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College football winners and losers: Bedlam, Northwestern and a lot of chalk


Bennett Skowronek and Northwestern, though just 6-4 overall, clinched a spot in the Big Ten championship with two weeks to spare. (Charlie Neibergall/Associated PRess)

Every now and then, a Status Quo Saturday arrives. It’s one of 13 during the season, but effectively serves as a placeholder amid weekends filled with wacky finishes, unexpected finishes and a toppling of conventional wisdom.

It changes little and won’t necessarily be remembered for much.

That sums up Saturday’s early action.

Alabama: Never threatened in a 24-0 defeat of Mississippi State.

The one-loss Big Ten East powers: Ohio State pulled away from Michigan State for a 26-6 victory. Michigan’s trip to Rutgers was a choose-the-score special, the Wolverines opting for a relatively tame 42-7 defeat of the Scarlet Knights.

West Virginia, a playoff contender from the Big 12: Completely unbothered in 47-10 drubbing of TCU.

Washington State: The last of the Pac-12’s playoff possibilities played along, too, dispatching Colorado, 31-7, in Boulder to improve to 9-1.

And not to be overlooked is 9-0 Central Florida, which scored a couple first-quarter touchdowns and was never seriously threatened in a 35-24 defeat of Navy.

There were two exceptions to the mostly milquetoast day.

First, look who’s headed for the Big Ten title game. None other than Northwestern, which managed to out-Iowa Iowa in a 14-10 victory in Iowa City to seal the West Division. Isaiah Bowser rushed for 165 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries and Northwestern (6-4, 6-1 Big Ten) held Iowa to 64 rushing yards to earn its first trip to the league title game and a date with Michigan or Ohio State. Yes, the game was a slog. And yes, the fact that the Wildcats will be playing for a conference title despite failing to win a nonconference game points out how disappointing the Big Ten West has been this year. But it’s decidedly not status quo.

Second, there was the aptly named Bedlam game. Oklahoma piled up 702 total yards, with Kyler Murray throwing for 349 yards and Kennedy Brooks and Trey Sermon combining for 289 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.

Yet Oklahoma State (which had 640 yards of its own) had a chance to take the lead when Coach Mike Gundy opted to go for two after Tyler Cornelius’s 24-yard touchdown pass to Tylan Wallace on fourth and long with 1:03 to go. Gundy played to win — an ever-commendable choice — but the conversion failed and Oklahoma recovered the ensuing onside kick to seal a 48-47 victory.

So even the wild game of the afternoon advanced the status quo for another week. Alas, not every weekend can be chaotic. With some, the sport just has to settle for stability.

Winners

Feleipe Franks. The Florida quarterback went from getting booed at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium to shushing the home fans after a go-ahead touchdown run late in the fourth quarter of a 35-31 victory over South Carolina.

”I’m a super emotional player,” Franks told reporters afterward. ”That what makes it a two-way street. Lots of people are going to like me and lots of people aren’t going to like me. Maybe that’s something I shouldn’t have did. But at the same time, I’m an emotional player.”

Franks has had an up-and-down couple seasons and, yes, things looked bleak for the Gators (7-3, 5-3 SEC) when they trailed 31-14 in the third quarter. But as a general rule, a guy who gets booed has little to apologize for if he issues a non-crude reminder of that treatment when he succeeds later in a game.

Penn State. The Nittany Lions bounced back after an ugly loss at Michigan, handling Wisconsin, 22-10, in Happy Valley as Trace McSorley tied Todd Blackledge for the program record for victories by a starting quarterback (29).

To be clear, Penn State’s offense worked best Saturday when Miles Sanders ran the ball. He rumbled for 159 yards as the Nittany Lions (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten) took full advantage of the absence of Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook and churned out a low-scoring victory over the Badgers (6-4, 4-3).

Pittsburgh. One more victory, and the Panthers (6-4, 5-1 ACC) will head to the ACC title game for the first time. Pittsburgh smashed Virginia Tech, 52-22, humiliating Hokies coordinator Bud Foster’s defense by rushing for 492 yards. Qadree Ollison rumbled for 235 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries, while Darrin Hall needed just seven attempts to pile up 186 yards and a touchdown.

Pitt already owns a head-to-head tiebreaker over the only team within one game in the standings, and it can lock up a trip to Charlotte with a victory over either Wake Forest or Miami in the final two weeks of the regular season.

Losers

Kentucky. That once-in-a-couple-generations season was fun while it lasted. A week after getting knocked out of the SEC title race with a loss to Georgia, the Wildcats (7-3, 5-3 SEC) closed out league play with a 24-7 defeat at Tennessee.

Kentucky mustered only 262 yards against the Volunteers (5-5, 2-4), never getting any serious traction on offense. There’s still a chance to get to 10 wins by beating Middle Tennessee, Louisville and a bowl opponent, but the Wildcats will be hard-pressed to land the New Year’s Six bid they very well may have earned if they got to 10-2.

Purdue. Go ahead and try to figure out the Boilermakers, who over the last four weeks have blasted Ohio State, 49-20; slogged to a 23-13 loss at Michigan State; knocked off Iowa, 38-36; and now have a 41-10 loss at Minnesota to their credit.

Would it surprise anyone if Purdue (5-5, 4-3 Big Ten) secured bowl eligibility with a thumping of Wisconsin next week, only to lose the Old Oaken Bucket to Indiana to close out the regular season? It shouldn’t be a shock to anyone who has paid attention to one of the sport’s most unpredictable teams.

Maryland. The Terrapins’ task of capping their difficult season with a bowl bid became much tougher when they dropped a 34-32 decision at Indiana. That leaves Maryland (5-5, 3-4 Big Ten) in need of a victory over either Ohio State or Penn State to earn a postseason invitation.

Read more:

For Maryland football, loss to Indiana hurts in more ways than one

Want to buy Tim Brown’s Heisman Trophy? It’s going up for auction.

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