CFB Winners and Losers, Week 10
Winner: Alabama’s defense
In a matchup that offered old-generation tackle football, Alabama went into Death Valley and out-slugged LSU 10-0. The Crimson Tide choked the LSU offense, which ended up with only six first downs and 120 total yards. Alabama made LSU running back Leonard Fournette disappear for the third consecutive season; in the three losses to ’Bama Fournette averaged 48 yards rushing per game and 2.5 yards per rush. LSU quarterback Danny Etling was plastered by five sacks and too many hits to count.
That’s 21 consecutive wins — and by an average of 24 points — for Alabama. And within the streak is a 13-0 mark against teams ranked in the Top 25 on the day of the game. In winning 21 in a row, Alabama has held opponents to fewer than 20 points 17 times, and 10 points or fewer 11 times.
Winner: Alabama QB Jalen Hurts
This would be the toughest test of the season (so far) for Alabama’s true freshman quarterback. He was playing in the intimidating setting at LSU for the first time, and going against an outstanding defense that had allowed only eight touchdowns all season. And sure enough, Hurts opened the game with a terrible interception, and he later lost a fumble. But with the hour getting late and the game on the line, Hurts came through with huge plays as runner. He had a 21-yard dash for a touchdown, then led Bama to a clinching field goal by converting 3-and-15 and 3rd-and-9 situations with terrific runs. Hurts finished with 114 yards on 20 carries. Hurts is averaging 71 yards rushing per game and has 10 rushing TDs; in coach Nick Saban’s first nine seasons in Tuscaloosa Alabama didn’t have a QB average more than 25 yards rushing or run for more than 7 TDs in a season.
Winner: Lamar Jackson
Yes, it’s time for our weekly Jackson update. The dude just won’t stop producing more offense than any living football player college or pro. With No. 7 Louisville blowing out Boston College (52-7), Jackson didn’t play at all in the fourth quarter, but the Heisman Trophy favorite still rolled up 231 passing yards, 185 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. Jackson has 45 combined passing-rushing TDs this season. As Bleacher Report points out, that’s more than 60 teams’ offenses scored over the course of the entire 2015 season.
Winner: Illinois coach Lovie Smith
With a 2-6 record, and after politely pushing back against an ESPN report that portrayed him as “miserable” at Illinois and speculated that he could be a “one and done” coach of the Illini if the NFL comes calling, Smith needed a good day. He got it with the Illini’s 31-27 home win over Michigan State, with Kendrick Foster rushing for 146 yards and two touchdowns and Jeff George Jr. passing for two TDs. Smith was recruited into Champaign to oversee a massive rebuild, and to reestablish some closed recruiting paths. This is going to take time — perhaps even more than he imagined. Frustration is inevitable. Two words: calm down.
Winner: Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald
The Bulldogs’ sophomore quarterback put himself in some rare company in leading his team to a 35-28 upset over Texas A&M, which entered at No. 4 in the first CFB Playoff rankings. Fitzgerald passed for 209 yards, ran for 184 yards, and accounted for four touchdowns. His early 74-yard touchdown gallop shocked the Aggies and set the tone. Fitzgerald became the third player in the last 20 years to throw for over 200 yards and run for more than 175 in the same game. The other two? Heisman Trophy winners Johnny Manziel and Cam Newton. Mississippi State is in a rebuilding season, and it’s been hard to deal with, but the Bulldogs have found a worthy successor to Dak Prescott at quarterback. And that’s an important step.
Winner: Luke Falk and the Washington State Air Raid
Cougars won their seventh consecutive game, whomping Arizona 69-7 behind an amazing passing performance. Falk was 32 of 35 for 311 yards and four touchdowns. With the victory in hand, coach Mike Leach inserted freshman Tyler Hilinksi to get some game experience … and Hilinski completed 15 of 17 passes for 163 yards and two TDs. Add it up, and the two Wazzu quarterbacks connected on an astounding 47 of 52 passes — that’s 90 percent — for 473 yards and six touchdowns. Yes, Washington State actually finished the game with more touchdown passes than incompletions. The Cougars are 6-0 in Pac 12 play and have moved up to No. 23 in the latest AP poll.
Navy quarterback Will Worth
The Mids’ senior was virtually flawless in running the triple-option offense in a sensational display of ball control, leading Navy to a 28-27 win over Notre Dame. It was a thing of beauty, to watch Navy fluster Notre Dame on the final two possessions that ate 16 minutes and 28 seconds from the game clock. In fact, the Fighting Irish had only six offensive series for the entire game — and only two in the second half. Worth wasn’t expected to play this season. But starting quarterback Tago Smith suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first quarter of Navy’s first game. Smith had been groomed to replace the graduated Keenan Reynolds — the second-best quarterback in Navy history, behind Roger Staubach. And suddenly coach Ken Niumatololo had to replace the replacement.
After needing a while to get acclimated, Worth has been exceptional, averaging 155 yards rushing over the last four games. His average of 99 yards rushing per game ranks third among FBS quarterbacks, trailing only Lamar Jackson and Quinton Flowers (South Florida). And Worth’s 15 rushing TDs are second nationally among quarterbacks. Worth has also completed 62 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and one interception; he put Notre Dame away with a perfect throw for a first down on 4th and 6.
Navy, 6-2, added misery to Notre Dame’s troubling 3-6 season. And by the way: after losing 43 consecutive games to Notre Dame, Navy has won its share over the last 10 years, going 4-6 against the Fighting Irish.
Winner: Penn State
There was some media fussing over Penn State coming in at No. 12 in the first CFP rankings. Something about a soft schedule. But The Nittany Lions already have four wins over teams headed for bowl games, including Ohio State. Penn State made the CFP committee look pretty good Saturday by pounding Iowa 41-14, with sophomore running back Saquon Barkley going over 1,000 yards for the second consecutive season. We should probably expect Penn State to jump ahead of a few teams and crash the Top 10 in the next CFP rankings. And though the Nittany Lions have two losses this season — they’re 7-2 overall, and 5-1 in the Big Ten — they’ve won five in a row with remaining games against 5-4 Indiana, 2-7 Rutgers and 2-7 Michigan State. Making the four-team playoff is a longshot, but keep an eye on the Nittany Lions.
Winner: Texas running back D’Onta Foreman
Foreman is doing his part, and then some, to help Texas coach Charlie Strong save his job. Foreman is flattening Big 12 defenses with 10 consecutive games of 100+ yards rushing — the longest active 100-yard streak in the FBS. In Saturday’s 45-37 win over Texas Tech, Foreman cranked out 341 yards and three touchdowns. From what we can tell Foreman has one problem: a coaching staff that doesn’t give him the rock enough in short-yardage and red-zone situations.
Winner: Old Dominion
You may not know this, and you probably don’t care, but we like to give a shout-out to non power-conference teams. And with Saturday’s 14-point win over Marshall, Old Dominion improved to 6-3 to become bowl eligible for the first time since the program was revived in 2009. The Monarchs fielded a football team from 1930 through 1941, but shut it down because of cost considerations. This may not be at the level of the Chicago Cubs, but it’s pretty cool to see Old Dominion make it back from oblivion. Congrats to coach Bobby Wilder and his squad.
Now let’s head on over to the land of the lost…
Loser: Texas A&M
There was a lot of murmuring when the CFP committee slighted undefeated Washington to go with one-loss Texas A&M in the No. 4 spot in the first top-25 rankings. You’d think that the Aggies would be grateful for this gift, and highly motivated to show they belonged in the four-team playoff. Or maybe not. Coach Kevin Sumlin didn’t have A&M ready to play, and the result was a ridiculous loss to a Mississippi State team that came in with a 3-5 record. The flat, uninspired Aggies missed tackles and were bullied on the ground. Some will point out that quarterback Trevor Knight left with a shoulder injury late in the first quarter and use that as an excuse … no sale. Knight wasn’t playing well before going down. Excluding their punt return for a touchdown, the Aggies spit out 21 points against a Mississippi State defense that had given up 41 points to Samford and 35 points to UMass earlier in the season. Good grief.
This looks like another typical season for Sumlin and Texas A&M, which is now 7-2 overall, and 4-2 in the SEC: start fast, fade late. I thought the Aggies were different this time, but forget about that. With A&M losing two in a row in the SEC, Auburn has moved up to second place in the West, and is Alabama’s only remaining challenger.
The Cornhuskers were able to con a lot of hopelessly naive voters in winning their first seven games against a sequence of ice-cream sundaes, but the shell game is over after consecutive road losses to a couple of real teams, Wisconsin and Ohio State. Nebraska was shredded 62-3 at Ohio State, with the only positive being quarterback Tommy Armstrong’s encouraging recovery after a scary-looking knockout that put him out of the game during the second quarter. But the Cornhuskers already were down by three touchdowns at the time of the injury. Perhaps the CFP committee will notice that five of Nebraska’s seven wins were posted against teams that currently have losing records.
As the loss to Alabama showed — sure, you can fire Les Miles … but it doesn’t matter if the Les Miles offense is still in place. And LSU still can’t beat Alabama. Not that Saturday’s loss could be blamed on interim head coach Ed Orgeron. LSU doesn’t have a quarterback, and that isn’t Orgeron’s fault.
Loser: Florida’s offense … again
In Arkansas’ previous game, the Razorbacks’ defense was curb-stomped for 543 yards rushing (and 632 yards overall) in a 56-3 beat-down by Auburn. In other words: Arkansas doesn’t play the kind of defense that scares anyone. But in losing 31-10 at Arkansas on Saturday, Florida managed only 241 yards overall … including 12 yards rushing on 14 carries. Take away the sack yards, and the Gators’ running backs ran 11 times for 37 yards. The Gators did not score a touchdown on offense. Florida is comically overrated.
Loser: Michigan State
It’s just shocking to see Sparty go from a final four team in 2015 to a 2-7 mess in 2016. After winning the Big Ten and making the playoff less than a calendar year ago, the Spartans are now bowl-ineligible after the loss to Illinois. It was the Spartans’ seventh consecutive loss, the longest losing streak for the program since 1982. Coach Mark Dantonio’s team is 0-6 in the conference — the same record as hapless Rutgers. Michigan State is only the second Big Ten team to win the conference title in one season and follow with a losing record the next season. (The 2001-02 Fighting Illini were the first.)
The Tigers lost their 11th consecutive SEC game, tripping for a 10-point loss at South Carolina. After going 14-2 in regular-season conference play over 2013 and 2014, Mizzou is 1-12 in the SEC over the last two seasons.
In winning consecutive SEC East titles MU averaged 34 points per game and won their 14 conference games by an average of 15 points. But since the start of last season Mizzou is averaging only 12.5 points per conference game, with an average loss of 15 points.
The Missouri program has gone completely upside down in two short years.
Loser: Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon
The Sooners didn’t need Mixon to beat a bad Iowa State team by 10 points on Thursday night, but that isn’t the point.
Mixon didn’t play because he was suspended after allegedly ripping up a campus parking ticket and throwing the litter in the face of the parking attendant. Given his sordid past, this dude is fortunate that Oklahoma is still enabling him simply because he’s a talented player.
Loser: Ole Miss
A team that reached the No. 11 spot in the AP poll this season had another gruesome Saturday. Oh, the Rebels came back from a 21-10 deficit to defeat Georgia Southern (hold your applause) but lost starting quarterback Chad Kelly to a season-ending knee injury. Mississippi is 4-5 on the season, 1-4 in the SEC.
Loser: Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez
Two seasons ago Rich Rod led the Wildcats to 10 wins and the No. 19 ranking in the final AP poll of the 2014 season. But since the start of the ‘15 season Arizona is 9-13 overall and 3-12 in the Pac 12. Rodriguez is an offensive-minded coach and perhaps that explains Arizona’s horrendous defense. While going 3-12 in league play over the last two seasons Arizona has allowed an average of 42 points and 489 yards per game. Atrocious. In his fifth season at Arizona after being run off by Michigan, Rodriguez is only 35-27.
Just when we were warming to the idea of a Mark Stoops turnaround and Kentucky winning the pathetic SEC East, the Wildcats failed to seize an opportunity to take sole possession of first place by losing to Georgia 27-24. The ‘Cats are still 4-3 in conference play, but they can’t be taken seriously after failing to protect a 21-13 lead at home against a mediocre Georgia team.
Thanks for reading …