Six games featuring clashes between teams ranked in the top 25 set the stage for what turned out to be one of the most exciting weeks in college football in recent memory, with eight ranked teams finding themselves on the short end of the scoreboard and a complete standings overhaul to come.
In the Big Ten, #5 Michigan absolutely outplayed #10 Penn State in the first half, leading in first downs (18 – 1), yardage (274 – 83) and time of possession (24 mins to 6). Still, they only led by a score of 16-14. After halftime, the Wolverines also topped the scoreboard, courtesy of two explosive 60-plus-yard touchdowns by a pair of running backs who combined for 339 yards and four touchdowns. Michigan – 41, Penn State – 17. Incidentally, the Nittany Lions gave the Wolverines more rushing yards (418) than the five other teams they’ve previously defeated. combined (398).
Speaking of dominant first halves, Oklahoma racked up 487 rushing yards, 21 first downs and 35 points in its game against No. 19 Kansas, its second straight loss after a 5-0 start. Final tally for the Sooners: 701 yards, 36 first downs and 52 points. The Jayhawks put 42 runs on the board in a losing effort, with 52-42 about even for the course in the higher-scoring Big 12.
Speaking of the Big 12, the conference’s remaining undefeated teams, #8 Oklahoma State and #13 TCU, faced off in one of the best games of the week. Down 17 points in the first half, the Horned Frogs came back strong in the second half to tie the Cowboys at 30, then won the game in double overtime, 43-40.
Speaking of 43-40 games, West Virginia beat Baylor by the same scoreline in the best game (of two) on Thursday night.
In the ACC#9 North Carolina State lost to #18 Syracuse, 24-9. Syracuse, now 6-0 for the first time in 35 years, is on the road next week to face #4 Clemson, with the lead ‘Atlantic Division conference on the line.
Speaking of Clemson, they beat an inconsistent team from Florida State in Tallahassee, 34-28, setting the stage for next weekend’s game with the ACC’s only other undefeated team.
In the Pac-12, #20 Utah defeated #7 Southern Cal in front of a sold-out home crowd, 43 – 42 in an absolute thriller. The Trojans dominated early, but the Utes fought back and scored their sixth touchdown of the game with 48 seconds left, after which fearless Utah quarterback Cam Rising scored from three yards out for a thrilling conversion to two runs, sending USC head coach Lincoln Riley back to Cali with its first conference loss by a score of 43-42.
Speaking of the Pac-12, the two remaining conference undefeated teams, UCLA and Oregon, had the bye week. That will change over the next two weeks, however, when the Bruins and Ducks face off in Eugene.
In the SEC, there were two top-25 matchups. #22 Kentucky handled #16 Mississippi State at Lexington, 27–17. The Wildcats’ Chris Rodriguez – alone – rushed for eight times as many yards (196) than all of Starkville’s running backs combined (22). The game was so boring that some of the audience turned to a playoff baseball game between Houston and Seattle that wasn’t decided until the 18th inning after the game’s only run was scored six o’clock and 22 minutes after the opening pitch.
Speaking of long games, in a Big 12-style shootout in Knoxville, Tennessee’s No. 6 ended a 15-year losing streak against Nick Saban by beating Alabama’s No. 3 Crimson Tide. in a thrilling 52-49 thriller. The Volunteers lifted considerable weight off their shoulders with the win: In their 15-game dominance over Tennessee, the Crimson Tide scored a total of 590 while allowing Tennessee only 201. A practice at Alabama in the first half with seven penalties and a loss of 12 yards proved to bode ill for the Tide. In a losing effort, Alabama suffered the most penalties (17) in Saban’s tenure and allowed the most runs in a game (52) since 1907. (It’s worth pointing out that Todd Grantham, whom regular readers know I despise for ruining the Florida Gator’s defense when he was the coordinator, is now a defensive analyst for Alabama. Apparently, there’s no no Alabama fans among my regular readers; otherwise they would have known better.)
Alabama’s loss, by the way, was one of four losses for the top 10 teams, the other three being USC, Oklahoma State and Penn State. Three still have a chance of reaching the playoffs. As for Penn State, their only hope is to win the rest of their games — No. 2 Ohio State in two weeks is one of them — and then win the Big Ten championship game against the West Division winner (your guess is as good as mine at this point).
Another thing to mention: Although it was a losing effort, Alabama quarterback Bryce Young’s performance makes it improved his chance to repeat as the Heisman winner. Young completed 35 of 52 passes for 455 yards, two touchdowns and more breakouts than Houdini.
Ending with a few odds and ends:
Top-seeded Georgia had few problems with Vanderbilt at home, winning 55-0 in Athens. The bad news is that this was the Commodores’ 25th straight SEC loss; the good news is that’s a seven-point improvement over the blistering 62-0 loss to the Bulldogs last year. Incidentally, next Wednesday Vanderbilt will celebrate the third anniversary of his last victory at the SEC (Missouri). Meanwhile, Georgia and Tennessee are now the only two teams in the SEC East without a loss.
#9 Ole Miss didn’t have as many problems with Auburn as the 48-34 final score suggests. Lane Kiffin’s Rebels are now the only SEC West team unbeaten; Alabama and LSU both have one.
Speaking of LSU, the Tiger offense fired on all cylinders (or maybe it was Todd Grantham who left his legacy of poor tackles and porous third defense behind) in their 45-35 win over Florida. Incidentally, it was Tom Petty Day in Gainesville (the late Petty is from Gainesville). However, instead of sticking to their adopted Petty theme song and refusing to back down, the Gators are now in a tailspin.
Speaking of freefall, No. 25 James Madison lost to Georgia Southern, 45-38, giving them their first loss of the season and their last time in the top 25.
Speaking of not being ranked, Notre Dame lost in South Bend to lowly Stanford, 16-14, in an even less exciting game than that 18-inning, 1-0 baseball game.
There were a number of other games that I imagine were exciting this weekend – for example, Maryland’s 38-33 win over Indiana – but I can’t say for sure because I haven’t found no one who had seen it.
They must have watched this very long baseball game.
Scott Ludwig lives, runs and writes in Senoia. Her latest book, SOUTHERN COMFORT is her second collection of 101 columns. His first, SOUTHERN CHARM, and all of his other books can be found on his author page on Amazon. He can be reached at [email protected]