Laughed away as a contender for the national championship after losing by 46 points to to No. 1 Georgia in the season opener, No. 9 Oregon is now in the thick of the College Football Playoff race after a 45-30 win against No. 10 UCLA that paints the Ducks as the class of the Pac-12.
And that might be selling them short. Behind a career-making season from quarterback Bo Nix, Oregon has turned into one of the most complete teams in the Bowl Subdivision and a genuine threat to end the regular season with only that one loss.
With just one setback, and with that defeat coming against the defending national champions, Oregon will be in prime position to become the third Pac-12 team and the first since Washington in 2016 to reach the national semifinals.
An offseason transfer from Auburn, where early promise gave way to mediocrity amid the Tigers’ nonstop instability, Nix hit on 22 of 28 attempts for 283 yards and five touchdowns against the Bruins and is one of a handful of quarterbacks and running backs lurking in the second tier of Heisman Trophy frontrunners.
His five scores in under 30 throws equals Auburn’s season total in 197 attempts.
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Nix outplayed UCLA senior Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who threw for 259 yards on a season-low 6.6 yards per attempt. Nix averaged 10.1 yards per throw and added 51 rushing yards, part of the Ducks’ 261 yards on the ground as a team.
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Oregon’s defense has made a similar leap under first-year coach Dan Lanning. The former Georgia defensive coordinator has engineered a major turnaround since the opener, turning a unit that was ripped to shreds by the Bulldogs into one of the league’s best since the start of Pac-12 play.
UCLA had scored at 40 points five times in six games but was held to just 16 points through three quarters, eventually adding two meaningless scores in the fourth quarter with the Ducks ahead by 22 points.
The rejuvenated Ducks are suddenly looking the part. They top Saturday’s list of winners and losers in the Bowl Subdivision:
As in the 2018 meeting between these two programs that sparked Clemson’s most recent national championship, No. 14 Syracuse had the No. 5 Tigers on the ropes before a quarterback change to a true freshman sparked a furious 17-point fourth quarter and a 27-21 win. This time, Dabo Swinney pulled the plug on a struggling DJ Uiagalelei and handed the reins to five-star newcomer Cade Klubnik, who oversaw three scoring drives in the final quarter. The good news is that Clemson survived the Syracuse upset effort; the bad news is a dormant quarterback controversy is now alive and well, threatening to devour the rest of the regular season.
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The Tigers could very well win the SEC West in Brian Kelly’s first season. At the very least, LSU deserves a spot in the USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll after dominating the final three quarters of a 45-20 win against No. 7 Mississippi. Closing strong has become a theme for Kelly’s team, which has owned the second half in games against Florida State, Auburn and Ole Miss. Bowl eligible at 6-2 and getting better every week — this is especially true of quarterback Jayden Daniels, who has been very good of late — LSU will have an open date to get prepared for No. 6 Alabama on Nov. 5.
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No. 11 Oklahoma State avoided what would’ve been a crippling second loss in Big 12 play by overcoming a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat No. 21 Texas 41-34. The Longhorns had several opportunities to put the Cowboys away but struggled to get things going through the air and on third down, as quarterback Quinn Ewers struggled to get going after two very good starts against Oklahoma and Iowa State. Ewers completed just 19 of 49 throws for 319 yards and three interceptions while OSU quarterback Spencer Sanders accounted for 434 yards of offense and two touchdowns, including the eventual game winner from 41 yards out to wide receiver Bryson Green with three minutes to go.
Beyond pushing the Scarlet Knights to 4-3 and one step closer to the program’s first winning season since 2014, a 24-17 win against Indiana snapped one of the nation’s ugliest losing streaks: Rutgers had dropped 21 consecutive Big Ten games at home, a stretch dating to a 31-24 victory against Maryland on Nov. 4, 2017.
There’s a first-year coach in the ACC exceeding expectations with his team already on the verge of bowl eligibility — and it’s Mike Elko at Duke, not Miami’s Mario Cristobal. Here’s how his year has gone: Miami won two in a row to start but has since dropped four of five, with two of those losses painting an incredibly ugly picture about the state of the program. After losing 45-31 to Middle Tennessee State last month, the Hurricanes turned the ball over eight times and lost Saturday 45-21, pushing the Blue Devils to 5-3 and close to a very impressive postseason bid in Elko’s debut. After opening the year ranked No. 17 in the Coaches Poll, Miami will need to win three games of Virginia, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Clemson and Pittsburgh just to reach a bowl.
The offense is so bad — so historically bad, so inept, so absolutely putrid — that it’s become almost enjoyable to watch. (This doesn’t apply to an up-in-arms fan base that’s had enough of this nonsense.) Despite holding No. 2 Ohio State to a season-low 360 yards and keeping C.J. Stroud in check for the first half, the Hawkeyes committed six turnovers and suffered a 54-10 loss to the Buckeyes that stands as the program’s worst margin of defeat since 1999, Kirk Ferentz’s first season. Stroud tossed an interception on the first play of the third quarter but rallied to throw for 286 yards and four scores.
Nine unbeaten teams entered the weekend, all in the Power Five. Three lost in the afternoon slate of games: UCLA, Syracuse and No. 7 Mississippi. Leading 17-3 in the second quarter, the Rebels had a shot at putting LSU in a corner but failed to capitalize on that early lead by giving up two scores in a three-minute span. This loss is the first of several looming for Ole Miss, which had a very friendly schedule in the first half but closes with Texas A&M, Alabama, Arkansas and rival Mississippi State.
Toledo and North Texas
A matchup of the last two teams unbeaten in MAC play was going Toledo’s way until the fourth quarter, when the Rockets allowed Buffalo to reverse a 27-10 deficit with 24 unanswered points and steal a 34-27 win. Over in Conference USA, another matchup of teams unbeaten in league play featured three lead changes in the final three minutes. North Texas led 20-17 before Texas-San Antonio quarterback Frank Harris’s touchdown pass moved the Roadrunners ahead 24-20. UNT responded with a scoring drive to take a 27-24 lead with 1:38 left but allowed Harris and UTSA to drive 75 yards and notch the game-winning touchdown with 15 seconds left.