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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.

Mike Aresco expects to hear update on AAC championship game waiver “in the next month”

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With the upcoming departure of UConn from the American Athletic Conference, the staus of the AAC Championship Game is officially in question. Without 12 football-playing members, the AAC does not satisfy the NCAA requirement to play an official conference championship game without a waiver. Not wanting to give up the title game just a few short years after implementing it (and accepting the extra revenue generated in the TV contract), AAC commissioner Mike Aresco is hoping to get some positive word on a waiver request sometime soon.

How soon?

It looks like we may have an update on this situation within the month. The sooner, the better.

UConn is leaving the AAC after this current football season, and Aresco has made it clear the conference still wants to continue playing its conference title game. The current plan is for the AAC to scrap the two-division format entirely and pit the two best teams in a conference championship game at the end of the regular season (an idea that would work well in almost every conference, by the way). The AAC reportedly field a formal waiver to allow for the championship game to live on back in August.

The Big 12 currently only has 10 members and has been granted permission to field a conference championship game on top of the round-robin schedule played during the season. If the Big 12 can have a conference title game without 12 members, then the AAC should be getting confirmation their conference championship game will continue too. But waiting for the official word is needed before the conference can start making plans for 2020 and beyond.

At this point, there remains no sign the conference is looking to add a 12th member for football, which would negate the need for a waiver. But if the waiver is denied, for some reason, then expect the AAC expansion rumors to start flying once again.

Michigan Class of 2018 four-star TE Mustapha Muhammad enters NCAA transfer portal

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The NCAA transfer portal has been busy this Monday. Add Michigan tight end Mustapha Muhammad as one of the latest entrants into the transfer portal. Muhammad made the transfer portal news himself with an announcement on his Twitter account Monday afternoon.

Muhammad is a redshirt freshman. He will have to sit out the 2020 season if he lands at another FBS program, and he will have two years of eligibility remaining beginning 2021. By entering the transfer portal, Muhammad is free to have contact with any other football program looking to recruit him out of Ann Arbor. The Texas native signed with Michigan over offers from Ohio State, Alabama, and Clemson, among others. Unfortunately, the highly rated recruit hasn’t been able to establish a key role in the Michigan offense early on, even with the Wolverines offense looking for playmakers.

Michigan’s tight end position appears to be settled with Nick Eubanks and Sean McKeon reaching the midway point of the season as Michigan’s leading tight ends when it comes to receiving yards. Eubanks is fifth on the team overall with 128 receiving yards and a touchdown. McKeon has added 96 yards and two touchdowns. Both players are seniors, however, but Michigan also has redshirt freshman Luke Schoonmaker as an option at the tight end position moving forward.

Oregon DB Kahlef Halassie steps into transfer portal

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Oregon defensive back Kahlef Hailassie is now officially on the market. Hailassie announced on his Twitter account on Monday afternoon he has officially entered his name into the NCAA transfer portal.

A sophomore and a member of Oregon’s Class of 2018, Hailassie is now eligible to have contact with any other college football program that may be interested in recruiting him to their program. when he committed to the Ducks out of high school, Hailassie chose Oregon over offers from Colorado and Washington State, among others. Hailassie had previously committed to Colorado during his recruiting process, only to de-commit shortly after an official visit to Boulder.

Hailassie played in just three games this season before being sidelined with an injury. Because he has played in fewer than four games, Hailassie can use the 2019 season as a redshirt year. Hailassie played in all 13 games for Oregon as a true freshman in 2018, recording one tackle as a reserve player and a special teams player. Hailassie will have to sit out the 2020 season if he ends up at another FBS program, which would make him eligible to return to the field with two full years of eligibility remaining beginning in 2021.

Oregon’s leading receiver, TE Jake Breeland, suffers season-ending leg injury

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It turns out the leg injury suffered by Oregon tight end Jake Breeland was pretty serious. Ducks head coach Mario Cristobal confirmed the news on Monday that Breeland will miss the remainder of the 2019 season with a left leg injury.

“It hurts you personally and it hurts everyone when a guy that’s worked so hard, has overcome as much as he has and the type of season he was having, to have to endure something like this,” Cristobal said in a press conference on Monday, according to The Oregonian. “He’s ready to attack the whole process of getting healthy again so he can play again.”

Breeland will have his 2019 season brought to a premature close after leading the team with 405 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Oregon’s receivers have been banged up at times already this season, and losing the top tight end in the offense won’t make things any easier. Oregon visits Washington this week for a pivotal Pac-12 North matchup with the defending conference champions.

So, who replaces Breeland at the position? Oregon’s latest depth chart currently has Ryan Bay and Hunter Kampmoyer filling the top spots at the tight end positions for the Ducks. Bay, a senior, has appeared in all six games and has caught three passes for 35 yards and a touchdown. Kampmoyer, a junior, has caught one pass for 21 yards and a touchdown in six games this season.