The playoff picture got a little clearer last week as some losses narrowed the list of contenders while other teams bolstered their cases for consideration.
Florida State had to really yet again but managed to pull away from Louisville, 42-31. The Seminoles were down 21-0 in the first half before Jameis Winston and Dalvin Cook rallied them. Winston overcame three interceptions to throw three touchdown passes, and Cook rushed for 110 yards and a pair of touchdowns on only nine carries. Florida State gained 374 yards in the second half while holding Louisville to just 10 points.
The ACC’s other ranked team, Duke, outlasted Pitt 51-48 in double overtime after Pitt missed a chip-shot 26-yard field goal with two seconds remaining that would have won the game. Pitt’s James Conner ran for 263 yards with three touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough. Duke quarterback Anthony Boone threw for 266 yards and three touchdowns.
Top-ranked Mississippi State struggled with unranked Arkansas, needing an interception in the end zone with 15 seconds left to preserve a 17-10 victory. Dak Prescott threw for a career-high 331 yards while running back Josh Robinson posted a career-high 110 receiving yards.
Ole Miss saw its playoff hopes die in the most heartbreaking and sickening fashion. The Rebels lost 35-31 to third-ranked Auburn. After fumbling at Auburn’s 6-yard-line on the previous drive, Ole Miss looked poised to take the lead with 1:30 to go as Laquon Treadwell broke a tackle and appeared headed for the end zone.
He was tackled awkwardly and fumbled the ball just short of crossing the goal line. The play was originally ruled a go-ahead touchdown, but replays showed the ball came out. The play was overturned, and Auburn was awarded the recovery. To make matters worse, Treadwell broke his leg on the play.
Eleventh-ranked Georgia was upset by Florida 38-20. The Gators ran all over the Bulldogs to the tune of 418 yards and only attempted six passes all game. Kelvin Taylor ran 25 times for 197 yards and a pair of touchdowns while Matt Jones also had 25 carries for 192 yards with two touchdowns.
In the Big 12, TCU’s defense forced five West Virginia turnovers and bought enough time for its normally potent offense to get its act together and engineer a 31-30 come-from-behind win. The Horned Frogs overcame a 13-point deficit to keep their Big 12 title and national playoff hopes alive.
A week after throwing seven touchdowns and leading the TCU offense to 82 points, Trevone Boykin struggled, completing only 12-of-30 passes for 166 yards and one touchdown with one interception. West Virginia held the Horned Frogs to just 389 yards of offense.
However, TCU’s defense limited West Virginia to just one first down after the Mountaineers took a 27-14 lead in the third quarter. The offense rallied behind two rushing touchdowns from B.J. Catalon, and Jaden Oberkrom kicked the game-winning field goal as time expired.
Elsewhere in the Big 12, Kansas State had an easy time with Oklahoma State, winning 48-14 while Baylor throttled Kansas 60-14. Oklahoma easily defeated Iowa State 59-14.
In the Pac-12, Oregon exorcised some personal demons by thrashing Stanford 45-16. The game was 24-16 in the third quarter, but the Ducks scored 21 unanswered points to put it away. Stanford came in allowing opponents only 250 yards a game, but Oregon put up 525. Marcus Mariota threw for 258 yards and two touchdowns while adding 85 yards and two more touchdowns rushing.
The team that handed Oregon its only loss thus far, Arizona, was not as fortunate, as the Wildcats fells to UCLA 17-7. The Bruins gave up a touchdown two-and-half minutes in but shut out Arizona the rest of the way. Arizona managed just 255 yards of offense. UCLA’s Brett Hundley was outstanding, passing for 189 yards while rushing for 131.
The Wildcats’ in-state brethren, the Sun Devils of Arizona State, held off pesky Utah 19-16 in overtime. Utah’s Andy Phillips, one of the best kickers in the country, missed a field goal in overtime, allowing ASU’s Zane Gonzalez to win it with a 36-yarder.
The win, combined with Arizona’s loss, put ASU squarely in first place in the Pac-12 South and giving them the inside track to a berth in the conference championship game.
Notre Dame surrendered 454 yards to Navy but managed to outlast the Midshipmen 49-39 behind six touchdowns from Everrett Golson. Navy rushed for 336 yards and roared back from a 28-7 deficit to take a 31-28 lead. Golson and the Irish answered and went up 42-31, but the Midshipmen rallied to pull within 42-39. Golson’s final touchdown put the game out of reach.
Big Ten contenders Nebraska and Ohio State both posted easy victories. The Cornhuskers got past Purdue 35-14 while Ohio State annihilated Illinois 55-14.
One other ranked team fell in a game with huge implications as #23 East Carolina lost to Temple 20-10. The Pirates fumbled the ball five times as Temple beat a ranked opponent for the first time in 16 years.
The loss pretty much eliminates ECU from a big bowl berth. The new playoff format awards a prestigious bowl slot to the highest-ranked conference champion from a non-Power 5 school. That had been the Pirates, but they will certainly now fall out of the rankings, and with undefeated Marshall and one-loss Mountain West teams Boise State and Colorado State lurking, the Pirates are pretty much sunk.
Looking Ahead to Week 11: Get Your Popcorn Ready
The playoff picture ought to be quite a bit clearer after this weekend as several contenders square off against each other in what are sure to be elimination games. The winners will be squarely in the playoff discussion while the losers will almost assuredly be out of the picture, barring unforeseen chaos.
Arizona State, ranked ninth in the latest college football playoff committee rankings, hosts tenth-ranked Notre Dame in one such elimination game. Both teams have one loss, so another would scuttle their playoff hopes.
Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson has been on a tear this year, throwing for 2,300 yards with 22 touchdowns, and he’s coming off a seven-touchdown performance against Navy in which he became the first Irish player to run for three touchdowns and pass for three touchdowns in the same game.
He’ll have to sustain that high level considering Notre Dame’s defense has sprung a few leaks of late. The Irish have allowed 113 points in their last few games, including 39 to Navy this past weekend.
Arizona State entered the season with plenty of questions about its defense, and they were seemingly answered after UCLA strafed the Sun Devils for 62 points. However, the ASU defense has been much stouter of late, giving up 10, 10, and 16 points in ASU’s last three games, all wins. Granted, none of those teams are known for their offense, so containing Golson and Notre Dame will be a much greater challenge.
If the game does turn into a shootout, ASU does have the offense to keep pace with Notre Dame. Taylor Kelly has struggled since returning from injury, but he has a proven track record. Plus, backup Mike Bercovici threw for 1,300 yards and ten touchdowns while filling in. Running back D.J. Foster leads the Pac-12 and is third nationally in plays of 20+ yards, and receiver Jaelen Strong is one of the best in the country.
Elsewhere in the Pac-12, fourth-ranked Oregon travels to Salt Lake City to take on #17 Utah. The Utes’ overtime loss to ASU last week all-but-ended their playoff hopes, but they can certainly end Oregon’s with a win.
Oregon exorcised some demons with its thrashing of Stanford last week, but Utah could present an even bigger challenge. Oregon has struggled with pass protection all season long, and Utah leads the country in sacks with 39.
Then again, it may not matter if Utah’s offense can’t get it together. The unit mustered only 241 yards against ASU as quarterback Travis Wilson was 12-of-22 for just 57 yards. Running back Devontae Booker has been a workhorse, but he needs help. If the offense can’t take some pressure of Utah’s defense, then perhaps special teams could make the difference. Kaelin Clay leads the country with four return touchdowns.
Another playoff elimination game takes place in the Big 12 as #12 Baylor goes on the road to face #15 Oklahoma. The Bears have seemingly been forgotten after their loss to West Virginia, yet if they win out, they will win the Big 12. The lack of attention is due to the fact that they haven’t really played anybody other than TCU and have struggled on the road. A win over Oklahoma will remedy that.
Baylor has never won in Norman and hasn’t beaten a ranked team on the road since 1991. If the Bears want to change that, they’ll need quarterback Bryce Petty to return to form. Petty struggled in the loss to West Virginia as well as in an unimpressive road win against Texas. He’s completing only 54.8 percent of his passes on the year, and he’ll need to be much better than that for Baylor to pull off the road win.
Oklahoma could be without receiver Sterling Shepard, who injured his groin against Iowa State. He’s expected to play, but if he’s less than 100 percent and can’t be effective, it’ll be a huge loss for the Sooners. Shepard is third nationally in receiving yards per game and has 957 total on the season. Oklahoma’s second-best receiver only has 399.
The Big Ten has a huge game this weekend as well, as Michigan State and Ohio State square off in East Lansing. The Spartans ruined Ohio State’s undefeated season and national championship hopes last year in the Big Ten championship game. The winner this year will remain in the playoff hunt while the loser will be done.
Both teams have plenty to prove as neither has a great resume. Ohio State lost at home to an awful Virginia Tech team while Michigan State got pummeled by Oregon. Neither team has a marquee win, either.
Both come into the game with explosive offensives, with each averaging around 45 points a game. They go about it differently, but each team is led by a star quarterback. Michigan State’s Connor Cook, a traditional drop-back passer, has thrown for 1,868 yards and 17 touchdowns with only five interceptions this year while dual-threat QB J.T. Barrett of Ohio State has thrown for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns against seven picks while contributing another 496 yards and six touchdowns rushing.
Both teams also give up an average of about 20 points a game, so this should be a pretty even matchup. However, Barrett struggled in his first big road environment (the Penn State game), so give the edge to the Spartans since the game is in East Lansing.
The SEC takes a bit of a backseat this week as frontrunners Mississippi State and Auburn are both heavily-favored against unranked opponents. Fifth-ranked Alabama does have to travel to Baton Rouge to take on #16 LSU, though, in a game rife with upset potential.
The Tigers love to run the ball, averaging 225.7 yards rushing a game. LSU has rushed the ball 50+ times in six games already this year. Alabama, however, yields only 78 yards a game and has yet to allow a running back to top 100 yards this season.
The Crimson Tide have proven vulnerable to the pass this year, but LSU has had issues throwing the ball. The Tigers rank 101st in the country in passing offense. Quarterback Anthony Jennings is only completing half his passes and has just eight touchdowns on the year.
Game of the Week
#7 Kansas State vs. #6 TCU
This week’s featured game is another playoff elimination game between two Big 12 contenders. Both Kansas State and TCU are right in the thick of the playoff discussion as well as the Big 12 race.
Both teams have one loss, but Kansas State’s came out-of-conference to Auburn in a game the Wildcats should have won. They are undefeated in Big 12 play and have a one-game lead over TCU (and Baylor, for that matter). The Horned Frogs blew a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter and lost in a shootout to Baylor.
Since joining the Big 12, TCU has yet to defeat Kansas State, although they came close last year, falling 33-31 on a last-second field goal. This is a much different Horned Frog team, however.
TCU has built a reputation for dominant defense, but this year’s team has one of the nation’s most prolific offenses. The Horned Frogs rank second in the country in scoring, averaging 48 points a game. Quarterback Trevone Boykin has vastly improved over last year and has thrown for nearly 2,500 yards with 22 touchdowns and only four interceptions while adding nearly 500 more yards on the ground.
His counterpart, Jake Waters, has been just as good in leading an offense that is 15th in the country in scoring offense at 38.3 points per game. Waters has rushed for over 400 yards and seven touchdowns while completing 65 percent of his passes for nearly 1,900 yards with 11 touchdowns and only three picks. He has a pair of outstanding receivers to throw to: Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton. Both have over 600 yards receiving and have combined for eight touchdowns.
Kansas State has the edge defensively, giving up just 18.6 points per game. The Wildcats are sound and disciplined, ranking in the top ten nationally in turnovers, penalties, and big plays allowed. That will be key considering TCU leads the country in takeaways and is first in the Big 12 in plays of at least 20 yards (Kansas State has allowed the fewest).
TCU is undefeated at home this year, but Kansas State has won four-of-its-last-five road games against ranked opponents.
Prediction: Kansas State