Just as expected and predicated back in the preseason, the calendar turns to November with Michigan and Northwestern slated to meet to decide the Big Ten Conference championship. Wait, what?
That’s true, but only if you substitute Ohio State in for the Wolverines and drop the Wildcats in favor of Wisconsin. Well, here we are: Northwestern just beat the Badgers, 31-10, and the Buckeyes are still licking their wounds after last Saturday’s 49-20 loss at Purdue.
So Wisconsin is done, eliminated entirely from the College Football Playoff race and now staring at an uphill climb to win the West Division. Iowa’s in similar trouble after Saturday’s loss to Penn State. Purdue eliminated all of its goodwill by losing to Michigan State.
Northwestern is the team that doesn’t make sense. The Wildcats lost to Duke (understandable) and Akron (my goodness) in September but topped the Spartans and Badgers in October. A week ago, Northwestern barely survived Rutgers in an 18-15 win. And this team is now in the driver’s seat for the Big Ten title game.
WILDCATS ROAR: Northwestern stops No. 19 Wisconsin to control of Big Ten West
WORK TO DO: Yes, Georgia beat Florida, but the Bulldogs aren't title contenders yet
This is a bit of an issue for the Big Ten, especially with no unbeaten team left in the East Division. What if Ohio State runs the table from here and stands just on the outside of the top four heading into the conference championship? Would Northwestern get the Buckeyes over the hump?
Maybe, though the playoff selection committee might take a long look at the Wildcats’ losses and brushes with disaster. The Big Ten needed a Wisconsin to come out of the West with two or fewer losses to ensure the conference gets into a national semifinal.
Here are the rest of Saturday’s winners and losers in college football:
The Nittany Lions regained some footing amid a wobbly month with a 30-24 win at home against Iowa. Penn State had been scuffling since a tough loss to Ohio State in Beaver Stadium to end September; that loss was joined by another loss at home, to Michigan State, that almost officially ended the team’s shot at the College Football Playoff. To win against Iowa is great. To get the win at home is better.
The Wildcats’ 15-14 win against Missouri didn’t come without controversy – namely the pass-interference flag on the Tigers that gave Kentucky time to score the game-winning touchdown with zeroes on the clock. Kentucky will take it and run into next week’s top-10 matchup with Georgia. Even amid the controversy, here’s an important thought: UK has evolved to a point under Mark Stoops where the program no longer expects to lose these tight games in SEC play.
WALK-OFF WIN: No. 14 Kentucky beats Missouri with touchdown on final play
The Oakland Athletics
Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray’s immediate future lies with the A’s, which took the talented junior with the ninth overall pick in this summer’s MLB draft. It’s been said that baseball is Murray’s best sport, which may or may not be true yet even on its face is an astounding concept: Murray is such a good quarterback – he threw for 352 yards and added 46 yards on the ground in Oklahoma’s 51-14 win against Kansas State – that the idea that he might be even better on the diamond boggles the mind.
Every Kansas win gets the Jayhawks a spot on this list, seeing the victories tend to come with a high level of infrequency. The 27-26 win at home against TCU was unexpected, to put it lightly. It also created an amazing situation: Kansas will enter November outside of last place in the Big 12 Conference. Amazing!
And in the same vein, here’s a quick shout for Oregon State, which wins games with slightly greater frequency than Kansas but still deserves some credit for a really nice overtime win at Colorado.
USF worked its way into the Amway Coaches Poll on the back of a flimsy schedule – and didn’t even look good in getting to 7-0 anyway – so it’s only fair that Houston dropped 57 points to show the country that the Bulls have no business being ranked among the Top 25 teams in college football.
That this is commonplace is the real issue. In the past two weeks, USC has lost to Utah and Arizona State, the latter in a 38-35 decision at home. And what’s the national response? Nothing. Nobody cares. USC has four losses before the start of November for the first time since 2001 and nobody cares. Why? Because it’s not unexpected. That’s an issue for the Trojans’ program.
Florida State is not 49 points worse than Clemson, even if the scoreboard after the Tigers’ no-sweat win says otherwise. The Seminoles are as talented as Clemson if not slightly more so. The university pays top dollar for its coaches, just like Clemson. The difference when these two programs meet? Clemson plays with an energy and enthusiasm that’s seemingly foreign to FSU. The talent is the same. Everything else is different. That’s the battle ahead for Willie Taggart.
TOUGH DAY: Clemson deals Florida State its worst home loss in school history
Now here’s a real disaster: Louisville is now 2-6 after a 56-35 loss to Wake Forest. Head coach Bobby Petrino will rearrange the deck chairs on this Titanic in an effort to solve the team’s issues, though it won’t amount to much. The Cardinals are as stale as any Power Five program in the country.
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