It was Separation Saturday for some of the top teams in the nation in Week 7.
This weekend’s slate of games produced a huge upset, some predictably dominant performances and one thrilling finish that will rival the greats in years to come.
These are the top takeaways from the intense action.
1. Jim Harbaugh’s magic can only do so much
Michigan (No. 12) had the game sealed late in the fourth quarter, or so it seemed.
It should have been over, as the Wolverines were up 23-21 with just 10 seconds remaining on the clock. All Michigan had to do was successfully pull off a punt on 4th-and-2, which didn’t happen.
Instead, punter Blake O’Neill couldn’t handle a poor snap that landed about shin-high. The ball popped right off his hands, and when he tried to corral the thing, he instead flung it directly into the hands of Michigan State’s Jalen Watts-Jackson, who took it 38 yards to the house, falling into the end zone literally as time expired for the 27-23 victory
This really just happened. Unbelievable. pic.twitter.com/59ut12F1W7
— Yahoo Sports College Football (@YahooSportsCFB) October 17, 2015
It was one of the most insane endings of any college football game in history, and we’ll be looking back at the final play for years, and perhaps decades, to come. Michigan had done everything right to defeat its Big Ten rival, but in the end the football gods made it known which team they favored.
Jim Harbaugh has done a masterful job getting his players to buy into a winning system. His ability to transform the program has been correctly lauded, but in the end his magic could only extend so far. It was a twist of fate that undid his spell, giving the Spartans the victory in the most improbable way.
Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook made some brilliant plays under pressure and didn’t turn the ball over once. His leadership on the field was a huge reason the Spartans had a chance at all in the end.
The Spartans (No. 7) remain undefeated at 7-0 following the exciting contest, while Michigan falls to 5-2. It will be interesting to see how far down the rankings the Wolverines fall, given the level of competition and circumstances of this latest loss.
2. Baylor should be No. 1
After seven weeks of action, it’s clear No. 2-ranked Baylor is the top team in the nation. The Bears took down West Virginia in a big way, winning 62-38 on Saturday.
Forget about the fact that Baylor’s defense doesn’t shut down opponents. Put the Bears up against anyone, and they’re going to score more points than the opposition. Period.
Thanks to a dynamic three-headed monster on offense that features quarterback Seth Russell, running back Shock Linwood and NFL-ready receiver Corey Coleman, Baylor’s offense is unstoppable.
Speaking of Coleman, the young man is unreal. He pulled off some moves on Saturday against West Virginia that had Twitter and other social media outlets aflame with conversation and a general sense of awe.
Baylor's Corey Coleman broke quite a few ankles today against West Virginia. https://t.co/WSTsllpmVY
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) October 18, 2015
As an “oh, by the way” note for you, Coleman also broke Baylor’s single-season touchdown reception record in the second quarter — in his sixth game of the season. It was his second touchdown of the day, and he finished with three, bringing his seasonal total up to 16.
Baylor has blown out every single opponent to stand in its way. If the Bears were to play the Ohio State Buckeyes — or any of the other top teams — right now, there is little doubt which team would come out ahead.
3. Ohio State’s offense is getting back to basics, and it’s starting to work
Top-ranked Ohio State is still trying to get things figured out on the offensive side of the football. On Saturday, the offense worked splendidly for two quarters but sputtered badly during the other two. The final score was 38-10.
Thankfully for the Buckeyes, the sporadic offensive output didn’t cost them a win against Penn State, which struggled to generate any offense of its own.
The reason things got back on track for the Buckeyes this weekend was Urban Meyer decided to ditch the passing game for a while and focused his efforts on getting the team’s running game on track. Meyer inserted quarteback J.T. Barrett into the lineup mid-drive at the start of the second quarter, and his ability to quickly gain yards on the ground opened up running lanes for running back Ezekiel Elliott.
The duo combined to rush for 255 yards and three touchdowns, and Barrett added two passing touchdowns on four attempts. Going forward, it’s hard to imagine Meyer will go back to Jones, who hasn’t ever gotten it going this year like he did during the team’s championship run last season.
If Barrett sticks as the starter, and if the Buckeyes continue to run the ball more often than they throw it, then it’s hard to imagine they’ll have a loss on their record heading into the second half of November when they finally face tests in Michigan State and Michigan to close out the season.
4. Iowa is officially a playoff contender
Iowa (No. 17) is still unbeaten after Saturday’s big 40-10 win over No. 20-ranked Northwestern.
It was an impressive performance on the road, featuring an outstanding effort by sophomore running back Akrum Wadley. Wadley was filling in for Jordan Canzeri, who left the game with an ankle injury. He finished with 204 rushing yards and four touchdowns, carrying Iowa’s offense to victory while the defense smothered Northwestern’s one-dimensional offense.
The Hawkeyes have remained on the periphery of the national spotlight thus far, but after the undeniably impressive performance against the Wildcats this weekend it’s time to finally give them their due respect.
Sporting a record 7-0 and a conference record of 3-0 against Big Ten rivals Wisconsin, Illinois and Northwestern — two of which were ranked — there can be no doubt about the legitimacy of Iowa’s run.
Looking ahead at the schedule, the biggest remaining tests for Iowa are Indiana, Minnesota and Nebraska. Based on the way the Hawkeyes have handled better teams than these, it’s not crazy to see this unheralded program going undefeated throughout the season.
5. Heisman favorite Leonard Fournette could carry the LSU Tigers to the playoffs
Fournette was amazing, once again. Many wondered if he’d be able to continue piling up yards and touchdowns against No. 8-ranked Florida’s brutal defense. He left no doubt about his dominance, rushing for 180 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries.
The Heisman favorite appears capable of carrying the undefeated Tigers (No. 6) to the playoffs, and maybe even to a championship. However, his feats of greatness weren’t the only notable thing about LSU’s 35-28 victory over Florida.
Kicker Trent Domingue ran in a 16-yard score on a fake field goal in the fourth quarter, which pretty much countered Florida’s score on a 72-yard punt return by Antonio Callaway. The game was nuts from start to finish, which is kind of the classic trait for this SEC rivalry.
Despite all the craziness that occurred, the lingering story here is Fournette’s performance against Florida’s stellar defense. Once again, just like he’s done during every game this season, Fournette put the team on his back, stockpiling yards and touchdowns. For the season, he now has 1,202 yards and 14 touchdowns — an average of 200 yards and 2.33 touchdowns per game.
He’s doing this against top competition in the nation’s toughest conference, which will certainly carry weight when the Heisman voting takes place following the season.
6. Alabama is on a Roll
Since being taken down by Ole Miss, Alabama (No. 10) has been on a mission to prove that loss was an aberration. Convincing wins over SEC rivals Georgia, Arkansas and then Texas A&M on Saturday have done much to put that loss in the rear view mirror. Once again, ‘Bama looks like a legitimate playoff contender.
On Saturday, it was mostly the Derrick Henry show that won the day for the Crimson Tide. The junior running back put on his finest performance of the season, rushing for 236 yards on 32 carries, adding two scores on the ground.
On the other side, sophomore Aggies quarterback Kyle Allen suffered through a miserable performance, throwing just one touchdown while giving up the ball three times on interceptions. Backup quarterback Kyler Murray fared no better, throwing an interception on four attempts. Worse still was the fact that three of those four combined picks went the other way for six points.
On both sides of the ball, Alabama dominated Texas A&M. But this is something that is becoming a regular occurrence these days as the Crimson Tide roll towards the postseason, and potentially, another playoff berth.
7. Stanford is clear-cut No. 2 in the Pac-12
After Thursday night’s blowout victory by The Cardinal (No. 15) over UCLA (No. 18), there can be no doubt of Stanford’s place as the second-best team in the Pac-12. Utah is undeniably the top team in the conference and is deserving of a top-four ranking, but Stanford isn’t far behind.
Featuring an opportunistic defense and steamroller offense, Stanford pounded UCLA into submission, winning easily 56-35.
Running back Christian McCaffrey, who you’d never assume was a football stud if you ran into him on the street, set a school record by rushing for 243 yards. He also scored four touchdowns, and Stanford’s power-rushing attack seems to be building momentum as we head into the months of winter.
UCLA never had a chance.
The season-opening loss to Northwestern on the road now seems like a million miles away for Stanford, which has won five in a row since, and which is 4-0 in the Pac-12. There are still many challenges left to conquer this season, but one gets the impression The Cardinal is just getting warmed up.
8. The State of Utah wasn’t kind to Boise State in 2015
Boise State is 4-2, and both losses have come on the road, in the state of Utah. The Mountain West juggernaut has breezed through most of the rest of the schedule, but the Broncos have been bucked by BYU and Utah State by a combined score of 87-50.
On paper, Utah State shouldn’t have been a problem for Boise State on Friday night, but eight turnovers doomed the Broncos to failure.
Quarterback Brett Rypien threw three interceptions (and no touchdowns), and the Broncos coughed up five fumbles. That kind of offensive performance will almost never be rewarded with a win, and it surely was not on Friday night, as the Aggies rolled at home, winning 52-26.
“You’ve got to go make plays. You’ve got to hang onto the football,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said, via the Associated Press. “You’ve got to go make plays. You’ve got to hang onto the football. “We needed guys to work together. We needed to pus some field position in our favor. It just didn’t go that way.”
Nothing went well for the Broncos in the state of Utah this year, and these two huge losses will knock them out of the top 25 midway through the season.
9. Toledo and Houston making noise
Small schools always show up in the lower portion of the top 25 at this point in the season. This year, Toledo (No. 22) and Houston (No. 24) are looking strong playing in the Middle Atlantic Conference and American Athletic Conference, respectively.
Toledo went down early, 6-0, to Eastern Michigan in the first quarter. However, starting in the second quarter, the MAC-leading Rockets went on a 56-0 run before the Eagles finally stopped the bleeding with two fourth-quarter touchdowns. Toledo quarterback Phillip Ely tossed four touchdowns, and he’s leading a team that has now outscored its opponents by an average score of 35-13.
Houston has been equally impressive playing in the AAC, and on Saturday the Cougars won easily, 42-7, over Tulane on the road. This one was never in doubt, as Houston dominated in every conceivable way.
Both programs have a long ways to go before they can be considered as anything more than the flavor of the week, but continued success will further solidify them as teams to watch as bowl season draws near.
10. What happened to Ole Miss?
No. 13-ranked Ole Miss was on top of the world following its big win over Alabama in Week 3. The Rebels featured one of the most potent offenses in the nation and appeared unstoppable. Since then, they have come back down from the mountaintop with a tough win over Vanderbilt, followed by two big losses —first to Florida, and then Memphis on Saturday.
Speaking of Memphis, the Tigers are still undefeated and should finally garner some consideration for a top-25 ranking.
Back to Ole Miss, the Rebels are now struggling to do what came so easy for them early in the year. After averaging 64 points per game the first three games of the season, they are scoring just 28 points per game since, including a 52-point outburst against winless New Mexico State. Throw that game out and the Tigers have averaged just 20 points per game.
The biggest difference from an individual standpoint has to be the play of quarterback Chad Kelly, who started the season with nine touchdowns and just one interception in the first three games. Since then, the junior has seven touchdown passes compared to six interceptions.
Adding insult to injury, in addition to losing again on Saturday the Tigers saw their best player leave the field with an injury. Defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche suffered a concussion during a scary moment when he was hit hard playing on the offensive side of the ball.
Things aren’t looking pretty for the Rebels. After looking like one of the top playoff contenders early in the year, they’re going to be lucky to retain a spot in the top 20 when the new rankings come out.
Bonus quick takes
- Trevone Boykin is special, and TCU (No. 3) is a threat to go all the way. Boykin totaled over 500 yards on Saturday against Iowa State and scored five times. He and receiver Josh Docstson connected 10 times for 190 yards, with Doctson hauling in two touchdowns.
- Clemson (No. 5) continues to impress. The Tigers took down Boston College 34-17 on Saturday, and sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson (420 yards and two passing scores) is developing nicely as the season progresses.
- Dalvin Cook is the second-best running back in the nation. Without him churning out the yards and scoring touchdowns on the ground, FSU (No. 11) would be in big trouble. Hopefully Cook’s hamstring issue doesn’t linger. He sure gutted out a special performance in Week 7 on that sore leg, rushing for 163 yards and two touchdowns so spur a 41-21 win over Louisville.
- Give USC credit for producing a gutty effort against No. 14-ranked Notre Dame. Unfortunately, the Spartans lost 41-31, but they played their hearts out on the road after getting sucker-punched with the recent demise of former head coach Steve Sarkisian. On that note, we hope he gets the help he needs to get well soon.
- What an answer by Oklahoma, which was stunned in Week 6 by Texas. The Sooners shut out Kansas State in impressive fashion, 55-0, and Baker Mayfield was on fire, throwing five touchdown passes to atone for his poor showing the week before.
- Way to make it happen in crunch time, Utah. It wasn’t pretty, but after all the other impressive performances by the Utes this season, we’ll let this one slide. Utah narrowly defeated the scrappy Arizona State Sun Devils, winning by a score of 34-18 on a rainy night in Salt Lake City. Oh, and Davontae Booker is a super freak. That is all.