#Nuggets: Clemson rounds into form, Kentucky keeps winning and the tightrope snaps on Texas

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Three of the top six teams in the rankings took the weekend off. The initial College Football Playoff rankings come out Tuesday, and No. 1 Alabama visits No. 4 LSU next Saturday. We're all going to be sick of hearing "Who's in?" thirty times a day over the next month. Let's take some time to move the spotlight slightly to the left, shall we?

1. Heading into November, Kentucky controls its own destiny to win the SEC. Mark Stoop's No. 12 Wildcats are 7-1 and 5-1 in the SEC, and they've gotten there with not one millimeter to spare.

After a 20-14 overtime loss to Texas A&M on Oct. 6 14-7 win over Vanderbilt last week, Kentucky fell in a 14-3 hole at the half at Missouri. If Big Blue was going to come back, the defense would have to pitch a shutout.

They did more than just that, in fact. Kentucky didn't permit Mizzou a single first down after halftime.

And even still it almost wasn't enough. A 67-yard punt return brought the Wildcats to within 14-9 with 5:18 left, and Mizzou's eighth punt of the second half gave UK the ball at its own 19 with 1:24 to play. An offense that hadn't scored a touchdown all game and hadn't scored at all since the first quarter would now need to go the length of the field, and do it quickly. UK quarterback Terry Wilson got sacked on the first play of the drive. But the Wildcats' next play gained 12 yards. Then a 16-yard gain. Then a 27-yard gain. At the Mizzou 10 with nine seconds left, Wilson's game-deciding pass was incomplete, but pass interference gave Kentucky new life in the form of an untimed down from the 2.

A 1-point win with zeros on the clock. As I said: not one millimeter to spare.

1a. Now it gets real. Fresh off a 36-17 win over No. 9 Florida, No. 7 Georgia heads to Lexington next Saturday with the SEC East on the line. That isn't hyperbole. Both teams are 5-1 in the conference, and both own wins over 4-2 Florida. The winner of that game will literally take the SEC East trophy (if there is such a thing) and book non-refundable tickets for Atlanta. 2. Washington State is the best team in the Pac-12. A week ago, No. 14 Washington State built a 27-0 halftime lead over No. 19 Oregon before hanging on for a 34-20 win. The Cougars did it the other way this week. Against No. 24 Stanford, they flipped the script. Trailing 28-14 with a minute left in the first half, Washington State added a crucial field goal as time expired in the first half, trailed 31-24 entering the fourth quarter, surged forward to take a 38-31 lead, then booted a 42-yard field goal with 19 seconds left to secure a 41-38 win. Gardner Minshew, a graduate transfer from East Carolina who spurned an opportunity to sit and learn on Alabama's roster to start at Wazzu, was nearly perfect, hitting 40-of-50 passes for 438 yards and three touchdowns. At 7-1 overall and 4-1 in the conference, Washington State is the Pac-12's best team and its last Playoff hope. And that could get reallllly interesting. Remember, the Pac-12 hurt Wazzu's and its own cause when senior VP for business affairs wrongly and bizarrely interfered to overrule this obvious targeting call back on Sept. 28.

The professional officials thought that should've been a 15-yard penalty, giving Washington State a 1st-and-10 deep in Trojans territory. Maybe they turn that into a touchdown and win the game 43-39. Maybe they're 8-0 at this point and standing in center stage in the Playoff discussion instead of sitting in a folding chair at the back of the room.

Can you imagine the look on Mike Leach's face if Larry Scott hands him the Pac-12 championship trophy?

3. Northwestern and Virginia (?!?!!?) are in first place in their divisions. If you want some college football chaos, imagine these clubs making it to their respective title games and winning. Northwestern is 0-2 in non-conference play, with home losses to Duke and Akron. There's a good chance that moves to 0-3 after No. 3 Notre Dame comes to Evanston next Saturday. But Pat Fitzgerald's Purple People Eaters are 5-1 in Big Ten play, with road wins over Purdue and Michigan State, an 18-15 come-from-behind win at Rutgers. But Northwestern manhandled No. 20 Wisconsin on Saturday, ripping off a 21-0 run over a 9-minute second half span to win 31-17. Virginia, meanwhile, lost to Indiana in non-conference and to No. 22 NC State by two scores, but Bronco Mendenhall's Cavaliers have ripped off three straight wins to stand alone in first place in the ACC Coastal. There is work to be done for both, but there's zero reason for either side to believe they can't bring this thing home and lineup across Clemson (for Virginia) and Michigan or Ohio State (for Northwestern) in an anything-can-happen cage match that no one -- at least those of us outside those locker rooms -- saw coming. Speaking of Clemson... 4. Don't look now, but Clemson is rounding into championship form. After flirting with disaster in a 27-23 home win over Syracuse on Sept. 29, Clemson has been perfect. The No. 2 Tigers rolled up 471 yards and six touchdowns on 40 carries in a 63-3 win over Wake Forest, hammered No. 22 NC State 41-7 two weeks ago and laid the smack down on Florida State Saturday, handing the 'Noles their worst home loss in school history in a 59-10 romp. And it wasn't even really that close. After a scoreless first quarter, Clemson ran off four touchdowns in the second quarter and racked up 24 third quarter points to Florida State's 3. This about sums it up.

Or how about this?

In this 3-game post-Syracuse spurt, Clemson has held halftime leads of 28-0, 24-0 and 28-0. 5. [Astronaut voice] Houston is a problem. There's been a flurry of discussion about who could challenge UCF for the Group of 5's New Year's Six bowl bid, much of it on schools from other conferences. Maybe it will be Appalachian State from the Sun Belt, UAB from Conference USA, Utah State from the Mountain West or Buffalo from the MAC. With respect to all those squads, the call is coming from inside the house. UCF's biggest competition will be within its own league, likely in the AAC title game. Houston took down previously unbeaten and 21st-ranked South Florida on Saturday, 57-36. D'Eriq King threw for 419 yards and five touchdowns while running for a game-high 132 yards and two scores. In all, the Coogs racked up 681 yards of total offense, averaging 7.83 yards on their 87 snaps, rolling up 35 first downs and converting 13-of-17 third down tries.

After averaging 28.3 points per game in his first year as head coach, Major Applewhite made the controversial decision to hire former Baylor assistants Kendal Briles and Randy Clements as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, and those moves have been worth the public relations blowback tenfold. The 7-1 Cougars have scored more than 40 points in every game, including 49 in their lone loss at Texas Tech.

6. The tightrope finally snaps on Texas. I wrote Friday about Texas's propensity to only play as hard as it can for the minimum amount of time required. This habit usually manifested itself in UT building big leads and then hanging on for dear life, evidenced by a 21-0 lead over Tulsa turning into a 28-21 win, or a 19-0 lead over Kansas State turning to a 19-14 win, or a 45-24 lead over Oklahoma turning into a 48-45 win.

The equation changes when you wait until you're down 17 to flip the light switch.

Trailing 31-14 at the half, No. 6 Texas pulled within 31-28 and forced an Oklahoma State punt with 9:23 to play, but the Longhorns failed to execute from there. Brandon Jones bizarrely fielded a punt while running toward his own goal line, starting the ensuing Texas drive at its own 2. After said drive failed, Texas allowed OSU quarterback Taylor Cornelius -- not exactly Kyler Murray in the run game -- to scamper 15 yards to set up a 1st-and-goal, and then to run for the decisive touchdown on 3rd-and-goal from the 10. Then, after Texas scored to pull within 38-35 and Oklahoma State recovered an onside kick, Texas again allowed Cornelius to keep for eight yards on a do-or-die 3rd-and-6.

This is the tightrope you walk when you don't start playing until you're down 17. It's bound to snap on you.

6a. Speaking of snapping... A pair of $5 million men rushed toward each other during a heated late game exchange. Texas defensive end Breckyn Hager charged an Oklahoma State receiver as the Cowboys were in the victory formation, and all of a sudden Mike Gundy and Tom Herman were at midfield yelling at people.

Turns out it wasn't as heated and personal as it seemed, but still. That happened.

7. Put Chad Lunsford on your national Coach of the Year lists. Georgia Southern has no business being as good as it is as quick as it is. This is a team that started 0-6 last year. The Eagles rebounded to go 2-4 under interim head coach Lunsford, which wasn't enough to turn the season around but was still enough to earn him the full-time job. Lunsford, a longtime Georgia Southern assistant, knew what change he had to make in between 2017 and 2018 -- he brought back the triple. The Eagles are back in the top five nationally in rushing, and everything is right again in Statesboro. On Thursday, Georgia Southern welcomed Appalachian State -- its longtime rival, fresh off its first AP Top 25 ranking as an FBS program -- and, in the words of Erk Russell, promptly Got After Their Asses. After losing three straight to App State by a combined score of 92-29, Georgia Southern flipped the script in a 34-14 win. The Eagles completed only one pass, but it was a 57-yard touchdown strike that gave Georgia Southern a 7-0 lead. Appalachian State immediately tied the game, but Georgia Southern ran off 34 consecutive points before App scored with 10 seconds left to cut the final deficit from 27 to 20.

Troy, who shares the Sun Belt East lead with Georgia Southern at 4-0, comes to Statesboro on Nov. 10. Win that, and Lunsford could go from 2-10 to a conference champion in his first year as a head coach.

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

  1. Alabama
  2. Clemson
  3. Notre Dame
  4. Oklahoma
  5. LSU
  6. Michigan
  7. Georgia
  8. UCF
  9. Ohio State
  10. Kentucky
  11. West Virginia
  12. Washington State
  13. Utah
  14. Texas
  15. Penn State
  16. Florida

9. Odds and Ends

a. Syracuse is bowl eligible for the first time under Dino Babers after a 51-41 win over No. 22 NC State.

b. Kansas knocked off TCU, 27-26 in Lawrence. It's KU's third win of the season, their most since 2014. It moves them out of the cellar in the Big 12 for the first time since I can care to remember. And it snaps a 14-game Big 12 losing streak, the Jayhawks' first Big 12 since beating Texas on Nov. 19, 2016.

c. Oregon State pulled off the biggest comeback in school history, rallying from a 31-3 third quarter deficit to stun Colorado 41-34 in overtime. d. Speaking of overtime, SMU fell to Cincinnati on a rarely seen overtime pick-six.

e. Chris Petersen is arguably the most important figure in Cal head coach Justin Wilcox's career. Petersen made Wilcox his defensive coordinator upon getting the Boise job in 2006, a path that led both of them to Berkeley on Saturday as Cal hosted Washington. So it had to feel extra satisfying for Wilcox to not only beat Petersen, but do it the way he did it: a 12-10 win in which the Huskies gained 250 yards.

f. Northern Illinois 7, BYU 6. Just wanted you to know. g. San Jose State earned its first win of the year, a 50-37 triumph over UNLV. h. Not quite as exciting as the final play of a tied Iron Bowl with a BCS National Championship trip on the line, but still.

i. The competition hasn't been great or representative of what can exploit their weaknesses, but Oklahoma's defense has played much better under Ruffin McNeill. The Sooners allowed Kansas State 245 total yards (and gained 702) in a 51-14 win.

j. Utah State has won seven straight after a 38-31 loss at Michigan State to open the year. The Aggies crushed New Mexico 61-19 on Saturday.

k. College Football is a Week-to-Week Sport, Part I: A week after beating Ohio State 49-20, Purdue lost to Michigan State 23-13.

l. College Football is a Week-to-Week Sport, Part II: A week after going 8-of-24 for 59 yards with four interceptions in a 19-3 loss to No. 4 LSU, Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald was 14-of-22 for 241 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers in a 28-13 win over No. 16 Texas A&M.

m. The Penn State-Iowa game was nuts. Notice the score is 5-0 when this happens.

No. 17 Penn State fought back to beat No. 18 Iowa, 30-24.

n. Elsewhere in the Hawkeye State, Texas Tech blocked a punt and forced a fumble for touchdowns, but Iowa State lodged a pick-six and a safety to win, 40-31.

o. Louisiana-Lafayette scored with 1:19 to play to take a crucial Sun Belt West game over Arkansas State, 47-43. While the Sun Belt East team has two 4-0 teams and another 3-1 squad, here's the West standings.

Screen Shot 2018-10-28 at 12.56.32 AM

Feel that magic, baby.

p. Who had Herm Edwards beating USC in his first year on the job? Sun Devils 38, Trojans 35.

q. After starting 5-1 with a close loss to Stanford and a win over Washington, No. 19 Oregon is now 5-3 with an ugly 44-15 in Tucson.

r. Yup.

10. And finally...  Just wanted to make sure you saw this again.