Things have taken a turn for the worse at Colorado following the team’s unexpected 3-0 start. And after Deion Sanders made a change at playcaller before another loss on Saturday, to Oregon State, more questions are being raised about the program.
Week 10 also shined a spotlight on an unexpected Heisman Trophy candidate and a pair of teams in the midst of surprising turnarounds.
Our college football reporters look at those stories and more with this week’s Monday takeaways.
Colorado, Deion having some growing pains
Sanders received a lot of justified praise during Colorado’s 4-1 start, not only for how he flipped the roster in one offseason, but for how his players performed on game days. Colorado wasn’t a perfect team but was a dramatically improved one, thanks in part to the coaching staff.
Now, after Colorado has dropped three straight games, coaching decisions are being debated, without a lot of clarity from Sanders. The topic after Saturday night’s loss to Oregon State was why Sanders had switched offensive playcallers, moving analyst and former NFL coach Pat Shurmur into the role that Sean Lewis had occupied through eight games. Lewis, who left a head-coaching job at Kent State for Colorado, had overseen an offense that opened with a record-setting passing performance at TCU, and averaged more than 500 yards and 41.3 points in four of the first five games. Colorado averaged 13.2 points per game in 2022.
When I first heard of the potential playcaller switch Thursday night, I couldn’t believe it. Neither could coaches who reached out Friday after the news was confirmed. “What on earth is going on at Colorado????” an SEC offensive coordinator texted. Sanders didn’t offer many details in explaining the move, only that he did it in Colorado’s best interests and didn’t second-guess himself. Colorado had 78 total yards through three quarters Saturday night before a nice burst in the fourth.
“You guys don’t know all the intangibles yet,” Sanders said after the game. “You’re just looking from the outside of the crib, looking in. I got tinted windows and you can’t even see in the house, but you’re making conclusions on what I should and should not do.”
Colorado’s house isn’t crumbling, but it’s starting to crack. Sanders didn’t disparage Lewis and has taken responsibility for the team’s play. But the move is bizarre, to put it mildly, and some are wondering if Lewis is being scapegoated for things outside of his control, like an offensive line group that wasn’t constructed for success.
There were also questionable in-game decisions, especially at the end of both halves. Trailing 7-3, Colorado forced a punt and took over at its own 4-yard line with 49 seconds left in the first half. The offense had generated 2 net yards of offense in the quarter — 2! Yet the Buffaloes twice passed from their own end zone before a run for no gain. Two plays later, Oregon State scored to go up 14-3. Sanders said Colorado’s plan was to try and move the ball on first down and, if unsuccessful, “hit the clock,” but the second incomplete pass allowed Oregon State to preserve its timeouts.
After a spirited fourth-quarter rally cut Colorado’s deficit to 7 with 1:42 left, Sanders eschewed an onside kick. The Buffs had all three timeouts, but would need an immediate stop, which they didn’t get. Colorado didn’t use its second timeout after a Damien Martinez run for a first down. By the time the Buffaloes used their final timeout, only two seconds remained.
“This is hard,” Sanders said. “The reason it’s so hard is because you know you’re capable of doing better, playing better, performing better, calling better games, coaching better on my behalf.”
The last part rings true after a bumpy week in Boulder, which revealed some growing pains for Sanders. — Adam Rittenberg
Ollie Gordon II for the Heisman? Why not?
Yes, the Heisman Trophy has become purely a quarterback award. And, yes, it seems running backs, for whatever reason, are being seriously disrespected at all levels of football these days. But watch Ollie Gordon II run — the passion with which he runs and the staggering numbers that he’s putting up — and it’s pretty hard to make a good case that the Oklahoma State back shouldn’t be in the middle of the Heisman conversation.
Gordon is the hottest player in college football, and he’s playing on one of the hottest teams. Oklahoma State has won five straight since a woeful start to the season, and Gordon has been the driving force in the Cowboys’ ascent to the top of the Big 12 standings. They’re tied with Texas, each with one league loss, after taking down Oklahoma 27-24 at home Saturday, the last scheduled game in the Bedlam rivalry.
Talk about lasting impressions. Gordon rushed for 138 yards and two touchdowns, the most rushing yards against the OU defense by any player this season, and has rushed for more than 100 yards in six straight games.
The Heisman has become synonymous with players who come up big on the biggest stages and guide their teams into championship contention and/or national relevance — usually a quarterback. Going back to the 2000 season, only two running backs (Derrick Henry and Mark Ingram) have won the Heisman. But it’s hard to imagine where Oklahoma State would be right now without Gordon’s emergence.
He carried the ball only 19 times in his first three games but has rushed for 995 yards and scored 11 touchdowns during the Pokes’ five-game winning streak, and three of the five opponents were in the top 25 of the first College Football Playoff rankings. A fourth opponent, West Virginia, is 6-3. So it’s not like Gordon is rolling up Barry Sanders-like numbers against bottom-feeders.
The 6-foot-1, 211-pound sophomore leads the nation in rushing yards (1,225) along with rushes of 20-plus yards (17), rushes of 30-plus yards (13) and rushes of 40-plus yards (6). Gordon has been as valuable to his team as any player in the country, and at the very least, deserves a trip to New York City as a Heisman finalist. — Chris Low
Jedd Fisch building momentum at Arizona
Arizona has done something only one other team (Georgia in 2006) has done, according to ESPN Stats & Information — win three straight games against AP-ranked opponents while being unranked going into each game.
The Wildcats’ latest triumph, a 27-10 victory over UCLA late Saturday night in Tucson, was one of precision as redshirt freshman quarterback Noah Fifita picked apart the Bruins’ defense by completing 25 of 32 passes for 300 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. While subbing for Jayden de Laura, sidelined since sustaining an ankle injury against Stanford on Sept. 23, Fifita has surpassed the 300-yard passing mark three times and has helped stabilize the fifth-best offense (439.8 yards per game) in the loaded Pac-12.
The win over the Bruins ended a stretch of five consecutive ranked opponents for the Wildcats (6-3) and they’ve proven to be battle tested in becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2017. As a result, Jedd Fisch has made strides on the recruiting trail, even with in-state defensive end Elijah Rushing (No. 20 overall) decommitting Oct. 8. The Wildcats’ class, headlined by in-state quarterback Demond Williams Jr. (No. 219 overall), is fourth in the Pac-12. — Blake Baumgartner
From 1-3 to bowl eligibility, Boston College flying high
After Boston College started the season 1-3, there were a fair amount of critics questioning the direction of the program under fourth-year coach Jeff Hafley. But Hafley was adamant the Eagles would get their season turned around.
Five straight wins later, the Eagles are bowl eligible and on their longest winning streak since the 2010 season. They have doubled their win total from a season ago, with three games remaining. So how, exactly, did Boston College do it?
Thomas Castellanos calls his own number to give Boston College the lead
Boston College QB Thomas Castellanos takes it himself and finds the end zone to give the Eagles the lead.
For starters, the Eagles have an identity on offense behind dual-threat quarterback Thomas Castellanos. Emmett Morehead was the starting quarterback in the opener against Northern Illinois, but BC planned to play Castellanos too. The offense was never in sync, and a series of miscues cost the Eagles in a stunning loss. But it became clear in a 2-point loss to Florida State that Castellanos was the player to build around — after 400 total yards and two touchdowns.
BC is now one of the best rushing teams in the nation, ranking No. 9 with 211.2 rushing yards per game. Compare that to where BC was last season, when injuries decimated its offensive line and the quarterback position: The Eagles ranked last in the country in rushing yards per game (62.8).
The team also is playing with confidence. Hafley points to the second half against Virginia as the turning point. Down 14 points at halftime, BC held Virginia to 39 total second-half yards and engineered a 27-24 comeback victory. The following week, the Eagles needed another late comeback, beating Army with 25 seconds left. The same thing happened this past week against Syracuse — BC took the lead with 2:23 remaining, and the Eagles did it without top running back Pat Garwo III, top receiver Ryan O’Keefe and a host of others out with injuries.
“They could have gone in the tank, at 1-3 after getting beat up by Louisville, we’re down 14 points at the half against Virginia and we said, ‘Enough is enough,'” Hafley told ESPN on Sunday. “Since that second half, we’re a totally different team. We have an identity, and we’ve just continued to get better at finding out who we are.”
Nobody at Boston College is satisfied, though. With games remaining against Virginia Tech, Pitt and Miami, Hafley said the focus is on getting better, not sitting back and being happy with six wins, especially with a young team that is set to return the vast majority of its players next season.
“We’ve got a lot more to go, we’ve got to get better,” Hafley said. “We’re winning games in the fourth quarter, we’re finding a way to be gritty. It’s a tough-minded team, but we need to improve. That’s the cool thing, is now that they’re winning, you can coach them hard and the accountability is at an all-time high. It’s just fun to be around.” — Andrea Adelson