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Sports

Some teams have to dig deep to avoid upsets

Jordan Leggett

Clemson’s Jordan Leggett, left, dives for a loose ball against Syracuse on Saturday.

(Nick Lisi / Associated Press)
Los Angeles Times

Actors aren’t the only people who ask: “What’s my motivation?”

It happens to college football players too.

Several schools with big postseason dreams had to dig deep to avoid losses that would not have gone over well at the next cocktail fundraiser.

Clemson, Oklahoma State, Ohio State, Northwestern, Florida and Texas Christian entered the weekend with a combined record of 50-4. They faced opponents with a cumulative record of 19-36.

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The favorites moved forward with all the enthusiasm of a house cat.

In the Battle of Clockwork Orange, Clemson defeated sorry Syracuse, 37-27. The lackluster performance won’t hurt Clemson’s playoff chances, but will probably cost the Tigers their No.1 ranking (to Alabama) in this week’s College Football Playoff ranking.

Oklahoma State nearly pulled a repeat of 2011, when a loss at Iowa State cost the Cowboys a shot to play in the national title game.

Oklahoma State saved the Big 12 an embarrassing loss this time, though, by rallying to clip the Cyclones, 35-31.

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It did make you wonder, though, about the Cowboys’ short-term prospects of remaining No. 8.

Northwestern improved to 8-2 after a tougher-than-expected 21-14 win over Purdue. The game winner came on Justin Jackson’s two-yard run with 4:37 left.

Seriously, though, how do you get up for Purdue, which fell to 2-8?

Bottom line: Northwestern is off to its best start since 1996 and has a chance to win more than 10 games for the first time in program history.

Ohio State bogged and slogged its way to defeat interim-coached Illinois, 28-3, but still isn’t playing like a defending national champion.

Bottom line: The Buckeyes are 10-0 heading into next week’s big game against Michigan State. Urban Meyer is off to the fifth 10-0 start in his coaching career. That ties him with legends Bobby Bowden and Bud Wilkinson.

The only coaches with more 10-win starts: Bear Bryant (nine), Joe Paterno (eight) and Tom Osborne (seven).

Florida, which has already won the Southeastern Conference East, completed league play with a serviceable, 24-14, win at depleted South Carolina. The Gators close with Florida Atlantic and Florida State before the SEC title game.

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TCU also continued its befuddling play against Kansas, eking out a 23-17 win over a team that fell to 0-10.

Granted, TCU was still suffering the hangover of last week’s loss to Oklahoma State, and lost quarterback Trevone Boykin to an early ankle injury.

For some reason, though, TCU just can’t get motivated for KU. The Horned Frogs’ last four scores against one of the nation’s most woeful programs: 23-17, 34-30, 27-17 and 20-6.

New York, New York?

It may be time to reserve a Heisman Trophy finalist seat for Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who set the NCAA record for rushing touchdowns Saturday against Southern Methodist.

Reynolds had shared the record with former Wisconsin back Montee Ball, at 77, but claimed history for his own by scoring four rushing touchdowns in Navy’s 55-14 win at Annapolis, Md.

Navy is 8-1 for the first time since 1963, the year Roger Staubach won the Heisman Trophy.

Staubach, though, wasn’t Navy’s only winner. In 1960, all-around athlete Joe Bellino won the Heisman for the Midshipmen.

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How good is Reynolds?

He has scored at least one rushing touchdown in 24 of his last 28 games. He has scored three or more rushing touchdowns an NCAA-record 15 times.

He also scored seven rushing touchdowns in 2013 against San Jose State, an NCAA record for quarterbacks.

Reynolds has led a senior class that has gone 33-15 with a chance to take Navy to a major bowl berth for the first time since the 1964 Cotton Bowl.

Navy, with Staubach at quarterback, lost to Associated Press national champion Texas.

Let’s play one

Notre Dame got a tape-measure home run from Josh Adams on Saturday to end a perfect homestand on its way to next week’s big game against Boston at Fenway Park.

Huh?

Well, it’s almost all true. Notre Dame improved to 9-1 with a 28-7 win over Wake Forest in South Bend, Ind., in which Adams broke the school record with his 98-yard scoring run.

It was the longest play from scrimmage in college football this year and surpassed the previous Notre Dame best: a 96-yard pass from Blair Kiel to Joe Howard against Georgia Tech in 1981.

The longest rushing touchdown in Notre Dame’s history had been Bob Livingstone’s 92-yarder against USC in 1947.

Notre Dame capped a perfect 6-0 home season and next faces Boston College in a football game at Fenway Park.

At No. 4 in the latest College Football Playoff ranking, Notre Dame is not only the designated home team, but also the resident “Green Monster.”

Boston College isn’t very good, but has historically been a title-crushing Notre Dame nemesis. See: 1993 and 2002.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com


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