The stretch from Thursday evening to Saturday night was perhaps one of the most meaningful stretches for the national championship and Heisman races we've seen this season.
The three days and three key games also showed that meaningful doesn’t always go with dramatic.
Baylor started slow Thursday against Oklahoma before the Sooners’ mismanagement of the end of he second quarter allowed the Bears to pile on a pair of touchdowns. Baylor won by 29.
Alabama and LSU played tight in the first half, but the Crimson Tide again leaned on its line and efficient offense to put away LSU by 21.
Stanford did the same against Oregon while stifling quarterback Marcus Mariota to rearrange the Heisman race. The Ducks blocked a punt in the fourth quarter and recovered an onside kick for a six-point margin, but Thursday’s game was never really that close.
Even if the week didn’t bring wild, back-and-forth action from the top games, teams like Texas and Arizona State got all they could handle on the road in victories that will keep their conference championship hopes alive.
Three and Out: Week 11 Recap
Three Things We Learned from Alabama 38, LSU 17
The Alabama defense is as good as ever. Maybe we didn’t need any more confirmation of Alabama’s defense, considering the Tide entered Saturday allowing 36 total points to teams without Johnny Manziel at quarterback. Still, the Alabama defense further proved why the Tide remain the national title favorite. Linebacker Tana Patrick had the play of the game early by stripping J.C. Copeland at the goal line in the first quarter at least until the next play of the game when the defense held LSU to four-and-out after Odell Beckham’s 82-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter. LSU’s tailbacks rushed for only 74, and Alabama battered quarterback Zach Mettenberger for four sacks.
McCarron will be the story, but this was Yeldon’s game. AJ McCarron played himself into the Heisman mix if he wasn’t there already by completing 14 of 20 passes for 179 yards with three touchdowns. T.J. Yeldon had just as important a game. Yeldon rushed for 133 yards on 25 carries, with 104 yards of that and two touchdowns in the second half. McCarron may be the Heisman contender, but Yeldon and the Alabama offensive line — considered a liability in the preseason — took over as the Tide opened their lead in the second half.
Saban got a little crazy. Alabama coach Nick Saban may have tipped his hand that LSU is his major prize during the season. Saban reacted with unbridled joy (for him) by jumping into the arms of McCarron after the game, but the signs that LSU was a little different for Saban were clear early on. Alabama called for a fake punt from its own 41 when the game was tied in the third quarter. After the conversion, Alabama took the lead for good. The Tide also tried to build on the lead with a flea flicker that fell incomplete. This wasn’t the highest form of football trickery, but it was out of character for Alabama.
Related: What We Learned from Baylor, Stanford Wins
Moving the Chains
Wisconsin. The Badgers entered the week at No. 24 in the BCS, a ranking that looks more and more preposterous each week. The Badgers shoul continue to move up after defeating BYU 27-17 in an odd November non-conference game against the independent Cougars. After a slow start against Iowa last week, Wisconsin did what it does best against BYU: James White and Melvin Gordon rushed for a combined 227 yards and two touchdowns while the defense was only the second this season to hold BYU to fewer than 400 yards in a game.
Arizona State in the fourth quarter. The big question coming out of Thursday night was how could Stanford lose to Utah? Arizona State found out how as the Utes nearly took out another Pac-12 title hopeful. Arizona State trailed 19-7 entering the fourth quarter as Utah sacked quarterback Taylor Kelly six times. Kelly came back to lead two long scoring drives in the fourth quarter, and the defense intercepted Travis Wilson on the final two possessions to stay in the lead for the Pac-12 South.
Ed Orgeron, USC. The Trojans demolished Cal 62-28 to move to 4-1 under interim coach Ed Orgeron as USC remains in the Pac-12 South race. USC, who lost 62-41 to Arizona State in Lane Kiffin’s final game, trails the Sun Devils by a game in the South, but both teams still have to face UCLA. The Trojans’ offense is much improved, but USC also tied an NCAA record with three punts returned for touchdowns against the Bears. Against Cal, quarterback Cody Kessler completed 14 of 17 passes giving him an 81.5-percent completion rate in the last two games. Orgeron may not be the next USC coach, but he may get a second crack at a head coaching job after his dismal tenure at Ole Miss.
Miami. No Duke Johnson, no Phillip Dorsett and no indications of a team that started 7-0. After losing in a rout to Florida State and losing its top offensive player last week, Miami looked deflated in a 42-24 loss to Virginia Tech that opens up the ACC Coastal Division. Miami’s special teams were a disaster as the Hurricanes fumbled on a punt return and a kickoff return and turned the ball over when punter Pat O’Donnell was down on a low snap. Virginia Tech scored on each gaffe. Without Johnson, Miami rushed for 28 yards in the loss.
Notre Dame. Notre Dame’s slim hope of winning 10 games and getting into the BCS mix ended with a 28-21 loss to Pittsburgh as the Panthers finished the job from 2012. Tommy Rees had two second-half interceptions as Pittsburgh outscored the Irish 21-7 after halftime.
Michigan’s run game ... again. Someone needs to remind Michigan the cloud of dust is supposed to move three yards forward. A week after Michigan State pushed Michigan back 48 yards on the ground, Nebraska did the same for 21 yards, giving Michigan minus-69 rushing yards in the last two games. Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner has been sacked 14 times in two weeks but outside of those sacks, Michigan has rushed for 30 yards on 50 carries in the last two games.
Marcus Mariota, Oregon. Hobbled by a knee injury, Mariota was less mobile in the 26-20 loss to Stanford, but even a healthy Mariota would have had trouble against the Cardinal defense Thursday night. Mariota finished 20 of 34 for 250 yards with two touchdowns, but he fumbled three times, losing one. The loss and his off game reshuffles the Heisman race for the remainder of the season.
Bryce Petty, Baylor. Petty was out of sync early against the Oklahoma pressure, but he still finished with five total touchdowns, including two rushing touchdowns. Petty had a season-low 249 yards of total offense, but he finished where it counted with an unblemished record.
Myles Jack, UCLA. Let’s go ahead and put him on a dark horse list for 2014 or 2015. The Bruins’ freshman linebacker was a treat for anyone who stayed up late on the East Coast. Jack finished with eight tackles, a tackle for a loss and a forced fumble, but the twist was an offensive package that resulted in a 66-yard touchdown run in UCLA’s 31-26 win over Arizona. Jack led UCLA in rushing with 120 yards on six carries.
6. Interceptions thrown by Wake Forest against Florida State. Florida State needed little out of Jameis Winston this week thanks to the Wake Forest quarterbacks. Tanner Price and Tyler Cameron threw six interceptions in their first 10 attempts in a 59-3 loss to FSU. Wake added a seventh turnover when freshman Jalen Ramsey returned a fumble for a touchdown.
11. Completed passes/offensive touchdowns for Auburn in the last two weeks. Say this for Auburn: The Tigers know their offensive identity. In SEC road routs of Arkansas and Tennessee, Auburn has had as many offensive touchdowns as completed passes (11). Auburn rushed for 444 yards against Tennessee, led by quarterback Nick Marshall’s 214 yards and running back Tre Mason’s 117. Marshall only needed to complete 3 of 7 passes for 35 yards for Auburn to beat Tennessee 55-23.
Plus-1. Houston’s turnover margin against UCF. Even in a 19-14 loss to UCF, Houston managed to stay on the right side of the turnover margin as the Cougars have in every game this season. Houston quarterback John O’Korn threw two interceptions, but UCF had turnovers on its first two possessions and a second fumble in the third quarter. Houston’s plus-2.33 mark per game would rank fourth all-time if the season ended today.
Buried on the Depth Chart
Kapri Bibbs’ 300-yard day. Colorado State all-name running back Kapri Bibbs rushed for 312 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-17 win over Nevada. Bibbs’ 312-yard effort is the second most in a game this season and most for a tailback. Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch rushed for 316 against Central Michigan on Oct. 19.
Bad English. Eastern Michigan coach Ron English was fired for the rare offense of “inappropriate language” Friday. Under interim coach Stan Parrish, the Eagles defeated Western Michigan 35-32 the next day.
Old Dominion’s FBS win. Old Dominion, set to join Conference USA in 2015, defeated its first FBS opponent with a 59-38 win over Idaho. The Monarchs have one of the best passing attacks at the FCS level as junior quarterback Taylor Heinicke passed for 533 yards against the Vandals.
Three Old Names that Suddenly Became Relevant
First-Year Coaches Doing Good Work
Gary Andersen, Wisconsin
Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Scott Shafer, Syracuse
First-Year Coaches With a Ton of Work Ahead
Dave Doeren, NC State
Sonny Dykes, Cal
Brian Polian, Nevada
Dang, They’re Good
Dang, They’re Bad
Best Non-Saturday Games Next Week
Ball State at Northern Illinois (Wednesday)
Georgia Tech at Clemson (Thursday)
Washington at UCLA (Friday)
Best Games Saturday
Stanford at USC
Oklahoma State at Texas
Michigan State at Nebraska
Minnesota defeated Penn State 24-10 to seal the Gophers’ first four-game winning streak in the Big Ten since 1973. On that 1973 Minnesota team was a freshman quarterback named Tony Dungy.
The NFL’s all-time rushing leader was a sophomore at Florida the last time the Gators lost to Vanderbilt. To find a name on the last Vanderbilt team to win in Gainesville, you’d have to find a figure more obscure: How about Vanderbilt coach Doby Bartling, who led the Commodores to their last win there in 1945. Vanderbilt defeated Florida 34-17 on Saturday to end a 20-game winless streak at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray threw two touchdown passes against Appalachian State to move ahead of the former Florida quarterback in career touchdown passes in the SEC. Murray holds SEC career records for passing touchdowns (115), passing yards (12,568) and total offense (12,896).
Still Alive for Conference Titles
True, Texas would have remain in Big 12 contention if the Longhorns lost in Morgantown, but maintaining an unblemished league record has to be good for Texas’ psyche. The Longhorns defeated West Virginia 47-40 in Texas’ second overtime game in school history to set up another key game next week against Oklahoma State. Texas had five takeaways, sacked West Virginia quarterbacks six times and knocked starting QB Clint Trickett out of the game, but still ended up in overtime. West Virginia had three touchdown drives of less than 60 yards to threaten Texas’ undefeated Big 12 record.
This hasn’t been a fun year for Bo Pelini at Nebraska between the loses to UCLA and Minnesota, leaked audio disparaging Nebraska fans and his brother being fired at FAU. But Nebraska can still reach the Big Ten title game after slogging its way to a 17-13 win over Michigan. The Cornhuskers defense has struggled for most of the season, but they took advantage of Michigan’s inept run game. The story, though, may be Tommy Armstrong, who started again in place of beat up starting quarterback Taylor Martinez. Armstrong went 11 of 19 for 139 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions as he moved to 4-0 in the Big Ten as a starter.
The Blue Devils remain in contention for the ACC Coastal after a 38-20 win over NC State. The Wolfpack took a 20-17 lead in the fourth quarter, but Duke scored 21 points in 26 seconds thanks to freshman safety DeVon Edwards returning a pair of interceptions (from two different quarterbacks) for touchdowns. Duke is 3-2 in the ACC with a matchup against slumping Miami next week.
Three Teams that Will Be Fun to Watch Down the Stretch
Not even the most optimistic Auburn fan could have pegged the Tigers at 9-1 with the SEC West still up for grabs in the middle of November. Auburn rushed for 444 yards and five touchdowns in the 55-23 win over Tennessee to give the Tigers a chance to win the West against rivals Georgia and Alabama in the final two games of the season.
Baylor, Texas and Oklahoma State are in Big 12 title contention, and all played Kansas State early in the season. That’s not a coincidence. Kansas State has recovered from its shaky start to the season, which included a loss to North Dakota State. After a 49-26 win at Texas Tech, Kansas State is playing as well as any team in the Big 12. No matter the quarterback, Kansas State had a vintage Bill Snyder performance. K-State only needed 76 passing yards to beat Texas Tech, instead running for 292 yards and five touchdowns against the Red Raiders. John Hubert had his best game of the season (23 carries, 258 yards, one touchdown), and the defense capitalized on three turnovers. With home games against TCU and Oklahoma and road date with Kansas remaining, an eight-win regular season isn’t out of the question.
The Gophers are still in contention for the Big Ten Legends division, and there’s plenty of reason to take Minnesota seriously. The Gophers are off next week but finish with Wisconsin (Nov. 23) and at Michigan State (Nov. 30). Credit the hot streak to the backfield of quarterback Philip Nelson and David Cobb. Nelson has accounted for 10 total touchdowns and no interceptions in the last four games, and Cobb has rushed for 566 yards in that span.
It’s Going to Get Worse Before it Gets Better
On paper, Florida’s easiest route to a bowl game was to defeat Vanderbilt and Georgia Southern to get to six wins. With a 34-13 loss to the Commodores, the Gators need to get two wins against Georgia Southern, South Carolina and Florida State to extend their bowl streak to 23 seasons. Florida last missed a bowl game in 1990 when the Gators were under NCAA sanctions. Florida is also looking at its first losing season since going 0-10-1 in 1979.
The 7-0 start is a distant memory. The Red Raiders won’t play in Lubbock again until next season, closing out the home schedule with losses to Oklahoma State and Kansas State by a combined score of 101-60. The freshman quarterbacks, impressive to start the season, have struggled the last two weeks. Coach Kliff Kingsbury benched Davis Webb (13 of 20, 79 yards) for Baker Mayfield, who threw two interceptions and was sacked twice against K-State. The defense has been a mess as well, not a good sign when the final two games are against Baylor in Arlington and Texas in Austin.
In some ways, things may be getting better for Arkansas as the Razorbacks scored 17 points against Auburn and 24 points against Ole Miss on Saturday. Before that, the Razorbacks scored 17 points combined against Florida, South Carolina and Alabama. Still, Arkansas has lost seven in a row and started 0-6 in the SEC, the Hogs’ first 0-6 start in league play since doing so in the Southwest Conference in 1990.