games remaining on its schedule, it is very possible that Liberty reaches double-digit wins this season, an impressive feat.
Last week was the first week of the Pac-12 football season, and yet hardly anyone is talking about it. It is true that the conference has far fewer quality teams this season than the other Power Five conferences do, but it even feels like the few quality teams the conference has aren’t playing any games with consequence. Last week’s Pac-12 games might have been overshadowed by marquee matchups like Florida vs. Georgia and Clemson at Notre Dame, but even so, there was very little attention being paid to No. 12 Oregon’s victory over Stanford, a significant rivalry game that used to carry so much weight in the national conversation. Though the season is just getting started, it feels like the Pac-12 may have kicked off just a bit too late to have any chance of its teams competing for a national title. A Pac-12 team may have to go undefeated in order to be in the College Football Playoff conversation, and even then, a spot is no guarantee. We don’t yet know how the selection committee will judge an 8-0 Pac-12 record against an 11-1 record of an SEC or ACC team, for instance, but common sense seems to lean in favor of the team that played 50 percent more games. The Pac-12 scrambled to put a season together in time for CFP consideration, and while they made the official deadline, they still may have just missed the train.