Taking a look at the highs and lows of the day in college football from around the country:
It was a sure sign that things were not comfortable at Southern California when Coach Clay Helton fired offensive line coach Neil Callaway and took away offensive coordinator Tee Martin’s play-calling responsibilities after the Trojans lost consecutive games last month.
So what’s going to happen now that USC has wasted a 14-point halftime lead against California and fallen to a rebuilding UCLA bunch in back-to-back weeks?
It’s fair to wonder whether it will be an offseason of massive change for the Trojans (5-6, 4-5 Pac-12), whose underachievement this season is all the more remarkable given the decidedly modest state of the Pac-12 South. USC now requires a victory over undefeated Notre Dame to reach a bowl game and avoid (at least temporarily) the program’s first losing season since 2000.
Last week’s loss to Cal, which ended a 14-game winning streak in the series, was bad enough. But to give up 479 total yards in a 34-27 loss at UCLA is startling.
To their credit, the Bruins (3-8, 3-5) have continued to improve after an ugly start. They dropped five in a row to begin the season, though the last loss in that streak was a competitive showing against Washington.
Nonetheless, this is not a banner year for UCLA. It entered the week 93rd nationally in total offense and 101st in total defense. Of course, now it also possesses the Victory Bell.
If UCLA loses next week to Stanford, it will record its fewest victories in a season since 1989. Losing to such a team is not good look for Helton, who brought some unassuming stability to the Trojans after taking over for Steve Sarkisian in the middle of the 2015 season.
Considerable personnel losses, especially quarterback Sam Darnold, suggested USC wasn’t headed for a top 10 season. But the Trojans are in a deeper hole than anyone could have anticipated back in August, a problem that has become especially plain over the last month.
Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish handled their penultimate hurdle of the season, smothering Syracuse, 36-3. Orange quarterback Eric Dungey left the game in the first quarter with an injury, but his presence might not have even made a significant difference. Notre Dame (11-0) controlled things from start to finish.
Ian Book, who sat out last week, threw for 292 yards and two touchdowns in his return. The Irish defense held Syracuse to 3.2 yards a play. And the Orange (8-3) didn’t score until 10 seconds remained in the game.
All that stands between the Irish and a perfect regular season (and the lottery ticket/playoff berth nearly certain to come with it) is USC. Considering the state of the Trojans, Notre Dame’s chances of earning a spot in the semifinals look quite good.
Pittsburgh. The Panthers (7-4, 6-1 ACC) have claimed the ACC’s Coastal Division title after disposing of Wake Forest, 34-13. Quarterback Kenny Pickett threw for 316 yards and three touchdowns, as Pitt earned its first trip to the ACC title game. It will be the Coastal’s sixth representative in the event in as many years.
On paper, Pitt will be a decided underdog against Clemson. Then again, things worked out all right for Pat Narduzzi’s team in its last meeting with the Tigers, a 43-42 triumph in Death Valley that proved to be the only loss absorbed by the eventual national champions.
Jonathan Taylor. A 300-yard day for a Wisconsin back isn’t unprecedented. Melvin Gordon dropped 408 yards on Nebraska in 2014. Anthony Davis nosed over 300 in 2002. Future Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne bulldozed Hawaii for 339 yards in 1996.
So Taylor’s 321-yard day on 33 carries doesn’t land in best-game-ever territory for the Badgers. But it was still exceptional. He had 61 of his yards in extra time as Wisconsin earned a 47-44 victory at Purdue, capping the game with a 17-yard jaunt in the third overtime period.
The Citadel. Okay, this stretches the definition of “winner” more than usual. But the Bulldogs had a 45-yard field goal to take the lead at Alabama in the third quarter. That’s impressive, considering the Crimson Tide haven’t trailed in the second half all season.
Alabama eventually rolled to a 50-17 victory, and the 10-10 tie at the break will soon be a distant memory. But in a week arguably designed to provide a breather for the Crimson Tide’s starters before dealing with the Iron Bowl and the SEC title game, Nick Saban’s team ended up facing one of its trickiest tests.
Clemson. The Tigers gave up a couple early field goals, then took control in a 35-6 victory over Duke. Clemson (11-0, 8-0 ACC) completed a perfect conference season and will have a stress-free Selection Sunday if it can handle South Carolina and Pittsburgh over the next two weeks. Even one loss in those two games might not be enough to deny the Tigers a fourth playoff berth in a row.
Texas. The Longhorns (8-3, 6-2 Big 12) are a victory away from a conference title game appearance after dispatching Iowa State, 24-10. The scenarios are simple: If Texas beats Kansas next week, it will face the winner of Oklahoma-West Virginia on Dec. 1.
If Oklahoma beats the Mountaineers, Texas will finish in sole possession of second place in the Big 12, as long as it beats Kansas. If Texas and West Virginia both win, there will be a three-way tie at 7-2 and Oklahoma would be squeezed out, because it would have lost to both the Longhorns and the Mountaineers.
Central Florida. McKenzie Milton tossed three touchdown passes as the Knights won their 23rd in a row and improved to 10-0 this season, routing Cincinnati, 38-13. The victory secured a trip to the American Athletic title game, and it puts the Knights within two victories of another New Year’s Six appearance.
West Virginia. That’s that for the Mountaineers’ realistic national title hopes. A week after Oklahoma State hung close with Oklahoma, the Cowboys finished the job in a 45-41 victory over West Virginia. Tylan Wallace’s 11-yard touchdown catch with 42 seconds remaining pushed Oklahoma State ahead.
The Mountaineers (8-2, 6-2 Big 12) still possessed a shot at reaching the playoff coming into the week. Now, they need to beat Oklahoma in the regular-season finale to feel good about their chances of even making the Big 12 title game.
Virginia Tech. The Hokies’ 25-year bowl streak is even more at risk after a 38-14 loss to Miami. Given the disintegration of the Virginia Tech defense, it is appropriate its presence helped revive the previously dormant Hurricane offense. Miami (6-5, 3-4 ACC) snapped a four-game slide, while Virginia Tech (4-6, 3-4) needs to defeat Virginia and Marshall in the next two weeks to finish at .500.
Illinois. If the Illini (4-7, 2-6 Big Ten) just absorbed a routine loss to Iowa, they wouldn’t make the cut for this exercise. After all, Illinois isn’t very good, and there isn’t much point in dwelling on it.
But a 63-0 shellacking at home is a 63-0 shellacking at home. It isn’t a Big Ten record-setter — not even close. But it did tie for the Illini’s most lopsided loss ever, matching a 63-0 defeat against the University of Chicago in 1906.