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College Football Roundup: Upsets Continue In Week 8

The wild 2021 college football season continued in week eight

Week 8 of the 2021 college football season looked pretty quiet on paper, with no matchups between ranked teams on the docket. However, there was still plenty of intrigue, with some contenders taking major steps forward while others showed themselves to be pretenders. When the dust settled, four more teams ranked in the AP top 25 had lost – including two in the top 10, one of which being on the wrong end of the longest game in college football history.

ILLINOIS 20 #7 PENN STATE 18

Penn State saw its College Football Playoff hopes evaporate in a sloppy 20-18 loss to Illinois in what is technically the longest game in college football history. After trading field goals with Illinois during the first two overtimes, the Nittany Lions proceeded to only score on one of its next seven two-point conversion attempts before falling to Illinois in nine (!) overtimes.

James Franklin’s team had looked like the class of the Big Ten after handling Auburn in Week 3 and racing out to a 17-3 lead against previously unbeaten Iowa in Iowa City just two weeks ago. However, the hit knocked QB Sean Clifford out of the Iowa game seems to have also derailed the Nittany Lions’ season. Though he returned from injury, Clifford looked like a shell of himself against the Illini, completing only 56% of his throws for 165 yards – a paltry 4.9 yards per attempt.

More concerning for the Nittany Lions though is that they lost to an Illinois team that had only 38 yards passing and turned the ball over 3 times because they were dominated on the line of scrimmage. The Illini racked up 357 yards on the ground and held Penn State to only 62 yards rushing on 2.1 YPC.

Penn State better figure things out quick, because they travel to Columbus next weekend for a game against red-hot Ohio State before a closing slate that includes games against Michigan and at Michigan State. PSU can still play spoiler in the Big Ten East race, but things could spiral out of control quickly for the Nittany Lions.

IOWA STATE 24 #8 OKLAHOMA STATE 21

Penn State wasn’t the only top 10 team to fall Saturday, as a late fourth quarter touchdown by Iowa State RB Breece Hall proved the difference in a 24-21 Cyclone win over previously unbeaten Oklahoma State. The Cowboys can still win the Big 12, but likely will now be on the outside looking in of the CFP discussion.

Mike Gundy and the Oklahoma State coaching staff need to do some self-evaluation this week to get things back on track. The Cowboys had been the lowest scoring team in the entire FBS this season in the third quarter, having been outscored by a 34-3 margin heading into the Iowa State game. That trend continued Saturday, as the Cyclones outscored the Cowboys 10-0 in the third quarter, turning a 14-7 halftime deficit into a 17-14 lead. Gundy also needs to figure out how to get QB Spencer Sanders back on track. Though Sanders had his best passing performance of the season with 3 TDs, he has regressed in every major passing category this season (his third as a starter). Saturday showed that Oklahoma State cannot rely solely on their defense and run game to carry the day against the better teams in the Big 12.

For Iowa State, this was a vintage performance from a Matt Campbell-coached team and what prognosticators expected from a team that was ranked #7 in the preseason polls. Even though the Cyclones were left for dead after early losses against Iowa and Baylor, they are still tied for second in the Big 12 and control their own destiny for the conference championship game.

#10 OREGON 34 UCLA 31

In contrast to Penn State and Oklahoma State, Oregon found a way to survive in a close game against UCLA and keep its – and the Pac 12’s – CFP hopes alive. On Saturday, the Ducks demonstrated both the high-end talent that gives this team such a high ceiling and the maddening inconsistency that caused the ESPN Playoff Predictor to give the Pac 12 only a 2% chance of actually making the CFP (a figure I think is really low, because should Oregon win out, the Ducks will be well-positioned for a bid).

The Ducks dominated the second and third quarters, outscoring UCLA 27-3 during that 30-minute stretch, while at the same time losing control of the game at the outset and in the fourth quarter, allowing UCLA to jump out to a 14-0 lead and have the ball with a chance to win on a final drive.

Watching the Ducks (which can be hard to do based on the uniform combo they are wearing), you get the feeling that this team can go as far as QB Anthony Brown can take it, especially with star RB CJ Verdell injured for the rest of the season. Brown was brilliant for most of the game on Saturday, completing 74% of his passes and racking up 381 total yards, but he threw costly interceptions on the last two Oregon drives of the game – giving UCLA a chance to win the game. Thankfully, DE Kayvon Thibodeaux and the Oregon defense were having none of it, knocking UCLA QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson out of the game on the final drive before DJ James picked off backup QB Ethan Garbers to seal the win.

McDONOUGH’S MUSINGS

  • While the new NCAA overtime rule that says after two overtimes if the game is still tied teams must alternate two-point conversion attempts makes for a wildly entertaining finish, I do not like the rule. To me, it cheapens the result of a close game if it is decided in a way that is different from the way the game was played during regulation. Penalty kicks in soccer, the “ghost runner” on second base in the MLB, and the college football overtime rules may be extremely entertaining for fans, but they all decide games with procedures that are different from regulation. I would expect to see college football reevaluate the overtime rules this offseason. What I would suggest? Go back to the old overtime rules but have teams start at the 40-yard line so that teams do not automatically have a field goal opportunity.
  • It seems that there have been a large number of questionable officiating calls to this point in the season, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a worse call than the referees’ decision to wipe a 54-yard touchdown reception by Iowa State’s Xavier Hutchinson off the board due to taunting. There wasn’t a defender within 20 yards of Hutchinson as he crossed the goal line, and though he slowed and high-stepped (a bit) as he crossed the goal line, there are far worse celebrations that go unflagged every day. Also, the fact that this is a live ball foul is absurd and that rule needs to be revisited. Iowa State still scored on that drive (with a Hutchinson touchdown no less), but the job of a referee is to ensure the game is played fairly and safely – not to directly influence the game by wiping breakaway touchdown runs off the board.
  • Speaking of Iowa State, congratulations are in order for RB Breece Hall. With his fourth quarter touchdown to win the game, Hall now has 19 straight games with a rushing touchdown, good for the fifth-longest streak in the past 25 years.
  • Saturday seemed to mark an inflection point in the ACC. Wake Forest earned an under-the-radar impressive victory at Army, a game in which the Demon Deacons put up 70 points in just 17 minutes time of possession on an Army defense that had held Wisconsin to just 20 points the week prior. Wake Forest is on a collision course with the Pittsburgh Panthers in the ACC Championship game. Pitt dominated Clemson in a 27-17 win that was not as close as the score indicated. QB Kenny Pickett jumped to the forefront of the Heisman Trophy race with 302 yards passing and 2 TDs, and the Panther defense held Clemson to just 315 total yards. Had Pitt not inexplicably lost to Western Michigan, the Panthers would be getting more national attention.
  • Next Saturday is a massive weekend in the Big Ten, and we will know much more about the state of the conference race and the strength of some of its programs as the calendar flips to November. Michigan visits Michigan State, Penn State visits Ohio State, and Iowa travels to Wisconsin. Best case scenario for commissioner Kevin Warren? Michigan, Ohio State, and Iowa win. This keeps the highest possible stakes on the conference’s marquee end-of-season matchup (Ohio State vs. Michigan), and also keeps alive the possibility of a one-loss Iowa team meeting an undefeated Michigan team in the Big Ten Championship, the only scenario in which two Big Ten teams could make the CFP (if Iowa beat Michigan).
  • This was also a very successful weekend for Notre Dame. In addition to maintaining control of the Jeweled Shillelagh, the Irish saw two teams in front of them lose. Next weekend, at least two more teams ranked ahead of them will lose when the dust settles in the Big Ten. As Irish Breakdown covered last week, there is plenty for Notre Dame to play for and though slim, the Irish playoff hopes are not dead. Here is the most likely path for Notre Dame to make the CFP based on the AP top 25 poll released on Sunday:
  • #1 Georgia wins out, defeating Alabama in the SEC Championship game, handing the Tide a second loss
  • #2 Cincinnati wins out – and wins convincingly. Suddenly, Notre Dame’s only loss doesn’t look too bad
  • #3 Alabama would be eliminated with the second loss to Georgia
  • #4 Oklahoma, who has been unimpressive most of the season, drops at least one game – likely in the final stretch at #19 Baylor, against #22 Iowa State, at #15 Oklahoma State, or in the Big 12 title game
  • #5 Ohio State defeats Penn State, Michigan State, and Michigan, before knocking off Iowa in the Big Ten Championship game
  • #6 Michigan loses to Ohio State and either at #8 Michigan State or at #20 Penn State
  • #7 Oregon drops another game, keeping the Pac 12’s tradition of cannibalizing its best teams alive
  • #8 Michigan State loses two games against a combination of #6 Michigan, #5 Ohio State, or at #20 Penn State
  • #9 Iowa loses in the Big Ten Championship to #5 Ohio State
  • #10 Ole Miss loses this weekend at #18 Auburn or against #14 Texas A&M

Though there are a number of things that fall into place, there are a ton of matchups left this season among top teams. In addition to this making for an extremely entertaining last month of the college football season, should Notre Dame take care of business and win convincingly against a soft remaining schedule, the Irish would be sitting at 11-1. The above scenario would result in Georgia, Cincinnati, and Ohio State making the CFP with a debate for the fourth spot among Notre Dame, one of the Big Ten teams (whichever only has one loss), and Oklahoma.

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BIGGEST WINNERS OF THE WEEKEND

  • Wake Forest and Pittsburgh: Both the Demon Deacons and Panthers earned impressive victories this weekend and sit at the top of their respective ACC divisions. These programs are on track for berths in the ACC Championship game, and if that occurs, it would be the first time since 2014 the ACC Championship did not include Clemson.
  • Oregon: The Ducks continue to play with the philosophy of a top seed in March Madness – just survive and advance. Victories over Cal and UCLA the past two weeks haven’t been pretty, but with top teams losing each week, sometimes just winning is enough. It will be very interesting to see where the Ducks land in the first batch of CFP rankings on November 2nd. They own arguably the best victory in the nation at Ohio State, but have been unimpressive since then.
  • Notre Dame: The Irish handled archrival USC 31-16 in a game that was not even as close as the score indicated. In addition to keeping their CFP hopes alive, this victory showed just how far Notre Dame has come under Brian Kelly – and how far USC has fallen. Kelly now owns an 8-3 record against the Trojans and his teams have captured the last four matchups.
  • Ohio State: The Buckeyes continue to do their best to erase the memories of Oregon gashing the scarlet and gray defense back in Week 2. After and Indiana touchdown tied the score at 7-7, Ohio State ripped off 47 unanswered points en route to a 54-7 victory. Ohio State has re-established itself as the team to beat in the Big Ten.

BIGGEST LOSERS OF THE WEEKEND

  • Clemson: After jumping out to a 7-0, the Tigers were dominated the rest of the way by Pitt in a game that saw starting QB DJ Uiagalelei benched in the third quarter. This was Clemson’s first loss by 10 or more points against an ACC opponent since 2014, was the third regular season loss for the Tigers after having just three in the previous six seasons, and marked the fifth straight game scoring 21 or fewer points for the first time since 1994. As bad as it is for Clemson, things may get worse before they get better for Dabo Swinney’s team. For the first time this season, the Clemson defense was unable to hold its own, surrendering 464 yards, allowing the Panthers to go 10-19 on third down, letting Pitt hold the ball for over 36 minutes.
  • Coastal Carolina: The Chanticleers saw their undefeated season and chance at a New Years Six bowl dashed in a heartbreaking 30-27 loss to Appalachian State on Thursday night. Coastal Carolina is now tied with the Mountaineers atop the Sun Belt East standings and will need help to make the conference championship game.
  • Cincinnati and Oklahoma: The Bearcats and Sooners sleepwalked their way to ugly wins over opponents in Navy and Kansas that should have been overmatched on paper. Style points will matter for these teams, especially for Cincinnati, who is trying to become the first ever team from the Group of Five to make the CFP.
  • Oklahoma State: The Cowboys saw their undefeated season come to an end in a 24-21 loss at Iowa State. Though Oklahoma State can still win the Big 12, this game felt like a return to the mean for the Cowboys, who had started 6-0 but only had an average margin of victory of 7 points.

BIGGEST GAMES OF WEEK 9

  • #6 Michigan at #8 Michigan State
  • #9 Iowa at Wisconsin
  • #1 Georgia vs. Florida (neutral site)
  • #10 Ole Miss at #18 Auburn
  • #20 Penn State at #5 Ohio State
  • North Carolina at #11 Notre Dame
  • Virginia at #25 BYU
  • Fresno State at #21 San Diego State

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