College football week 6 was less about favorites excelling and more about favorites surviving. With a host of near-upsets and games that were far closer than they should have been, the Top 25 came perilously close to a major shakeup. Just to summarize:
It started on Thursday night with Texas’ ill-gotten 31-30 win at Iowa State. The officials seemingly botched the final minutes with a blown call on a would-be turnover. #12 UCLA nearly fell at Utah; the Utes cut the lead to seven at 34-27 before running out of time. UCF needed a fourth-quarter rally to top Memphis 24-17. Oklahoma squandered a dominant first half in its 20-17 win over TCU. #13 South Carolina was missing Jadeveon Clowney in a fairly pathetic 35-28 victory over lowly Kentucky. #6 Georgia nearly had a monumental letdown at Tennessee before a 34-31 overtime win. #21 Oklahoma State was outplayed by Kansas State but eked out a 33-29 win in Stillwater. #4 Ohio State overcame a shaky first half to weather Northwestern’s attack by a final of 40-30. And in Palo Alto, #5 Stanford let Washington back in the game with a fourth-quarter rally that led to a 31-28 Cardinal win.
But for a few plays each of these squads, including the four undefeated and six ranked teams, might have been knocked off. How different would the AP Poll have looked going into week 7?
Best Win of The Week: Florida State 63, Maryland 0 in Tallahassee
Lest the score deceive you, remember that this was a matchup of ranked teams. By virtue of a hot start, the Terps came into town sporting a #25 ranking and had many people, the Tailgater crew included, thinking that they’d be able to keep things close against FSU. After all, the Seminoles looked vulnerable against a Boston College team that isn’t as talented as Maryland.
Florida State went to work immediately, proving that the shaky victory in Chestnut Hill was probably a fluke. Granted, Maryland had to endure the loss of QB C.J. Brown. It was a setback that the team couldn’t overcome; Brown’s second-quarter concussion turned a 14-0 deficit into an insurmountable lead. As Maryland found itself unable to move the football, FSU’s Jameis Winston took center stage, completing 23 of 32 passes for 393 yards and five touchdowns. In total, FSU outgained Maryland 614-234 and held the ball for nearly 35 minutes.
It was a good old-fashioned woodshed job, a demolition that vaults FSU into the limelight in advance of its crucial week 7 tilt at Clemson. Both the ‘Noles and Tigers have three critical matchups this season. Clemson survived its first by narrowly topping Georgia at home, and now it will be tested by Winston’s arm. Florida State is about to get its first true challenge this year with Miami and Florida still on the schedule.
Honorable Mention: Ohio State 40, Northwestern 30 in Evanston
As mentioned above, this win was hardly Ohio State’s best performance. However, the Buckeyes went on the road, took Northwestern’s best shot and survived. The Buckeyes played about as poorly as they could, particularly in terms of Braxton Miller’s terrible night. But in spite of all the negatives, they won the toughest game on their schedule in 2013 as they work toward the Big Ten title game.
Worst Win of the Week: Georgia 34, Tennessee 31 in Knoxville
Only one week removed from edging LSU and earning the best win of the week, Georgia stumbled badly at Tennessee. It took some good fortune and a heartbreaking mistake by the Vols for the ‘Dawgs to keep their BCS hopes alive, and given that Tennessee had barely escaped Southern Alabama the week before, this kind of victory has to have Georgia fans alarmed.
Granted, the Bulldogs were missing numerous key players. Might the outcome have been different if Todd Gurley wasn’t in street clothes? If Keith Marshall hadn’t left in the first quarter with a season-ending torn ACL? If wideout Justin Scott-Wesley hadn’t torn his ACL as well? Two high-impact players blowing out their knees is as unlikely as it is devastating; the bottom line is that Georgia wasn’t close to full strength for most of this game. And the losses certainly helped Tennessee turn what should have been a rout into an overtime thriller.
All that said, explanations can’t excuse. Even with a few of its primary pieces missing, Georgia should have been able to handle Tennessee with relative ease. The “dawgs didn’t turn the ball over. Aaron Murray was adequate if not outstanding, completing 19 of 35 for 196 yards and three touchdowns. Backup RB J.J. Green compiled 129 yards on just 17 carries in relief of Gurley and Marshall. Statistically, the offense did more than enough to earn a lopsided win over an outgunned Vols team.
Unfortunately for them, someone forgot to remind Tennessee that it isn’t very good. The Vols tallied 404 total yards, blocked a punt for a touchdown, and had Georgia right where they wanted it in the closing minutes. A touchdown drive put Tennessee up 31-24 with under two minutes left, but just as it seemed that the improbable would happen, the UT defense sputtered. Murray executed the two-minute drill to perfection, tying the game with seconds remaining. In overtime, Tennessee had a second opportunity to win. But Alton Howard, in a tremendous effort to stretch across the goalline, lost control of the ball. As it slipped from his hand and through the endzone, Tennessee’s touchdown went with it, and Georgia field goal prevented disaster for the Bulldogs.
(Dis)Honorable Mention: UCF 24, Memphis 17 in Memphis
So many games to choose from. UCF gets the nod here because the Knights were beginning to emerge as a potential challenger to Louisville’s AAC dominance. After a 4-0 start, UCF barely lost to South Carolina. How, then, did this team almost drop one against a sub-.500 Memphis program?
Upset of the Week: Indiana 44, Penn State 24 in Bloomington
As discussed, this week was about the almost. We came so close to seeing so many upsets that could have changed the college football landscape, but instead the honor for win of the week here goes to Indiana. Auburn’s win over Ole Miss is worthy of mention, though it now appears that the Rebels were probably overrated at #24. South Florida and FIU both earned their first wins of the year in upsets over Cincinnati and Southern Miss, respectively. But the Hoosiers had never beaten Penn State. Not in 16 tries. Breaking that ugly streak deserves some recognition, even if neither team is having a particularly strong season.
The series, which dates back to 1993, has featured a mix of close games and blowout defeats. Penn State won 27-24 in 2000 and 22-18 in 2004. In between were wins of 58-25 and 52-7. regardless of how it looked doing it, Indiana managed to lose to the Nittany Lions every time and had been outscored, coming into Saturday’s contest, by a combined 601-333.
The Hoosiers were able to get the monkey off their back thanks to a stingy rush defense that rendered Penn State one-dimensional and a passing attack by Nate Sudfield that kept the points piling up. Sudfield finished 23 of 38 through the air for 321 and two touchdowns. He did suffer an interception, but for the most part was highly effective as Indiana outgained PSU 486-410. Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg kept the Lions in it for a while, but even his 340 passing yards weren’t enough.
Penn State led briefly at 14-13, but that would prove to be their only lead of the day. The second half was all Indiana.