College Football America Top 30: Spartans Make Big Move

The Storyline

This week’s edition of “The Storyline” is about two 8-0 football teams and the Heisman Trophy candidate that is connected to both programs.

Michigan State Spartans running back Kenneth Walker III was already leading the country in rushing heading into Saturday’s game against the Michigan Wolverines. Both teams entered the game undefeated with identical 7-0 records, and both were ranked in the Top 10 — Michigan at No. 6 and Michigan State at No. 8. Despite being the visitors, the Wolverines were favored by four points.

The game lived up to its high expectations, and somehow Walker exceeded them. In a performance that may have vaulted him to the top of the Heisman race, Walker rushed for 197 yards and five touchdowns — the kind of head-turning spectacle that defines a Heisman campaign. Walker’s already had a few of them this season — 264 yards rushing and four touchdowns in his Spartan debut at Northwestern in the season opener and 172 yards and a score at then-No. 24 Miami (FL) in September stand out. He also turned heads against Rutgers two weeks ago with a 94-yard touchdown run in a 233-yard effort.

Last week he was bottled up by Indiana with just 84 yards rushing and no trips to the end zone, and he was similarly contained by Nebraska with just 61 yards on September 25. But you don’t have to be dominant in every game to win a Heisman Trophy if you play for a winning team and deliver on the biggest stages. Walker checked all the boxes in his first real test Saturday and delivered what might be the signature performance so far in this year’s Heisman race.

Walker’s story is even more interesting when you consider the path he took to get to East Lansing — and the team he left behind. The junior star played for two years at Wake Forest, running for 1,158 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2019 and 2020. His career highlights included another 90-yarder — 96 to be exact — against Rice as a freshman, and a 140-yard, three-touchdown game against Virginia last season as a sophomore. He was second in rushing for the Demon Deacons both years with exactly 579 yards in each season before entering the transfer portal and transferring to Michigan State in the off-season.

Just as remarkable as Walker’s rise is the sudden ascent of his former team. Wake Forest was 4-5 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, and despite losing a running back of Walker’s caliber, the Demon Deacons are also off to an 8-0 start in 2021. It’s the first time in school history that Wake Forest has started 8-0, and it puts the Demon Deacons in the driver’s seat in the ACC’s Atlantic Division. Next up is a trip to North Carolina to face Mack Brown’s struggling but still-dangerous Tar Heels. If the Demon Deacons survive that, then they would be in prime position to possibly clinch the division the following week at home against second-place NC State.

Walker’s new team, meanwhile, still has some hurdles to clear. A visit to Purdue next Saturday has upset potential for the 5-3 Boilermakers, and the final two games of the season are a visit to Ohio State on November 20, followed by the season finale in East Lansing against Penn State. A Heisman Trophy ceremony may follow that and a possibly a playoff appearance for the Spartans where they could run into Walker’s former team if the Demon Deacons can also win out.

It’s quite a gauntlet to run, but if there’s one thing Kenneth Walker III knows, it’s how to finish long runs.

The College Football America Top 30

Georgia outscored Florida 24-0 in the second quarter en route to a dominating 34-7 win over the Gators. The win keeps the Bulldogs in the No. 1 spot in our rankings while No. 2 Alabama enjoyed a bye week.

Despite several shaky performances against lesser foes this season, the Oklahoma Sooners have emerged unscathed so far to become the nation’s first 9-0 team. They cling to the No. 3 spot followed by No. 4 Ohio State which has looked much better down the stretch after an early loss at home to Oregon. The Buckeyes are on a crash course to face Michigan State which takes the No. 5 spot held last week by No. 11 Michigan — the team the Spartans dispatched on Saturday.

Nos. 6-8 belong to Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Oregon for another week, while Auburn jumps into the No. 9 slot ahead of idle No. 10 Texas A&M. Auburn beat Ole Miss after the Rebels’ head coach Lane Kiffin put analytics ahead of common sense in several key fourth down situations within field goal range almost single-handedly destroying his team’s chances to complete a comeback in a 31-20 loss.

1. Georgia (8-0)

2. Alabama (7-1)

3. Oklahoma (9-0)

4. Ohio State (7-1)

5. Michigan State (8-0)

6. Cincinnati (8-0)

7. Notre Dame (7-1)

8. Oregon (7-1)

9. Auburn (6-2)

10. Texas A&M (6-2)

11. Michigan (7-1)

12. Oklahoma State (7-1)

13. Baylor (7-1)

14. Wake Forest (8-0)

15. Ole Miss (6-2)

16. Kentucky (6-2)

17. Iowa (6-2)

18. Mississippi St. (5-3)

19. Wisconsin (5-3)

20. Penn State (5-3)

21. NC State (6-2)

22. Minnesota (6-2)

23. Kansas St. (5-3)

24. Clemson (5-3)

25. Arkansas (5-3)

26. BYU (7-2)

27. Pittsburgh (6-2)

28. Iowa State (5-3)

29. Virginia (6-3)

30. Utah (5-3)

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