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Week 9 College Football Winners and Losers

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By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Athlon sums up a full slate of college football with the most important things to take away from this weekend.

Winners

Boston College – The Eagles kept their slim bowl hopes alive with a 28-17 victory over Maryland on Saturday. The offense has been a source of concern all year, however, running back Rolandan Finch gashed the Terrapins for 243 yards and two touchdowns. The win over Maryland was Boston College’s first victory over a FBS team this year.

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Case Keenum, QB, Houston – Thanks to some bad weather, the Cougars got off to a slow start in Thursday’s win over Rice. However, the final stat line was a one-sided affair. Keenum threw for 534 yards and nine touchdown passes, and likely could have thrown a couple more had he played the entire fourth quarter. The Cougars remain unbeaten at 8-0 and with a favorable remaining schedule, has a chance to finish the regular season without a loss.

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Georgia – Beating Florida has been a big issue for Mark Richt, but the Bulldogs scored a huge 24-20 victory over the Gators on Saturday. Georgia fell behind early, but the defense puts the clamps on Florida’s offense in the second half. The Bulldogs were aggressive on offense, scoring two touchdowns on fourth-down throws by quarterback Aaron Murray. Georgia still trails South Carolina in the SEC East race, but the Gamecocks face a difficult upcoming schedule playing Arkansas and Florida, while the Bulldogs get Auburn and Kentucky.

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Georgia Tech – Having lost back-to-back games, most of the nation didn’t give the Yellow Jackets much of a chance against Clemson. However, Georgia Tech’s offense clicked behind quarterback Tevin Washington's running, and the defense forced four crucial turnovers. The Yellow Jackets still have a shot to win the ACC Coastal, but need to beat Virginia Tech on Nov. 10.

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Louisville – Considering the amount of youth stepping into playing time this year, it was expected the Cardinals might need a couple of weeks to get everything figured out. The pieces seem to be falling into place for Louisville, as it has won back-to-back games, and all four losses have been by nine points or less. Saturday’s win over Syracuse puts the Cardinals at 2-1 in conference play, with a difficult upcoming stretch – at West Virginia, Pittsburgh, at Connecticut and at South Florida.

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Minnesota – The Gophers have been awful this year, but Saturday’s win over Iowa was a step in the right direction. Minnesota’s rush defense struggled to stop Iowa’s Marcus Coker, but kept quarterback James Vandenberg in check. The Gophers also got a key performance from quarterback MarQueis Gray and a well-timed onside kick in the fourth quarter. Coach Jerry Kill has been feeling a lot of pressure for the slow start, but he’s the right man for the job. Give Kill and his staff another year to rebuild the roster, and Minnesota will be back in a bowl.

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Missouri – Thanks to a difficult schedule, the Tigers have a mediocre 4-4 record. However, those losses came to Arizona State, Oklahoma, Kansas State and Oklahoma State – a combined 28-4. Quarterback James Franklin bounced back after a disappointing performance against Oklahoma State, leading Missouri to a 38-31 win over Texas A&M on Saturday. The Tigers still need two wins to get bowl eligible and games remain against Baylor, Texas, Texas Tech and Kansas.

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Nebraska - The Cornhuskers jumped back into the mix for the Big Ten Legends title after a convincing win over Michigan State. Quarterback Taylor Martinez struggled to find his rhythm through the air, but the offense was carried by running back Rex Burkhead. Nebraska's defense had been a disappointment in the early part of 2011, but turned in its best effort of the year, holding the Spartans to only three points.

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Ohio State – Whether or not Luke Fickell returns to the Ohio State sidelines next year remains to be seen. However, give Fickell and his coaching staff a lot of credit for the last two games. The Buckeyes have molded the offense around the strengths of freshman quarterback Braxton Miller, while relying on a young, but talented defense to keep them in games. Ohio State’s 33-29 victory over Wisconsin on Saturday keeps it alive in the race to win the Big Ten Leaders Division. The Buckeyes need a lot of help to win the division, but after some concern they would not make a bowl, Ohio State is looking at eight or nine wins this year.

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Oklahoma – After a disappointing loss to Texas Tech one week ago, the Sooners jumped back into the national title discussion with a 58-17 demolishing of Kansas State. Thanks a loss by Clemson, and the win over the Wildcats, Oklahoma is ranked No. 6 in the BCS standings. Although the loss to the Red Raiders was a blow, the Sooners just need to keep winning and they could still find themselves in position to play for the national title.

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Penn State – The Nittany Lions aren’t going to win any style points for their victories, but they survived another close one on Saturday against Illinois to move their record to 8-1. Quarterback play continues to be an issue, but Penn State has been winning with a steady dose of running back Silas Redd, and a defense allowing only 12.4 points a game. The Nittany Lions have a difficult upcoming schedule – Nebraska, at Ohio State, at Wisconsin – but are the only unbeaten team in Big Ten play entering November.

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Stanford – The Cardinal kept alive their national title hopes with a 56-48 victory over USC on Saturday night. The Trojans pushed Stanford to the brink, leading by a touchdown with just over three minutes to go. However, thanks to the steady performance of quarterback Andrew Luck, the Cardinal sent the game into overtime. Stanford forced only one USC fumble, but it was a big one, as the turnover sealed the victory and preserved a chance to play for the championship. Stanford still has a big test upcoming, as Oregon will visit the Farm on Nov. 12.

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UCLA – One week after an awful showing against Arizona, the Bruins bounced back with a dominating 31-14 win over California. The UCLA defense forced five turnovers, while quarterback Kevin Prince led the offense with 163 yards on the ground. The Bruins still have a shot to win the Pac-12 South, but desperately need a win over Arizona State this Saturday.

Virginia – Not many people expected to see the Cavaliers win on the road at Miami, especially after losing to NC State one week ago. However, Virginia used a balanced attack on offense, some aggressive calls by coach Mike London, while the defense held Miami running back Lamar Miller under 100 yards. The Cavaliers need just one win to get bowl eligible, and they should get to six wins with games against Maryland and Duke remaining.  

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Western Kentucky – The Hilltoppers have earned a spot in this column over the past couple of weeks. Western Kentucky continued to turn heads in Sun Belt play with a 31-28 victory over UL Monroe. The win over the Warhawks was the Hilltoppers’ fourth in a row and keeps them within range to Arkansas State for the top spot in the conference.

Losers

Baylor – There’s no shame in losing to Oklahoma State, but the Bears had plenty of missed opportunities in Saturday’s game and lost 59-24. The loss to the Cowboys was Baylor’s third in four games and has quieted the Heisman buzz surrounding quarterback Robert Griffin. The junior hasn’t been the issue, but the Bears need to do a better job of punching in opportunities on offense and find some consistency on defense. Baylor has allowed at least 55 points in each of its last two games.

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California – After a 3-0 start, there was some promise and hope that the Golden Bears were going back in the right direction. Not anymore. California has lost four out of its last five games, and now faces a quarterback controversy after a poor performance by Zach Maynard on Saturday night against UCLA. With games against Washington State and Oregon State upcoming, California should find a way to get bowl eligible. However, the losses have done nothing to quiet the pressure on coach Jeff Tedford.

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Clemson – The Tigers suffered their first defeat of the year, losing 31-17 to Georgia Tech. The loss effectively ended any hopes Clemson had of competing for a national title, but it still controls its destiny in the ACC Atlantic. The offense was able to move the ball through the air, but four turnovers were just too much to overcome. Even though national title hopes are over, the Tigers can still finish with an 11-1 record at the end of the regular season. And there’s plenty of returning talent to get excited about the possibilities of 2012.