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  • West Virginia, Penn State, Miami and Auburn all fell to unranked opponents on Saturday, and four other top-25 teams nearly joined them as Week 7 went took some surprising turns.
By Joan Niesen
October 13, 2018

Before the night ended on Saturday, four ranked teams—two in the top 10—were upset by unranked opponents. First, Tennessee went on the road and topped Auburn, 30–24. Next, Penn State lost its second consecutive home game, this time to Michigan State, 21–17, on a touchdown by Felton Davis III with 19 seconds remaining on the clock. And finally, in the night slate, both West Virginia and Miami went down on the road, to Iowa State and Virginia, respectively.

And those were just the actual upsets. On a day that could have been ho-hum, by the time the Nittany Lions fell, it seemed like any contest might come down to the wire. In fact, in the span of barely more than six hours, five different unranked teams came within one score of beating ranked ones, several of which would have seen their playoff dreams evaporate with such an outcome. Here’s a look at those upsets, as well as four more games that nearly upended the order of things in Week 7.

Michigan State 21, No. 8 Penn State 17: It seems like longer ago than just two weeks that James Franklin vowed to take his team to the next level after it lost to Ohio State. But in reality, the Nittany Lions had just their bye week before logging this second, season-dooming loss of 2018. Against a Spartans team that’s lost twice but can still play brilliantly in moments, Penn State was never able to pull ahead to much of a lead, and the game was back-and-forth throughout. Still, at halftime it seemed like it had the makings of a halftime regrouping, in which Trace McSorley might come out for the third quarter and throw for 200 more yards. Instead, he was held to 192 yards on the day and just one touchdown pass, and though his 116 second-half passing yards exceeded what he did in the first half, the Nittany Lions’ offense didn’t have enough to pull ahead when it got the ball back with 19 seconds to go. Two fumbles, a missed field goal and a fourth-down sack over the course of the game didn’t make things any easier.

Iowa State 30, No. 6 West Virginia 14: The Mountaineers' vaunted offense sputtered in Ames, and three weeks before what was supposed to be West Virginia's first major test (Texas), the Cyclones played spoiler in the Big 12 once again. Last year, they were Oklahoma's only loss, and even that didn't keep the Sooners out of the playoff. If West Virginia can mimic that path, it might still have a shot. Still, the team that traveled to Iowa can't make another appearance this year. The team that was averaging more than 500 yards of total offense per game got only 152 yards on Saturday night, a stat that's so at odds with West Virginia's identity that it makes the game seem more like a fluke than any kind of bigger statement. The Moutaineers will have to prove that's the case down the stretch.

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Virginia 16, No. 13 Miami 13: Proclamations that Miami had figured out its offense came a week too soon. Sure, last week N'Kosi Perry led the Hurricanes to a massive comeback with four touchdown passes—but this week, he only lasted four series. That kind of inconsistency does not a contender make, and though coach Mark Richt pulled Perry for Malik Rosier, the situation under center seems far from settled going forward. On Saturday, all it did was prove an obstacle for Miami's quest to win the ACC—and it's the reason for the team likely falling out of even remote playoff contention. Having to claw back against Florida State and then Virginia in back-to-back weeks is bad enough; that Miami wasn't able to put up more than two field goals in the first 56 minutes of Saturday's game is a sign that something's got to give.

Tennessee 30, No. 21 Auburn 24: One of the lucky two-loss teams to hang in the rankings in Week 7, Auburn will likely drop out this week after falling to Tennessee at home in a game where its offense committed three turnovers and its defense gave up 326 passing yards to Vols quarterback Jarrett Guarantano. What’s remarkable is how one-sided Tennessee’s offensive efforts were—it eked out just 68 rushing yards—in the win, in which Auburn’s secondary struggled mightily against deep balls. In the end, though, this game won’t do much to the order of things; not only was Auburn a playoff long-shot going into the game, it also already had two conference losses and was effectively out of the SEC West race.

No. 10 UCF 31, Memphis 30: There’s no question here that had the Knights taken the L, whatever slim hope at a playoff berth they now hold would have been dead. Fans of chaos—or the little guy—should rejoice at what UCF did in the second half of Saturday’s game, when the weather in Memphis deteriorated to a rainstorm and Josh Heupel’s team took advantage. Coming out of halftime, the Tigers were up, 30–17, and UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton, usually such a threat on the ground, had negative rushing yards. After letting Memphis get the better of it through two quarters, UCF’s defense stepped up in the second half, holding the Tigers scoreless while the Knights racked up two touchdowns—one on a 71-yard Taj McGowan run on fourth down.

The unsteady performance shouldn’t count too much against the Knights, which were playing in dismal weather, the kind of conditions that can coopt a game. Still, Memphis did sow the seed to future opponents that Milton is fallible and can be stopped on the ground.

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No. 9 Texas 23, Baylor 17: The Longhorns lost Sam Ehlinger in the second quarter to a shoulder injury, and while the long-term implications of the quarterback’s health status are unknown, in the near term, Texas was able to survive thanks to Shane Buechele, who held his own against Baylor. Buechele had yet to play in 2018, but after coming on in relief he completed 20 of 34 pass attempts for 184 yards, one touchdown and an interception. In fact, Texas was up, 23–10, at halftime, but Baylor scored a third-quarter touchdown to bring the game within one score. With the Longhorns offense and special teams looking lackluster toward the game’s end—they tossed an interception, missed two field goals and then punted on their final four drives—it seemed like the Bears might pull ahead at any point. Instead, Herman’s team now goes to 6–1.

Texas’s Week 1 loss to Maryland could haunt it as it joins the playoff conversation, but should more top-10 teams fall, its escape against Baylor at least gives it hope.

No. 22 Texas A&M 26, South Carolina 23: It was too little, too late for South Carolina on Saturday at home against Texas A&M. The game was tied at the end of the third quarter at 16, but the Aggies took over in the fourth quarter, kicking a field goal and then scoring a touchdown to put the game seemingly out of reach with 1:36 to go. The Gamecocks got on the board one last time, with 48 seconds on the clock, but Texas A&M recovered their onside kick attempt, effectively ending things. In a game between two good teams without much in the way of playoff hopes, it was a tense, if ultimately inconsequential, final minute.

No. 5 Notre Dame 19, Pitt 14: Saturday’s was the least confidence-inspiring Notre Dame performance of 2018, although the Irish ultimately came out with the win at home against Pitt. The biggest takeaway from the afternoon should be that Notre Dame’s offensive inconsistency may not actually have been solved by the reappearance of Dexter Williams and promotion of Ian Book. The star running back, suspended for the season’s first four games, had posted 161- and 178-yard outings each of the past few weeks, but against Pitt’s defense—which was ranked No. 99 going into the week—he was held to just 31 yards. Meanwhile, Book threw two interceptions, although he was able to rack up 264 passing yards—and it was his 35-yard touchdown pass to Miles Boykin with 5:43 on the clock that won Notre Dame the game. Brian Kelly’s team is still very much alive in the playoff hunt, although squeaking past Pitt won’t help its case to be the first Independent the committee lets into the final four.

USC 31, No. 19 Colorado 20: The Pac-12’s last unbeaten team wilted in the face of its first road test of the season, as the Trojans built a 28–7 lead on the strength of two touchdown catches by Michael Pittman Jr. before halftime and a pick-six in the third quarter. The Buffaloes lost three receivers to injuries over the course of the night, most notably breakout star Laviska Shenault Jr., who finished with nine receptions for 72 yards and also ripped off a long touchdown run on a direct snap.

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