Houston’s playoff hopes become American horror story

Running through the highs and lows from Saturday afternoon’s action:

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LOSER: Houston. Last year it was Connecticut. This year it is Navy. In both cases, a talented Houston team couldn’t make it through its American Athletic Conference schedule without taking a loss.

This year’s Cougars had plenty going for them. They opened with a victory over Oklahoma, and had to be happy to see the Sooners starting to play better the last couple weeks. They had a visit from Louisville lined up for November, an excellent chance to make an impression late in the year.

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Navy, and quarterback Will Worth, had other ideas. Just a week removed from sputtering in a loss at Air Force, the Midshipmen rolled up 306 yards rushing (115 from Worth) against a Houston defense that neutralized the likes of Florida State and Oklahoma within the last year.

The 46-40 loss does it for Houston’s playoff hopes, and the Cougars now need some help to win the American’s West Division. As good as Greg Ward Jr. and the rest of his teammates are, Houston’s most compelling story line at a national level the rest of this season is what high-profile job (if any) Coach Tom Herman ultimately takes at year’s end.

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WINNER: Boise State. Somebody has to be the beneficiary of Houston’s stumble, and Boise State is the best candidate to emerge as the Group of Five’s representative in the New Year’s Six structure.

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The Broncos (5-0, 2-0 Mountain West) thrashed New Mexico on Friday night, play in a conference with only three other teams that boast winning records (Air Force, San Diego State and Wyoming) and play four of their last seven at home. Even if this isn’t a top-10 type of team, Boise State is a credible candidate to run the table.

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WINNER: Texas A&M. After two overtimes and more than 4½ hours, Texas A&M is finally 6-0 under Kevin Sumlin. It also vanquished Tennessee’s absurd run of good fortune. And in all honesty, it’s tough to tell which of those is more impressive as the Aggies earned a 45-38 victory.

The Aggies rightfully were looked at with skepticism during their third consecutive 5-0 start. After all, they stumbled home for 8-5 seasons in 2014 and 2015, and with Alabama looming after an open date, a similar path very well might have awaited this year.

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And it sure seemed like they were prepared to follow it. Texas A&M wasted a 35-21 lead in the final three minutes, an anxious stretch that saw tailback Trayveon Williams almost score a game-sealing touchdown only to fumble through the end zone. Toss in Aggies kicker Daniel LaCamera’s missed field goal in the closing seconds of regulation, and Tennessee was set up for another absurd victory.

It’s been that way all year for Butch Jones’ Volunteers (5-1, 2-1 SEC), who beat Appalachian State in overtime and erased deficits of 14 (Virginia Tech), 17 (Georgia) and 21 (Florida) points in bewildering victories. So why not again?

Instead, Joshua Dobbs was intercepted in the second overtime period, the Aggies’ first 6-0 start since 1994 was secure and two of the biggest questions in the SEC — Is A&M for real? Will Tennessee’s luck ever run out — finally received some resolution.

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LOSER: Charlie Strong. The Texas head coach took over as the team’s defensive coordinator this week, and wouldn’t you know it, the Longhorns’ problems on that side of the ball are play-caller-independent. Oklahoma rolled up 672 yards (with Samaje Perine’s 214 rushing yards and Dede Westbrook’s 232 receiving yards accounting for the bulk of that) in a 45-40 victory at the Cotton Bowl.

That’s three losses in a row for Texas (2-3, 0-2 Big 12), and it has surrendered 144 points in that stretch. Strong really could have used a rivalry game triumph to calm down a cranky fan base, and it didn’t happen. Expect more chatter out of Austin as Strong continues his third (and quite possibly final) season with the Longhorns.

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WINNER: Mother Nature. Especially against the Research Triangle, which had the misfortune of playing host to three games involving ACC teams as the remnants of Hurricane Matthew passed through the area.

The Notre Dame-N.C. State game was particularly gross, though tape of neither Virginia Tech-North Carolina nor Army-Duke is likely to be tossed into a time capsule for posterity’s sake. The final tally from these three windy, rainy, largely miserable games: 69 points, 1,109 total yards, 321 passing yards, 15 turnovers and two blocked punts. Tobacco Road will gladly swap hurricane season for basketball season as soon as it can.

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WINNER: North Carolina State. The Wolfpack (4-1) needed to beat somebody they probably shouldn’t have to get themselves back into bowl contention. That, of course, assumed Notre Dame qualified as someone N.C. State shouldn’t beat this season.

The Irish have had their problems, and playing in the middle of a tropical storm didn’t help matters. In the end, N.C. State returned a blocked punt for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to secure a 10-3 victory, something that looks all the more significant with trips to Clemson and Louisville looming over the next two weeks.

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LOSER: Michigan State. If it wasn’t already apparent with last week’s loss to Indiana, there is plenty to lament in East Lansing this year.

Saturday’s 31-14 setback against Brigham Young further illustrated the Spartans’ substantial offensive issues. A lot of teams will struggle against the stingy Cougars, but Michigan State would still be expected to muster more than 206 yards.

The Spartans (2-3) have scored just 41 points during their three-game losing streak, and it has become plenty clear that at least for this season, the thought of three powers atop the Big Ten East is really no more than two. And on that subject: How ugly will Michigan State’s games against Michigan and Ohio State prove to be later this season? The Spartans appear unlikely to fare better than 7-5 this year.

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LOSER: Iowa State. Give the Cyclones credit for some spunk over the last two weeks, when they’ve challenged Baylor and Oklahoma State deep into games. But it’s perfectly fair to wonder “what if” in the face of offensive meltdowns toward the end of both contests.

Last week, Iowa State (1-5, 0-3 Big 12) was outgained 258-7 in the fourth quarter as Baylor erased a 14-point hole to earn a 45-42 victory. Saturday, Oklahoma State rallied from a 17-point deficit in the middle of the third quarter, scoring 24 points in a row to claim a 38-31 victory.