College Football: Winners and Losers from Week 7
Week 7 gave us some beautiful showdowns in meaningful games that will go a long way in determining conference races.
The afternoon slate of games delivered two classics in two of the top games of the weekend as Tennessee snapped a 15-year losing streak to Alabama on a last-second, game-winning field goal, and TCU stormed from behind to beat Oklahoma State 43-40 in double overtime.
Both fan bases stormed the field.
Other key in-conference showdowns happened too in a week that will give us plenty of first glimpses at how things may be able to shake out in Power Five programs across the country. Ole Miss and Syracuse remained undefeated, while Coastal Carolina and James Madison weren't as fortunate.
Check out the winners and losers from this week.
Winner: Rocky Top of the World
As Chase McGrath's 40-yard, knuckle-balling field goal crept over the crossbar, 15 years of misery for Tennessee against rival Alabama was lost in the sea of orange that stormed the field.
Later, the torn-down goal post made its way across the masses as Josh Heupel and the Vols celebrated an improbable 52-49 last-second win over No. 3 Alabama in Neyland Stadium.
"Rocky Top!" Heupel yelled at the CBS crew in the postgame interview. "This is college football right here. Our team competed for 60 minutes, these fans are phenomenal. What an environment, man!"
Indeed, this game will go down in Tennessee lore.
This was the most points ever scored in the famed Third Saturday in October game, passing 2003's five-overtime 51-43 Tennessee win. In the end, Hendon Hooker and the Vols simply had the ball last in what was a heavyweight battle throughout.
After Alabama's 11-play, 43-yard drive stalled, kicker Will Reichard missed a 50-yard field goal wide-right to give the Vols a chance with 15 seconds left. That was too much time for Hooker, who calmly completed an 18-yard pass to Ramel Keyton, then a 27-yarder to Bru McCoy to the Alabama 23 with 2 seconds left.
The Vols called a timeout, kicked the field goal and partied like it was 1998 (the last time the crowd stormed the field after Florida's overtime field goal missed in what would become a national title season).
While Bryce Young was amazing, gashing Tennessee's secondary for 455 yards, Hooker was just as brilliant, throwing for 385 yards and five touchdowns and running for 56 more yards. Receiver Jalin Hyatt was un-guardable, amassing 207 receiving yards and a school-record five touchdowns.
This one's for the Tennessee storybooks.
Loser: The Fact We Could Only Watch One Classic at a Time
College football fans lost on Saturday because, if you didn't have two televisions set up, you missed at least one of the games that will be talked about throughout this season as all-timers.
As Tennessee was scratching the 15-year itch against Alabama, TCU was coming all the way back in Fort Worth to beat Oklahoma State 43-40 in double overtime and stay unbeaten. In doing so, the Horned Frogs are firmly on the national radar.
Coach Sonny Dykes has his team 6-0, and with the Cowboys dispatched two weeks after embarrassing Oklahoma and a week after surviving Kansas, TCU is now the favorite in the Big 12.
They started slow, trailing 24-7 in what looked like a game Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders was going to dominate, but Dykes' meticulous, relentless offense stayed the course and chipped away.
They proved they should be ranked higher than No. 13, and they will after this week, thanks to heroics by quarterback Max Duggan and receiver Quentin Johnson. But it was Kendre Miller's short touchdown run after a big-time run by Duggan set it up that gave them the win after a Cowboys field goal to start the second session.
Duggan wound up with 286 passing yards and a couple of scores and added 57 rushing yards and another score in a gritty effort. He isn't a typical Dykes-coached signal-caller, but he's adapting to the system well, and Johnson is his favorite target, getting 180 receiving yards on eight catches and getting a pivotal touchdown.
If you don't know much about TCU, you'd better make plans to watch the Frogs because they're back. It would have been nice if everybody who wanted to could have seen their signature win on Saturday.
Winner: Michigan's Back-to-Back Big Runs to Pull Away from Penn State
Early in the third quarter of Saturday's Top 10 slugfest between Michigan and Penn State at the Big House, the Wolverines were dominating the game everywhere but the scoreboard.
Coach Jim Harbaugh's team had moved the ball methodically, and the Nittany Lions were having a hard time sustaining drives. Yet, because of a pick-six by Curtis Jacobs, PSU had a 17-16 lead.
That's when consecutive picture-book runs turned the tide of the game and led to No. 5 Michigan pulling away and ultimately winning big 41-17.
The Wolverines' rushing attack has been so good all season, and they leaned on it when they absolutely had to have it to pull out the biggest win of the year and stay on a collision course with Ohio State for the end of the season.
The first one came with around 12 minutes left in the third quarter and backup running back Donovan Edwards in. The former 5-star prospect with big-time speed ran a stretch to the right side, behind incredible blocking by the Wolverines' vaunted offensive front.
Once Edwards (173 yards, two scores) got to the second level, he cut back to the left side of the field and out-sprinted the Lions for the go-ahead, 67-yard touchdown. A two-point conversion gave Michigan a seven-point lead.
The very next time the offense touched the ball, starter Blake Corum (166 yards, two scores) got in on the action, hitting a gaping hole on the left side of the line, wiggling in the hole and veering back right, beating the weak-side safety to the end zone after the one on that side got sucked in, and 61 yards later, it was 31-17.
Michigan's offensive line was dominant throughout the game, paving the way for 418 rushing yards. But it was those two massive plays (along with an equally imposing defense) that finished the Nittany Lions and handed them their first loss of the season.
Loser: Those Ready to Write Oklahoma's Obituary
No shortage of maligned players and coaches have suited up in the crimson and cream this season.
You have first-year coach Brent Venables already sweating in the pressure cooker at Oklahoma. Offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby's unit was shut out a week ago in the Red River Rivalry. The defense hasn't stopped anybody. Quarterback Dillon Gabriel was returning from injury.
Entering a home game against upstart Kansas on Saturday, plenty around the nation were watching to see if the vultures would keep circling Norman.
Instead, though, Gabriel's return ignited the Sooners offense, running back Eric Gray (176 yards, two touchdowns) was an explosive catalyst for an offense desperately needing one, and while the defense still showed plenty of problems, OU outscored Kansas on its way to a 52-42 rebound.
The victory snapped an ugly three-game losing streak that saw blowout losses to rival Texas and undefeated TCU, as well as a loss to Kansas State.
More importantly, it let a little pressure leak out of what had been an uncharacteristically worrisome start for Venables. His team isn't out of the woods yet in a rugged Big 12, but this was a nice win over a team reeling from the loss of quarterback Jalon Daniels but still plenty capable of winning.
Instead, the Jayhawks had no answers for Gabriel (403 passing yards) and the high-scoring Sooners offense, which proved it's a totally different unit with its field general on the field. Whether this can be a building block on their way to a nice close to the season remains to be seen.
Winner: Ole Miss Running Roughshod Over Auburn to Stay Undefeated
When Quinshon Judkins took off and scored from 41 yards out with 6:26 left in the game, it extended Ole Miss' lead over Auburn to a pair of touchdowns.
From there, the Rebels were able to hang on and beat the Tigers on a day when they played far from their best football and coach Bryan Harsin's team played like it wanted him to keep his job.
Instead, things turned out the way everybody expected they would: with the Rebels remaining undefeated, and Auburn staring still at a "when" and not "if" coaching change.
While Ole Miss' defense has been strong for much of the season, Auburn dissected it throughout the day. Thankfully for Lane Kiffin's team, a running game that has been the offensive strength of the team all year was at its best.
Judkins' mad dash to the end zone gave him more than 100 rushing yards, and he became the third Rebel for the day to eclipse that mark. The other two were quarterback Jaxson Dart, who flashed his athletic ability with 115 yards on the ground, and TCU transfer Zach Evans, who added 136 more.
All told, Ole Miss ran for 448 total yards in a 48-34 win over an SEC West foe that proved you can never slow up or be a no-show during a conference game.
The Rebels must travel to LSU and Texas A&M before a bye week leading up to a home game against Alabama, a road trip to Arkansas and a home game against Missisissippi State, so a tough schedule awaits. But they survived a big scare Saturday.
Loser: North Carolina State's Offense Without Devin Leary
Perhaps the most surprising undefeated team in the Power 5 is the Syracuse Orange, even with Tennessee and TCU remaining among the ones with spotless records.
No matter how ugly the wins sometimes are, coach Dino Babers' team just continues to pound that W column, and the Orange did again on Saturday with a 24-9 domination of North Carolina State.
As huge as the win was and while you don't want to take anything away from Syracuse, the biggest blow of the day came with the news the Wolfpack starting quarterback Devin Leary is going to miss the rest of the season with a torn pectoral muscle.
Without him, the Pack simply couldn't muster any offense. It was downright ugly, especially in a game where the Orange's Garrett Shrader threw two interceptions, Sean Tucker didn't make it to 100 rushing yards and points were at a premium.
If you're a 'Cuse fan, none of that matters.
The good news is Shrader also tossed a pair of touchdowns, rushed for 81 yards and finished with 291 yards from scrimmage in the win.
According to the Associated Press, this is just the third time since 1935 Syracuse started the season with six consecutive wins. But it certainly doesn't happen much, so this is a massive deal for a team that saw its coach on the hot seat before the season started.
The defense held the Wolfpack to just 55 first-half yards and 255 for the game. You can't win games like that, and without Leary, it looks like a N.C. State team that appeared to be conference contender a couple weeks ago will slide down the standings.
Winner: A Couple of SEC Resurrections at UCF
The rumors of the Gus Bus getting sent to the scrapyards, it appears, were greatly exaggerated.
After UCF's staggering 70-13 win over Temple on Thursday night in Orlando, the Knights are now 5-1, and with games at East Carolina, hosting Cincinnati, at Memphis and at Tulane upcoming, the story to their season is in their own control.
Right now, they're playing a high level of football in the AAC, and while a disappointing early-season loss to Louisville is in the rearview mirror, the Knights are looking better each week under coach Gus Malzahn and behind dual-threat quarterback John Rhys Plumlee.
As it turns out, these two guys who were written off as SEC retreads are finding some better traction with the Knights in former Auburn coach Malzahn's second year and with Plumlee leading the way after transferring from Ole Miss, where he was never going to play quarterback under Lane Kiffin.
Against the hapless Owls, Plumlee orchestrated 56 unanswered points and accounted for 410 yards from scrimmage and a stunning seven touchdowns, tying a school record. He dissected Temple for 373 passing yards and four scores, and he ran for three more touchdowns.
This is a team that was largely one-dimensional the first part of the season, averaging 261.2 rushing yards per game. Even in beating Georgia Tech a few weeks ago, the Knights had just 49 passing yards. But things have clicked through the air the past two weeks in wins over SMU and Temple.
If Plumlee can keep the offense balanced through this next big stretch of games, UCF may just emerge as the Bearcats' biggest threat in the AAC.
Loser: Baylor's Hopes of Repeating in the Big 12
Last season, Baylor stunned the college football world with an out-of-nowhere run to the Big 12 title and a Sugar Bowl win over Ole Miss in an improbable turnaround season for coach Dave Aranda.
This year, the Bears have crashed back down to reality following the departure of so much senior leadership from last year's title-run team.
The struggles were never more evident than Thursday night in Morgantown, where a West Virginia team that was rumored to potentially be on the cusp of firing coach Neal Brown and facing plenty of its own question marks battled back for a 43-40 win.
The loss dropped the Bears to 3-3 and just 1-2 in the conference. With a grueling end-of-the-year schedule that features home games against Kansas, Kansas State and TCU and road trips to Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Texas, simply making a bowl game is in question.
They ran out of defensive bullets against the Mountaineers, who were playing without leading rusher CJ Donaldson but still got 163 yards from backup Tony Mathis Jr. against the Bears.
Losing quarterback Blake Shapen (who'd thrown for 326 yards) in the second half, but that's not an excuse. Backup Kyron Drones led two Baylor scoring drives. But a blocked extra point returned for two points and a porous defense were the pitfalls.
That type of loss is uncharacteristic of a Dave Aranda-coached team, but here we are at a pivotal point of the season and the Bears needing to come together and find some of that internal chemistry that made 2021 so special.
If they don't, it's going to be a rough rebound for the Bears.
Winner: Clemson Just Keeps on Winning
Say what you want about the Clemson Tigers. The reason they have gotten ridiculed recently is that they haven't been playing up to the lofty standard they've built under Dabo Swinney.
It may be time to start paying attention, though.
Do the Tigers have the offensive explosiveness of Alabama, Ohio State, Tennessee or TCU? No. But just because they don't win in a "sexy" way doesn't mean they fail to win. As a matter of fact, that's all the Tigers have done this year.
On Saturday night, they faced Florida State, a team that is fading after a 4-0 start and has now lost three straight games. The Seminoles, however, were a trendy pick to upset the Tigers this week, but Swinney's team showed all that was hollow headlines.
Despite going down 7-0 after Florida State's first possession and two late touchdowns by the 'Noles, Clemson survived 34-28. It's their 13th consecutive win.
The Tigers built their lead with strong defense and got another sneaky-solid performance from maligned quarterback DJ Uiagalelei, who may not be playing up to his former elite prospect status, but he's getting better every week.
Swinney kept him in there despite some rocky times, choosing to play him over true freshman Cade Klubnik. Uiagalelei continues to reward that decision, and his latest strong showing came when he threw for 203 yards and three touchdowns in the win over the Seminoles.
There are still glaring issues in offensive consistency, and the rushing game was spotty again. Most of Will Shipley's 121 yards came late with the Tigers conservatively trying to run out the clock.
Are the Tigers one of the four best teams in the nation? Well, they win every week. That’s all that matters.
Loser: Non-Power 5 Pretenders
It wasn't a great day to be non-Power 5 undefeated teams trying to prove they belong higher in the rankings or just in the rankings at all.
In their first ever season in the FBS, the James Madison Dukes are proving they may just wind up being an eventual powerhouse with the big boys the way they were in the FCS. But it's going to have to be down the road.
After making their debut in the top 25, the No. 25 Dukes were stunned by 4-3 Georgia Southern and coach Clay Helton with a 45-38 loss. That's their first loss of the season and also the first one in the Sun Belt, so it's a big one.
Kyle Vantrease's 578 passing yards and four scoring tosses exposed the Dukes' secondary, and they'll tumble out of the top 25 after the disappointing setback.
One team that wasn't ranked but probably felt it should be after its recent success was the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers. Again, though, the voters must have had it right. They went up against Old Dominion on Saturday, and the Monarchs dominated them.
Not many would have seen a 49-21 loss to a team that evened its record at 3-3, but ODU is now 2-0 in the Sun Belt and playing much better lately. Grayson McCall was terrific again, but he didn't have anywhere near enough weapons to hang with the Monarchs.
Winner: Bret Bielema's Big Ten Revival
Put Bret Bielema in the Big Ten, and it looks like he could teach an Ivy League course on coaching. The man just knows the league, and his brand of bloody-nose football works like a charm.
Whether that translates against some of the high-octane teams like Ohio State remains to be seen, but in the rough-and-tumble Big Ten West, what Illinois does works week in and week out.
The Fighting Illini did exactly what their name would indicate—fought—in a rugged, running back-fueled battle against Minnesota on Saturday and wound up dominating the Golden Gophers in the statistical column and winning 26-14.
While quarterback Tommy DeVito doesn't light up stat sheets, he does plenty for Bielema's team and is the perfect orchestrator in a mistake-free brand of football that controls the line of scrimmage, the clock and ultimately wins games. The Illini's win pushed them to 6-1 on the season and seemingly in control of that side of the ledger.
It's still jumbled at the top, but the No. 24-ranked Illini are right there, in control of their own destiny. They're doing it with a fantastic running game (Chase Brown is already over 1,000 yards for the season and had 180 against Minnesota), a terrific defense and controlled QB play.
The win moved Bielema's career record as a Big Ten coach to 79-32, versus 29-34 when he isn't in the league (his time at Arkansas). The Illini are bowl-eligible for the first time since 2019 and only the third time since '11.
If you're looking for a beautiful brand of football, go watch some of the prolific offenses like Ohio State, Alabama, Tennessee and USC. If you want to see old-school football, watch Bielema's Illini. They're simply getting the job done.
Loser: Iowa State for the First Time Since 2018 Against Texas
Every Texas fan in the country had to be watching the fourth quarter of the Iowa State game in Austin thinking, "Oh no, not again."
The Cyclones have been a burr in the Texas saddle for years, and they were driving to perhaps crush the Longhorns' soul yet again Saturday. That's when defensive back Anthony Cook made a massive, controversial play that gave Texas the ball and the win, snapping a three-game losing streak against the Cyclones.
Moments after Xavier Hutchinson dropped a wide-open deep ball with nobody near him that could have put the Cyclones on top with less than three minutes to play, quarterback Hunter Dekkers tucked and ran as the pocket collapsed, just trying to move the ball closer to scoring position.
Cook lowered his head, jarred the ball free and caused Dekkers to fumble with 2:06 left on the 'Horns' 28-yard line. As he writhed on the ground holding his head, replays looked like Dekkers may have been down or the ball at least simultaneously was being fumbled as his knee hit the ground.
Officials kept the call on the field, the Longhorns got a first down and Texas survived with a 24-21 win. As Dekkers writhed on the ground, Iowa State coach Matt Campbell sprinted onto the field, motioning toward his head and wanting officials to review the play for targeting on Cook.
They didn't, the fumble stood and Texas got a big-time win in a gritty game.
Winner: Chris Rodriguez Jr. Churning out Yards vs. Mississippi State
As Chris Rodriguez sat out the season's first four games following his arrest for DUI and careless driving in May, the Kentucky Wildcats' offense sputtered, and the running game was virtually nonexistent.
Now that he’s back, he’s the centerpiece of the Wildcats’ offense, and he’s getting better and better each week.
In his debut—a loss to Ole Miss—Rodriguez had 72 yards and a touchdown. In last week's 126-yard performance in a loss to South Carolina, Rodriguez looked even better.
Saturday night came, though, and Rodriguez showed the world he's back. With Kentucky needing to snap a two-game skid against No. 16 Mississippi State, the offensive focus moved away from quarterback Will Levis and centered on the senior tailback.
Against Zach Arnett's defense that has been so good all year, Rodriguez showed he was the best player on the field, running for 196 yards on 30 carries and scoring a pair of touchdowns. With him running like this, the 22nd-ranked 'Cats are a threat again. Suddenly, a team that was ranked No. 123 nationally in rushing looks like it will surge up several spots.
The showing had everybody talking, including former UK linebacker and two-time captain Kash Daniel.
Loser: Notre Dame's Momentum-Killing Loss to Stanford
One team entered the Notre Dame-Stanford game riding a wave of desperation that could ultimately lead to its long-time coach getting fired. The other had developed an offensive identity with a backup quarterback leading the way and riding a three-game winning streak.
You never would have thought the Stanford Cardinal would get their first FBS win of the year in South Bend, not with the way the Fighting Irish had been playing after beating then No. 16 BYU in Las Vegas, not after Drew Pyne was clicking.
Instead, though, the Cardinal traveled across the country and shut the Irish down, winning 16-14 in front of a stunned, quiet crowd at Notre Dame Stadium.
"Defense was big today," said Stanford coach David Shaw to the NBC crew after the game. "Our guys just keep stepping, and they play with so much passion, so much fire and work so hard, I was hoping they'd get rewarded tonight. But, once again, we're not looking for gifts. We had to earn it.
"We earned it."
Marcus Freeman, on the other hand, has even more questions. It had looked like Notre Dame turned a corner on both sides of the ball, but Stanford has been awful this year and controlled the tempo of the game.
The Cardinal outgained the Irish 385-311 (thanks to a fantastic game by quarterback Tanner McKee, who threw for 288 yards), and a Stanford defense that had a difficult time stopping anybody this year, entering ranked 110th nationally, looked downright stout against the Irish. That's a major problem.
Now, it's going to be interesting to see where both teams go from here.
Winner: Utah over USC on an Emotional Night
On an emotional night when Utah was honoring two players who died in recent years in Aaron Lowe and Ty Jordan, the Utes found a way to win an extraordinary division game against USC.
In doing so, they knocked the Trojans from the ranks of the unbeaten and firmly planted themselves back in the mix of the Pac-12 championship hunt.
After pulling within a point on Cameron Rising's touchdown with 48 seconds to go, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham elected to go for two and the win. Rising dropped back to pass, the middle of the field opened up, and he dove into the end zone for a conversion and a 43-42 win.
Several heave-and-hope opportunities fell to the ground for the Trojans, and Utah won the game. Cameras caught Utes tight end Dalton Kincaid sobbing on the sideline after the win. USC quarterback Caleb Williams cried in defeat.
"It's incredible," Whittingham told FOX after the game. "And on a night where we're honoring our two fallen teammates, and to have it go down in this fashion, this is one of the most exciting games in Rice-Eccles Stadium history."
Utah's defense was gashed throughout the first half as USC built a lead. Whittingham said that side of the ball was "like a sieve," but they made adjustments and slowed Lincoln Riley's high-octane offense down enough to claw back into the game. Perhaps feeling like they couldn't hang offensively in overtime, though, Whittingham went for the win.
"He's a playmaker," Whittingham told FOX. "He gets it done. He always answers the bell, and he's one of the most fierce competitors I've ever been around."
Utah (even with two losses) is right back in the hunt, and USC must fix its defense if the Trojans are to contend for big things moving forward.