Week 4 college football preview, Heisman watch

What’s a 21st century college football season without someone pouring it out for a rivalry on the cusp of departing the scene?

And so it came to pass this week for the Bedlam series, a Bedrock game for Oklahoma and Oklahoma State since before Oklahoma was even a state. (The schools met three times before the Sooner State’s admission on Nov. 16, 1907).

Shot: A report from Action Network’s Brett McMurphy that a series that has been played continuously since 1910 — Surviving multiple pandemics and world Wars — will come to a halt when Oklahoma enters the SEC in 2025.

Chaser: Oklahoma State Coach Mike Gundy calling a spade a spade while reading from prepared notes.

“Bedlam is history,” Gundy told reporters. “We all know that. We’ve known that. Because OU chose to follow Texas and the money to the SEC. It’s okay.”

Gundy was a teensy bit self-serving in his delivery, but his overall point stands: Oklahoma took the money and ran. Left unspoken is another truth: Oklahoma State surely would have done the same if the opportunity presented itself.

Two things are worth mentioning here. One is that if both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State were really committed to the series, they could toss aside scheduling philosophies, cancel contracts with other schools and play the game each September if they chose. Of course, they aren’t the first schools to opt against a continuing rivalry.

In fact, McMurphy rattled off a few, a group that included Texas-Arkansas (an old Southwest Conference rivalry) and Texas-Texas A&M (a much-mourned Lone Star State rivalry on hiatus since 2011). Both are a good bet to resume immediately when the Longhorns move to the SEC in 2025 with Oklahoma.

All of which means there’s some hope for Bedlam. It’s just one conference move from picking back up. Maybe it’s a decade or three away, but the ever-shifting Tectonic plates of college sports could bring them back together eventually. One thing’s for sure: Money, not logic, will spur the reunion.

After promising to apply a “New Leadership Model” that always seemed more appropriate for an MBA candidate than an NFL prospect, stumbling into hot water with the NCAA during the Pandemic and seeing a coaching staff experience Massive turnover, Arizona State parted with Herm Edwards on Sunday for the Cardinal sin of losing to Eastern Michigan.

That development is about the least wonky thing to happen in Edwards’ tenure, which even as it began seemed like more of a curious lab experiment whose primary benefit was that it had never been tried before than a truly logical approach.

But don’t take my word for it in 2022. Take my word for it from 2018.

Let’s ignore the news Releases littered with business jargon and state the basics about the Herm Edwards hire: He’s a 64-year-old who hasn’t coached anywhere since 2008 and hasn’t worked in the college game since 1989. “Innovative” is the upbeat spin for the hire. (Okay, the business jargon couldn’t be completely avoided.) “Unconventional” probably is the fairest assessment.

That said, the Sun Devils are 67-60 over the past decade, and they regressed after back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2013 and 2014. Sure, it’s a risk. But sometimes risk is necessary for a program that probably needs to be a little different to achieve sustained high-end success.

Arizona State went 6-7, 5-7 and 7-6 over the last three seasons. It would be amusing — and plausible — if the Sun Devils ended up in that neighborhood again in Edwards’ first season.

Well, Edwards rattled off a 7-6 out of the chute, then put together a pair of 8-5s around a 2-2 Pandemic season. The Sun Devils went 4-0 against Arizona (which is good) and 22-20 against everyone else (which is forgettable and includes a 1-2 start this year).

Kansas is 3-0. Yeah, Kansas is 3-0. That’s right, Kansas is 3-0.

It’s fitting, really. Arizona State is a program that is the definition of undistinguished pretty much since Jake Plummer’s college career ended. The Sun Devils have four top-25 Associated Press poll finishes in the last 24 seasons. They’ve landed in the top 10 exactly one time in the last 15 years, the week of Nov. 9, 2014.

Yes, there was a 9-3 in 2004, a 10-3 in 2007 and back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2013-2014. The Sun Devils have rarely flirted with being terrible in the last quarter-century; low tide was a 4-8 run in 2009. But they’ve rarely proven all that interesting, either.

The Puzzler is why. It’s not as if Arizona State is bereft of football history, even if its best days were before it joined the Pac-10/Pac-12. It might not have the immediate access to Talent of a Southern California, but it is in a major metro area (Phoenix) in a fast-growing state (though not as rapidly over the last decade).

Yes, college football is a zero-sum game, but the Sun Devils probably should have some higher — and more sustainable — peaks than they’ve enjoyed. It doesn’t require a business school textbook to figure that out.

But whoever’s next faces a hole. NCAA penalties are probably coming. Edwards went all-in on the transfer Portal amid the program’s tumult, so the current foundation is shaky. The same could be said about the Pac-12-Soon-To-Be-Minus-Two.

Arizona State’s “New Leadership Model” is history. Its penchant for struggling to get Traction in football probably isn’t. The Sun Devils still would be wise to be a little different moving forward. Just not that different.

Five with the most at stake

A look at some teams with the chance to prove plenty in Week 4.

1. Tennessee. The No. 11 Volunteers (3-0) are the only team in the SEC that plays Alabama, Florida and Georgia every season, and they’ve dropped a combined 16 in a row to those three since 2016. The first step for them toward truly being taken seriously is beating any one of that group. Well. 20 Florida (2-1, 0-1 SEC) rolls into Knoxville for Tennessee’s conference opener this week.

2. Wake Forest. Way back in 2008, the Demon Deacons beat Clemson, 12-7, on a Thursday night in what proved to be Tommy Bowden’s final game in charge of the Tigers. Since then, Wake Forest is 0-for-Dabo. It’s no secret the ACC’s final Atlantic Division title will run through No. 5 Clemson. The No. 21 Demon Deacons (3-0) fended off Liberty last week, and will need to be better to gain strong positioning for a second consecutive Atlantic crown.

College football best bets: Clemson will be too much for Wake Forest

3. Arkansas. The No. 10 The Razorbacks weren’t especially sharp against old friend Bobby Petrino and Missouri State last week. But they’re still 3-0 heading into their annual date with No. 23 Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas. The Hogs play four of their next five away from Fayetteville, and deciphering the Aggies’ defense would be a welcome sign heading into a rigorous October.

4a. Southern California and 4b. Oregon State. The No. 7 Trojans head to Corvallis to take on the spunky Beavers in a Matchup of 3-0 teams. It won’t get many eyeballs on it outside the West Coast thanks to its Pac-12 Network placement, but it’s a Tricky contest for USC and a prove-it game for Oregon State, which finds itself as part of the Pacific Northwest’s impressive start to the season.

5. Minnesota. The Gophers (3-0) aren’t a popular topic of conversation, at least not yet. Victories over New Mexico State, Western Illinois and a sad-sack Colorado team won’t help anyone’s profile this year. They head to a Michigan State bunch coming off a lackluster showing at Washington, and beating the Spartans in East Lansing makes a run at a Big Ten West title a bit more plausible.

A Weekly look at the race for college football’s favorite stiff-arming statue.

1. QB CJ Stroud, Ohio State (941 yards, 11 TDs, 0 INTs passing). Shredded Toledo for 367 yards and five touchdowns as the Buckeyes wrapped up nonconference play with a rout. (Last week: 2)

2. QB Bryce Young, Alabama (644 yards, 9 TDs, 2 INTs passing; 144 yards, 2 TDs rushing). Tossed a couple interceptions in a 63-7 bludgeoning of Louisiana-Monroe. That knocks the Defending Heisman Winner from the top spot, but plenty of opportunities to pile up big numbers still await. (LW: 1)

3. QB Caleb Williams, Southern California (874 yards, 8 TDs, 0 INTs passing; 73 yards, 2 TDs rushing). Wasn’t quite as efficient against Fresno State as he was in the Trojans’ first two games, but still completed 25 of 37 for 284 yards and two touchdowns. USC’s going to be fine if those are Williams’ slightly off outings. (LW: 3)

4. QB Stetson Bennett IV, Georgia (952 yards, 5 TDs, 0 INTs passing; 31 yards, 3 TDs rushing). Whatever path exists for this candidacy is tied to other high-profile QBs flopping (which hasn’t happened yet) and Bennett putting up solid, mistake-free numbers while the Bulldogs keep rolling (which has happened). (LW: 5)

Georgia can break your spirit. Just look at South Carolina’s empty stands.

5. QB Michael Penix Jr., Washington (1,079 yards, 10 TDs, 1 INT passing; 31 yards rushing). Penix recorded his best career passing efficiency rating in 2019, when Kalen DeBoer was his Offensive Coordinator at Indiana. Now reunited with the new Huskies head coach in Seattle — and, more importantly, healthy — they dissected Michigan State for 397 yards and four touchdowns last week. (LW: Not ranked)

6. LB Will Anderson, Alabama (15 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT). That’s more like it. Anderson had an off day against Texas, but delivered an interception return for a touchdown against Louisiana-Monroe. Anderson was arguably the best player in the country last season, and he could improve on his fifth-place Heisman finish from 2021. (LW: NR)

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