By battling back from an 18-point deficit to beat Boston College, Clemson dodged the sort of random, seemingly avoidable loss that could’ve severely damaged the team’s resume for the College Football Playoff.
Not that one loss would’ve eliminated the Tigers, who have made five straight appearances in the playoff. Even had the Eagles pulled off the upset, Clemson could have secured a spot in the semifinals by running the table, which would have included at least one and possibly two wins against Notre Dame.
Losing to the Eagles simply would’ve forced Clemson to win out — which the Tigers may very well do anyway.
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The takeaway from Saturday may not be that Clemson survived. Instead, the bigger story was the play of freshman quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, who completed 30-of-41 attempts for 342 yards and three touchdowns, one on the ground, as the replacement for Trevor Lawrence, who missed the game after this week’s positive test for COVID-19.
Viewed as the heir apparent to Lawrence since signing with Clemson this past winter, Uiagalelei easily secured his place as the Tigers’ future starter and may have even made a case for being included among the top Heisman Trophy contenders heading into the 2021 season.
Here are the rest of Saturday’s winners and losers:
It may be that Penn State is the best team Ohio State will face all season. If so, the Buckeyes are going to cruise through the Big Ten and into the playoff. Tested only in brief spurts by the Nittany Lions, the Buckeyes’ 38-25 win included 318 passing yards from quarterback Justin Fields and a strong performance from running back Master Teague, who finished with 110 yards on 23 carries. The teams capable of beating OSU reside in the ACC and SEC. For 0-2 Penn State, the focus shifts to salvaging a successful season from a poor start.
No. 7 Cincinnati shrugged off a challenge from another AAC contender and beat Memphis 49-10, riding an outstanding performance from a defense that’s making a case for being considered the best in the country. This is a no-brainer: Cincinnati is the best team in the Group of Five. The Bearcats might even be good enough to reach the playoff.
The No. 21 Chanticleers keep making it look easy. With freshman quarterback Grayson McCall back under center, Coastal Carolina blanked Georgia State 51-0 to move to 6-0 overall and 4-0 in Sun Belt play. After missing last week’s 28-14 victory against Georgia Southern, McCall threw for 254 yards and four touchdowns, giving him 15 scores against just one interception on the season.
Beating Georgia Tech 31-13 keeps Notre Dame perfect heading into next weekend’s home game against Clemson. It gets better: Dabo Swinney said after the Tigers’ win against Boston College that Lawrence was not expected to be back to face the Irish. It’s not that beating Uiagalelei and the Tigers will be easy — in fact, a healthier and more experienced Uiagalelei will be dangerous — but not having to face Lawrence is an obvious positive.
Big Ten upstarts
The conference belongs to Ohio State. But several underrated Big Ten teams have made news through two weeks. One is Indiana, which is 2-0 after beating Rutgers 37-21. Another is Purdue, which beat Illinois 31-24 to remain unbeaten. With wide receiver Rondale Moore unavailable, Purdue has leaned even more heavily on sophomore David Bell, who had nine catches for 122 yards against the Illini. And Northwestern is 2-0 after coming back from a 17-0 hole to beat Iowa 21-20.
Needing a victory to stay in the race for the Big 12 championship, Texas took advantage of a plus-four edge in turnover margin to beat No. 6 Oklahoma State 41-34 in overtime. In doing so, the 4-2 Longhorns took some heat off of coach Tom Herman and added some needed positivity to a week that had seen a rash of bad news on the recruiting trail. With games ahead against Kansas State and Iowa State, Texas has an opportunity to play its way into the Big 12 title game.
If losing to Michigan State is bad enough, Michigan’s embarrassment and frustration is doubled by the fact that MSU was coming off a loss to Rutgers. The Wolverines allowed 449 yards of total offense and never led in a 27-24 loss, dropping Jim Harbaugh to 3-3 in the series and a combined 3-8 against the Spartans and Ohio State. Meanwhile, his counterpart, Mel Tucker, became the first MSU coach to beat Michigan in his first try since Nick Saban did so in 1995.
BIG LETDOWN: Latest loss is more proof Harbaugh can’t win big at Michigan
Even the most pessimistic outlooks for LSU’s follow-up to last year’s national championship couldn’t have predicted this: Auburn racked up more than 500 yards of offense and held the Tigers to 1.2 yards per carry to win 48-11, dropping LSU to 2-3. As bad as any in program history, the LSU defense has cratered under first-year coordinator Bo Pelini and has little hope of turning the corner with games ahead against Alabama, Arkansas, Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Florida.
Kansas State was held to a measly 41 yards rushing and committed three turnovers in a 37-10 loss to West Virginia, the Wildcats’ first loss in conference play. Were the Wildcats caught looking ahead to next week’s matchup against Oklahoma State, which before kickoff looked like the biggest game of the year in the Big 12? After several strong starts in a row, Kansas State freshman quarterback Will Howard was held in check by the Mountaineers’ defense.
And while Texas may have won to keep its conference title hopes alive, it was another disappointing weekend for the Big 12. With the Wildcats and Cowboys losing, every team in the conference has at least one league loss and every team but one, OSU, has at least two losses overall. Even in this wild regular season, the odds of the Big 12 putting a team into the playoff seems remote.
FALLING SHORT: Oklahoma State has defense, but miscues ended its title hopes
The Bulldogs did beat Kentucky 14-3, and winning is preferable to the alternative. But Georgia’s issues on offense and in the passing game in particular could force coach Kirby Smart’s hand heading into next weekend’s rivalry game against Florida. After struggling in the second half of the 41-24 loss to Alabama earlier in October, Stetson Bennett tossed a pair of interceptions to give him five on the season.
The Tar Heels have been consistently interesting, at least. The up-and-down road continued for Mack Brown and UNC with a 44-41 loss to Virginia, which was a pretty nice encapsulation for the season as a whole: UNC led 20-13 in the second quarter, fell behind 41-20 in the third and then lost by a field goal despite outgaining the Cavaliers by more than 100 yards.
Remember when Mike Leach and Mississippi State were the talk of college football? It was only five weeks ago. Since then, the Bulldogs have gone from the toast of the FBS to one of the worst teams in the SEC just as Leach’s offense has gone from explosive to nonexistent. After scoring 44 points to beat LSU in the opener, Mississippi State has scored a combined 30 points in its last four games. The latest, a 41-0 blowout at Alabama, was even more lopsided than the final score suggests.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football winners and losers from Week 9 include Notre Dame, Michigan and Big 12