By RALPH D. RUSSO , AP College Football Writer
The last weekend before the College Football Playoff rankings debut shook loose some of those fringy contenders, clearing the clutter before the last month of the season.
No. 9 Florida? Done. No. 18 Iowa? There will be no Hawkeyes run.
However, don’t count out No. 14 Washington State just yet. The Cougars are the Pac-12’s long shot last hope. If you’re a fan of playoff chaos, Mike Leach might be your man.
No. 7 Georgia bounced back from its loss at LSU to restore some order in the SEC East and hand Florida its second loss of the season. The Bulldogs looked the part of national title contender again, pulling away from the Gators with an array of weapons . And Jake Fromm did not need any assistance from freshman Justin Field. Fromm threw for 240 yards and three touchdowns.
The Bulldogs can wrap up the SEC East crown and eliminate another one of those fringe playoff contenders next week when they visit No. 12 Kentucky. The Wildcats won on the last play of the game at Missouri to set up the biggest football game in Lexington, Kentucky, maybe since Bear Bryant was coach there.
Kentucky has been a great story this season, but the Wildcats have not scored more than 15 points in their last three games. That’s probably not going to cut it against the Bulldogs, who made a recovery from a lopsided loss reminiscent of last year when they got hammered at Auburn and went on to win the Southeastern Conference championship and reach the national title game.
By next Saturday night, the Alabama-Georgia rematch in Atlanta could be set. The top-ranked Crimson Tide face No. 4 LSU in Baton Rouge next Saturday night. Georgia-Kentucky will be the first game of the national televised SEC doubleheader on CBS.
Those who like chaos in their playoff race will root for the Wildcats and Tigers, but don’t count on it.
Iowa’s playoff dreams went away at Penn State in a bizarre game that featured Kirk Ferentz calling fake field goals and punts and Penn State handing the Hawkeyes four points worth of safeties. It was starting to feel a little like 2015, when Iowa reached the Big Ten championship game unbeaten and came one long Michigan State touchdown drive from making the playoff.
Beating Penn State would have opened a clear path to Indianapolis for the Hawkeyes, but quarterback Nate Stanley was all over the place and they couldn’t close the deal. Another L for those on team chaos.
No. 14 Washington State (7-1) rallied to win at No. 24 Stanfordand sits atop the Pac-12 North all by itself. The Cougars provide a glimmer of playoff hope for the fast-fading conference. But the reality is that even if Wazzu wins out, its resume with no Power Five nonconference victories probably won’t be winning many selection committee arguments.
Still, just think what fun it could be having Leach in the mix as the committee’s ranking are released and his team is on the outside looking in week after week.
UNLIKELY DIVISION LEADERS
The most surprising division leader entering November?
How about Northwestern (5-3, 5-1), which started the season 1-3 with a fortunate victory against Purdue and a home loss to Akron. The Wildcats entered Saturday minus-two in point differential for the season, and then blew out No. 20 Wisconsin , which was playing without starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook.
The Wildcats are alone in first place in the Big Ten West. They host Notre Dame next week, but the week after that, the Wildcats go to Iowa for a game that very well could decide the division. The secret to Northwestern’s success is hard to spot. The Wildcats don’t do anything particularly well, but few coaches consistently squeeze more out of their roster than Pat Fitzgerald.
Or, maybe it’s Virginia (6-2, 4-1). The Cavaliers handled North Carolina in the South’s Oldest Rivalry and hold a half-game lead over Virginia Tech and Pitt in the ACC Coastal.
The Cavaliers have a dynamic dual-threat quarterback in JUCO transfer Bryce Perkins (329 total yards against North Carolina), and like Northwestern, a defense that is OK at taking away one thing but probably not good enough to handle a balanced and explosive attack. But there are none of those on Virginia’s schedule. Before the season, third-year coach Bronco Mendenhall said his roster had 27 ACC-level players. That might be enough to send the Cavaliers to the ACC title game for the first time.
AROUND THE COUNTRY: Wisconsin and No. 15 Washington, which lost to Cal , could join Auburn and Miami as preseason top-10 teams out of the rankings this week. … The $14 million buyout might not be enough to save Louisville coach Bobby Petrino. In a matchup of the worst two teams in the ACC, the Cardinals were crushed at home by Wake Forest and buried by a running back whom Petrino jilted in recruiting. Might be time for buyout bake sale by the athletic association . … No. 2 Clemson handed Florida State the worst home loss in school history. The Seminoles (4-4) need two victories to keep their record 36-season streak of appearances alive, and it’s not looking good. Florida State finishes the season with road games at No. 22 North Carolina State and No. 3 Notre Dame and home games against Boston College and No. 9 Florida. … Army, which came into its game against Eastern Michigan leading the nation in time of possession, held the ball for 45:42 in a 37-22 victory that made the Black Knights bowl eligible for a third straight season . Army has never played in a bowl game three straight seasons.