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Rivalry week was off and running on Friday with a slate of games with deep meaning on conference championships, the College Football Playoff and, of course, bragging rights.
The toughest loss came for Central Florida, which lost its all-everything quarterback, McKenzie Milton, to injury in the second quarter of a 38-10 win against South Florida. Unbeaten through November for the second year in a row, the Bulls will need to rally behind backup quarterback Darriel Mack Jr. in next week’s AAC title game against Memphis. Mack had a hard time as a thrower against the Bulls, hitting on just 5 of 14 attempts, but he added 51 rushing yards on 10 carries.
The day’s action is the appetizer for the weekend’s main course. Tomorrow’s schedule includes Michigan at Ohio State, the Iron Bowl, Notre Dame at Southern California and much more. Before those games, here are the winners and losers from Friday:
The Hawkeyes handed rival Nebraska another loss in the series, sneaking past the Cornhuskers 31-28 on a last-second field goal. It’s the eighth win of the season for Iowa, which is far better than even that record might indicate, and the eighth loss for Nebraska, which is also a far better team than the losing finish suggests. The Hawkeyes owned the line of scrimmage, especially in the second half, and continued to be the more physical team in this rivalry. But the Cornhuskers are coming fast, looking ahead to a promising second season under coach Scott Frost and young quarterback Adrian Martinez.
The Longhorns will move to the Big 12 championship game after a 24-17 win against Kansas. It was the sort of ugly performance that belies a bigger idea: Texas is going to play for a conference title and New Year’s Six bowl berth in Tom Herman’s second season, which illustrates the team’s substantial growth since his arrival from Houston as the program’s latest savior.
It was a good day for the best teams in the Mid-American Conference. Buffalo continued one of the best seasons in program history with a 44-14 win at Bowling Green, moving the Bulls to 10-2 heading into next week’s conference championship game. Eastern Michigan will return to postseason play after a 28-20 win at Kent State. Ohio’s offense continued to roll in a 49-28 win at home against Akron, which has seen a once-promising season derail in the second half. And Toledo will go a satisfactory 7-5 in the regular season after crushing Central Michigan, 51-13, to drop the Chippewas to 1-11.
It’s fair to ask if Virginia will ever beat rival Virginia Tech again, after a heartbreaking 34-31 loss in overtime extended the Cavaliers’ losing streak in the series to 15 games. The last win? That came on Nov. 29, 2003, meaning a child born into the Virginia fan base on that day is beginning to consider where he or she is going to college — Virginia Tech is a good choice for winning football. There are two painful parts to Friday’s loss: one, that the Cavaliers had this one in control late in the fourth quarter, and two, that this Virginia Tech team is so young, inexperienced and crippled by injuries that it will almost certainly improve heading into 2019.
The Cougars began November in the mix for a New Year’s Six bowl and may end the month in third place in the AAC West Division, should SMU beat Tulsa to end the regular season. Injuries certainly played a role: Ed Oliver wasn’t the same for much of the last few weeks, while standout quarterback D’Eriq King missed the finale after hurting his knee a week ago. Like most teams, the Cougars had slim room for error down the stretch.
In a way, the Razorbacks are winners for the sole fact that this miserable season is over — 10 losses and just two wins after it began. It’s been an ugly first go for former SMU coach Chad Morris, who inherited a program on the downswing but was not projected to oversee a team that would go winless in SEC play. The finale was a fitting conclusion: Missouri skunked Arkansas in a 38-0 laugher.
USF was a paper tiger at 7-0, a record built on the back of one meaningless win after another, but despite the flimsy resume few could’ve predicted what would come next: five losses in a row, many ugly, and the last that 28-point loss to UCF. Just one year ago, the Bulls entered this finale needing a win to reach the conference title game and potentially make a New Year’s Six bowl. Second-year coach Charlie Strong’s job may be secure, but that doesn’t mean changes aren’t in the offing for USF as it limps into the postseason.