The Gophers survived Penn State’s relentless offense (518 total yards), by picking off Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford three times and manufacturing 14 points off those turnovers.

Before Saturday, the Gophers’ best victory was arguably against Illinois, a team that caught fire after it lost to Minnesota. The Gophers won their first four games by a combined 20 points and required overtime to survive against Fresno State.

But now Minnesota can think big. It gets trips to Iowa and Northwestern the next two weeks, and the visit to Iowa City in particular won’t be easy. The Gophers will close the regular season at home against Wisconsin.

Win any two of them, and Minnesota is in the Big Ten title game.

Win all three, and the Gophers could be playing for a playoff berth against the Big Ten’s East Division champion.

This is serious, just as Minnesota has been all along this season about its big-time aspirations. Saturday just made it clear to everyone else.


Louisiana State. Built a 20-point halftime lead against Alabama, scored 46 points in Tuscaloosa and held on for a victory after stymieing the Crimson Tide’s onside kick attempt in the final two minutes.

The Tigers (9-0, 5-0 SEC) has now defeated Texas, Florida, Auburn and Alabama, and simply getting in the clubhouse with one loss is probably going to be enough for Ed Orgeron’s team to reach the playoff. LSU closes with a date at Mississippi before home games against Arkansas and Texas A&M.

Wisconsin. If someone is catching Minnesota in the Big Ten West — and whether it’s doable is awfully debatable — it is the Badgers (7-2, 4-2 Big Ten). Wisconsin edged Iowa, 24-22, to remain in the conference title chase. They need to win out against Nebraska, Purdue and Minnesota and get some help from someone else tripping up the Golden Gophers, but that’s the Badgers’ path to Indianapolis.

Illinois. The feisty Illini rallied from a 25-point deficit to stun Michigan State, 37-34, the largest comeback in program history. As a result, Illinois (6-4, 4-3 Big Ten) is eligible for the postseason for the first time since 2014. With one more win, the Illini locks up its first winning season since 2011.

The Illini have won as many conference games this season as they did in Coach Lovie Smith’s first three years combined, a remarkable turnaround for a team that has proven exceptionally resilient throughout this season.

Baylor. Still undefeated, even though it required three overtimes to finally finish off TCU, 29-23, and even though Matt Rhule’s team didn’t reach the end zone in regulation. The Bears (9-0, 6-0 Big 12) now have two overtime victories and a third on a late field goal. But they still haven’t lost, which means they are relevant for playoff discussions with three weeks left in the regular season.

It might not last any longer, since Baylor plays host to Oklahoma next week. Then again, the Bears have been dismissed plenty of times already this season. Perhaps they have another surprise in them against the Sooners.

James Blackman. Florida State’s season drew attraction for its mediocrity and its escalating pressure on a second-year coach. Well, Willie Taggart got fired after last week’s loss to Miami, and the Seminoles evened their record at a perfectly forgettable 5-5 with a 38-31 victory at Boston College.

But an underrated part of Florida State’s miserable season is the game of quarterback roulette the team’s coaching staff has played with redshirt sophomore James Blackman and graduate transfer Alex Hornibrook.

Interim coach Odell Haggins handed the offense over to Blackman on Saturday, and he delivered with 346 yards and two touchdowns passing as the Seminoles preserved a realistic shot at reaching the postseason. Florida State faces FCS school Alabama State next week (a likely win), then has an open date before facing Florida. A 6-6 finish and low-tier bowl appearance appears likely.


Chad Morris. The second-year Arkansas coach wasn’t expected to win the SEC West after going 2-10 in his debut season. And there would have been a way to spin a 4-8 or 5-7 season as progress.

But the Razorbacks are 2-8 after an embarrassing 45-19 loss at home to Western Kentucky, in which the Hilltoppers scored touchdowns the first five times they touched the ball. That gets paired with a September loss to San Jose State. And, of course, Arkansas has lost 17 consecutive SEC games (with Morris on the hook for 14 of them).

Would Arkansas pony up $10 million to hit the reset button at year’s end? It wouldn’t even come close to the largest buyout of this coaching cycle, since Florida State handed Taggart almost $18 million to go away.

Maryland. The Terrapins’ 73-14 loss at Ohio State not only eliminated them from bowl contention (a mere formality for a team that’s dropped seven of its last eight), but was also their most points allowed in a game since a 76-0 drubbing at Navy in 1913.

But while Maryland’s present isn’t pleasant, its future actually took a hit, too. Offensive lineman Jordan White, who was the first player to commit to Maryland in the class of 2020, announced that he had decommitted in the middle of the blowout.

ACC Coastal Chaos. The dream is dead. With Virginia’s 33-28 defeat of Georgia Tech, there will not be a seven-way tie at 4-4 in the ACC’s Coastal Division. Virginia is the first Coastal team to five conference wins, while Georgia Tech is the first Coastal program to get to five ACC losses this season.

The seven-way train wreck wasn’t especially likely, anyway, since it required the rebuilding Yellow Jackets to rattle off three victories in a row to close conference play. Still, the Yellow Jackets kept it interesting, hanging with Virginia into the fourth quarter.

Early impressions

Takeaways from Week 11′s Friday night appetizers:

Washington’s defense got well against Oregon State. After dropping back-to-back home games to Pac-12 contenders Oregon and Utah, Washington got back to the matter of salvaging something from a largely disappointing season.

The Huskies smothered Oregon State, 19-7, thanks to a sharp defensive performance. Washington (5-4, 3-4 Pac-12) gave up only 119 yards, and the Beavers (4-5, 3-3) managed their only score on Jaydon Grant’s interception return for a touchdown.

It was a stellar day for a couple individuals on the Huskies defense. Linebacker Joe Tryon had seven tackles (4.5 for losses) and two sacks, while linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio made nine stops, including 1.5 sacks. Those numbers look even better considering Oregon State ran only 50 plays.

The result also makes a winner of Oregon, which has its last open date this week. The Ducks (8-1, 6-0) can clinch the Pac-12 North with either one win in their final three games or one Oregon State loss.

Tulsa finally finished off an AAC contender. There aren’t many FBS teams with more “what-ifs” this season than Tulsa.

What if the Golden Hurricane had protected a three-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter at home against SMU, rather than falling 43-37 in triple overtime?

What if Tulsa, down four points to Cincinnati after making a fourth-down stand at its 12-yard line with 4:11 to play, not thrown an interception two plays later to set up a Bearcats touchdown that finished off a 24-13 Golden Hurricane loss?

And what if Tulsa had held a six-point lead in the final five minutes against Memphis rather than yielding a go-ahead touchdown in what wound up a 42-41 loss?

The Golden Hurricane (3-7, 1-5 American) isn’t going to a bowl game because it made a late stop of Central Florida on Friday night to preserve a 34-31 victory. But it should celebrate beating what has been the best team in the league over the last two seasons after enduring so many near-misses earlier this fall.

Heisman watch

Rankings updated entering Saturday’s games, factoring Heisman Trophy voting trends (in favor of quarterbacks, players on top-five teams, against receivers and defensive players) as much as on-field performance.

1. QB Joe Burrow, LSU (2,805 yards, 30 TDs, 4 INTs passing; 125 yards, 2 TDs rushing). If anyone has a shot at a Heisman moment this week, it’s Burrow. He leads LSU into Alabama for a riveting matchup. (Last week: 1)

2. QB Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma (2,469 yards, 21 TDs, 3 INTs passing; 801 yards, 13 TDs rushing). The Sooners quarterback had produced stellar numbers as a graduate transfer. If the Sooners can get on a roll this month, it’s hard to imagine he won’t be at least a Heisman finalist so long as he remains healthy. (LW: 2)

3. QB Justin Fields, Ohio State (1,659 yards, 24 TDs, 1 INT passing; 319 yards, 9 TDs rushing). The Buckeyes face Maryland and Rutgers the next two weeks, which could be good or bad for Fields’s hopes. He gets a shot at the Big Ten’s two worst total defenses, but it’s reasonable to wonder just how long he’ll be in to pad his numbers against either struggling team. (LW: 3)

4. QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama (2,166 yards, 27 TDs, 2 INTs passing; 30 yards, 2 TDs rushing). So much hinges not on how well Tagovailoa plays, but whether he plays at all against LSU nearly three weeks after undergoing ankle surgery. (LW: 4)

5. DE Chase Young, Ohio State (29 tackles, 15.5 tackles for losses, 13.5 sacks, 5 forced fumbles). Young will sit out Saturday’s game against Maryland because a possible NCAA issue. An multiweek absence would seriously damage his chances of even becoming a Heisman finalist. (LW: 5)

6. RB Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State (1,604 yards, 18 TDs rushing; 9 receptions for 40 yards). The Canadian had 20 carries for 223 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s defeat of TCU. That’s four 200-yard games this season for Hubbard, who moves up a spot for his stellar showing. (LW: 7)

7. QB Justin Herbert, Oregon (2,329 yards, 24 TDs, 2 INTs passing). Helped the Ducks drop 56 points on Southern Cal last week. Herbert and Oregon (8-1, 5-1 Pac-12) are idle this weekend before continuing their playoff push against Arizona on Nov. 16. (LW: 6)

It’s that time again

Late October and early November annually bring two reminders.

One is to set clocks back an hour back to standard time as daylight saving time ends.

ESPN spent a lot of money for the rights to the playoff and everything surrounding it, so it’s understandable why it would make a weekly commercial for its coverage and plop the committee’s ranking in the middle of the show as its centerpiece.

But that doesn’t mean everyone should fret about it. To review: An undefeated power-conference team is not missing the playoff (and if it somehow does, it will be a big nudge toward an expanded field). A one-loss power-conference team will have a chance. A two-loss power-conference team will need a chaotic season (and probably a league title, too) to have a chance.

With another four regular season Saturdays plus the week of conference championship games, it’s still much to early to place too much stock in the committee’s opinion of an in-progress season.

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