BY PAUL MYERBERG, USA TODAY SPORTS
Oregon's overtime win against rival Washington opens a path for the Ducks to be a major-bowl factor while nearly slamming the door for the Pac-12 Conference and its hopes of reaching the College Football Playoff.
Earlier on Saturday afternoon, Notre Dame rode a late touchdown pass and a stingy defense to a 19-14 win against Pittsburgh to remain unbeaten. Few wins seem pretty for the Irish, but the bottom line is what matters: Notre Dame is getting into the playoff at 12-0.
At 12-0, however, Notre Dame would knock a Power Five champion out of the top four. It's becoming more and more likely that this league will be the Pac-12, which entered the year with Washington as a national contender followed by several teams floundering around the back half of the Top 25. The two-loss Huskies are now out of contention.
Oregon is undoubtedly better than just another odd team in the Amway Coaches Poll – the Ducks look like a team destined for nine or more wins, at least, with a good shot at the North Division title despite an earlier loss to Stanford. The issue: Even at 12-1 and owners of the Pac-12 crown, the Ducks are a long shot to crack a national semifinal.
The Southeastern Conference champion is in. Likewise with an undefeated or one-loss winner of the Big Ten Conference. Clemson is in from the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Notre Dame is in at 12-0, as noted. And there's a team from the Big 12 Conference ready to fill the void if the Irish do stumble between now and December, whether that's Oklahoma, Texas or West Virginia. As of now, the playoff picture has no room for Oregon – and has no room for the Pac-12.
The Tigers play throwback, SEC-style football, exchanging many of the bells and whistles – if only in relative terms – seen elsewhere in the conference for a playbook and style that harkens to a bygone era. You know, 2011.
LSU pushed and shoved Georgia around for 60 minutes in the sort of win that solidifies its place as a team capable of beating any opponent in the country. When they’re good, the Tigers are really, really good.
Dismissed as pretenders just a week ago, the Spartans rebounded from a lackluster first month-plus to net a 21-17 road win against Penn State to keep some pace in the Big Ten race.
Losses to Arizona State and Northwestern already sealed Michigan State’s place outside of the playoff hunt. But the Spartans can still play their way into Big Ten title or New Year’s Six bowl during games against Michigan and Ohio State, with both coming at home.
It wasn’t the best performance. Worse yet, it’s one that’ll linger in the minds of voters tasked with ranking UCF against college football’s best.
But the Knights found enough in the tank to sneak past Memphis 31-30 and maintain college football’s longest active winning streak – 19 games and counting.
A 16-13 upset of Miami should paint the Cavaliers as a legitimate contender in a messy and lackluster Coastal Division of the ACC, even if that's not saying much. In a bigger sense, knocking off the Hurricanes is the latest indication that Bronco Mendenhall is building a consistent winner as he heads into the heart of his third season.
Meanwhile, Miami has been knocked out of the playoff conversation, amid continued inconsistency at quarterback.
So: Tennessee has a football coach, we think. Jeremy Pruitt landed the marquee moment of his first season with a 30-24 win against Auburn, snapping the Volunteers’ painful losing streak in SEC play and giving his tenure a needed jolt just at the midseason point.
This is the sort of win that can beef up the program’s already solid recruiting efforts and lay the groundwork for a strong close to the year.
It's obvious at this point that Michigan is a real contender coming out of the Big Ten and perhaps one of the best teams nationally, even if it's hard to forget that season-opening loss to Notre Dame.
The Wolverines' latest win, a 38-13 steamroll of Wisconsin, showed a team that can dominate on defense and find enough explosiveness on offense to run the table through the rest of the regular season. This is Jim Harbaugh's best team at Michigan.
Congratulation to Chip Kelly on his first win with the Bruins, a 37-7 whipping off California that seemed to carry over a nice performance in last week's close loss to Washington.
While the pieces are not in place and there's much work to be on the recruiting trail, UCLA seems to be grasping Kelly's desire style of play. The win leaves just two winless teams: UTEP and Nebraska. More on the Cornhuskers in a moment.
West Virginia's 30-14 loss at Iowa State eliminates the Mountaineers' room for error, not a great thing when the November schedule includes Oklahoma and Texas. In a perfect world, WVU would've left itself able to loss one of those games but then win the likely rematch in the Big 12 title game.
That's no longer an option. Look for Will Grier and the offense to rebound after an uncharacteristically weak performance.
The worries that this team hadn’t looked the part even in a 6-0 start were real: Georgia faced a real test against LSU and wilted.
There are concerns on offense, both in play-calling and execution, and the lack of difference-making starters on the defensive front seven is now plainly evident. Is a quarterback change in the making?
But in terms of this current season, the Bulldogs were revealed to be a step away from being included among the elite of college football’s elite. Still, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Georgia will rebound and be ready for Alabama in early December.
Rutgers is an awful football team to the 10th power. Check out Saturday’s 34-7 loss to Maryland as the latest example. Any number of tidbits and factoids would suffice, but let’s just focus on one:
Rutgers completed two passes and threw five interceptions across 17 attempts.
That’s horrendous, horrific and pure Rutgers.
The Cornhuskers fell to 0-6 with an overtime loss to Northwestern, coughing up a 10-point lead late in the game and allowing the Wildcats to drive 99 yards in the final minutes to tie the game and force the extra frame. In a way, though, the loss represents progress:
Nebraska nearly beat a pretty solid team, which isn’t bad. To cough up the lead removes any sense of a moral victory, however, and places a greater spotlight on Scott Frost heading into the second half of his debut season.
The various disappointments
We’re deep enough into the regular season to begin slapping teams with an unwanted label: as disappointments.
That’s the right term for South Carolina, which is now 3-3 after falling at home to Texas A&M. Likewise for Oklahoma State, which blasted Boise State just last month but now sits at 4-3 after an ugly loss to Kansas State. Louisville is 2-5 and a travesty. The list will grow.