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Turnover-prone Buckeyes’ hold on No. 1 in danger after slipping past NIU

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Ohio State entered the season as a unanimous pick as the Associated Press‘ top-ranked team.  After an uneven Week 2 win over Hawaii, OSU saw that support erode a bit.  After Week 3?  They might have to worry about staying in the top two or three, pending the outcome of Ole Miss-Alabama and SMU-TCU.

In a performance eerily reminiscent of the pre-Urban Meyer Luke Fickell days, OSU, at least on one side of the ball, looked sluggish and discombobulated and generally uninspired as it held on to beat Northern Illinois in Columbus by the score of 20-13.  The win over a team that was a 35-point underdog was the Buckeyes’ nation’s best 16th straight, with the last loss coming in Week 2 of the 2014 season against Virginia Tech.

NIU, a better team than most had given them credit for when criticizing OSU’s schedule, was in the game until the very end, forcing OSU to punt — after some very questionable clock management and the inability to convert on a third-and-two — with under 1:30 remaining and taking over at their own 20-yard line.  Four plays failed to gain a yard, however, as the Buckeyes’ held on and escaped with the win.

Defensively, OSU looked very much like the No. 1 team in the country.  Going up against an offense that came into the game ranked eighth in total offense nationally (594 yards per game), the Buckeyes allowed just 190 yards to the Huskies.  One of their two touchdowns was scored by the defense, a 41-yard interception return by Darron Lee that turned out to be the game-winning score.

Offensively, though, they didn’t look as if they could beat a Div. III team this afternoon.  Hell, a good high school defense may have given them issues, for that matter.

Whether it was turnovers (five, three interceptions and two lost fumbles) or penalties (seven) or just a game-long funk that hovered over the entire unit, the Buckeyes couldn’t get much of anything going on that side of the ball.  An ineffective Cardale Jones was replaced in the first half by J.T. Barrett, who was equally ineffective.  The two combined to complete 15-of-28 passes for a mere 133 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.

As ineffective as the passing game was, the ground attack wasn’t much better.  Entering the game, the Buckeyes’ averaged 6.4 yards per carry; against the Huskies, they managed just 4.8 yards a tote.

The good news for the Buckeyes is that, thanks to a very favorable schedule, they have a handful of games to turn things around offensively before their first real test.  OSU will likely be favored by double digits in its next seven games — home dates with Western Michigan, Maryland, Penn State and Minnesota, road trips to Indiana, Rutgers and Illinois — before playing host to fourth-ranked Michigan State Nov. 21.

As for whether Ohio State will, or even should, remain No. 1?  I can’t speak for the real voters, but I know my Fifth Quarter Top Five will have a decidedly different look up top very early Sunday morning.

Alabama and Clemson remain top two national title favorites according to Bovada

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Alabama and Clemson appear to be on a collision course for a third straight meeting in the College Football Playoff national championship, and the Crimson Tide and defending national champion Tigers remain the top two favorites to win the national championship this season, according to the latest updated odds from Bovada.

Alabama’s odds have moved to 19/10 after being 2/1 last week. Right behind Alabama is Clemson at 9/2 a week after having 11/2 odds. Despite having one loss on their record already, the Ohio State Buckeyes remain in the thick of the race as well with the third-best national title odds after four weeks of play. Ohio State is listed at 7/1 by Bovada, staying ahead of USC (15/2) and Oklahoma (8/1) despite a head-to-head loss to the Sooners in Columbus in Week 2.

Penn State comes in at 10/1, followed by Michigan at 12/1. Georgia is on the rise as well with 14/1 odds to stay ahead of Washington (16/1). The biggest drop of the week was by Oklahoma State, who fell from 9/1 to 20/1 after a home loss to TCU. The Horned Frogs jumped up from 75/1 to 33/1 this week.

Bovada also updated their Heisman Trophy odds, with Penn State running back Saquon Barkley moving to the top of the board.

Saquon Barkley ascends to top of Bovada’s Heisman Trophy board

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Coming off a monster performance against Iowa, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley is now the new leader in the clubhouse for the Heisman Trophy, according to Bovada at least.

Bovada’s weekly updated Heisman odds put Barkley atop the Heisman board with 7/4 odds. He moves ahead of Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, USC quarterback Sam Darnold, and 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson of Louisville, and separates himself from Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph.

Barkley has rushed for 518 yards with four rushing touchdowns in the first four weeks of the season. That alone would not be worthy of such high Heisman praise, of course, but Barkley has shown how good he is by contributing to the Penn State passing game. Barkley currently leads the Big Ten with 23 receptions and a conference-leading 335 receiving yards. Barkley has also added some yards on special teams returns, although he has not broken loose for a significant kickoff return just yet.

Barkley is not the only running back moving up Bovada’s board, however. Stanford running back Bryce Love went from 66/1 up to 33/1 following a big performance against UCLA. LOve is currently the nation’s leading rusher.

Two players were dropped from the Bovada board this week. Ohio State freshman running back J.K. Dobbins went from having 25/1 odds last week to off the board this week. I’m not entirely sure why Dobbins fell off the map so quickly, but he’ll have a chance to pop back on the board in the coming weeks. LSU running back Derrius Guice also fell off the board this week after having 50/1 odds last week.

Rutgers loses CB Blessuan Austin to season-ending ACL injury

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Rutgers cornerback Blessuan Austin will miss the remainder of the 2017 season after suffering a season-ending ACL injury on the road at Nebraska this past weekend. Rutgers head coach Chris Ash confirmed the unfortunate news for the Scarlet Knights at a press conference Monday morning.

“As most of you know, Blessuan Austin came out of that game,” Ash said, per NJ.com. “It was confirmed yesterday with an MRI that he has a torn ACL and will miss the rest of the season.”

With Austin now gone for the rest of the season just as Big Ten play opened up, Rutgers will bump Damon Hayes into the spot as a starter in the secondary.

“He played in place of Blessuan and did some good things. He has to continue to improve and develop,” Ash explained. “But I really like Damon and excited for him to go out and have this opportunity and be a full-time starter.”

Rutgers is currently ranked fifth in the Big Ten in passing defense with an average of 179.5 passing yards allowed per game, with five touchdowns allowed and five interceptions. Austin, a junior, had recorded one of those interceptions.

Luke Del Rio back in the saddle as Florida’s starting QB

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Before the headlines in Gainesville took a rough turn for the worst off the field, Florida head coach Jim McElwain created some news with addressing the offense. This week, Luke Del Rio will be the starting quarterback for the Gators.

This comes as little surprise for a team that has been struggling on offense for the majority of the season. Despite a miracle finish against Tennessee two weeks ago, Feleipe Franks struggled on the road against Kentucky, forcing McElwain to make a switch to get Del Rio back in the fold on the field. As a result, whether coincidence or not, Del Rio led the Gators to avoid the school’s first loss to Kentucky in over three decades.

First up for Del Rio as the Florida starter will be Vanderbilt, who comes off a drubbing at the hands of Alabama. Before the Crimson Tide came to Nashville, the Commodores were hailed as having one of the top defenses in the SEC outside of Tuscaloosa. This will be no easy task for Del Rio and the Gators against Vanderbilt because they still do not have the kind of offense that can overpower their opponent the way Alabama can.

Florida has a long way to go, but we’ll see if Del Rio can keep any momentum on their side for more than one week.