SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Paul Myerberg provides his opinion of the top three programs in the history of college football.
One week after riding runs of 21-0 and 17-0 to an impressive win against Stanford, No. 16 UCF went on a 31-0 run Saturday at Pittsburgh and lost, 35-34. In doing so, the Knights exhausted their already infinitesimal odds at gatecrashing the College Football Playoff and created room for another Group of Five program to step into an access bid to a New Year’s Six bowl.
A second win against the Power Five in as many weeks would’ve boosted the Knights’ standing in the Amway Coaches Poll. Three teams ahead of the Knights in the most recent poll lost this weekend: No. 10 Michigan, No. 11 Utah and No. 15 Texas A&M. Even as these Power Five teams continue to receive the benefit of the doubt, unbeaten UCF would’ve been impossible to ignore. Even with this one loss, UCF should remain in the Top 25.
Before Saturday, the program’s last setback in the regular season came on Nov. 26, 2016, three seasons and two coaches ago — Josh Heupel has since replaced Nebraska’s Scott Frost and maintained the Knights’ place atop the Group of Five.
And losing to Pittsburgh doesn’t alter that fact, though it does change the Knights’ equation for reaching the New Year’s Six. Now the path goes through No. 20 Boise State, which owns a road win against Florida State and remained unbeaten in Friday night’s victory against Air Force.
UCF’s attention now turns to winning another American Athletic Conference championship. The league is better than ever: Memphis, Navy and SMU are unbeaten, with the Mustangs a perfect 4-0 after Saturday’s 41-38 win against rival TCU. That the American’s credibility is higher than ever is actually good for UCF — winning every game from here out could get the Knights back into a January bowl.
Here are the rest of college football’s winners and losers from Saturday’s action:
The 28-20 win against Texas A&M is already Auburn’s second impressive victory away from home, joining a neutral-site win against Oregon in the opener. Given this early resume, Auburn deserves to be placed alongside Alabama, Georgia and LSU as the top teams in the SEC and one of the top teams nationally. The Tigers’ defense has been outstanding, particularly against the run, while the play of true freshman quarterback Bo Nix suggests the offense will only improve.
STATEMENT WIN: Auburn proves it is SEC threat with win at Texas A&M
Wisconsin’s star running back is making a case for cracking into a Heisman Trophy conversation recently dominated by three quarterbacks: Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence. Already one of the most prolific rushers in Bowl Subdivision history, Taylor went for 203 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries in the No. 14 Badgers’ 35-14 win against No. 10 Michigan. Taylor has now gone for at least 100 rushing yards in every game but one since the start of the 2018 season and has eclipsed 200 yards eight times during his outstanding career. He’s the only running back in the Heisman race.
DEFINING GAME: Michigan is pretender, while Wisconsin is contender
Appalachian State is quietly building a ledger worthy of the Top 25 after a 34-31 win at North Carolina moved the Mountaineers and first-year coach Eli Drinkwitz to 3-0. The program hasn’t skipped a beat in the transition from current Louisville coach Scott Satterfield, who won 40 games across his final four seasons. They’ll have another opportunity for a Power Five win at South Carolina in November.
Former Georgia QBs
The two former backups to Georgia starter Jake Fromm are putting up huge numbers. No. 21 Washington’s Jacob Eason put on a clinic in the Huskies’ impressive win at Brigham Young, completing 24 of 29 attempts for 290 yards and three scores in a 45-19 final. Across his past two games, Eason is completing 79.2 percent of his throws at 10.4 yards per attempt with seven touchdowns. And No. 6 Ohio State’s Justin Fields continued his Heisman-level play by throwing for 223 yards with four scores in the Buckeyes’ easy 76-5 win against Miami (Ohio). Fields helped the Buckeyes drop 42 points in the second quarter, the program’s most in a single quarter since 1960.
The Wolverines’ last three losses, sandwiched around two wins, have come by these lopsided margins: 23 points (Ohio State last November), 26 points (Florida in the Peach Bowl) and 21 points (Wisconsin on Saturday). The ugly losses against premier competition is becoming a theme. While it’s far too early to write off Michigan as a New Year’s Six bowl contender given the opportunities for a rebound still to come during Big Ten play, there are obvious warning signs surrounding this team — and similar warning signs surrounding the program at large. The Badgers’ convincing win continued Michigan’s luckless streak in Camp Randall Stadium and was the latest road meltdown during Harbaugh’s tenure.
REALITY BITES: Face it, Michigan: You’re no longer a blue blood
In his first college start, Florida quarterback Kyle Trask threw for 293 yards and two touchdowns to pace the No. 8 Gators’ 34-3 win against rival Tennessee. On the other hand, Tennessee quarterbacks Jarrett Guarantano and Brian Maurer — Maurer replaced an ineffective Guarantano in the second half — combined to complete just half of their 28 attempts for a middling 151 yards and three interceptions. The Volunteers continue to find new lows. While he went 1-4 against Florida during his unsuccessful tenure, former Tennessee coach Butch Jones never lost to the Gators by more than 14 points. On the other hand, Jeremy Pruitt has lost his two tries against the SEC East rivals by a combined 57 points. (Basically, Pruitt has made UT fans at least a touch nostalgic about the Jones era, which is saying something.)
That college football is impossible to predict is one of the sport’s most charming features. Take Temple, for instance, which one week after beating Maryland lost at Buffalo 38-22 for its first setback on the season. This doesn’t make sense: Temple is better than Maryland, so it’d make sense that the Owls would be better than Buffalo, which was blitzed by Liberty last week. But not on Saturday.
Now sitting at 1-3, the Gamecocks’ bowl hopes are dwindling fast. Here are three numbers to help put Saturday’s 34-14 loss to Missouri into perspective: South Carolina gave up 26 first downs, had possession for only about 22 minutes and gained 16 rushing yards on 24 carries. Barring some unforeseen improvement, t’ll get worse from here. The Gamecocks’ remaining schedule includes games against Georgia, Florida, Texas A&M and Clemson.