College football week 10 provided a hint of separation in some hotly contested races. The Big 12 field was winnowed a bit as one-loss Texas Tech fell for the second consecutive week, and in the Big Ten Legends, Michigan State has emerged as a clear frontrunner.
With more decisive matchups looming in Week 11 (Oregon @ Stanford, LSU @ Alabama, Oklahoma @ Baylor) we should see the picture become even clearer in short order.
Here’s the best and worst from this past weekend.
Best Win of The Week: Michigan State 29, Michigan 6 in East Lansing
Many fans and analysts will tell you that the Big Ten teams play a weaker schedule than their counterparts in the SEC, Pac 12, or Big 12. They’re not wrong; the Big Ten doesn’t have the strength it once did. However, all a team can do is play the schedule it’s given, and if we’ve learned anything over the years it’s that college football is far from predictable. How will a “weak” Big Ten fare against the rest of the nation? We’ll find out at year’s end. The question is which teams will be representing the league in its higher-profile bowl matchups, and while Ohio State gets the bulk of the attention in that regard, Michigan State is piecing together a very nice season.
The Spartans are now 8-1 overall and undefeated in Big Ten play. Week 10′s rivalry matchup brought Michigan to East Lansing in game that would determine the top of the standings in the Legends Division. A victory for the Wolverines would have moved them to 3-1 in-conference and given them the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Spartans. Michigan State, of course, had other ideas.
This wasn’t just a win. It was a manhandling. MSU ranks #1 in total defense, rushing defense, and pass efficiency defense, and #3 in points allowed. Sure, Sparty’s offense has struggled, but the stop unit has been out of its mind. That was certainly the case in week 10. Led by an aggressive front that harassed quarterback Devin Gardner throughout the day, MSU’s stop unit finished with seven sacks, an interception, and 168 yards allowed. With the sack yardage, Michigan tallied -48 yards rushing, a number that is indicative of just how poorly things went for the Maize and Blue.
Tied at six late in the second quarter, Michigan State’s offense came to life, engineering a touchdown drive in the final three minutes of the half to go up 13-6 then building on that momentum as the game wore on. Led by tailback Jeremy Langford (120 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries), the Spartans ground out three more scores, including a game-clinching pair of fourth-quarter TDs. QB Connor Cook got around an interception, finishing 18 of 33 for 252 yards and a touchdown toss to wideout Bennie Fowler.
Michigan managed only 58 yards from scrimmage in the second half. After struggling defensively with the likes of Penn State and Indiana in recent weeks, the Wolverines simply couldn’t move the ball and slid to 2-2 in Big Ten play.
Honorable Mention: Florida State 41, Miami 14 in Tallahassee
For a moment it looked like Florida State’s mistakes were going to allow Miami to stay involved in this one. A pair of Jameis Winston picks led to 14 points for the ‘Canes and the game was tight into the second quarter. However, Miami couldn’t score any points on its own and FSU stopped turning the ball over. From there it was a woodshed job.
Worst Win of the Week: Notre Dame 38, Navy 34 in South Bend
The Irish came in favored by more than 15 points. Rightfully so. This was a home game against a Navy squad that had lost to Duke 35-7 and to Western Kentucky 19-7. The Midshipmen have sprinkled in a few decent victories, but nothing that would suggest they would or should keep this close.
But, in true Notre Dame fashion, the Irish helped ensure that very outcome.
In fact, this wasn’t merely a close game. Navy had a real chance to win, driving for a go-ahead score late in the fourth before turning the ball over on downs at the Notre Dame 30. There, on the edge of the redzone, Notre Dame escaped.
Irish QB Tommy Rees did what he does best, tossing a pair of interceptions that led to seven points for the Middies. Last year’s stalwart Notre Dame D is a fading memory; on Saturday the Irish coughed up 419 total yards and 331 on the ground. Navy held the ball for more than 37 minutes, averaged nearly five yards per carry despite the predictability of its option attack, and was, as ever, fundamentally sound with zero turnovers and no penalties.
By doing almost everything right, the Midshipmen gave themselves a chance to win, turning what should have been a comfortable victory into a nailbiter. Luckily for those in the viewing pubic who thirst for justice, Notre Dame still has BYU and Stanford on its schedule, and stands an excellent chance of going 8-4 on the year.
(Dis)Honorable Mention: Arizona 33, California 28 in Berkeley
The Wildcats have a golden opportunity this year. Although they, like the Bruins, lost to both Oregon and Stanford, they still control their own destiny in the Pac 12 South. A win over UCLA at home in week 11 and another in the season finale against ASU would very put ‘Zona in the conference championship. Unfortunately, it’s hard to have much confidence in Rich Rodriguez’s squad when they limp to such an uninspiring win against a Cal team that came in at 1-7 with zero FBS victories.
Upset of the Week: Oklahoma State 52, Texas Tech 34 in Lubbock
Arguably the most exciting and most watchable game of the week was played in Lubbock. Vegas gave us a goofy line that should have had everyone on guard; at home the 7-1 Red Raiders were giving a mere two points against an inconsistent Cowboys team.
At the outset it appeared that OSU would run away and hide. A trio of punts set up a 10-play, 84-yard march that put the ‘Pokes up 7-0. Over the next four minutes Oklahoma State converted a Jace Amaro fumble and a blocked punt into two more touchdowns, stretching the lead to 21-0 before Texas Tech answered with a Ryan Bustin field goal. After forcing a Cowboys’ punt, Tech QB Davis Webb orchestrated a lightning-quick two-play touchdown drive that trimmed the margin to 21-10.
From there, it was a back-and-forth affair with plenty of points.
OSU went up 28-10 before a swap of interceptions led to a Tech pick-six. The Raiders scored again before the half to go to the lockerroom down 28-24. In the second half it was Oklahoma State’s rushing attack proved to be the difference. When the dust settled, the Cowboys had five touchdowns on the ground to go along with 281 yards. At better than five yards per carry, OSU was able to extend drives virtually at will, keeping Webb and the dangerous Red Raider offense off the field.
The win added more chaos to an already confusing Big 12. Baylor and Texas are both undefeated in conference play, but the Sooners and Cowboys remain very much in play.