With the other 10 teams in the league nicely paired by geography and tradition, the 2011 additions to the conference were placed in the new South division and given a spot on the final weekend of the regular season to play the -- groan -- "Rumble in the Rockies."
Let's just say this mountain "rivalry" -- with no bad blood and no previous meetings for nearly a half century -- has been something less than hot fire.
Until this season.
Things change faster than you think in college football, and we offer the Pac-12 South as Exhibit A.
Two seasons ago, Arizona and Arizona State played for the right to go to the conference title game. Those teams are 2-7 in the Pac-12 this year.
Last season, USC and UCLA played for the right to go to the conference title game. Those teams are 4-6 in the Pac-12 this year, with the Bruins dipping to an unseemly 1-4.
The division's forgotten pair -- Colorado and Utah -- are a combined 8-2 in conference, tied for the South lead with 4-1 marks. Absolutely nobody saw that coming. They are the only ranked teams from the division, with Utah at No. 17 and Colorado at 23.
The Buffaloes -- picked to finish last again in a preseason vote of the league media -- won by the unlikely score of 10-5 at Stanford on Saturday, becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2007.
"It's a monkey off the University of Colorado's back and it's exciting for our fans," fourth-year coach Mike MacIntyre said of bowl eligibility after improving to 6-2. "We're a good football team with great character."
And it's a good football team with a senior quarterback (Sefo Liufau) and a ball-hawking defense that has held four foes to single digits. The Buffs led at Michigan until Liufau got hurt, and their other loss was a four-point setback at USC.
Colorado, which is off this week, is one victory away from matching its conference win total from the first five seasons ... combined.
Utah, which entered the league on firmer footing and with coaching stability with Kyle Whittingham, steadily improved as a Pac-12 member, using the higher league profile to bring in better recruits. Utah tied for the division title with USC in 2015, but lost the head-to-head tiebreaker.
The Utes are 6-1 this season, losing only at Cal when they were turned away at the goal line in the final seconds. Their strength is in the trenches, even though they lost defensive end Kylie Fitts and center J.J. Dielman to season-ending injuries.
What's different about this Utah team is that quarterback Troy Williams can threaten with deep passes, opening up the bread-and-butter running game fueled by unretired tailback Joe Williams.
Utah will be the center of the college football world Saturday morning when ESPN's GameDay telecasts from Salt Lake City in advance of the big game vs. unbeaten Washington. Rice-Eccles Stadium will rock, and the MUSS -- the Mighty Utah Student Section -- will have a chance to show why it's one of the best student groups in the country.
Utah and Colorado. Colorado and Utah.
The "forced" rivalry didn't work.
The organic 2016 rivalry -- fueled by success -- could end up deciding the Pac-12 South. Get ready to rumble.
DeRuyter went 30-30 in 4 1/2 seasons with Fresno State, but the Bulldogs are just 4-16 since the start of the 2015 campaign, including 1-7 this season.
Fresno State went 20-6 in DeRuyter's first two seasons as the program thrived under current NFL quarterback Derek Carr. He received a five-year contract extension following the 2013 campaign that runs for 2 1/2 more seasons.
Athletic director Tim Bartko named offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau the interim coach on Sunday afternoon.
Kiesau is in his first season with Fresno State after serving as an offensive analyst on Alabama's staff in 2015. He has previously spent time on the staffs at Utah State, California, Colorado, Washington State and Kansas.
Former California coach Jeff Tedford is considered to be the leading candidate to replace DeRuyter. Tedford is a former Fresno State quarterback and offensive coordinator.
Another possible target is Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who also was a quarterback and assistant coach at Fresno State. Kiffin has been a college head coach at Tennessee and USC and also served as coach of the NFL's Oakland Raiders.
Another Alabama assistant coach, Steve Sarkisian, could be in the mix. Sarkisian is a former head coach at Washington and USC and is looking for another opportunity after his drinking issues helped lead to his exit at USC.
How about another?
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, contemplating Saturday night's 56-3 win over 17th-ranked Arkansas, gave his team two thumbs up and two big "wows" in his postgame press conference.
Asked about his offensive line and a running game that posted 543 rushing yards - with an average of 9.5 per carry - Malzahn said, "Wow, did we?"
Asked about holding the SEC's leading rusher, Rawleigh Williams III, to 22 yards on 13 carries, Malzahn said, "That's a wow thing, really."
Wow, it's really time to talk about Auburn.
The Tigers are 5-2 overall, 3-1 in the SEC West, riding a four-game winning streak that started with an 18-13 victory that got LSU coach Les Miles fired. Auburn doesn't need any help to win the division; all it needs is to keep winning and then beat top-ranked Alabama in the Iron Bowl. (Oh, is that all?)
The Tigers have road games at Ole Miss (Saturday), at Georgia (Nov. 12) and at the Crimson Tide (Nov. 26). That's some tall timber right there, but, as they say, defense travels. And Auburn, under first-year coordinator Kevin Steele, has itself a heck of a defense.
Auburn is third nationally in scoring defense (14.1 points per game) and only Texas A&M topped 20 points against the Tigers. Even Deshaun Watson and high-powered Clemson managed a mere 19 points in the season opener.
"Our defense, I can't say enough about it," said Malzahn, whose team jumped from 21st to 15th in the AP poll Sunday. "They're improving each week. ... Our defensive front has been very good all year."
And any offense that can run for 543 yards against Arkansas -- the most ever in a regular-season SEC game -- has to be respected. Sophomore quarterback Sean White wasn't thought to be the true zone-read running threat that Malzahn's offense needs to reach its highest gear, but White's efficient passing game has been a blessing while his feet have been good enough.
White had a 41-yard run vs. Arkansas.
"Sean White continues to improve," Malzahn said Saturday night. "He had a couple of big runs, and we talked preseason about the quarterback needing to be a runner. He is definitely sufficient enough when called upon."
It's all just more evidence that with Malzahn, you never know. Look at his previous Auburn teams:
2013: Auburn was unranked in the preseason but ended up playing Florida State in the national championship game.
2014: Auburn started sixth in the AP poll, but finished 22nd at 8-5.
2015: Auburn again started sixth in the AP poll, but finished unranked at 7-6.
2016: Auburn was unranked in the preseason and will finish ...
"We're in a good spot moving forward," Malzahn said.
Could be. Point is, it's wise to not discount Auburn's hot streak as a fluke. The Tigers are always defying the odds, one way or another.
Ohio State fell four spots after blowing a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead against Penn State in Saturday's stunning 24-21 defeat. The decisive play was a blocked field goal that the Nittany Lions' Grant Haley returned 60 yards for a touchdown.
While the loss delivered a hit to the Buckeyes, it was a memorable victory for Penn State. The Nittany Lions entered the poll at No. 24, the first time they have been ranked since Dec. 4, 2011.
It also marks the first time Penn State has been ranked without Joe Paterno as coach since 1954.
Alabama remains the top-ranked team in the nation and received 60 of the 61 first-place votes. Michigan is second and received the other first-place vote.
Clemson moved up to No. 3 with Washington ranked fourth and Louisville fifth.
Ohio State wasn't the lone previously undefeated Top 10 team to take a tumble. Texas A&M fell from sixth to ninth after losing to Alabama.
Three undefeated teams -- No. 7 Nebraska, No. 8 Baylor and No. 10 West Virginia -- round out the Top 10. West Virginia is part of the Top 10 for the first time since 2012.
No. 13 Boise State of the Mountain West is the highest-ranked team outside of the power conferences. Western Michigan of the Mid-American Conference is ranked 20th and Navy of the American Athletic Conference is 22nd.
Early-season darling Houston of the AAC dropped out of the rankings after being routed by SMU. The Cougars were ranked as high as sixth earlier this year.
Two-loss squads Wisconsin and Florida State are 11th and 12th, respectively. The Seminoles have a chance to get back into the Top 10 when they face ACC rival Clemson on Saturday, and Wisconsin also has that opportunity with a Big Ten clash versus Nebraska.
Florida is 14th, followed by Auburn and Oklahoma. Utah, which faces No. 4 Washington in a Pac-12 showdown this Saturday, moved up to No. 17.
Tennessee (18th) and LSU (19th) round out six SEC teams among the Top 20.
North Carolina (21st), Colorado (23rd) and Virginia Tech (25th) also are ranked.
Ole Miss and Arkansas joined Houston in dropping out of the rankings.
Plenty of expected College Football Playoff contenders have run off the road this season, but it felt as if the first seismic shift came Saturday night in State College, Pa.
Penn State, in its signature victory of the post-Joe Paterno era, used a 17-0 fourth-quarter blitz to stun No. 2 Ohio State 24-21, the winning points coming on a blocked field goal return for a touchdown.
Ain't college football great?
The Nittany Lions completed eight passes all game and still beat the second-ranked team in the nation. Meanwhile, Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes II had an FBS record 819 total yards ... and his team lost 66-59 to Oklahoma.
The number of unbeaten teams from Power Five Conference schools dropped from nine to seven on Saturday, as the Buckeyes and Texas A&M fell. But while the Aggies are essentially boxed out in the SEC West by their loss to No. 1 Alabama, the needle didn't actually move much on Ohio State's playoff probabilities.
All that jumping around from the white-clad crowd in Happy Valley only seemed like an earthquake-like event.
It's too strong to say Ohio State still controls its own playoff destiny, but a playoff projection remains a smart pick.
The Buckeyes' two toughest remaining games -- Nebraska and Michigan -- are in Columbus. A road game at Michigan State no longer looks troublesome, as the Spartans are one of those teams that veered into a ditch, losing five consecutive games.
If Ohio State wins out, it would win a potential three-way tiebreaker with Michigan and Penn State in the Big Ten East. The Buckeyes lose the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Nittany Lions. Penn State's closing schedule is actually manageable -- at Purdue, vs. Iowa, at Indiana, at Rutgers, vs. Michigan State -- but do you really think the Lions can end the season on what would be an eight-game winning streak?
Probably not, so the Big Ten East likely still comes down to Ohio State-Michigan.
If the young Buckeyes can bounce back -- and if they can successfully block a defensive front like Michigan's, when they couldn't against Penn State -- Urban Meyer's team will be in fine playoff shape.
5 things we learned in Week 8
1. Bad things can happen to Alabama. The Crimson Tide didn't even play all that great, but it still dispatched previously undefeated Texas A&M 33-14. The bad news: safety/punt returner Eddie Jackson is out for the season with a fractured leg. "I think he was an All-American player as a safety, at least in my book," said coach Nick Saban.
2. Tony Gibson's stock is way up. Pay attention. The West Virginia defense, coordinated by the suddenly red-hot Gibson, has held Texas Tech and TCU to a combined 27 points and 679 yards in the past two weeks. How impressive is that? Consider: For the season, those teams combine to average about 86 points and 1,140 yards per game.
3. Mike Leach should be smarter than this. Leach was fined and publicly reprimanded by the Pac-12 last week for comments about Arizona State allegedly stealing signals. Sun Devils coach Todd Graham in Saturday night's postgame handshake, was caught telling Leach something about "chicken" and "bull" stuff. Leach then said he "respectfully declined to answer" press conference questions about ASU on the grounds it might get him fined. It kind of overshadowed Washington State's first 4-0 conference start since 2003.
4. Well, sometimes coaches are dumb. BYU's Kalani Sitake called for a fake punt on fourth-and-19 from his own 5 yard-line. OK, that's just the half of it. The play he imagined would work was the punter running from about 8 yards deep in his end zone, which meant the punter -- the punter! -- had to traverse about 32 yards in order to get the first down. Yeah, didn't work. Honorable mention: Iowa trailed Wisconsin 14-6 with 5:25 left when it faced fourth-and-5 from the 20. A touchdown and two-point conversion could tie, but coach Kirk Ferentz opted for a field goal. It missed. Even if it was good, Iowa still needed a touchdown. The Badgers thanked Ferentz and ended up winning 17-9.
5. Houston had a very bad week. Poised on its tip-toes for a big kiss from the Big 12, the Cougars were jilted when the league announced it would not expand. And then Houston's big-bowl hopes were dashed in a 38-16 loss to SMU, a school that Houston coach Tom Herman mocked this spring in a speaking engagement, as reported by the Houston Chronicle, for having too-modest expectations. "I hear there's a private school up in Dallas that's really looking to try to get to seven wins," he said at the time.
5 fabulous RB performances
1. Leonard Fournette, LSU. Out for nearly a month, he ran for touchdowns of 59, 76, 78 yards, needing only eight carries to set the school single-game rushing record. He finished with 284 yards on 16 carries -- and a showdown versus Alabama is only two weeks away.
2. Joe Williams, Utah. Totally rejuvenated after a five-week "retirement" due to injuries, Williams carved up UCLA with a school-record 332 yards, the fourth-best total in Pac-12 history. The senior came back to the team after injuries further ravaged the tailback position. Said coach Kyle Whittingham: "What a blessing it is for us to have him back, and how unselfish it was for him to come back. It was legitimate. When he stepped away, he was hurting."
3. Joe Mixon, Oklahoma. With RB Samaje Perine out with a leg injury, it was all Mixon -- 263 rushing yards, 114 receiving yards and five touchdowns in a wild 66-59 shootout over Texas Tech. "I thought Joe Mixon had a game for the ages," said Sooners coach Bob Stoops.
4. Brian Hill, Wyoming. We dislike versions of "He's the best guy you've never heard of," but it might truly apply here, so let's do it. Brian Hill is the best running back you've heard of -- unless you happened to catch the nation's latest kickoff Saturday night and watched him run for 289 yards, despite battling stomach flu that caused him to throw up before and during a 42-34 win over Nevada.
5. Auburn's entire backfield. Eli Stove broke out for a 78-yard on Auburn's first snap, Kamryn Pettway rushed 27 times for 192 yards and Auburn -- without starter Kerryon Johnson due to an ankle injury -- steamrolled Arkansas with 543 rushing yards in a 56-3 victory.
5 top Heisman candidates
1. QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville. He has 18 passing and 16 rushing touchdowns, outstripping the scoring pace of every other quarterback to win the Heisman this decade. The gap between Jackson and everyone else this season is huge.
2. QB Jake Browning, Washington. He is the nation's leader in passing efficiency (204.9 rating), and that touchdown-to-interception ratio of 23-2 is pretty nifty.
3. DE Jonathan Allen, Alabama. His flying Superman sack of Texas A&M's Trevor Knight is one for the postseason highlight shows, and then he added a scoop-and-score for his second TD of the season.
4. QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson. He has lagged behind Lamar Jackson all season, but a big performance in a showcase game against Florida State on Saturday could elevate him up the list.
5. LB/RET Jabrill Peppers, Michigan. He didn't pad the box score -- didn't have to -- in a 41-8 pillow-fight against Illinois. The make-or-break games for his potential invite to New York City are still to come.
5 games to watch in Week 9
1. Clemson at Florida State (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET) -- Clemson controls the ACC Atlantic and stays on a playoff path even with a loss, so the stakes aren't what they could be, but this is still a big-boy battle that promises fireworks galore.
2. Washington at Utah (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET) -- Utah's middlin' offense has been revitalized by the return of running back Joe Williams, but the unbeaten Huskies have the best defense west of Tuscaloosa, Ala. A huge Pac-12 spotlight game.
3. Nebraska at Wisconsin (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET) -- This won't be Oklahoma-Texas Tech. This is Big Ten West football, and if the Badgers take down 7-0 Nebraska, it will be because of a shut-down defense that has allowed only Ohio State to score more than 17 points this season.
4. Auburn at Ole Miss (Saturday, 7:15 p.m. ET) -- Auburn's momentum will be tested by a fading Rebels team, and by fading we mean desperate, and by desperate we mean dangerous.
5. West Virginia at Oklahoma State (noon ET) -- The 6-0 Mountaineers have their "they haven't played anybody" doubters. This is somebody. Oklahoma State represents West Virginia's toughest remaining road trip (Oklahoma and Baylor still have to go to Morgantown).
Bonus game: There is no World Series game on Thursday night, so park yourself in front of Virginia Tech at Pitt at 7 p.m. ET for a key ACC Coastal game.
Mahomes tied the record set in 2014 by Washington State's Connor Halliday, who turned the feat against California.
Mahomes completed 52 of 88 passes and threw five touchdowns. He also set the FBS record with 819 yards of total offense.
Oklahoma and Texas Tech also set the all-time record for total offense in a game with 1,708 yards. Both teams had 854 yards.
No. 1 Alabama throttled No. 6 Texas A&M 33-14 behind the steady play of true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts and yet another defensive touchdown. Alabama scored its 12th non-offensive touchdown of the season -- and ran its streak of those to 10 straight games -- on a Jonathan Allen scoop-and-score in the third quarter. Hurts gave the Tide 257 total yards and three touchdowns in yet another strong start.
There was a point in the game, right around when Trevor Knight found Christian Kirk for a 25-point touchdown and gave the Aggies a 14-13 lead, where Bama fans might have begun to have flashbacks to 2012's 29-24 home loss to Texas &M. Hurts and company responded by driving for a touchdown, forcing the fumble and Allen's touchdown, then capping things with another touchdown. That's 20 points in just over nine minutes of game play, and that's enough for Alabama to bury just about anyone.
If there's any downside to the game for the Crimson Tide, it was the loss of star safety and punt returner Eddie Jackson to a fractured leg. He's done for the year.
That's a tough blow for a secondary that has looked as close to "vulnerable" as any unit on the Alabama team. Don't be mistaken: throwing on Alabama didn't just get easy all of a sudden. Texas A&M didn't even come close to scoring in Jackson's absence. But nobody -- not even the vaunted Tide -- can lose a player like Jackson without some reason to worry.
There's still nobody on Lamar Jackson's level
Someone check Lamar Jackson's DNA: he might not be of this world.
The Louisville star quarterback threw for 355 yards and three touchdowns in a 54-13 laugher over North Carolina State. He also rushed for 76 yards and another score. And most of that -- including all four touchdowns -- came in the first half as Louisville staked a 44-0 halftime lead.
No. 4 Clemson and QB Deshaun Watson -- Louisville's only competition in the ACC Coastal and Jackson's only competition in the Heisman race -- were off on a bye week, so it's not as if the Tigers could keep pace. Still, while Clemson holds the inside track for the division title, Watson's going to need to ramp up his production in a huge way if he wants to provide a serious challenge for the bronzed stiff-arm in December.
Texas A&M has a better shot at national title than SEC crown
Back to the Aggies. Staying within 19 points of Alabama in Tuscaloosa is a pretty impressive task, to say nothing of the brief fourth-quarter lead. Knight and his teammates probably don't want to hear about moral victories, but that's the sort of loss that probably won't degrade their standing much in the College Football Playoff committee's mind.
If ever it's "OK" to lose, doing so at Alabama tops the list.
The schedule lightens up somewhat for the Aggies from here, and they should be comfortably favored in each remaining regular-season game. Their only road foe remaining? Mississippi State, and if South Alabama can win in Starkville, Texas A&M can probably win in Starkville.
Going 11-1 in the overloaded SEC West with wins over UCLA and Tennessee to match is one heck of a resume.
The Aggies, of course, do still need some help. The CFP committee likes conference champions, and right now, the SEC, ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 each have leaders with inside tracks for a playoff berth that an 11-1 Texas A&M would not be able to match.
However, it's much, much more likely that one of those conferences sees its top dog play itself out of playoff contention, whether in a conference championship or a freakish November loss, than it is that Alabama loses twice in the regular season. So the Aggies' mission is clear: win out and get a little help. A little's all they need.
Joe Williams is one of the best stories in college football
No. 19 Utah outgunned UCLA 52-45 in yet another wild Pac-12 matchup. The Utes' weapon of choice was running back Joe Williams, who racked up 332 yards and four touchdowns on just 29 rushes.
That would have been a stunning prediction to make a month ago, considering Williams had just retired a few weeks into his senior season at Utah. The 23-year-old tailback was dealing with a lack of productivity and a variety of small injuries, and he had happily walked away from the sport two weeks into the season.
Utah lost its top three running backs shortly thereafter, and assistant coach Dennis Erickson (yes, that Dennis Erickson) called Williams and asked him to reconsider. Fortunately for the Utes, Williams said yes, and he's got 511 yards in just two weeks back.
Give credit to Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham: not every coach would have taken Williams back. Walking away from a team in the middle of a season, injuries or not, is anathema to some who preach unbending discipline.
And it's unlikely Whittingham makes his call unless circumstances demand it. But they did, so he did, and now Utah has a healthy running game.
Auburn is back
What looked like a great matchup of ranked foes in the SEC West turned into a laugher early -- and it almost turned into something worse for one of them.
No. 21 Auburn obliterated No. 17 Arkansas 56-3 on the strength of 543 rushing yards. That's an all-time school record for conference play, and it came largely due to the efforts of running back Kamryn Pettway. Auburn's bruising sophomore logged 192 yards on 27 rushes and two scores.
Pettway's contributions came in more ways, though; as the defensive focal point, his mere presence in the backfield helped spring several big plays from his teammates. It was vintage Gus Malzahn, and it was far too much for Arkansas to handle.
Visiting Arkansas found itself at the other end of the spectrum, rushing for just 25 yards in the blowout. But it was the passing game that found itself on the brink of real disaster, as quarterback Austin Allen briefly went down with what appeared to be a knee injury. He wasn't out long, fortunately, and Arkansas fans need not panic. Well, not about Allen's health, anyway.
Starting safety Eddie Jackson sustained a fractured left leg and will miss the remainder of the season, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said after the game.
The injury occurred in the fourth quarter after Jackson was tackled on a 17-yard punt return. He was helped off the field and then carted to the locker room.
The injury ends Jackson's college career. He came back to school this season rather than enter the draft.
"I'm sick for him and his family," Saban said.
Jackson's senior season ends with 24 tackles, one interception and three touchdowns (two punt returns, one interception return). He had three tackles against Texas A&M in what proved to be his final game for Alabama.
NFLDraftScout.com projects Jackson as a first- or second-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and ranks him as the No. 3 strong safety.
Jackson tied for the SEC lead in interceptions last season with six after he moved from cornerback to safety for the start of his junior season. He was named second-team All-American and first-team All-Southeastern Conference.
Before Jackson's sophomore season in 2014, he tore an ACL in April but returned for the start of the season that fall. His career totals include 126 tackles, 10 interceptions, three fumble recoveries and five touchdowns.
Trace McSorley completed 8 of 23 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 63 yards and another score and Saquon Barkley added 99 yards on 12 carries for the Nittany Lions (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten), who were nearly three-touchdown underdogs.
Penn State's defense sacked J.T. Barrett six times and safety Marcus Allen blocked the field goal that led to the deciding score for Penn State.
Barrett completed 28 of 43 passes for 245 yards and a touchdown and Curtis Samuel added 68 rushing yards for the Buckeyes (6-1, 3-1). The defeat was just Ohio State's second Big Ten regular-season game lost under fifth-year coach Urban Meyer.
No. 1 Alabama 33, No. 6 Texas A&M 14
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Top-ranked Alabama received three total touchdowns from quarterback Jalen Hurts to thump No. 6 Texas A&M in an SEC showdown on Saturday.
Damien Harris rushed for 128 yards for the Crimson Tide (8-0, 5-0), who won their 20th consecutive game. Hurts passed for two scores and rushed for one and defensive end Jonathan Allen scored on a 29-yard fumble return for Alabama.
Trevor Knight passed for two touchdowns for the Aggies (6-1, 4-1 SEC). Christian Kirk caught a 25-yard touchdown pass that gave the Aggies a 14-13 lead early in the third quarter before Alabama took over.
Hurts found receiver Calvin Ridley for a 4-yard touchdown to make it 20-14 midway through the third quarter and the Tide controlled the rest of the contest.
No. 3 Michigan 41, Illinois 8
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Wilton Speight passed for 253 yards and two touchdown passes to help No. 3 Michigan cruised past Illinois in Big Ten play.
Karan Higdon gained 106 yards on eight carries, including a 45-yard touchdown, while De'Veon Smith rushed for 76 yards and a touchdown for Michigan (7-0, 4-0). Amara Darboh caught five passes for 99 yards.
The Fighting Illini (2-5, 1-3) were forced to use their third-string quarterback Jeff George Jr. as Wes Lunt (back) and Chayce Crouch (undisclosed) did not dress. George Jr., son of the former NFL quarterback, completed four of 15 passes for 95 yards with a touchdown and interception in his first start.
No. 5 Washington 41, Oregon State 17
SEATTLE -- Sophomore quarterback Jake Browning threw for three touchdowns and ran for a score as No. 5 Washington remained unbeaten by rolling past Oregon State in Pac-12 play.
The Huskies (7-0, 4-0) scored 21 first-quarter points and were never threatened. Myles Gaskin gashed the Beavers for 128 yards and one touchdown on just 18 carries.
The Beavers (2-5, 0-3) faced an uphill challenge even before the opening whistle. Their top two quarterbacks, Darrell Garretson and Conor Blount, were injured in a 19-14 loss to Utah last week. Third-string sophomore quarterback Marcus McMaryion got the start and completed 12 of 26 passes for 148 yards and two interceptions.
No. 7 Louisville 54, North Carolina State 13
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Heisman favorite Lamar Jackson accounted for four touchdowns and No. 7 Louisville raced to a 44-point lead at the half and breezed past North Carolina State in ACC play.
Jackson, who was replaced early in the fourth quarter, netted 355 yards and three touchdowns passing to go with 76 yards and one score on the ground. The Cardinals (6-1, 4-1) were strong on defense early, holding N.C. State's offense to minus-1 yard on 11 plays in the first quarter.
Ryan Finley passed for 236 yards and two touchdowns but was intercepted twice for the Wolfpack (4-3, 1-2).
No. 8 Nebraska 27, Purdue 14
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Tommy Armstrong Jr. passed for 252 yards and one touchdown and also rushed for one as No. 8 Nebraska remained perfect with the win over Purdue in Big Ten play.
Armstrong hit De'Mornay Pierson-El on a 40-yard slant route that went for a touchdown early in the third period to put the Cornhuskers (7-0, 4-0) up 17-14. Alonzo Moore's 24-yard touchdown run helped put it away.
Quarterback David Blough passed for 309 yards and two touchdowns for the Boilermakers (3-4, 1-3). Purdue was playing its first game under interim coach Gerad Parker after Darrell Hazell was fired on Sunday.
No. 10 Wisconsin 17, Iowa 9
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Corey Clement rushed for 134 yards and one touchdown as No. 10 Wisconsin snapped a two-game losing streak by beating Iowa.
Backup quarterback Bart Houston connected on a 17-yard touchdown pass to junior tight end Troy Fumagalli for Wisconsin (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten) Starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook passed for 197 yards as coach Paul Chryst incorporated both of his signal-callers into the game plan.
Iowa (5-3, 2-2) was held to an anemic 2-of-13 on third down conversions by a stout Wisconsin defense. Quarterback C.J. Beathard completed 17 of 33 passes for just 153 yards.
SMU 38, No. 11 Houston 16
DALLAS -- Ben Hicks threw three touchdown passes and the SMU defense sacked No. 11 Houston seven times en route to the upset victory in an American Athletic Conference game.
SMU (3-4, 1-2 AAC) was 0-12 previously against ranked teams, losing by an average of 27.6 points in that span since upsetting No. 20 TCU 40-33 in overtime in 2011. Jarvis Pruitt had a team-high three sacks for a defense that held Houston to 303 yards of total offense, 202.1 under its average.
Houston (6-2, 3-2) lost for the second time in its last three games. The Cougars, held to only 62 yards rushing on 35 carries, had their six-game streak snapped of scoring at least 35 points. Quarterback Greg Ward Jr. passed for 241 yards and two touchdowns.
No. 12 West Virginia 34, TCU 10
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Skyler Howard threw four touchdowns passes against the hometown school that didn't recruit him as No. 12 West Virginia crushed TCU 34-10.
Howard threw for 231 yards and Rushel Shell III ran for 117 yards for the Mountaineers (6-0, 3-0 Big 12). West Virginia is enjoying its best start since beginning 7-0 in 2006.
Despite 103 rushing yards from Kyle Hicks, the Horned Frogs (4-3, 2-2) fell to 0-3 against teams currently ranked in the AP Top 25 and came nowhere near their 40 points-per-game average. Kenny Hill finished 18-of-31 passing for 148 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
No. 16 Oklahoma 66, Texas Tech 59
LUBBOCK, Texas -- Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield threw for 545 yards and seven touchdowns and the No. 16 Sooners survived a record-tying passing yardage performance by Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes II in Big 12 action.
Running back Joe Mixon had 377 yards of total offense (263 rushing, 114 receiving) and found the end zone five times for the Sooners (5-2, 4-0). Receiver Dede Westbrook had 202 receiving yards as the two teams combined for an NCAA-record 1,708 yards -- 854 by each team.
Mahomes passed for 734 yards to match the FBS all-time record set in 2014 by Washington State's Connor Halliday, who turned the feat against California. Mahomes completed 52 of 88 passes and threw five touchdowns and also set the FBS record with 819 yards of total offense.
Keke Coutee finished with 172 receiving yards and Jonathan Giles had 167 for Texas Tech (3-4, 1-3).
No. 21 Auburn 56, No. 17 Arkansas 3
AUBURN, Ala. -- Kamryn Pettway rushed for 192 yards and two touchdowns as No. 21 Auburn annihilated No. 17 Arkansas in SEC play.
The Tigers (5-2, 3-1 SEC) rolled up an SEC-record 543 yards on the ground and 632 yards of total offense. Auburn's defense, which recorded four sacks, limited the Razorbacks (5-3, 1-3) to 25 yards on the ground, and held running back Rawleigh Williams III, who entered the game as the SEC's leading rusher, to 22 yards on 13 carries.
Running back/wide receiver Stanton Truitt scored three TDs for Auburn. The Tigers raced out to a 21-0 lead after one quarter and entered halftime with a 28-3 advantage.
No. 19 Utah 52, UCLA 45
PASADENA, Calif. -- Senior running back Joe Williams ran for a school-record 332 yards and four touchdowns two weeks after he unretired from football as No. 19 Utah kept pace in the Pac-12 South by defeating UCLA at the Rose Bowl.
Williams scored on runs of 3, 43, 64 and 55 yards as Utah (7-1, 4-1 Pac-12) stayed tied with Colorado atop the South. Williams retired because of injuries after starting the first two games of the season, but when injuries further ravaged Utah's tailback position, coaches convinced Williams to come back.
UCLA (3-5, 1-4) lost its third consecutive game and fourth in the past five. Senior quarterback Mike Fafaul, making his second consecutive start for injured Josh Rosen, attempted a school-record 70 passes, completing 40 for 464 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions.
No. 20 Western Michigan 45, Eastern Michigan 31
KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- Quarterback Zach Terrell threw for 398 yards as No. 20 Western Michigan lived up to its Top 25 ranking by downing Eastern Michigan in Mid-American Conference play.
Carrington Thompson had 177 receiving yards on eight catches and two touchdowns for the Broncos (8-0, 4-0). Jarvion Franklin led Western Michigan with 114 yards rushing on 22 carries.
Brogan Roback passed for 319 yards and one touchdown for the Eagles (5-3, 2-2). Running back Turner had a team-high 86 yards rushing.
No. 22 North Carolina 35, Virginia 14
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Quarterback Mitch Trubisky passed for 310 yards and two touchdowns as No. 22 North Carolina routed Virginia in ACC play.
Running back Elijah Hood ran for 107 yards and a touchdown for the Tar Heels (6-2, 4-1). Bug Howard hauled in seven receptions for 109 yards and one score.
Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert managed just 126 yards through the air. Running back Taquan Mizzell rushed for 106 yards and caught seven passes for 25 yards for the Cavaliers (2-5, 1-2).
No. 25 LSU 38, No. 23 Ole Miss 21
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Returning from an ankle injury that sidelined him for the last two games, Leonard Fournette shattered the LSU rushing record with 284 yards on 16 carries and scored three touchdowns, including runs of 76 and 78 yards, to power the No. 25 Tigers past No. 23 Ole Miss.
The victory was LSU's third straight under interim coach Ed Orgeron, who coached Ole Miss for three seasons from 2005 to 2007. Fournette's 284 yards broke the LSU record for a game set by Alley Broussard against Ole Miss in 2004.
The Tigers (5-2, 3-1 SEC) were tied at 21-21 until Fournette found clear sailing for the 78-yard touchdown run. Chad Kelly passed for 218 yards and a touchdown but was intercepted twice for the Rebels (3-4, 1-3).
No. 24 Navy 42, Memphis 28
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Quarterback Will Worth ran for 201 yards and three touchdowns and threw for two more scores as No. 24 Navy rushed for a season-high 447 yards to defeat Memphis in an American Athletic Conference play.
Navy (5-1, 4-0) took sole possession of first place in the West division as Memphis (5-2, 2-1) was the only other unbeaten team. The Midshipmen have won two straight and finished with 532 yards of total offense.
Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson was 25-for-40 passing for 333 yards and two touchdowns.
The seventh-year Irish head coach has come under fire this season for his handling of the quarterback situation, his sideline behavior and postgame news conference demeanor
"Brian will lead this team out of the tunnel opening day next year," Swarbrick told ESPN.com.
Swarbrick said he is aware of the public perception surrounding Kelly, who has drawn criticisms in the media and from a number of former players. Kelly has a 57-28 record as Notre Dame's head coach.
"I guess I'd say I wish the perception matched the reality a little better," Swarbrick told ESPN. "I understand the perception, but we've got to work to alter that perception because it creates noise and gets in the way. But the reality couldn't be further from it.
"I'm not going to reveal the nature of the postgame discussion between Brian and the team after Stanford (a 17-10 loss last Saturday), but that was a discussion between a coach and a team who really care about each other and have a great relationship, and that's what I get to see every day. What we have to do is try to avoid the situation, which creates a different perception because that perception doesn't reflect the reality. We have to figure out how to be better at it."
Kelly signed a six-year extension in January that will take him through the 2021 season. He fired defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder after a 1-3 start this season.
"Just as I wouldn't single out any individual player, it's unrealistic to say, 'Oh, the result of this lays solely at the feet of the head coach,'" Swarbrick said. "I bear responsibility. I'm ultimately responsible for our performance, so all of us are in this together. But I can tell you I continue to have complete confidence in Brian. I think you really see what you've got in a coach with how they manage times like this, and I think he has done a great job of it.
"His focus has been really laser sharp, his relationship with this team is probably as strong as any that I've seen with him at Notre Dame, and those are all positives. Neither of us are satisfied with 2-5, but I'm at most of the practices. I'm at training table. I have an office at the Gug (football complex) in addition to my other office. I get to see the program day in and day out and I continue to have great confidence in Brian and confidence in our future as a program."
Notre Dame hosts Miami on Oct. 29 after a bye week.
Fleck has the Broncos at 7-0 entering Saturday's game (3:30 ET) at Waldo Stadium against Eastern Michigan. Western Michigan is up four spots and ranked 20th after debuting last week in the AP Top 25 poll.
"I've been part of rumors and speculation my entire life, and that will never change," he said. "It's elite exposure for Western Michigan. My focus is on today, and that's the way I've lived my life. ... I can't control rumors or speculation, and I'll never comment on rumors or speculation. Just like I didn't in Year 1, or last year or the year before. I'm not interested in that. I'm interested in coaching this football team and being the best head coach I can be today. That's all I'm focused on."
Last season, the 35-year-old Fleck guided Western Michigan to its second consecutive eight-win season and first-ever bowl victory. Western Michigan (3-0 MAC) started the season with two wins over Big Ten teams -- Northwestern and Illinois -- and might get a longer look in a David vs. Goliath matchup if the wins keep coming. For now, Fleck doesn't want to talk about whether he's staying or going.
His team insists there is no distraction away from the focus on winning football games. Senior quarterback Zach Terrell said Tuesday that Fleck's future -- and his own -- has not been a topic of conversation.
"It's not distracting us at all," Terrell said. "He comes in the same every day, he's the exact same person and brings it. If he were to come in and be a different person and maybe be reserved, we might be concerned. That outside noise about coach Fleck may be leaving, all the people putting pressure on us ... we are such a tight-knit group, and we only focus on us. It starts with him."
Eastern Michigan is 5-2, 2-1 and hopes of a transformation from a MAC West doormat could hit fast forward with a victory on Saturday. Eastern Michigan coach Chris Creighton outlined two goals in preseason for the Eagles -- beat Western Michigan and get his seniors to a bowl game.
"We have a really tough opponent coming in this weekend," Terrell said. "I'm completely focused on the season. I'm focused on today."
NFLDraftScout.com ranks Terrell the eighth-best quarterback in the 2017 class but with Corey Davis and Jarvion Franklin behind a proven offensive line, he's not the only weapon the Broncos have.
"We were the doormat three years ago, and they're kind of doing what we were doing two years ago," Terrell said. "They are playing tough. They have a lot of confidence. For people to think it's just going to be a cakewalk, that couldn't be further from the truth."
Firepower and depth are two big differentiators between the teams. Western Michigan has the top recruiting class in the MAC three years in a row under Fleck. Creighton's depth chart is jammed with inexperience.
But the emergence of junior quarterback Brogan Roback has put a charge in the Eastern Michigan offense.
He had 347 passing yards and three touchdowns last week and EMU is off to its best start since 1995.
"We know this is going to be a huge challenge. Western is a great football team, and they're playing great football. A lot of talent, a lot of momentum," Creighton said. "Our guys look at this like a great challenge and a great opportunity to get out there and compete again."
Fleck said the Broncos do have grand goals in mind but he's stressing a collection of one-game seasons as the team's collective mindset. That won't be easy with national attention growing and the first College Football Playoff rankings coming soon.
We focus on changing our best every single day.
"We've prepared for this all the way back in January," Fleck said. "We told them this could possibly happen, so everything we did was based on pressure, expectations, noise from the outside, and we put them through all those things in the offseason pretending like this was going to happen, informing them of different things that would happen."
Fournette hasn't played since Sept. 24 due to the injury to his left ankle that he first suffered in August. The junior has twice aggravated the injury and has missed three of the Tigers' six games.
LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron said Fournette is ready to return.
"He's the first off the bus," Orgeron told reporters. "We feel he's ready. He's a veteran player. We're going to let him start."
Fournette has topped 100 yards in each of three games he has played. He has 386 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns and the injury contributed to his dropping out of Heisman Trophy consideration.
In fact, Fournette doesn't even the lead the Tigers in rushing. Sophomore Derrius Guice has rushed for a team-best 564 yards and has gained 155 or more rushing yards in each of the three games Fournette has missed.
Fournette would have missed an additional contest but LSU's scheduled game at Florida on Oct. 8 was postponed due to Hurricane Matthew.
Orgeron indicated Fournette will get most of the carries against Ole Miss.
"Leonard is healthy," Orgeron said. "He's had a good week of practice. We expect to use him as much as we can. We have to see his conditioning during the game, which we think is fine."
SEC WEST SUPREMACY ON THE LINE
We've got three games between ranked foes this week -- and they're all SEC West intra-division matchups. Hey, it's not easy being the best.
Here's a frightening thought: even with a true freshman quarterback, this might be Nick Saban's best Alabama team yet. Jalen Hurts has acclimated himself nicely to the Crimson Tide offense with 17 total touchdowns, wide receiver Calvin Ridley and a stable of high-quality tailbacks headline the skill positions, and the Tide are familiarly loaded on both the offensive and defensive line.
Alabama has scored a touchdown on defense or special teams in nine straight games -- not a typo -- and has given up 16 points all year at home. Alabama's coming off a 49-10 demolition at then-No. 9 Tennessee last week and is favored big over the Aggies this Saturday.
That's not to say the Aggies are automatically doomed (just probably so). Trevor Knight has grown in maturity and consistency as a quarterback under Kevin Sumlin, and both men needed that. Alabama remembers Knight, though, from a 348-yard, four-touchdown stunner in the 2014 Sugar Bowl when he was the Oklahoma Sooners' signal-caller. That upset assuredly hasn't been forgotten in Tuscaloosa, and Knight will need to lean on his talented receiving corps for big plays if A&M's going to keep this close.
What Texas A&M really needs, though, is defensive end Myles Garrett back at 100 percent. He's shaking off a minor leg injury from earlier in the season and he's been declared good to go, and that's bad news for the Alabama offensive line
Garrett is an overwhelming choice for the No. 1 spot in the 2016 NFL Draft: a rare mix of size, athleticism, IQ and tenacity. Even with Alabama's overwhelming talent advantage, a healthy Garrett is the best player on the field whenever he's out there.
ANOTHER SEC WEST BATTLE TO WATCH CLOSELY
As the SEC West's big weekend rolls on, Bret Bielema and No. 17 Arkansas travel to Jordan-Hare Stadium and take on No. 21 Auburn in a key battle worth watching.
For two coaches who built their reputation on vastly disparate offensive juggernauts, Bielema and Auburn coach Gus Malzahn are finding their footing this season with improved defenses. The Tigers in particular are keeping themselves in every game by giving up just 16 points a game, and the offense has started following suit as offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee has taken over play-calling from Malzahn and taken the pressure off quarterback Sean White in the process.
Meanwhile, Bielema's quarterback, Austin Allen, has established himself as one of the most dangerous passers in the SEC, if not the nation. Allen's coming off a 229-yard, three-touchdown performance in Arkansas' 34-30 victory over Ole Miss last week, and he dropped an even 400 yards on Alabama the week prior. Still, Auburn's secondary held Clemson star quarterback DeShaun Watson in check to begin the season so it's not going to be fazed on Saturday.
A QUIET NIGHT AT DEATH VALLEY
The last battle of ranked foes of the evening is No. 23 Ole Miss at No. 25 LSU, kicking off at a startlingly late 8 p.m. (CT). That means Tiger fans will be, ahem, self-lubricating all day, past sundown, before the first kick goes up. "Raucous" will be an understatement.
These two teams are both at a weird crossroads of the season. Ole Miss runs the risk of falling to 3-4 with another loss, which would sting after losing a 34-30 barnburner to Arkansas the week prior. Quarterback Chad Kelly needs to put together a complete game against a still-dangerous LSU defense, and his inconsistency has played a major role in each of the Rebels' three losses, and LSU can punish mistakes.
As for the Tigers, they've already jettisoned head coach Les Miles after a wild loss to Auburn, and yet they're still ranked and looking to salvage some respect from this season under interim head coach Ed Orgeron. Like LSU's title aspirations, Leonard Fournette's Heisman hopes are effectively gone, but he's looking healthy for this matchup as he faces a defense that has given up over 230 rushing yards per game in its three losses.
Aside from the rankings and bowl jockeying, there's a whole lot of pride on the line in this game between two teams that probably expected to be better than a combined 7-5 at this point. The division hopes are all gone -- the SEC West is Bama's world, and everyone else is just living in it -- but this game can easily serve as the win that buoys a team to a late-season rally toward a major bowl ... or the catalyst of a collapse.
FINALLY, A BIG TEN GAME FOR A TROPHY
Saturday's early slate is light on ranked action, but keep an eye on No. 10 Wisconsin at Iowa. The Badgers are nearing the end of their murderer's row of an early schedule, and they've fared about as well as can be asked, losing by a fourth-quarter touchdown at No. 4 Michigan and in overtime to No. 2 Ohio State.
Iowa, meanwhile, has underwhelmed coming off its Rose Bowl season, but the Hawkeyes are still a win away from bowl eligibility and feature their best quarterback in at least a decade in senior C.J. Beathard plus a powerful two-headed rushing attack.
Like last season's slobberknocker at Camp Randall -- a 10-6 Iowa win -- this one looks like a close, relatively low-scoring affair. Freshman Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook is likely the difference-maker for the Badgers; he's uncommonly talented at making plays on third down, while Iowa's safeties have been the weak link on defense thus far. Quick note to Hornibrook, though: don't throw it near Iowa's reigning Thorpe Award winner, cornerback Desmond King.
Iowa is missing enough talent on offense due to injuries that asking for more than 20 points is probably unrealistic, but Wisconsin's not the high-octane scoring machine it used to be either. If the crowd's loud and Beathard can stay upright against the Wisconsin pass rush, this one should stay close for four quarters.
MID-MAJOR TEAMS, HIGH-MAJOR DRAMA
If the SEC isn't your jam, take a look outside the Power Five for some stellar matchups this week. BYU and No. 14 Boise State kick things off on Thursday night with a showdown on the blue turf, and South Florida tries to move to 7-1 and make its case for the Top 25 with a Friday night trip to 4-3 Temple.
South Florida quarterback Quinton Flowers is an absolute nightmare for opposing defenses. If viewers haven't seen him yet they're in for a treat.
On Saturday, Memphis travels to No. 24 Navy and just might be the team that can do what previously unbeaten Houston couldn't two weeks ago: slow down the Midshipmen's option attack. The Tigers are fast and opportunistic on defense with 18 forced turnovers in just six games, and quarterback Riley Ferguson has the tools to put enough points on the scoreboard for the Tigers.
Also, the MAC's two best stories square off, as undefeated No. 20 Western Michigan faces 5-2 Eastern Michigan. Highly excitable Broncos head coach P.J. Fleck is working his way into contention for major coaching jobs, and there may be no more complete turnaround in FBS than Eastern Michigan.
The Eagles have already won as many games as in their last three seasons combined (5-31), haven't logged a winning season since 1995 and haven't made a bowl since 1987. Now they're potentially one game away from serious contention for a MAC Championship berth.
The 21st-ranked Tigers (4-2, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) are coming off a bye week, and now they face key challenges starting Saturday, when No. 17 Arkansas (5-2, 1-2) visits the Loveliest Village on the Plains. Kickoff at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn is set for 6 p.m. ET (ESPN).
The next week, the Tigers go to No. 23 Ole Miss.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn credits a resurgence in the offense to the bounce-back by his team, which lost two of its first three games to a pair of highly ranked teams, Clemson and Texas A&M.
Quarterback Sean White, an accurate passer, is beginning to play with more confidence, senior receiver Tony Stephens is stepping up his game, and Kamryn Pettway is joining with starter Kerryon Johnson to give the Tigers a one-two punch at running back.
Pettway was particularly key in a 38-14 win over Mississippi State in Auburn's last outing after Johnson went out with an ankle injury. A sophomore, Pettway responded with a career-high 169 yards rushing against the Bulldogs. Johnson is expected back for the game against Arkansas.
Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee took over play-calling from Malzahn during the winning streak and went back to a run-first mentality. Lashlee noted that even with an emphasis on the running game behind Johnson and Pettway, the Tigers haven't forgotten how to pass and are capable of throwing it more than the 18 times they did against Mississippi State.
"That time is coming," he said.
Auburn's defense has been pretty solid all year, giving up only 10 touchdowns in all. Four of those scores came long after the issue was already decided in Auburn's favor.
"The truth of the matter is, I think every player you coach wants to be able to look at something and say, 'You know what, we're doing this pretty well and we're getting better, we're making progress and we got a lot of ways that we can improve,'" first-year defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said. "We've done a really nice job, but how can we make it better?"
Arkansas is coming off its first SEC win of the season after holding on for a 34-30 victory over Ole Miss. The Razorbacks lost two of their previous three outings, sandwiching a rout of Alcorn State in between losses to SEC West leaders Texas A&M and Alabama.
"You have to keep it in perspective," Hogs coach Bret Bielema said. "I told those guys on Sunday, you lost to two teams that are undefeated, might be the two best teams in college football. Keep in perspective where we are, keep working, keep grinding, and someday we'll be there."
The win over the Rebels, secured when defensive back Santos Ramirez's hit on Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly forced Kelly to cough up the football on the Rebels' final drive, did help bring restore some confidence to a team that was disappointed it didn't have enough to upset the No. 1 Crimson Tide the previous week.
"I thought our guys really rebounded well," Bielema said. "I've always said with high expectations comes a high price when you don't reach those things. Our guys responded really well."
Junior quarterback Austin Allen continued his solid play in his first season as a starter by completing 19 of 32 passes for 229 yards and three touchdowns and sophomore running back Rawleigh Williams III rushed for 180 yards on just 27 carries against the Rebels.
The Auburn-Arkansas series has been closely competitive since the Razorbacks joined the SEC in 1992 with Auburn holding a slight 12-11-1 edge since then. The only other time they met was in the 1984 Liberty Bowl, won by Auburn 21-15.
In the 25 meetings overall, Auburn has outscored Arkansas by just 633-629, though 11 of the past 15 meetings were decided by 17 points or more. Last year it took four overtimes before the Razorbacks escaped with a 54-46 win after the teams finished regulation deadlocked at 24-24.
So must LSU -- albeit in a much different way -- as No. 23 Ole Miss and No. 25 LSU prepare for their annual encounter Saturday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN) in Baton Rouge, La.
The Rebels (3-3, 1-2 SEC) entered the 2016 campaign hopeful the season would end in some kind of championship, but after six games they are sitting at .500 with that title talk in all likelihood muted for good.
The Tigers (4-2, 2-1) came into the fall with a preseason No. 5 ranking and harboring hopes of making the College Football Playoff, but started 2-2.
Coach Les Miles was fired at that point, but suddenly LSU caught fire under interim coach Ed Orgeron, posting big wins in their last two games (42-7 over Missouri and 45-10 over Southern Mississippi).
With only one conference defeat and games remaining against West Division leaders Alabama and Texas A&M, the Tigers see themselves back in the title picture, if not nationally at least in the conference.
"You can see a little pep in their step. Guys are making plays, guys are having fun," Orgeron said this week. "I know they feel good about being 2-0."
OIe Miss, coming off a 34-30 loss to Arkansas that dropped it to 1-3 against ranked opponents, are a bit of a mystery. How will quarterback Chad Kelly and company react to the loss at Arkansas that was sealed when he lost a fumble on the Rebels' final drive, ending hopes for a comeback win?
"I think this is when you find out a lot about yourself, a lot about your team, and a lot about your kids," Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said.
The Rebels figure to see their defense, which doesn't rank any better than 74th nationally in total defense, scoring defense, rush defense or pass defense, severely tested by an LSU offense that has come to life the last two games.
The Tigers put up 634 yards in total yards against Missouri -- an LSU high against an SEC foe -- and followed that up with 45 points and 459 yards against Southern Mississippi. The Tigers have the SEC's fourth-best rushing attack even though they have been operating without star running back and Heisman hopeful Leonard Fournette, who missed the last two games with a left ankle injury.
Derrius Guice has filled in admirably for Fournette with 564 yards on 62 carries. Fournette will rejoin him this week to give the Tigers a 1-2 punch that will go right at an Ole Miss defense that ranks 12th in the league against the run.
"This will be the ultimate test for us playing against Leonard Fournette," Ole Miss defensive end Marquis Haynes said.
Orgeron is even toying with the idea of using Guice and Fournette in the backfield at the same time.
"We want to rotate our guys, we want them to keep fresh," Orgeron said. "It might be a possibility of putting them both in the backfield at the same time."
Fournette, Orgeron indicated, is anxious to get back on the field.
"We're going to let him do all he can," Orgeron said, "and he's going to tell me, 'Hey, coach. I'm 100 percent, 80 percent, 90 percent. These are the things I can do.'
"We'll run the plays he's able to run. The plays he's not able to run, we won't run them. But we'll play both. I think they're both outstanding backs."
Adding a side note to the matchup is the relationship between the two coaches.
Orgeron went 10-25 as Ole Miss' coach from 2005-07 and gave Freeze, his first on-field college coaching job in 2006.
"I really don't know that my career does what it does without the opportunity he gave me," Freeze said.
Orgeron said his ties to the program and Freeze won't be a factor this week, however. This is about his players, he said.
"I won't mention it," he said. "That's the furthest from my mind. This is about the LSU Tigers. This is about this football team. This is about a very good opponent coming into Tiger Stadium."
The Crimson Tide (7-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) take on their third ranked opponent in three weeks and fifth of the season when they host No. 6 Texas A&M (6-0, 4-0) on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS).
The Tide had little trouble in disposing of then-No. 16 Arkansas 49-30 and No. 9 Tennessee 49-10 its past two games, but the Aggies may present more problems than either of those opponents.
"They are highly ranked in a lot of categories, whether it's turnover ratio, scoring defense or their ability to run the ball," said Alabama coach Nick Saban, noting the Aggies' No. 12, No. 22, and No. 7 rankings in those categories, respectively. "They have a very high-powered, balanced offense."
Indeed, though Aggies quarterback Trevor Knight does not throw for a high completion rate (just 53.4 percent), he still averages 250 yards a game passing. That is complemented by Texas A&M's ability to rush the football. The Aggies are averaging over 274 yards a game on the ground with running back Trayveon Williams averaging just over 117 yards a game and Knight adding nearly 84.
Knight has a team-high nine rushing touchdowns to match his total of touchdown passes.
Then there is the A&M defense that is allowing more than 437 yards a game in total offense but still is holding opponents to fewer than 20 points a game. Some of that is due to the Aggies' ability to force turnovers. The Aggies have seven interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries for a turnover margin of plus-6 -- or plus-1 per game.
"They really have some dominating players on defense in Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall, the two defense ends that create a lot of problems in terms of being great edge rushers," Saban said. "They've been really opportunistic on defense in terms of getting turnovers.
"So, there are a lot of important things for us to do well in the game, and it's going to take all phases doing well to have a chance to be successful."
Garrett, who missed the win over South Carolina due to a leg injury sustained in a 45-24 win over Arkansas, has four sacks and six quarterback hurries in five games. Hall, his counterpart on the other end, has 3.5 sacks and 10 hurries.
"A year ago I said best thing that happened to Myles Garrett was Daeshon Hall," A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "When protection slid, Daeshon was able to put himself on map in a nationally televised, Top 25 game. Got three or four sacks. People realized they may have to block both those guys."
Against Alabama, however, the Aggies will be confronting what some are calling the best Crimson Tide team under Saban. And that includes four national championship teams in the past seven years.
"With the NFL Draft, I was hoping half of them would leave," Sumlin said, "but they stayed. And they are playing at a high level."
Actually, the Tide had seven players picked in the 2016 draft, including center Ryan Kelly in the first round, but replacements keep rolling in.
Freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts leads the offense. Since taking over as the starter in the second game of the season, he is completing passes at a 63.5 percent clip while throwing for 198 yards a game with nine touchdowns against only three interceptions.
He has talented targets in wide receivers Calvin Ridley (39 catches, 477 yards) and ArDarius Stewart (26-379). If opposing defenses start to gang up on the passing game, the Tide simply turns to running backs Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs. They have rushed for 572 and 345 yards, respectively, totals that rank first and third on the team with Hurts at No. 2 with 428 yards.
Like his counterpart at A&M, Hurts leads his team in rushing touchdowns with eight.
"Opportunistic" might be the best way to describe the Tide's defense. The unit has scored eight touchdowns on interception and fumble recovery returns. The Tide also has three punt return TDs for a total of 11 non-offensive touchdowns, one more than they had all of last year.
"Like anything else, once you have success, it becomes contagious," Sumlin said. "Guys work at and take pride in it. Combination of all those things. Not just one thing. But it's certainly not luck."
The eighth-ranked Cornhuskers (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) are one of nine unbeaten teams from the Power 5 conferences, reaching their highest AP ranking since Sept. 25, 2011, ahead of a Saturday home game against the Boilermakers (3-3, 1-2).
"Whether you start off good in a season or you start off bad in a season, your story is told by how you finish," said second-year Nebraska coach Mike Riley. "So all this stuff is fun for everybody else. For us, it's exactly the record we want, and now we have to get better."
Nebraska's biggest challenges are still to come -- road games at Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa -- but Saturday's home game at Memorial Stadium (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2) isn't one of them. Purdue heads to Lincoln, Neb., fresh off a coaching change.
A blowout loss to Iowa on Homecoming last Saturday marked the end for Purdue's Darrell Hazell. The 49-35 final didn't reflect the tone of the game -- it was 35-7 by halftime, and many of the fans had left before the Boilermakers made it more cosmetic at the finish.
A day later, athletic director Mike Bobinski announced the firing of Hazell, who went 9-33 in his three-plus seasons. Wide receivers coach Gerad Parker takes over as interim coach through the end of the season.
"From the first time I met Darrell, I could tell he was a man of high character -- a quality person who you would want leading a group of young men," Bobinski said. "But our inconsistent performance and inability to generate positive momentum thus far this season, along with the disappointing results of the past three seasons, made it clear to me that we needed to make a change."
As Bobinski noted, there's a lot of football left -- although Parker probably wishes he had an easier debut.
Lincoln is a tough place to play under any circumstances, let alone when the home team has College Football Playoff hopes and likely is still steamed over last season's 55-45 loss to the Boilermakers.
Nebraska has injuries along the offensive line -- tackles Nick Gates and David Knevel are questionable -- but the Huskers are likely to try to pound the ball anyway.
The Cornhuskers are 27th nationally in rushing, averaging 220.5 yards per game. Purdue, which played last week without defensive tackle Jake Replogle (headaches) and linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley (ankle), allowed more than 300 rushing yards in each of its past four Big Ten games.
The Boilermakers are 124th out of 128 teams in rushing defense, allowing 264.3 yards per games.
Nebraska running back Terrell Newby has rushed for 242 yards and three touchdowns in the past two games and leads the team with 71.5 rushing yards per game. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. is second at 54.8 yards per game.
The Huskers held off Indiana 27-22 last Saturday after leading 17-0 in the first quarter. Nebraska finished with a 39-yard field goal in the final minute to cap a drive in which it ran the ball 14 consecutive times, taking 7:41 off the clock.
"This team has not faltered in the fourth quarter," Riley said.
"I think that we have worn some teams out and played better than them in the fourth quarter. Is that because of the mentality of the team? Is that because of the shape they're in?
"I'm not sure, but there are some things like that that I appreciate."
Nebraska, which lost four games last season in the final seconds or overtime, has outscored opponents 88-13 in the fourth quarter this season.
Armstrong was a bit banged up last week against Indiana, completing only 10 of 26 passes with two interceptions. Overall, though, he has been much more efficient as a senior, getting intercepted only once every 38.8 passes. His career mark entering the season was a pick once every 24.4 pass attempts.
Purdue was down three cornerbacks last week against Iowa, and it was unknown as of Tuesday whether Myles Norwood, Brandon Roberts and David Rose would play this week.
Boilermakers quarterback David Blough put up big numbers against the Hawkeyes, but most of his 458 yards and four of his five touchdowns came after Purdue fell behind 35-7 and the game was all but over.
"It's like having a newborn -- and I have a newborn as well," Parker said of the early-week whirlwind with the coaching change. "It's been pretty crazy. You wake up and you have some cold sweats and you're trying to think of everything in the world to help this staff and these players be OK."
The Mountaineers (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) have developed a reputation for producing high-powered offenses in recent years, but come in off a sparkling defensive effort, winning 48-17 at Texas Tech last week. The Red Raiders entered the contest leading the nation in passing offense (544 yards per game) and were second in scoring offense (55.2).
"It's a good plane ride home but after that you settle in and get back to work," West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen said. "... It goes away really quick."
Tony Gibson's defensive unit held the Red Raiders 280 yards and 38 points below their season averages. The 17 points were a season-low for Tech and snapped a streak of nine consecutive home games where the Red Raiders had scored at least 50 points.
West Virginia, which lost nine starters from last year's defensive unit and arguably its best player in free safety Dravon Askew-Henry in fall camp to a torn ACL, has utilized the odd 3-3-5 stack and disguised its blitzing to create problems for opposing offenses.
"What we do defensively is hard for me to attack," Holgorsen said.
The Horned Frogs (4-2, 2-1) provide more of a running threat than Texas Tech. But if the season's first five games are any guide, Gibson will come up with a scheme to combat TCU's version of the spread.
"Because they move around so much, it looks like there are 12, 13 people out there sometimes," Holgorsen said. "Just being able to disguise stuff is very important. Only having three down linemen gives you more second-level players that you can move around and blitz people from different spaces."
It didn't hurt that the offense kept West Virginia ahead all day, establishing a season high for points despite occasional bouts of sloppiness that left Holgorsen frustrated on the sideline. But quarterback Skyler Howard threw for 318 yards, rushed for 89 and accounted for three scores in probably his best all-around game of the year.
The Mountaineers rolled up 332 yards on the ground at Texas Tech and nearly had three 100-yard rushers. Rushel Shell finished with 104, backup Kennedy McCoy gained 99 on just four carries and Howard added 89 on 12 attempts. Opponents are gaining 150.7 yards per game on the ground against TCU, so it's not an impossible defense on which to run.
West Virginia's defense will have to try and find a way to slow down TCU quarterback Kenny Hill, who passed for 2,142 yards and 12 touchdowns but is also experiencing interception issues. The junior threw three interceptions in the unexpectedly tight 24-23 win at lowly Kansas on Oct. 8 and has the most interceptions (eight) in the Big 12. Hill also can make things happen with his legs as he is tied for the team lead with seven rushing touchdowns.
The game against Kansas marked the second time Hill has thrown multiple interceptions in a game. And it increased chatter that his decision-making can be suspect.
"This offense, it's the nature of it," TCU coach Gary Patterson said of the interceptions. "You're not going to win very many ballgames if you do (throw interceptions), but that has a little bit more to do with us, how we call it and what we do."
Hill passed for a season-worst 206 yards against Kansas -- well off the pace expected from a quarterback who topped 400 yards in three of his first five starts for the Horned Frogs.
TCU (4-2, 2-1), which has had two weeks to prepare for this one, could certainly use the mistake-free version of Hill on Saturday. The Horned Frogs are averaging 40.2 points, but Patterson is aware it will be tough to approach that number after watching West Virginia limit Texas Tech's powerful offense to 17 points last Saturday.
"You have to make plays and tackle in space, and they were able to do that," Patterson said. "They got after Patrick (Mahomes II), who is a really good quarterback. They have great skill players.
"You have to be able to run the ball against them. Two years ago, we had to run the football to win. If you can't, you're going to get yourself in a lot of trouble."
But the No. 22 Tar Heels are sitting in a much better position heading into Saturday's game against Virginia at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Va., (3 p.m. ET, RSN) than they were a week ago when they were bound for Miami coming off the big loss to the Hokies.
The win over the Hurricanes put North Carolina (5-2, 3-1 ACC) alone in first place in the division when the Hokies lost at Syracuse to fall to 2-1 in league play.
Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, however, their 20-13 victory over the Hurricanes came with a price.
They lost wide receiver Mack Hollins to a broken collarbone and the senior will miss the rest of the season after having surgery. Hollins led North Carolina in touchdown catches with four among his 16 receptions. His 19.3 yards per catch average was tops among receivers with more than one catch.
Fortunately for the Tar Heels, they do have depth at the position. Wide receiver Ryan Switzer has 58 catches for 606 yards, Bug Howard 29 for 429 and Austin Proehl 24 for 302. Running backs T.J. Logan and Elijah Hood have a combined 34 catches for 229 yards.
"We still got some guys that can stretch the field vertically," North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said. "That doesn't overly concern me.
"We'll miss Mack's ability to do it. That's probably the thing he does best, but we've got some guys who can get behind people."
The Tar Heels, who have won six straight over Virginia, have gone through what arguably is the toughest part of their schedule with their four remaining conference games against teams with a combined 3-8 league mark. In addition to Virginia's 1-1 conference record, Georgia Tech is 1-3 in league play, Duke 0-3 and North Carolina State 1-1. North Carolina also has a non-conference affair against The Citadel.
None of the conference games figures to be pushovers, though the Tar Heels likely will be favored in all four.
If they are able to run the table, they still need Virginia Tech to lose at least one more time to get to the ACC title game. North Carolina already has beaten Pittsburgh (5-2, 2-1).
Virginia (2-4, 1-1) could be an interesting matchup. The Cavaliers began the season by losing their first three games (Richmond, Oregon, Connecticut) but notched a win over Central Michigan before opening conference play by beating Duke 24-10. They lost a high-scoring 45-31 affair to Pittsburgh last week.
"I like my team," first-year coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "I like how hard they try and how they've embraced the culture. And we're moving up the scale of the effort and intent to position mastery and execution.
"That's basically where our team is right now. So we're becoming better in terms of our position mastery and playing our spots. Execution is not holding yet long enough from beginning to end in all three phases to have the outcomes that we would like.
"But more and more plays are looking how we would like them to be."
Cavaliers quarterback Kurt Benkert, a transfer from East Carolina, has passed for 421, 336, and 278 yards the last three games but has seven interceptions against 14 touchdown passes for the season.
The Cavaliers have a two-back approach to the rushing game with Taquan Mizzell rushing for a team-best 355 yards and Albert Reid 346.
Defensively, the Cavaliers had some success at times stopping the run, holding Central Michigan to 93 yards rushing and Duke to 106, but gave up 209 yards to Pittsburgh their last outing and 301 to Oregon early in the season.
"We're still missing more plays in open field than what I would like," Mendenhall said. "But we're starting to make more than what we had before. So a work in progress."
The series, which North Carolina leads 63-53-4, began in 1892 and is billed as the oldest rivalry in the South.
And that side of the ball isn't even the Wolverines' most impressive unit.
The run stuffers, pass rushers and ball hawks have been superb through the first half of the campaign and Michigan looks to improve to 7-0 when it hosts Illinois in a Big Ten contest Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network).
The Wolverines (3-0 Big Ten) lead the nation in scoring defense (10.3 points per game), total defense (212.8 yards per game) and passing defense (113.7). They also rank ninth in rushing defense (99.2) and have held five opponents to 14 or fewer points.
The unit has been exceptional on third-down defense, allowing 10 of 82 opportunities (a national-low 12.2 percent) to be converted. Rutgers was 0 for 17 in such situations in Michigan's last contest -- a 78-0 victory Oct. 8.
Senior defensive end Taco Charlton said the players are aware of the superb statistical tidbits.
"We definitely care because it shows the hard work does pay off," Charlton told reporters. "It shows in the rankings and in the games we're a great defense and we've been able to prove that and we're proving out there we are that great defense we always talked about, that coaches talked us being."
Star outside linebacker Jabrill Peppers (10 tackles for losses) is the marquee player on the unit but he is far from the lone standout.
Defensive coordinator Don Brown has been the mastermind of the success. But even better is that nobody is satisfied -- even with all those stellar stats midway through the season.
"It's about not getting complacent and trying to perfect your craft every day, and I think we're doing a good job of that," senior defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow said. "We have a more mature team that's not going to let this go to their head, but we'll see in the second half of the season. We still have a ways to go."
Illinois coach Lovie Smith is well aware of the impressive nuggets -- both defensively and offensively and knows his squad is facing a formidable foe.
"We realize who we have this week," Smith said at a press conference. "They're one of the best teams in the country. We look forward to that challenge."
Making the task of springing an upset tougher is this fact: The Fighting Illini (2-4, 1-2) have dropped 14 consecutive games against ranked foes and 23 of their past 24.
Smith, the former NFL coach of the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, recorded his first Big Ten victory when Illinois defeated Rutgers 24-7 last week. The victory halted a four-game skid.
Sophomore quarterback Chayce Crouch could be in for line for his second consecutive start. Senior starter Wes Lunt missed the Rutgers' game with a back injury and Smith hasn't indicated whether Lunt will return against the Wolverines.
Crouch replaced Lunt in the Oct. 8 loss to Purdue and was 6-of-14 passing for 92 yards, one touchdown and one interception in his start against the Scarlet Knights.
"Chayce Crouch was just gutting it out, playing good football again like he did the previous week," Smith said. "We would have liked that interception back, but just liked the energy he's brought to our football team."
Slowing down the Wolverines' offense figures to be a challenge for a team that allowed an average of 36.8 points during its four-game losing streak.
However, Illinois does a feature a trio of solid defenders in senior middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson Jr. (58 tackles, two interceptions), and senior defensive ends Carroll Phillips (11 tackles for losses, including four sacks) and Dawuane Smoot (eight tackles for losses).
Michigan's rushing attack rolled up 481 yards and tied a school record of nine touchdowns in the rout of Rutgers. Freshman Chris Evans had a season-best 153 yards and leads the team with 400 yards.
Sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight has passed for 1,194 yards and 11 touchdowns but coach Jim Harbaugh is most impressed with the fact he has been intercepted only twice in 159 passes. Senior receiver Amara Darboh has team-best outputs of 25 receptions, 400 yards and five touchdowns.
The Wolverines continue to incorporate Peppers into the offense and he is averaging 19.6 yards on five rushes.
"He's just got really great instincts with the ball in his hands," Michigan offensive coordinator Tim Drevno said. "He kind of knows to feel something and it's second nature to him. He's got a special thing about him. You don't find guys like that."
The Cardinals and Wolfpack meet at noon ET Saturday at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in Louisville (ABC).
While the unranked Wolfpack (4-2, 1-1 ACC) were putting a scare into the unbeaten Tigers, the Cardinals (5-1, 3-1 ACC) were having an unexpected tussle with Duke at home.
The Blue Devils may have given an example on how to slow Louisville quarterback and Heisman Trophy favorite Lamar Jackson: Keep him off the field. The Blue Devils controlled the ball and the clock, though ultimately not the scoreboard in a 24-14 Louisville win.
"It's a little frustrating," Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said of Duke's ability to control the tempo. "There's no question about it. They got themselves into third-and-shorts and then converted.
"We're not used to that. We're used to getting off the field on defense and getting our offense the ball back, but we held in there and found a way to win."
Duke controlled the football for over 37 minutes and managed to hold the Cardinals to just 61 plays, 19 fewer than what they were averaging coming into the game.
Jackson still got his yards (144 on 21 rushes with one touchdown, 181 on 13 completions in 26 attempts with one score), but Louisville wasn't able to put the game away until a roughing-the-kicker-penalty kept alive a touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter and provided the Cardinals with a 10-point margin of victory.
Jackson said Duke's strategy caught the Cardinals by surprise, but that isn't likely to happen with the Wolfpack. Unlike Duke, which is a member of the ACC's Coastal Division, N.C. State is a colleague with Louisville in the Atlantic and they play each other every season.
"We know them well because the majority of the players are the same guys we've been playing against for the last two years," Petrino said. "They're very well coached. They're a physical team.
"We've always had really good battles with them and found a way to win in the fourth quarter, so I imagine this is going be a very good football game."
The Wolfpack are hoping to build momentum from its play against Clemson.
"I think we learned about how good we are," quarterback Ryan Finley said. "We took on the No. 3 team into overtime and really beat ourselves.
"We have a great squad and we are going to bounce back from this. This is not the end of our season."
N.C. State's defense has received strong reviews during the first month-plus of the season, and that was on display against Clemson.
Much of the good work from the defense might have been dismissed a week earlier because the 10-3 victory against Notre Dame was played in windy, rainy conditions brought on by Hurricane Matthew.
But there was no mistake of the defense's ability against Clemson. N.C. State forced four turnovers in the game and held the Tigers to just 117 yards rushing, though Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson passed for 378.
The Wolfpack had 397 yards in total offense to Clemson's 495.
Wolfpack senior running back Matt Dayes had a triple-digit rushing game against the Tigers with 106 yards on 22 carries with one touchdown. Finley, a transfer from Boise State, passed for 231 yards and a touchdown but was intercepted twice, including his last pass in overtime to end the game.
"I definitely feel like the team realizes that we can compete with just about anybody in the country and we have just got to believe that," Dayes said. "We are a great offense and defense. We have just got to finish. ... We probably surprised them, but we weren't surprised ourselves."
The Wolfpack aren't likely to catch Louisville by surprise.
"We have to go out this week and have a great week of practice and be more intense, more into our focus, more in the preparation that we've had for the other games that we've played early in the fall," Petrino said. "We weren't at the top of our game, and we need to get back to that, get back to our players you know, working to have the best game they've had all year."
The Badgers lost their past two games, both by a touchdown, to then-No. 4 Michigan and to No. 2 Ohio State in overtime, with a bye week sandwiched between those games.
Wisconsin (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) desperately needs a win to remain in the Big Ten West race. A loss potentially would put the Badgers three games behind front-running Nebraska, which plays host to lowly Purdue this week.
After facing Iowa (5-2, 3-1), Wisconsin returns home the following week for a showdown with No. 8 Nebraska. But first the Badgers must get past the Hawkeyes on Saturday (noon ET, ESPN) in Kinnick Stadium.
"It's going to be a fun and intense rivalry game, and I can't wait," Wisconsin cornerback Sojourn Shelton said.
Playing this game on the road isn't necessarily a bad thing for Wisconsin. Strangely, the road team has fared well the past few years.
The Badgers won on each of their past three visits to Iowa City in the evenly matched series (Wisconsin leads 44-43-2) but lost in Madison a year ago.
The Heartland Trophy game between Iowa and Wisconsin is always hard-hitting and usually highly competitive. Last fall, Iowa came away with a 10-6 road win that propelled the Hawkeyes to the Big Ten championship game.
"Going a whole year with an empty trophy case, (without) seeing it in the locker room every day, it kind of makes you angry a little bit," Wisconsin redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook said. "Especially after that game when it wasn't sitting there in the locker room.
"That's definitely something that we want back, and we'll be doing everything we can to get it back."
Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst doesn't spent much time thinking about the history between the teams.
"Those of us who were a part of it last year, we understand what happened, and yet none that carries over, carries forward," he said. "We've got a ton of respect for Iowa, and I do certainly for their program, but it's about this Saturday, who's the best team."
Chryst is more concerned about bouncing back from last week's home loss to Ohio State and getting his team healthy. Wisconsin led 16-6 at halftime but couldn't close the deal.
The Badgers came out of that game banged up. A long list of players are questionable on this week's injury report, including linebacker Vince Biegel, nose tackle Olive Sagapolu, wide receiver Robert Wheelwright, linebacker Zack Baun, offensive lineman Jon Dietzen, running back Taiwan Deal and safety Keelon Brookins.
Wisconsin enters the game as a slight favorite over Iowa, which rebounded from stunning home losses to North Dakota State and Northwestern by recording consecutive road wins.
The Hawkeyes' latest victories came against Minnesota and Purdue, though, and so it is difficult to gauge just how much Iowa improved the past two weeks. But it certainly will find out more this week.
"All of us are really feeling better than we did a couple of weeks ago," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "That was really a tough defeat (against Northwestern), but I think the guys really learned from it, and the last two weeks we've played better football with more intensity. We've done some things that are paramount to winning."
After Iowa won a 14-7 slugfest at Minnesota two weeks ago, the Hawkeyes looked good last Saturday. Iowa beat Purdue 49-35 in West Lafayette, Ind., resulting in the firing of Boilermakers coach Darrell Hazell on Sunday.
The Hawkeyes bolted to a 35-7 lead and began substituting freely in the second half, allowing Purdue to make the score respectable.
Two areas of concern that Iowa appeared to address are its rushing offense and its run defense. The Hawkeyes ran for an impressive 365 yards against Purdue and held the Boilermakers to 47 yards on the ground.
Those ground yards will be much tougher to come by against the Badgers, whose defense gave Ohio State some problems, particularly in the first half.
The key to Saturday's game for Iowa could be its ability to effectively use its two backs -- LeShun Daniels Jr. and Akrum Wadley -- to move the ball against the Wisconsin defense and help loosen up the defense for quarterback C.J. Beathard, who has 11 touchdown passes and four interceptions this season but could be without one of his favorite targets, injured tight end George Kittle.
Wadley rushed for 176 yards and a touchdown, and Daniels amassed 150 yards and two touchdowns against Purdue.
"They're both playing the best football of their careers," Ferentz said. "The two of them have really complemented each other. It's been a good combination."
On defense, Iowa will be trying to slow down Wisconsin running back Corey Clement, who rushed for 164 yards against Ohio State, and Hornibrook. Clement leads the team with 483 rushing yards.
"No question we'll have to be at our best against No. 10-ranked team in the country coming in," Ferentz said. "It'll be a great environment. The big thing for us right now there is no tomorrow. We'll put all we can into this game. We're going to have to. We're playing a really outstanding opponent."
COLUMBUS, Ohio - No. 2 Ohio State barely made it through its first big challenge of the season on Saturday night, escaping Wisconsin with a 30-23 overtime victory after a clutch second-half rally.
Now it's on to Penn State for another prime-time matchup this Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ABC) against a Big Ten opponent.
Coach Urban Meyer summed up the attitude of the Buckeyes after the hard-fought win at Wisconsin when he said, "That was a ballgame."
Indeed it was. Ohio State fell behind 16-6 at halftime but outscored Wisconsin 23-7 in the second half and overtime to remain unbeaten and atop the Big Ten East Division standings with Michigan.
"We did get outplayed," Meyer said. "I wouldn't say we got out-toughed. They didn't out-effort us. They had some very good stuff. Very good team, very good coaches, and you keep swinging.
"As anguished as that was, as much of a root canal as that was, I'd much rather have it that way for that kind of game, for the development of your team."
This week, Ohio State (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) will be trying to extend its road winning streak to 21 games, the longest in the country, when it visits Happy Valley. Penn State (4-2, 2-1) is not quite up to its usual standards of the Joe Paterno era but always seems to give Ohio State a game in State College.
Two years ago, quarterback J.T. Barrett and defensive lineman Joey Bosa helped the Buckeyes get out of town with a double-overtime road victory before a raucous white-out crowd. Barrett turned in a gutty performance after suffering a sprained MCL, leading the Buckeyes to the comeback win.
Meyer thought that game was lost.
"I just remember thinking what am I going to say to this team afterwards? It crossed my mind," Meyer recalled. "And he kind of just took it on his shoulders. I get to see things that all fans do not get to see. I get to see him about six inches from my face and see the intensity and the focus and the human spirit that is as good as I've ever been around."
Barrett did the same Saturday night against Wisconsin, where he led a second-half comeback against the formidable Badgers.
The redshirt junior ran for 92 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries and completed 17 of 29 passes for 226 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Barrett's 7-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Noah Brown in the overtime was the difference.
In the win, Barrett set a school record for touchdowns responsible for with 89, breaking the mark set by former quarterback and wide receiver Braxton Miller from 2011 to 2015.
"I've been lucky, you know. You look at some of the quarterbacks that I've been blessed to coach and I've been around and I know in that situation that's who I want behind center," Meyer said of Barrett. "He didn't play his best game, when he does it's incredible. The absolute test of a leader is to raise the level of play of those around you and he's surrounded by a bunch of guys who are newbies this year.
"It's a quarterback's responsibility to pick up his level of play, same with a bunch of new receivers so that's what makes J.T. so special."
Ohio State's defense gave up 236 yards on the ground and 45 total yards against Wisconsin. But like the offense, the Buckeyes made adjustments at halftime and limited the Badgers to one touchdown in the second half.
This week, Ohio State will see one of the Big Ten's best running backs. Sequon Barkley has rushed for 582 yards and eight touchdowns on 117 carries. Barkley ran for 202 yards against Maryland a week ago.
"That's number one on the hit parade as far as Penn State, to stop them," Meyer said of Barkley. "You won't stop him, but minimize the impact the running back has on us."
Penn State is hoping that a bye week and a "White-Out" game with 107,000 fans in Beaver Stadium will inspire an upset. The Nittany Lions, though, are just 1-4 in "White-Outs" since 2011, including two losses to the Buckeyes.
"We're going to need the fans," Penn State coach James Franklin said. "We're going to need the alumni. We're going to need everybody. This is a tremendous challenge we have that we're facing all together, and we're going to need the stadium to be the most difficult environment in the history of college football come Saturday night."
Mayfield was named the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year in 2013 when he played in eight games as a freshman walk-on for the Red Raiders, passing for 2,315 yards and 12 touchdowns while completing 64.1 percent of his passes.
But Mayfield decided to transfer when he said the Texas Tech coaching staff did not guarantee him playing time in the Holiday Bowl or a scholarship for the following season. He eventually walked on at Oklahoma, lobbing some verbal jabs at Texas Tech and Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury along the way.
Now Mayfield returns to Jones AT&T Stadium leading the 16th-ranked Sooners (4-2, 3-0 Big 12) against his former team and head coach.
"They'll be ready for me when I get down there, that's for sure," Mayfield said. "I'm excited for it. It's always fun to play in Lubbock. This time, I'm on the other side of it."
This isn't the first time Mayfield, who finished fourth in Heisman Trophy balloting a year ago, has been back to Lubbock with the Sooners since his ugly split. He also accompanied the squad there in 2014 while sitting out because of NCAA transfer rules and didn't exactly receive the warmest of welcomes.
The night before the game, Mayfield was asked to leave a Lubbock restaurant and booed on his way out the door. Texas Tech fans barraged Mayfield with verbal barbs as he came out for warm-ups and as he watched from the sideline during the game. After the game, an Oklahoma Highway Patrolman escorted Mayfield to his vehicle for safety.
Over the past year, tensions have cooled.
Mayfield hasn't said anything negative about Texas Tech publicly recently and Kingsbury even praised Mayfield during Big 12 Media Days in July.
Texas Tech was also among the schools that voted to approve a rule that granted Mayfield an additional year of eligibility over the summer.
"I've gotten over everything," Mayfield said. "It's all in the past, which is what I said last year. It's about settling in and being ready to play."
The move appears to have paid off all around as Mayfield has flourished with the Sooners and Patrick Mahomes II has become one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the country at Texas Tech (3-3, 1-2). Mahomes enters Saturday's contest as he nation's leader in passing yards (2,579, 429.8 ypg) and total offense (455.2 ypg). He also ranks second in points responsible for (168) and leads the Big 12 in touchdown passes (21).
But just because things are better doesn't mean Mayfield doesn't expect harsh treatment.
"We'll see how our guys handle the violent environment we're gonna be in," Mayfield said.
The contest is a key one for Texas Tech, which plays just two of its final six games at home and needs three wins to become bowl eligible. The Red Raiders, who still have road games with TCU, Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Baylor, come in off a 48-17 home loss to No. 12 West Virginia.
"There is a lot to fix," Kingsbury said. "There is no doubt. (We need to) reassess what we're doing, how we're doing it as far as practice goes., personnel-wise, who we're playing ... I think we took a look at everything on Sunday, and are trying to figure out what we need to tighten up and who needs to be playing and what changes we need to make in this last part of the season to be the most effective."
Last week was by far the least effective the Red Raiders have been at home. The Mountaineers held Tech to 17 points, the first time all year the team had been held under 50 in Lubbock. Mahomes threw for 305 yards, but didn't look as effective as he did early in the season. He is battling an injured shoulder, and the injury and the lightened load in practice may be taking its toll.
"I think his lack of practicing caught up to him," Kingsbury said. "I think that first week he was still kind of in that streak, in that zone. And this last week not practicing as much as we would have liked probably caught up to him. Then he tried to do a little bit too much, I felt like, in the second half."
Oklahoma, which will be trying for its first 4-0 start in Big 12 play since 2004, will be without starting running back Samaje Perine who is expected to be sidelined two to three weeks with a hamstring injury.