Seven unbeaten teams took the field this week (Alabama and Western Michigan were off), each of them on the road. Let's start by devoting a Nugget to each one.
1. Washington wins the game it had to win. A Baylor-esque non-conference schedule and the demise of Stanford and Oregon forced No. 4 Washington to arrive into Salt Lake City facing the only ranked team on its schedule -- past, present or future. Washington needed to beat Utah, and they did.
The Huskies scored the game's first 14 points, then allowed Utah to grab a 17-14 lead midway through the third quarter. They rallied to take a 24-17 lead, then relinquished that with a Utes touchdown pass to tie the game with 9:07 remaining. Washington forced a punt, then accomplished something only seen a handful of times a season at most -- a game-winning punt return. Dante Pettis snaked 58 yards down the right sideline to gives the Huskies a 31-24 lead with 3:25 remaining, and the defense foreclosed on the Utes by forcing a turnover on downs on their last-gasp drive.
2. Clemson wins even when it doesn't have to win. Assuming they don't drop a game they shouldn't, Clemson didn't have to beat Florida State on Saturday night. Beating Auburn, Louisville, and whoever they get in the ACC championship would've been enough to reach the Playoff.
But of course Clemson won, because that's what Clemson does. The Tigers overcame deficits of 28-20 and 34-29 to outlast Florida State 37-34 in Tallahassee. Deshaun Watson threw for 378 yards and two touchdowns, slightly outshining Dalvin Cook's 169 rushing yard and four touchdowns.
In securing their first win in Tallahassee since 2006, Clemson is 8-0 this season, 22-1 since the beginning of last season, 25-1 in their last 26 games and 64-12 since the start of the 2011 season. A program once mocked for its inability to get it done when the lights turned on has now won a program-record nine straight road games and stands at 5-1 in ABC Saturday Night Football games since 2013. A sweaty, ecstatic Dabo screaming into a microphone on national TV to close down a Saturday night of college football has become a semi-annual thing.
This is a program that wins big games like very few programs in college football, and it's about to win its way back into the ACC championship -- and probably beyond.
3. Michigan ends its Paul Bunyan skid. Michigan State accepted the ball to open the game and immediately stuffed the ball down the nation's top-ranked defense's throat. Twelve snaps, 11 of them runs, covering 75 yards and thousands of Oh boy, here we go again's across the Michigan fan base. The defense stiffened and the offense was nearly perfectly efficient, scoring on all five of its first-half touches to claim a 27-10 halftime lead. Crisis over.
Michigan eventually pushed the lead to 30-10 and never allowed the Spartans to seriously threaten en route to a 32-23 win. It was Michigan's ninth straight win overall and first in a rivalry game since 2012.
This was as satisfying as a win over a 2-6 team could be, considering that 2-6 team had beaten Michigan in seven of their last eight meetings, including last year's catastrophic ending. This hurdle cleared, Michigan will be heavy favorites in their next three outings (Maryland, at Iowa, Indiana) before its Nov. 26 visit to Ohio State -- and they should win that one, too. (More on the Buckeyes later.)
4. Nebraska can't get over its Wisconsin hump. Since joining the Big Ten in 2011, Nebraska and Wisconsin have played six times. The Badgers have won five, and the one Nebraska did win, in 2012, was essentially erased when Wisconsin flattened the Huskers 70-21 in that season's Big Ten championship.
Nebraska had a chance to essentially write its ticket to another Big Ten title game on Saturday night -- a win over Wisconsin staked them to a 2-game lead over the rest of the Big Ten West, and a 3-game lead over Wisconsin. But they couldn't get it done.
Wisconsin took a 17-7 edge to the fourth quarter, but Nebraska raced back to tie it and gave themselves a decent chance to win in regulation, reaching midfield with a minute to play. But Tommie Armstrong, Jr., fired incomplete three straight times before a punt to close regulation. The Badgers again opened the door in overtime, opening the extra session with a touchdown only to miss the extra point, but Armstrong again fired incomplete on 3rd- and 4th-and-8.
This season is tracking successfully for Mike Riley after a strange 6-7 debut, but a great shot at a Big Ten West championship now requires a win at Ohio State next week to stay alive.
5. West Virginia gets Big 12'd. Fun as it was to dream, West Virginia was never going undefeated. Nobody goes undefeated in the Big 12, and that's without counting for the added disadvantage of criss-crossing the country four times a season. So Oklahoma State's 37-20 upset of West Virginia -- one of the few picks I've gotten right this year -- wasn't a surprise.
The Big 12 is filled with no great teams, but enough good ones to populate a deadly minefield -- as the Mountaineers saw in Stillwater.
5a. Speaking of the Pokes... Oklahoma State should absolutely be ranked at 7-1 6-2, right? Saturday's Homecoming win was dedicated to the remembrance of lives lost in previous OSU tragedies, including the deadly crash in last year's Homecoming parade crash. It was also Mike Gundy's 100th win at his alma mater.
6. Baylor gets Big 12'd, too. Baylor ran roughshod over Texas -- 68 carries, 398 yards, with two players rushing for more than 135 yards. So how'd they lose? They couldn't run the ball in the situations they had to run the ball. Case in point: Leading 31-26 with inside 11 minutes to play, Baylor faced a 1st-and-goal from the six. The Bears ran for four yards on first down, lost three on second down and lost another on third, ending the series back where they started. A touchdown could've ended the game, but the field goal they settled for made it only slightly more difficult for the 'Horns to rally for a 35-34 win on a Trent Domingue field goal with 46 seconds to play.
Following Domingue's field goal, Baylor still had a last chance to secure a game-stealing field goal. But the Bears gave themselves no real chance to actually win the game -- starting at their own 25 with no timeouts remaining, Baylor called three consecutive runs for quarterback Seth Russell. By the time they actually lofted a pass, only four seconds remained and the game had been lost.
6a. What does this mean for Texas and Charlie Strong? This week's preview Nuggets had the stat that every Texas coach since the middle of the previous century lost to Baylor in his final season. So does this mean the reverse is true? That every coach who beats Baylor earns himself another season?
It's too early to say. Three of the 'Horns next four games are total toss-ups, starting with a road trip to play a Texas Tech team good enough to, in consecutive weeks, score 59 points and hold their opponent to 24 in double overtime while at the same time be inconsistent enough to allow 66 points and then turn around and score only 27 points in a double overtime game. One thing is certain, though: Strong has an AD that will give him every chance to keep the job.
7. Boise State goes to the mountains to hit rock bottom. Literally. Looking to mount a game-winning scoring drive with the score knotted at 28-28 and just a minute and a half remaining, Boise State scored in the wrong direction and for the wrong team. As Washington saved itself through a game-winning punt return, Boise State was undone by a game-losing safety.
Much like Houston earlier this month, Boise State finds itself plunging from the inside track at the Cotton Bowl to needing help just to win its own division. Craig Bohl's upstart Cowboys are 4-0 in the Mountain West's Mountain Division, meaning the Broncos would need two Wyoming losses just to reach the MW championship game.
Western Michigan is now the presumptive leader in the Group of 5 race to the Cotton Bowl, so you can bet P.J. Fleck was doing the safety dance right alongside Wyoming defensive end Josiah Hall.
8. The Super 16. The Nuggets is honored to serve as a voter in this year's FWAA-NFF Super 16 poll. Here's this week's ballot.
- Texas A&M
- Ohio State
- Penn State
- Oklahoma State
9. Odds and Ends
a. As soon as the job came open, most pundits listed the candidates for the Purdue job as "all the Michigan and Ohio State assistants." That may very well end up being true, but another Big Ten East assistant had a nice showing to Boiler power brokers on Saturday as Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead led a unit that dropped 62 points and a balanced effort (254 passing yards on 25 attempts, 257 rushing) on Purdue in West Lafayette. Moorhead, remember, went 38-13 with three playoff appearances in four seasons as head coach at Fordham before taking the Penn State gig. And he turns 43 this week.
b. Tom Herman and company had apparently forgotten how to coach during the first half of Saturday's Central Florida game as the Coogs trailed 21-3 after entering the game on a 2-game losing streak. He must've remembered at halftime, though, as Houston roared back to win, 31-24.
c. Congratulations to Addazio and the Dudes for snapping their 12-game ACC losing streak in upending NC State 21-14 in Raleigh.
d. Mizzou head coach Barry Odom stepped in for defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross to call plays for the Tigers Saturday. Kentucky won the game, though, 35-21.
e. Florida secured its 21st Cocktail Party win in the last 27 years -- and second in as many tries under Jim McElwain -- by suffocating Georgia, 24-10. This marks six times in seven games the Gators have pitched a second half shutout.
f. He doesn't coach at Florida anymore, but Will Muschamp continued his mastery of Tennessee. South Carolina improved to 4-4 after Jake Bentley, who should still be a senior in high school, outplayed Josh Dobbs in a 24-21 upset of the Vols. Muschamp is now 5-0 as a head coach against Big Orange.
g. Add bullets d, e and f together and you get Florida two games ahead of the pack in the SEC East and Kentucky alone in second place.
h. Auburn continues to be the nation's most improved team in-season, rushing for 307 yards in a 40-29 defeat of Ole Miss. The Tigers have now won five straight and scored at least 38 points in all of them.
i. As I alluded to above, Texas Tech beat TCU 27-24. In double overtime. Kliff Kingsbury has now won two games while scoring less than 30 points and gaining less than 400 total yards. Both wins have come against TCU.
j. They've come against Texas Tech and Kansas, but let's take a peek at Baker Mayfield's stat line from the last eight days: 43-of-60 (71.7 percent) passing for 781 yards (13 yards per attempt) with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions. That's a rating of 241.5.
k. In September it looked like Urban Meyer spent the offseason building a new juggernaut from scratch. But as Big Ten play has worn on, Ohio State's inexperience has caught up with it, as evidenced by a 24-20 win over Northwestern in which J.T. Barrett had to throw the ball 32 times to gain 223 yards. It was the first time in Barrett's career he did not account for a touchdown. The Buckeyes continue to be fine as long as they win. But their play the last two weeks show the one constant of the Urban era -- winning -- is no longer a given.
l. Army went to Winston-Salem and beat Wake Forest 21-13 (Florida State scored 17 in the Deacons' last outing), moving Jeff Monken one win shy of his first bowl game at West Point.
m. Oregon spent a week looking like Oregon again as homegrown freshman quarterback -- literally, he's from Eugene -- Justin Herbert lit up Arizona State for 489 yards and four touchdowns in a 54-35 destruction of Arizona State, snapping the Ducks' five-game slide.
n. Notre Dame also stopped its slide, barely, holding on to beat Miami 30-27 after constructing a 20-0 second quarter lead. Miami is now 4-4 after starting 4-0.
o. How much do preseason polls matter? Check out Nos. 8 through 13 in the initial AP poll.
Their combined record today? 21-26.
p. While Auburn gets most of the press, these teams have also rallied to build 3-game winning streaks after tough starts: Arkansas State (a 51-10 winner over ULM), Miami of Ohio (a 28-15 winner over Eastern Michigan) and Kentucky.
q. Tracy Claeys clinched a bowl trip in his first full season at the helm, moving to 6-2 with a 40-17 blowout of Illinois.
r. Philip Montgomery inherited a 2-10 team at Tulsa and now has his Hurricane at 6-2 and in control of their own American destiny after a 59-30 drubbing of Memphis.
s. Bronco Mendenhall nearly had his first neon-lights win, taking a 25-24 lead over Louisville inside of two minutes remaining, but Lamar Jackson Lamar Jackson'd (361 passing yards, 90 rushing), hitting a 29-yard touchdown pass with 13 ticks left to give the Cardinals a 32-25 win.
10. And, finally... This, by SMU assistant Claude Mathis, is what coaching is all about.