Week 9 was the last chance for the top teams in the sport to make their respective cases ahead of the first reveal of the College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday night, and a few teams have been in the spotlight more than others.
No. 5 Ohio State needed a string of late field goals to survive No. 20 Penn State in one of the more surprising matchups of the weekend. 8 Michigan State, meanwhile, used a massive effort from the star who drove Kenneth Walker III back to in-state rival No. 6 Michigan and created a legitimate playoff case.
Elsewhere, one of the SEC’s signature programs jumped on a young upstart and ended a Heisman case involving a dark horse. The list of undefeated fell by two. And, perhaps surprisingly, the ACC has an overwhelming new favorite after Pitt fell No. 17.
Eight new teams joined the stack of ranked teams to lose, five of which fell to unranked opponents (with two ranked teams currently in action at the time of writing). Now more than ever, survival and advancement are rewarded.
Here are winners, losers, and overreactions from an action-packed week 9 of college football.
Georgia: By all accounts, No. 1 Georgia has just smashed its ticket to the College Football Playoff. Granted, the Bulldogs still have games to go against Missouri, Tennessee and Georgia Tech. Based on the laws of physics and matter, it is technically possible for UGA to lose a match before likely to play Alabama in Atlanta on December 4. I’m taking my chance. By knocking out Florida 34-7 and inflicting an existential crisis on its fourth opponent in a row, Georgia has cemented its No. 1 spot in the first College Football Playoff rankings and given itself enough leeway to easily make it into the playoff. stand even if it loses the SEC title match and ends up 12-1. The Bulldogs are justifiably overwhelming favorites to win the national championship, and the Jacksonville performance only cemented the case.
miami: Do the hurricanes have anything? Since embracing the youth movement after D’Eriq King’s injury, Miami has been surprisingly impressive. Freshman Tyler Van Dyke out-dueling Heisman hopefuls Kenny Pickett and No. 17 Pitt was a headliner, but beating NC State a week earlier made for a lot of concept. Even the two losses were by a combined five points against solid Virginia and North Carolina squads. Expectations were rightly high at the start of the season, but the closet is not bare in Coral Gables. Whether it’s Manny Diaz or a new staff in 2022, Van Dyke is giving Miami an exciting new piece to build around in the long run.
Houston: The Cougars have been looking for a signature win since Dana Holgorsen took over the program in 2019. Despite being nearly 17 points ahead, Houston cornerback Marcus Jones kicked back 100 yards with less than 30 seconds left to shock No. 19 SMU. and send UH off to the AAC Championship Game. The Cougars haven’t beaten SMU since Sonny Dykes took over the Mustangs, but the win put Houston at 7-1 and marked Holgorsen’s first winning season with the program. With the Cougars poised to make a move into the Big 12, it’s critical to get some momentum on the field, especially if it can translate to momentum off the field.
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Texas: Think back to the halftime of the Red River Showdown on October 9 against Oklahoma. The Longhorns looked poised to take over the Big 12 Championship Game race and maybe even get back into the national conversation. Since the season hit the biggest lead in Red River history, it’s only brought pain. A loss to Baylor is the third straight loss with Texas taking a lead in the fourth quarter, the third team to reach that floor since the 2016 Charlie Strong era. Steve Sarkisian has work to do and that probably won’t happen this season.
Iowa: Midnight has struck. Iowa is now a pumpkin. The Hawkeyes delivered one of the most embarrassing performances of the college football season, with zero first downs and negative rushing yardage for most of the first half. The latest numbers weren’t much better. Since beating a Penn State team forced to turn to their backup QB, the Hawkeyes have scored 51-14 in the past two games. Iowa was always on the hot seat after winning the early games with a combination of turnover and defensive positioning, but the resume meant the Hawkeyes had to be considered. After a second loss in a row to an unranked opponent, Iowa is at serious risk of dropping out of the rankings altogether.
Be Miss: The Rebels were a great story to start the year after rocketing to the top 10 behind a wave of high-flying attacks. Sadly, that’s all they’ll end up being after a 31-20 loss to No. 18 Auburn. Ole Miss fell 11 points behind the Tigers in the first half and never recovered after giving Tank Bigsby a 140 yards run and Bo Nix throwing 276 yards. The loss pretty much eliminates the possibility of the Rebels playing spoiler and competing for the SEC West as the Alabama schools emerge as the last teams to have one loss in the division. Quarterback Matt Corral’s Heisman case is also likely over. Ole Miss is still 6-2 and could play his way back to New Year’s Six recital if things go well, but it looked like the Rebels could do more.
Kenneth Walker III Is New Heisman Leader
Heading into November, the Heisman race is as open as ever. I’ve made no secret of being a Kenneth Walker III fan, and I even chose him as my mid-season Heisman pick. After everything that happened on Saturday, Walker should be the new gambling favorite in my eyes.
Walker ran 197 yards and 5 touchdowns against No. 6 Michigan to give the Spartans by far the biggest win of the Mel Tucker era. While running the ball is always a team effort, Walker’s poise and balance under pressure helped propel Michigan State despite the Wolverines beating MSU by more than 150 yards.
Wake Forest’s transfer isn’t the biggest or strongest back, but his presence has transformed Michigan State into a legitimate contender for the Big Ten Championship and, by extension, the College Football Playoff. Between his impact on the field, number of video games — he’s on pace for 1,800 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns in a 12-game season — and a sensational story, Walker has everything he needs to get home with the hardware .
It doesn’t hurt that Texas RB Bijan Robinson, Pitt QB Kenny Pickett and Ole Miss QB Corral have all suffered losses. Walker is the guy.
TCU hits rock bottom
The Horned Frogs were projected as a potential dark-horse Big 12 title contender going into the season with massive production on both sides, but pretty much everything went wrong. Offensive problems would be one thing after the last few years, and there was plenty to do in a 31-12 loss to Kansas State that wasn’t as close to the final score. But what was most confusing about Patterson’s 22nd season is that the defense is arguably the worst of the Gary Patterson era.
The Wildcats averaged more than a foot better per game against TCU than the rest of the season — just the latest example of a Big 12 program with a good game against the Frogs. Every FBS opponent who has played TCU has racked up 29 points, even soil-feed infractions like Cal and West Virginia. But, perhaps most worryingly, the team seems to be actively floundering and regressing, which is terrible news with three more ranked opponents.
Patterson took over the program after the Frogs were left out of the Big 12, dragging them back to national relevance. This is his program and he deserves to go out on his own terms. That said, a record 14-16 over the past three seasons and the lone possession of ninth in the Big 12 standings should have everyone in the building asking tough questions.
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