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#Nuggets: Recapping the best Saturday of the season (so far)

1. The 2015 Clemson Tigers have arrived in 2016. Through the first month of this season, the Clemson offense never quite clicked in the way that last season's group did. Maybe the Tigers just needed to taste a little bit of their own blood in their mouth first.

Trailing No. 3 Louisville 7-0 in the second quarter, Deshaun Watson tossed an interception in the end zone and Lamar Jackson seemed to be getting things together after a rough first quarter. But Brent Venables's defense forced a turnover in plus territory, and two plays later the game was tied. A bizarre sequence that saw turnovers on three consecutive plays ended with Clemson again taking over in plus territory -- and again capitalizing quickly, with a one-play touchdown drive in the form of a 38-yard strike from Watson to Deon Cain. The Tigers' next two possessions covered 129 plays in seven snaps over just 1:29 and resulted in 14 points.

Louisville answered with a run of its own, ripping off 26 straight points to take a 36-28 lead midway through the fourth quarter, but the Tigers sprung to life at just the right time. A long kickoff return set up a short score to pull within 36-34, and an 8-play, 85-yard drive gave them a 42-36 edge, setting up a do-or-die defensive possession where Clemson had to force a white hot Lamar Jackson (295 passing yards, 162 rushing yards, three touchdowns) off the field or lose.

They didn't force Jackson off the field, but wide receiver James Quick did leave voluntarily on the game's decisive 4th-and-12.

So, where does this leave Clemson? Dabo Swinney's group is good enough to beat the third-ranked team in the country while coughing up four turnovers -- two of them inside the 5-yard line -- and getting shutout in the first and third quarters. That's good. They also own head-to-head over Louisville and a two-game lead over Florida State, meaning they won't even need to win in Tallahassee later this month to reach Orlando for the ACC championship. That's even better. 1a. But that doesn't mean all is lost for Louisville. Far from it, actually. Louisville owns the most impressive win of the season (well, they did until today, at least) and, now, the most impressive loss of the season. The schedule from here is extremely favorable, and that Thursday night game at Louisville awaits. This won't be the last time we hear from Bobby Petrino's Cardinals this season. 2. Top dogs. We didn't know exactly what Washington was before Friday night. The Huskies looked impressive against unimpressive competition and recruited well, but were coming off a 7-6 season. We know what they are now. They're the best team in the Pac-12 and contenders for the national championship. In drubbing No. 7 Stanford 44-6 on Friday night, Washington handed the Cardinal its worst loss since Game 4 of the Harbaugh/Shaw dynasty and looked like a complete team in the process. Their franchise quarterback, sophomore Jake Browning, played like one, hitting 15 of his 21 throws for 210 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Their defense made Christian McCaffrey disappear, with just 79 total yards on 17 touches. The Huskies averaged five yards per carry. And their defensive front did Stanford-ian things to Stanford's offensive line.

The Huskies are not out of the woods, not by a long shot. You're never out of the woods in the Pac-12 where, as we've learned, God falls asleep after the sun goes down. There is the matter of the Oregon rivalry, which has become the west coast version what the Tennessee-Florida series was. (And we know how that turned out this year.)


Two weeks later, Washington turns around and visits undefeated Utah.

But those are battles that won't be fought today. For now, Washington is the best team in the Pac-12 and legitimate national title contenders for the first time in a decade and a half. That's good enough.

3. Michigan wins a vintage Big Ten game in vintage Big Ten fashion. You knew this was going to play true to form when the first possession of the game ended with Wisconsin punting from the Michigan 38.

On a day when seemingly nobody could keep anybody under 30, a 14-7 win by No. 4 Michigan over No. 8 Wisconsin just felt right. I wrote ahead of time that time of possession -- a stat the passage of time has made as relevant to daily life as the phone book -- would determine the winner. Both Jim Harbaugh and Paul Chryst, 14-3 apiece entering Saturday, were unbeaten when winning time of possession and .500 when losing.

And, true to form...


Truth be told, Michigan should have won this game by more than seven. The Wolverines out-gained Wisconsin by nearly 200 yards, achieved 21 first downs to Bucky's eight, and owned a 3-1 turnover edge in addition to the extra five minutes of possession.

That it took this 4th-and-10 interception by Jourdan Lewis for Michigan to finally put Wisconsin away is a major credit to Paul Chryst's program. Playing their third ultra-physical game and second straight game in the state of Michigan -- against a team that essentially extended training camp a full extra month -- validates the Badgers as one of this season's biggest pleasant surprises.

4. Four times in five games, Tennessee has walked out on a limb. It hasn't broken yet. Tennessee trailed Appalachian State 13-3 and won. It trailed Virginia Tech 14-0 and won, and trailed Florida 21-0 and won. All this to say Butch Jones's team found itself in, ahem, familiar territory trailing Georgia 17-0 in the second quarter and 24-14 entering the fourth, but once again the Cardiac Vols made the plays and got the help they needed to win. Jalen Hurd's inventive fumble didn't help matters.

The comeback started started with a score to open the final frame, then a fumble recovery in the end zone with 2:56 to play to take the lead. The comeback appeared dead when Georgia launched a retaliatory comeback of its own as Jacob Eason hit Riley Ridley on a 47-yard rainbow with just 10 ticks remaining to give Georgia a 31-28 lead.

But Georgia committed an excessive celebration penalty on the score and yielded 20 yards on the ensuing kickoff return. Those miscues gave Tennessee an opening, and Jauan Jennings made the most of it.

Let's take a look one more time, shall we?

"I really believe they won the game because they were more disciplined than we were," Kirby Smart said afterward, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "And undisciplined players, undisciplined decisions will get you beat. We had undisciplined penalties that cost us. And that’s disheartening."

The Vols have won themselves into a position where, with one more Florida loss, they could endure losses to Texas A&M and Alabama -- and that's not to say Tennessee is planning on losing those games; you catch my drift -- and still reach Atlanta for the first time in nearly a decade. That's the worst-case scenario. This team is also in play for much more, but they'd be wise to not test that limb again.

5. And that may not have even been the most improbable win of the afternoon time slot. Florida State had slain its own deficit, fighting back from 21-0 down in the second quarter and 34-28 with 2:31 to play when Deondre Francois spun his way into the end zone with 23 seconds remaining. At that point, North Carolina's chances of winning were about as high as if you'd left a piece of pizza unattended on your coffee table around your dog and returned to find it untouched.

But North Carolina's offense threaded the needle and ate that proverbial slice of pepperoni. Oh, did it taste good. 6. Groundhorn Day in Stillwater. Here's what I wrote after Texas beat Notre Dame to open the season: We all declared Strong arrived and Texas back after the Horns stuffed Oklahoma last season in Dallas. That lasted two weeks. The Horns were shutout at Iowa State two weeks after beating Oklahoma, a performance arguably as bad as any of Mack Brown’s Red River swan dives, starting a slide that saw Texas lose three of four late-season games.Texas has performed (relatively) well in its big games under Strong. It’s the little ones that prove to be the problem. In fact, the only consistent theme of the Strong era has been the Longhorns continued throttling between two wild extremes. It hasn't necessarily been the big games that have bedeviled Charlie Strong's Longhorns, it's been the medium-sized ones, particularly away from Austin. Texas is now 1-6 in opponents' stadiums over the past two seasons, and the win came in Waco where Baylor played, literally, without a quarterback. The Texas defense imploded at California and then, after a bye week, did the same at Oklahoma State: 392 yards and three touchdowns on 19 completions for Mason Rudolph, and 165 rushing yards for an offense that came in averaging 127 in a 49-31 rout. It wasn't just the defense, though. Texas scored 31 points on five touchdowns because the 'Horns could not convert a successful extra point -- three in a row were blocked in the first half, and the first was returned for two points the other way. There was another sideline interference penalty, a declined penalty that immediately led to an Oklahoma State first down and a timeout that aided a Cowboys scoring drive. It doesn't get any easier from here, either. Baker Mayfield, Seth Russell, Patrick Mahomes and Kenny Hill wait, plus a trip to Kansas State (Texas is 1-5 in Manhattan since joining the Big 12), undefeated West Virginia and an Iowa State team that has given Strong fits and nearly beat Baylor on Saturday (more on that later). 7. Standing O-vation. Ed Orgeron promised to open up LSU's stagnant offense and, in the process, allow his talented team to play to its considerable potential. So far, so good. The Tigers set a program record for most total yards against an SEC opponent (634), more than doubled their first down output from last week's loss to Auburn (30 vs. 14) in a 42-7 thumping of Missouri.

This will be one of the most intriguing teams to follow away from the CFP spotlight over the final two months.

8. The Super 16. The Nuggets is honored to vote in this year's FWAA-NFF Super 16 poll. This week's ballot:

  1. Alabama
  2. Ohio State
  3. Michigan
  4. Clemson
  5. Louisville
  6. Houston
  7. Washington
  8. Texas A&M
  9. Miami
  10. Tennessee
  11. Ole Miss
  12. Wisconsin
  13. Stanford
  14. Oklahoma
  15. Baylor
  16. Nebraska

9. Odds and Ends

a. You have to feel for Matt Campbell and Iowa State today. The Cyclones were a quarter away from an exclamation point Year 1 win but couldn't hold the rope, allowing Baylor to turn a 42-28 hole into a 45-42 win, capped by a game-winning field goal as time expired.

b. Baylor now has two off weeks sandwiched around a home game with Kansas.

c. The Big 12's other undefeated survived a scare after West Virginia pick-axed its way out of a 13-0 halftime hole to beat Kansas State 17-16 in Morgantown, surviving a missed 43-yard field goal on the Wildcats' last possession. That's two straight wins for WVU by four points combined.

d. Urban Meyer earned his fifth shutout while scoring 50-plus points -- in four-plus seasons -- at Ohio State with a 59-0 whipping of Rutgers.

e. On the bright side for Rutgers, there is this:

f. South Alabama: giant killers. After opening the year by winning at Mississippi State, thei Fighting Joey Joneses thwacked San Diego State's 13-game winning steak by running away with a 21-0 fourth quarter en route to a 42-24 win. g. Oklahoma fell behind TCU 21-7, ripped off a 42-3 run and still needed a late field goal and a 4th down stop to hold off the Frogs, 52-46. h. Considering the state of the rest of the conference, Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl feels like a safe bet at this point. i. Loved this quote from Gary Patterson:

j. USC drubbed previously unbeaten Arizona State 41-20 in the Coliseum. The Trojans needed that one.

k. Western Michigan took apart Central Michigan, 49-10. The Fighting Flecks might very well go undefeated heading into their finale against Toledo.

l. On the flip side of the coin, the Mike Jinks era has had a tough time getting off the ground at Bowling Green. The defending MAC champions fell to Eastern Michigan at home to drop to 1-4 on the season.

m. Mark Richt continues to have Georgia Tech's number after a 35-21 win in which his defense produced two touchdowns. The win pushes him to 14-2 against the Ramblin' Wreck, and everything about the pairing of he and Manny Diaz keeps clicking in South Beach.

n. Indiana stunned Michigan State on an overtime field goal that only became possible when the Spartans committed an illegal leaping manuever in an attempt to block a Hoosiers field goal that missed anyway. Dantonio was less than pleased.

o. Colorado 47, Oregon State 6. We're not far away from seeing a ranked Colorado team, and a Colorado-Washington Pac-12 championship isn't as ludicrous as it sounded in August. p. Utah's undefeated bid met a harsh end after, trailing 28-23 with under 10 seconds to go, the Utes suffered a drop and a tackle for loss when knocking at the goal line at California. q. Mark Richt may be the best new head coaching hire, but D.J. Durkin may be this year's best new head coach, period. The 4-0 Terps dropped a 50-7 hammer on Purdue while out-rushing the Boilers 400-10. You read that correctly. r. After losing to Michigan and Durkin's Terps, fellow new coach Scott Frost is off to a fast start at Central Florida after back-to-back road blowouts at Florida International (53-14) and East Carolina (47-29). All this with a team that didn't average so much as 14 points a game last season. s. The BYU-Toledo game late Friday night/early Saturday morning will go down as one of the most bonkers of the season for what happened on the field and in the booth. There were seven lead changes in the final 20 minutes, three in the final three minutes and two in the final 71 seconds. Fortunately for BYU, the Cougars held the ball last and chipped in a 19-yard field goal as time expired to win 55-53. Up above the action, Mack Brown missed the ending like much of the zonked-out public.

And it's not like this was some seven overtime marathon that refused to end. There were 11 minutes left! Was Herbie's private jet unavailable this week?

t. Washington State ran away from Oregon in Eugene, 51-33. And by ran, I mean, literally, ran -- the Cougars out-rushed Oregon 280-214 and out-threw them 371-202. Wazzu owns two straight defeats of Oregon for the first time since 2002-03, when Washington State was the class of the Pac-10.

10. And, finally... It was a great week for coaches acting like teenage concertgoers.