The Good, The Bad and The NCAA
What a Weekend the NCAA gave us! College football always finds a way to deliver, even on schedules that look like they could be boring on paper. No LSU. No Alabama. No Ohio State. No Penn State. No Oklahoma. No Heisman Trophy front-runners in action…and now no Willie Taggart.
No problem. And it all started Thursday Night.
For the first time ever, a team from the Sun Belt was almost starting to matter to casual college football fans. Appalachian State never had a chance of playing for a national championship, but the Mountaineers entered Week 10 with an undefeated record and a decent shot at representing the Group of Five in the New Year’s Six Cotton Bowl. They had crept up to No. 20 in the AP poll, which was the highest ranking in the conference’s history. (They were No. 25 for one week last year, as was Troy in 2016.)
But that’s all past-tense conjecture in the aftermath of their 24-21 home loss to Georgia Southern on Thursday night.
Georgia’s 24-17 victory over Florida ended up being everything we thought it would be. Two excellent defenses slugged it out for 60 minutes of turnover-free football. Both Jake Fromm (20-of-30, 279 yards, 2 TD) and Kyle Trask (21-of-33, 257 yards, 2 TD) threw the ball well, posting nearly identical lines. Georgia had an edge in the rushing department, though not nearly enough to blow the game open.
But there was one element in which Georgia took Florida to the cleaners: third-down success rate. It started early with Florida facing a 3rd-and-1 at the Georgia 40 on the opening drive of the game. A false start turned it into 3rd-and-6, on which the Gators only gained five yards. They failed the ensuing 4th-and-1 attempt, setting up Georgia with a short field.
Disappointment continues for the Seminoles. In this case, we’re talking about the rivalry showdown between 4-4 Miami and 4-4 Florida State. No matter how things played out, the losing team was going to be both sub-.500 and extremely disappointed. And now the releasing of Willie Taggart coming on Sunday adds to the failing of the program.
And what happened? Florida State’s longest play of the game only went for 20 yards, and it seemed like every step forward led to two backward. Miami recorded nine sacks and a total of 16 tackles for loss. Factoring in all those negative plays, the Seminoles ran the ball 41 times for just 31 yards. And with Miami going on the road for a 27-10 victory, here’s your L, Seminoles.
Florida State has an almost certain win at home against Alabama State, an almost certain loss at Florida and a wild card at Boston College left on the schedule.
What’s Up with UCF and the 2nd half ? In the last two games against East Carolina and Houston, UCF has outscored 56-7 in the second half and allowed just 81 yards.
Trailing at half time, UCF (7-2), the two-time defending American Athletic Conference champion, hit one big play after another, exposing the Cougars’ suspect secondary. Bentavioius Thompson had a 43-yard touchdown run, Gabriel hooked up with Tre Nixon for a 34-yard strike and 42-yard, over-the-shoulder catch by Jacob Harris set up a 2-yard run by Thompson.
The Knights scored 21 straight points, turning a rare halftime deficit into a 44-29 win at Spectrum Stadium.
UH (3-6) lost for the fifth time in the last seven games and is on the verge of just the program’s third losing season in the last 15 years.
Over 10,000 fans were on hand for the Division II National Showcase game and thanks to a 20-13 victory over Wingate, the Lenoir-Rhyne Football Team clinched at least a share of the ninth South Atlantic Conference Championship in program history. The Bears can claim an outright title with a win over Catawba in two weeks. Jaquay Mitchell was the star for the Bears, scoring each of the LR touchdowns and accounting for 176 total yards.
The Bears have now won 19 straight regular season games, 14 straight South Atlantic Conference contests and 12 straight inside Moretz Stadium.
Here are the ESPN Power Rankings after Week 10:
1. LSU (8-0) The Tigers have had next week’s trip to Alabama circled all year, after the Crimson Tide embarrassed them in a 29-0 loss in Baton Rouge last season, which was one of the primary reasons LSU coach Ed Orgeron revamped his offense. The Tigers punted on their first nine possessions, had only 196 yards of offense and ran 12 times for 25 yards. LSU hasn’t won in Tuscaloosa since a 9-6 decision in overtime in 2011. The Tigers have lost eight straight games in the series, the past three by a combined score of 63-10.
Up next: at Alabama (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
2. Ohio State (8-0) After having an extra week to rest following the 38-7 rout of Wisconsin on Oct. 26, the Buckeyes are preparing for the Jim Delany expansion doubleheader, with consecutive games against Maryland (home) and Rutgers (road). The Terrapins and Scarlet Knights are a combined 1-11 against Big Ten foes this season. Those matchups will be Ohio State’s final warm-ups before closing the regular season against Penn State at home on Nov. 23 and at rival Michigan on Nov. 30. ESPN’s Football Power Index gives the Buckeyes a 72.6% chance to win the Big Ten and a 57.4% chance to win their remaining four regular-season games.
Up next: vs. Maryland (Saturday, TBD)
3. Alabama (8-0) Get ready for “As The Ankle Turns (But Hopefully Not)” in Tuscaloosa, as star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is recovering from surgery to repair a high ankle sprain he suffered on Oct. 19. Tide coach Nick Saban said Tagovailoa returned to practice on Wednesday but was limited and will be a game-time decision to play against LSU. He battled a right knee injury in last season’s win over the Tigers, in which he threw for 295 yards with three total touchdowns. The Tide will be without starting tight end Miller Forristall, who is out for six weeks after undergoing throat surgery.
Up next: vs. LSU (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
4. Clemson (9-0) The Tigers blasted FCS opponent Wofford 59-14 in a name-the-score game at Death Valley on Saturday for their 24th consecutive victory. The Tigers have barely broken a sweat over the past month, outscoring their four opponents by a combined 208-46. They probably won’t be tested at NC State next week, either, before closing the regular season against Wake Forest at home on Nov. 16 and at rival South Carolina two weeks later. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence threw for 213 yards with four touchdowns (three passing and one rushing), and tailback Travis Etienne ran for 212 yards (on nine carries!) with two scores against the Terriers. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, that’s the second highest rushing total on fewer than 10 carries in the past 20 years. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon had 216 yards on nine carries against Nebraska in 2014.
Up next: at NC State (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
5. Penn State (8-0) The Nittany Lions had the weekend off, and now they get the dreaded noon ET kickoff for Saturday’s showdown at undefeated Minnesota. Penn State hasn’t played the Golden Gophers since a 29-26 win in overtime at home on Oct. 1, 2016. The Nittany Lions have played at Minnesota only twice in the past nine years, winning 33-21 in 2010 and losing 24-10 in 2013. Penn State’s defense will be without starting defensive tackle Antonio Shelton, who was suspended for one game after spitting on a Michigan State player during the fourth quarter of a 28-7 win on Oct. 26.
Up next: at Minnesota (Saturday, noon ET, ABC)
6. Oregon (8-1) The Ducks remained in the hunt for a Pac-12 title and a potential spot in the College Football Playoff by dominating Southern California 56-24 on the road. The Ducks scored on offense, defense and special teams in winning their eighth consecutive game. In the second quarter, Brady Breeze returned an interception 32 yards for a score, then Mykael Wright returned a kickoff 100 yards for another score. Quarterback Justin Herbert completed 21 of 26 passes for 225 yards with three scores and one interception. Penn State transfer Juwan Johnson caught three touchdown passes in the second half. Johnson finished with seven catches for 106 yards; he had six catches in the previous eight games. The Ducks were penalized 11 times for 157 yards.
Up next: vs. Arizona (Nov. 16, TBD)
7. Georgia (7-1) The Bulldogs took control of the SEC East race with a 24-17 victory over Florida, their third straight win in the series. Georgia’s offense was much more efficient than it had been during the previous two games. The Bulldogs went 12-for-18 on third down, had 279 passing yards and didn’t allow a sack. Quarterback Jake Fromm completed a career-high 10 passes on third down and was 10-for-12 for 158 yards with two touchdowns when the Gators blitzed. Receiver Lawrence Cager had seven catches for 132 yards with one score. Georgia still has three SEC games remaining — against Missouri (home), Auburn (road) and Texas A&M (home) — so there’s still work to do.
Up next: vs. Missouri (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN)
8. Utah (8-1) The Utes cleared their biggest remaining hurdle in the Pac-12 South race by knocking off Washington 33-28 on the road. It was Utah’s fifth straight Pac-12 victory since dropping its opener against Southern California, the longest such streak in school history. The Utes rallied from an 11-point deficit in the first half. Quarterback Tyler Huntley threw for one touchdown and ran for another score, and Zack Moss ran for 100 yards with one touchdown. It was Moss’ fifth game with 100 rushing yards or more this season, which is the most in the Pac-12. Utah’s defense forced three turnovers and limited UW to only 53 rushing yards on 22 attempts. After an open date next week, Utah should be heavy favorites in its three remaining Pac-12 games — against UCLA (home), Arizona (road) and Colorado (home).
Up next: vs. UCLA (Nov. 16, TBD)
9. Oklahoma (7-1) The Sooners had an extra week to try to move on from their stunning 48-41 loss at Kansas State on Oct. 26. The good news: FPI still gives OU an 84% chance to reach the Big 12 championship game. The bad news: The Allstate Playoff Predictor gives the Sooners only a 10% chance to make the CFP — and a 31% chance even if they win out. The Sooners’ remaining regular-season schedule — Iowa State (home), Baylor (road), TCU (home) and Oklahoma State (road) — might not be enough to persuade the selection committee to put them among the top four.
Up next: vs. Iowa State (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, FOX)
10. Baylor (8-0) It was far from a work of art on offense, but the Bears did enough to hang on for a 17-14 victory over West Virginia on Thursday night. It was Baylor’s 10th straight victory and the first time it won while scoring fewer than 20 points since 2006. Quarterback Charlie Brewer threw for 277 yards with two touchdowns, but the Mountaineers sacked him eight times. The Bears also struggled in the red zone, failing to score from the West Virginia 1 on three straight plays. Still, it was a dominant defensive performance, as Baylor remained the lone unbeaten team in the Big 12.
Up next: at TCU (Saturday, TBD)
11. Minnesota (8-0) After opening the season with four consecutive one-score victories, the Golden Gophers have dominated their past four Big Ten foes heading into Saturday’s showdown against unbeaten Penn State. Minnesota defeated Illinois, Nebraska, Rutgers and Maryland by a combined score of 168-41. It’s the first time since 1934 that the Gophers have won four consecutive Big Ten games by at least 20 points, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information. The Gophers will face an upgrade in opposition in their back-loaded schedule in November, with games against Penn State, Iowa and Wisconsin in their final four regular-season contests. If Minnesota can go 3-1 down the stretch, it will lock up the Big Ten West.
Up next: vs. Penn State (Saturday, noon ET, ABC)
12. Florida (7-2) Florida’s loss to Georgia was a crushing blow to its SEC East title and CFP hopes. The Gators still can’t run the ball, finishing with 21 yards on 19 carries, and they didn’t convert a third down until there was only 7:10 left in the fourth quarter. Florida’s defense did a good job of slowing down Georgia’s running game in the first half, but it couldn’t get the Bulldogs off the field. Defensive ends Jonathan Greenard and Jabari Zuniga returned from ankle injuries, but neither one applied much pressure on Fromm. Florida has games left against Vanderbilt (home), Missouri (road) and Florida State (home). If the Gators can win all three, they might have a chance to find their way into a New Year’s Six bowl game.
Up next: vs. Vanderbilt (Saturday, noon ET, ESPN)
13. Auburn (7-2) After struggling on offense in a loss at LSU, Auburn opened things up in a 20-14 victory over Ole Miss at home. Freshman quarterback Bo Nix had career highs in pass attempts (44) and completions (30) while throwing for 340 yards. D.J. Williams ran for 93 yards with one touchdown. And Auburn finished with 507 yards of offense. Of concern is that Auburn only reached the end zone twice. The Tigers missed three field goals — two of them were 49-yard attempts — and Nix lost a fumble at the Ole Miss 38. They’ll have time to address their mistakes during a bye week before they face Georgia at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Up next: vs. Georgia (Nov. 16, TBD)
14. Michigan (7-2) The Wolverines head into their second bye week riding a two-game winning streak after routing overmatched Maryland 38-7 on the road. The Wolverines delivered a complete team effort, limiting the Terrapins to only 233 yards of offense with four sacks, returning a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown and pulling off a fake punt (and allowing a 97-yard kickoff return for a score) and running for 155 yards and throwing for 176. The Wolverines still face two of their rivals at home — against Michigan State on Nov. 16 and Ohio State on Nov. 30.
Up next: vs. Michigan State (Nov. 16, TBD)
15. Notre Dame (6-2) The Fighting Irish looked less than inspiring for the second week in a row, needing Ian Book’s 7-yard touchdown run with 29 seconds left to put away 17-point underdog Virginia Tech at home. Notre Dame’s self-inflicted wounds were its biggest problem. Book threw two interceptions inside the VT 10-yard line, and the Hokies returned a fumble 98 yards for a touchdown. The Irish also missed a field goal and had a catch-interference penalty on a punt, which gave Virginia Tech a short field. The Irish committed seven penalties for 75 yards, as well. Worse, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly told reporters that starting offensive tackle Robert Hainsey probably fractured his left ankle in the game. The Irish were already playing without right guard Tommy Kraemer, who is out for four to six weeks with a sprained knee.
Up next: at Duke (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ACCN)
16. Wisconsin (6-2) Coming off back-to-back road losses, the Badgers have an extra week to try to get back on track heading into the final month of the regular season. After losing at Illinois and Ohio State, Wisconsin’s goal now is to catch Minnesota in the Big Ten West and try to beat the Gophers on the road in the Nov. 30 regular-season finale. Wisconsin can take a big step toward doing that by beating Iowa at home on Saturday. The Badgers have won six of their past seven games against the Hawkeyes.
Up next: vs. Iowa (Saturday, TBD)
17. Memphis (7-1) One of the biggest days in the Memphis program’s history turned into the Antonio Gibson Show. The senior wide receiver from Stockbridge, Georgia, scored three touchdowns of 50 yards or more in the Tigers’ 54-48 victory over SMU. He had a 50-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter, opened the second half with a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and had a 78-yard scoring run in the fourth. Gibson is the first player with that trifecta against a ranked opponent since LSU’s Leonard Fournette did it against Ole Miss in 2016. Gibson is the only player in the FBS to score three different ways in a game this season, and he set the Memphis single-game record with 386 all-purpose yards.
Up next: at Houston (Nov. 16, TBD)
18. Iowa (6-2) The Hawkeyes have new life in the Big Ten West after Wisconsin’s consecutive road losses, and they could all but eliminate the Badgers from the race with a road victory on Saturday. Then the Hawkeyes get the Gophers at home on Nov. 16. Iowa’s defense has been dominant for most of the season. That’s not the problem. Iowa’s offense has been downright pitiful against better opponents. The Hawkeyes averaged 11 points against Iowa State, Michigan and Penn State and 32.4 against everybody else. In its two losses to the Wolverines and Nittany Lions, Iowa had six turnovers and allowed 10 sacks.
Up next: at Wisconsin (Saturday, TBD)
19. Kansas State (6-2) The Wildcats delivered one of the season’s biggest upsets a week ago, stunning then-No. 5 Oklahoma 48-41. The fact that the Wildcats were able to handle that success might have been just as impressive, as they rolled past rival Kansas 38-10 on the road on Saturday for their 11th consecutive victory in the series. The Wildcats are now bowl eligible in coach Chris Klieman’s first season. Quarterback Skylar Thompson ran for 127 yards with three touchdowns, and Kansas State’s defense held the Jayhawks to only 241 yards of offense and 3-for-13 on third down. The Wildcats ran for 342 yards, despite their leading rushers, James Gilbert and Jordon Brown, combining for only two carries because of injuries.
Up next: at Texas (Saturday, TBD)
20. Wake Forest (7-1) When does Wake Forest’s Dave Clawson become one of the hot commodities in the coaching carousel? By walloping NC State 44-10 at home, the Demon Deacons secured a fourth straight winning record and a fourth consecutive bowl game for the first time in school history. After consecutive 3-9 campaigns in Clawson’s first two seasons, Wake Forest has won 29 games since the start of 2016. The Demon Deacons had 418 yards of offense against the Wolfpack, and quarterback Jamie Newman completed 25 of 38 passes for 287 yards with three scores. Wake Forest went into the game ranked in the top 10 in the FBS in total offense, passing and third-down conversions, and it has scored more than 300 points in the first eight games for the first time in program history.
Up next: at Virginia Tech (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, TBD)
21. Boise State (7-1) After dropping their first game of the season two weeks ago, the Broncos got back in the win column with a 52-42 victory against a much-improved San Jose State team. The most encouraging sign for Boise State was that quarterback Hank Bachmeier returned. It wasn’t his most prolific game (14-of-17, 213 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT), but the run/pass balance was effective, especially in the second half. Defensively, the Broncos had no answers for SJSU quarterback Josh Love, who threw for 438 yards.
Up next: vs. Wyoming (Saturday, 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN)
22. Cincinnati (7-1) The Bearcats barely survived at East Carolina as Sam Crosa kicked a 32-yard field goal as time expired for a 46-43 decision and a sixth consecutive victory. Desmond Ridder threw for 161 yards with one touchdown and ran for 146 yards. Michael Warren II had 141 yards with three scores. The news wasn’t as good on the other side of the ball. Cincinnati’s defense was torched by ECU’s Holton Ahlers, who set a school single-game record with 535 yards on 32-for-52 passing with four touchdowns. The Bearcats surrendered 638 yards of offense and had 12 penalties for 117 yards. The good news: Cincinnati plays UConn before closing the regular season with a difficult three-game stretch against South Florida (road), Temple (home) and Memphis (road).
Up next: vs. UConn (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBSSN)
23. SMU (8-1) SMU coach Sonny Dykes pulled out all stops, but the Mustangs came up short in their highly anticipated matchup at Memphis. The six-point loss cost SMU control of the AAC’s West Division. Although SMU, Memphis and Navy each have one loss in conference play, the Tigers would now have to lose two more games for SMU to win the division because of the head-to-head loss. SMU quarterback Shane Buechele played well, completing 34 of 54 passes for 456 yards with three touchdowns. The Mustangs played without top receiver Reggie Roberson Jr., who was out with a foot injury. James Proche stepped up with 13 catches for 149 yards with one score. With 264 catches in his career, Proche moved into No. 2 on SMU’s all-time list, behind leader Emmanuel Sanders (285).
Up next: vs. East Carolina (Saturday, noon ET, TBD)
24. San Diego State (7-1) The Aztecs have won four straight games to grab control of the Mountain West’s West Division with four regular-season games to go. They’re coming off a closer-than-expected 20-17 victory at UNLV a week ago. San Diego State will play three games in the next 15 days — two against teams directly behind them in the division standings. The Aztecs play home games against Nevada on Saturday and Fresno State on Nov. 15, followed by a trip to Hawaii on Nov. 23,
Up next: vs. Nevada (Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
25. Indiana (7-2) The Hoosiers won their fourth straight Big Ten game by blasting Northwestern 34-3 at home in the first November night game ever played at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington. It is the Hoosiers’ longest winning streak in conference play since 1993, when they also won four in a row. The Hoosiers already have secured their first seven-win campaign since 2007 in coach Tom Allen’s third full season. IU’s defense dominated Northwestern’s struggling offense, limiting the Wildcats to only 199 yards of offense, including 112 passing yards, and forcing three turnovers. Stevie Scott III ran for two touchdowns and caught one more. While the Hoosiers have feasted on the Big Ten’s bottom-feeders, beating Rutgers, Maryland, Nebraska and Northwestern, they’ll get two big tests against Penn State and Michigan after the upcoming open date.
Up next: at Penn State (Nov. 16, TBD)