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Separate contenders from pretenders

This is when it really starts to get good in college football, as if it hadn't already been entertaining enough.



But, hey, it's November now, and strange things always seem to happen in November. Already, we've seen incredible endings seemingly every week, individual performances we won't soon forget. And, yes, a sea of controversy.

The latest installment came Saturday night, when No. 7 Michigan State was knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten. Nebraska's winning touchdown with 17 seconds left was allowed to stand even though replays showed receiver Brandon Reillystepping out of bounds before hauling in the 30-yard touchdown pass from Tommy Armstrong Jr. in the Huskers' 39-38 win.

That was just a glimpse. "Separation Saturday" more than lived up to its billing, with seven of the top 20 teams going down. But three teams separated themselves, and here's a closer look at all three:

Clemson: The Tigers keep winning, and Dabo Swinney keeps dancing. Clemson's locker room following wins transforms into one big dance hall. It has become tradition for the Tigers. Something else that has become tradition is winning big games. Clemson held off Notre Dame back in October and beat Florida State for the first time in four years Saturday in a 23-13 win that saw the Tigers devour the Seminoles defensively in the second half. Dalvin Cook had 128 rushing yards in the first quarter but wasn't much of a factor in the final two quarters. As good as Clemson's defense was, quarterback Deshaun Watsonmight have been the difference. He totaled 404 yards of offense after a slow start and kept FSU's defense off balance with his running and passing. The Tigers clinched a trip to the ACC championship game, but they're thinking a lot bigger than a conference crown.

Alabama: There's Alabama, and then there's old-school Alabama. The Crimson Tide went back to their roots in a 30-16 thumping of LSU, which was, surprisingly, a physical mismatch. LSU's trademark under Les Miles has been physical football, but it was the Tigers who were left black and blue. Leonard Fournette was held to 31 yards on 19 carries after rushing for at least 150 yards in every other game this season. His counterpart at Alabama, Derrick Henry, went for 210 yards and three touchdowns on 38 bruising carries. The Crimson Tide haven't always looked the part this season, just sliding by a few times, but they were back to their old dominant selves Saturday night, and that could be bad news for the rest of the country.

Oklahoma State: Nobody really knew what to make of the Cowboys. We knew Mike Gundy's bunch could score points, and we knew they were unbeaten. But we also knew they were fortunate to slip past Texas, Kansas State and West Virginia by a combined total of 12 points earlier this season, and the win over the Mountaineers was in overtime. Nobody is sleeping on Oklahoma State now, not after its 49-29 win over TCU on Saturday. The Cowboys raced out to a 28-9 halftime lead and were never seriously threatened. Five one-loss teams were ranked ahead of Oklahoma State in the first College Football Playoff rankings, but the Cowboys should (and deserve to) get more respect going forward. They face Baylor and Oklahoma at home the last two weeks after traveling to Iowa State this coming Saturday.

The next few weeks should be even more intriguing, especially because there doesn't appear to be an elite team in college football this season. Do the Big 12 teams beat up on one another? Can Notre Dame get past Stanford that final weekend and knock out a Power 5 conference champion? Have we seen the last of the controversy?

It never shakes out the way we expect it to. But more importantly, college football never disappoints.

Playoff teams after Week 10

1. Clemson: All those pizzerias in the Clemson area might want to get a head start in warming up those ovens. Coach Dabo Swinney promised a pizza party if the Tigers make the playoff, and they took a huge step Saturday with a 23-13 win over Florida State to stay unbeaten and clinch a trip to the ACC championship game. The Seminoles struck early with Dalvin Cook's long touchdown run, but Clemson's defense rose up and took control of the game in the second half. In its two marquee wins (FSU and Notre Dame), Clemson has won the turnover battle 6-1.

2. Alabama: If there's such a thing as a lightning rod in college football right now, it's Alabama. The groans were wide and loud last week when the Crimson Tide debuted at No. 4 in the rankings. There shouldn't be much debate now about whether they belong after the way they pushed around LSU in a 30-16 win. Derrick Henry (210 rushing yards) is a load, and that Alabama defense is even more of a load. The Tide are playing their best football.

3. Ohio State: The Buckeyes have won 22 straight games dating back to last season, and while it's supposed to be just about this season, they're still easily one of the top four teams in college football when they play at their best. To get there, they need to get J.T. Barrett back at quarterback. Cardale Jones was OK in the 28-14 win over Minnesota, but the Buckeyes were starting to find their groove offensively before Barrett was suspended.

4. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys were sort of the forgotten team in the Big 12 race, but not anymore. They shredded the TCU defense behind five touchdown passes from Mason Rudolph, including four in the first half, and cruised to a 49-29 win over the Horned Frogs. Oklahoma State has scored 177 points in its past three games and is playing its best football of the season.

Next four in contention

1. Baylor: Coach Art Briles said he wasn't sweating when freshmanJarrett Stidham stepped in at quarterback for the injured Seth Russell, and Stidham showed why Thursday night with 419 passing yards and three touchdowns in a 31-24 win at Kansas State. The Bears never could completely put the Wildcats away, and a big reason is they had trouble stopping the quarterback run. Down the road, that could be a problem.

2. Notre Dame: The only blemish on the Irish's schedule remains the close loss at Clemson, and that loss looks better and better as the Tigers continue to win. Notre Dame hasn't skipped a beat withDeShone Kizer at quarterback, who accounted for six touchdowns in Saturday's 42-30 win at Pittsburgh. Notre Dame has won four straight since losing to the Tigers. The only downer for the Irish was losing running back C.J. Prosise to an injury.

3. LSU: Even though the Tigers were overwhelmed physically in the second half, they're still a talented one-loss team with that only loss coming on the road at Alabama. They're probably going to need Alabama to stumble in one of its remaining two SEC games or for chaos to occur in one of the other leagues to get into the playoff, but the Tigers could easily finish 11-1. It hurts that they don't have a quality nonconference win.

4. Stanford: That loss to Northwestern to open the season seems like forever ago. The Cardinal have won eight straight, their latest a 42-10 beatdown of Colorado. That's after escaping at Washington State last week. Running back Christian McCaffrey had 220 all-purpose yards in the win over the Buffaloes and even threw a 28-yard touchdown pass.

Heisman candidates

1. Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor: Coleman caught two more touchdown passes Thursday night in Baylor's 31-24 win at Kansas State. But, then, that's what he does every game. Coleman leads the country with 20 touchdown catches and has caught at least two touchdown passes in seven straight games. There's a reason West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen called Coleman the best player in college football.

2. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama: Winning the Heisman Trophy is all about delivering on big stages. Henry, on one of the biggest stages of the year, ripped off 210 yards and three touchdowns on 38 carries. He was the Alabama offense for much of the night in the 30-16 win over LSU, and the 6-foot-3, 242-pound bulldozer has 1,254 yards and 17 touchdowns on the season.

3. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson: In some ways, Watson has been overshadowed by the Tigers' defense. But he has had huge plays in both the Notre Dame and Florida State wins and finished with 404 yards in total offense against the Seminoles and, most importantly, didn't turn the ball over. Watson has hurt teams both running and passing.

4. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: One off night shouldn't end a player's Heisman Trophy hopes, but Fournette might have a hard time climbing back to the top after being held to 31 yards on 19 carries in the loss to Alabama. Henry outshone him, for sure, but Fournette also never had much of a chance. LSU's touted offensive line took it on the chin.

Tweets of the night

1. Ole Miss fans trying to stop Arkansas QB Brandon Allen when the Rebels defense cannot.

2. An interesting pairing.

3. Thanks, Rick Ross.

4. Cornhuskers prayers were answered.

Best plays

1. North Carolina didn't waste any time getting started with its demolition of Duke. The Tar Heels connected on a flea-flicker for a touchdown on their first offensive snap, with Marquise Williams finding Ryan Switzer for an 89-yard touchdown. UNC improved to 5-0 in the ACC Coastal after a 66-31 win.

2. North Dakota State's Zach Vraa climbed over the back of his defender to haul in an underthrown pass and still managed to get free for a 41-yard touchdown in the Bison's 59-7 win over Western Illinois.

3. The path to the end zone was blocked, so Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard took to the air to cross the plane. His Superman effort gave the Hawkeyes a 21-17 halftime lead over Indiana — the Hawkeyes went on to win 35-27 to remain unbeaten.

4. Facing a fourth-and-25 and trailing by a touchdown in overtime, Arkansas was on the brink. Hunter Henry's reception left him well short of a first down, so he heaved a desperation lateral behind him; it was recovered by Alex Collins, who ran for the first down. The Razorbacks went on to score a touchdown and won the game 53-52 after making a two-point conversion.

Worst plays

1. This play can be viewed differently depending on your allegiance, but Michigan State fans — and Big Ten officials — will not want to see replays ofBrandon Reilly's 30-yard touchdown catch with 17 seconds left that sent the Spartans to their first loss of the season and ended a string of bad-luck finishes for the Cornhuskers.

2. Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg hit his receiver right on the money — if his receiver was the official.

3. It was an afternoon to forget for Georgia State kicker Wil Lutz. The senior is the Panthers' all-time leader in extra points and field goals made, but he missed both of his field goals in a 23-21 loss to Louisiana-Lafayette — missing one so badly he cleared the nets and hit it directly into the stands. Lutz also had a punt blocked and recovered in the end zone for a touchdown and failed to convert a fake punt in the fourth quarter.

4. Cincinnati kicker Andrew Gantz surprised everyone — including his head coach, Tommy Tuberville — with an onside kick to open the second half against Houston. The Bearcats coach had some choice words for Gantz after his kick went out of bounds.

Quotes of the night

1. "I used the Kevin Durant example, the one where you don't let him get to 50 points, just let him get to 25. That's what we did tonight." — Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy on the Cowboys' approach to slowing down TCU quarterbackTrevone Boykin, who passed for 445 yards but threw just one touchdown pass to four interceptions.

2. "I'm pretty offended by that. … We train our quarterbacks to throw to people that aren't covered." — Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh took exception to Michigan being penalized for an "intent to deceive" personal foul on a catch byJake Butt, who was completely unguarded after running to the Wolverines' sideline as though he were leaving the field. The rarely called penalty prohibits teams from trying to trick an opponent by faking a substitution.

3. "We won the Kentucky Derby tonight, but we want to win the Triple Crown." — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney after the Tigers beat Florida State to clinch their place in the ACC championship game.

4. "The first half we stole a bunch of their signals, and those helped us a bunch the second half." — Washington State coach Mike Leach, taking a dig postgame at Arizona State coach Todd Graham after the Cougars beat the Sun Devils 38-24.

Stats that matter

1968: Before Saturday's 9-7 win over Vanderbilt, it had been almost 50 years since Florida won while scoring in single digits. The Gators beat Florida State 9-3 on Sept. 28, 1968.


36: Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer accounted for six touchdowns (five passing, one rushing) in the Fighting Irish's 42-30 win at Pittsburgh. Kizer's 36 points are the most by a Notre Dame player in a true road game and are tied for second overall. Art Smith was responsible for 37 points against Loyola (Chicago) in 1911, and Everett Golson (2014 vs. Navy) and Brady Quinn (2006 vs. BYU) have each turned in 36 points at home.

14 and counting: Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 114 yards on 26 carries with a touchdown. It's Elliott's 14th straight game with at least 100 rushing yards. The only FBS player with a longer streak in the past 10 seasons is former Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey (16 games from 2012-13).

53: Arkansas' 53-52 overtime win over Ole Miss was the Hogs' third straight game with at least 50 points, tying a school-record streak set in 1916.

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