Running through the highs and lows from Saturday afternoon’s action:
WINNER: Auburn. The Tigers rushed for 543 yards in a 56-3 rout of Arkansas. To repeat: Five hundred forty-three yards on the ground. That’s a program record in a Southeastern Confernece game.
Auburn was basically left for dead after a 1-2 start that included losses to Clemson and Texas A&M, which in retrospect doesn’t look bad in the slightest. It nearly lost to Louisiana State, but an overturned LSU touchdown set off what is now a four-game winning streak for Auburn (5-2, 3-1 SEC). Now? Auburn might be the last, best option to derail the Alabama juggernaut after the Crimson Tide dispensed with Tennessee and Texas A&M the past two weeks.
WINNER: Colorado. Contrary to the 10-5 score, the Buffaloes didn’t put up a crooked number in the sixth inning against Stanford. They did something better: achieve bowl eligibility for the first time since 2007.
It’s a seemingly sudden payoff for Coach Mike MacIntyre’s rebuilding effort, though there was bound to be some progress. Those who weren’t paying close attention — and let’s face it, there really wasn’t much reason to do so as the Buffaloes struggled through five forgettable years upon entering the Pac-12 — last season’s 4-9 record included five one-possession losses.
And this season? Colorado (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12) owns victories over Oregon and Stanford. While those teams are definitely down, the Buffaloes weren’t beating even struggling conference opponents until now, going 2-25 in league play in MacIntyre’s first three seasons.
They’ve also shown an ability to adapt to circumstances as needed. Colorado won, 41-38, at Oregon. It held Stanford to 263 yards in its own stadium Saturday, forcing four turnovers and conceding only a field goal before yielding a safety with four seconds remaining.
The Buffaloes are tied with Utah atop the Pac-12 South, and the teams meet at the end of the regular season. Colorado had another good day Saturday, but it might not be done quite yet.
LOSER: Charlie Strong. The clock appears to be ticking on the Texas coach, and a 24-21 loss at Kansas State in what was a pure toss-up game is only going to ignite more of the dysfunctional intrigue the Longhorns have come to be known for in recent years.
Texas (3-4, 1-3 Big 12) can still to get a bowl with a remaining schedule of Baylor, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Kansas and Texas Christian. But is a team that permitted Kansas State — not an offensive juggernaut — to pile up 405 yards and keep its offense on the field for 38 minutes 27 seconds going to slow down any of the four potent offenses it still must face? Not likely.
The Longhorns haven’t won outside Austin this season, haven’t stopped anyone of note this year and haven’t won at Kansas State since 2002 (suffering five straight road losses to the Wildcats). While the Shane Buechele-led offense is better, the entire product doesn’t seem like it is much better than a year ago.
WINNER: Alabama. As usual. But in this case, it’s worth emphasizing just how much the Crimson Tide uses its ability to score on defense and special teams to completely demoralize quality opponents.
Alabama’s 33-14 defeat of Texas A&M provided the latest example. After the Tide (8-0, 5-0) saw a 13-point lead evaporate, it seemed it might actually find itself in a seesaw game against an improved Aggies bunch. But Alabama’s Jonathan Allen returned a fumble 30 yards for a score to make it 26-14, Texas A&M went three and out on its next possession and a Jalen Hurts touchdown run on the next drive basically finished things off.
That’s 10 consecutive games with a non-offensive score for Alabama, a stretch that dates back to last year’s playoff. And that’s 12 scores via defense and special teams for Coach Nick Saban’s squad just this season. The Crimson Tide’s offense is plenty good, but it repeatedly extinguishes other teams’ hope when it creates a score straight off a change of possession.
WINNER: Wisconsin. This is how it’s going to be for the Badgers the rest of the way, with the possible exceptions of their games against Illinois and Purdue. There are no more overwhelming opponents like Michigan or Ohio State, merely good ones that have just enough questions on offense to ensure Wisconsin is all but assured of playing a series of low-scoring slugfests as it navigates the Big Ten West.
That began with Saturday’s 17-9 defeat of Iowa, during which Wisconsin (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten) maintained possession for more than 37 minutes and held Iowa to a meager 236 total yards. Nebraska will probably muster a bit more next week, but if the Badgers are clearly happy to take a first-to-20-points wins approach. It was more than enough against the Hawkeyes, who never reached the end zone Saturday.
LOSER: Missouri. The Tigers’ hopes of salvaging a bowl bid in Coach Barry Odom’s first season continue to fade after dropping a 51-45 decision to Middle Tennessee. Missouri (2-5) still has to face Tennessee and Arkansas, and it’s not as if dates with Kentucky, South Carolina and Vanderbilt are sure wins.
A lot has unfolded in Columbia over the past few years, from a brief player strike connected with campus protests to former coach Gary Pinkel’s health-related retirement. Still, the Tigers won back-to-back SEC East titles in 2013 and 2014, and now they are likely looking at consecutive losing seasons.
WINNER: West Virginia. Another week, another explosive offense shut down by the Mountaineers. West Virginia rolled to a 34-10 triumph over Texas Christian, limiting the Horned Frogs to 300 yards and quarterback Kenny Hill to a pedestrian 18-of-31 outing that yielded 148 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Meanwhile, Skyler Howard was an efficient 16 of 23 for 231 yards and four touchdowns as the Mountaineers (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) reach the midpoint of their schedule without a loss. Yes, West Virginia is a surprise undefeated team, but its defense (which dealt with its share of injuries in the preseason) is clearly capable of flustering opponents in a pass-happy league.
LOSER: UCLA. The Bruins’ defense was steamrolled at home in a 52-45 loss to Utah, giving up 332 yards rushing to Utes tailback Joe Williams, a program record for Utah and the most ever allowed by a UCLA defense. But more strikingly, UCLA is 3-5 in a season that began with considerable optimism.
Instead, injured quarterback Josh Rosen missed another game and the Bruins committed five turnovers against the Pac-12 South co-leaders. For its part, UCLA is buried near the bottom of the division with Arizona and hardly seems like a sure thing to reach the postseason.
WINNER: Rice. The Owls defeated Prairie View A&M, 65-44, which is fairly insignificant in the big picture except for one thing. Rice (1-6) is the last FBS team to earn a victory this season, which at the very least ensures no one will face the misery of an 0-12 year in 2016.
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