All season long, a third Alabama-Clemson title game has felt inevitable.
The Crimson Tide and Tigers were the two top-ranked teams in the initial College Football Playoff rankings, and rightly so. Both teams have been completely dominant, Alabama especially.
But there’s one team that could halt the Alabama-Clemson trilogy: Michigan.
Since its season-opening loss to Notre Dame in South Bend, Michigan has slowly developed into a juggernaut, taking out Big Ten rivals along the way. The latest was No. 14 Penn State on Saturday in Ann Arbor.
Penn State embarrassed Michigan last year in Happy Valley, and the Wolverines did not forget. In the latest chapter in its revenge novel, Michigan thrashed Trace McSorley and and the Nittany Lions to the tune of 42-7 at Michigan Stadium.
It was complete domination from start to finish. And it followed the formula Jim Harbaugh has employed all season long. Michigan is known for its top-ranked defense, but Harbaugh’s offense bulldozed the PSU defense with a power running game, mixing in zone-read runs and play-action passes from Shea Patterson along the way. The Wolverines rushed for 259 yards while Patterson was an efficient 11-of-17 for 144 yards and two scores.
Michigan’s lead was only 14-0 at halftime, but it completely controlled the clock through two quarters. That paid off in a big way in the third and fourth quarters. By the time the second half rolled around, a bruising seven-minute scoring drive in the third quarter completely exhausted the Penn State defense.
On the other side, the top-ranked Michigan defense completely smothered PSU’s offense, allowing just 186 yards on the afternoon. Don Brown’s unit, which saw the return of Rashan Gary on Saturday, is completely stacked — especially in the front seven.
That recipe — a power, ball-control offense and a nasty defense — looks like it has the potential to translate to success in the postseason. That would especially be true against Clemson, a team that has not faced a team anywhere near as physical as Michigan this season. Give Don Brown a month to prepare for an offense with a true freshman quarterback and Michigan would have a heck of a chance against the Tigers.
But there are a few caveats. With Alabama demolishing No. 3 LSU in Baton Rouge, there is an opening in the top four. Michigan, No. 5 in last week’s rankings, is the obvious candidate to slide up a spot. But in order to avoid Alabama and face No. 2 Clemson, which improved to 9-0 by demolishing Louisville 77-16, the Wolverines would need to leapfrog undefeated Notre Dame to No. 3.
Notre Dame beat Michigan in Week 1 in South Bend. Both teams are much better than they were on Sept. 1, but there’s no way the committee would move Michigan ahead of the Irish if they both win out, right?
Perhaps one of the remaining teams on Notre Dame’s schedule — Florida State, No. 19 Syracuse and USC — can do the Wolverines a favor.
Let’s get to this week’s winners and losers.
Pitt: Welcome to first place in the ACC Coastal, Pitt. The Panthers guaranteed themselves a share of first with a win Friday night against Virginia. Pitt’s all alone in first now after Virginia Tech lost to Boston College on Saturday. Yes, 5-4 Pitt, a team that lost to North Carolina, is in first place in the ACC Coastal with three conference games to go. What a time to be alive. The Panthers have games against Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and Miami to close out the season. Two wins could be enough to close out the division.
UTEP: The Miners are no longer winless! UTEP beat Rice 34-26 Saturday for its first win of the season and first win since Nov. 26, 2016. That was a 20-game winless streak for those of you counting at home as Quardraiz Wadley had 20 carries for 91 yards and two scores. UTEP’s win means no team will go winless in 2018.
— UTEP Miners (@UTEPAthletics) November 3, 2018
Baylor: Oklahoma State beat Texas a week ago. And lost to the Bears on Saturday. Charlie Brewer didn’t start after suffering a concussion a week ago and came on in relief of Jalen McClendon. He threw a late touchdown pass to Denzel Mims to give Baylor a 35-31 win and put the Bears one win away from bowl eligibility. The job Matt Rhule has done at Baylor deserves some serious credit.
N’Keal Harry: The Arizona State receiver is making his case for All-American status. Harry had nine catches for 161 yards and three scores in Arizona State’s 38-20 upset win over Utah. Harry has 55 catches for 828 yards and nine touchdowns in 2018. He and Colorado’s Laviska Shenault should be the two all-conference wide receiver selections.
Army: The Black Knights are in great position for the Commander in Chief’s Trophy after a 17-14 win over Air Force. As Army faced a fourth and short near midfield with less than 20 seconds left, coach Jeff Monken decided to go for the first instead of punt. Army got it and sealed the win. This win column entry does not include the prank gone awry involving Air Force’s mascot, however.
Ohio: The Bobcats are on a roll. Ohio beat Western Michigan 59-14 during midweek MACtion to run the team’s win streak to three games. The combined score in those three games is 160-42. Ohio is already bowl eligible at 6-3.
Khalil Tate: The Arizona QB wowed us with his rushing ability in 2017. He wowed us with his passing ability Friday night. Tate threw for five touchdowns as Arizona beat Colorado 42-34 and put itself in the thick of the Pac-12 South race. Tate’s been struggling with an ankle injury for most of the season but passing performances like he displayed Friday night could give Arizona an outside shot at the Pac-12 title game.
UMass: We gotta give some love to a team that wins in three overtimes and racks up 777 yards of total offense in the process. A field goal in the third overtime gave UMass a 52-49 win over Liberty. Life is tough as an independent but senior quarterback Ross Comes threw for 540 yards on just 29 completions for four touchdowns.
Troy: The only undefeated team within the Sun Belt is from Troy, Alabama. Troy beat Louisiana 26-16 to move to 5-0 within the conference and safety Kyler Knudson came up with the game-clinching interception.
It earned him a scholarship.
How about this day for Kyler Knudsen?
First career start.
— Troy Trojans Football 7x⚔️ (@TroyTrojansFB) November 3, 2018
Florida: What’s up, Gators? Do you want to go to a New Year’s Six bowl? No. 11 Florida fell 38-17 to Missouri in a game that was not as close as the score indicated. The clearest separation between the Gators and Tigers was at quarterback. Feleipe Franks got benched in the second half for Kyle Trask, who immediately led Florida on a meaningless touchdown drive after he entered the game.
Florida, 6-3 overall, has a shot at a 9-3 season. But that may not be enough to go to a major bowl game. Saturday’s win was Missouri’s first victory over a top 25 team since the Tigers beat Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl at the end of the 2013 season.
Miami: The Hurricanes lost 20-12 to Duke. It’s the first-time Miami has lost to Duke at home since 1976. And the Hurricanes are now 5-4. Miami started the season with top-10 aspirations but uneven quarterback play and a lack of timely turnovers in 2018 has helped lead to the team’s demise from the heights of 2017. It feels important to note that Miami scored 12 against the same team that gave up 50 to Pitt a week ago.
Utah: The Utes had a chance to create some distance in the Pac-12 South. And now Utah is in the midst of a damn mess. Every team in the South has at least three losses after Utah lost 38-20 to Arizona State. Picking a division winner at this point is like picking a team out of a hat. Especially considering that Utah QB Tyler Huntley suffered a broken left collarbone in the loss to ASU and will miss the rest of the regular season.
Iowa: Hawkeyes no. Iowa fell to 3-3 and fourth in the Big Ten West after losing to Purdue 38-36 on Saturday. Had Iowa won then next week’s game against Northwestern could have been for first place in the West. Instead, Iowa is simply trying to play spoiler. The Hawkeyes will probably fall out of the top 25 in the College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday.
Mike Sanford took over for Jeff Brohm in 2017 and now has a combined record of 7-15. After Brohm went 30-10 in his three seasons, Sanford’s falling far short of some high expectations.
Florida State: The Seminoles’ bowl streak is in serious jeopardy after a blowout loss at NC State. Florida State is now 4-5 with games remaining against Notre Dame, Boston College and Florida. All three of them are ranked inside the top 25. Do you trust Florida State to win two of those games? If FSU finishes the season at 5-7 or 4-8 it will be the first time since 1981 that the Seminoles haven’t been to a bowl game.
Oh, did you notice that we had all three powerhouse Florida schools in the loser column? There’s a good reason for that.
This is the first time that Miami, Florida and Florida State have all lost on two consecutive weekends.
Ever ever ever.
— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) November 4, 2018
South Florida: The Bulls are 7-2 after starting the season 7-0. And Saturday’s loss wasn’t pretty. USF lost 41-15 to Tulane as the Green Wave rushed for 368 yards on USF’s defense. All five of Tulane’s TDs came on the ground as the Bulls’ defense was hapless to stop the attack.
Minnesota: The Gophers gave up a shocking 55 points to Illinois on Saturday. Minnesota needed the win for bowl eligibility purposes and flat out stunk it up against a team that hadn’t scored 55 against an opponent since scoring 56 against FCS South Dakota State in 2011. The boat has been rowed aground. Minnesota needs to win two of three against Purdue, Northwestern and Wisconsin to get bowl eligible. Doesn’t seem likely.
Western Kentucky: What in the world is going on at WKU? The Hilltoppers are 1-8 in 2018 after losing 29-10 to Middle Tennessee State in Week 10. WKU’s losing season will mean its the first time since 2013 that the team hasn’t gone to a bowl game (Fun coincidence; Bobby Petrino was the team’s coach that season). And the eight losses ensure that WKU will have its worst season since it was 2-10 in Willie Taggart’s first season in 2010.
Georgia Southern: Georgia Southern was flying high after a win against Appalachian State in Week 9 and it all came crashing down in a loss to Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday. The Eagles lost 44-25 and fell behind Troy in the Sun Belt East standings. The good news is that Georgia Southern plays Troy next week.
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