Unquestionably, it’s a stellar result for first-year coach Chris Klieman, who won his share of big games while leading North Dakota State to four FCS titles. K-State (5-2, 2-2 Big 12) had some commendably long drives, but also took advantage of short fields created by an interception, a fumble and a short punt.
As much praise as the Wildcats warrant — and it is more than a dollop — this is an even more meaningful outcome for Oklahoma. The Sooners (7-1, 4-1) trailed by 25 points early in the fourth quarter, and even Jalen Hurts’s latest statistical smorgasbord (395 yards and a TD passing, 96 yards and three TDs rushing) could only do so much to erase that hole.
The loss changes Oklahoma’s playoff calculus. Instead of being able to count on an undefeated season being enough to vault them into a national semifinal, the Sooners have used their mulligan before the start of November. There is enough time for Oklahoma to end up as a top-four team at year’s end, but its margin for error is gone and it probably needs some help at this stage, as well.
Jim Harbaugh. For as much as Michigan has come up wanting in big games under the fifth-year coach, the Wolverines’ 45-14 demolition of Notre Dame is one of Harbaugh’s finest moments since returning to his alma mater.
While Hassan Haskins (20 carries, 149 yards) played a role, this was very much a masterpiece for the Michigan defense. Notre Dame managed just 3.0 yards a play and 1.5 yards a rush, and it took 10 possessions before the Irish got on the scoreboard.
Now 6-2, it’s not unthinkable the Wolverines could use this blowout to ignite a late-season push. With Maryland, Michigan State and Indiana up next, the Wolverines have a chance to be 9-2 when they play host to Ohio State in their regular-season finale.
Mac Jones. The Alabama quarterback encountered minimal resistance in his first start in place of the injured Tua Tagovailoa. Arkansas proved to be the perfect opponent to ease into a starting role against as Jones completed 18 of 22 for 235 yards and three touchdowns as the Crimson Tide pummeled the Razorbacks, 48-7.
Joshua Kelley. It’s about the time to start wondering if UCLA is actually good after the Bruins (3-5, 3-2 Pac-12) built a 32-point lead and then staved off Arizona State, 42-32. This comes a week after UCLA manhandled Stanford on the road.
But there wasn’t much reason to question whether Kelley was actually good, not after he rolled up 1,243 yards last season. He steamrolled the Sun Devils for 164 yards and four touchdowns Saturday and has 340 yards and five scores over the last two weeks.
But even in that day, three of the victories came against Howard, Southeast Missouri State and Stony Brook. To find the last time all four beat FBS schools on the same day, you have to go back to the three-month acid trip known as the 2007 season.
Peyton Ramsey threw for 351 yards and two touchdowns and Whop Philyor caught 14 passes for 178 yards for the Hoosiers (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten), who are a serious threat to get to eight wins with games against Northwestern and Purdue still to come.
Louisiana State. Made it through October without a loss after upending Auburn, 23-20. It wasn’t easy, even with Auburn managing just 287 total yards, but LSU did its part to ensure a battle of unbeatens in two weeks when it visits Alabama.
Navy. Coach Ken Niumatalolo said after going 3-10 last year, he’ll never take bowl eligibility for granted again. The Midshipmen didn’t make it easy to get there, blowing a 24-point lead before finally finishing off Tulane, 41-38, on freshman Bijan Nichols’ 48-yard field goal as time expired.
Navy (6-1, 4-1 American) has had harrowing fourth-quarter escapes at home against Air Force and Tulane this month to help it become eligible for the postseason for the 15th time in 17 years. Friday’s trip to Connecticut will give the Mids a good chance to get to 7-1 before their annual game against Notre Dame.
Speaking of the Huskies …
Randy Edsall. The Huskies coach famously has a contract filled with amusing in-game incentives, which include bonuses for things like scoring first, recording the most red-zone trips and accruing the most tackles for loss.
Any way you slice it, Edsall is going to get some decent bonus money for UConn’s 56-35 victory over Massachusetts on Saturday — enough to buy plenty of headphones and Fortnite accounts, were he so inclined.
Which, as we were reminded this week, he is not.
Appalachian State. Life as a ranked team in the FBS suits the Mountaineers just fine. A week after crushing Louisiana-Monroe, 52-7, Appalachian State sailed past South Alabama, 30-3.
The Mountaineers are one of two undefeated Group of Five teams left, along with Southern Methodist. If they can turn back South Carolina in two weeks, they’ll have a chance to remain in the conversation for a Cotton Bowl bid as the Group of Five’s representative in the New Year’s Six structure.
Notre Dame. Go ahead and remove the Fighting Irish (5-2) from the playoff discussion. The 45-14 loss at Michigan finishes off Brian Kelly’s team. Nonetheless, a perfect November (against Virginia Tech, Duke, Navy, Boston College and Stanford) would likely place Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl opposite an ACC team.
Texas. So much for the Longhorns finding any way to take advantage of Oklahoma’s misfortune today. Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger threw four interceptions in a 37-27 loss at Texas Christian that puts a serious dent in the Longhorns’ hopes of reaching the Big 12 title game.
Texas (5-3, 3-2 Big 12) is now two games behind Baylor in the loss column and already lost head-to-head against Oklahoma. More importantly, given the preseason hype around Tom Herman’s third Longhorn team, Texas might have to win out for this season to not be considered a disappointment — and in some quarters, the loss to the Horned Frogs (4-3, 2-2) could have cemented that perception.
Big 12. If the conference is going to produce a playoff team, possibilities that are already effectively down to a 13-0 Baylor or a 12-1 Oklahoma, it’s going to need a strong enough second tier to provide some impressive victories. But with the league cannibalizing itself — TCU over Texas, Oklahoma State over Iowa State — the Big 12 could be on track to have a glut of 7-5 or 8-4 teams at year’s end.
Wisconsin. It’s hard for a team’s stock to tumble so dramatically in a two-week span this deep into the season as the Badgers. First was the stunning loss at Illinois last week, though Saturday’s outcomes make that defeat a little less shocking.
While Illinois was busy smothering Purdue, 24-6, Wisconsin was further exposed in a 38-7 loss at Ohio State. The Badgers (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) managed just 191 yards, and their lone touchdown drive came after a blocked punt handed them possession at the Ohio State 30-yard line.
Two weeks ago, Paul Chryst’s team had recorded four shutouts and seemed like a threat to whoever emerged from the Big Ten East. Now, the Badgers look like they’ll be fortunate to claim the West Division.
Northwestern. The Wildcats’ feeble offense hit a new low in a 20-0 loss at home to rival Iowa. The Big Ten West champions from a year ago, Northwestern (1-6, 0-5 Big Ten) is on the verge of bowl elimination after failing to even reach the red zone against the Hawkeyes (6-2, 3-2).
This isn’t a one-game issue, either. The Wildcats have managed 38 points while dropping five in a row. And while the schedule isn’t quite so arduous the rest of the way as it has been of late, Northwestern is starting to flirt with “worst season since …” territory. The Wildcats last won only four games in 2006, and last won only three in 2002.
Takeaways from Week 9’s weeknight appetizers:
Southern California senior Michael Pittman Jr.’s fourth quarter was a reminder why he is one of the nation’s top wideouts. The Trojans earned a 35-31 victory at Colorado on Friday in large part because of Pittman’s stellar finish. He caught four passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns in the final 15 minutes and finished with seven catches for 156 yards.
Pittman has only taken over a couple of games this season (he obliterated Utah for 232 yards last month in another Friday night game), but if Southern Cal (5-3, 4-1) is to stay on track to win the Pac-12 South, he will almost certainly have a big say in the matter. After Friday, he is up to 50 catches for 755 yards and seven touchdowns on the year.
Fortune favors the bold — not those who punt with a three-point lead and face a fourth and four at their opponent’s 38-yard-line. Colorado Coach Mel Tucker opted to punt with 6:16 left and a 31-28 lead, pinning Southern California at its 10. The Buffaloes wouldn’t see the ball again until 2:15 remained, and by then they trailed by four.
Granted, there was too much time left for Colorado to seal a victory with just a first down. But if you’re a first-year coach whose team is 3-4, doesn’t it make sense to be a bit more aggressive? That the Buffaloes are now 0-14 all-time against the Trojans only adds to the missed opportunity.
Southern Methodist continues to live well — but its luck might run out soon. The Mustangs (8-0, 4-0 American) remained unbeaten with a 34-31 victory at Houston, improving to 4-0 in one-possession games. Thursday’s victory wasn’t quite so harrowing because SMU never trailed and was up by at least eight throughout the second half until a Cougars touchdown with 4:47 to go.
Still, the Mustangs gave up 510 yards, including a whopping 22.6 per Houston completion, and trips to AAC West contenders Memphis (Nov. 2) and Navy (Nov. 23) remain. The eight wins are SMU’s most since 2011, cementing the Mustangs as one of the sport’s best stories this season. But keeping things going throughout November won’t be easy.
Updating last week’s rankings, which factor in past Heisman Trophy voting trends (in favor of quarterbacks and players on top-five teams, against wide receivers and defensive players) as much as on-field performance.
1. QB Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma (2,074 yards, 20 TD, 3 INT passing; 705 yards, 10 TD rushing). He is second in the country in total offense (behind Washington State QB Anthony Gordon) after lambasting West Virginia for 316 yards passing, 74 yards rushing and five total touchdowns. The graduate transfer still has some looming tests; the Sooners’ next four opponents all rank in the top 50 nationally in total defense. (Last week: 2)
2. QB Joe Burrow, LSU (2,484 yards, 29 TD, 3 INT passing; 94 yards, 2 TD rushing). Meet the new single-season passing touchdown record-holder in Baton Rouge. There are still five games left in the regular season. Burrow shredded Mississippi State for 327 yards and four touchdowns in a road rout. (LW: 3)
3. QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama (2,166 yards, 27 TD, 2 INT passing; 30 yards, 2 TD rushing). The junior’s ankle surgery alters the race for the stiff-arming statue, and he will tumble a few more spots if he misses any more than the Crimson Tide’s date with Arkansas on Saturday. But there could be chances for a singular moment against Auburn or in a potential SEC title game if the Crimson Tide is still in the playoff hunt. (LW: 1)
4. QB Justin Fields, Ohio State (1,492 yards, 22 TD, 1 INT passing; 291 yards, 8 TD rushing). Fields has yet to throw more than 25 times in a game, an illustration of how well the Buckeyes have had games in hand so far. He should be in for a more taxing day against Wisconsin’s defense. (LW: 4)
5. QB Justin Herbert, Oregon (1,882 yards, 21 TD, 1 INT passing). Herbert had a 280-yard, four-touchdown day against Washington as the Ducks seized firm control of the Pac-12 North. The absence of high-profile opponents the rest of the way will work against him — not to mention Oregon’s playoff hopes. But he is having a sensational season. (LW: Not ranked)
6. RB Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State (1,265 yards, 15 TD rushing; 6 receptions for 24 yards). He won’t win the Heisman, but the nation’s biggest workhorse back posted another 171 yards and two touchdowns in a loss to Baylor last week. Hubbard is single-handedly making the 4-3 Cowboys appointment viewing on Saturdays. (LW: 6)
7. RB Travis Etienne, Clemson (781 yards, 6 TD rushing; 15 receptions for 128 yards and 1 TD). At some point, there will be a drumbeat for somebody on the Tigers’ roster to get some Heisman traction. Well, at least as long as they’re undefeated. The defending ACC player of the year, Etienne is averaging 8.0 yards per carry. He should be fresh for the stretch run; he is averaging 14 rushing attempts per game. (LW: Not ranked)
Five with the most as stake in Week 9
1. Auburn. From Oregon on a neutral field to trips to Texas A&M, Florida and now LSU, there isn’t a more tested team away from home than the Tigers (6-1, 3-1 SEC). If they can snag a win in Death Valley, they will maintain a playoff pulse entering a four-game November homestand (including rivalry dates with Georgia and Alabama on the Plains).
2. LSU. There’s a little bit less of an onus on Ed Orgeron’s team when the SEC West’s two sets of Tigers tangle, if only because it hasn’t absorbed a loss. So there’s a teensy bit less at stake, but not much. It’s the last game for LSU (7-0, 3-0 SEC) before it heads to Alabama for the 2019 regular season’s game of the century on Nov. 9.
3. Ohio State. The 7-0 Buckeyes continue to pound opponents, and with Maryland and Rutgers up to start November, it’s difficult to envision them at anything other than 10-0 if they can handle an angry Wisconsin team in the Horseshoe. The Badgers still have only one loss, but their one-point setback at Illinois last week was one of the season’s most startling results.
4. Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish (5-1) open the second half of their schedule on the road against Michigan in what could be their most daunting remaining game. Notre Dame has to win out to maintain any playoff hopes, but it could also use some style points in Ann Arbor.
5. Liberty. The Flames are looking for their first victory over a Power Five school since moving up to the FBS level last year and only their second ever after toppling Baylor in 2017. A trip to reeling Rutgers is such a great opportunity that Liberty (5-2) is actually favored by a little more than a touchdown.
Tide’s Mac attack
Alabama’s offense is in the hands of redshirt sophomore quarterback Mac Jones, at least for now.
Jones takes over for Tua Tagovailoa, who suffered an ankle injury Saturday against Tennessee and underwent surgery this week. Coach Nick Saban told reporters this week there was not a firm timeline for Tagovailoa to return.
Jones was 6 for 11 for 72 yards in relief of Tagovailoa and will start Saturday for the Crimson Tide (7-0, 4-0 SEC) at home against Arkansas (2-5, 0-4). Considering the Razorbacks have lost 15 consecutive SEC games and 19 of their past 20, Alabama probably won’t need Jones to be a statistical dynamo in his first start (but surely wouldn’t complain if he was).
If Tagovailoa misses more than one game, Jones could find himself in quite a spotlight in his second potential start when the Crimson Tide plays host to undefeated LSU on Nov. 9.
Two of this season’s more impressive turnarounds have come under first-year coaches at Group of Five schools with some history of success of late.
Former Florida coach Jim McElwain has steered Central Michigan to a 5-3 start a year after the Chippewas went 1-11. That season was a decided outlier for the Mid-American Conference school; Central Michigan had won between six and eight games in each of its previous six seasons.
Credit a pair of backs and a veteran offensive line for the improvement. Jonathan Ward (661 yards, eight touchdowns) and Kobe Lewis (616 yards, eight TDs) are one of only two sets of Football Bowl Subdivision teammates to both reach 600 rushing yards so far this year (Buffalo’s Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks are the other tandem).
Western Kentucky (5-2, 4-0 Conference USA) has also enjoyed a rebound after going 3-9 last year, its worst season since 2010. The Hilltoppers’ defense allowed 421.6 yards and 27.8 points per game in 2018, numbers first-year coach Tyson Helton’s team has cut to 287.3 yards (15th in the FBS) and 17.9 points (17th).
All of this has come after an inauspicious opening loss to Football Championship Subdivision school Central Arkansas. The Hilltoppers have allowed just 52 points in their five victories to close in on bowl eligibility, but they do face a challenging stretch against Conference USA contenders Marshall and Florida Atlantic over the next two weeks.