1. Penn State showed Jim Harbaugh the monster he created. A year ago, Penn State went to Ann Arbor and got absolutely trounced. The Nittany Lions were out-rushed 326-70, out-gained 515-191 and out-scored 49-10, a loss that dropped Penn State to 2-2 on the year, 2-6 since the end of the ’15 season and James Franklin to 0-7 against Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State.

“That loss gave us a shot in the gut,” Franklin said of that loss. “That loss as well as 100 positive steps in the right direction, everything kind of came together at the right time. It’s a combination of situations and experiences that we’ve grown to get to this point.”

Grown they have. Penn State is 16-1 since that game, its lone loss coming by three points in a classic Rose Bowl and three of those wins coming against Michigan State, Ohio State and, on Saturday night, Michigan. College football’s best backfield battery shined, as Trace McSorley threw for 282 yards and rushed for 76 and three touchdowns, and Saquon Barkley rushed for 108 yards and two touchdowns and caught a 42-yard touchdown from McSorley in a 42-13 drubbing of Michigan. (And it could’ve been worse: Franklin allowed the clock to expire with his offense inside the Michigan 10-yard line and three timeouts in his pocket.)

Michigan entered the night with an FBS-best 223.8-yard total defense average on 3.68 yards per play, which was No. 2 in FBS. Joe Moorhead’s offense racked up 506 yards on 8.3 yards a play.

That 2016 loss retroactively eliminated Penn State from the 2016 College Football Playoff, but it may be what pushes the Nittany Lions into the 2017 edition.

1a. Penn State now advances to the program’s biggest game in 30 years: at No. 6 Ohio State. It’s not only the game of the year in the Big Ten, it’s the biggest game on the schedule in the entire college football regular season.

2. I wrote on Friday how peculiar it was that Notre Dame made it into mid-October overlooked and underrated. They’re not either of those things anymore.

The Irish welcomed USC to South Bend and promptly took their paddles out, opening up a 28-0 lead en route to a 49-14 blowout, the program’s largest win over the Trojans since 1966.

Behind new offensive coordinator Chip Long, the Irish have transformed themselves into a run first, run second and run third team, rolling up 308 yards per game and 6.9 per carry. Those numbers held against the Trojans. Brandon Wimbush threw 19 times for just 120 yards, but six Irish runners rolled up 377 yards and five touchdowns on 47 carries, good for 8.02 a pop.

Brian Kelly’s team will be in the top 10 tomorrow and very much a member of the Playoff picture.

3. Notre Dame has the chance to single-handedly elbow the Pac-12 out of the Playoff. With apologies to Washington State and Stanford, USC’s loss reduces the Pac-12’s Playoff contenders to Washington and only Washington.

As ESPN taught us a couple weeks ago, Washington’s non-conference schedule (Rutgers, Fresno State, Montana) means the Huskies’ only chances for impressive wins will come in Pac-12 play, meaning Stanford and Washington State from the Pac-12 North and, presumably, USC in the conference title game. And here’s the rub: Notre Dame has already beaten USC, and plays Stanford to close the season. So an 11-1 Notre Dame would match Washington’s two best wins, and surpass their resume with (for the sake of the argument) wins over Miami, NC State, Michigan State, Boston College, Navy and Wake Forest.

We’re a long way from there, but an 11-1 Notre Dame over a 12-1 Washington would be an easy choice for the committee.

4. The committee will release its first rankings a week from Tuesday. Here’s how the Nuggets sees the Playoff picture: 16 teams still alive, in something of a prioritized order.

  • An undefeated or 1-loss SEC champion: Alabama or Georgia
  • An undefeated or 1-loss Big Ten champion: Penn State, Ohio State, Wisconsin or Michigan State
  • An undefeated or 1-loss ACC champion: Clemson, Miami, NC State or Virginia Tech
  • An 11-1 Notre Dame
  • An undefeated or 1-loss Big 12 champion: TCU, Oklahoma or Oklahoma State
  • A 12-1 SEC runner-up Alabama or Georgia
  • The Pac-12 champion: Washington, Washington State

5. Florida State is in unchartered waters right now. Florida State has reached a bowl game in 35 consecutive seasons. It’s an FBS record, and it’s in serious trouble.

The Seminoles are 2-4 after falling 31-28 to Louisville in Tallahassee on Saturday. Florida State erased a 28-14 fourth quarter deficit, but true freshman quarterback James Blackman fumbled at the Louisville 21-yard line with 2:05 remaining, and Lamar Jackson moved Louisville in position for a 34-yard game winner with five ticks left.

To push the streak to 36 years, Florida State will have to go 3-1 against this schedule (assuming a win over Delaware State, and assuming no bowl slots go unfilled):

Afterward, a fan told Fisher to fire some of his assistants. He didn’t take it well.

Fisher apologized, and then pitched Florida State’s fans to stick with the team in a statement that sounded eerily similar to a plea issued earlier this week from East Carolina AD Jeff Compher asking fans to stick with his 1-6 Pirates.

6. Texas keeps pounding and pounding…. its head against the wall. There was a lot for Tom Herman to like in his team’s performance against Oklahoma State. His defense held a team that came in averaging a national-best 610.7 yards per game, 8.35 yards per play (2nd in the nation) and 48.8 points per game (ditto) to 428 yards, 4.81 per play and 13 points — season-lows in each category. Texas played with a true freshman quarterback and without four of its top blockers and fought until the end.

There’s also something obvious for Herman and Texas not to like: the result.

After challenging USC but falling short, and challenging Oklahoma but falling short, Texas challenged Oklahoma State and fell short, 13-10 in overtime. It didn’t just feel familiar because a close-but-no-cigar result is a common result for Texas this season, but it’s been the story of Texas football this entire decade.

Consider the Longhorns’ record through seven games during the three years of the Charlie Strong era and the one year of the Herman era:

2014: 3-4
2015: 3-4
2016: 3-4
2017: 3-4

Herman’s first year has paralleled Strong’s almost to a T: a WTF home loss (BYU) and three hard-fought losses a highly-ranked team from Los Angeles and two Big 12 foes.

Now consider that Texas is 4-11 in 1-score games at Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium this decade and, yeah, it’s a familiar feeling.

That said, I agreed with the Herman hiring at the time and agree with it now. But there’s no point about talking about how the worm is going to turn until the ugly thing actually turns.

6a. Mike Gundy said afterward it was the best defensive performance he’s ever been a part of. Outside of a 90-yard completion in the second quarter, the Cowboys limited Texas to 2.87 yards a play on 68 snaps with 12 first downs and 3-of-17 on third downs.

“Forever around here, it’s been the offense,” Gundy said. “The defense played their ass off, period, and won the dang game.”

He had some tough love for the offensive staff.

“There were holes in that defense, okay? It’s two robber, three down, two four I’s, nose guard, essentially one backer, two alley players, and a robber guy back there about 8 yards. You see in high school football all the time,” he said.

“There’s holes in it. We just didn’t get to it. We had a few issues with new guys, some things we could and couldn’t do, so I’m not saying that wasn’t a factor, but I thought our adjustments, they were not good.”

7. (Most of) the state of Florida is on fire right now. Florida, Florida State and FIU are in various states of disrepair at the moment, but the rest of the state is rolling.

  • In a possible AAC championship preview, Central Florida went to Navy and won, 31-21. The Knights just about equaled Navy on the ground (248-247) on 17 fewer carries, out-passed them by 45 yards and went 8-of-13 on third down. Scott Frost’s team is now over halfway through its season, and tonight was the first time anyone came within four touchdowns of them.
  • With recent losses by Oklahoma and Clemson, South Florida now has the longest FBS winning streak at 12 games. The Bulls also have FBS’s longest streak of 24 consecutive games hitting the 30-point mark after winning at Tulane, 34-28. Charlie Strong’s club has home games with Houston and Tulsa and a trip to UConn standing between them and a visit to Central Florida in the biggest War on I-4 ever.
  • The second-longest FBS active winning streak belongs to… Miami. Mark Richt’s Canes are winners of 11 straight after holding off Syracuse, 27-19. Miami has a trip to North Carolina next week before two straight massive games — NC State and Notre Dame — on South Beach.
  • Lane Kiffin has himself a team at Florida Atlantic. The Owls rolled up a Baylor-like 804 yards of total offense (357 passing, 447 rushing) on 9.69 yards per play with 37 first downs in a 69-31 drubbing of North Texas. FAU shares first place in the C-USA East with Marshall and gets the Herd in Boca Raton on Nov. 3. (This is where we should mention Kiffin allowed wide receiver Kalib Woods to rejoin the team despite his two pending felony battery charges.)

8. The Super 16. The Nuggets is honored to once again vote in this year’s FWAA-NFF Super 16 poll. Here’s this week’s ballot.

  1. Alabama
  2. Penn State
  3. Ohio State
  4. Georgia
  5. Clemson
  6. TCU
  7. Notre Dame
  8. Wisconsin
  9. Oklahoma
  10. Washington
  11. Oklahoma State
  12. Central Florida
  13. Miami
  14. Virginia Tech
  15. NC State
  16. Michigan State

9. Odds and Ends

a. Tip of the Cap, Part I: Brad Lambert, Charlotte. The 49ers had every reason in the world to pack it in. They trailed UAB 17-0 midway through the third quarter, 20-odd minutes away from an 0-8 record. But they fought back to knot the game at 17-17 at the end of regulation, then went for two and the win in the bottom of the first overtime, securing the unlikeliest of 25-24 wins.

b. Tip of the Cap, Part II: Mark Whipple, Massachusetts. The Minutemen went to the other end of the spectrum to earn their first win of the year, spanking winless Georgia Southern, 55-20. That had to feel good.

c. On Thursday night, Memphis trailed Houston, 17-0, at halftime, on the road. The Tigers clawed back to win the game, 42-38.

d. Chad Morris says this play will go down in SMU history, and it’s hard to disagree.

That 4th-and-26 connection put the Ponies up 31-28, and a turnover on the ensuing possession sealed the win. SMU is 5-2 on the year and 2-1 in AAC play.

e. There’s something in the air in the desert, Part I: Up until two weeks ago, Arizona State could not stop a-n-y-b-o-d-y. Now Todd Graham has himself a steel curtain. After nearly shutting out Washington a week ago, Arizona State went to Salt Lake City and nearly held Utah without a touchdown in a 30-10 win. The Sun Devils are now 4-3 and very much in the Pac-12 South title hunt.

f. There’s something in the air in the desert, Part II: Out of nowhere, Rich Rodriguez pulled an evolutionary Michael Vick off the bench and onto the field. Khalil Tate ignited for 557 rushing yards over the past two weeks and added 137 more (with 166 passing yards and two touchdowns) on Saturday. Arizona as a team rushed for 345 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-44 double overtime win at California, and now the Wildcats are 5-2 and very much in the Pac-12 South title hunt.

g. There’s something in the air… in New England, too. Boston College has topped 40 points in back-to-back weeks for the first time since 2002 with a 41-10 at Virginia.

f. Matt Campbell is working into national Coach of the Year consideration. Iowa State is 5-2 and 3-1 in the Big 12 after a 31-13 win at Texas Tech. Campbell is 2-0 against Texas Tech with a combined score of 97-23.

h. Baylor battled back from a 38-20 fourth quarter deficit to come within a 2-point conversion of forcing overtime against West Virginia. Matt Rhule’s Bears will give Texas everything they can handle next week in Waco.

i. TCU set a Big 12 defensive record in shutting out Kansas for the second week in a row. The Jayhawks amassed a Big 12-worst 21 yards of total offense.

j. It’s been a rough year defensively for UCLA, but the Bruins had a nice day in a 31-14 win over Oregon. This also happened.

k. Army is going bowling in back-to-back years for the first time since 1983-84 after a 31-28 overtime win over Temple. Jeff Monken’s Black Knights are 6-2 on the year and 9-2 in their last 11 games.

l. Hurricane Irma had something to do with it, but Georgia State played its second home game of the year on Saturday. It was a 34-10 loss to Troy.

m. Southern Miss trailed Louisiana Tech 27-16 with four minutes to play on the road and scored the game’s final 18 points to win, 34-27 in double overtime.

n. Another Coach of the Year candidate: Jeff Tedford. Inheriting a 1-11 team, Fresno State is 5-2 — only losses: at Alabama and at Washington — and in the driver’s seat to reach the Mountain West title game after suffocating San Diego State, 27-3 in San Diego.

10. And finally… This is an FBS column, but we’re making an exception for an FCS note. A battle of unbeaten titans Columbia and Dartmouth saw the Lions emerge, 22-17, to secure Columbia’s first winning season in two decades.

 

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National columnist - Zach joined the staff in 2012...and has been attempting to improve Doug and Scott's writing ability ever since (to little avail). Outside of football season, you can find him watching the San Antonio Spurs reading Game of Thrones fan theories.