Bleacher Report’s Week 5 College Football Awards

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    Ohio State WR Johnny Dixon

    Ohio State WR Johnny DixonJustin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Ohio State defeated Penn State by a one-point margin for the second consecutive year, but it was the head coach of the Nittany Lions who received one of Bleacher Report’s awards for Week 5 of the 2018 college football season.

    Spoiler alert: It’s not a flattering award for James Franklin.

    Aside from that instant classic in the Big Ten, it was a rather sedate week in what is normally a wildly unpredictable sport. There were five ranked vs. ranked matchups, but three of them were blowouts by at least a three-score margin. And after back-to-back weeks of at least one underdog winning by three or four touchdowns, the biggest upset Saturday was Louisiana Tech beating North Texas as a 7.5-point underdog.

    It was still an action-filled weekend, though.

    Clemson and Michigan were both pushed to the wire after slow starts. Several teams (and individual players) had outrageous rushing performances. Kyler Murray turned Baker Mayfield into a distant memory with a historic game. And Notre Dame climbed into the driver’s seat for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

    Oh, and there was also a five-overtime game with six missed field goals that you need to read about.

    Here are your Week 5 college football awards.

1 of 15

    Romeo Finley

    Romeo FinleyMark Brown/Getty Images

    Through the first few weeks, Miami’s 2017 viral sensationthe turnover chainwasn’t getting much use. The Hurricanes did force four turnovers in a 77-0 blowout of Savannah State, but they had a combined total of two interceptions and no fumble recoveries in three games against FBS foes. And they had yet to score a defensive touchdown all season.

    Thursday night’s game against North Carolina was a much different story.

    En route to a 47-10 cakewalk of a win, Miami forced as many turnovers against the Tar Heels as it did in the first four weeks combined, scoring three touchdowns on defense.

    In the first quarter, UNC QB Nathan Elliott stood in the pocket inside his own 20 far too long before getting hit by Miami’s star linebacker, Shaquille Quarterman. Elliott fumbled and Jonathan Garvin scooped it up for an easy score.

    Two Tar Heels possessions later, Chazz Surratt was in at quarterback for one of the most ill-advised pick-sixes you’ll ever see. North Carolina was trying to set up a screen pass to Jordon Brown, but it never had a chance. Brown was blanketed, Gerald Willis III was barreling down on Surratt and Joe Jackson was prepared to catch the ball thrown directly into his hands and return it 42 yards for a touchdown.

    With the game effectively out of reach early in the fourth quarter, Romeo Finley added one more defensive score, just for good measure. Miami was sitting back in zone coverage in a 4th-and-7 situation, and when Surratt tried to force a pass to Anthony Ratliff-Williams at the first-down marker, Finley jumped the route and went untouched for an 83-yard touchdown.

    For UNC head coach Larry Fedora, it was a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” type of night as far as the quarterback situation was concerned. The Tar Heels changed quarterbacks four times in this game, but each one committed three turnoversthree interceptions by Surratt and three fumbles by Elliott. Tough times for a team that had committed one turnover in its previous two games, but this swarming Miami defense can do that to just about anyone.

2 of 15

    Penn State head coach James Franklin

    Penn State head coach James FranklinMichael Hickey/Getty Images

    We could have gone any number of directions for an award in the Ohio State vs. Penn State showdown for the driver’s seat in the Big Ten East Division.

    “Best Comeback of the Week” was a great candidate, thanks to Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins suddenly looking unflappable on consecutive touchdown drives in the final eight minutes.

    “Best Individual Performance in a Loss” was an even better candidate, as Penn State QB Trace McSorley had a combined 461 passing and rushing yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers. His completion percentage remains unsightly (52.9 percent), but he rose to the occasion in a big way, putting the Nittany Lions in great shape to win this game.

    We even considered something along the lines of “Biggest Failure to Capitalize on Early Opportunities,” as Penn State was completing manhandling Ohio State early on yet only managed to score six points on its first six possessions.

    In the end, though, the biggest takeaway from this game was the final one: James Franklin’s head-scratching decision to hand it off to Miles Sanders on a do-or-die 4th-and-5 from the OSU 43.

    Listen, Sanders is great. He entered this game averaging 7.0 yards per carry and was fresh off a 200-yard, three-touchdown performance against Illinois. But Ohio State had his number all night. He ran the ball 16 times for just 43 yards and only had three carries for more than five yardsthe longest of which went for 12 yards on an equally confusing run call on a 3rd-and-13 play.

    Given everything McSorley had done to that point, how can you possibly justify not calling his number in that situation? You’ve got a QB who had rushed for 175 yards and a 6’4″ wide receiver (Juwan Johnson) who already made one of the most ridiculous one-handed catches of the entire season. Just roll out McSorley in a run-pass option with Johnson running slightly beyond the first-down marker and hope for the best. Even if it fails miserably, at least no one would be questioning Franklin for the decision.

    Perhaps the series of timeouts immediately prior to that play made Franklin overthink it and try to get too cute, but this was one of the most bizarre play calls one could imagine in a playoff-altering moment.

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    Travis Etienne

    Travis EtienneRichard Shiro/Associated Press

    Even though Syracuse entered the day with a perfect 4-0 record, and even though the Orange were the only team to beat Clemson during the regular season last year, this game wasn’t supposed to be close. The Tigers were a 24.5-point favorite at home.

    However, Clemson got off to a slow start and quite literally added injury to insult when QB Trevor Lawrence left the game with an apparent concussion late in the first half. With former starter Kelly Bryant announcing earlier in the week that he plans to redshirt and transfer, the fate of the Tigers’ College Football Playoff hopes and dreams was placed in the hands of redshirt freshman Chase Brice.

    Early returns weren’t great. Clemson had more turnovers (one) than points (zero) on its first three possessions with Brice in the game. And it wasn’t until his sixth drive that Clemson finally found its way into the red zonelet alone the end zone.

    Yet, he helped orchestrate an incredible comeback with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown drives. He was calm, cool and collected under pressure, completing three of four passes for 51 yardseach of which resulted in a Clemson first down.

    Sure, Brice only attempted one pass during Clemson’s game-winning, 13-play, 94-yard drive, but it might go down as the most important pass of the entire regular season. After a false start turned 4th-and-inches into 4th-and-6, Brice threw a dart to Tee Higgins for a 20-yard gain to keep the drive alive. He followed that play with a keeper on the option for another 17 yards to get the Tigers down to the Syracuse 15.

    From there, Clemson’s running backs finished the job. Tavien Feaster got the Tigers inside the 5 and Travis Etienne punched it in from two yards out, punctuating his put-me-in-the-Heisman-conversation day of 203 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

    One has to wonder what effect these close calls will have with the selection committee in the long run. (The Tigers were a failed two-point conversion attempt away from being taken to overtime by Texas A&M in Week 2.) But a close win is a heck of a lot better than a loss, and it keeps them in position to go 13-0.

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    Tua Tagovailoa

    Tua TagovailoaKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    If it had felt so inclined, Alabama probably could have dropped 100 points on Louisiana-Lafayette.

    At halftime, the Crimson Tide led 49-0 with seven touchdowns on six offensive possessions (Jaylen Waddle returned a punt for a score). Heisman favorite Tua Tagovailoa was a perfect 8-of-8 for 128 yards and two touchdowns. Jalen Hurts, Josh Jacobs and Henry Ruggs III also had remarkable individual numbers in their own right, as the Ragin’ Cajuns were helpless on defense.

    Things weren’t any better for their offense, though. ULL had a grand total of three first downs and only took one snap in Alabama territorya seven-yard sack from the 49.

    Alabama went 72 yards on its first drive. Louisiana-Lafayette had 74 yards of total offense in the first half.

    It was ugly.

    But Nick Saban opted to take his foot off the gas in the second half, allowing his former assistant coach, Billy Napier, to preserve a shred of dignity.

    Neither Tagovailoa nor Jacobs played after the intermission. Hurts and third-string QB Mac Jones combined to attempt just four passes compared to 21 rushing playsmost of which went to Brian Robinson Jr., Ronnie Clark and Jerome Ford, who had combined for 105 yards of total offense in Alabama’s first four games. It was clear they were just trying to run out the clock.

    One of those four pass attempts did result in a 94-yard touchdown to Waddle, but those were the only points Alabama scored in the second halfthanks in part to missed field goals from 31 and 24 yards out. (How does this team always have problems with its kicking?)

    Alabama also eased up considerably on defense, allowing the Ragin’ Cajuns to gain at least 28 yards on each of their four second-half possessions. (Their longest drive of the first half was only 22 yards.) ULL even scored a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns for a 56-14 final, much to the chagrin of everyone who bet on Alabama -49 or the under on the line of 69 total points.

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    Darius Bradwell

    Darius BradwellJonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    Memphis was one of the few road teams that was supposed to cruise to victory this weekend.

    Per OddsShark, the Tigers were a 14.5-point favorite against a 1-3 Tulane team whose lone win came against FCS school Nicholls State. No big surprise there since Memphis entered the game leading the nation in yards per play on offense (8.69), while Tulane had allowed at least 415 yards in each of its first four games.

    After the first Memphis snap of the gamea 47-yard TD run by the nation’s leading rusher, Darrell Hendersonit seemed like things were headed in that expected direction.

    However, it was Tulane that ran at will in a two-touchdown victory.

    Led by Darius Bradwell and Corey Dauphine, the Green Wave rushed for 318 yards and four touchdowns. Not only did all that running help them move the ball, but it chewed a ton of time off the clock. Tulane converted on third down five times in each half and nearly doubled Memphis in time of possession.

    Beyond that first run by Henderson, though, the real story was Tulane’s defense.

    Henderson entered the day averaging better than 12 yards per carry, but he had just six carries for four yards the rest of the game. Factor in the seven sacks of Brady White and Memphis officially had 20 carries for negative-16 yards after the first play.

    White didn’t have much better luck throwing the ball against Tulane, completing less than 50 percent of his passes (14-of-30). On several of those incompletions, he missed his target by a country mile while running for his life from yet another Green Wave blitz.

    Memphis had allowed just three sacks in its first four games, but the O-line did one heck of a Swiss cheese impersonation in New Orleans, resulting in a 40-24 upset.

    The Tigers were widely regarded as the favorites to win the AAC West Division in the preseason, but they are now 0-2 in league play with tough games against UCF and Houston still to come. They could still win the division, but all hope of representing the Group of Five in a New Year’s Six bowl is already gone.

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    Jordan Mason (24)

    Jordan Mason (24)Mike Stewart/Associated Press

    On the one hand, Georgia Tech’s rushing against Bowling Green could have been much more of an onslaught than it actually was.

    The Yellow Jackets entered the week ranked third nationally with 331.0 rushing yards per game, while Bowling Green was dead last on defense, allowing 333.5 rushing yards per game. And no, it’s not smart math to average those two numbers and expect 332 yards from GT. It was feasible that the Yellow Jackets would rush for 500 yards in this one, so 372 yards were a bit of a letdown, to be honest.

    The eight rushing touchdowns, however, were not a disappointment (unless you’re a Bowling Green fan, in which case you have our deepest sympathy).

    Tobias Oliver, Jordan Mason and TaQuon Marshall each found the end zone twice. Nathan Cottrell and Jerry Howard also got in there once each, while Georgia Tech averaged 7.6 yards per carry as a team.

    Were it not for the occasional passing play, GT probably would have gotten to 500 rushing yards. The Yellow Jackets only went to the air seven times and completed five of them, but four of those completions each went for more than 30 yards.

    This limited how many yards they could gain on the ground, but they got almost all that they possibly could.

    Georgia Tech tallied a rushing touchdown on each of its first seven possessions. And when Bowling Green finally did manage to force a punt in the fourth quarterthe only possession on which Georgia Tech didn’t get a touchdown, excluding running out the clock at the end of the game—the poor Falcons threw a pick five plays later.

    The Yellow Jackets finally got their first FBS win of the season, bowling over Bowling Green by a 63-17 margin.

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    Kyler Murray

    Kyler MurrayBrett Deering/Getty Images

    It’s hard to believe how quickly it has happened, but Kyler Murray is making us forget all about Baker Mayfield.

    Oklahoma’s former QB was one of the most efficient to ever play the position. Over the previous three seasons, Mayfield had 15 games with a passing efficiency rating greater than 200, the best of which was a 282.7 performance against UTEP last September.

    In leading the Sooners to a 66-33 blowout win over Baylor, Murray left that mark in the dust.

    The dual-threat phenom completed 17-of-21 passes for 432 yards and six touchdowns for a passer efficiency rating of 348.0.

    Never mind where that stacks up in Oklahoma lore. That’s arguably the best individual performance by a quarterback in college football history.

    Per Sports Reference, it was just the 16th time since 2000 that a quarterback attempted at least 17 passes with a PER of 300 or greater. The previous high in that club was McKenzie Milton’s 336.4 (16-of-19, 374 yards, 5 TD) last October, so Murray’s 348.0 was some kind of ridiculous.

    Oh, and he also rushed 10 times for 45 yards and a seventh touchdown.

    Not too shabby for a guy who had to sit out the opening drive after showing up late to practice Friday.

    Murray was already on the short list of legitimate candidates to win the Heisman. With all due respect to Tua Tagovailoa, Dwayne Haskins and Will Grier, it might be the Sooner’s to lose at this point.

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    Jay MacIntyre and Laviska Shenault Jr.

    Jay MacIntyre and Laviska Shenault Jr.Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    For the most part, the Pac-12 South Division has been a colossal disappointment.

    USC is nowhere near the fringe CFP contender as advertised in the preseason. Arizona has forgotten how to utilize dual-threat monster Khalil Tate. Arizona State lost two straight after starting hot. Utah’s defense is solid, but it is struggling to put points on the board on offense. And UCLA is winless in Chip Kelly’s inaugural season.

    As a result, it was the only power-conference division without at least one ranked team in last week’s AP poll.

    The one exception to the rule has been Colorado, which improved to 4-0 with a 38-16 Friday night win over UCLA.

    It’s understandable that people have been hesitant to buy stock in the Buffaloes, given the (lack of) competition they have faced. Their four opponents (Colorado State, Nebraska, New Hampshire and UCLA) entered Week 5 with a combined record of 1-13.

    All the same, this offense appears to be the real deal.

    Laviska Shenault Jr. is an early favorite for top wide receiver in the country. After another big game against the Bruins (12 receptions for 126 yards, five rushes for 18 yards, two total TD), the sophomore is averaging 9.5 catches and 145.3 yards per game. Shenault has a receiving touchdown in each game. He also has two rushing touchdowns.

    Thanks in large part to Shenault, Steven Montez has emerged as one of the more efficient quarterbacks in the country. After hovering around 60 percent in each of his first two seasons, Montez has completed 75.8 percent of his pass attempts, throwing for nine touchdowns while rushing in three more. He was 22-of-26 against UCLA with three total touchdowns.

    Graduate transfer running back Travon McMillianwho rushed for more than 1,000 yards as a freshman at Virginia Tech in 2015has also become a major factor for this offense, rushing for at least 100 yards in three of four games, including against UCLA.

    The next three weeks—vs. Arizona State, at USC, at Washington—will tell us a lot about how legitimate Colorado is. But for the time being, this is the lone bright spot in the Pac-12 South.

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    Ryan Willis

    Ryan WillisGrant Halverson/Getty Images

    Fresh off a loss to Old Dominion that could only be described as flabbergasting, Virginia Tech had to go on the road to face undefeated Duke.

    Had the Hokies taken care of business against the Monarchs and not suffered an injury at quarterback, they would have been favored in this game and probably by a wide margin. With the way things played out, though, they were 6.5-point underdogs with backup Ryan Willis leading the offense.

    Turns out the Kansas transfer was ready for the job, leading VT to a 31-14 victory.

    Against a Blue Devils defense that had allowed just two passing touchdowns through their first four games, Willis had three TD tosses and 332 passing yards. He got a lot of help from Dalton Keene, who turned a pass behind the line of scrimmage into a 67-yard touchdown. But three touchdowns and no interceptions was impressive work for a guy who had 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in two seasons with the Jayhawks.

    Once Virginia Tech got a little bit of momentum, it was in business. The Hokies had seven drives of 11 yards or fewer that produced no points, but they scored on five of their six other drives that went for at least 30 yards. Meanwhile, Duke had three drives of at least 34 yards that ended in one missed field goal and a pair of failed fourth-down conversions.

    When this team is committed on defense, it still has the talent to win the ACC’s Coastal Division. At any rate, the loss to Old Dominion technically did nothing to change that. We’ll see which version of Virginia Tech shows up next week against Notre Dame.

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    McKenzie Milton

    McKenzie MiltonAlex Menendez/Getty Images

    Considering there were five games in which ranked teams picked up wins over other ranked teams, it probably seems a bit weird to declare that UCF had the most impressive win of the week.

    Here’s the thing, though: This was UCF’s lone opportunity to prove to the CFP selection committee what it can do against a power-conference foe.

    The Knights clearly did not take that for granted, stomping Pittsburgh by a final score of 45-14.

    In addition to the margin on the scoreboard, UCF more than doubled the Panthers in total offense, finishing with 568 yards to Pitt’s 272.

    Per usual, McKenzie Milton was the driving force of that offensive explosion. For the second consecutive week, UCF’s dual-threat QB accounted for better than 375 total yards and six touchdowns (four passing, two rushing) without committing a turnover.

    Adrian Killins Jr. usually does his damage as a rusher, but he had an incredible performance in the receiving department. Killins only made three receptions, but he turned them into 140 yards and a touchdown—more than doubling his previous career high of 69 yards.

    Most impressive was the defense. One week after giving up 36 points and 447 yards to Florida Atlantic, the Knights held Pittsburgh to just one offensive touchdown—and that came late in the fourth quarter after the game was already well in hand.

    Look, I know Pittsburgh isn’t anything special. The Panthers are 2-3 and might not win another game all season. But they already played Penn State and they’ll play Notre Dame in a couple of weeks, so it’s a common opponent for several teams in the CFP conversation. Had UCF just eked out a win over a team that got smashed by Penn State earlier in the month, it wouldn’t have been a great look.

    Instead, UCF took care of business just as well as the Nittany Lions did, and that could pay dividends two months from now if the Knights continue their winning ways.

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    Bryce Crawford

    Bryce CrawfordChris Gardner/Getty Images

    I take no joy in calling out the struggles of college kickers, but Hawaii and San Jose State had too much mutual difficulty putting the ball through the uprights to not at least mention it.

    Prior to the many overtimes in this game, the special teams were hardly worth noticing. Hawaii kicker Ryan Meskell and San Jose State kicker Bryce Crawford each made short field goals in the first half. Crawford missed a 49-yard attempt on the last play before halftime, and Meskell missed an extra-point attempt early in the third quarter, but no big deal.

    Between the second and third overtimes, though, those kickers combined to botch four consecutive field-goal attempts. The least forgivable was Crawford’s miss on a 30-yard attempt that would have won the game in OT No. 3, but that wasn’t much worse than Meskell doing the same from 36 yards out in the previous overtime.

    After Crawford made one from 20 yards to start the fourth overtime, Meskell converted from 35 to tie the game and made another 35-yarder to take the lead. But on San Jose State’s final possession, Crawford missed from 47 yards to give Hawaii the win.

    All told, the kickers combined to make just five of 11 field-goal attempts, the longest of which was 35 yards. All 11 kicks were from 49 yards or shorter, but it was still a rough night.

    The 44-41 five-OT loss drops San Jose State to 0-4, and one has to wonder if the Spartans just shanked their way out of their last chance to win a game this season.

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    Nathan Rourke

    Nathan RourkeMark Humphrey/Associated Press

    By just a one-point margin over the Baylor-Oklahoma game, the title of highest-scoring contest of Week 5 belongs to Ohio’s 58-42 win over Massachusetts.

    This wasn’t exactly a shocking development. Ohio has both scored and allowed at least 30 points in each game this season, and four of Massachusetts’ first five games featured at least 76 combined points. Excluding games involving FCS teams, the only one with a higher over/under line than Massachusetts vs. Ohio (69.5) was West Virginia vs. Texas Tech (74.5).

    Naturally, some of the individual stat lines in this game were ridiculous.

    Ohio QB Nathan Rourke had gotten off to a slow start to the year, averaging just 156.0 passing yards and 51.0 rushing yards with four total touchdowns. It’s a little hard to fathom how the Bobcats were scoring at least 30 points each week while getting that lack of production from their star.

    But after an interception on Ohio’s first drive of the game, Rourke caught fire. He had four total touchdowns (three passing, one rushing) before halftime and led the Bobcats on nine consecutive scoring drives. Rourke finished with 270 passing yards and 189 rushing yards, setting a new career high in the latter category.

    He wasn’t Ohio’s only big threat in the running game. Maleek Irons also had 140 yards and a pair of touchdowns, averaging better than 10 yards per carry. It was the first time the fifth-year senior rushed for more than 83 yards in a game in his college career.

    Meanwhile, Andy Isabella helped keep the Minutemen close. He had touchdown receptions of 39 and 37 yards in the first quarter and also scored on a 55-yard strike in the third. Isabella finished with 12 receptions for 198 yards and three touchdownsall career-high marks for the senior.

    Ohio and Massachusetts combined to score 11 touchdowns in the first 33 minutes. At that point, they were on pace for about 135 points. However, they slowed down with just two touchdowns and three field goals in the final 27 minutes. It was enough to reach the century mark, but it could have been much more.

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    Jake Browning

    Jake BrowningTed S. Warren/Associated Press

    While most college football fans were glued to either Ohio State vs. Penn State or (the first three quarters of) Stanford vs. Notre Dame, there was a much less competitive battle going on between ranked teams: No. 11 Washington laying the smack down on No. 20 BYU.

    The 35-7 final score doesn’t do justice to how ugly this game was.

    Even though BYU QB Tanner Mangum completed 18 of 21 pass attempts, the Cougars only had 194 yards of total offense and seven first downs in the entire game. Were it not for Washington’s Chico McClatcher fumbling a punt late in the fourth quarter to put BYU at the UW 21, the Cougars would not have scored a single point in this game.

    Par for the course for this Huskies defense, though. Opponents are averaging just 11.6 points per game against them, and this is the third opponent they have held to seven points or fewer.

    Meanwhile, Jake Browning and Co. moved the ball with ease.

    After punting on its opening possession, Washington either scored or did no worse than driving 57 yards before missing a field goal on each subsequent drive. Browning was almost perfect, completing 23 of 25 pass attempts for 277 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed one in from nine yards out right before halftime.

    Huskies running back tandem Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed combined for 167 yards and three touchdowns in the seemingly effortless win.

    Despite the season-opening loss to Auburn, Washington remains in the College Football Playoff picture. It still has tough road games against Oregon and California, home games against Stanford and Colorado and presumably a battle with either Colorado or USC in the Pac-12 Championship Game. But with this defense, the Huskies could win out from here.

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    Eno Benjamin

    Eno BenjaminLeon Bennett/Getty Images

    So we should probably start reserving this spot for whichever running back is facing Oregon State, right?

    Last week, Arizona’s J.J. Taylor exploded for a career-high 284 rushing yards against the Beavers. And this week, it was Arizona State’s Eno Benjamin who obliterated one of the worst front sevens ever assembled.

    The sophomore entered the night with 425 rushing yards and three touchdowns in his career, and he darn near doubled both of those numbers with 312 yards and three scores against Oregon State. He also had three receptions for 27 yards and a fourth touchdown.

    Benjamin had eight carries that went for at least 15 yards, including back-to-back-to-back plays to open the fourth quarter. He also had rushing touchdowns of 44 and 47 yards in the first half.

    As a whole, Arizona State rushed for 396 yards and four touchdowns.

    Combining that with the games against Ohio State and Arizona, Oregon State has allowed an average of 404.3 rush yards and 4.0 rushing touchdowns in three games against power-conference opponents.

    It will be intriguing to see what happens when Washington State faces Oregon State next week in the battle between the stoppable force and the movable object. The Cougars had zero rushing yards in a Week 5 win over Utah and will enter the game as the second-worst rushing offense in the country.

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    Ian Book

    Ian BookCarlos Osorio/Associated Press

    No. 8 Notre Dame didn’t just beat No. 7 Stanford.

    The Fighting Irish eviscerated the Cardinal.

    Stanford’s star playersBryce Love and JJ Arcega-Whitesideeach scored on impressive plays in the first half, capping back-to-back scoring drives of at least 75 yards that appeared to indicate this could be an instant classic.

    However, that was all she wrote for Stanford.

    The Cardinal scored just three points over the final 40 minutes. Even more disturbing for a team that was a legitimate playoff contender until this game: Stanford amassed just three first downs on its final nine possessions, moving the ball a grand total of 61 yards.

    And when the Notre Dame defense wasn’t sucking the life out of Stanford, the Ian Book-led offense was delivering haymakers on repeat.

    Book threw for 278 yards and four touchdowns. More than half of those yards (144) went to Miles Boykin in what could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Before the season began, we listed Boykin as one of the biggest X-factors in the country, noting his connection with Book last season. He didn’t do much two weeks ago against Wake Forest, but he should be the top target in this passing game moving forward.

    Getting Dexter Williams back in the mix was a huge boost, as well. After missing the first four games, Williams broke off a 45-yard touchdown run on his first touch of the season. He finished the night with 161 rushing yards and could be a major factor, considering he averaged 9.2 yards per carry as a reserve in 2017.

    This defense has been stout all year, but comparing the offense of the past two games to the first three, the difference is night and day. After eking its way to several victories, Notre Dame has transformed into a freight train that probably won’t be stopped.

    Road games against Virginia Tech and USC are the biggest hurdles standing between the Fighting Irish and a 12-0 record, and those aren’t anything close to the challenges they were supposed to be. If they do run the table, let’s just say September wins over both Michigan and Stanford are a heck of a lot more impressive than any victory Clemson will have on its resume. It’s probably better than what even a 13-0 Oklahoma would be bringing to the selection committee, too.

    Up until now, Notre Dame has been oft-forgotten in the CFP discussion, since it isn’t a projected power-conference champion. But if the Irish can win seven more games against currently unranked opponents, they’ll be snagging one of those coveted spots in the playoff.

            

    Kerry Miller covers college football and men’s college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.

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