Winners and Losers from Week 11 in College Football

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistNovember 11, 2018

Winners and Losers from Week 11 in College Football

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    After fans feasted on tremendous contests that helped sculpt the college football season last weekend, it was a slimmer slate of big games this week.

    No matter; we still got our share of drama.

    The Big 12 delivered drama in two doses as Oklahoma needed a last-minute stop on a two-point conversion to beat rival Oklahoma State in Bedlam. The nightcap came when Texas scored with 21 seconds remaining to break a tie with Texas Tech.

    In the SEC, Alabama got its second straight dominant defensive effort to crush any chance of a Mississippi State uprising, LSU sleepwalked through a win over Arkansas, and Georgia ran away from Auburn. There was an upset in Neyland Stadium, as Tennessee handled No. 11 Kentucky, while Florida used a furious fourth-quarter rally to keep South Carolina from doing the same in the Swamp.

    Clemson took care of business on the road at Boston College in ACC action.

    In the Big Ten, Ohio State won with defense and special teams, and Michigan won with defense (as always).

    Let's take a look at college football's biggest winners and losers from Week 11.

Winner: Bedlam!

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    Alonzo Adams/Associated Press

    After an early set of contests that led to more fan naps than any week so far this season, the afternoon treated us to Oklahoma-Oklahoma State.

    You know it by its nickname, Bedlam, and it was wild once again.

    Neither team could stop the other, as expected, and it came down to the end where it looked like the Cowboys and gunslinger coach Mike Gundy might pull out yet another miracle win. 

    On 4th-and-12 from the 24-yard line, OSU quarterback Taylor Cornelius found star wideout Tylan Wallace over the middle for a touchdown. Somehow, the nation's best receiver got free to score for the second time on his 10th catch of the day, which gave him 220 yards.

    In typical Gundy fashion, though, he went for two points and the win. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, Cornelius' timing was off, and he threw behind his receiver. The conversion failed, and so did the onside-kick attempt, and OU survived for a 48-47 win.

    That kept the Sooners' slim College Football Playoff hopes alive despite an atrocious defensive effort. Oklahoma, on the bright side, got a Heisman Trophy-worthy performance (more on that later) from quarterback Kyler Murray and continued to run the ball brilliantly.

    That showdown against West Virginia in two weeks not only could mean the Big 12 title but also might wind up being meaningful for the playoffs. Yes, the Sooners need to shore up the defense, but they are outscoring teams like they did a year ago.

    It may not be dominant, but it sure is entertaining.

Loser: Tua Tagovailoa's Death Grip on the Heisman Trophy

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    Brett Deering/Getty Images

    Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa didn't play in the fourth quarter again Saturday against Mississippi State. But this time, it wasn't because the Crimson Tide were blowing out the Bulldogs.

    The star signal-caller and Heisman Trophy front-runner took several hits from a strong MSU defense and exited the game with a knee injury after he completed just 14 of 21 passes for 164 yards and a touchdown in a 24-0 win.

    Though Tagovailoa should still lead the race for college football's top individual honor, he's got company. 

    Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray completed his first 11 passes in Bedlam and went on to complete six consecutive passes from 20-plus yards downfield in the Sooners' 48-47 win over rival Oklahoma State.

    Yes, the style of Big 12 play lends itself to huge numbers for quarterbacks and receivers, but Murray might wind up keeping the Heisman in the same backfield for another season if he continues this way. Of course, last year, quarterback Baker Mayfield won the award.

    Now, his replacement is at the top of the race—even if he's still a little behind Tua.

    Murray completed 21 of 29 passes for 349 yards and a touchdown and added 66 yards on the ground. Had he tossed up another couple of scoring passes, he might have closed the gap more. Even so, he probably surpassed Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins in the race.

    The Sooners had a pair of 100-yard rushers again (Kennedy Brooks and Trey Sermon) to take some of Murray's highlights away, but the quarterback continues to slowly but surely close the gap.

Winner: Punter Drue Chrisman and Ohio State's Punt Coverage Team

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    In a rugged, vintage Big 10 battle between Ohio State and Michigan State, punter Drue Chrisman secured an important win for the Buckeyes.

    He put on a remarkable show, putting six punts inside the 10-yard line to keep Michigan State in impossible field position considering how well Buckeyes coordinator Greg Schiano's defense was playing. Even though QB Dwayne Haskins and the offense struggled to move the ball, it didn't matter much.

    After the game, Chrisman had a hilarious quip when he went to the media area: "I didn't even know this room existed," he said.

    At one point in the second half, Chrisman had punts downed at the 5-, 6-, 3-, 1- and 2-yard lines. It was just a matter of time before the Buckeyes, who were clinging to a 7-6 lead, made their cushion stand up.

    It started when the Spartans intentionally snapped over their punter's head for a safety to make it 9-6 rather than give OSU excellent field position.

    After a punt that Johnnie Dixon downed at the 2-yard line, MSU snapped the ball into its wide receiver in motion. Dre'Mont Jones recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown to help give OSU a 16-6 lead.

    On the next possession, the Spartans fumbled a quarterback-running back exchange, and OSU scored and ultimately finished off the Spartans, 26-6.

    For the record, Terry McLaurin downed two of those punts inside the 5-yard line, too. It was a complete effort on special teams on a day where all the little things in that forgotten area meshed together to be the difference.

    It was far from a beautiful win for the Buckeyes, but it was a big one in East Lansing, nonetheless. Chrisman and Co. deserve game balls.

Loser: Oregon's Squandering of Its Golden Opportunity

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    After a sterling start to the season, Oregon has fallen on hard times. 

    But since Utah was missing quarterback Tyler Huntley (collarbone) and running back Zack Moss (knee)—who are both out for the year—the Ducks had a big opportunity to get a major Pac-12 win Saturday.

    The replacements wound up shooting down the Ducks anyway.

    Though Oregon shook off a sluggish offensive start to take a late lead, the defense couldn't hold on as Utah stormed back and scored the go-ahead touchdown with under seven minutes left in the game to take an eventual 32-25 win.

    In the process, the Utes proved there's life without Huntley and Moss, and the Ducks showed that their first full season under head coach Mario Cristobal will be uneven.

    The Ducks could still finish strong, but a promising start has fallen to a 6-4 record and a 3-4 tally in a down Pac-12.

    Utah freshman quarterback Jason Shelley completed 18 of his 31 passes for 262 yards, while Armand Shyne added 174 rushing yards to go with Shelley's pair of scores on the ground.

    "He rose to the occasion tonight," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham told the Associated Press of his young quarterback.

    The setback eliminated the Ducks from conference-title competition. Cristobal uttered a great quote afterward, saying, "There's no comfort in progress" when it fails to result in wins.

    That's been the story of Oregon's season.

Winner: Notre Dame for Overcoming Adversity in Championship Form

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    With quarterback Ian Book in street clothes thanks to a rib injury, Notre Dame proved why it's a College Football Playoff front-runner.

    Former starting quarterback Brandon Wimbush was re-inserted into the starting lineup as the Fighting Irish played Florida State on Saturday night, and he handled himself admirably in relief of Book.

    It wasn't quite a Mariano Rivera-like performance (shoutout to next week's contest at Yankee Stadium against Syracuse), but Wimbush did more than enough to help Notre Dame dismantle a hapless FSU, 42-13, in South Bend, Indiana.

    The senior whose name is prominent in the Notre Dame record books was a problem for the Seminoles defense. He completed 12 of 25 passes for 130 yards, three touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. Wimbush added 68 yards on the ground.

    Yes, he was inconsistent, which plagued him during his tenure as the Irish's starting signal-caller, but he did plenty of good things, too. But while Wimbush was a steadying force, the defense and running game appeared championship-caliber.

    Running back Dexter Williams controlled the game with 202 yards on the ground and a pair of rushing scores.

    The win sets up next week's showdown with Syracuse, which will be considered a "home game" for the Irish. In any case, it should be an awesome spectacle between two good teams.

    Will Book be back? It's unclear. But Notre Dame proved Saturday it doesn't have to have him to win.

Loser: USC in the Clutch

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    There have been many brilliant seasons in the storied history of USC Trojans football.

    This ain't one of them.

    The Trojans needed to beat an offensively impeded California team Saturday night to keep their hopes alive for the Pac-12 South Division, and they led the Bears 14-0 at halftime. That's when things went about as wrong as they have all year for USC.

    It started with an atrocious snap that JT Daniels landed on in the end zone for a safety, then Cal receiver Vic Wharton III's first touchdown of the season helped close the gap to 14-9. The Bears added another touchdown and shut out the Trojans through the entire second half to come away with a 15-14 win.

    You have to wonder if Clay Helton has a future as USC's head coach. The Trojans are as inefficient on offense as they've been in years. They're even more undisciplined, and that reared its head again at a crucial moment.

    On Cal's final drive, the Trojans appeared to have the Bears stopped with 2:40 remaining. But senior cornerback Iman Marshall got flagged for an unsportsmanlike penalty for jawing at the Cal sideline, giving the Bears a first down.

    USC got a break when a judgment call on when Bears quarterback Chase Garbers started his slide overturned what looked like a certain first-down run made it 4th-and-1 late. But Justin Wilcox went for it, and the Bears converted and went into the victory formation.

    The win makes Cal bowl-eligible, ends a 14-game skid against the Trojans and knocks USC out of the race to play in the Pac-12 title game. Things are bad in L.A.

Winner: Texas for Flipping the Late-Game Script

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    With the way fourth quarters have gone lately for Texas, it's easy to forget the Longhorns drove down the field and handed Oklahoma its only loss of the season in the Red River Showdown on October 6.

    After all, since then, Oklahoma State shocked the Horns late, and West Virginia's last-second two-point conversion gave the Mountaineers a one-point victory over them, too.

    But Saturday night, it was Texas' turn again.

    After blowing a 34-17 fourth-quarter lead to fall into a tie with Texas Tech, Texas got the ball with under two minutes remaining.

    That's when quarterback Sam Ehlinger took over, taking off for a couple of big scrambles and completing some huge passes to march his team down for the go-ahead score. He threw a 29-yard pass to Lil'Jordan Humphrey with 21 seconds left.

    It was a borderline ill-advised pass that could have been intercepted, but Humphrey made sure it wasn't.

    "He's as good a jump-ball guy as there is in the country, and we're already in field-goal range, so if we get one-on-one coverage, we're going to try for the win," Longhorns head coach Tom Herman told the Fox TV crew after the game.

    "We were in the same position in the Cotton Bowl, and we went down and kicked a field goal to win the game. Nobody on the team wants anybody other than No. 11 [Ehlinger] behind center in situations like that. They believe in him, and he was calm, cool and collected. He was aggressive but not reckless."

    Ehlinger finished with 312 passing yards and four touchdowns in the 41-34 win, and his final rally overshadowed a brilliant performance by TTU quarterback Jett Duffey, who shook off three turnovers to lead the Red Raiders back.

    It wasn't enough.

Loser: AJ Dillon and Boston College's Opportunity

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    There is no shame in losing to Clemson; everybody else who's played the Tigers this year has, after all.

    But Saturday night's game for Boston College was a massive opportunity to be on the tongues of college football fans everywhere, especially after ESPN's GameDay crew set up shop in Chestnut Hill and the campus was in a frenzy for much of the day.

    It felt like it could be the same type of electric atmosphere as when the ESPN crew went to Pullman, Washington, earlier this year. Unfortunately for the Eagles, Washington State played Oregon that day, and Clemson is far superior to the Ducks.

    Things fizzled after an early punt return gave BC a 7-3 lead. Clemson responded with a touchdown drive and never looked back on its way to a 27-7 win to ruin Boston College's undefeated home record.

    The Eagles became one-dimensional when quarterback Anthony Brown went down with a knee injury after just three passes. That took a bit of the bite out of AJ Dillon, who may not be in the top handful of Heisman Trophy contenders but entered the game in the second group.

    Instead, he ran into one of the nation's best defensive front sevens, and he had no answer without Brown in the lineup. Dillon finished with just 39 yards on 16 carries, and his long rush was nine yards.

    It's been a strong season for Boston College, which is taking strides under head coach Steve Addazio, but the Eagles are not ready to compete with the country's elite teams, and Clemson proved that Saturday night.

Winner: Georgia Running Back D'Andre Swift

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    D'Andre Swift is healthy.

    That's bad news for everybody who remains on Georgia's schedule.

    The sophomore running back who was so good a year ago that he stole carries from the fabulous senior duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel began the season nursing minor injuries. 

    Now, he's back and looks fresher than anybody else has during these past two weeks. In last Saturday's domination of Kentucky, his 156-yard effort was critical in getting UGA back to the SEC Championship Game.

    He followed that effort with his career-high 186 yards at home against hated rival Auburn on Saturday. What looked like it would be a close game early got blown open—mainly because of Swift, whose 77-yard fourth-quarter scoring scamper gave UGA plenty of breathing room.

    "Just getting back healthy," Swift told ESPN's Holley Rowe of the difference in his play. "I was kind of banged-up early in the season. I'm still a little banged-up. Just really treating my body off the field so I can produce on the field."

    Of course, one of the reasons Swift looks so good is he doesn't have a lot of mileage on him because of those injuries. 

    While Swift rested earlier in the year, Elijah Holyfield became a household name. True freshman James Cook (the brother of former Florida State and current Minnesota standout Dalvin Cook) got some carries as a youngster, too, a la Swift a year ago.

    But Swift is a next-level athlete who is coming into his own and carrying the Bulldogs.

    They look like one of the country's best teams at a pivotal time of the season yet again.    

Loser: North Carolina State's Struggling Secondary

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    North Carolina State's warts finally became obvious in an ugly 27-23 loss to Wake Forest on Thursday night.

    Clemson and Syracuse previously torched NC State's defense, but neither of those losses was unexpected. The secondary issues reared their heads against the Demon Deacons, though, and the result likely will see the Wolfpack fall from their No. 14 ranking.

    There's a reason the Pack are 129th out of 130 FBS teams in pass defense (305.3 yards per game, ahead of only Houston). Good teams can't get shredded like that and stay afloat. That happened Thursday, as the Deacs marched back into the game.

    First-time starter Jamie Newman was brilliant at quarterback for much of the contest against a Swiss-cheese-like Wolfpack secondary, and he came through with the game on the line.

    After NC State QB Ryan Finley failed to complete a fourth-down pass that could have put away the contest with a three-point lead, Newman led his team on an eight-play, 80-yard drive that he capped with a 32-yard scoring pass to tight end Jack Freudenthal to take the lead with :30 seconds left.

    On the play, two Wolfpack defensive backs ran into each other to allow a wide-open center of the field for Freudenthal to stun the Raleigh crowd. Newman finished 22-of-33 for 297 yards and three touchdowns.

    "We run a blitz and had a bust," NCSU coach Dave Doeren told the News & Observer's Joe Giglio. "We had our safety there to tackle it, and he ran into somebody."

    It's been that kind of year for the Wolfpack defensive backs, and they're the prime reason the team won't head to a major bowl.

Winner: Syracuse's All-Around Attack

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    Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

    The job coach Dino Babers has done with Syracuse has been remarkable, and the Orange more than took care of business Friday night against a hapless Louisville to set up next week's marquee showdown with Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium.

    That'll be fun.

    But it'll be extra exciting because Syracuse checked another winning box in a 54-23 slaughter of the Cardinals. The victory made the Orange a spotless 6-0 in the Carrier Dome this season, which is just the fourth time since the stadium opened in 1980 that they've gone undefeated at home.

    It was all about capitalizing on Louisville's turnovers, which has become a hallmark of Babers' team. It was the fifth time this year that the Orange scored 50 or more points, which is characteristic of Babers' old Bowling Green squads.

    Though quarterback Eric Dungey didn't throw the ball all over the field, he didn't have to. The Orange wound up with 326 rushing yards and 518 total.

    The defense continued to do its share, too. The unit forced four turnovers, including four on consecutive possessions and scored 20 points on those to make it a laugher. Syracuse is sixth nationally in turnover ratio, so this is no surprise.

    All that adds up to a No. 13 ranking, which could climb even higher this week. What a year for Syracuse, which could punctuate it with a win over Notre Dame.

Loser: Fresno State's Attempt to Win in Boise

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    Steve Conner/Associated Press

    What do you do if you take one of the nation's hottest offenses and place it on blue turf? If that offense is wearing Fresno State jerseys, it will turn ice cold.

    The No. 23 Bulldogs traveled to Boise to take on the Broncos on the Smurf turf in a huge Mountain West Conference grudge match and lost 24-17 thanks to a fourth-quarter scoring strike from Brett Rypien to Khalil Shakir to break a tie. It was Boise's third second-half TD.

    According to the Idaho Statesman's Dave Southorn, it was the first time since the 2005 MPC Computers Bowl and the first time in a regular-season game since Sept. 8, 2001, that Boise was a home underdog. That didn't sit well.

    "To be an underdog on the Blue, that's never a good feeling, especially when we haven't been in a long time—I think a lot of guys in that locker room took that personally," Rypien told Southorn.

    A puzzling Boise first-down call on a measurement that appeared a few inches shy of the marker with less than minute remaining kept Fresno from having a chance to win, but it would have taken a miraculous late play after a second-half collapse.

    The Bulldogs haven't beaten Boise in Idaho since 1984. That's nine consecutive losses—they've never won on the blue turf, either. The loss makes next week's home contest against San Diego State a battle for the West Division and a place in the title game.

    The Broncos, meanwhile, are heading toward a November 24 home showdown with Utah State to see who will represent the East Division in the championship game.

    So they could meet again. If the game is anything like Friday's, it could be another fun one between these two evenly matched teams.

Winner: Pittsburgh Goes Coastal

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    The ACC is Clemson's to lose, but Pittsburgh is the conference's second-hottest team.

    The Panthers are winning with the type of football that coach Pat Narduzzi should be proud of, dominating teams with the running game and on defense.

    Saturday's contest against Virginia Tech was supposed to be a close battle—one in which the Panthers were attempting to keep their grip of the Coastal Division. Instead, Pitt pulverized the Virginia Tech with its running game.

    It was the same blueprint as last week's handling of Virginia in Charlottesville.

    Now, the Panthers are 5-1 in the ACC despite being 6-4 overall. The way they've turned it up is impressive, and they control their destiny with a chance to play Clemson in the conference title game.

    "Everybody talks about, 'Oh, you've got a tough schedule.' Everybody in June and July talked about it," Narduzzi told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Craig Meyer. "But the reality is that schedule prepared us for where we are today. Win or lose, it doesn't matter. Our kids were prepared. Iron sharpens iron."

    The Panthers had to throw just 11 passes in a 52-22 win. That's because Virginia Tech had no answer for Pitt's running backs. It was every bit as bad as the past couple of weeks when coordinator Bud Foster's unit failed to even slow Boston College or Georgia Tech.

    Qadree Ollison had a career-high 235 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries for an incredible 14.7 average. Workhorse Darrin Hall got a bit of a day off, as he ran just seven times but gained 186 yards for an average of 26.6 yards per carry.

    Foster's defense had no answers. The Panthers' 654 yards were the most ever gained against a Foster-led unit. 

Loser: Winning Graciously at Miami-Ohio

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    The Miami-Ohio RedHawks hadn't beaten rival Ohio in the "Battle of the Bricks" in five years, which includes head coach Chuck Martin's entire tenure.

    So, when the RedHawks held off a good Bobcats team with a 30-28 win Wednesday night in a game they led 28-7 early, Martin was happy, excited and praising everybody after what has been a mediocre season, right?


    Instead, he went on a rampage about the lack of a trophy, the MAC's coffers and his own fans. According to Yahoo's Nick Bromberg Martin went off:

    "Is there a trophy or anything? I was waiting for the trophy to come storming in. What are we talking about? This rivalry, we don't have a trophy for it or anything? I just assumed there's a trophy. We haven't won it in 50 years, but how can it be such a rivalry if there's even no damn trophy? I'll pitch in if there's—it's a pretty big deal. I'm like, where's the dang trophy? I guess it's not that big of a deal if no one can afford a trophy for the rivalry. It just shows how cheap these schools are in this league."

    The coach wasn't finished, either. He took offense that Miami's fans rode his players, too. 

    "Our home fans are yelling at our players and coaches as the game's unraveling," Martin said. "That's helpful. And they can hear. The kids can hear it. Because they're panicked that we're going to lose. You've got to block it out. Welcome to life."

    Were Martin's complaints warranted? Sure. You never want your fans to yell at the players, and you'd like for your guys to be rewarded for winning a big game. But the RedHawks are 4-6, and it seemed like a bad time to be on a soapbox.

    The outburst overshadowed a big win that moved Miami to 4-2 in the MAC.

Winner: The SEC's Best Running Back with the Fewest Headlines

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    There's a reason Kentucky running back Benny Snell Jr. has gotten plenty of publicity this season: He's really, really good.

    That doesn't mean Texas A&M running back Trayveon Williams should toil in anonymity. 

    He surged into the conference lead in rushing yards Saturday with a 31-carry, 228-yard performance in a 38-24 win over Ole Miss at Kyle Field to stop the bleeding from the past two weeks of Aggies losses.

    The junior broke off a 46-yard touchdown run with 1:39 remaining—after A&M secured an onside kick—to secure the win against an explosive Ole Miss team that had plenty of ammunition. 

    Williams vaulted over Snell in the rushing statistics and has 11 scores for the year. It's his fourth career 200-plus-yard game.

    Yes, QB Kellen Mond will get plenty of positive vibes after he accounted for four touchdowns in the win, but Williams was a calming force and helped A&M control the ball on the ground when it had to keep Ole Miss' offense off the field.

    It didn't help the Rebels that leading rusher Scottie Phillips got hurt early.

    Now, Aggies fans can breathe a little easier knowing that the full-on collapse that had befallen the program under former coach Kevin Sumlin has been halted, at least for a week. They can thank Williams for that, and while Snell is on his way to first-team All-SEC honors, it's time the Houston native got his share of respect, too.

    He went over 1,000 yards for the season Saturday and is a big-time force for head coach Jimbo Fisher.

Loser: South Carolina's Colossal Collapse

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    It's tough to kill a Gator.

    Earlier this year, Florida trailed Vanderbilt 30-14 before it stormed back for a victory. On Saturday, a South Carolina team with a hot quarterback in Jake Bentley led the Gators 31-14 in the second half in Gainesville.

    Just like they did earlier this season against Vanderbilt, though, coach Dan Mullen's Gators meticulously plotted their way back into the game, pulling out a stunning 35-31 win over former coach Will Muschamp's team thanks to an exceptional rushing attack.

    Really, though, it was thanks to South Carolina's atrocious defense, which continued to reel while the offense surged. Now, there's nothing that can save this season from being a disappointment for the Gamecocks, who expected to battle Georgia in the SEC East.

    In the past three weeks, South Carolina has beaten a Tennessee team that has a bad offense (27-24), topped Ole Miss in a 48-44 shootout and then blew it against the Gators.

    You've got to give credit to a struggling Florida defense for slowing Bentley—who'd been hot before the last frame—and giving up just 23 fourth-quarter yards to the Gamecocks. But South Carolina had no defensive answers for the Gators' running game.

    Jordan Scarlett had 18 carries for 159 yards, and Lamical Perine added 107 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Though quarterback Feleipe Franks was booed early, he finished with a passing score and two running touchdowns, and he even quieted his own crowd at one point.

    "I hushed the crowd today, too, if you want to be real," Perine said, according to Nick de la Torre.

    The Gators keep their New Year's Six bowl hopes alive, while the Gamecocks keep hitting a wall as Muschamp tries to build his program. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium continues to be a place he has to hate seeing.

Winner: A Big Step in the P.J. Fleck Era for Minnesota

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    P.J. Fleck needed another big win to keep the positive vibes going at Minnesota in year two of what looks like a thorough rebuild.

    Sure, the Golden Gophers got a victory over Fresno State at home earlier this season, but they were sitting at 4-5 entering Saturday and facing a grueling stretch to close the year: Purdue, Northwestern and Wisconsin.

    The first step in the right direction came Saturday afternoon as Fleck's team dominated the Boilermakers in every facet for a 41-10 win. The victory came from nowhere for the Gophers, which had been blown out by Nebraska (53-28) and Illinois, of all teams (55-31), in the past few weeks.

    This defense was struggling, and it looked like Fleck would have to sell his program to recruits and fans with no results.

    Now, there's a glimmer of hope that Minnesota might become bowl-eligible. The win came surprisingly because of its defense, which held Purdue to 233 total yards and 0-of-12 on third downs after Fleck fired defensive coordinator Robb Smith following last week's 646-yard onslaught by the Fighting Illini.

    On a day college football fizzled as a whole, Minnesota got an important victory that will go under the radar.

    But it was big for a team that's trying to return to hard-nosed football and a coach who got used to winning in a big way at Western Michigan. Meanwhile, Purdue fell to 5-5, and the Boilermakers are the ones with major questions.

Winner: Tennessee, Always When It Plays Kentucky in Neyland Stadium

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    Tennessee headed into Saturday's border-rivalry game against No. 11 Kentucky in need of a win in two of its final three contests to become bowl-eligible in coach Jeremy Pruitt's first season. The Wildcats still had a New Year's Six bowl game in their grasp, even after a loss to Georgia a week ago dropped them to 7-2.  

    On paper, it looked like this contest featured two teams headed in different directions.

    Unfortunately for Kentucky, it played the game in Neyland Stadium rather than on paper. It's been a house of horrors for the Wildcats over the years, as they haven't won in Knoxville since 1984. The Vols made it 17 consecutive home wins over UK with a stunning 24-7 upset.

    Jarrett Guarantano launched a 39-yard Hail Mary to Marquez Callaway on the final play of the first half to put UT ahead 17-0. The defense kept applying steam after that, as Kentucky and star running back Benny Snell Jr. couldn't get going.

    Vols pass-rushing linebacker Darrell Taylor had four sacks (he had three against Georgia), and Marquill Osborne added a pair of interceptions as Tennessee got Pruitt his second important win of the year, following an earlier victory over Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

    "We were able to amp up the pass rush, and Darrell did a good job getting pressure," Pruitt told the SEC Network after the game.

    "You know, we've really been focusing on what we can control, which is Tennessee, and our guys did a good job of that this week."

    The Vols still must beat either Missouri or Vanderbilt to make it to a bowl game, but they got an important win against a good team to give the long-suffering fans a reason to hope for the future and a little for this season, too.

Loser: Anybody Who Thought Alabama's Defense Was Vulnerable

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Remember when everybody was talking about how Alabama's dynamic offense would have to carry its young, inconsistent defense for the first time in years earlier this season?

    Yeah, the Crimson Tide defenders probably remember it, too. They've responded loudly over the past two weeks in the season's two biggest games.

    The Tide look even more like a powerhouse than they did earlier this year, even though the offense and Tagovailoa had virtual off nights in each of the past two weeks.

    Alabama whipped Mississippi State 24-0 on Saturday, allowing just 169 total yards. The Bulldogs finished the game 1-of-13 on third-down conversions in an annihilation. It was a good thing, too, because MSU defensive coordinator Bob Shoop's group was up to the challenge.

    Instead of a close game, though, the Tide defense gave its teammates short fields and plenty of breathing room on an afternoon when things weren't clicking the way they normally do.

    After last Saturday's 29-0 win over LSU, that's a pair of shutouts in a row against fellow SEC West powers, and Alabama will play FCS team The Citadel next weekend, so it's possible UA could go into the Iron Bowl against Auburn having pitched three consecutive shutouts.

    The Tide didn't play their best game Saturday, and they still look like the best team in the nation by a wide margin. The defense of the past two weeks looks more like a Nick Saban-coached unit, and that's bad news for the rest of the country.

Winner: Dual-Threat Daniel Jones

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    It's far from a surprise that a good Duke team, which will go bowling again, beat rival North Carolina in Durham, especially with how bad the Tar Heels have been.

    Larry Fedora's one-win team had no answer for Duke quarterback Daniel Jones.

    The Blue Devils needed every bit of his career-best performance in a closer-than-expected 42-35 win, though.

    Jones threw the ball 54 times and completed 31 of them for 361 yards and three touchdowns. He's beaten teams with his arm before. What perhaps wasn't expected was the game he had on the ground.

    Sure, Jones can run a little; his season high in rushing yards before Saturday was a 43-yard performance against Army in the opener. Normally, though, he does just enough to keep defenses honest. But against North Carolina, he was downright dynamic.

    Jones ran 15 times for 186 yards and scored a touchdown, punctuating his game with a 68-yard scramble. Duke won because it could lean on its veteran quarterback.

    His only mistake was an interception throw in UNC's end zone on 4th-and-12 at the end of the game when Duke was trying to secure the win. North Carolina threw into the end zone for a chance to tie, but the attempt failed.

    The Blue Devils moved to 7-3 and evened their ACC record at 3-3. Their win was expected, but in a difficult rivalry game, Jones was a major difference.

Loser: Colorado, Yet Again

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    Five games into the season, the Colorado Buffaloes were one of the biggest surprises in college football, sitting at 5-0 and looking like they might make some noise in the wide-open Pac-12.

    After the Buffaloes beat Arizona State by seven on Oct. 6 to cool the "they haven't played anybody" naysayers, though, those early grumblers look prophetic. Colorado dropped its fifth consecutive game Saturday, getting blown out 31-7 by Washington State.

    It was expected, because WSU is the toast of the conference, blending transfer quarterback Gardner Minshew II's brilliant season with a top-25 defense.

    They never had an issue with the Buffaloes. It seems it doesn't matter who you throw in front of Mike MacIntyre's team; the Buffs have few answers.

    USC started the slide with a 31-20 win in Los Angeles, and the Buffs kept things respectable in a 27-13 defeat at Washington. But a 41-34 loss to a bad Oregon State team turned the season sour, and now losses to Arizona and Wazzu have Colorado questioning a possible bowl berth.

    With Utah and California remaining, the Buffs need an upset to make it to the postseason.

    Yes, they sorely missed receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. (toe injury) the past three weeks, but you can't blame Saturday's result on his absence. He played and caught 10 balls for 102 yards, but it was far from enough.

    The Cougars continued to look sharp, and Colorado is searching for answers. It's been a forgettable second half of the season for Macintyre's team.

    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of Sports Reference and

    Brad Shepard covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @Brad_Shepard.