Wednesday, July 17, 2024

College football winners, losers in Week 8: Alabama wakes up, USC continues to waste Caleb Williams

The Big Ten finally showed up to the party in Week 8 as No. 3 Ohio State and No. 7 Penn State battled in one of the marquee games of the year. After a 20-12 win for the Buckeyes, in addition to Iowa suffering a stunning loss, the picture of the conference championship race is beginning to become a little clearer. 

Meanwhile, the College Football Playoff race got some much-needed shots of chaos outside of the Big Ten, too. No. 14 Utah and No. 18 USC played in what was essentially a CFP elimination game. No. 11 Alabama had an opportunity to play its way back in against No. 17 Tennessee. No. 13 Ole Miss had a chance to stick around after edging out Auburn. 

Additionally, Week 8 is when some of the first surprise teams start to reach the finish line of bowl eligibility. A handful deserve acclaim for beating the odds. 

Let’s have a look now at some of the biggest winners and losers from the Week 8 action around college football. 

Winner: Alabama

Down 20-7 at halftime against Tennessee, Alabama seemed to be on life support. The Tide barely survived challenges against Arkansas and Texas A&M over the last two games, and all the issues facing Alabama came to a head at one time against a historic rival. And then Alabama woke up. 

Quarterback Jalen Milroe hit Isaiah Bond for a 46-yard touchdown on the second play of the second half. A pass and run from Milroe helped set up another. Linebacker Jihaad Campbell picked up a strip-sack and returned it for a touchdown. Suddenly, Alabama ran out to a 27-0 run that iced the game. 

Alabama has been playing flat football this season, especially since its 24-10 win over Ole Miss. The Tide sit in first place in the SEC West despite rarely showing a second gear. Clamping down Tennessee in the second half was the first time that Alabama really looked like Alabama, even for a stretch. 

Loser: USC

When Lincoln Riley took over the USC program in 2022, it was gifted one of the best quarterback prospects in years as Caleb Williams followed Riley from Oklahoma. Williams exceeded the hype in his first season, winning the Heisman Trophy and cementing himself as the presumed No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick. 

After losing to Utah, USC has now officially wasted Caleb Williams. The loss was the second of the season for USC, which all but eliminates the Trojans from College Football Playoff contention. After losing to Utah again, it’s hard to see USC even getting back into the Pac-12 Championship Game picture. 

Williams is a singular talent at the quarterback position. Unfortunately, because of USC’s mismanagement and defensive woes, he will never play on the game’s biggest stage. Highly rated recruit Malachi Nelson may be the next big thing at quarterback, but failing to reach the playoff with Williams will be a black mark on Riley’s resume. 

Loser: Iowa

The great part about college football is that every single week there’s something new and outrageous on the table. This week, it was Iowa potentially costing itself a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game thanks to – of all things – a controversial fair catch call. Returner Cooper DeJean fielded a punt off the bounce near midfield and returned it through traffic for a touchdown. However, the referees ruled that he inadvertently waved his arms to signal a fair catch, meaning the ball is downed at the return. 

Three plays later, quarterback Deacon Hill threw an interception and Iowa officially lost its first matchup against Minnesota since 2014 by a 12-10 mark. It was also the first loss to the Gophers in Kinnick Stadium since 1999. To make matters worse, it was the second conference loss for Iowa, slotting the Hawkeyes behind Wisconsin in the Big Ten West race. Iowa is tied with Minnesota and Nebraska in the loss column.

Winner: Oklahoma State RB Ollie Gordon

Oklahoma State has quietly turned a corner since Big 12 play started, getting off to a 3-1 start. Look a little closer and that turnaround has a name: Ollie Gordon. In a 48-34 win over West Virginia, Gordon carried the ball 29 times for 289 yards and broke off four touchdowns, including the game-clincher. 

Gordon has hit an astonishing level over the past four games. After toting the rock just 19 combined times in nonconference play, Gordon has carried it 97 times for 707 yards and six touchdowns. Against Kansas, he added 116 yards receiving and a score, giving him 566 all-purpose yards over the past two games alone. 

Oklahoma State is now tied with Iowa State, Texas and Kansas State for second place in the wide open Big 12. If Gordon can keep up his production, he will have a serious case to earn Big 12 Player of the Year honors. 

Loser: Penn State QB Drew Allar

Allar ranked among the most significant recruits in recent Penn State history, the No. 3 overall player in the Class of 2022 right out of Ohio State’s backyard. He got off to a solid start as Penn State began the season 6-0, but the battle against Ohio State was the real test. Unfortunately, Allar failed the exam. 

The sophomore connected on just one of his first six passes and ultimately finished 18 of 42 for 191 yards and 4.5 yards per pass attempt. Reflective of his struggles, the Nittany Lions went just 1 of 6 on third downs. Allar went just 3 of 12 on third downs for 12 total yards. He did show some flashes, completing 8 of 11 passes and throwing his lone touchdown with fewer than three minutes remaining, but it was too late.  

After an 11-2 season and Rose Bowl victory one year ago, Penn State hoped Allar could be a trump card for the program and push it into the Ohio State-Michigan range. Instead, Allar was one of Penn State’s greatest liabilities. He will have another chance to redeem himself against No. 2 Michigan on Nov. 11, but Allar simply might not be ready for the moment in 2023. 

Winner: Utah QB Bryson Barnes

When Barnes plays, it’s hard not to hear “Explosions in the Sky” playing in the background. The comparisons to Friday Night Lights character Matt Saracen are uncanny. The former walk-on comes from a family of pig farmers and was only thrust into the starting lineup because of an injury to Rising. The staff even brought in a top-rated addition to try and win the job over him. Since then, all he does is win. 

A shocking 34-32 win over USC featured perhaps his finest and most made-for-TV moment. Facing second-and-15 after a false start with 16 seconds remaining, Barnes found a lane and ran 26 yards to set up a game-winning field goal. His 292 yards and four touchdowns bested the reigning Heisman Trophy winner Williams in the win. 

Barnes has started five games in his Utah career, and the Utes are 5-0 in those games. Barnes will probably never become the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, but he’s putting together a legendary run for his home-state Utes. 

Loser: East Carolina

Things have steadily been building for East Carolina under Mike Houston, topping off with an 8-5 season in 2022. After losing 10-7 against a bad Charlotte squad, all momentum seems to be off the table. The Pirates are now 0-6 against FBS competition and 0-3 in AAC play, including two losses against new additions to the conference. Charlotte — ranked No. 126 in the CBS Sports 133 Rankings — was easily the most winnable game on the schedule. After managing just 127 yards and seven points against the 49ers, it’s hard to see where East Carolina goes from here. This is one of the worst teams in college football, and there’s no reason it should be. 

Winner: Virginia

The Cavaliers have been absolutely snakebit during their 0-5 start against FBS opponents. James Madison connected on a touchdown pass with 55 seconds remaining to win by one point. A taunting penalty set up a game-winning field goal for NC State. Boston College hit a field goal with minutes left to beat UVa. 

It appeared for a moment that another painful loss was on the horizon after running back Mike Hollins fumbled the ball through the back of the end zone against No. 10 North Carolina. Instead, Virginia’s defense stiffened. The Cavs forced a turnover on downs at the 20-yard line to keep UNC out of the end zone. One drive later, UVa intercepted quarterback Drake Maye to seal an emotional win. 

A 31-27 win over the Tar Heels ranks as easily the biggest win of the Tony Elliott tenure in Charlottesville, Virginia, and buys some much-needed time and goodwill. Finally, the Hoos are starting to put up some of the gaudy offensive numbers that earned Elliott the job. 

Loser: Arkansas

Two years ago, Arkansas was one of the best stories in college football after Sam Pittman led the Razorbacks to an unexpected nine-win season. Now, the program is tanking after a shocking and confounding 7-3 loss against Mississippi State. Arkansas posted just 200 yards of offense and ended two drives by turning the ball over on downs. 

Arkansas will be an underdog in at least two of its final four games with only FIU remaining as a likely win. The Razorbacks don’t have a Power Five win all season, and there might not be many opportunities left. The offense has been a complete disaster in 2023 as Arkansas has wasted KJ Jefferson’s senior year. If things finish this low, the Pittman era could be running on fumes. 

Winner: Bowl-eligible teams

The last time UNLV played in a bowl game was 2013, which itself was the first bowl appearance since 2000. Rutgers technically played in one last year thanks to its APR score, but previously had not reached six wins since 2014, the Scarlet Knights’ first season in the Big Ten. Georgia State made bowl games under Shawn Elliott but seemed to be trending the wrong direction after a 4-8 record in the Sun Belt last season. 

Now, all three programs shot out of the gates and found their way to bowl eligibility before Week 8. Even more impressive, all three programs have already hit their preseason overs with at least four games left to play, according Caesar’s Sportsbook. UNLV coach Barry Odom especially deserves credit for leading the Rebels to a bowl after kicking a game-winning field goal to beat Colorado State 25-23 on Saturday. UNLV’s only loss all season came against Michigan. 

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