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College spotlight: Best week of the season, as one presumed playoff team is erased

South Carolina’s Israel Mukuamu (24) reacts after his second interception of the game against Georgia in the second half of their 20-17 double-overtime win on Saturday in Athens, Ga.
South Carolina’s Israel Mukuamu (24) reacts after his second interception of the game against Georgia in the second half of their 20-17 double-overtime win on Saturday in Athens, Ga.
(Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)

So many college football Saturdays the last few years have been billed as sure showdown slates, only to come and go quietly with little movement at the top of the polls.

This one had all the makings of a nonstop thrill-ride: No. 6 Oklahoma versus No. 11 Texas at the Cotton Bowl. No. 1 Alabama at No. 24 Texas A&M. No. 10 Penn State at No. 17 Iowa. No. 7 Florida at No. 5 Louisiana State. And those were just the matchups featuring two top-25 teams.

But what made Week 7 the best of the season?

Something that felt totally outside the realm of possibility — at least prior to kickoff Saturday morning — finally happened to disrupt the slow, predictable march of the sport’s upper crust back to the College Football Playoff.

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South Carolina, 2-3 entering the day, traveled to Athens, Ga., and shocked No. 3 Georgia 20-17 in double overtime.

The Bulldogs were my pick to win the national championship — a flawed selection from the beginning, as it turns out — but I couldn’t be happier to have misread Georgia’s potential so badly.

College football needed this, especially after North Carolina fell just short of knocking off Clemson on Sept. 28. The sport is at its best when every Saturday there is at least hope that some program with a top-five ranking will experience the humbling the rest of the country’s fan bases risk week in and week out.

If a seemingly average South Carolina squad can go between the hedges in Athens and win, suddenly anything feels possible again.

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Yes, No. 1 Alabama rolled at Texas A&M, 47-28. Yes, No. 2 Clemson reestablished itself after the North Carolina escape with a 45-14 beatdown of woeful Florida State. And the argument could be made that Georgia’s loss makes it less likely that the Crimson Tide will be stopped from another trip to the playoff, because the Bulldogs appeared to be one of the few teams in the Southeastern Conference capable of knocking them off.

But instead let’s think of it this way: Georgia showed it was not clicking offensively against Notre Dame in a tight 23-17 win Sept. 21, and after this loss, it will have all the evidence it needs to give future NFL first-round pick Jake Fromm more of a leash to stretch defenses.

On Saturday, Georgia coach Kirby Smart’s conservative approach to game management cost the Bulldogs. Suffering an embarrassing home loss may be necessary for Georgia to have itself ready for a potential rematch with Alabama in the SEC title game. One loss certainly doesn’t eliminate the Bulldogs, and that defeat served a bigger purpose nationally.

Today, there is more hope for an unpredictable finish to the season than there has been at any other point.

Even if Georgia may not be as legitimate of a threat to Alabama as most thought, there’s a collection of teams that have shown themselves to be as complete as the Crimson Tide and Clemson.

Oklahoma beat Texas 34-27 on Saturday, an impressive win that likely knocks the Longhorns out of the playoff picture. But it was the way the Sooners did it, with an intimidating defense that sacked Texas’ Sam Ehlinger nine times. Due to a couple of Jalen Hurts turnovers, Oklahoma scored just 10 points in the first half. Last year, that would have sunk the Sooners, but this year, the scoreboard at the Cotton Bowl showed a 10-3 halftime lead.

No. 4 Ohio State had its bye week, enjoying the good fortune that Georgia decided Fromm was a better option at quarterback than Justin Fields, the Buckeyes’ dynamic transfer.

After No. 5 LSU’s 42-28 victory over Florida on Saturday night, the Tigers now have the two best wins of the season among the top five, backing up their eye-opening performance at Texas on Sept. 7 with another resounding statement. LSU’s new offense showed once again that it never takes the foot off the gas, a scary thought for an Alabama defense that has been vulnerable against much lesser units.

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No. 8 Wisconsin roughed up Michigan State 38-0, another sign the Badgers could put a scare into the Buckeyes on Oct. 26 in Columbus or later in the Big Ten championship game. The Badgers have four shutouts in six games, their most since 1930.

Three weeks remain before the first CFP rankings are released. On Saturday, one presumed playoff team was cleared out of the way, a step in the right direction at a time when the sport dearly needs it.

Jayden Daniels scored on a 17-yard scramble with 34 seconds left, lifting No. 18 Arizona State to a 38-34 comeback win over visiting Washington State.

Hilinski relief

South Carolina freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski’s day began with a 46-yard touchdown pass to Bryan Edwards to give the Gamecocks an early lead. But, with nine minutes left in the third quarter, Hilinski, a graduate of Orange Lutheran, took a hit to his lower body and had to sit for the rest of the game.

By the end, when Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship’s game-tying field goal attempt sailed wide left and gave South Carolina the win, Hilinski was able to exhale. He was shown on the ESPN broadcast flashing three fingers in the air with both hands to honor his brother Tyler, the former Washington State quarterback who died in January 2018.

During the game, the broadcast showed Ryan Hilinski receiving medical treatment on the sideline and motioning to his mother, Kym, that he was OK. She responded by blowing him a kiss.

Hilinski was scheduled to get an MRI on his left knee Saturday night, and he appeared upbeat with his family after the game.

Smoky air from the nearby Saddleridge fire enveloped UCLA’s campus Saturday, but once a shifting start time was established it seemed to be business as usual.

Daniels has freshman flair

Arizona State is 5-1, including 2-1 in the Pac-12, because it has a fearless freshman quarterback in Jayden Daniels.

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Daniels, a graduate of San Bernardino Cajon, scored on a 17-yard scramble to put the Sun Devils up 38-34 with 34 seconds left.

It was his third game-winning drive in six games after leading Arizona State to wins at Michigan State and California.

This was by far Daniels’ best individual game, throwing for 363 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 23 yards and that game-winning score.

With Daniels in Tempe for at least three years, Herm Edwards really may be building something.


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