CLOSE

SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Paul Myerberg provides his opinion of the top three programs in the history of college football.
USA TODAY

The numbers are becoming laughable, unless you’re a defensive coordinator in the Big 12 Conference. For that often maligned group of assistant coaches, Jalen Hurts’ continued assault on the Oklahoma record book and charge toward the Heisman Trophy is something else entirely: cause for enormous concern.

After tearing through the three games of non-conference play — with 1,253 yards of total offense on an outrageous 12.7 yards per play, Hurts answered those doubts over his ability to pilot Lincoln Riley’s offense — the senior transfer from Alabama was even better as the Sooners kicked off their conference schedule against Texas Tech.

He had 306 passing yards at halftime. Kyler Murray never cracked 300 yards in the first half in any game last season. Hurts accounted for 368 yards of total offense through two quarters; Texas Tech had 154 yards as a team. Not surprisingly, it was 34-10 at the half.

Overall, and despite sitting most of the fourth quarter in the 55-16 blowout, Hurts completed 17 of his 24 attempts for 415 yards and three touchdowns, with another 70 yards and a score on the ground. He had three completions of 60 or more yards, the first Big 12 quarterback to do so in a single game since Patrick Mahomes in 2016. After one month, his totals resemble a video game:

  • 1,295 passing yards while completing 77.7 percent of his attempts.
  • 15.2 yards per attempt, which would shatter the Bowl Subdivision record.
  • 12 passing touchdowns against one interception.
  • 443 rushing yards and another five scores.

There was never any true doubt over Hurts’ ability to keep Oklahoma’s offense rolling, but the primary cause for offseason optimism stemmed from Riley’s scheme. The Sooners’ offense has been the envy of college football since Riley’s arrival as offensive coordinator in 2015. So while Hurts was viewed as a capable caretaker, the offseason dialogue centered on how Riley could tailor his system to fit Hurts’ skill set.

But here’s what we’ve discovered after four games: Hurts is much more than just a one-year stopgap bridging Murray and Baker Mayfield to true freshman Spencer Rattler, a five-star freshman who played garbage snaps in Saturday’s win. As the season rolls into October, Hurts is playing like the best quarterback in college football.

Here are the rest of Saturday’s winners and losers:

WINNERS

Tua Tagovailoa

He’s the forgotten man in the early Heisman race, a surprising development given the glare of attention paid to the Alabama star during his sophomore season. But Tagovailoa has been putting a clinic since the opener, most recently throwing for 418 yards with another six touchdowns in the Crimson Tide’s 59-31 dismantling of Mississippi. That gives him 1,718 yards and 21 scores without an interception through five games. (Another tip of the hat to Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith, who set new program single-game records with 274 receiving yards and five receiving touchdowns.) 

Notre Dame

There is a chance that Saturday’s matchup with Virginia marks the last time Notre Dame plays a ranked team this season, given the state of affairs at both Southern California and Michigan. In that case, the Irish made a deep statement with the 35-20 win against the surging Cavaliers, one that may end up playing a major role in dictating where Brian Kelly’s team spend the postseason. The most impressive aspect of the Notre Dame win was the play of the defensive line, which notched the program’s most sacks in a single game in more than a decade.

IRISH DEFENSIVE: Turnovers turn tide as Notre Dame rallies past Virginia

Wisconsin’s defense

The numbers are impressive. The Badgers have yet to allow an opponent to gain 300 yards in a game. Wisconsin’s four opponents have combined for 178 rushing yards on 1.7 yards per carry. The defense scored two touchdowns in Saturday’s 24-15 win against Northwestern to offset a pedestrian offensive performance: Wisconsin gained just 243 yards against the Wildcats, with 119 coming from junior running back Jonathan Taylor. It’s the defense that has the Badgers back in the mix for a New Year’s Six bowl.

BADGERS SLUGGISH: Dominant defense leads Wisconsin past Northwestern

SMU

The Mustangs are making a case for the Top 25. SMU is now 5-0 after a 48-21 thrashing of South Florida — the Bulls are horrific, by the way — and is one of just two unbeaten teams in the American, joining Memphis. Sonny Dykes’ team is suddenly a contender for the New Year’s Six heading into a key three-game stretch beginning in October against Temple, Houston and Memphis. 

LOSERS

Brigham Young

After coming out of a brutal early-season stretch of Power Five teams at an even 2-2, Saturday’s date with Toledo was supposed to mark the liftoff point of BYU’s season. With no games left against Power Five foes — though Boise State, San Diego State and others represented tough tests — the Cougars could envision eight or more wins, which would mark a significant step forward after winning just 11 games across coach the past two season under coach Kalani Sitake. That’s what makes the 28-21 loss to Toledo seem like a blown opportunity: BYU’s self-inflicted wounds, including a late interception to set up the Rockets’ game-winning score, makes this tough to swallow.

Southern California

The writing on the wall regarding Clay Helton’s future is beginning to come into focus. Saturday’s 28-14 loss to Washington drops USC to 3-2 heading into next week’s game against Notre Dame, so it’s almost inevitable that the rumors and innuendo circling around Helton’s tenuous job security will reach a fever pitch at the midseason point. On Saturday, the Huskies played just slightly above average and were still in a different class than USC.

Purdue

Purdue’s season thus far can be encapsulated in a moment: During a single play in the first quarter of an eventual 38-31 loss to Minnesota, the Boilermakers lost quarterback Elijah Sindelar to an apparent shoulder injury and star wide receiver Rondale Moore to an apparent lower-body injury. (Sindelar later returned to the sidelines in a sling while Moore was carted into the locker room.) It’s been that kind of year for Purdue, which was hyped as one of the many contenders in the Big Ten West but sits at 1-3 with losses to Nevada, TCU and the Golden Gophers.

BIG HURTS: Purdue loses two stars to injuries on the same play against Minnesota