It’s common knowledge that the list of Michigan rivals begins with Ohio State, and everyone else, including Michigan State, is a distant second.
Still, an argument could be made that the Spartans had been their most frustrating rival over the past decade. Besides all the clichéd “big brother/little brother” stuff, it’s just a simple fact that Michigan State’s best stretch of football in modern history coincided with the Rich Rodriguez fiasco and the bumbling Brady Hoke era.
For all the built-in advantages Michigan should have, the Wolverines simply couldn’t overcome the fact they had misfit coaches and Michigan State had Mark Dantonio.
But then Jim Harbaugh came back to his alma mater, and he didn’t do it to lose rivalry games.
No. 2 Michigan beat the Spartans 32-23 for just its second win in the series since 2008. And though the Wolverines weren’t perfect, they were in total control the entire game and gave up a late meaningless score that made it look closer than it really was.
Michigan State actually played with energy early and looked more physical up front than they’ve been in any game this season — and it still wasn’t nearly enough, which is a good sign at this point in the year for Harbaugh’s crew.
Now, with Michigan 8-0 and the Spartans flailing at 2-6 (and 0-5 in the Big Ten), the tables have officially turned. And the way things are going, Michigan may be in control of this rivalry for quite awhile.
Meanwhile, unless that Nov. 12 trip to Iowa gets tricky, it looks like pretty clear sailing for the Wolverines until they go to Ohio State in the regular season finale. Just two years into the Harbaugh era, Michigan fans can officially start thinking about the College Football Playoff.
That makes them the biggest winners of the weekend. Here are the other winners and losers in college football:
Washington: The huge flashing warning sign on Washington joyride to the Pac 12 title was always in Salt Lake City. For one thing, it’s a tough play to play with the altitude and the fans right on top of you in a loud, cozy venue. Also, Utah is pretty darn good and especially good at home. But the No. 4 Huskies proved their worth and avoided a potential stumbling block in a 31-24 victory.
To survive a close, competitive, physical game, Washington needed a 55-yard punt return touchdown from receiver Dante Pettis with 3:25 remaining to break the tie. Then, the Huskies’ defense held one last desperate scoring attempt. But any way they got it, this was a huge test passed by the Huskies, who are now very much on track at 8-0 with more tricky games (Southern Cal, at Washington State) still to come.
Texas: It has been a brutal season for the Longhorns, and the big picture question is whether things are too far gone already for Charlie Strong to keep his job. So it’s unclear how much beating Baylor 35-34 in a thrilling game at home will actually help his prospects or have any long-term impact. But it is something to feel good about for the Longhorns, who have looked really bad on defense most of this season and fundamentally unsound too many times.
This game doesn’t signify Texas is “back,” and the reality is that Baylor was sort of an unknown quantity in the first place because of its weak schedule. But it’s at least a building block to get the Longhorns to 4-4 and perhaps build momentum and a case for Strong to stick around.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes are technically winners this week after surviving a scare from Northwestern, 24-20. But it comes with some conditions. On one hand, it’s good for Ohio State to bounce back with a victory after its shocking loss at Penn State last week. On the other hand, the Buckeyes still don’t look right.
Northwestern tied the game in the third quarter and was on the doorstep of doing it again with just a few minutes left before Ohio State held the Wildcats to a field goal and then ran out the clock. Urban Meyer surely would like to see his team impose its will on weaker teams, and that didn’t happen against Northwestern. But there’s still time to get right, and Ohio State controls its own destiny in the Big Ten if it wins out.
Kentucky: Give Mark Stoops a ton of credit for not losing the locker room after an ugly 0-2 start to the most critical season of his career. Kentucky has recovered and then some, winning five of its last six (Alabama was the only loss) to reach the cusp of bowl eligibility after a 35-21 win against Missouri. Kentucky will almost certainly get that sixth win Nov. 19 against Austin Peay and clear a huge mental hurdle after folding its tent down the stretch each of the last two years to finish 5-7.
Though Stoops’ massive buyout likely meant he would return in 2017 under any circumstances, this was a very good day for him because it shows real progress after fans began to grumble about his unfulfilled promise.
Louisville: The Cardinals’ season was on the brink of becoming irrelevant with 1:57 remaining when Virginia scored a touchdown and converted a two-point play to take a 25-24 lead. Even after that as time dwindled, Louisville had to convert a fourth down just across midfield and looked like it would need a long field goal to come back and win the game. Instead, Lamar Jackson lofted a perfect 29-yard pass to Jaylen Smith to escape Charlottesville with a 32-25 victory that probably did more good for Jackson’s Heisman hopes than Louisville’s long-shot playoff chances.
Jackson finished with 361 passing yards and four touchdowns along with 90 rushing yards on 18 carries to solidify his status as the Heisman leader. The bad news is, Louisville doesn’t really have any more high-profile games left to boost Jackson or make a big impression on the CFP committee, as it seems unlikely the Cardinals can catch Clemson and win the ACC.
Georgia Tech: If the Yellow Jackets wanted to make a bowl game after missing the postseason last year, they absolutely had to beat Duke at home. They did, 38-35, in a roller -coaster game they led 28-7 at halftime but eventually fell behind until quarterback Justin Thomas hit Clinton Lynch for a 21-yard touchdown pass with 5:38 remaining. This was sort of a vintage Georgia Tech performance in which it played poorly on defense but ran up 605 total yards (341 on the ground) to improve to 5-3.
Unfortunately for the Yellow Jackets, they still have three tough road games remaining (North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Georgia) and will only be favored one more time on Nov. 19 against Virginia. That’s why it was critical to this season, and perhaps even Paul Johnson’s job security, to get this win Saturday.
Minnesota: There’s a lot of speculation in the coaching industry about whether Tracy Claeys, who took over mid-season for Jerry Kill a year ago but was only given a three-year contract, will be back with a long-term deal or replaced by new athletics director Mark Coyle. It’s still unclear, but Claeys is making his case by leading the Gophers to bowl eligibility (6-2) after a 40-17 win at Illinois.
Critics will point out that Minnesota hasn’t faced a very difficult schedule or beaten anyone of consequence, including the struggling Illini. But all Claeys can do is keep beating the teams he’s supposed to beat (including Purdue next week), try to pull an upset in the final three games and remove all doubt from the equation.
Wyoming: The Cowboys suddenly look like a team on the move after defeating Boise State 30-28. Wyoming is 6-2, which seems to indicate a breakthrough for Craig Bohl in his third season. Bohl might be the best pure football coach in the Mountain West -— he was the architect of North Dakota State’s dominance in FCS —and it looks like he’s finally got it going in Laramie.
West Virginia: Despite the rise in the polls and 6-0 record, the Mountaineers had yet to be tested by a credible opponent. That changed at Oklahoma State, and the results were not particularly surprising. Thanks to three West Virginia turnovers, Oklahoma State controlled the game for a 37-20 victory and further wrecked the Big 12’s already faint hopes of having a playoff entrant.
Quarterback Skyler Howard was responsible for all three turnovers, including a game-turning fumble in the second quarter that gave Oklahoma State a short field to take the lead for good. West Virginia is still a solid team that will play more big games with conference title implications, but it failed big-time in its moment to really grab the national spotlight.
North Carolina State: The Wolfpack are in a free fall, and it could not come at a worse time for Dave Doeren. After nearly pulling off a massive upset at Clemson, N.C. State’s season has deflated badly, a trend that continued in a 21-14 loss at home to Boston College. The Eagles came in on a 12-game ACC losing streak but put together a nine-play, 63-yard touchdown drive (plus a nifty play for a two-point conversion) with 4:43 remaining to take the lead, then clinched the game with an interception in the end zone as N.C. State was threatening to tie.
This result is a disaster for the Wolfpack (4-4) and puts Doeren back on the hot seat in a big way. With a very tough finish including Florida State, Miami and North Carolina, N.C. State will struggle to reach bowl eligibility.
Connecticut: A team that has gotten worse as the season has progressed, the Huskies were non-competitive in a 41-3 loss at East Carolina. One week after enduring the ridicule of UCF beating them and then snubbing the “Civil ConFLiCT” trophy, UConn dropped to 3-6 and looked like it might have let go of the rope a little bit for the first time after a string of fairly competitive games.
Central Florida: The Knights led 24-3 in the third quarter at Houston and had a prime opportunity to take advantage of a team that has been a bit demoralized since its long-shot playoff dreams went up in smoke. Instead, Houston scored 28 consecutive points for a 31-24 win as UCF turned it over three times in the second half (four overall). That’s a tough one to swallow for the Knights, who were fighting to stay alive in the AAC East division race.
Tennessee: After an exciting start to the season — 5-0, thrilling come-from-behind wins against rivals Florida and Georgia — it has come unraveled for Butch Jones and the Vols. Three consecutive losses, including Saturday’s 24-21 loss to a not-very-good South Carolina team, and Tennessee is wounded, out of contention for the SEC East and, unless it regains the magic, certainly facing a big challenge next month against Kentucky.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM WEEK 9