Sports, Thrill of Victory

Winners and losers from college football’s Week 7 (and more)

The college football season is roughly halfway done, and it’s been one of the greatest seasons imaginable. Here’s a look at the winners, losers and other notable things from Week 7.

WINNERS

Mississippi State moved to No. 1 in the polls for the first time in history on the arm of Heisman contender Dak Prescott.

Mississippi State moved to No. 1 in the polls for the first time in history on the arm of Heisman contender Dak Prescott.

The undefeated teams. There are just six now, and they are, in no particular order, Florida State, Baylor, Marshall, Notre Dame, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Each won over the weekend.

Bowl-eligible teams. Each of the above reached the magic 6-win mark needed to get to a bowl this winter.

The no-longer-winless. Five of the nation’s 128 FBS teams had yet to taste victory this year. Something had to give in a showdown between UMass and Kent State, which were two of those teams, and UMass emerged a 40-17 victor. Elsewhere on Saturday afternoon, winless Troy had a golden opportunity in hosting an awful New Mexico State club, and cashed in by a 41-24 count.

Is Ole Miss, led by quarterback Bo Wallace, the nation's best team?

Is Ole Miss, led by quarterback Bo Wallace, the nation’s best team?

The state of Mississippi. So much for the Sports Illustrated cover jinx, as both Ole Miss and Mississippi State, which shared the SI cover last week, both scored huge wins over ranked teams, with State beating No. 1 Auburn and Ole Miss pulling a mild road upset of Texas A&M. I’m not sure which team is better–I’ll look at that the next few days while you wait in suspense for the Weekly 128 where I’ll answer that question later in the week–but I’m fairly confident these are the best two teams in the land right now. For good measure, even Southern Miss didn’t lose this weekend, though that had a lot to do with  the Golden Eagles having the week off.

Baylor. Not only did the Bears come from 21 down in the fourth quarter, they posted maybe the most incredible stats of the year: 61 points and 782 yards of total offense against TCU’s vaunted defense, which had given up marks of 13.5 and 279 coming into Saturday. Maybe the Bears’ schedule has been suspect until Saturday, but it’d be hard to keep Baylor out of the College Football Playoff if it started today.

Georgia. The Bulldogs are oh-so-talented, but also oh-so-good at laying an egg once or twice a season, and the stage was set perfectly for Mark Richt’s club to pick up a second loss with the suspension of Todd Gurley, who’s arguably one of the best running backs on the planet (and yes, that includes the NFL) and the fact that the Tigers whipped UGA in Athens last season. Instead, freshman Nick Chubb rushed for 143 yards on 38 carries and the Georgia defense posted one of the NCAA’s few shutouts this year in a 34-0 drubbing of Mizzou on the road. Everyone’s written off the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division, but the Bulldogs, now the prohibitive favorite in the division, may still be talented enough to beat whoever comes out of the West for the championship. Look for Georgia to be favored in every remaining game except the Auburn contest, and even then, Georgia stays home for that one.

Duke. Honestly, I haven’t been sure what to make of the Blue Devils all year; sure, Duke’s 23.2-point average margin of victory (yes, that includes Duke’s 11-point loss to Miami) tied Mississippi State for 11th coming into Saturday, but it also came against what Jeff Sagarin rated as the nation’s 169th-toughest schedule. Duke had lost 10 in a row to undefeated Georgia Tech and with the last two coming by 18 and 24 points, I didn’t figure the Devils had a great chance in this road trip. Maybe beating Tech was a bit of a fluke as Duke was out-gained 483-376 on Saturday, but the more important stat was that the Blue Devils were plus-3 in turnovers in walking out of Atlanta with a 31-25 win. Hats off to coach David Cutcliffe, who’s now 15-5 over his last two seasons in Durham.

Colorado State and coach Jim McElwain. McElwain left Alabama, where he had been coach Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator, to take over a program that had won three games three years in a row. After a 4-8 2012, McElwain led CSU to five wins in its last seven games to finish 8-6 and now, after a nice road win at Nevada, is 5-1 to start this season, which includes a road win at Boston College and a defeat of Colorado, too.

Western Michigan and coach P.J. Fleck. Lest you think I’m getting too carried away here, I’ll acknowledge that WMU’s three wins have come against Ball State, winless Idaho and Murray State, which aren’t exactly heavyweights. On the other hand, the Broncos played Virginia Tech reasonably competitively (an 18-point road loss), lost to the Mid-American conference’s second-best team, Toledo, by one, and fell to suddenly-resurgent Purdue by nine. But here’s where context is important: according to Phil Steele, nobody returned fewer letterman than WMU’s 26, and Fleck is the FBS’s youngest head coach (he’ll turn 34 on Thanksgiving weekend). It’s certainly a nice turn-around from the 1-11 mark of a season ago.

 

LOSERS

The no-longer unbeatens. Georgia Tech (a loser to Duke), Arizona (USC), Auburn (Mississippi State) and TCU (Baylor) fell on Saturday, reducing the ranks of the undefeated teams to six.

The winless. Just three of the nation’s winless teams–Idaho, SMU and Kent State–don’t have a victory in 2014. SMU was the only idle of the three this weekend. It’s doubtful that fans of these teams are finding much to be positive about right now, so I’ll inject some hope here: Idaho should have a shot in three remaining games (New Mexico State, Troy and Appalachian State), while Kent State has a reasonable shot against Miami (Ohio) and perhaps even Buffalo, which lost to what I thought was America’s worst team in Eastern Michigan. The honor of worst team now probably falls to SMU, which has a pair of bad one-win teams (Tulsa, Connecticut) left to play.

Texas Tech. Coach Kliff Kingsbury missed a shot at snapping an eight-game Big 12 losing streak on Saturday, but the nation’s most heavily-penalized team was flagged a dozen times and blew a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead to West Virginia.

Miami fans. Okay Hurricane fans, I get it: you’re no longer “The U” and there are a lot of great games you can watch from home these days. But c’mon, can’t you at least show up and support your team better than you did in that win over Cincinnati this weekend? These photos, courtesy of SB Nation, are perhaps the most astonishing images of the 2014 college football season.

Penn State coach James Franklin. The former Vanderbilt coach admitted last week that he lied when he told players he’d seen footage of four players that allegedly incriminated them in a rape of a campus co-ed. Why Franklin felt the need to do that when the truth would easily have sufficed wasn’t exactly shocking to those of us who covered him in Nashville, but perhaps should concern his new employer a bit. If that wasn’t upsetting enough to PSU fans, Franklin’s Nittany Lions lost for the second week in a row, this time, to struggling Michigan, as the team’s fans spent the weekend roasting Franklin for terrible clock management, coaching decisions and an offense that, despite being led by super-talented quarterback Christian Hackenberg, is 119th in the country in scoring at 21.2 points per game.

 

THIS AND THAT

 Here’s a breakdown of the nation’s 128 FBS teams by wins: zero (three teams); one-win (nine); two wins (27); three wins (27); four wins (33); five wins (23) and six wins (six). … What in the world does one make of the Pac-12 right now? The league’s only unbeaten team, Arizona, went down at home to USC, which has lost to both Boston College and Arizona State. UCLA looked as if it was getting things together, but it has now lost two straight after falling this weekend to Oregon, and speaking of the Ducks, I thought they were headed to perhaps a four-loss season or so before they surprised me this weekend. Meanwhile, I hadn’t been impressed with Washington’s 4-1 start, but the Huskies held a Cal team that had averaged 50 points a game to almost nothing in a 30-7 win this weekend. Meanwhile, Stanford essentially shut down a high-flying Washington State offense in impressive fashion, which makes me wonder if it’s too early to write off the Cardinal. … Only one conference has all of its teams with at least three wins… would you have guessed that league is the Big Ten?