It wasn’t a weekend for the underdog.
The best teams in the nation took care of business during college football Week 11, as every program in the top 10 came out with a win.
There were some upsets, however, starting with No. 11 getting knocked off by Tennessee, of all teams. NC State also was very disappointing in its loss to Wake Forest. But for the most part, it wasn’t a huge weekend for the underdog in big games.
That doesn’t mean we didn’t learn a few things from the busy slate of games. These were the biggest takeaways from the action in college football Week 11.
NC State will take massive tumble down rankings
With its huge win over Florida State in Week 10, NC State vaulted up seven spots to No. 14 in the College Football Playoff rankings heading into Thursday’s game against Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons had recently been absolutely hammered by Clemson, Florida State, and Syracuse, and came into Week 11 with just one conference win.
Not surprisingly, the Wolfpack were heavy favorites to win at home. But that’s not how the game played out. Instead, NC State’s defense fell apart and allowed quarterback Jamie Newman to have a monster game leading his team to a stunning 27-23 win.
The ACC is strong this year, and the selection committee has shown it some love. But after this loss, one should expect to see the Wolfpack take a massive tumble down the rankings, perhaps one that’s even larger than the seven-spot boost they got heading into Week 11.
Louisville’s brokenness is beyond repair
It’s well beyond time for Louisville to admit that Bobby Petrino has to go. This football program has fallen apart in 2018 without the glue that held it together last year — Lamar Jackson — and the Cardinals are now a national embarrassment.
One weekend after getting thrashed like an FCS team in Tuscaloosa in a brutal loss to Clemson, Louisville traveled to New York for a date with Syracuse. The Orange had little trouble taking it to the Cardinals, but they did plenty of damage all on their own with awful mistakes that led to points for the opposition.
In every phase of the game, Louisville is a broken thing. It’s going to take a complete rebuild, under new leadership, for this program to bounce back.
What a comeback by Boise State!
The Broncos had their hands full at home against Fresno State Friday night. The Bulldogs have been fierce all year long and took a 10-3 lead into halftime at Albertsons Stadium. Then they stretched that lead to two touchdowns with a scoring drive on their first offensive possession of the second half.
It’s worth pointing out that this lead appeared to be all the Bulldogs would need. Their defense entered Week 11 as the No. 2-ranked scoring defense in the nation, allowing just 12.3 points per game.
With that in mind, what the Broncos did after Fresno State took a two-touchdown lead was really quite amazing. Brett Rypien led his offense on three consecutive touchdown-scoring drives, the defense stiffened up in a huge way as Boise State scored 21 unanswered points to pull off a stunning 24-17 win at home.
The Sparty meltdown was hard to watch
The first half of the Ohio State-Michigan State game in East Lansing was a classic B1G slugfest that featured very little in the way of offensive prowess. Brian Lewerke couldn’t get anything done on offense and was benched in favor of Rocky Lombardi just before halftime, and the Spartans clawed their way into it with a field goal as Ohio State took a 7-3 lead into the locker room.
Michigan State pulled to within one point with a second field goal, and it really looked like Sparty might have a legitimate shot at pulling off a huge upset at home in front of their fans.
Then, a complete meltdown occurred. A disastrous sequence of events unfolded starting late in the third quarter that turned that one-point game into a two-score deficit, and from there Ohio State had little trouble rolling to a 26-6 victory.
We’ve seen the Spartans melt down before, but this one was on another level. It really was hard to watch, and the loss will send them careening toward the bottom of the top-25 rankings next week.
West Virginia is still heating up, and that’s scary
How’s this for dominant? The Mountaineers shut down TCU’s run game to the tune of minus-7 yards on Saturday, allowed 3.64 yards per play on defense as their offense rattled off six touchdowns in a 47-10 blowout win at home.
Will Grier continues to put forth an effort that will land him in New York this December as a Heisman Finalist. He’s been so good this year, and he piled up 343 yards along with three more touchdowns through the air on Saturday. He’s leading a team that has won its last three games while putting an average of 49 points on the board.
That loss to Iowa State seems like a distant memory as the Mountaineers charge toward their final matchup against Oklahoma in two weeks. That game should be incredibly fun to watch, and the victor will earn some significant spoils.
Gators, Feleipe Franks show serious grit in comeback win
Florida appeared to be headed toward its third loss in a row. At home against South Carolina, the Gators fell behind by 17 points when the Gamecocks went 96 yards in four plays and scored a touchdown with less than 20 minute remaining in the game.
Just like they did in the first half, however, the Gators proved they weren’t going to go away quietly.
Feleipe Franks, who shushed his own fans earlier in the game, engineered three straight touchdown-scoring drives to close out the game. He finished off the game with his second rushing score of the contest. The Gators also forced South Carolina into a punt, punt, interception to close it out as they roared back to stop the bleeding and improve to 7-3 on the season.
Jonathan Taylor/Miles Sanders showdown worth the price of admission
In the grand scheme of things, neither Wisconsin nor Penn State lived up to expectations this year, and both are already out of it in terms of both the playoff and the Big Ten title. So, Saturday’s game in Happy Valley wasn’t a blockbuster, by any means.
However, it did provide fans with a unique opportunity to watch two of the nation’s top running backs, and they delivered with outstanding performances.
Jonathan Taylor opened up the game’s scoring with a brilliant 71-yard touchdown run. He finished with 185 yards and the score on just 20 carries. Sanders wowed everyone watching early on with a hurdle move reminiscent of Saquon Barkley. He would finish with 168 total yards and a touchdown on 25 touches.
Penn State won easily, 22-10, thanks to some poor quarterback play by Jack Coan. But this game was all about the running backs, and they lived up to the hype.
UCF does itself no favors in narrow win over Navy
First, the good: UCF did beat Navy, 35-24, to improve to 9-0 this season while extending their now 22-game winning streak. That’s incredible.
Unfortunately, this win won’t help the Knights whatsoever in their pursuit of national recognition as a viable playoff candidate. It follows a similar victory last weekend that saw them beat Temple by just 12 points while giving up 40.
The selection committee is not impressed with UCF’s defense, nor should it be. Furthermore, the Knights’ schedule remains extremely weak — weaker than it was last year when they went into bowl season ranked No. 12. This team is a victim of its own conference in many ways, but blowout wins would at least give the committee something to think about. These narrow victories over middling competition do not.
Kentucky gets destroyed by Tennessee, says goodbye to NY6 bid
Even with two losses coming into college football Week 11, Kentucky was clearly seen as one of the strongest teams in the nation. The selection committee surprised many by ranking the Wildcats No. 11 overall. Based on the strength of that and their 5-2 SEC record, a New Year’s Six bowl bid seemed like a reasonable expectation for this program.
Well, all that is history after the Wildcats were humiliated by Tennessee in Knoxville on Saturday. The Volunteers not only beat Kentucky, they took their SEC rival behind the woodshed, winning 24-7. This game was never close. Tennessee jumped out to a 24-0 lead in the third quarter before Kentucky finally got on the board. It was a complete one-sided blowout that nobody saw coming.
In addition to wiping a New Year’s Six bid off the board, the Wildcats should expect to see the committee’s favor wane significantly when the Week 12 rankings come out on Tuesday night.
Wazzu is really dangerous
Washington State is one blocked field goal away from potentially being undefeated with two games left in the regular season. The Cougars followed up a gut-check win over Cal last weekend with an absolute blowout victory on the road against the Buffaloes on Saturday to improve to 9-1 on the season.
Aside from the spectacular Laviska Shenault Jr. (so glad he’s back and healthy) and one long run by Travon McMillian, Colorado’s offense was pretty much stuck in the mud. On the other side, Gardner Minshaw continued his outstanding season with 361 yards of offense and three passing touchdowns as Wazzu racked up 477 yards and held onto the ball more than twice as long as its opponent.
This Cougars team is quite potent. Should Mike Leach and Co. win out, then it’s going to be fascinating to see how the selection committee weighs this program in the end.
Tua’s knee is going to be a storyline the rest of the year
First off, a ton of credit goes to Mississippi State’s defensive front seven. Tua Tagovailoa has never faced the kind of consistent pressure that unit put on Alabama’s offensive line on Saturday. He was sacked a career-high four times, and was held to just 164 yards and one touchdown passing while turning the ball over twice.
Really, it was the first time Tagovailoa looked remotely human this season. But again, a lot of that had to do with Mississippi State’s outstanding defensive line full of NFL-caliber players. The real issue to focus on going forward is that Tagovailoa once again was limping around the field with his banged-up knee. This time around he had to be replaced by Mac Brown with a quad injury on top of the knee at a point in time where he would not have normally come out.
Before the LSU game, Tagovailoa said his knee was 100 percent healthy. But last weekend he aggravated the sprain rushing in a 44-yard touchdown, and then again the knee flared up badly. It’s going to be an issue the rest of the way, that much is clear.
Northwestern, you are ridiculous!
The Wildcats have really been a trip to watch this year. They’re 1-3 against non-conference opponents but are now 6-1 against the Big Ten, their only loss being a three-point affair to mighty Michigan. Coming into Week 11 they were scoring less than a point per game more than they were giving up.
On Saturday, not only did that craziness continue, but it went into overdrive. Down by three points to open the second half on the road against Iowa, Clayton Thorson sandwiched a touchdown in between two interceptions, the second of which led to an Iowa touchdown, which once again game the Hawkeyes the lead.
Then, in the fourth quarter after Northwestern failed to convert points on a 19-play drive the previous possession, Thorson finally struck gold with a beautiful 32-yard touchdown strike to Bennett Skowronek that proved to be the game-winner.
This incredibly tight, gutsy win, combined with Purdue’s loss to Minnesota, gave the Wildcats a first-class ticket to the Big Ten Championship Game. Wild, crazy stuff happening in the B1G.
Sooners stay alive, but defense is a huge problem
Bedlam was nuts this year, to the surprise of absolutely nobody. It ended up coming down to the final minute of play, and in the end Oklahoma was practically gifted the win by a really questionable play call by the Cowboys, and an awful onside kick attempt following a failed two-point conversion.
But the real issue remains Oklahoma’s defense. The Sooners looked to have somewhat tightened things up on that end after firing former defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. Until you realize the “improvement” came against TCU and Kansas State. The past two weekends have seen the Sooners give up 974 yards and 93 points.
One wonders if West Virginia will do to Oklahoma what Texas Tech and Oklahoma State could not in two week’s time — outscore these Sooners. Even if they win out, it’s hard to imagine this defense coming close to being effective against offensive juggernauts like Clemson or Alabama.
Georgia’s defense showed some bite after early struggles
For a while there on Saturday as Georgia hosted Auburn, it looked like War Eagle might rise up and pull of the upset. The Tigers had a 10-6 lead midway through the second quarter and were moving the ball very well on offense, racking up 166 yards.
Fro that point on, Georgia’s defense put the clamps down. It allowed just 148 yards the rest of the game as Auburn’s offense went completely dark. In fact, the only touchdown allowed by the Bulldogs in this one was engineered on a trick play. Jarrett Stidham managed just 163 yards on 36 passing attempts, regressing once again after showing out recently.
Georgia’s still hanging around and in great shape to head into the Alabama game with just the one loss, and a shot at the playoff.
Notre Dame needs Ian Book healthy for Syracuse game
The Fighting Irish made a stunning announcement earlier this week revealing that quarterback Ian Book would miss the Florida State game with a rib injury. Not surprisingly, they didn’t need him to knock off the reeling Seminoles, winning in blowout fashion, 42-13.
However, the Irish better hope Ian Book is healthy enough to play next weekend when they host the Syracuse Orange. Brandon Wimbush did throw three touchdowns Saturday night, but he also threw two interceptions and completed less than half his passes — pretty much exactly the same as he was before, which was why Notre Dame turned to Book in the first place.
Syracuse has been putting points on the board like crazy lately, averaging 46.5 in their last four games. The Fighting Irish won’t likely win if Wimbush has to keep up with that kind of pace — with their perfect season on the line, it’s looking like Ian Book or bust.
LSU doesn’t look like the No. 7 team in the nation
One of the big surprises that emerged when the Week 11 CFP rankings emerged on Tuesday was that LSU only dropped to No. 7 overall, sandwiched in between Oklahoma and Washington State. The Tigers have lost two games and got absolutely trucked by Alabama in Week 10, yet they were seen as more viable than some one-loss teams, and of course UCF.
Saturday night’s visit to Fayetteville should be enough to convince the committee that LSU does not belong among the top-10. The Razorbacks came into the game with just two wins on the season and nary a single win in the SEC. Yet they were able to hang with the Tigers, losing by just a single touchdown.
It’s clear that LSU is a tough team. It’s done some big things this year. But in no way was Saturday night’s performance what one would expect from the No. 7 team in the nation.
Clemson’s defense is still peaking
There’s still a lot that needs to play out between now and January. But given the way Clemson’s defense is coming along the dream of another Alabama-Clemson title game is quite appealing.
The Tigers laid waste to poor Boston College Saturday night in Chestnut Hill. In particular, their defense was merciless, allowing just 113 total yards and zero points — the Eagles’ only score came on a freak special teams play.
Even counting those seven points, the past five games, Clemson has allowed a total of 43 points. Folks, that is an average of 8.6 points per game. Given their explosive potential on offense, opposing teams really have no chance of beating the Tigers right now. It’ll be stunning if they don’t head into bowl season with a perfect record and the No. 2 seed heading into the playoff.