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Conference races get shuffled in tumultuous Saturday for the top 10
One of the hallmarks of the 2013 season as it reached its halfway point was its stability.
Only three top-10 teams lost through the first six weeks of the season. Two of those losses were inevitable (No. 8 Clemson over No. 5 Georgia, No. 1 Alabama over No. 7 Texas A&M) and the third wasn’t much of an upset at all as No. 11 Georgia defeated No. 6 South Carolina in Athens.
Finally, we had a chaotic weekend.
It started Thursday when No. 8 Louisville defeated Rutgers in a game where both teams were allergic to the end zone.
On Saturday, an unranked opponent knocked out a national championship contender when Utah took a lead on Stanford and never let go. Before that, Georgia found a wild SEC game it couldn’t win when Missouri upset the Bulldogs in Athens despite an injury to its starting quarterback.
Oklahoma wasn’t among the top-10 teams to lose, but the Sooners’ loss to Texas was nonetheless the surprise of the day.
The upheaval was enough for teams like Baylor, Clemson and Texas A&M to feel fortunate escaping close games with wins.
THREE AND OUT: COLLEGE FOOTBALL WEEK 7 RECAP
Three Big Lessons
Oregon gave us the most impressive win of the season. The season has seen its share of shootouts (Clemson over Georgia, Georgia over LSU) and tense road wins (Ohio State over Northwestern, Alabama over Texas A&M). But Oregon gave us the most impressive win by a top team this season. The Ducks’ 45-24 win over Washington on the road was as complete as any win this season. Marcus Mariota carved up a defense that hadn’t allowed a 200-yard passer all season by passing for 366 yards. Oregon rolled up 631 yards despite missing injured De’Anthony Thomas and departed tight end Colt Lyerla. Many other title contenders have been stout on one side of the ball in big games this season, but Oregon separated itself with a standout defensive performance. Bishop Sankey got his yards on the ground (167 on 28 carries), but Keith Price was held in check. Washington also turned the ball over twice.
Texas can be really, really good when it wants to be. The Longhorns are well on the way to salvaging their season by defeating rival Oklahoma 36-20 to move to 3-0 in the Big 12. The difference between the team that defeated the Sooners for the first time since 2009 and the one that lost to BYU and Ole Miss was stark. Texas’ maligned defense stifled Oklahoma to 4.5 yards per play and had two interceptions, one returned for at touchdown. The Sooners, for some reason, limited Blake Bell in the running game, helping Texas to hold OU to 130 rushing yards. And even though quarterback Case McCoy missed two deep potential touchdown passes and an easy fourth down conversion early in the game, he completed 13 of 21 passes for 190 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Against a stout Oklahoma defense, Texas went 13 of 20 on third down, converting eight of their first 10. Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray controlled the clock with 120 rushing yards apiece, and Daje Johnson proved why he’s Texas’ most important playmaker with a punt return for a touchdown. Mack Brown’s future remains unclear with a new athletic director on the way to Austin, but Texas’ most complete game of the season means the Longhorns still have conference championship goals ahead of them.
Baylor’s offense is mortal on the road. The Bears scored 35 points, won by 10 and picked up their first Big 12 road win since Nov. 12, 2011. But the Bears look awfully vulnerable away from Waco. Baylor had its first two three-and-outs of the season and punted six times (compared to seven in the previous four games). Kansas State showed the key to limiting the Baylor offense was to bottle up Lache Seastrunk. The Baylor running back rushed for 56 yards, the first time he’s been held to double digits in 10 games. Meanwhile, Bryce Petty completed 10 of 19 passes but did so for 318 yards, 219 of which came on three long touchdown passes. Perhaps it says something about Baylor’s wild start to the season that facing adversity on the road and winning by 10 is a red flag of sorts, but the Bears looked more vulnerable than it has all season. The question is if anyone on Baylor’s road schedule — Kansas, Oklahoma State or TCU — can capitalize.
Three Re-evaluated Conference Races
SEC East. Injuries have decimated the contenders in the SEC East, both old and new. Missouri moved to 6-0 by defeating Georgia but lost quarterback James Franklin for at least six weeks with a separated shoulder in the process. Backup Maty Mauk was 3 for 3 against Georgia and battled Franklin in the preseason for the starting job, but Franklin was en route to a breakout year. If there’s any silver lining for Missouri, every other SEC East contender has significant injury concerns. The healthiest team in the division might be South Carolina, who got Jadeveon Clowney back from sore ribs Saturday. Clowney, however, has bone spurs in his foot that will require surgery at the end of the season.
Big 12. The Big 12 was the toughest conference for Athlon Sports to pick during the preseason, but as recently as last week, the league looked like a two-team race between Oklahoma and Baylor. The Sooners and Bears may still be the most complete teams in the league, but it’s more and more evident a two-loss team could represent the Big 12 in the Fiesta Bowl. Oklahoma and Baylor can't be considered the only contenders for the league title. Texas is finally playing up to its talent level, and Texas Tech is still sitting at 5-0 and 3-0 in the league. Oklahoma flopped on both sides of the ball against the Longhorns, and Baylor’s not invincible.
ACC Atlantic. Clemson needed four quarters to put away Boston College, but it’s probably a safe bet the Tigers hit the reset button entering next week’s game against Florida State. Still, it’s worth noting Florida State had the week off while Clemson needed two fourth-quarter touchdowns to beat the Eagles at home. Beyond the two division favorites, the rest of the Atlantic showed little depth. After losing 63-0 to Florida State, Maryland showed little signs the rout was an aberration in a 27-26 win at home over lowly Virginia. NC State also dropped its second consecutive game, losing to Wake Forest and Syracuse back-to-back. Just a reminder: NC State also gave Clemson fits back on Sept. 19.
Moving the Chains
Wisconsin. A Wisconsin rout of Northwestern was predictable, with the Wildcats losing an emotional game to Ohio State while the Badgers sat on a bye week. Wisconsin wasted little time delivering. The Badgers won 35-6 in Wisconsin-like fashion with 284 rushing yards. Wisconsin might not win the Big Ten leaders division, but they made it awfully tough for Northwestern (0-2 in the Big Ten) to win the Legends.
Travis Wilson, Utah. The Utes’ quarterback has had quite the roller coaster season. He threw three interceptions in a shootout with Oregon State, passed for 273 yards in Utah’s win over rival BYU and then six interceptions against UCLA last week. It’s going to be tough to match Saturday, though, when Wilson completed 22 of 33 passes for 230 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in an upset of No. 5 Stanford. Utah has struggled to win consistently in the Pac-12, but the sophomore Wilson is clearly the future.
Sean Mannion, Oregon State. The Mannion record watch continues. Mannion completed 34 of 51 yards for 493 yards with four touchdowns and an interception in a 52-24 win over Washington State to continue his march toward the Pac-12 passing record. Mannion topped 400 yards for the fourth time this season. After a loss to Eastern Washington in the opener, Oregon State has won five in a row, including a 3-0 start in the Pac-12. The Beavers face Cal next week before a brutal final stretch in Pac-12 play.
Stanford’s national title hopes. A one-loss Pac-12 team could be a viable national championship contender, but Stanford probably didn’t want to put that to the test. After a 27-21 loss to Utah, Stanford likely needs to defeat Oregon on Nov. 7 to have a shot at the Pac-12 North division, not just a BCS title. Ty Montgomery tried to save the day with two touchdowns and 295 all-purpose yards (131 receiving), but the Stanford defense didn’t have its best day. A week after a close call with Washington, Stanford allowed touchdown drives of 75, 79 and 99 yards in the first half.
Michigan’s execution. The Wolverines did everything they could to give Penn State a key 43-40 win in triple overtime. Quarterback Devin Gardner passed for 240 yards and rushed for 127, but he returned to his early season form by throwing two interceptions and fumbling once before halftime. In the second half and overtime, kicker Brandon Gibbons failed to convert his last three field goal attempts, with two misses and one block. Though Michigan found an explosive weapon in Devin Funchess, Gardner accounted for all but 28 yards of total offense against the Nittany Lions.
Oklahoma’s offense. The Sooners’ offense has been a work in progress for most of the season, but Oklahoma had no answers against a maligned Texas defense. Blake Bell had his worst game of the season, completing 12 of 26 passes for 134 yards with two interceptions. Despite Texas’ inability to stop read option quarterbacks, Oklahoma rarely called for Bell to run the ball. “If they wanna pass the ball, they can pass it,” Bell told reporters after the game. “If they wanna run it, they can run it. I really don't know what they're thinking most of the time.”
Marcus Mariota, Oregon. It’s tough to argue against Mariota as the Heisman frontrunner through seven weeks. Against a team that had allowed two touchdown passes all season, Mariota threw three. Against a team that allowed an average of 146.4 yards per game and 4.3 yards per attempt, Mariota threw for 366 and 11.8 per pass. Mariota continued to be turnover-free and show impressive poise on the move in the passing game.
Aaron Murray, Georgia. Murray had been a Heisman contender thanks to late-game heroics through the season, but that took a hit against Missouri. After one of his fumbles was returned for a touchdown, Murray threw two fourth quarter interceptions to end a Georgia comeback bid.
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M. The defending Heisman winner is in the mix, especially after coming up in big spots in the only major late-night game Saturday. Manziel came back from an injury scare to his knee to complete 31 of 39 passes for 346 yards while rushing for 122 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-38 win over Ole Miss. He made a bad decision on an interception in the end zone and lost a fumble that the Rebels converted to a touchdown, but most people may remember his game-tying touchdown run in a tight game on the road.
Though This Would Be Close. It Wasn’t
BYU 38, Georgia Tech 20
Michigan State 42, Indiana 28
South Carolina 52, Arkansas 7
Three Close Calls
Clemson 24, Boston College 14
Maryland 27, Virginia 26
Mississippi State 21, Bowling Green 20
Dang, They’re Good
Dang, They’re Bad
Best Games Next Week
Florida at Missouri
UCLA at Stanford
Florida State at Clemson
474. Yards for Michigan State against Indiana. The Spartans had their best offensive game against a Big Ten opponent since the Kirk Cousins era in the 42-28 win over Indiana. The Spartans’ 473 yards was the most for Michigan State in a Big Ten game since 536 on Oct. 9, 2010 in a 34-17 win over Michigan. Among other milestones: Michigan State scored 40 points in a Big Ten game for the first time since a 55-3 win over Indiana on Nov. 12, 2011.
26. Points Alabama has allowed to teams other than Texas A&M. Alabama’s 49-42 win over Texas A&M at the time seemed to be a sign of offensive supremacy in the SEC this season. At least for the Crimson Tide, the 42-point day on defense was an aberration. After a 48-7 win over Kentucky, Alabama has allowed only two touchdowns outside of the Texas A&M game.
Buried on the Depth Chart
Houston. Thirteen undefeated teams remain and none is more unlikely than 5-0 Houston. The Cougars needed to come from behind to beat Memphis 25-15, but the Cougars already matched last season’s win total despite changing starters at quarterback.
USF. In September, the Bulls appeared to be one of the worst teams in the country in an 0-4 start, including losses to McNeese State and FAU. But USF won an ugly 13-10 game against winless Connecticut to improve to 2-0 in the American Athletic Conference. Don’t count on USF to challenge Louisville in the league, though. Quarterbacks in this game combined to go 23 of 71.
UNLV. It’s not the most impressive 4-2 start, but four wins by midseason is a huge deal for UNLV. The Rebels defeated Hawaii 39-37 on Saturday to move the UNLV to 2-0 in the Mountain West. UNLV has defeated Central Michigan, Western Illinois, New Mexico and the Rainbow Warriors to get here, making in the most successful season under Bobby Hauck. UNLV hasn’t won more than five games since 2003.
Three Defensive Statements
LSU. The Tigers’ 17-6 win over Florida was a return to normalcy in Baton Rouge as the LSU defense finally carried the offense again. LSU’s front seven led by Lamin Barrow, Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson held Florida to 2.8 yards per carry and gave Tyler Murphy little time to pass. Murphy finished 15 of 27 for 115 yards with four sacks as Florida had to settle for two field goals.
Vic Beasley, Clemson. The nation’s most productive defensive end plays in South Carolina, but it’s not Jadeveon Clowney. Beasley helped save Clemson from an upset with a 13-yard scoop-and-score fumble recovery for a touchdown and added two tackles for a loss in the 24-14 win. Beasley has 12 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks this season.
Missouri. The Tigers entered the game against Georgia ranked fifth in the SEC in fewest yards allowed per play (5.4) and second in the league in takeaways (11), but Missouri didn’t get much attention for its defense. Even against a depleted Georgia offense, the Tigers made a defensive statement in the 41-26 upset. The defensive line had lost first-round draft pick Sheldon Richardson before the season but controlled the line of scrimmage against the Bulldogs. Missouri gave up 454 yards but dominated the big-play department with two interceptions and a fumble returned for a touchdown.
Three Fun Things from Coaches
Bill Snyder, Kansas State. Only the most discerning college football viewer would have noticed a conspicuous absence Saturday. Kansas State coach Bill Snyder coached the loss to Baylor without his windbreaker from the 2012 Cotton Bowl, a piece of attire that gained notoriety as Snyder wore it for nearly every game since the loss to Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl following the 2011 season.
Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern: Give the Wildcats coach credit for being optimistic after falling behind 21-6 at halftime to Wisconsin. “I'm looking forward to the next 30 minutes because the first 30 minutes sucked," Fitzgerald told a sideline reporter. The second half wasn’t much better. Northwestern lost 35-6.
Steve Spurrier, South Carolina. Speaking of Arkansas, Steve Spurrier piled onto a 52-7 win over Arkansas a bit, saying: “I do feel badly for Arkansas. That’s no fun getting your butt beat at home, homecoming and all that.”
Spurrier: "I do feel badly for Arkansas. That’s no fun getting your butt beat at home, homecoming and all that."— Josh Kendall (@JoshatTheState) October 12, 2013