Running down the highlights and lowlights of Saturday in college football …
* Missouri. The Tigers looked absolutely dead when they reached their open date at 1-5, and Coach Barry Odom’s return for a third season was far from a certainty.
Since the week off? Missouri (6-5, 3-4 SEC) has rattled off five wins in a row to become bowl eligible, including Saturday’s 45-17 rout of Vanderbilt. The Tigers have averaged 52 points during their winning streak thanks to some strong play from quarterback Drew Lock and a healthy diet of the SEC East, and they can clinch a winning season with a victory over Arkansas on Friday.
* Georgia. Still alive in the playoff race after smashing Kentucky, 42-13, to close out SEC regular season play at 7-1. The Bulldogs (10-1) have a straightforward path to the semifinals in front of them: Beat Georgia Tech next week, then defeat either Alabama or Auburn in the Southeastern Conference title game. About all any team can ask for in late November is to control its own destiny, and that’s a luxury Georgia enjoys.
* Wisconsin. About the most predictable development of the day was that the Badgers and Michigan would engage in a low-scoring slog. Wisconsin held the Wolverines to 234 total yards, managed only 325 of its own and used an early punt return for a score to key a 24-10 triumph.
Next week is a de facto round-of-16 game for Wisconsin (11-0, 8-0 Big Ten) in its national title chase. Beat Minnesota and then handle Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, and the Badgers will be in the semifinals — regardless of how much breathless yammering there is about Wisconsin’s mid-November committee ranking.
* Miami. Reloading the musket is hard, as the Hurricanes were reminded against Virginia. After stifling Virginia Tech and smashing Notre Dame to open the month, Miami had a noon kickoff against the middle-of-the-road Cavaliers and twice had to rally from 14 points down.
Bottom line: The Hurricanes (10-0, 7-0 ACC) eventually earned a 44-28 victory. It wasn’t their best game, but if they win their next two — at Pittsburgh and against Clemson in the ACC title game — they’ll head to the playoff.
* American Athletic Conference. It’s going to take an unlikely set of circumstances to prevent the AAC champion from earning the place in the New Year’s Six structure reserved for the best team outside the power conferences. One of three things will happen over the next two weeks:
- Central Florida (10-0) beats South Florida on Friday to clinch the AAC East, then defeats Memphis to finish off an undefeated regular season.
- South Florida (9-1) upends UCF, then beats Memphis to close out a conference title in its first year under Charlie Strong.
- Memphis (9-1) will defeat either UCF or South Florida and claim the AAC title.
The only way a team with multiple losses wins the American is if Memphis loses at home to 3-8 East Carolina next week and then bounces back on the road against the East Division champ. It’s also the only way the AAC winner doesn’t receive a high-profile bowl placement, and that’s a long shot at this stage.
* Texas. The Longhorns knocked on the door a bunch earlier in the season, including overtime losses to Southern California and Oklahoma State and a close setback to Oklahoma. Now, they have a quality road victory after handling West Virginia, 28-14 — a triumph made a bit easier to secure when Mountaineers quarterback Will Grier suffered an ugly finger injury while trying to dive for a touchdown.
Texas (6-5, 5-3 Big 12) will head to the postseason in Coach Tom Herman’s first season. That’s more than what the Longhorns could manage a year ago.
* Massachusetts. The Minutemen might seem an odd choice for this placement, given their 4-7 record. They claimed a 16-10 triumph at Brigham Young on Saturday, though the Cougars are hardly what they usually are.
However, U-Mass. looked like it would be dreadful this season, and the deck is stacked against it as an independent. Instead, it hasn’t lost a game by more than 11 all season and has won four of its last five. Mark Whipple’s probably gotten about as much out of the Minutemen as anyone could this year.
* Washington. It didn’t matter what happened in the Huskies’ late-night game against Utah. Stanford’s 17-14 victory over California eliminated the Huskies from Pac-12 title contention.
Washington still has a say in who will win the Pac-12 North. If the Huskies upend Washington State in the Apple Cup next Saturday, Stanford will head to the league title game. If Washington State wins, it will claim the Pac-12 North for the first time.
* Kansas. So, this made the rounds on Saturday afternoon …
Look elsewhere if you want condemnation for the Jayhawks’ unwillingness to shake hands with Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield before the coin toss (besides, Mayfield is no victim, and his comportment during the game left plenty to be desired).
Still, the humorous coin-toss snub by two young fans seemed like a huge missed opportunity: after all, what were the odds the woeful Kansas defense would lay a finger on the Heisman candidate during the game?
As it turns out, Kansas did sack Mayfield once, but the Sooners got the last laugh in a 41-3 blowout. Mayfield was 20 of 30 for 257 yards and three touchdowns as Oklahoma (10-1, 7-1 Big 12) clinched a place in the conference title game and took another step toward locking down a playoff berth.
* Kliff Kingsbury. For a coach who entered the day 29-31 overall and 15-29 in the Big 12 over five seasons at Texas Tech, Kingsbury really needed to take advantage of facing Texas Christian when it was without injured quarterback Kenny Hill. And to the Red Raiders’ credit, they did hold the Horned Frogs to 289 total yards.
But Texas Tech also managed just a field goal in a 27-3 defeat, leaving Kingsbury a loss away from missing the postseason for the second year in a row and the third time in four years. While the SEC is going to have most of the high-profile coaching vacancies, the Red Raiders might turn into an intriguing option if they opt to make a change.
* Michigan. It’s late November and it’s still impossible to tell exactly how good the Wolverines are in 2017. Michigan is 8-0 against teams currently sporting sub-. 500 records, and 0-3 against opponents with winning marks.
The most important thing, though, is their offense is not nearly good enough to compete with the best in the Big Ten, a function partially of quarterback injuries and ineffectiveness. But the QB woes don’t explain everything for the Wolverines, who have totaled 33 points in their losses to Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin. Those woes are worth examining this offseason a lot more than whatever antics coach Jim Harbaugh concocts in the months to come.
* Pittsburgh. The ever-exciting touchdown pass by a punter aside (kudos to you, Ryan Winslow), the Panthers will remember Saturday as the afternoon their bowl streak ended at nine years. Pitt was plucky in its 20-14 defeat at Virginia Tech, but gave up a pair of scoring drives in the fourth quarter while falling to 4-7.
The Panthers were a long shot to make a bowl game heading into the final two weeks (they face Miami to close out the season). Still, it’s been a sobering year for Coach Pat Narduzzi’s program, and Pittsburgh needs improvement on both sides of the ball to have much of a chance of making noise in the ACC’s Coastal Division in 2018.