Blair Kerkhoff

Conference Call: Top teams survive underdogs’ push

With Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston serving a one-game suspension, his replacement, Sean Maguire (10) led the Florida State Seminoles to a 23-27 overtime victory over the Clemson Tigers on Saturday night in Tallahassee, Fla.
With Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston serving a one-game suspension, his replacement, Sean Maguire (10) led the Florida State Seminoles to a 23-27 overtime victory over the Clemson Tigers on Saturday night in Tallahassee, Fla. The Associated Press

As if we didn’t know how valuable Jameis Winston is to Florida State, now there’s hard evidence.

With Winston as the starting quarterback the Seminoles have won all 16 and until Saturday two had been decided in single digits, including the victory over Auburn in last season’s BCS National Championship Game.

With Winston on the sideline in a jersey and baseball cap, Florida State was pushed into overtime by Clemson before pulling out a 23-17 home victory on Saturday night.

The Seminoles, who maintained their top ranking in the major polls on Sunday, were among a handful of powers that felt fortunate to remain undefeated after Saturday’s action.

Second-ranked Oregon needed all five Marcus Mariota touchdown passes to escape Washington State 38-31.

No. 4 Oklahoma was tied at West Virginia at halftime before freshman running back Samaje Perine rushed for three second-half touchdowns and 242 yards overall in a 45-33 victory.

No team walked the tightrope like Florida State. The Tigers were a worthy opponent and could have given the Seminoles a serious challenge even with the Seminoles at full strength.

But Clemson’s chances took a decidedly upward turn last week when the school announced Winston would be suspended for half the game for making profane and sexually explicit comments on campus.

The suspension for Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, was increased to a full game on Friday. Backup Sean Maguire got the call and threw two interceptions. But he also connected on a 74-yard touchdown pass to Rashad Greene that tied the game in regulation.

Winston is back for this week’s game at North Carolina State, and the Seminoles have a few more tests this season. Notre Dame visits Tallahassee, and Florida State plays at Louisville in successive games in October.

But the Seminoles should be favored the rest of the way. The time to get them was Saturday and Clemson lost the opportunity.

RISING

Arizona

The Wildcats had scored 30 fourth-quarter points against California, and it wasn’t enough as Arizona, down its final snap at the Cal 47, trailed 45-43. Quarterback Anu Solomon hit Austin Hill on a beautifully delivered Hail Mary in the corner of the end zone for the 49-45 triumph that pushed Arizona to 4-0.

Big Ten

The conference has taken its share of grief this season, and deservedly so. But the conference had a good day with Nebraska’s 41-31 beatdown of Miami, Fla., Iowa’s 24-20 triumph at Pittsburgh, and the stunner, Indiana winning at Missouri 31-27.

Oh, and Wisconsin rolled to the most rushing yards by a Big Ten school since 1930 – 644 – in its blowout of Bowling Green.

East Carolina

The Pirates would be 2-0 and leading the Coastal Division if they were in the ACC. Saturday’s 70-41 smashing of North Carolina followed a victory at Virginia Tech the previous week. A record crowd of 51,082 at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium watched East Carolina set a school mark for total yards with 789, which is the most ever surrendered by the Tar Heels. The Pirates moved into the AP poll Sunday at No. 23.

 

FALLING

Michigan

All seemed right when Brady Hoke took over for Rich Rodriguez after the 2010 season. Hoke’s first Wolverines went 11-2, beat Ohio State and won the Sugar Bowl. Since then, however, mediocrity. Michigan fell at home to Utah 26-10, and that’s seven losses in the last eight games to FBS opponents dating the last year. The only victory in that span came against Northwestern in three overtimes.

 

Troy

What has happened to Troy?

The Trojans once struck fear in the hearts of the FBS programs on its schedule, but they were non-competitive in a 66-0 loss to Georgia. From 2006-10, the program won or shared five Sun Belt championships and went to four bowl games in that span. But there have been three straight non-winning seasons since for Coach Larry Blakeney, who, in his 25th year, had coached his team for more consecutive seasons than anybody in college football besides Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer (28 years).

SMU

These are tough times for the Mustangs, who fell 58-6 at home to Texas A&M. It was the first game for Tom Mason, elevated to head coach from defensive coordinator after June Jones resigned two weeks ago.

 

Committee of one

National semifinal projections

▪ Rose Bowl: No. 1 Oregon vs. No. 4 Alabama

▪ Sugar Bowl: No. 2 Texas A&M vs. No. 3 Oklahoma

▪ Knocking on the door: Auburn, Florida State, Baylor, Notre Dame

To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to bkerkhoff@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @BlairKerkhoff.

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