The Iron Skillet is heading back to Dallas for the first time in nearly a decade as one of the surprise stories of the early portion of the 2019 season has continued its unexpected winning ways — and at the expense of a rival for good measure.
The media had SMU pegged as the fourth-best team in the AAC South in its preseason poll; in his college football bible, Phil Steele had the Mustangs in third place in the division. Saturday afternoon, however, SMU showed it should be a force to contend with in the conference race as it jumped out to a 31-17 halftime lead on No. 25 TCU and then held on for a 41-38 win over the Horned Frogs.
The win gives SMU, an eight-point underdog entering the game, possession of the Iron Skillet for the first time since 2011 and just the third time since 1998.
The 4-0 start is the program’s first since the Pony Express days of 1984; a win next week would match the 5-0 start of the ’83 squad. Barring something unforeseen, the Mustangs will be ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since the 1986 season when the new poll is released Sunday afternoon.
Former Texas quarterback Shane Buechele passed for 288 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the win.
No. 8 Auburn did most of its damage to No. 17 Texas A&M on two drives. The first was the game’s opening drive, where Anthony Schwartz darted 57 yards for a touchdown. The second came midway through the fourth quarter, when the Tigers went 12 plays and 69 yards , with 11 of those plays and 62 of those yards coming on the ground, the last effectively putting the game way, as JaTavious Whitlow‘s 8-yard rush with 8:27 remaining gave Auburn a 28-10 lead en route to a 28-20 win.
Texas A&M (2-2, 0-1 SEC) rallied after the Whitlow run, moving 69 yards to set up a Seth Small field goal and then 81 yards in eight snaps to pull within 28-20 on a Kellen Mond-to-Ainias Smith strike with 2:12 remaining.
Whitlow recovered A&M’s onside kick after the Smith touchdown, allowing the Tigers to ice the game and emerge from Kyle Field with their fourth win in as many trips. Overall, the road team is 7-1 in this series since Texas A&M joined the SEC in 2012.
Auburn (4-0, 1-0 SEC) won the game because it owned the ground game. The Tigers rushed for 195 yards to the Aggies’ 56, though all but 76 of Auburn’s rushing yards came on two drives.
Bo Nix took care of the football, but threw for just 100 yards on 20 attempts and missed on three deep balls that would have broken the game open for Auburn. He did rush for six yards on a 3rd-and-5 to expire the clock inside the final minute.
Mond threw for 335 yards and two touchdowns, but needed 49 attempts to get there. He found Jhamon Ausbon eight times for 111 yards and Quartney Davis five times for 82 yards and a score, but A&M’s inability to run the ball with its running backs left Mond as the Aggies’ leading rusher at just 26 yards.
Jacob Eason returned to his hometown program to win big games and the former five-star delivered his biggest ‘W’ yet for No. 22 Washington on Saturday in a sizzling performance that resulted in a 45-19 win over BYU in Provo.
The quarterback was nearly perfect on a picture-perfect day in the Beehive State, throwing for 290 yards and a trio of impressive touchdowns. Showing off an NFL-caliber arm on many of those throws, Eason had only five incompletions against a pretty solid defense and his second half interception only came off a deflection in his most complete performance yet under Chris Petersen.
The Huskies kind of needed the outing too in bouncing back from a disappointing loss to Cal and hitting the road for the first time in 2019 without starting tailback Savon Ahmed with a leg injury. Sean McGrew (97 yards) and Richard Newton (80 yards, 1 TD) filled in admirably but Washington took to the air for most of their offense. Aaron Fuller also stood out with his play, recording eight catches for 91 yards and a score to go along with weaving 88 yard punt return in the third quarter that all but turned the game into a rout.
All told, Washington punted just once all game long and that didn’t come until the 4th quarter.
The effort was not exactly what Kalani Sitake was hoping for in BYU’s third game against the Pac-12 so far this season. The Cougars turned the ball over twice and failed to muster much in terms of sustained drives during the second half as things got away from them a week after a wild comeback against USC on the same field. Zach Wilson was under duress most of the afternoon in throwing for 277 yards, a touchdown and a pick.
All things considered though, the program probably has to be okay with coming out of the hardest opening stretch in the country at 2-2 even if the bookends of the first four weeks of the season were a little rough on the eyes.
Washington, meanwhile, will return to Seattle to face off against a USC squad brimming with confidence in their own bounce-back win against a team from Utah. The Huskies will do so with plenty of confidence themselves given the way their quarterback played in his first road as that conference clash with suddenly huge implications takes place next Saturday in the friendly confines of Husky Stadium.
After four-plus seasons, this is what all of the hope and hype was about?
When Jim Harbaugh was introduced as Michigan’s new head football coach to great fanfare on Dec. 30, 2014, it was thought that the former Wolverines quarterback was the elixir for what ailed the storied program. Here comes the Michigan Man, riding in on his white horse to save the day and rescue the football damsel in distress.
Except, that hasn’t even remotely happened.
In the four year’s prior to Harbaugh’s arrival, all under Brady Hoke, the Wolverines went 31-20 overall and 18-14 in Big Ten play; under Harbaugh in his first four, it was 38-14 and 26-9. Seven more wins overall for a coach who, last season, was the third-highest paid head coach in college football at $7.5 million?
But, the deeper you dig into the numbers the more distressing the all-too-familiar big-game failures become if you’re a fan of the program.
In games vs. ranked teams, U-M is 8-10 under Harbaugh; take out his first season in Ann Arbor, and the record is 5-8. When his team is an underdog, Harbaugh is 0-7, including the Week 4 shellacking by Wisconsin. In the postseason, the Wolverines have lost three straight bowl games.
Most distressful? Harbaugh, the khaki-clad savior, is 2-6 when facing U-M’s biggest rivals, including going winless against archnemesis Ohio State.
And, again, U-M paid Harbaugh $7.5 million in 2018 and will likely cough up even more in 2019.
“I’m hurt. I’m hurtin’. I need some words of encouragement if you would. Somebody give me something,” current FOX Sports college football analyst and former U-M great Charles Woodson, seated next to a smirking Meyer on-set Saturday afternoon, lamented. “That [hurt] real.”
The murmuring surrounding Harbaugh and his inability to get the Wolverines back onto the national stage and into the College Football Playoff discussion on any type of regular basis has grown louder over the past year or so. Getting pushed around and embarrassed by Wisconsin Saturday, and was preceded by the near-defeat in double overtime at the hands of Army in Week 2, has only seen the drumbeat for change grow.
Certainly there’s time for Harbaugh & Company to right the listing ship, but, if that doesn’t happen, the university’s administration will have to look long and hard at season’s end at the nuclear option of pulling the plug on the Michigan Man’s tenure after five seasons. In order to get back on track and make that option moot, U-M will face a schedule that includes four games against teams currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 — No. 18 Iowa, No. 13 Penn State, No. 7 Notre Dame and No. 6 Ohio State — as well as one versus a Michigan State team that could very well get back into the rankings when Nov. 16 matchup rolls around.
If U-M does opt to move on from Harbaugh, it wouldn’t be as cost-prohibitive as one might think as the university would owe the coach a buyout somewhere in the neighborhood of $12 million if he’s fired without cause. Given the ATM that is the Big Ten Network as well as other conference revenue streams, coming up with the funds to shed themselves of Harbaugh and his staff — and pay his replacement as well — shouldn’t be an issue.
Even if U-M decides to stick with Harbaugh, there’s the fact that he has just two years remaining on a contract that runs through 2021. Knowing that will be used against him on the recruiting trail — and how that could adversely affect the program down the road — do university officials extend him, thus making it even more expensive to get out from under the coach?
One way or another, the University of Michigan will have a decision to make, one that will decide the football program’s course for several years to come.