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College football winners and losers: Oklahoma can’t escape Kansas

The College Football Playoff era has yet to produce an undefeated power conference team that was denied a spot in the semifinals. And there won’t be one this year, either.

The possibility of that headache was swept away Saturday when Kansas dealt Oklahoma a 38-33 going-away present in what could be the final meeting between the longtime Big Eight-turned-Big 12 rivals for a long, long while.

Devin Neal rushed for a nine-yard touchdown with 55 seconds to go to lift the Jayhawks (6-2, 3-2) to their first victory over the Sooners since 1997, snapping an 18-game skid in the series. It was also Kansas’s first victory at home over a top-10 team since 1984.

While the Jayhawks celebrated locking up back-to-back bowl appearances for only the second time, Oklahoma (7-1, 4-1) finally ran into a close call it couldn’t escape from.

The Sooners rallied this month to beat Texas, 34-30, on Dillon Gabriel’s touchdown pass with 15 seconds to go. And Oklahoma collected an onside kick with 1:13 left to seal a 31-29 defeat of Central Florida last week.

It appeared the Sooners might have another high-wire act in them when Gabriel found Brenen Thompson for 39 yards to get inside the Kansas 30 with 17 seconds to go. But a short pass and two incompletions later, the Sooners were on the rare end of a loss to a team they have beaten up on for decades.

With Oklahoma off to the SEC after this season, it’s a fine final word for the Jayhawks. And it tidies up one element of the playoff puzzle. Oklahoma was the last undefeated team in the Big 12, and there existed the possibility — however remote — of Florida State, Georgia, Washington, next month’s Michigan-Ohio State winner and the Sooners getting to 13-0.

Instead, the Big 12 finds itself two results away — one more Oklahoma loss and one more setback by fellow SEC defector Texas — from being assured of getting shut out of the playoff entirely.

Here are some of the other biggest winners and losers from this week in college football:

The Mustangs’ 69-10 thrashing of Tulsa isn’t guaranteed to be the most thorough throttling of the season. But it will not be easy to top.

SMU (6-2, 4-0 American) scored on its first seven possessions. It led 52-3 at halftime … and then reached the end zone on its first two drives of the second half. It rolled up 638 yards. It had 13 players catch a pass. It was the Mustangs’ most lopsided victory since a 60-0 drubbing of Texas A&M in 1936.

The ACC-bound Mustangs are at least halfway to locking up a place in the American title game, and they don’t have to deal with either of the other two teams that entered the week undefeated in league play (Texas San Antonio and Tulane) during the regular season. There could be better things to come for SMU this season, but it will be a challenge for it to look quite this good again.

If the Terrapins’ loss two weeks ago to Illinois lowered the ceiling on what was supposed to be the program’s best team in more than a decade, their 33-27 stumble at Northwestern while coming off an open date does even more damage.

Maryland followed a 5-0 run in September with an 0-3 October. And while no one was going to indict the Terps for losing at Ohio State, back-to-back setbacks to Illinois and Northwestern (who are a combined 1-7 against the Big Ten’s non-Maryland precincts) have made the path to bowl eligibility in College Park rather perilous.

The Terps still have Penn State (7-1) and Michigan (8-0) to come at home, with trips to Nebraska (4-3) and Rutgers (6-2). That could make for a dicey November.

Maryland’s season continues to unravel with a loss to Northwestern

The Ducks did a pretty good Utah impression in their 35-6 rout of the Utes, achieving offensive balance while never letting their hosts in Salt Lake City achieve any sort of traction on the ground.

Bo Nix did nothing to harm his Heisman hopes, completing 24 of 31 passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns. The Ducks’ defense was ferocious, much as it was in exposing Colorado last month. And Oregon (7-1, 4-1 Pac-12) set itself up for a favorable November, when it plays three of its four games (California, Southern California and Oregon State) at home and must trek to only Arizona State.

As playoff eliminators go, it was as close to perfunctory as it gets. And while Utah (6-2, 3-2) wasn’t at its best, Oregon was quite slick. Five more wins, including the Pac-12 title game, and the Ducks could find themselves in the national semifinals for the first time since 2014.

Oregon bursts back into the conversation with a loud win against Utah

Navigating the bottom half of this year’s Big 12 is not the sternest task. So on the surface, the Wildcats (6-2, 4-1) should have handled Texas Tech, TCU and Houston since its Oct. 6 loss to Oklahoma State.

But exactly how K-State has done this deserves mention.

The Wildcats scored the final 21 points in a 38-21 victory at Texas Tech on Oct. 14, then pummeled TCU, 41-3, last week before limiting Houston to 208 yards in a 41-0 shutout Saturday. That’s a 103-3 scoring run for Kansas State, which remains in the Big 12 title picture heading into November.

Whether the Wildcats stay there hinges on next week’s game at Texas. Win that, and Kansas State will be assured at least a share of the conference lead with three weeks to go.

A little more than a month ago, it seemed reasonable to think the Hokies were continuing to turn into the Nebraska of the ACC, a faded power that couldn’t get out of its own way. They were 1-3, had just gotten handled by a Marshall bunch that didn’t even play all that great and sure looked headed to a fourth consecutive losing season.

So credit to Virginia Tech in the wake of a 38-10 woodshedding of Syracuse on Thursday. The Hokies (4-4, 3-1 ACC) have won three of four to not only get back to .500 but also to place themselves squarely in the hunt for the non-Florida State spot in the ACC title game.

While there is a caveat to this — the Hokies’ victories have come against Pitt, Wake Forest and Syracuse, who are a combined 2-11 in the ACC — Virginia Tech wasn’t playing like a team capable of bulldozing anyone in the season’s early stages.

But that’s what happened against the Orange; the Hokies scored on their first six possessions, and a clearly demoralized Syracuse looked as if it wanted to be anywhere but Lane Stadium on a Thursday night. In many ways, it was a throwback to much better times.

The play of quarterback Kyron Drones over the past month has invigorated the Hokies, who have been at least competent on defense for most of the season. (They get a pass for giving up 39 to Florida State.) And while three of the last four are on the road (Louisville, Boston College and Virginia, with a home game against N.C. State tossed in), it’s not hard to envision Virginia Tech getting at least a split to earn a bowl berth in Coach Brent Pry’s second season.

Things continue to unspool for the Tigers (4-4, 2-4 ACC), who have lost as many conference games this season as they had in the past six combined. Clemson’s 24-17 loss at N.C. State ensures it will not record double-digit victories for the first time since 2010.

The problems that existed right from the Labor Day loss to Duke to open the season remain present for the Tigers. There is a distinct lack of explosive skill position players on offense, and that severely narrows the margin for error. So when something such as N.C. State linebacker Payton Wilson’s interception return for a touchdown happens, it makes things far harder for Clemson than it has been at any point in the past decade.

Now here’s a question no one was asking in the preseason: Will Clemson even win six games? The Tigers get Notre Dame, Georgia Tech and North Carolina at home over the next three weeks before closing at South Carolina. Probably; it’s not as if the Tigers are getting demolished.

But their penchant for playing tight games means they’re probably not finished with one-possession tossups. That’s not a fun spot to be with an unreliable offense.

The Irish (7-2) were on point coming out of their first open date, thumping Pittsburgh, 58-7, as Audric Estime rushed for three touchdowns.

More noteworthy was how Notre Dame scored on a punt return, an interception return and on the recovery of a muffed punt. Two special teams touchdowns and another on defense was more than enough for the Irish, who scored 23 points off five Pitt turnovers.

Notre Dame has only three more regular season games — next week at 4-4 Clemson, Nov. 18 at home against Wake Forest (4-4) and Nov. 25 at Stanford (2-5 entering Saturday). The Irish might not even need a victory in a bowl game to secure a sixth 10-win season in the past seven years.

The Longhorns (7-1, 4-1 Big 12) had no trouble with BYU without injured quarterback Quinn Ewers, swatting the Cougars, 35-6.

Maalik Murphy threw for 170 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, but he received plenty of help. Xavier Worthy returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown less than three minutes in, and the Texas defense forced turnovers to hand Murphy a short field for a pair of touchdown drives in the fourth quarter.

After losing to Oklahoma and barely surviving Houston, the Longhorns needed a less stressful game. They got one thanks to an all-around effort that leaves them in contention for the Big 12 title (where they don’t need any help) and a playoff berth (which they do need some assistance to reach) as they enter the final month of the regular season.

It’s a lean year on the banks of the Hudson, where the Black Knights absorbed a 21-14 loss to Massachusetts to sink to 2-6 for the first time since 2015.

Army, which had zero answers for Minutemen running back Kay’Ron Lynch-Adams (34 carries, 234 yards, three touchdowns), has dropped five in a row. And it did score, which is more than it did in its previous two outings against Troy and LSU.

Still, that’s small solace for a team that has grown accustomed to winning seasons (five in the past seven years) and had won its previous five meetings with Massachusetts (2-7). The Black Knights’ biggest games — against Air Force (next week) and Navy (Dec. 9) — are still in front of them, but this looks like the most limited Army team since the beginning of 10th-year coach Jeff Monken’s tenure.


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