Breaking down the highlights and lowlights from Saturday’s college football action …
There could yet be a playoff team hailing from the Big Ten. It just isn’t going to come from the powerhouse East Division.
A week after Penn State took its first loss of the season at Ohio State, it stumbled again as Michigan State kicked a last-second field goal to earn a 27-24 victory in a lightning-delayed game in East Lansing.
And Ohio State’s control of the division lasted all of seven days as it went to Iowa and departed with a 55-24 drubbing (see more below).
That’s two losses apiece for Ohio State and Penn State. And while we’re at it, that’s two setbacks each for Michigan and Michigan State.
A philosophy of two-and-through as an eliminator has effectively worked in the first three years of the playoff era. That won’t work every year, but it’s worth asking: Who have these guys defeated, besides each other?
Penn State offers some hope with defeats of Iowa, Michigan and Northwestern. Michigan State has its division triumphs to go with a victory over Iowa. Ohio State? It beat Army and Penn State … and that’s about it.
The Buckeyes are basically done as a playoff contender, and both Michigan State and Penn State need some help elsewhere to go along with winning out. It all leaves 9-0 Wisconsin — a team largely forgotten about in part because it plays in the unquestionably weak Big Ten West — as the most plausible semifinal candidate from what was once briefly the land of Legends and Leaders.
* Baker Mayfield. The Oklahoma quarterback threw for a school-record 598 yards plus five touchdowns as the Sooners outlasted Oklahoma State, 62-52, to remain in the national title chase.
While the Sooners (8-1, 5-1 Big 12) tacked on an impressive road victory, Mayfield has a case to be the favorite for the Heisman Trophy with four weeks left in the season. Unlike last year, when Louisville’s Lamar Jackson emerged as the obvious pick and could afford some November hiccups, there’s a little more parity to this year’s field.
That means a shaky game from Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett and quiet ones from tailbacks Saquon Barkley (Penn State) and Bryce Love (Stanford) — all in losses, all on the same day — will help Mayfield’s candidacy. It also opens the door for a popular voting trope — best player on the best team, or at the very least, best player on a playoff team — to dominate the Heisman proceedings next month.
* Miami. The Hurricanes didn’t clinch the ACC’s Coastal Division just yet, thanks to Virginia’s victory, but pretty much everything else went perfectly for Mark Richt’s bunch. It forced four turnovers in a defense-oriented game while handling Virginia Tech, 28-10, to improve to 8-0.
It was legitimate to wonder just how good Miami was in plowing through its schedule to date. When they kicked off against the Hokies, the Hurricanes owned exactly one victory over an FBS team with a winning record (Toledo).
If Miami can navigate Notre Dame — a big if, given the Fighting Irish’s play — it will only need victories over Virginia and Pittsburgh to make it to the ACC title game without a blemish. That’s not out of the question for an improved defense and an offense that showed an ability to achieve some balance in its big test against Virginia Tech.
* Iowa. Where in the world did that come from?
Not the Iowa-beating-Ohio State-at-home part of things. The Hawkeyes have a history of making life miserable for visiting teams. They beat Michigan last year. They nearly beat Penn State this season. And this isn’t exactly a recent phenomenon, either.
But the hanging-half-a-hundred portion of the festivities? That was unexpected.
Consider that the Hawkeyes (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten) hadn’t scored 50 points against any Big Ten opponent since 2008 (Minnesota). In the nine years since that 55-0 victory, Iowa had reached 50 points in nonconference play only twice (against Western Michigan in 2013 and North Texas in 2016). In their last four outings, the Hawkeyes had participated in three 17-10 games.
Nate Stanley was superb, throwing for 226 yards and five TDs. Meanwhile, four Barrett interceptions led to one defensive touchdown for Iowa and another 10 points secured on short fields. Even with those factors, it’s tough to find something more surprising this weekend than Iowa scoring with such ease against Ohio State.
* Baylor. It took two months longer than anyone would have guessed and came against the Big 12’s biggest punching bag, but the Bears have their first victory under Coach Matt Rhule.
Charlie Brewer threw for three touchdown passes as Baylor smashed Kansas, 38-9, to become the last power conference team to earn a victory. With the Bears (1-8, 1-5 Big 12) on the board, the only winless teams left in the FBS are Georgia Southern and Texas-El Paso.
* Georgia. Not only did the Bulldogs (9-0, 6-0 SEC) handle South Carolina, 24-10, they sealed the SEC East when Kentucky lost to Mississippi. Given the dominance of the Georgia defense and the chaos in some other leagues (to varying degrees in the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12), it’s looking more likely that a 12-1 Georgia with a loss to Alabama in the SEC title game would still find its way into the playoff.
* Virginia. The Cavaliers (6-3, 3-2 ACC) are headed to the postseason for the first time since 2011 after fending off Georgia Tech, 40-36. It spares Virginia the misery of a six-game losing streak to end the year at 5-7 — which was a distinct possibility with Louisville, Miami and Virginia Tech still to come — and is a sign of concrete progress in Coach Bronco Mendenhall’s second season.
* Florida. Turns out a 42-7 bludgeoning at the hands of Georgia followed a day later by the ouster (sorry, “mutual parting”) of coach Jim McElwain wasn’t rock bottom for the Gators. Maybe a 45-16 drubbing at Missouri will qualify as the low point for Florida (3-5, 3-4 SEC), which must win out against South Carolina, UAB and Florida State to become bowl-eligible.
The Gators are stuck playing out the string in a lost season under interim coach Randy Shannon. But there’s no reason that should be obvious to all who are watching. While Missouri (4-5, 1-4) is playing better since its bye week, it still has a wobbly defense. That didn’t matter against Florida, which needed 11 possessions before scoring its first touchdown.
* Kevin Sumlin. The Texas A&M coach was a popular option for hot seat lists before the season. Then came the opening week meltdown against UCLA, a commendable rebound and now back-to-back losses to Mississippi State and Auburn, the latter a 42-27 setback at home on Saturday.
At 5-4, the best the Aggies can do by the end of the regular season is reach 8-4. And that’s exactly the regular season record Sumlin led Texas A&M in three of the last four seasons.
It’s plain for all to see that Texas A&M has hit a plateau — the proverbial Glen Mason Territory, though Glen Plus One might be a more appropriate term in this case — and might ultimately regress by a game or two this year. A late-season slide is nothing new in College Station, and this year’s seems likely to precipitate a change.
* Stanford. Three losses equals three strikes for the Cardinal, no matter how wacky the year. Stanford’s 24-21 loss at Washington State doesn’t entirely knock it out of the Pac-12 North race, but David Shaw’s team isn’t going to climb back into the playoff hunt even if it beats Washington, Notre Dame and the Pac-12 South champ over the next month.
Side note: This pretty much leaves Washington — feeble nonconference schedule and all — as the only viable playoff possibility in the Pac-12.
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