The first truly College Football Playoff-shaking upset occurred in Week 9 as No. 6 Oklahoma went on the road and lost a shootout with Kansas, the Sooners’ first loss against KU since 1997. The Big 12 title race is now wide open and guarantees that the Big 12 champion will have a blemish on its record.
Elsewhere, other playoff contenders solidified their spots before the initial rankings. No. 8 Oregon shellacked a physical Utah team to enter the national title conversation. Ohio State escaped a tight game with Wisconsin to remain unscathed. Georgia passed its first test without star tight end Brock Bowers with flying colors.
As the dust settles, there are only eight remaining undefeated teams in college football. Only five remain in the Power Five with the Big Ten standing alone with the only pairing. All of the action sets up a pivotal College Football Playoff Rankings release on Tuesday.
Here are the biggest winners and losers of Week 9.
The Ducks looked every bit the part of a national championship-caliber program during a 35-6 decimation of an overmatched Utah team. Quarterback Bo Nix completed 14 of his first 15 passes with three first-half touchdowns to help put the game out of reach almost immediately, a shocking result against a Utes team that captured each of the past two Pac-12 titles. It was the first home loss with a full capacity stadium for Utah since 2018.
Oregon has a solid case as the most complete team in college football heading into the home stretch. The Ducks rushed for 5.3 yards per carry against a top-five national rushing defense. The 6-2 Utes were held without a touchdown and mustered just 3.7 yards per carry. Now, Oregon ranks as one of four teams remaining in the Pac-12 race with one or fewer losses. A College Football Playoff shot is on the table.
Oklahoma came into Saturday as the No. 6 team in the nation and in control of a trip to the College Football Playoff. With the easiest schedule in the Big 12 remaining, all the Sooners had to do was not trip over their feet. Instead, Oklahoma lost to Kansas for the first time since 1997.
After surviving a scare against UCF, the Sooners let Kansas run all over them to the tune of 225 yards and four touchdowns against a defense that entered the day holding opponents to 119 yards per game on the ground. Oklahoma has surrendered 32.3 points per game in the last three games after holding opponents to just 10.8 points per game in the first five. Kansas isn’t “Kansas” anymore, but leaving the Big 12 with a loss against the historic cellar dweller won’t ever feel quite right.
Oklahoma doesn’t have any national contenders left on the schedule, but there are plenty more tricky opponents in tough locales. Next week, Oklahoma travels to Oklahoma State for the final Bedlam rivalry for the foreseeable future. On Nov. 18, it’s a trip to the mountains and BYU at altitude. West Virginia and TCU present tricky challenges of their own. Can Oklahoma avoid sliding like last season?
Ohio State has lived and died at the hands of wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. for most of the season. But in his first game back from injury, running back TreVeyon Henderson gave the Buckeyes a real threat in the ground game. The former Freshman All-American exploded for 162 yards rushing and 45 yards receiving against a stout Wisconsin defense. His 33-yard breakaway run put the game away late.
The Buckeyes have some concerning issues on offense after scoring a combined 61 points against Penn State, Wisconsin and Notre Dame. After averaging more than 44 points per game last season, Ohio State is down to 32.5 points per game this year, including 27 points per game against Power Five competition. However, Henderson returning to form at least diversifies the offense and gives Ohio State multiple much-needed avenues to win.
The last time Clemson had four regular-season losses, coach Dabo Swinney had zero national championships under his belt. The Tigers had never even won the ACC. It was 2010, before Clemson was Clemson. Now, Swinney is back where he started as Clemson fell to 4-4 and was eliminated from the ACC title chase after a 24-17 loss to NC State.
Swinney was aggressive over the offseason, making his first voluntary coordinator change in more than a decade by bringing in offensive coordinator Garrett Riley. But even the 2022 Broyles Award winner has been unable to resurrect a Clemson offense that seems to miss the kind of dynamic wide receiver personnel that characterized its past title teams. This team isn’t underachieving – it’s flat-out not good enough anymore.
Remember, Clemson is still stacked with elite talent. The Tigers start three former five-stars in the front six, along with a former No. 1 quarterback and No. 2 running back prospect. Several of these players could be gone in 2024. Swinney has to reevaluate everything as he tries to maintain a relevant program. In the age of NIL and the transfer portal, is it too late?
Bowers has been arguably the most important offensive player during Georgia’s run to two national championships. With Bowers sidelined, quarterback Carson Beck got a much-needed showcase opportunity against Florida. Beck torched a hapless Gators squad to the tune of 315 yards passing and two touchdowns. Backup tight end Oscar Delp played a strong game, but it was receivers Ladd McConkey and Dominic Lovett who combined for more than 200 yards in the win. Georgia knew it was shifting towards more of a drop-back passing game after replacing the dual-threat Stetson Bennett IV with Beck, and there have been growing pains at times. However, the offense that posted nearly 500 yards against Florida is championship-level.
Loser: USC defensive coordinator Alex Grinch
How much longer is this circus going to go on? One week after blowing a game against an undermanned Utah offense, Grinch’s defense gave up 49 points and a potential game-winning score against California. The Golden Bears had their highest point total vs. a Pac-12 opponent since 2018. Cal was an extra point away from hitting 50 against a conference foe for the first time since 2016.
At a certain point, enough is enough. Against Power Five competition, Grinch’s defense has allowed 41.8 points per game. There are legitimate excuses about personnel and the difficulty of defending alongside a high-powered Lincoln Riley offense. USC needs to move on from Grinch. Everyone deserves a fresh start.
Winner: Big 12 contenders
When Texas and Oklahoma left the field after the Red River Showdown, it felt inevitable that a rematch was on the horizon in the Big 12 Championship Game. After the Sooners’ devastating loss against Kansas, the Big 12 race is back to the unpredictable milieu many projected in the preseason. Five Big 12 teams are tied at 4-1 in the conference standings: Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Iowa State and Oklahoma State. The Sooners play Oklahoma State down the stretch while Texas still has Kansas State and Iowa State on the schedule. And, by the way, Kansas picking up a surprising upset over Oklahoma means the 3-2 Jayhawks have a tiebreaker if the Sooners lose another one. Every single game remaining could shake up the title race as the better part of 14 teams jockey for two slots.
Is something wrong with superstar quarterback Michael Penix Jr.? Since his emotional game-winning throw against Oregon, Penix has been slightly behind his explosive pace. Penix threw for 369 yards and four touchdowns but connected on just 55% of his passes as the Huskies struggled to put away Stanford in a 42-33 victory. Three first-half drives ended in three-and-outs. In a 15-7 win over Arizona State last week, Penix threw two interceptions and averaged just 6.5 yards per pass attempt. Washington is still in great shape, but Penix ranks among the most important players in the country as the Huskies hope to make their way to the College Football Playoff. With Utah and Oregon State still on the schedule, the path is only going to get more physical.
The Mustangs came into their matchup against Tulsa as heavy favorites, but jumping out to a 52-3 lead against the Golden Hurricane at the half was a surprise. SMU got 371 yards and three touchdowns from starting quarterback Preston Stone … before he was pulled with four minutes remaining in the first half.
Hopes were high for SMU entering the season after a middling 7-6 campaign in 2023. After losing against a pair of Big 12 opponents, the Ponies have reeled off four straight dominant victories to open AAC play. In four games, SMU is outscoring conference foes by a combined 189-36. This is exactly how coach Rhett Lashlee hoped he could maneuver his squad into the AAC.
Since Virginia Tech handed the ball to quarterback Kyron Drones, the Hokies have been transformed. The Houston, Texas, native followed up a 300-yard passing game against Wake Forest with 194 yards passing, 56 yards rushing and a touchdown in a 38-10 win over Syracuse. More importantly, Drones helped open the offense for running backs Bhayshul Tuten and Malachi Thomas to combine for more than 200 yards on the ground.
At one point, Virginia Tech looked like perhaps the worst Power Five team in the nation. The Hokies picked up terrible losses against Purdue and Rutgers. Losing to Marshall seemed to bottom out the program. Instead, Virginia Tech will have a serious puncher’s chance to earn a bowl trip in Brent Pray’s second season if it can win a pair of manageable road trips to Boston College and Virginia. The Hokies are here.