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Contenders get weeded out on road

The road to playing for titles in college football has always gone through, well, the road.

In 2012, Notre Dame forged its run to the national title game with a dominant October fourth quarter at Oklahoma. Alabama's defining drive of its championship run came in the final seconds of a come-from-behind win at LSU.

On Saturday, Oklahoma State, Wisconsin, Ole Miss and LSU all went on the road with opportunities to assert themselves in their league races. All four came up short, as conference landscapes across the nation crystallized with their defeats.

Georgia got one final stop to hold off the Tigers 44-41 in another wild SEC shootout.

The Rebels played tough defense but couldn't get anything going offensively in a 25-0 loss at Alabama.

Wisconsin couldn't finish off its rally in Columbus, as Ohio State prevailed 31-24.

And West Virginia stunned the Big 12 preseason favorite Cowboys with a 30-21 upset in Morgantown.

"It was just a little weird," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said after the road loss. "When you're not functioning offensively and you have mistakes and drops and interceptions and fumbles, then it's really difficult to get in a rhythm."

That's what can happen on the road.

Oklahoma State, in its first true road test of the season, looked like a completely different team than the one that opened with three convincing victories.

Quarterback J.W. Walsh was picked off for a touchdown in the first quarter, and the Cowboys' passing attack never recovered. Oklahoma State's vaunted rushing attack never got going, either, as featured running back Jeremy Smith managed just 1 yard on 15 carries.

"We just had a few little difficulties we'll get corrected," Smith said.

Oklahoma State's difficulties appear more than a few.

With West Virginia crowding the box, Walsh struggled to throw the ball downfield. The Cowboys' kicking game is in disarray, too, without All-American Quinn Sharp. Oklahoma State missed two chip-shot field goals and several times failed to swing position on its punts.

And with Oklahoma's impressive 35-21 victory Saturday at Notre Dame, and Baylor running up the score on everyone it faces, Oklahoma State's status in the Big 12 now looks tenuous at best.

"It's a long season," Smith said. "West Virginia played a great game. We've just got to respond next week."

The Badgers had a chance to respond in Columbus after losing controversially at Arizona State two weeks ago.

But despite playing valiantly for most of the night, Wisconsin allowed Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller to complete a 40-yard touchdown pass with 1 second left in the first half that ultimately proved to be the deciding score.

With a win over Ohio State, the Badgers could have controlled their destiny in the Big Ten's Leaders Division. Instead, they now need two Ohio State losses to win a fourth straight Big Ten title.

LSU, too, had an opportunity to score a major conference win on the road. Unlike Oklahoma State, the Tigers had no problem generating offensive rhythm with coordinator Cam Cameron and quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who so far have been a match made in Bayou heaven.

But the LSU defense couldn't slow down the Bulldogs, even without star tailback Todd Gurley, who left the game in the first half with an ankle injury after reeling off a 25-yard run. Georgia scored on six of its final seven possessions, capped by Aaron Murray's 25-yard, game-winning touchdown pass to Justin Scott-Wesley in the game's final two minutes.

Mettenberger, who threw for 372 yards against his former school and was clutch on third down throughout the day, couldn't muster a completion on LSU's drive.

The Tigers are still in the SEC West mix. And they have proven they have the offense to be a factor. But now they have no margin for error.

"We have a long road ahead of us to get back to the top," Mettenberger said. "We have to win out."

That will include winning at top-ranked Alabama on Nov. 9. And as Ole Miss found out, scoring in Tuscaloosa is no easy feat, much less winning.

The young Rebels have shown they might be a force to deal with in the SEC down the road. But they were no match for the Crimson Tide in the trenches.

Alabama dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, racking up 254 yards on the ground while completely handcuffing Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace, who said earlier in the week the Rebels could "put points on anybody." Instead, Ole Miss was shut out for the first time in 15 years.

"They totally took it to us," said Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze. "We did not have answers to what they were doing to us defensively.

"They had the right call every single time, it seemed like. Not what I anticipated happening tonight."

Such is life on the road, where championships are ultimately won. And, where contenders are weeded out.