Top takeaways from college football Week 9

The final games of October didn’t fail to disappoint. College football Week 9 featured some huge statements, and a couple noteworthy upsets.

For the second time in four games, Iowa State took down a top-four team. Meanwhile, the Penn State-Ohio State game everyone got riled up about all week long absolutely lived up to the hype.

One of the top powerhouses in the nation experienced a new low, on the other end of the spectrum. There was a little bit of everything going on this week.

These are the top takeaways from all the action around the nation in college football Week 9.

Cyclones shake up rankings with huge win over TCU

TCU’s defense gave up just 14 points Saturday on the road in Ames, Iowa. It wasn’t enough. The Cyclones clamped down on TCU quarterback Kenny Hill, forcing him into two interceptions, and eked out a 14-7 win against the No. 4 team in the nation.

It’s the second win by Iowa State, now 6-2, against a top-four team in the month of October.

We can’t help but wonder if Iowa State might be undefeated at this point in the season if Kyle Kempt had been the starting quarterback all along. Remember, Kempt was a third-stringer before being forced into duty against Oklahoma in Week 6. Since then, all he’s done is help the Cyclones win four in a row, beating the Sooners, Texas Tech and TCU, while throwing nine touchdowns and just two interceptions.

On the other side, TCU will take a tumble down the rankings. With Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech on the horizon, there’s no time to weep, either.

J.T. Barrett has historic game in statement win over PSU

Ohio State shouldn’t have won. The Buckeyes made too many mistakes to take down a team as formidable as Penn State.

Don’t tell that to J.T. Barrett.

Taking the game into his own hands, the senior quarterback was Mr. Do-it-All for the Buckeyes. He led them back from an 18-point deficit (twice) to a one-point win at home over the No. 2 team in the nation. In the process, Barrett totaled 423 yards and four touchdowns, completing an astonishing 33-of-39 passes while passing the great Drew Brees as the all-time leader for touchdown passes in the Big Ten.

A player who’s long been criticized for failing to play well in big games, Barrett squashed that narrative in a huge way. He and the Buckeyes will move into the top five when the new rankings come out, and suddenly that early loss to Oklahoma is miles behind them.

Bryce Love gets Heisman boost, and he didn’t even play

One of the big storylines we highlighted ahead of college football Week 9 was whether Bryce Love would be able to play or not. He didn’t practice during the week with an ankle injury leading up to Thursday night’s game against Oregon State and ultimately was shelved, which is smart on a short week against a weak opponent like the Beavers.

Only, Stanford barely squeaked out a 15-14 win on the road in Corvallis, Ore., needing a touchdown at the last minute to pull it off.

Love is averaging 10.3 yards per carry and has nine carries of 50 or more yards this year. Without him Thursday night, Stanford managed just 81 total yards on 27 carries and had a long run of 12 yards.

If that doesn’t cement Love’s value and highlight his Heisman candidacy, then we don’t know what will. He would have absolutely shredded Oregon State’s defense, which came into the game ranked No. 100 in the nation. Yet without him, Stanford is lucky to have gotten out with a win.

New level of futility for Jimbo Fisher and FSU

Jimbo Fisher

The Seminoles have experienced a tremendous run of success since Jimbo Fisher took over for Bobby Bowden back in 2010. Since that time, Florida State has won at least 10 games in every season, minus one, and has won five of its seven bowl games, which includes a BCS Championship Game win in 2013.

The Seminoles had never lost five games in a season under Fisher. Not only does Florida State have five losses, those five losses have now occurred in the program’s first seven games. And it happened in embarrassing fashion Friday night, as Boston College blew out the Seminoles, 35-3.

Now it’s fair to wonder if this team will even earn a bowl bid. It’s starting to feel an awful lot like last year’s Notre Dame squad, which ended up missing bowl contention with a 4-8 record. The good news is that one lost season doesn’t necessarily mean Fisher needs to go or the program is doomed. Just look at how Brian Kelly has gotten his Irish back to relevancy in less than a year.

Still, it’s impossible to look at what’s happened to Florida State and not shake your head. Hopefully Fisher can keep his players engaged, because if they lose heart it’s going to get even uglier in the weeks to come.

Turnovers doom West Virginia (again) against Oklahoma State

Coming into Saturday’s game, the Mountaineers had turned the ball over seven times the past two years against Oklahoma State. Not surprisingly, they lost both of those games. Will Grier and Co. couldn’t stop this awful trend in Week 9, either, leading to a third straight loss to the Cowboys, 50-39.

Grier entered Week 9 as the nation’s most productive passer throwing touchdowns. He had thrown 26 touchdowns and just five interceptions all year and came into the game on a red-hot streak, having thrown 10 touchdowns and just one pick in his previous two games. On Saturday, he threw two late touchdowns to soften the blow on the scoreboard, so to speak, but his four interceptions were back-breakers for the Mountaineers.

In total, West Virginia turned the ball over five times in this game. Those turnovers wasted a couple of amazing plays by the defense and special teams that resulted in back-to-back touchdowns. Ultimately, Oklahoma State scored 28 points off those five turnovers, which obviously was the biggest difference in the game.

Third time’s a charm for Michigan quarterbacks?

Wilton Speight was a problem before he was injured. He struggled mightily, and so did Michigan’s offense in the first three-plus games of the year. Then Speight was injured, ushering in John O’Korn, who appeared to potentially be an answer when he led the Wolverines to a strong win over Purdue in the game Speight got hurt.

Well, after throwing a touchdown in that game, O’Korn has not thrown another. He was pulled Saturday after an ineffective outing that saw him complete just half his passes and his fourth interception of the season.

In his stead, Jim Harbaugh entrusted the offense to redshirt freshman Brandon Peters, who immediately injected life into the offense. Peters entered the game in the second quarter when the score was tied up at 7-7. From that point onward, Michigan outscored the Scarlet Knights by three touchdowns to win 35-17. Peters finished with just 124 yards on 10-of-14 passes, but he didn’t turn the ball over, either.

Harbaugh has a huge decision ahead of him now. Will he roll the dice with the redshirt freshman or will he go back to the senior, O’Korn, when the Wolverines host Minnesota next week?

Josh Adams raises Heisman profile in another statement win for the Irish

Notre Dame running back Josh Adams

For the second weekend in a row, Notre Dame running back Josh Adams came up huge in a statement win for the Fighting Irish. Taking on NC State, which featured the No. 6 rushing defense in the nation coming in, Adams went off. He rushed for 202 yards and one touchdown as Notre Dame throttled the Wolfpack, 35-14, to improve to 7-1 on the season.

Adams now has 1,169 rushing yards and nine touchdowns this year. He has been absolutely key in Notre Dame’s huge wins over Boston College, USC and NC State. The Irish, who climbed up into the top 10 this past week, are absolutely on track to garner one of the top four spots in the College Football Playoff right now. If Adams continues to pile up the yardage and the Fighting Irish win out, we could be looking at a Heisman/playoff combo.

And given the team’s 4-8 season a year ago, that’s pretty stunning.

Bulldogs continue to treat SEC East as personal chew toy

Florida never had a chance Saturday. Despite quarterback Jake Fromm attempting just seven passes, the Bulldogs chewed the Gators up and spit them out to the tune of 42-7. And it felt even more lopsided that that, if we’re honest.

As they’ve been doing all year, Sony Michel and Nick Chubb treated Florida’s defense like nothing more than a plaything. The two combined for 214 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Georgia finished with 292 yards rushing, averaging 8.2 yards per clip.

The Bulldogs held Florida’s passing game to just 66 yards. The game was over at halftime, as Florida was already in a 21-0 hole. It was 42-0 until Malik Zaire finally punched in a rushing score with under three minutes remaining in the game. It was just ugly, as far as Florida is concerned. Adding insult to injury, a report emerged during the game that Florida is looking into whether it has cause to fire Jim McElwain and not pay him the remaining $12.9 million he’s owed.

At this point, barring some unforeseen event taking place, the only team that could derail Georgia (8-0 overall and 5-0 in the SEC) from finishing undefeated before the postseason is Auburn. The Bulldogs and Tigers will clash in Auburn on 11/11, and we’re very much looking forward to the battle between Georgia’s rushing attack and Auburn’s defense.

The U nearly fell into a trap

Miami had an easy opponent in Week 9 against the one-win Tar Heels, which was nice because the U has a tough one in Week 10 against Virginia Tech.

Only, it wasn’t so easy. In fact, if not for a late fumble by Jordan Brown, North Carolina was in great shape to win the game in the final minutes.

The Tar Heels scored a touchdown to move to within five points with just over three minutes left. They forced a turnover and got the ball right back, only to cough it right back up themselves. That’s the nature of a losing team, and right now it’s the new norm for Larry Fedora’s squad. But Miami should have never let it get this close to begin with. The Hurricanes were 20-point favorites entering the game, and rightly so.

Thankfully Mark Richt’s club did pull out the win and is still undefeated heading into next weekend’s huge ACC clash against the Hokies. But it was almost a disaster.

James Franklin’s refusal to make Saquon Barkley the focal point comes home to roost

Penn State head coach James Franklln

We’ve been consistent since early this season about criticizing Penn State head coach James Franklin for his refusal to make Saquon Barkley the focal point of the offense.

Entering Saturday’s huge game against Ohio State, Trace McSorley had attempted 220 passes in seven games and rushed the ball 83 times himself. Compared to Saquon Barkley, who touched the ball 149 total times on offense, this was not the balance Penn State needed to establish heading into its big games late in the year.

It finally bit Franklin in the behind against Ohio State. Incredibly, Barkley opened the game with a 97-yard touchdown on a kickoff return. Then he busted out with a 36-yard run in the second quarter, which was only his third carry of the game.

Instead of utilizing the best player in the nation, riding the hot hand, the Nittany Lions put the game in the hands of McSorley. The quarterback dropped back to pass 15 times and took off on four runs himself before Barkley finally got his third carry of the game. Barkley only had seven rushing attempts in the first half, even though his team had a big lead and was on the road.

Sure, you look at the final box score and see those 21 carries. Obviously Franklin tried to run the ball. But the problem is that he hasn’t been making the running game the focal point all season long and didn’t establish the run early with the lead.

So when it came time to run the ball and burn the clock, Penn State’s offensive line was blown out of the water by a talented Ohio State defensive line. Barkley averaged negative-0.5 yards per carry before contact in this game. That’s on James Franklin and his coaching staff, because this is a season-long issue that finally came home to roost in the biggest game of the year.

Tennessee once again ends game on the sourest of notes

Tennessee has now lost four in a row and five out of the last six games after dropping Saturday’s game against Kentucky, 29-26. And the Vols lost this one in the most Butch Jonesian possible way.

The Wildcats were down by five points following a made field goal by Tennessee late in the fourth quarter. They marched down the field on a 10-play touchdown-scoring drive that chewed up over four minutes of the clock and ended with just 33 seconds remaining in the game.

Then, in desperation time, Tennessee got its final drive of the game started by completing a one-yard pass, then committing a false-start penalty. When time expired, they hadn’t even managed to advance the ball past midfield.

And did we mention they also missed two field goals in this one that would have made Kentucky’s final touchdown irrelevant? Or that Tennessee won the turnover battle, 4-0. Or that the Vols had 10 more first downs and nearly doubled up the Wildcats in the time-of-possession battle?

Yeah, Butch Jones continues to amaze. In the worst possible way.

Now at 3-5, the Vols can say Kentucky has beat them for just the second time in 33 tries.

Luke Falk got benched again as Khalil Tate and Wildcats roar

For the third time this season, Luke Falk was sent to the bench after playing poorly. The first time came in Washington State’s second game, against Boise State. The second came near the end of the team’s blowout loss to Cal three weeks back. Then after the Cougars got off to a poor start on the road against Arizona Saturday night, Falk was benched in the second quarter following a couple of three-and-outs. At this point in the game, the Wildcats led, 20-7.

Tyler Hilinski came into the game and immediately sparked the Cougars. They scored a touchdown on his first drive. Following an interception to open the second half, he bounced back and led two consecutive touchdown-scoring drives to put Washington State on top for the first time all game long, 27-23, midway through the third quarter. 

That’s when dual-threat sophomore quarterback Khalil Tate and running back J.J. Taylor took the game over for the Wildcats. Arizona would outscore Washington State by 25 (35-10) points the rest of the way. Tate and Taylor combined to rush for 298 yards and three touchdowns, and the young quarterback added another 275 yards and two touchdowns passing the ball.

Meanwhile, Hilinski ended up throwing four interceptions, and for some reason head coach Mike Leach never put Falk back into the game.

This marks the second time in the past three weeks that Washington State has been taken out by an unranked team. And with Falk’s status as the starter suddenly in question, one has to wonder if things don’t get worse for the Cougars, who have Stanford and Washington still left on the schedule.

Parting shots

— Clemson bounced back nicely from its loss to Syracuse two weeks ago. Georgia Tech was held to just 230 total yards and didn’t score a touchdown until late in the fourth quarter. Kelly Bryant looked strong after getting a bye to recover from the ankle injury that plagued him in that loss, throwing for two touchdowns and totaling 274 yards. Clemson is now right back in the mix for one of the four playoff spots following losses to Penn State and TCU.

— Oklahoma’s offense continues to purr with Baker Mayfield as the man behind the wheel. He has been able to make up for the team’s defensive deficiencies in every game but one so far this year and had another big night against Texas Tech (281 passing yards and four touchdowns). But the simple fact remains that the Sooners are not doing much to stop opposing teams from scoring. So it won’t surprise this scribe in the least if they end up dropping another game in the final month of the year, putting themselves out of the playoff chase.

— Memphis continued its hot play Friday night, obliterating Tulane (as it should) by the score of 56-26. Quarterback Riley Ferguson has thrown 23 touchdowns in his last seven games, and aside from his poor showing against UCF he has been magnificent this year.

— Wisconsin better hope Jonathan Taylor’s leg injury isn’t significant. He’s been the main driving force behind the team’s offense and came into the game averaging nearly 159 rushing yards per contest. He didn’t appear in the final two quarters of the Badgers’ 24-10 win over Illinois. Predictably, Wisconsin’s offense struggled, punting three consecutive times until Alex Hornibrook came through with a couple big passing plays that set up the team’s only second-half score, late in the fourth quarter.

— Lamar Jackson had another monster game for Louisville. He gained 491 total yards and scored four touchdowns. Yet the Cardinals still lost to Wake Forest, 42-32. Louisville’s defense is truly awful, and it’s likely going to cost Jackson a chance to repeat as the Heisman Trophy winner.

— Ole Miss’ dumpster fire of a season took another turn for the worst today. The Bulldogs went up 31-7 in the second quarter against Arkansas, which has been awful this year. Then they allowed the Razorbacks back into the game and ultimately lost, 38-37, getting outscored 31-6 in the game’s final 40 minutes. At home.

— Washington had an easy go of it against UCLA, winning 44-23. Josh Rosen injured his finger in this one, leaving the game, and his counterpart Jake Browning only attempted 11 passes. The Huskies simply ran over UCLA’s pathetic defense to the tune of 333 yards and five touchdowns. The Bruins have been awful defensively all year, and now that Rosen is hurt things could get even uglier.

As we predicted, both South Florida and Michigan State were put to the test against tough opponents. And they both failed. Northwestern pushed the Spartans to overtime and ended up winning by a touchdown in the third overtime period. Houston handed the Bulls their first loss of the year, despite a big game from Quentin Flowers. It’s highly likely both South Florida and Michigan State will fall outside the top 25 (or very close to it) when the new rankings come out this Sunday.

— UCF remains undefeated heading into November after racking up 73 points against Austin Peay. The Knights are now in the best position of any Group of Five team to make a case for an entry into the playoff in January. Of course, they still have to withstand some formidable opponents during the final month of the season to stay undefeated.

— Another week, another loss for Matt Rhule and the Baylor Bears. Texas took them behind the woodshed Saturday, winning 38-7. With upcoming games against Texas Tech, TCU and Iowa State to end the season, the Kansas game looks to be Baylor’s only legit chance to win a single game in 2017.

— Don’t look now, but Lane Kiffin’s FAU Owls have won four in a row and five out of their last six. They’re also 4-0 in conference play now and are in first place in the Conference USA East division.

— Oregon broke a three-game losing streak at home Saturday beating the heck out of Utah. Now the Utes, who started the season 4-0, have suddenly lost four games in a row themselves. They pushed Stanford and USC to the limit in the first two losses but have fallen apart the past two weekends. What in the world happened there?

— Missouri quarterback Drew Lock continued his torrid play. Helping the Tigers win big over Connecticut, Lock threw five more touchdowns Saturday. He’s now thrown 18 touchdowns and just two interceptions his past four games.