College Football: Winners & Losers – Week 9

There were a number of notable defeats at the weekend, throwing rankings and playoff chances into disarray. So let’s not mess around, who won and who lost this week…

Winners

Kenneth Walker III

Kenneth Walker and the Michigan State Spartans have appeared in this slot a number of times over the course of the season, but the transfer sensation simply couldn’t be left off the list this week.

The entirety of Michigan vs MSU was exciting but whenever the junior Running Back got the ball in his hands there was a sense of anticipation from the crowd in East Lansing. On the day Walker rushed 23 times for 197 yards, five touchdowns and an average yards per carry of 8.6. His contribution is even more impressive when the length of his TD scores are taken into consideration, 58, 27 and 23 yard scores highlight the skill set of a player who can’t be contained, no matter where the Spartans line up on the field.

With draft twitter cranking into life as we approach the end of the season, it’ll be interesting to see how analysts evaluate Walker. In his career to date he’s nearly at the 400 carry mark, which is a lot less than some of the top backs in last year’s draft, so wear and tear certainly can’t be held against him. But before the draft rolls round there’s also the small matter of the Heisman Trophy as well, Walker is amongst a few names being touted for the award at this point but it feels like a few more big performances will have him firmly cemented as a favourite.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Since their opening day epic against Florida State and their subsequent defeat to Cincinnati, there hasn’t been a lot said about the 2021 Notre Dame Fight Irish. But in recent weeks they’ve strung together a series of good performances and have picked up enough wins to catapult themselves into the top ten of the AP Poll.

A tough matchup with a wounded North Carolina team saw the Irish pick up the win on home soil in a 44-34 battle. Another solid performance by Jack Coan set the foundations for the win, but it was the performance of Kyren Williams that gave the offense enough firepower to pull away from UNC in the final quarter. Like Kenneth Walker, Williams threw his hat in the ring for ‘first Running Back off the board’ with a 202 yard display, including an aesthetically pleasing 91 yard score that capped off a big game.

On defense, Notre Dame didn’t look as solid, with Sam Howell putting up a one man fight to keep the Tar Heels in the game. However, they did come up with a big interception following the Williams TD to thoroughly swing the momentum towards the home team as the end of the game approached.

Four remaining games against Navy, Virginia, Georgia Tech and Stanford mean that the Fighting Irish have every chance to finish the season 11-1. With the way that top 10 ranked teams have been dropping in recent weeks, there’s every chance Notre Dame could end up in the playoff mix.

Appalachian State Mountaineers

This spot could have gone to any number of players / teams, including Wake Forest, Caleb Williams and Tyler Allgeier, but they’ve all enjoyed a weekend of coverage as a result of their performances. Instead, App State deserve a shout out. The Mountaineers moved to 6-2 on the season with a dominant win against Louisiana-Monroe in the beautifully located Kidd Brewer Stadium.

Saturday’s win was notable for several reasons, but the most impressive feat was the five turnover day from the Mountaineers’ defense. Ryan Huff and Trey Cobb both intercepted Jiya Wright and the Warhawks fumbled the ball away three times as App State proved their win against Coastal Carolina was no fluke.

On offense, Chase Brice continues to impress. The former Clemson and Duke signal caller put up four touchdown passes on Saturday, showing that he may have finally found an offence he’s comfortable in as his college career comes to an end. Nate Noel also enjoyed a big day, rushing for 132 yards and a score on 17 carries as he split carries with established starter Camerun Peoples.

The Mountaineers now sit top of their group in the Sun Belt, and with Coastal breathing down their necks they can’t afford another loss for the rest of the season. But if Saturday’s performance is anything to go by then they’ve got every chance of playing for a Championship in December.

Brice throws 4 TDs, Appalachian State routs La-Monroe 59-28 | WCYB
App State’s defense got the job done on Saturday (photo: WYCB News)

Losers  

Kentucky Wildcats

For a while this Kentucky Wildcats team really had top 10 vibes about them, but the SEC is eating its own this year. On Saturday, the Wildcats came up against a Mississippi State team that could do very little wrong and Kentucky were dismissed in a 31-17 game.

Bulldogs QB, Will Rogers, set a new SEC record for completion percentage as the Wildcats’ defense allowed him to complete 36 of 39 pass attempts for 344 yards and a 92% completion rate. Kentucky’s pass rush has been reliable for the Wildcats all season, but in this one they were only able to get to Rogers twice as he got the ball out of his hands quickly and standout RB, Jo’quavious Marks showed off a good understanding of his blocking assignments.

Things were worse on offense as Will Levis did not look his usual self under center. The transfer QB threw three picks and could only manage 150 yards through the air all afternoon, most of which went to his favourite target Wan’Dale Robinson. Add in the fact that Christian Rodriguez was unable to find any space in the run game and the Wildcats’ spluttered to a disappointing defeat.

Jim Harbaugh 

The Head Coaching job at Michigan is a huge job in College Football and Jim Harbaugh is currently the man lucky enough to occupy it. Entering the season there were a lot of question marks around whether Harbaugh was the right man, as the Wolverines came off of a covid-blighted 2-4 2020 season. 

So far in 2021 Michigan have been much improved, they’ve reestablished a dominant run game on the backs of Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins, Cade McNamara has proven he has the ability to win games through the air and Aidan Hutchinson has been dominant on defense.

However, on Saturday Harbaugh’s men let a 17 point lead slip as local rivals Michigan State were able to rally and get their hands on the Paul Bunyan Trophy. The loss moves the Michigan Head Coach to a 3-4 win-loss record against the Spartans, and notably he moves to 0-2 against Mel Tucker. Presumably that isn’t the record that the Athletic Department had in mind when they handed Harbaugh a four year extension in March. 

Kedon Slovis

Prior to the 2021 season, a lot of analysts were talking about USC Quarterback, Kedon Slovis, as a potential first round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Well, eight games into the Trojans’ season and Slovis is splitting time with freshman rival, Jaxson Dart – something that is not ideal for his draft stock or his immediate future as the leader of the USC offense.

To be fair to Slovis, this situation isn’t all his fault. Earlier in the season an injury forced him to miss time and I’m sure even the most ardent Trojans’ supporter was surprised at the maturity and poise that Dart showed when given his opportunity. Even so, if Slovis was truly entrenched as one of the best QB prospects in College Football he should have been able to return from injury and remove Dart from the picture.

In a twist of fate, Dart then picked up an injury himself, handing back the reins of the offense to Slovis until Saturday. Where, against Arizona, both USC signal callers spent time under center as they both threw for two scores (Slovis also threw an INT). To those watching, this seemed like a carefully planned approach from the interim USC coaching staff, but all was not as it seemed. Donte Williams didn’t tell Slovis about his plan prior to the game, and he was clearly frustrated following the game, demanding answers as to why he’d been forced to split time in his post-game remarks. 

That doesn’t seem like a Quarterback who has the confidence of the coaching staff and in reality Slovis’ draft stock is now in free fall.  

By Andy Moore – @ajmoore239

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