For complete results from the weekend in college football, check out Sports on Earth's scoreboard.
1. Penn State and Notre Dame get signature wins.
In Week 7, zero ranked teams played each other, and yet the weekend produced seven losses by AP top-25 teams, including four of the top 10. This Saturday couldn't have looked more different. In Week 8, two massive games stood out above the rest: No. 19 Michigan at No. 2 Penn State and No. 11 USC at No. 13 Notre Dame, which were played simultaneously as 7:30 p.m. ET kickoffs.
The story wasn't just that the two home teams, the Nittany Lions and Fighting Irish, won to give themselves resume-boosting statement wins. The story was that the Nittany Lions and Fighting Irish won so convincingly that it couldn't help but lead to questions about the validity of their opponents' rankings and reputations. Penn State and Notre Dame so thoroughly dominated their opponents that they changed how those opponents are viewed.
Make no mistake, though: Penn State and Notre Dame earned their convincing wins and deserve the impending avalanche of praise that will come from them winning the two biggest games of the week.
In front of the largest crowd in Beaver Stadium history, Penn State crushed Michigan 42-13 -- 13 months after losing to the Wolverines by 39. The Nittany Lions have won 16 of 17 since that defeat, and on Saturday night, they showed that they were the more prepared, more experienced, faster and flat-out better team. Behind Heisman candidate RB Saquon Barkley and QB Trace McSorley, Penn State quickly jumped out to a 14-0 lead. Although Michigan fought back for a little while, the Lions stepped on the gas again in the second half and won easily. Michigan looked overwhelmed, and Penn State looked like a playoff team.
Notre Dame has a one-point loss to Georgia on its resume, but in a playoff elimination game in South Bend, it got its biggest win of the season by demolishing USC 49-14. The Fighting Irish capitalized on USC mistakes and ran away with the game early, getting a few big throws from Brandon Wimbush but mostly doing what's made them successful this season: run the ball like crazy. Wimbush and Josh Adams carved up the USC defense, and an improved Notre Dame defense made the big plays needed to help turn this into a rout.
Undefeated Penn State is an obvious playoff contender. One-loss Notre Dame is hanging on to its playoff hopes. On Saturday night, they got midseason signature wins that they hope will launch them to even bigger things, with both facing daunting upcoming schedules. That includes next week, when they'll play at the same time again, at 3:30 p.m. ET: Penn State visits Ohio State and Notre Dame hosts N.C. State.
2. Nick Saban's Alabama teams are 11-0 against Tennessee.
We learned nothing new in this year's Third Saturday in October rivalry game. Alabama was a 36-point favorite. It beat Tennessee by 38, winning 45-7. Even when the Volunteers seemingly did good things, they could help but go wrong.
Down 28-0 in the third quarter, Daniel Bituli returned an interception 97 yards for a touchdown -- the Vols' first touchdown since the first half of their game against UMass on Sept. 23. The play will only be remembered, however, for teammate Rashaan Gaulden flipping off Alabama fans in celebration.
In the fourth quarter, down 38-7, Tennessee drove into the red zone. It scored a touchdown, but it was taken off the board after a replay review. The Vols followed that with a false start, a run that was stuffed and a fourth-down interception. They failed to score the rest of the game, meaning that they have now gone 14 quarters without scoring an offensive touchdown.
Alabama outgained Tennessee 604-108, with a 35-7 edge in first downs. The Tide thoroughly dominated the game, the sixth time in eight years that they've won the rivalry game by at least 31 points. Last year, they won 49-10, a 39-point victory that stands as the series' biggest margin of victory since 1906. Now, Bama has a 38-point victory, making the score the past two years 94-17.
Alabama's student section is chanting "Keep Butch Jones" as Tennessee goes through pregame warmups.- Charlie Potter (@Charlie_Potter) October 21, 2017
3. The Big 12 narrowly avoids big upsets.
The Big 12 entered the weekend with three realistic playoff contenders: undefeated TCU and one-loss Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. No. 4 TCU did what it was supposed to do against Kansas, and then some, blowing out the Jayhawks 43-0 and holding them to 21 -- twenty-one! -- total yards. Kansas actually spent much of the game with negative total yardage.
The drama resided elsewhere, involving tricky road trips for the two teams in the state of Oklahoma.
First, No. 10 Oklahoma State narrowly escaped Texas, 13-10, in overtime after a bad interception thrown by Sam Ehlinger ended the game. Oklahoma State struggled to hit its trademark big plays and didn't score a touchdown in the final three quarters (plus OT), and yet it managed to win the type of game it's not used to playing. Then, No. 9 Oklahoma fell behind early against Kansas State and had to play catch-up. When it finally did respond enough to take the lead, the Wildcats woke up and fought back, trading punches in a thrilling fourth quarter. Four touchdowns were scored in the final seven minutes -- two by each team -- and Oklahoma won 42-35 when Rodney Anderson broke off a 22-yard touchdown, crossing the goal line with just seven seconds left.
The Big 12's biggest surprise was Iowa State, which is now 5-2, pounding Texas Tech for the second year in a row. This time, the Cyclones won 31-13. No. 23 West Virginia also blew nearly all of a 38-13 fourth-quarter lead at Baylor, winning 38-36 thanks to a sack on the Bears' attempt to tie with a two-point conversion.
4. Miami-Syracuse trumps Louisville-Florida State in the ACC.
Louisville's 31-28 win over Florida State was fun -- and certainly more competitive than last year's 63-20 beatdown -- and hugely important to both teams. The Cardinals got 178 rushing yards from Lamar Jackson, and they turned a late James Blackman fumble into the winning field goal with five seconds left. For Louisville, it was a bounce-back win after devastating back-to-back losses to N.C. State and Boston College. It stopped the bleeding. For Florida State, it was a gut punch that dropped the preseason No. 3 Seminoles to 2-4, putting merely going to any bowl game in doubt.
In terms of the ACC and playoff races, however, the result in Tallahassee paled in comparison to what happened in Miami, which is something that we're still not used to saying. Miami spent the past two weeks pulling off last-minute wins over Florida State and Georgia Tech to emerge as the ACC's last remaining undefeated team. Syracuse spent last week upsetting Clemson, looking like a team on the rise under coach Dino Babers. The Orange followed that upset with a trip to Miami on Saturday, and even though Eric Dungey was intercepted four times, Syracuse stayed in the game until the end.
Dungey had a rough game passing but showed extraordinary toughness, running 20 times for 100 yards against a talented defensive front. His efforts weren't quite enough, as Miami got a 33-yard touchdown run from Travis Homer with 2:48 left and sealed the game on defense.
Louisville-FSU was an evenly matched game that went down to the wire, but the result wasn't nearly important as we thought it would be before the season. Miami, meanwhile, emerged unscathed yet again and moves on in pursuit of its first ACC title game berth and possibly a playoff trip, too.
5. UCF and USF continue to stand out as Group of Five's best.
No. 16 South Florida has still played a ridiculously easy schedule, but it faced a challenging trip to Tulane on Saturday and escaped, 34-28, rushing for 378 yards and holding off a Green Wave rally after building a 34-7 lead. And in one of the biggest games of the weekend, No. 20 UCF traveled to Navy and won 31-21, making big plays in key spots to hold off a dangerous Midshipmen squad.
While they did that, after beating two Pac-12 teams and looking like a major bowl contender, San Diego State followed up its loss to Boise State with a 27-3 home loss to Fresno State. Suddenly, Memphis (which already lost to UCF), Marshall and Toledo are the Group of Five's only one-loss teams, increasing the possibility that a New Year's Six bowl bid will be decided, on top of the AAC East title, when UCF hosts UCF on Nov. 24.