Winners and Losers from Week 8 of the 2015 College Football Season
It's always the weeks you least expect that provide some of the wildest finishes.
Week 8 of the 2015 college football season looked grim on paper, but it didn't completely disappoint. It yielded a pair of overtime games, a Hail Mary, a fat-guy touchdown and some of the most absurd catches you'll see this year.
However, it did also produce some potentially season-defining games. Miami's 58-0 loss to Clemson could be the moment that officially ends the Al Golden era with the Hurricanes.
With the second half of the season officially underway, who were the winners and losers from Week 8? We break down all that was good, bad, ugly, gorgeous and more in the following slides.
Winner: College Football's 2nd-Wildest Finish in 2015
Michigan State-Michigan probably still holds the crown for craziest finish this year, but Georgia Tech-Florida State isn't that far behind.
With the game tied at 16-16 in the waning seconds, the Yellow Jackets were preparing for a 56-yard field goal from Florida State's Roberto Aguayo. Instead, Georgia Tech blocked the kick and, despite head coach Paul Johnson's initial pleas, defensive back Lance Austin had the awareness to pick up the ball and run it back 78 yards for the game-winning score.
Just like the Yellow Jackets drew it up, right?
In the process, it marked the end of some phenomenal Florida State streaks. It was the first fourth-quarter miss of Aguayo's career, per Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports. It also was Florida State's first ACC loss since October 2012.
Conversely, the win snaps a five-game losing streak that made Georgia Tech one of college football's most disappointing teams.
It doesn't matter what the standings show. For one night, the Yellow Jackets are the kings of the ACC.
Loser: Texas A&M's Quarterback Situation
Here's something I never thought I'd type: Texas A&M's quarterback situation is a mess.
Following a performance against Alabama in which he threw three pick-sixes, Aggies quarterback Kyle Allen didn't show any progress in a 23-3 loss to Ole Miss. The sophomore was 12-of-34 on the night and, according to ESPN's broadcast, did not complete a pass for positive yards on his last 22 pass attempts (h/t Jimmy Burch of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram). That's an astounding stat.
So, what's the answer then? Freshman Kyler Murray? He didn't even fill in for Allen when he was eventually benched. Instead, Jake Hubenak came in. Per head coach Kevin Sumlin (via Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle), that was a decision based on how the quarterbacks practiced during the week.
Should the competition reopen going forward? Probably, but the backup quarterback isn't always the best answer. The timeless expression is that, if the backup was really better, he'd be playing.
The bottom line is: A&M has a quarterback problem on its hands. It doesn't need to be fixed right away since the toughest remaining game is against No. 5 LSU at the end of the year, but it is a perplexing situation.
Winner: USC Linebacker Cameron Smith
As usual, Vegas knows something the rest of us don't. One of the surprise opening lines from last weekend was USC's status as a home favorite over undefeated Utah, as noted by Odds Shark.
But, when you sit down and think about it, perhaps it wasn't that surprising. The Trojans were 3-3, but they were loaded with talent and ready to win. Things just hadn't fallen into place.
That changed in a big way in a 42-24 USC victory over the Utes. It was the best USC looked all year. We could go on about receiver Juju Smith-Schuster, who had eight catches for 143 yards and a score, but freshman linebacker Cameron Smith continues to impress.
Smith had three interceptions for 122 return yards and a touchdown—and could have had a fourth. It's been a banner year for Smith already. Heading into the Utah game, he had three contests with double-digit tackles. Saturday, he showed off his ball skills.
As far as freshmen of the year go, Smith's name deserves to be on the short list.
You don't want to put Utah's loss to USC entirely on quarterback Travis Wilson, but the senior was anything but sharp against the Trojans.
Wilson threw four interceptions, often forcing throws into coverage. He was also erratic on non-interceptions and made rushed, odd decisions. It resembled Utah's entire offense, which was out of sync. Running back Devontae Booker also wasn't a huge factor with 62 yards rushing and zero touchdowns.
And, obviously, getting picked apart by USC's passing attack is a bad look for the defense. There aren't many good things to take away from this game if you're Utah.
USC may be a talented team, and a turnaround could be on the horizon, but this is a tough loss for the Utes. They're still atop the Pac-12 South standings at 3-1 in the conference, but the gap between them and UCLA just got smaller. (The two meet on Nov. 21, by the way.)
Winner: UCLA Quarterback Josh Rosen
The true freshman campaign of UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen has already been filled with equal doses of good and bad, which is what you'd expect from a first-year player. However, Rosen showed once again why his future is so bright in a 40-24 win over No. 20 Cal on Thursday.
In the process, Rosen completed a school-record 34 passes for 399 yards and upstaged Cal's Jared Goff, who could very well be the first quarterback taken in the 2016 NFL draft.
"They were pressing me to step up and not be a freshman," Rosen said, per ESPN.com's Ted Miller. "I think we showed today that we can handle anything that comes at us."
There will be more good moments for Rosen this year and more bad moments. They might happen one week apart; they might happen one play apart. There are times, though, when Rosen looks like the truth. Thursday was one of those times.
Loser: Miami Head Coach Al Golden
There are losses that cost a head coach his job, and then there are losses that cost a head coach his job the next day. The 58-0 loss to Clemson, the worst loss in program history, is likely the final dagger for Miami coach Al Golden. It's just a matter of when the decision is made.
The 'Canes were doomed from the start. Clemson scored on its first possession, an eight-play, 82-yard drive. It only got worse. While the Tigers racked up points, the Hurricanes racked up penalty yards, namely personal fouls.
There was jawing by the Miami players before the game and fights in the stands between Miami fans during the game, neither of which did anything but make things look worse. A pick-six by Clemson put the exclamation point on the worst first half of football Miami has played in a long, long time.
Former players want Golden gone, and university trustees likely feel similarly. For what it's worth, athletic director Blake James told Dave Hyde of the Sun-Sentinel after the loss that no coaching change is coming. We'll see if that holds up.
Winner: Tulsa's 2nd End-of-Half Hail Mary
Yes, you read that right. Tulsa has not one but two end-of-half Hail Marys this year. In fact, both have gone to the same receiver (Keyarris Garrett). What we're trying to say is: Watch your back, BYU.
The Golden Hurricane converted one Hail Mary in September against Oklahoma. Tulsa got its second during Friday's 66-42 loss to No. 18 Memphis. Quarterback Dane Evans showed some elusiveness on what looked like a sure sack and heaved the ball 46 yards for the tip-drill score.
Tulsa didn't get the win, and Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch threw for a career-high 447 yards, but the Golden Hurricane are already in better shape under first-year head coach Philip Montgomery than they were prior to his arrival.
Winner: Ohio State Quarterback J.T. Barrett
Yeah, it looks like Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer made the right choice in naming J.T. Barrett the starting quarterback against Rutgers. The redshirt sophomore completed 14 of 18 passes for 223 yards and added another 101 yards on the ground with five total touchdowns in a 49-7 win over the Scarlet Knights.
Make no mistake: Ohio State's offense is still finding itself...as much as any offense that puts up 528 yards, that is. But it's taken huge steps forward, and Barrett looks like a change agent for that.
Starting Barrett was the right call for Meyer. Ohio State is still undefeated, and the team could finally be turning it on at the right time.
Loser: Nebraska, Again
It feels wrong to pick on Nebraska this often. How much misery can one team and fanbase endure? While we're not deliberately cruel here at Winners and Losers—football takes care of that on its own—we might be accidentally cruel by spotlighting Nebraska again and again.
But we'd be remiss if we didn't at least mention yet another close loss for the 3-5 Cornhuskers.
While it wasn't the last-second, heartbreaking kind, that doesn't lessen the sting of the 30-28 loss to Northwestern at all. In head coach Mike Riley's first year, all five of Nebraska's losses have come by a combined 13 points.
Nebraska was getting blown out routinely under former head coach Bo Pelini, but this is a different kind of hurt the Huskers are experiencing. And it certainly doesn't feel any better.
Winner: Mississippi State Quarterback Dak Prescott
For being the best quarterback in the SEC, Mississippi State's Dak Prescott has sort of gone unnoticed in many ways this year.
Well, not with us.
In a 42-16 win over Kentucky, Prescott tallied 465 total yards and six total touchdowns. Yes, Prescott had a hand in each of the Bulldogs' TDs.
It may just be Kentucky, but Prescott was noteworthy. In a conference that doesn't have a standout quarterback group, Prescott stands above the rest. Mississippi State might be lost in the West division shuffle and the Top 25 voting, which means Prescott gets lost, too. But here's betting college football will be less fun when he's no longer a part of it.
Winner: Louisville Defensive End Sheldon Rankins
Large-man touchdowns are always welcome at Winners and Losers. So, Louisville defensive end Sheldon Rankins, step right on up.
Or, more appropriately, scoop up that fumble and rumble and tumble for a 46-yard touchdown. Look at big ol' boy go. That's 6'2" and 303 pounds of grace. He even hurdles a guy. The effort gave Louisville a 13-0 lead over Boston College.
Louisville went on to win 17-14, and slowly, things are turning around for the 3-4 Cardinals. After starting the year 0-3, Louisville has won three of its last four.
Loser: Baylor's Worst Nightmare?
No. 2 Baylor's 45-27 win over Iowa State was the tightest game the Bears have played in this year, but that hardly seems noteworthy now.
Instead, the health of quarterback Seth Russell takes precedence.
According to Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News, Russell has a neck fracture and will see a specialist next week. How long he'll be out remains to be seen, but his status for the matchup with Kansas State in a couple of weeks (Nov. 5) is very much in the air.
Russell, by the way, was averaging 374.2 yards per game in total offense. That was sixth in the country.
Jarrett Stidham, a freshman, will get the starts going forward if Russell is unable to go. Stidham has been excellent in limited play with 319 passing yards and five touchdowns on 27 attempts. How he handles the starting job, if he's indeed asked, could very well impact Baylor's Big 12 and College Football Playoff hopes.
Winner: Overtime Madness
If you like free football, Week 8 was good to you.
Two games went to four overtimes: Auburn at Arkansas, and Duke at Virginia Tech. In the end, the Hogs got a 54-46 win, while the No. 23 Blue Devils (6-1) reached bowl eligibility with a 45-43 victory.
Things were looking dim there for a moment for Arkansas. Auburn got a controversial "non-fumble" call, and wideout Ricardo Louis hauled in two miraculous late-game catches. It looked like the Hogs were on the verge of losing another tight contest.
Instead, they survived in a must-win tilt. The play-calling in overtime was splendid, too, by both teams. It was clear each side knew what was at stake and pulled out all the stops.
As for Duke, the Blue Devils are not only bowl-eligible, but also in a position to claim the the ACC's Coastal division. The next few weeks will be critical, however, as Duke has to play North Carolina and Pitt, the two other Coastal teams undefeated in ACC play, in back-to-back games.
Loser: Tennessee, Again
At least Nebraska can take comfort in knowing it's not the only team suffering brutal heartbreak.
Tennessee didn't blow a double-digit lead against Alabama. In fact, the Vols took their first lead over the Tide since 2011 with five minutes and 49 seconds to play in the fourth quarter, as noted by Josh Ward of WNML. Yet, the one-point, 14-13 cushion still wasn't enough.
Tennessee allowed a go-ahead touchdown with 2:29 left, and a fumble on the ensuing drive sealed the 19-14 win for No. 8 Alabama. It's the ninth straight win by Alabama over Tennessee.
There will undoubtedly be plenty of things Tennessee fans will second-guess, like head coach Butch Jones' use of timeouts while his team was on defense late in the game. Other things were out of Tennessee's control, like Tide receiver Calvin Ridley's ridiculous catches.
All the same, Tennessee is 3-4. However, it has been in position, sometimes great position, to win every game. On average, the Vols have lost games by roughly four points. B/R colleague Barrett Sallee says the Vols are on the right track. Jones thinks so, too.
"We're close," Jones said after the game, per Wes Rucker of 247Sports. "Our time is coming. Our time is coming."
Perhaps, but that explanation only goes so far for so long.
Winner: Michigan State Quarterback Connor Cook
The term "surgical" gets thrown around a lot when describing accurate quarterbacks, but No. 7 Michigan State's Connor Cook was indeed that in a 52-26 win over Indiana.
Like many of the Spartans' wins this year, this one was close. The Hoosiers trailed by just five points with just over five minutes remaining—and had missed a pair of extra points and a field goal. Presumably, the game should have been tied.
In any case, Cook was fantastic, throwing for 398 yards and four touchdowns. His ball placement was exceptional and even better than it normally is. Cook was making confident throws into tight windows and hitting players in stride.
If Michigan State (8-0) somehow manages to go undefeated—this is a team playing with fate—Cook is going to be a big reason why.
Winner: Washington State
Hey, how about some love for Washington State? Things are looking a little brighter for the Cougars after they lost the season opener to Portland State, 24-17.
Thanks to a 45-42 win over Arizona, Wazzu is now 5-2 and needs just one more win to get back to bowl eligibility. What's more, per Stefanie Loh of the Seattle Times, it's the first three-game Pac-12 winning streak for the Cougars since 2003.
Washington State's sole conference loss? That came by six points to Cal. We know the Cougars can score points, and quarterback Luke Falk is one of the top passers in college football, but perhaps Mike Leach's team is more dangerous than previously expected.
Loser: Texas Tech
You could look at Oklahoma's 63-27 win over Texas Tech as a game that said more about the Sooners. After all, they held the Red Raiders to their lowest point total of the year and forced Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes into a single-game career-high four interceptions. And they did it all without their best defensive back, Zack Sanchez, who left the game early with a sprained ankle.
In that sense, the "Baker Mayfield Bowl," as it is unofficially known around these parts and by no one else, was a secondary storyline.
Yet, this is year three for Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury, and many of the same problems that hurt the Red Raiders in year one are still plaguing the program now. While turnovers and penalties have been better overall, they showed back up in a bad way again for Tech.
The defense has improved in taking the ball away under coordinator David Gibbs, but the run defense is still a problem. The Sooners rushed for 405 yards at 7.1 yards a pop and seven scores. The Tech defense was a perfect remedy for an Oklahoma offensive line that has struggled to get Samaje Perine going.
Kingsbury is still looking for that signature win. For one more week, at least, he'll have to wait.
Winner: Bowling Green Wide Receiver Roger Lewis
Bowling Green wide receiver Roger Lewis may not get as much attention as other players like Baylor's Corey Coleman, but Lewis had himself a great day against Kent State.
The sophomore had four catches for 102 yards against the Golden Flashes in a 48-0 win. However, his two touchdown catches deserve recognition. The first was on this third-quarter, would-be interception that Lewis instead took for himself (and 64 yards to the house). The second was on this one-handed grab on a 15-yard touchdown with nine minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
Sorry, Kent State. Even your best pass defense is no match for Lewis.
Winner: Texas Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes
It has been a ride for Texas quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, and rarely for the better. He's had three offensive coordinators in three years, has been thrust into a starting job before he was ready and then ultimately benched.
It takes a lot of perseverance to power through that.
And against Kansas State, it was Swoopes powering through defenders to put the game on ice. He had seven carries for 50 yards, nearly all of which came on Texas' final meaningful drive. His 10-yard touchdown run helped give the Longhorns a 23-9 lead, which would be the final score.
In all, Swoopes scored every touchdown (three rushing) for the Longhorns offense. According to John Bianco, a former Texas associate athletic director, Swoopes has accounted for six of Texas' last seven touchdowns.
Jerrod Heard might be the best answer for the Longhorns offense, but Swoopes is thriving right now.
Finally, a Word About Oklahoma State
Unfortunately, Winners and Losers ends on a somber note. As you've likely heard, the Tulsa World reported a woman arrested under suspicion of driving under the influence crashed into spectators near the end of Oklahoma State's homecoming parade Saturday morning, according to police. The result of the devastating accident reportedly left four people dead, including a two-year-old, and more than 40 others injured, some critically.
Just hours later, somehow, Oklahoma State had a football game to play against Kansas, which it won 58-10. Cancelling the contest was probably out of the question, which put Oklahoma State in an unimaginably tough spot. How can anyone have the energy to think about football at a time like this?
Before the game, Oklahoma State players huddled in prayer in Boone Pickens Stadium. But the support for the tragedy went beyond Stillwater. Oklahoma also held a moment of silence before its game with Texas Tech.
Those are the types of gestures that assure us no matter what colors we may wear, we are all capable of loving one another. Certainly, our thoughts and prayers are with the Oklahoma State community during this unspeakable tragedy.
Ending this post in such a way is tough and, if we're being honest, slightly awkward. To talk about football as we normally do only to shift gears to something much larger and more important is never smooth or easy. There's no great way to do this.
But this doesn't need to be eloquent. It just needs to be mentioned. And, with that said, we'll stop talking. We'll think about those lost and hurt by what happened. We'll pray, and ask that you do the same if that's your thing.
Think. Pray. Love. Come together. The community at Oklahoma State deserves that much from us.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.