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SI's Top 10: Cincinnati Major Winner in Frenzy-Filled Week 11

While the wheels fell off the Sooner Schooner, the Bearcats and Fighting Irish thrived in a weekend full of obscurities and upsets.

In a game Kansas never wins, yet had won, yet then let slip away, the Jayhawks somehow regrouped and claimed their biggest victory in 13 years on a pass from a quarterback making his first start of 2021 to a freshman fullback who had not yet recorded a single college statistic. 

Jalon Daniels threw a two-point conversion pass and Jared Casey caught it, and for the first time ever Kansas left Austin with a victory over Texas, 57–56 in overtime. The Jayhawks, 31-point underdogs, handed the Longhorns their fifth straight loss— something that last happened in 1956. That shocker bookended a pyrrhic victory Saturday in the Big 12 that began with Baylor taking down kingpin Oklahoma. The league may well have been eliminated from College Football Playoff contention Saturday, but it certainly felt good for the remaining eight of its members to see the evacuees who destabilized the conference laid low.

There were a thousand other happenings in college football Saturday, from a Florida win that felt like an era-ending loss to a 62-yard walk-off field goal in Lubbock to an obscure spike rule ending Miami–Florida State on a non-play. But the inevitable breakdown of the Sooner Schooner after its weekly wobbles was the major event in the Top 10 this week. 

It was a well-received loss in Cincinnati and South Bend, and in parts of the Big Ten and SEC that are hoping for a second bid. And with both the ACC and Big 12 now looking like long shots to make the four-team field—while the entire Group of 5 battles for respect—it should sharpen the resolve of the majority of college football to get expansion to a 12-team tournament pushed through as soon as possible.

Let’s get to the Top 10:

1. Georgia (10–0)

Last game: beat Tennessee 41–17
Next game: vs. Charleston Southern on Saturday

The Volunteers scored a touchdown on their first possession and 10 points in the first quarter, and some folks get quite twitchy in pronouncing that the Bulldogs’ defense had been defrocked by finally facing a potent offense. Then Tennessee didn’t score again for the next 43 minutes. By then Georgia led by 31 points, on its way to yet another remorseless beatdown of an SEC opponent—oh, and that’s with several players dealing with effects from the flu. (And dealing with it far better than Florida did last week in being pasted by South Carolina.) Stetson Bennett IV just keeps performing, throwing for 213 yards and a touchdown and running for 40 and another score while directing a turnover-free offense. The only concern: some key defensive injuries, the severity of which are unknown for now. Looks like a good week to play Charleston Southern and rest some banged up players.

2. Oregon (9–1)

Last game: Beat Washington State 38–24
Next game: at Utah on Saturday

The Ducks jumped to a 14–0 lead on the Cougars, found themselves in a 14–14 tie at halftime, reasserted themselves in the third quarter and then failed to put the game away when quarterback Anthony Brown was ruled to have fumbled at the goal line. Washington State turned that into a field goal that left it a one-score game until an ensuing Oregon drive put the game away. Brown had the biggest running game of his career, going over 120 yards, and also passing efficiently. Oregon just keeps passing tests, and this one earns it no worse than a tie for the Pac-12 North title. But that trip to Salt Lake City this week could be the biggest remaining test.

3. Ohio State (9–1)

Last game: beat Purdue 59–31
Next game: vs. Michigan State on Saturday

Any chance of a third massive Purdue upset this season was extinguished quickly. After two weeks of Red Zone struggles and a fitful running game, the Buckeyes got back to blowing up the scoreboard against the Boilermakers. They hammered out 263 rushing yards, their most since mid-September, and quarterback CJ Stroud threw for 361 yards and five touchdowns. Garrett Wilson returned after missing the Nebraska game, contributing 177 yards from scrimmage and four TDs, underscoring the fact that Ohio State has the best receiving corps in the nation by a considerable margin. The Buckeyes roll into their big Mitten Double (Michigan State Saturday, Michigan Nov. 27) in good form.

4. Cincinnati (10–0)

Last game: beat South Florida 45–28
Next game: at SMU on Saturday

In the survive-and-advance sweepstakes that is the playoff race, the Bearcats were a major winner this weekend. Not because they played particularly well in laboring past a bad South Florida team, but because they simply remained undefeated on a weekend when at least one major threat was neutralized in the form of Oklahoma. And then there was another week of shine added to that victory over Notre Dame—which keeps winning. Cincinnati churned out 202 yards on the ground without leading rusher Jerome Ford, and had 506 yards total. But for the second straight game, Cincy’s veteran defense didn’t shut the door in the second half with a large lead. This time Cincinnati gave up 14 points in the third quarter and 21 in the second half to a USF offense that is showing improved signs of life with freshman quarterback Timmy McClain of late. We’ll see Tuesday what the persistent Bearcats doubters on the CFP selection committee think.

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5. Alabama (9–1)

Last game: beat New Mexico State 59–3
Next game: vs. Arkansas on Saturday

There is nothing about beating the dregs of FBS in mid-November that helps the Crimson Tide in any way. However, Alabama did get some assistance Saturday night in moving closer to clinching the SEC West when Mississippi knocked off Texas A&M. The Tide now can claim the West next week by beating the Razorbacks, regardless what would happen in the Iron Bowl Nov. 27. (Clearly, Alabama would like to win both games to remain in the thick of playoff contention.)

6. Michigan State (9–1)

Last game: beat Maryland 40–21
Next game: at Ohio State on Saturday

Unlike the selection committee, I didn’t have Michigan ahead of the Spartans last week and that won’t change now. This was a solid bounce-back performance on the road against Maryland, jumping to a 13–0 lead in the first quarter and never looking back. Quarterback Payton Thorne was very sharp, and Michigan State got Kenneth Walker III’s Heisman Trophy candidacy back on track. Walker went for 143 and two touchdowns on a career-high 30 carries. The Spartans’ suspect secondary gave up a lot of passing yards as usual, but the productive offense never allowed Maryland to get closer than 13 over the final 50-plus minutes of the game.

7. Michigan (9–1)

Last game: beat Penn State 21–17
Next game: at Maryland on Saturday

The Wolverines pulled out their second gut-check road victory of the season, coming back to score the winning touchdown on a 47-yard catch-and-run play from Cade McNamara to tight end Erick All with 3:29 remaining. McNamara (217 passing yards and three TDs) and running back Hassan Haskins (156 rushing yards) kept making tough plays on a day when the Michigan offensive line was largely overmatched. Defensively, the terrorizing rush end duo of Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo combined for five sacks of Penn State’s Sean Clifford, part of a seven-sack effort by the Wolverines. Combine this win with the rally at Nebraska, and Michigan has proved its mettle on the road—if only it hadn’t let the affair in East Lansing get away.

8. Notre Dame (9–1)

Last game: beat Virginia 28–3.
Next game: vs. Georgia Tech on Saturday

In beating the Cavaliers on the road, the Fighting Irish finished traversing a mine field of open-date disadvantages this season. In five different games, Notre Dame’s opponent had an extra week of preparation and rest that the Irish did not have. Yet their record in those games is an impressive 4–1, with the only loss at the hands of undefeated Cincinnati. This season continues to be one of Brian Kelly’s best coaching jobs, with an evolving offense and a defense that is continuing to make do without superstar safety Kyle Hamilton for the last three-plus games. Notre Dame still likely needs some Big Ten carnage to scoot within range of the playoff, but the resume has gradually improved as the victories have piled up.

9. Oklahoma State (9–1)

Last game: beat TCU 63–17
Next game: at Texas Tech on Saturday

Quite abruptly, the Cowboys have become the Big 12’s best hope for making the playoff. (Not an especially strong hope, but that’s where it stands.) Oklahoma State blew up for its highest point total in six years, with running back Jaylen Warren scoring the first three touchdowns and then everyone getting into the act as the game went along. The Pokes’ defense still has not allowed more than 24 points in a game this season, and has surrendered a total of 23 over the last three games. If coordinator Jim Knowles comes up with a good plan against Oklahoma in the Bedlam game Nov. 27, put him on the Broyles Award short list.

10. Mississippi (8–2)

Last game: beat Texas A&M 29–19
Next game: vs. Vanderbilt on Saturday

The Rebels dominated the first half, wobbled for a quarter and a half in the second, then closed the game out with defense—a rare and beautiful thing under Lane Kiffin. Clinging to a 15–13 lead, Ole Miss intercepted two Zach Calzada passes—one setting up a touchdown and the second returned for the clinching six points. At 8–2, the Rebels are within range of their first 10-win regular season in school history.

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