Week 11: Lots of anxiety, little clarity

If college football fans were looking for separation on Saturday, they could find it from noon until well after midnight, in all of the Power 5 conferences.

For the first time this season, it felt like the sport was on the cusp of its first-ever playoff, with teams' hopes and dreams riding on late field goals, muffed snaps and untimely penalties.

Finally, there was drama from coast to coast. So much for the new four-team College Football Playoff devaluing the regular season. If this is what November is going to be like in the sport's new era, we'll gladly take it.

Saturdays like these will make settling on a top 10 a nightmare for the selection committee, but they're a dream for fans.

No. 4 Oregon overcame a slow start to roll past No. 17 Utah 51-27 on the road.

No. 5 Alabama came from behind in the final minute of regulation and beat No. 16 LSU 20-13 in overtime to stay alive in the rugged SEC West.

No. 6 TCU dominated No. 7 Kansas State 41-20 to stake its claim as a legitimate playoff contender.

No. 9 Arizona State routed No. 10 Notre Dame 55-31 to knock the Fighting Irish out of the playoff discussion.

No. 12 Baylor blasted No. 15 Oklahoma 48-14 to climb back into the Big 12 race.

And No. 14 Ohio State beat No. 8 Michigan State 49-37 to take control of the Big Ten race.

If we learned anything on Separation Saturday, it's that No. 3 Auburn won't be playing for a national championship for the second season in a row. The Tigers, who used a Hail Mary pass and 100-yard return of a missed field goal to reach the BCS National Championship game last season and then won at Ole Miss last week when the Rebels fumbled into the end zone, won't be among the four teams who will be a part of the playoff.

The Tigers might have seemed like the surest thing going into Saturday's action, which pitted ranked teams against each other in six games. After coming from 18 points behind to pull within 41-38 of Texas A&M at home, the Tigers were driving for a go-ahead touchdown in the final three minutes.

But on second-and-goal from the Texas A&M 2-yard line, quarterback Nick Marshall and tailback Cameron Artis-Payne mishandled a handoff on a zone-read run, and Aggies defensive lineman Julien Obioha came out of the pile with the football.

After forcing a punt, Auburn still had a chance to tie or win the game, but center Reese Dismukes snapped the ball to Marshall when he appeared to be trying to audible. Texas A&M's Alonzo Williams recovered the fumble at the Aggies' 29-yard line with 54 seconds left to seal the upset.

For a team that seemingly found every way to win over the past two seasons, the Tigers couldn't seem to do anything right at the end on Saturday.

"It hurts," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "It hurts our team. We had goals and dreams and we didn't get it done."

It was nearly a Black Saturday in the state of Alabama. The Crimson Tide fell behind LSU 13-10 on Tigers kicker Colby Delahoussaye's 39-yard field goal with 50 seconds left, after Alabama tailback T.J. Yeldon coughed up the football at the Tide's 6-yard line.

But the Crimson Tide drove 55 yards in 50 seconds, and Alabama kicker Adam Griffith kicked a 27-yard field goal to tie the score at 13-13 with three seconds remaining. In overtime, Bama quarterback Blake Sims threw a six-yard touchdown to DeAndrew White, and then the Alabama defense stopped the Tigers on four straight plays to win.

"You've got to give our guys a lot of credit for hanging in there, stopping them when we had to stop them and making the plays when they needed to make them at the end of the game," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "It was tough down there, and I'm really, really proud of our players for finishing the game the way they did. It's a great win."

With Auburn losing for the second time, Alabama or TCU figures to move into the top four when the College Football Playoff selection committee releases its rankings on Tuesday night. At this point, it really doesn't matter where the Crimson Tide are ranked. If Alabama beats No. 1 Mississippi State at home next week, Auburn at home in the Nov. 29 Iron Bowl and wins the SEC championship game, the Crimson Tide will be a part of the playoff.

What we don't know is what other teams will be rewarded after four of the top 10 teams lost on Saturday. Arizona State, which led the Irish 34-10 at the half and then scored three touchdowns in the final 4 ½ minutes after it got close, figures to make a big jump.

What about No. 12 Baylor and No. 14 Ohio State? The Bears and Buckeyes have been penalized for their soft schedules to this point, but now, after their impressive victories on Saturday, it might be difficult to argue that they're not two of the best teams in the country.

The Buckeyes are still trying to overcome an ugly 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech at home on Sept. 6, but they've won seven games in a row, including a convincing road win over defending Big Ten champion Michigan State.

Is Ohio State a playoff team?

"I think it is, because I love my team and I don't know enough," Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said. "I haven't studied the other teams really. If I have to go fight for this team, what they've done -- very impressive. That darn loss the second game, if that hurts us, I'll take the hit for that."

Four teams in

1. Mississippi State: The No. 1 Bulldogs improved to 9-0 by defeating FCS opponent Tennessee-Martin at home on Saturday. The victory probably won't do much to impress the selection committee, but they'll have a chance to make a big statement at Alabama next week.

2. Florida State: The No. 2 Seminoles won their 25th game in a row, defeating Virginia 34-20 at home on Saturday night. Quarterback Jameis Winston threw two first-half interceptions, before FSU pulled away in the second half. The Seminoles play at surging Miami next week.

3. TCU: The No. 6 Horned Frogs answered any doubts about their worthiness for one of the four playoffs spots by routing No. 7 Kansas State 41-20 on Saturday. TCU probably has the easiest remaining schedule of any of the playoff contenders with road games left at Kansas and Texas, followed by a home finale against Iowa State.

4. Oregon: The No. 4 Ducks climbed out of an early hole at Utah before running away with a 51-27 victory on Saturday night. Oregon gets next week off before finishing the regular season against struggling Colorado (home) and Oregon State (road), followed by a possible date with Arizona State in the Pac-12 championship game.

Next four in contention

1. Alabama: The No. 5 Crimson Tide survived a big scare at No. 16 LSU on Saturday night, coming from behind in the final minute of regulation to kick a tying field goal and then winning 20-13 in overtime. The Tide can take a big step toward making the playoffs by defeating Mississippi State at home next week.

2. Arizona State: The No. 9 Sun Devils made quite a statement on Saturday, blowing out Notre Dame 55-31 at home. ASU is in great shape in the Pac-12 South, with remaining games against Oregon State (road), Washington State (home) and No. 19 Arizona (road). If the Sun Devils can win the division and defeat Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game, they'll be hard to leave out of the playoffs.

3. Baylor: Maybe Baylor coach Art Briles had the right idea right along. Play a Charmin-like nonconference schedule and then take care of business in the Big 12. The No. 12 Bears walloped No. 15 Oklahoma 48-14 on Saturday and now have impressive victories over the Sooners and TCU. If Baylor can win its next two games over Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, it might be in playoff contention when it hosts Kansas State on Dec. 6.

4. Ole Miss: The Rebels ended their devastating two-game losing streak by shutting out FCS foe Presbyterian 48-0 on Saturday. With close losses to LSU and Auburn, the Rebels still look like the best two-loss team in the country. And with a victory over Alabama, Ole Miss still looks more deserving than one-loss teams like Nebraska and Ohio State.

Heisman Trophy candidates

1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: Mariota was 17-of-29 passing for 239 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 114 yards and another score in the Ducks' 51-27 win over Utah. He has 29 touchdowns and just two interceptions this season.

2. Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State: Prescott completed 14 of 23 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 54 yards with one score in the Bulldogs' 45-16 win over FCS foe Tennessee-Martin. Prescott has been responsible for 29 touchdowns this season, most in MSU history.

3. Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU: After a mediocre performance against West Virginia last week, Boykin completed 23 of 34 passes for 219 yards and one touchdown, while running 17 times for a career-high 123 yards with three scores in the Horned Frogs' big win over Kansas State.

4. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin: Gordon ran 25 times for 205 yards and one touchdown and also caught another score in the Badgers' 34-16 win at Purdue, the first time in his career he had a rushing and receiving touchdown in the same game. Gordon also recorded his fourth 200-yard rushing performance, which tied Montee Ball for fourth most in Wisconsin history.

By the numbers

1. 37: Baylor ended a 37-game losing streak in road games against AP Top-25 opponents with a 48-14 rout at No. 16 Oklahoma (the Sooners are No. 15 in the College Football Playoff selection committee rankings). Only North Texas had a longer losing streak against ranked foes in road games, with 45 losses in a row.

2. 33: Three-time defending FCS national champion North Dakota State had won 33 games in a row, the longest streak in FCS history, before losing 23-3 at Northern Iowa on Saturday. The Bison hadn't lost since falling 17-14 to Indiana State on Oct. 13, 2012.

3. 51: Minnesota beat Iowa 51-14 at home on Saturday to reclaim the "Floyd of Rosedale" trophy for the first time since 2001. It was the Gophers' highest scoring total against the Hawkeyes since a 55-7 victory in 1949.

4. 63: Georgia routed Kentucky 63-31 on the road on Saturday, its most points in an SEC game since a 75-0 shutout of Florida on Nov. 7, 1942. The No. 20 Bulldogs scored 21 points in the first and third quarters.

Best quotes

1. "It really means everything. The coolest part about it is that, to me, it's just the tip of the iceberg for this team. It really is. People still say, 'You are still Baylor.' Yeah, we are Baylor. This is different. This isn't the same team as the '90s or the '80s." -- Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, who completed 32 of 42 passes for 387 yards with one touchdown against Oklahoma.

2. "A lot of stuff happens at the bottom of a pile. I'm not going to say exactly who had possession of it. But when it is all said and done I ended up with the ball and we had possession, so yes I did get the fumble." -- Texas A&M defensive lineman Julien Obioha, who recovered a fumble at the Aggies' two-yard line as Auburn appeared to be driving for a go-ahead touchdown in the final minutes.

3. "It's all on me, really. You play with fire as much as I did today you are going to get burned eventually." -- Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson, who threw four interceptions, lost a fumble and was sacked seven times in the loss at Arizona State.

4. "Eventually that's who we're going to become, and that's going to happen. I hope it happens a lot sooner than later, but that will happen within this program where we're going to be able to just physically pound the football and defensively go play physical. The game is all about just being physical." -- Texas coach Charlie Strong, after the Longhorns upset No. 23 West Virginia 33-16 on Saturday.

Best plays

1. Arizona State's Jaelen Strong made Notre Dame pay for the first of its many self-inflicted mistakes with a fabulous touchdown catch in the first quarter.

2. Appalachian State freshman Shaedon Meadors made an amazing one-handed catch in the Mountaineers' 31-29 victory over Louisiana-Monroe.

3. What do you do when Minnesota is in possession of the Floyd of Rosedale Trophy and Little Brown Jug for the first time since 1967? You dance!

4. Georgia freshman Isaiah McKenzie ran back the game's opening kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown in the win over Kentucky. He also ran back a punt 59 yards for a score.

Worst plays

1. Utah thought it was going to take a 14-0 lead on Oregon after Travis Wilson completed a 78-yard pass to Kaelin Clay. The Utes even celebrated. But Clay dropped the ball short of the end zone, and Oregon's Joe Walker scooped up the fumble and returned it 99 yards for a touchdown. Ouch.

2. After a scoreless first half, Northwestern scored a touchdown with three seconds left to pull within 10-9 of Michigan. Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald decided to go for a two-point conversion and the win, but it didn't turn out exactly like it was planned.

3. Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson had to know it was going to be a bad day after this early fumble.

4. A South Alabama running back didn't see Arkansas State's Sterling Wright coming after taking a pitch. It wasn't pretty. And neither was the Jaguars' 45-10 loss.

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