Ten takeaways from a dramatic college football Saturday

Ten takeaways from a wild, cruel and dramatic day in college football:

No. 1: If there was a more painful single play in 121 years of Mississippi football, you must dial back 55 years and 1 day to find it.

On Halloween night 1959, LSU’s Billy Cannon returned a fourth-quarter punt 89 yards to beat undefeated Ole Miss 7-3. The play is a signature part of LSU lore and a searing mark on the psyches of all Rebels fans old enough to remember it – and even some that have had the psychic pain handed down through the generations.

Now, the current generation of Ole Miss fans have their own heartbreak.

In one of the cruelest twists of fate ever, Mississippi lost a star player, who lost the ball, which lost a do-or-die game. Receiver Laquon Treadwell, churning toward the end zone with about 90 seconds left for the potential game-winning touchdown against Auburn, was dragged down awkwardly from behind on a legal tackle near the goal line. To the naked eye, it appeared Treadwell scored. But upon review, it was clear that Treadwell fumbled the ball as his lower left leg was gruesomely torqued – and broken – underneath the Auburn tackler. The Tigers’ Cassanova McKinzy recovered the fumble in the end zone for a touchback.

Game over. Treadwell’s season over. Ole Miss’ championship dreams likely over as well. All in a split second. How harsh is that?

Hugh Freeze's decision-making is under fire for a second straight week after another loss. (USAT)
Hugh Freeze's decision-making is under fire for a second straight week after another loss. (USAT)

The back-to-back defeats the Rebels have suffered after a surprising 7-0 start are nothing short of brutal. There was the oh-no-Bo Wallace interception within plausible field-goal range in the final seconds at LSU last week. Now this. Ole Miss could theoretically stay in the College Football Playoff race, but its dreams of an SEC West title and a first-ever berth in the SEC championship game were almost certainly dashed.

Football can be a merciless game. Nobody knows that more than Laquon Treadwell and his Mississippi teammates today.

No. 2: Some 93 miles away from the nausea in Oxford, Mississippi State was enduring its own nerve-wracking ending – with a very different outcome. The No. 1-ranked, undefeated Bulldogs struggled all night against an Arkansas team that hasn’t won an SEC game since 2012. State needed an end-zone interception by defensive back Will Redmond (whose recruitment led to the disassociation of a booster and the firing of an assistant coach) in the final seconds to survive, 17-10.

That, coupled with a not-terribly-easy win at Kentucky the previous week, will give the College Football Playoff selection committee a more difficult choice about who to rank No. 1 this week – Mississippi State or Florida State?

The Bulldogs have the single best win, by 15 points at home over Auburn – that’s better than Florida State’s late home escape against Notre Dame. State’s “B-list” victory, at LSU, also trumps anything on the Seminoles’ resume – either the comeback win at Louisville or the home thriller over Clemson without Jameis Winston.

But Mississippi State’s shaky play of late has raised some doubts – and those doubts coincide with Florida State’s stirring performance Thursday night against the Cardinals. I’d still rank the Bulldogs first, but the margin is decreasing.

No. 3: Auburn’s list of ludicrous ways to win under Gus Malzahn got another major entry with this win at Ole Miss. To the 109-yard field goal return to beat Alabama and the tipped-ball Hail Mary to beat Georgia, add the fracture-fumble to beat Ole Miss. Credit to the Tigers for finding ways to win – but nobody has been luckier over the past two seasons.

No. 4: After exorcizing the Stanford demon Saturday, Oregon is positioned to be the biggest beneficiary of Mississippi’s loss.

Marcus Mariota and Oregon are looking up after Saturday's action. (AP)
Marcus Mariota and Oregon are looking up after Saturday's action. (AP)

The Ducks had their season ruined by the Cardinal each of the last two years. They were outhit, outfought and out-thought, and some wondered whether Oregon was simply not built to beat the game’s most physical programs – of which Stanford certainly is one.

That doubt was eradicated with a 45-16 rout in Eugene. Oregon ran for twice as many yards as Stanford, and Marcus Mariota played his best game against the Cardinal – 356 total yards and four touchdowns.

Oregon figures to move into the updated playoff bracket when it is released by the committee Tuesday night.

No. 5: No coach had a bigger Saturday than Florida’s Will Muschamp. The Gators’ shocking upset of Georgia may well have been must-win for the fourth-year coach to keep his job. For now.

As it is, the triumph may not be enough to guarantee Muschamp employment in Gainesville in 2015 – Florida isn’t going to win the SEC East, in a year when that division once again was there for the taking. The Gators’ ceiling would seem to be 7-4 (their season opener against Idaho was canceled due to storms), and that’s the kind of record that got Ron Zook fired a decade ago.

But there was a lot of smoke last week suggesting that Muschamp would be fired as soon as Sunday with a loss to the Bulldogs. Especially if it was an ugly loss, like Florida’s previous game against Missouri.

Today that smoke has evaporated. But it certainly can come back.

No. 6: On the flip side of Florida’s triumph was a ghastly performance by Georgia. The two-loss Bulldogs almost certainly have been eliminated from playoff contention, and have now ceded control of the Eastern Division back to defending divisional champion Missouri – a team Georgia routed in Columbia just two weeks earlier.

It would be inaccurate to blame the loss on the continued absence of star running back Todd Gurley – backup Nick Chubb again played well in his absence. The problem was a defense that had generated nine turnovers in beating Missouri and Arkansas but only forced one from the Gators – and was trampled on the ground. Florida ran for 418 yards, allowing freshman quarterback Treon Harris to win his first college start despite cro-magnon passing stats (3-of-6 for 27 yards).

No. 7: You can paint the Big 12 purple – TCU and Kansas State both advanced to a showdown game Saturday in Fort Worth with first place in the league on the line. But they arrive at this point via dramatically different means.

The Horned Frogs led for 2 minutes and 36 seconds of actual clock time Saturday at West Virginia – a brief span of the third quarter. Their second and final lead came after the clock hit :00, when Jaden Oberkrom’s 37-yard field goal went through on the final play for a 31-30 victory. A week after scoring 82 points, TCU scraped for every yard and point it could muster amid challenging weather conditions, and had to score 10 points in the last half of the fourth quarter to pull out the victory.

Kansas State then upheld its end of the bargain in easy fashion, rolling past an unraveling Oklahoma State team 48-14. The Cowboys have lost three straight games by a combined 91 points.

If you had K-State at TCU as the potential Big 12 Game of the Year in August, raise your hand. And then admit you’re a dirty liar.

No. 8: One of the teams improbably still in the playoff chase? Duke.

Yes, Duke.

David Cutcliffe and Duke remain in the CFP hunt, despite all odds. (AP)
David Cutcliffe and Duke remain in the CFP hunt, despite all odds. (AP)

The Blue Devils are 7-1 overall, 3-1 in the ACC Coastal – a putrid division, but somebody has to win it. Duke’s road to 11-1 and a potential meeting with Florida State (gulp) in the ACC championship game is manageable: Syracuse (3-6), Virginia Tech (4-5), North Carolina (4-5) and Wake Forest (2-6).

Duke has somehow won 15 of its last 16 regular-season games, despite rarely being dominant. That was the case Saturday, when the Blue Devils needed a shanked chip-shot field goal by Pittsburgh at the end of regulation to get into overtime, and Duke won from there, 51-48.

Duke is NOT going to the playoff. But Duke somehow remains alive for the playoff. David Cutcliffe, you rock.

No. 9: Speaking of the ACC: the diminution of Lane Stadium continues at an alarming pace.

Virginia Tech’s loss to Boston College was its fourth in six home games this year, and drops the Hokies’ home record to 2-6 over its last eight appearances in Lane going back to last year. One of the vaunted home-field advantages in college football has ceased to exist.

The next question is how much longer Frank Beamer will persevere – or be allowed to persevere – as head coach. After a brilliant run of eight straight seasons with double-digit victories from 2004-11, his record has slumped to 19-16 since. And the competition in the Coastal hasn’t been very good during that time.

No. 10: Arizona State has taken control of the PAC-12 South. By the slimmest of margins.

The Sun Devils beat Utah in overtime thanks to a made field goal, which followed a meltdown by previously reliable Utes kicker Andy Phillips. That followed some hideously conservative play-calling from the Utah coaching staff, which seemed to be desperately wishing that a three-point lead in the third quarter would hold up. Add in two easy interceptions that were dropped, and overachieving Utah has to feel like it underachieved in Tempe.

For ASU, the win ratchets up stakes for the game Saturday against Notre Dame. It becomes a second straight playoff elimination game.

ASU also has a game lead in the loss column in the South, and the Territorial Cup rivalry game against Arizona to end the regular season could decide the divisional title.