The skeptics are nowhere to be found in Manhattan, Kan., and Gainesville, Fla. Of course, Alabama and Oregon keep rolling in the national title hunt, but two potential usurpers continue to state their resounding cases week after week.
A month after defeating Oklahoma 24-19, Kansas State erased any misgivings about the Wildcats’ clout as a national contender by pounding West Virginia 55-14 in Morgantown. In the process, Collin Klein likely flip-flopped his spot with Geno Smith for the nation’s Heisman frontrunner of the week.
Meanwhile, Florida continues to defy the numbers by defeating South Carolina by 33 points, an astounding feat considering the Gators were outgained 191 yards to 183 and its quarterback passes for fewer than 100 yards in the third consecutive game.
Those weren’t the only statements in Week 8, but they were the loudest.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL WEEK 8 RECAP: THREE AND OUT
THREE TAKEAWAYS FROM KANSAS STATE 55, WEST VIRGINIA 14
Kansas State is leaving no doubt. The book on Kansas State last season was an opportunistic team at best, lucky at worst. Indeed, the Wildcats were outgained in every Big 12 game other than Kansas despite a 7-2 conference record. This year’s team is downright dominant, a point reinforced by the win over West Virginia. Kansas State opened up a 24-0 lead before Tavon Austin’s kickoff return for a touchdown in the second quarter. The Wildcats scored 52 points before West Virginia’s first offensive touchdown. Kansas State also held West Virginia to 243 yards, its lowest total since a loss to LSU on Sept. 25, 2010.
Collin Klein is the Heisman frontrunner. Klein likely wrestled the Heisman lead away from West Virginia’s Geno Smith when the unofficial power rankings come out early this week. Klein played a part on all seven of Kansas State’s touchdowns with four rushing TDs and three passing. Klein easily out-dueled Smith in the passing game with 323 yards (on 19 of 21 attempts) to Smith’s 143 yards with two picks.
Memo to hot quarterbacks: Avoid Arthur Brown. West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith threw his first interception since the regular season finale against USF last year, a streak of 327 consecutive passes without a pick. The first interception of the season went to Kansas State’s Arthur Brown, who recorded the first interception of the season against Baylor’s Robert Griffin III a year ago.
THREE TAKEAWAYS FROM FLORIDA 44, SOUTH CAROLINA 11
Florida is unstoppable in the second half. Whatever Florida’s coaching staff is doing in the second half, it’s working. The Gators are outscoring SEC opponents 108-18 after halftime, including 23-5 against LSU. Florida has allowed one third-quarter touchdown (to Tennessee on Sept. 15) in conference games, but the offense under coordinator Brent Pease may be even better. The Gators have scored on their first possession of the second half in five of six SEC games, the exception being LSU. Florida scored on its second possession of the third quarter against the Tigers.
Florida has elite special teams. The Gators turned last week’s win over Vanderbilt thanks to a blocked field goal and a fake punt. The trend continued against South Carolina when the offense couldn’t move the ball. Punter Kyle Christy (54.3 yards per kick) won the field position battle, and the do-it-all Trey Burton stripped the ball and recovered a fumble from South Carolina punt returner Ace Sanders -- a player who knows a thing or two about turning games on special teams. Florida also blocked a field goal for the second consecutive week.
Spurrier’s frustrated. Florida found a way to neutralize Jadeveon Clowney’s impact on the game: One- and two-yard touchdown drives. Even though Clowney caused problems for the Gators offensive line in the entire first half, turnovers doomed the Gamecocks from the get-go. Two special teams fumbles and Connor Shaw’s fumble on the first snap of the game set up short fields for Florida. By the second half, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier was frustrated enough to yank quarterback Connor Shaw, but it made little difference in the 44-11 rout. “The only thing you can hope is that your guys give it their best shot and not just lay the ball down and basically say, ‘Here, Florida, we don’t want to win. You guys take this fumble and this fumble and this fumble,’” Spurrier said after the game.
MOVING THE CHAINS
LSU winning the LSU way. Until LSU finds consistent quarterback play, the Tigers are going to have to win games like they have the last two weeks. Texas A&M dominated most of the first half, but LSU capitalized on two turnovers in the final two minutes to take a 14-13 lead at halftime. The Tigers kept the pressure on Manziel in the second half, who threw three total interceptions in the 24-19 loss. As long as Zach Mettenberger continues to struggle (11 of 29 passing, 97 yards), LSU will need to have capitalize on every defensive opportunity and gash opponents with the run game (219 yards, two touchdowns).
Notre Dame’s will to win. A goal line stand against Stanford followed by a grinding ground game against BYU, Notre Dame is pushing the right buttons in its 7-0 start. BYU scored the first offensive touchdowns on the Notre Dame defense since Sept. 8 (both passing, Notre Dame still hasn’t allowed a rushing TD), but the Irish responded with 143 yards from Theo Riddick and 114 yards from Cierre Wood. The run game eased the absence of starting quarterback Everett Golson, who missed the game following a concussion last week. Brian Kelly erased any question marks after the game by noting Golson would start next week against Oklahoma.
Taylor Martinez in the clutch. The Nebraska quarterback saved the Cornhuskers from another upset loss to Northwestern by leading two fourth-quarter touchdown drives. Northwestern led by 12 in the fourth quarter, but Martinez capped scoring drives of 80 and 76 yards with touchdown passes. Martinez, who also led a second-half comeback against Wisconsin earlier this season, completed 27 of 39 passes for 342 yards and accounted for four total touchdowns. The game, though, wasn’t sealed until Northwestern kicker Jeff Budzien missed his first field goal attempt of the year.
Heartbreakers. This wasn’t a great week for teams to complete upset bids. Without an injured Braxton Miller, Ohio State backup quarterback Kenny Guiton led a fourth-quarter touchdown drive and and overtime possession to hold off Purdue 29-22. Michigan couldn’t score a touchdown on Michigan State, but won the game 12-10 on a Brendan Gibbons’ field goal with five seconds remaining. Northwestern squandered a 12-point fourth quarter lead to lose 29-28 to Nebraska. TCU scored 10 points in the final 2:25 to force overtime against Texas Tech, but lost 56-53 in the third OT. Despite rallying behind a backup quarterback, Maryland was denied a bid to start 3-0 in the ACC when the Terrapins missed a 33-yard field goal with two seconds left to lose 20-18 to NC State. And poor USF: The Bulls took a brief lead in the fourth quarter at Louisville, but lost their seventh Big East game in the last two seasons in which they’ve held a fourth quarter lead.
Auburn. Another week and another new low at Auburn. The Tigers lost 17-13 to Vanderbilt, despite the Commodores’ fourth-quarter fumble among other miscues daring Auburn to take advantage. At 1-6 overall and 0-5 in the SEC, Auburn is off to its worst start since starting 1-6 in 1952. The Tigers are the first team to start with this poor a record within two years of winning a national title. Auburn has also lost to Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Mississippi State in the same season for the first time in school history.
Cincinnati. Three undefeated teams at this stage of the season was a source for pride for the Big East. That number is down to two after Cincinnati lost 29-23 at Toledo. The Bearcats led for only 13 seconds in the third quarter thanks to a kickoff return for a touchdown by Toledo’s Bernard Reedy erasing a brief Cincinnati lead. The loss takes the shine off a Friday matchup with undefeated Louisville next week.
Kenjon Barner, Oregon. The Ducks’ all-purpose dynamo De’Anthony Thomas has been pedestrian so far in Pac-12 play. Instead, Kenjon Barner has been Oregon’s offensive MVP. Barner rushed for 143 yards and three touchdowns, including a 71-yard score in Thursday’s 43-21 win over Arizona State.
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M. The possibility of a freshman reaching New York as a Heisman finalist may have to wait. The Aggies quarterback was 29 of 56 for 276 yards and three interceptions against LSU. Meanwhile, the Tigers kept Manziel from breaking off any long runs as he rushed for 27 total yards. The last freshman to be a Heisman finalist was Oklahoma’s Adrian Peterson, runner up to Matt Leinart in 2004.
Braxton Miller, Ohio State.Before the sophomore left the game with a head injury, Miller was 9 of 20 for 113 yards and an interception, 47 yards and a touchdown and a Purdue lead. Miller was taken from the stadium to the hospital, but the injury was reported to be not as serious as it seemed when Miller was carted off the field.
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900. Michigan’s 900th win, the most for any FBS team, occurred in odd fashion as the Wolverines failed to score a touchdown in a 12-10 win over Michigan State. All of Michigan’s scoring came from warmer climates -- kicker Brendan Gibbons from West Palm Beach, Fla., and kicker Matt Wile from San Diego -- as does quarterback Denard Robinson (Deerfield Beach, Fla.).
6-0. With a 21-7 win over Utah, Oregon State improved to 6-0 for the first time since 1907. The teams Oregon State defeated that season: Astoria AC, Whitman, Pacific, Oregon, Willamette and Saint Vincent College. After missing bowl games the last two seasons, the Beavers will head to the postseason.
7.Southern Miss fell to 0-7 with a 59-24 loss to Marshall. Not only did Southern Miss end its streak of 18 consecutive seasons with a winning record, the Eagles also claimed the nation’s longest active losing streak at seven games. In defeating Army 48-38, Eastern Michigan ended the active longest streak at eight games. If there’s any silver lining, the five longest active losing streaks have all ended in the last three weeks. Southern Miss faces Rice next week.
BURIED ON THE DEPTH CHART
Jordan Lynch hits the 1,000-yard mark. He’s a QB. The best season no one’s talking about may belong to the first-year starting quarterback at Northern Illinois. Jordan Lynch passed for 223 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 131 yards and two scores, his fifth game of the season with 200 passing yards and 100 rushing yards. His 1,049 rushing yards ranks second in the nation.
Still a charmed season in Monroe. ULM’s signature win over Arkansas and close calls with Auburn and Baylor are a month in the past, but the Warhawks’ good fortune continued into the Sun Belt season. ULM trailed Western Kentucky 28-7 in the second quarter, but tied the game early in the fourth quarter. ULM pass over the extra point in overtime, allowing Kolton Browning to go for the win with a two-point conversion in the 43-42 win. ULM took the Sun Belt lead by defeating the 5-2 Hilltoppers.
Kasey Carrier’s 300-yard game. The New Mexico running back rushed for 338 yards, the highest total since Navy’s Shun White rushed for 348 yards against Towson on Aug. 30, 2008. Alas, New Mexico lost 28-23 to Air Force.
THREE TEAMS/PLAYERS BACK TO FORM
Matt Barkley, USC. Nothing like a game against Colorado to cure the passing game. A week after one of his least productive games of his career, Matt Barkley was 19 of 20 for 298 yards with six touchdown passes in a 50-6 rout of Colorado. Four of those touchdown passes went to Robert Woods as Barkley set a Pac-12 record with 100 TD passes. Barkley’s 95 percent completion rate also set a Pac-12 record for completion percentage for a quarterback with at least 20 passes.
Wisconsin’s run game. Nothing like a couple of struggling Big Ten teams to help a run game look good. The Badgers have rushed for 804 yards and nine touchdowns the last two weeks against Purdue and Minnesota. Against the Gophers, James White rushed for 175 yards and three touchdowns and Montee Ball rushed for 166 yards and two touchdowns. Wisconsin (3-1) is the only postseason-eligible team in the Big Ten Leaders division with a conference win.
Aaron Murray, Georgia. Nothing like a game against Kentucky to set up a career day. Two weeks after he struggled in the loss to South Carolina, Murray rebounded to complete 30 of 38 passes for 427 yards and four touchdown passes against the Wildcats. His play was one of the few parts of Georgia’s game operating at a high level in a too-close-for-comfort 29-24 win.
THREE TEAMS STARTING TO PUT IT TOGETHER
Arizona.After back-to-back hard-fought losses to Oregon State and Stanford, Arizona broke out against Washington for a 52-17 win. The Wildcats rolled up 500 yards for the third consecutive game, all against solid defenses. Leading the Pac-12 in total offense and passing, Arizona is not nearly as bad as its 1-3 conference record indicates. The Wildcats face USC at home Saturday.
Clemson. Virginia Tech can make an opposing defense look good, especially in the secondary, but let’s give credit to a Clemson team that has showed marked improvement each week since the 49-37 loss to Florida State in September. Jonathan Meeks had two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown to bail out an offense that stumbled to only 295 yards in the 38-17 win over the Hokies.
Kenny Guiton, Ohio State.Quarterback J.W. Walsh wasn’t at 100 percent, and two of his top receivers didn’t even play against Iowa State. Yet the Cowboys eventually got out of their own way to defeat upset-hungry Iowa State 31-10. The Cowboys face TCU before a gauntlet -- at Kansas State, West Virginia, Texas Tech, at Oklahoma.
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Adam Dingwell, San Diego State. Dingwell stepped in for injured starter Ryan Katz to complete 14 of 23 passes for 177 yards for three touchdowns in a 39-38 win at Nevada in overtime. Dingwell led three fourth-quarter scoring drives, culminating with the game-tying field goal as time inspired. Coach Rocky Long capitalized on the momentum by going for the game-winning two-point conversion to finish overtime.
Devonta Freeman, Florida State. With starter Chris Thompson out with a knee injury, Freeman delivered the knockout punch to Miami in a 33-20 win. Freeman rushed for two fourth-quarter touchdowns and 70 total yards on 10 carries.
Kenny Guiton, Ohio State. The Buckeyes’ undefeated season was in as much peril as it had been all season when quarterback Braxton Miller was whisked away to the hospital as Ohio State trailed Purdue by 8 in the second half. Guiton, though, found a wide-open Devin Smith to set up a touchdown and then took advantage of perfect protection to complete the two-point conversion to tight end Jeff Heuerman. Ohio State won 29-22 in overtime.
By David Fox