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Most important takeaway for each Top 25 team

Nov 17, 2018

  • ESPN staff

Ohio State kept its Big Ten title hopes alive with a thrilling, comeback win over Maryland in overtime after the Terps missed a two-point conversion. West Virginia’s playoff hopes came crashing down in Stillwater in an equally exciting game against Oklahoma State. Meanwhile, Alabama was tied with The Citadel — The Citadel! — at the half before taking control in the third quarter. What else have we learned so far today?


No. 1 Alabama 50, The Citadel 17

Well, that was interesting. And not in the good way if you’re an Alabama fan, seeing as it was a tie ballgame at halftime. But if you’re Nick Saban, you might see the silver lining in such a sloppy performance against The Citadel. Think about it: No one would blame Alabama for sleepwalking toward the playoff, and Saturday might have been a valuable wake-up call. Plus, in a season of near-perfect football, coach Nick Saban will be able to use the game tape to zero in on some proverbial “teachable moments” before a big regular-season finale against Auburn next weekend. — Alex Scarborough


No. 2 Clemson 35, Duke 6

If it’s indeed true that defense wins championships, then No. 2 Clemson is looking better by the week. The Tigers took their time getting started on offense, but this is a defense that has playing at an elite level, buoyed by a defensive line laden with future pros. Not counting a few garbage-time touchdowns when the game had already been decided, Clemson’s defense hasn’t allowed a touchdown in a meaningful situation since the fourth quarter of the Syracuse game on Sept. 29. The only bummer on Senior Night for the Tigers was an injury to receiver Hunter Renfrow, who landed hard on the ground while attempting to lay out and catch a pass in the first half. He was helped to the locker room and didn’t return to the game. — Chris Low


No. 3 Notre Dame 36, No. 12 Syracuse 3

The Fighting Irish moved a step closer toward punching their ticket to the College Football Playoff with a dominant defensive performance at Yankee Stadium. The Irish manhandled the Orange from the start, completely shutting down a high-flying offense that had scored 40 points or more in each of its past four games. The Irish held Syracuse to only 122 yards of offense through three quarters, its lowest total through three quarters since gaining only 97 yards against UConn in November 2008, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The Orange kicked a field goal with 10 seconds left to avoid being shutout. — Mark Schlabach

The Orange’s hopes of upsetting the Fighting Irish were all but lost with 5:44 left in the first quarter when star quarterback Eric Dungey left with what the school called an upper-body injury. Dungey didn’t return, and his availability for next week’s regular-season finale at No. 20 Boston College wasn’t immediately known. He didn’t look great on Syracuse’s first two possessions — he threw an interception on his third pass attempt — but he had accounted for 26 touchdowns and nearly 3,000 yards of offense in the first 10 games. Backup Tommy DeVito couldn’t muster much of anything until the final minutes.– Mark Schlabach


No. 4 Michigan 31, Indiana 20

“Efficient” is the word Michigan’s players liked to use most often when describing their rise on offense during the past few weeks. The Wolverines didn’t live up to that description in a game in which 507 yards of offense netted 31 points thanks to coming up short of the end zone on seven of their eight red zone trips against the Hoosiers. Nevertheless, Michigan won its 10th straight game and managed to push its way past the last obstacle between it and a rivalry showdown in Columbus with a trip to the Big Ten championship game up for grabs. The Wolverines remain in good position to reach the College Football Playoff if they can get past the Buckeyes and then West Division champ Northwestern in Indianapolis. However, the inefficiency on offense, the loss of defensive standout Chase Winovich to injury (his status moving forward was unclear Saturday night) and Indiana’s ability to steadily gain yards will provide plenty of fodder for an anxiety-filled Thanksgiving week for Michigan faithful. — Dan Murphy


No. 5 Georgia 66, UMass 27

Georgia handled overmatched UMass easily — in the first half — carving the perfect opportunity for the Bulldogs to give true freshman quarterback Justin Fields significant playing time. The Bulldogs racked up 431 yards as Fields accounted for two passing touchdowns (on 4 of 5 completions) and one rushing touchdown en route to a 42-13 halftime lead. Fields has been the backup to Jake Fromm after pushing him for the starting job, and while Fromm as emerged as the undisputed starter, Fields got valuable experience that could come in handy in certain situations against Alabama in the SEC championship game. — Heather Dinich


No. 6 Oklahoma 55, Kansas 40

With West Virginia falling to Oklahoma State, the Big 12’s playoff hopes became OU or bust, and the Sooners survived an early scare from Kansas to remain a one-loss contender. Quarterback Kyler Murray continued to boost his Heisman hopes as he dazzled with his ability to keep plays alive and became the first OU quarterback with three rushing touchdowns in a game since Trevor Knight in 2014. The Sooners’ spectacular offense has continuously compensated for a porous defense, but the selection committee will have to weigh if that formula is impressive enough for a spot in the top four should Oklahoma finish as a one-loss Big 12 champ. — Heather Dinich


No. 7 LSU 42, Rice 10

One of the biggest criticisms of the selection committee’s past two rankings has been two-loss LSU at No. 7, and it’s unlikely anything in Week 12 that will change that — including the Tigers’ lopsided win over Rice. The committee has justified LSU’s position because of its wins over Auburn, Georgia and Mississippi State, what chair Rob Mullens called an “extremely strong” defense, and the fact its losses were to No. 1 Alabama and on the road against a ranked Florida team. If LSU can end the season with a win at Texas A&M on Saturday, it should finish in the top 10, but FPI gives the Tigers just a 42.2 percent chance to win. — Heather Dinich


No. 8 Washington State 69, Arizona 28

Fifty-five first-half points is one way to make a statement, especially in a game that started at nearly 11 p.m. ET. Washington State’s rout of Arizona should further impress the College Football Playoff selection committee and improve quarterback Gardner Minshew’s hopes at becoming a Heisman finalist. One aspect of the win that might go unnoticed: It could have secured a New Year’s Six bowl berth. If the Cougars lose next week or in the Pac-12 championship game, they’ll have a maximum of two losses, which would make them a strong candidate for the Fiesta Bowl. – Kyle Bonagura


Oklahoma State 45, No. 9 West Virginia 41

One week after nearly upsetting Oklahoma, Oklahoma State eliminated West Virginia from the College Football Playoff conversation behind a furious late rally. The Mountaineers led 31-14 at halftime and 41-31 in the fourth quarter but couldn’t slow down Oklahoma State QB Taylor Cornelius, who threw for 338 yards, ran for 106 and totaled six touchdowns, including the game-winning pass to Tylan Wallace. West Virginia had one last chance in the closing seconds, but Will Grier’s final passing attempt to David Sills V from the Oklahoma State 14-yard line fell incomplete. The Mountaineers can still make the Big 12 title game with a victory next week over Oklahoma, but their playoff dreams are done. — Jake Trotter


No. 10 Ohio State 52, Maryland 51 (OT)

Ohio State gained 688 yards of offense against Maryland in a back-and-forth, roller coaster of a game. The reason the Buckeyes had to amass that many yards is because the Terps were able to gain 535 total yards themselves. The Ohio State defense struggled in the first half, allowing three plays over 50 yards, ultimately allowing running back Anthony McFarland to rush for 298 yards in the game. The Buckeyes took their first lead with a touchdown in overtime, and while the offense looked to have a balanced effort, the defense showed holes in multiple areas. Ohio State came away with the win, but now plays for a shot at a berth in the Big Ten championship game against Michigan next weekend. That was not the performance Ohio State was hoping for before The Game. — Tom VanHaaren


No. 11 UCF 38, No. 24 Cincinnati 13

The defense has taken its fair share of criticism throughout the season, but with the national spotlight on them against No. 24 Cincinnati, that unit delivered perhaps its most dominant performance of the season. From the very start, UCF harassed Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ritter and slowed down 1,000-yard rusher Michael Warren as the Bearcats struggled to get their running game going. Meanwhile the UCF offense showed off its speed, as its receivers constantly found themselves open for big plays. Adrian Killins Jr. delivered the biggest offensive highlight with a 42-yard touchdown catch in which he outran everybody on the Cincinnati defense. It was the type of performance UCF needed to have on such a big stage, especially with the constant debate surrounding its College Football Playoff case. The Knights have now won 23 straight games and clinched a spot in the AAC championship game. — Andrea Adelson

It was a disappointing performance for the Bearcats, coming into their game against UCF off their first ever CFP ranking. And when they look back, they will point to the big mistakes. Cincinnati missed an extra point and had a field goal blocked and squandered an opportunity to score before the half when it fumbled. Then, in the second half, Cincinnati turned the ball over on downs and fumbled on consecutive drives — both led to UCF touchdowns that put the game out of reach. Leading rusher Michael Warren was a nonfactor, and a defense that went into the game ranked No. 6 in the nation simply had no answer for McKenzie Milton or UCF’s speed. — Andrea Adelson


No. 13 Florida 63, Idaho 10

A blowout win over Idaho doesn’t say much about Florida, but if Gators fans were looking for something to get excited about, they found it in backup QB Emory Jones, who got his first significant playing time of the season. Jones, the No. 59 recruit in the nation in the class of 2018, could be Florida’s QB of the future, and he certainly looked the part Saturday, completing 10 of 16 passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns. — David M. Hale


No. 14 Penn State 20, Rutgers 7

Not much has come easily for Penn State during Big Ten play, and Saturday’s trip to 1-9 Rutgers proved to be no exception. Senior QB Trace McSorley struggled with his accuracy (17 of 37 passing for 183 yards), and the Lions had a long rush of nine yards, as their offensive line improvement remains minimal. But the encouraging thing, especially for 2019 and beyond, is the emergence of a defense that remains young in spots. While the Rutgers offense doesn’t pose much of a challenge, Penn State needed to be extra stingy, and the unit delivered. To be fair, the Scarlet Knights helped, dropping a perfectly executed “New Jersey special” in the end zone that would have cut their deficit to one score in the second half. But Penn State applied a ton of pressure, as junior end Shareef Miller, freshman linebacker Micah Parsons and junior tackles Robert Windsor and Kevin Givens combined for eight tackles for loss and three sacks. — Adam Rittenberg


No. 15 Texas 24, No. 16 Iowa State 10

For the first time since 2013, the Longhorns will enter their regular-season finale with hopes of a Big 12 championship still alive. What’s comforting for Texas fans is how the defense responded in a big way after a rough three weeks, dominating Iowa State and hassling Brock Purdy for much of the night. What’s of concern is Sam Ehlinger’s health. The sophomore quarterback took a big hit just before halftime, left the game and didn’t return. He wasn’t ruled out — suggesting that had he needed to play, he could’ve — but since he was hit on the same shoulder that he injured last month vs. Baylor, it’ll be something to watch as Texas heads into its season finale. The bottom line for the Horns: Beat Kansas next week and they’re in the Big 12 championship game. — Sam Khan Jr.

The Cyclones terrific season hit a major snag, as they were eliminated from Big 12 championship game contention with the loss. Not having David Montgomery for a half definitely affected them and they weren’t able to be as explosive offensively early on. Even when he did come in, third-down efficiency was less than ideal and their ability to move the ball was inconsistent. Freshman QB Brock Purdy was under duress or much of the night. In the regular-season finale against Kansas State, they Cyclones will hope to set the school record for most conference wins in a single season with six. — Sam Khan Jr.


No. 17 Kentucky 34, Middle Tennessee 23

Big Blue isn’t as hyped as it was a few weeks ago before losing to Georgia and, rather inexplicably, Tennessee. But by taking care of business against Middle Tennessee on Saturday, at least the season hasn’t gone totally off the rails. With a spiraling Louisville on deck next weekend, there’s a strong possibility the Wildcats close out the regular season ranked and in good position for a quality bowl game. Maybe, just maybe, coach Mark Stoops has Kentucky reaching 10 wins for the first time since time since 1977. — Alex Scarborough


No. 18 Washington 42, Oregon State 23

The Huskies took the suspense out of this one early, scoring 28 first-quarter points against the Pac-12’s worst team. In their final game at Husky Stadium, senior stars Jake Browning (242 yards passing, three touchdowns) and Myles Gaskin (135 yards rushing, one touchdown) put up the sort of stat lines that are easy to take for granted. Browning and Gaskin have been the foundation for the rebirth of the program under head coach Chris Petersen and, if they can pull off an upset against rival Washington State on Friday, they’ll get a chance to play in their second Pac-12 title game. It’d be a high note for a season that has, thus far, felt like a disappointment for the Huskies. — Joel Anderson


No. 19 Utah 30, Colorado 7

Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham has lost his starting quarterback in six of the past eight seasons, so it’s little surprise the Utes have continued rolling along without starter Tyler Huntley (collarbone). Redshirt freshman Jason Shelley has filled in admirably in the past two games, going 29-of-54 for 483 yards with two passing touchdowns and two rushing scores. If Shelley can continue to avoid turnovers (he hasn’t committed any yet) and Utah’s defense can again summon the sort of smothering effort it did against Colorado (2.9 offensive yards per play), the Utes will be a tough out if they make the Pac-12 championship game. — Joel Anderson


Florida State 22, Boston College 21

For a team whose most famous play was a Hail Mary, BC got a taste of the other side of things Saturday. Deondre Francois’ 74-yard touchdown pass with 1:49 to play to pull off the upset was a stunning development that ended the Eagles’ hopes for a 10-win regular season and sent BC to its second straight loss and, likely, out of the top 25. — David M. Hale


No. 21 Mississippi State 52, Arkansas 6

All in all, the Bulldogs rebounded quite nicely from their shutout loss to top-ranked Alabama last week. Their defense was as dominant as ever, and the offense had its highest-scoring day against a Power 5 opponent this season. And in his last game in Starkville, Nick Fitzgerald joined Dak Prescott and Tim Tebow as the third player in SEC history with 50 passing touchdowns and 40 rushing touchdowns. Fitzgerald threw four touchdown passes, the sort of effort he’ll need to duplicate against high-powered rival Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl next week. — Joel Anderson


No. 22 Northwestern 24, Minnesota 14

After clinching the Big Ten West division last week, the Wildcats didn’t have a ton to gain at Minnesota. But effort is never a problem with Pat Fitzgerald’s teams, and when they moved from slight favorite to slight road underdog, you could practically chalk up a win. All season, the defense has come through and continued to do so Saturday, particularly the front seven. Playing without both starting safeties and top cornerback Montre Hartage against a talented Minnesota receiving corps, Northwestern recorded two early interceptions (both by linebacker Nate Hall) and three total takeaways in the win. The offense also stepped up late in the first half and in the third quarter, as senior quarterback Clayton Thorson (15 of 21 passing, 230 yards, 13-yard rushing touchdown) played his best game in weeks. Northwestern will need more from Thorson and a healthier roster to have a chance against Michigan in the Big Ten championship, but it continues to shine in Big Ten play, winning 14 of its past 15 league contests. — Adam Rittenberg


No. 23 Utah State 29, Colorado State 24

Maybe it had become a little too easy for Utah State, which went to 3-7 Colorado State having won nine games by an average of 29.4 points, the third-highest victory margin in the FBS behind No. 1 Alabama (35.9 ppg) and No. 2 Clemson (33 ppg). The Aggies boast a dynamic offense led by sophomore quarterback Jordan Love, running back Darwin Thompson, wide receiver Ron’Quavion Tarver and others. Colorado State’s defense, meanwhile, is really, really bad. But Utah State struggled all day, leaning on its defense and failing to score a first-quarter point for the first time this season. Matt Wells‘ team prevailed 29-24, but only after Colorado State’s Hail Mary touchdown as time expired was overturned after officials ruled Rams wide receiver Preston Williams had stepped out of bounds on his run downfield. Utah State is 10-1 for the first time in team history and tied the 2014 team with its seventh Mountain West win. Love came up big late, finding Aaren Vaughns for a 33-yard score with 43 seconds left, less than a minute after Colorado State had taken its first lead, at 24-23. The Aggies now try to finish their incredible run next week at No. 25 Boise State, where the Mountain division title will be on the line.. — Adam Rittenberg


No. 25 Boise State 45, New Mexico 14

Boise State’s lopsided defeat of New Mexico sets up what amounts to a Mountain West Conference semifinal next week against Utah State, which remains undefeated in conference play. The winner of the game in Boise will get a shot against whoever comes out of the West division. Since losing to San Diego State, Boise has run off six straight wins to position itself in a place where it can defend its conference title. — Kyle Bonagura

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