Saturday, May 8, 2021
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Texas A&M gets a double shot at Mississippi State

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

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LOSER: Texas A&M. Losing at Mississippi State was bad enough. Potentially going without Trevor Knight for any period of time might be even worse.

The Aggies (7-2, 4-2 SEC) saw their national title hopes come to an end with a 35-28 loss Saturday. Losing at undefeated Alabama was one thing. Falling against a 4-5 team that’s shown little consistency in the post-Dak Prescott era is another.

(An aside: This is yet another example of why any ranking released by the playoff selection committee prior to Thanksgiving should promptly be ignored. Much was made of Texas A&M’s placement at No. 4 this week, and now that point is effectively moot).

Knight, a graduate transfer pickup from Oklahoma, was arguably the most impactful recruit in the country this season. He left after a quarter with a right shoulder injury, and the Aggies’ offense was never right the rest of the day.

With Mississippi and Louisiana State still to come, Knight could make the difference between a New Year’s Six bid and a pedestrian mid-tier bowl should he return in timely fashion. It might not be a playoff bid, but it would still help solidify the progress the Aggies have shown to date.

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WINNERS: Clemson and Michigan. There’s one less hurdle remaining for the last undefeated teams in the ACC (Clemson) and the Big Ten (Michigan). Both had 3:30 p.m. kickoffs and both were well on their way to a rout within an hour.

Clemson (9-0, 6-0 ACC) pounded Syracuse, 54-0, and is within a victory of clinching consecutive Atlantic Division titles. The Tigers needed less than a half’s worth of work from quarterback Deshaun Watson, who left with a shoulder bruise but could have returned in a more competitive game.

Michigan (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten) rolled up 660 yards and scored on nine of its 10 possessions while swatting away Maryland, 59-3. The Wolverines’ defense had a staggering 13 tackles for losses in just 66 snaps to help Jim Harbaugh’s team stay on course for a playoff berth.

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WINNER: Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons are bowl-eligible for the first time five years after turning back Virginia, 27-20. Wake Forest (6-3, 3-2 ACC) cashed in on its third shot at securing a postseason slot thanks to Jessie Bates’ interception return for a touchdown with 6:47 to play.

While the Demon Deacons’ schedule is anything but daunting (their other victories have come against Tulane, Duke, Delaware, Indiana, Syracuse), this is still a major step forward for Dave Clawson’s program. Wake won a combined six games the last two years and fielded dreadfully anemic offenses both seasons, but the youth movement appears to be paying dividends in Winston-Salem.

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LOSER: Michigan State. The Spartans were national semifinalists on New Year’s Eve. Now, they’re in the midst of a seven-game losing streak that includes setbacks against the likes of Illinois, Indiana and Maryland. It prompts would have been an unthinkable question even a month ago: What if Michigan State (2-7) somehow loses to Rutgers next week?

The latest loss — 31-27 at Illinois — locked up a losing season. The befuddling question remains for the Spartans: Just how did it all fall apart so quickly? Saturday was the most puzzling loss of the bunch. The Illini had only 304 total yards but scored on every possession in which it mustered a first down. Michigan State rolled up 490 yards and fielded a competent passing game but still couldn’t earn a victory.

Now 0-6 in the Big Ten for the first time ever and stuck in their longest losing streak since 1982, the Spartans are left to play out the string. At least basketball season has almost arrived in East Lansing.

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WINNER: Zach Cunningham. It hardly matters that Vanderbilt fell to Auburn, 23-16. Cunningham made one of those most athletic plays of the season while blocking a field goal late in the fourth quarter.

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LOSER: Baylor. Well, the Bears’ (on-field) problems escalated in a hurry. A week after its playoff hopes essentially dissolved with a loss to a so-so Texas team, Baylor was trucked, 62-22 at home, by another so-so outfit (Texas Christian). That nearly finishes the Bears (6-2, 3-2) as a Big 12 title contender.

Those hopes figure to be entirely dashed next week when Baylor faces Oklahoma. If Texas Christian could roll up 431 yards rushing (with Kyle Hicks scoring five times on the ground), what will the Sooners and a fresh-off-suspension Joe Mixon accomplish next week in Norman?

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WINNER: Navy. It’s not the same as snapping a 43-game losing streak in a long-running rivalry, but the Midshipmen have every reason to celebrate a victory over Notre Dame. Coach Ken Niumatalolo will often point out his team’s margin for error isn’t great, even in the best of seasons. Saturday, the Mids did enough to secure a 28-27 victory over the Fighting Irish.

It marks the 13th time in 14 years Navy (6-2) has locked up bowl eligibility. It’s also the fourth time in the last 10 years the Mids have knocked off Notre Dame.

This isn’t the best year of the Paul Johnson-Niumatalolo revival in Annapolis; that’s still reserved for last year’s 11-2 team. And the Mids won’t bring the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy back to Annapolis (more on that later). But with a victory over a top-10 opponent (Houston), a defeat of Notre Dame and the emergence of quarterback Will Worth after Tago Smith’s season-ending injury in the opener, it’s one of the more memorable Navy seasons of late.

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LOSER: Rich Rodriguez. The bottom has fallen out at Arizona, which was on the wrong end of a 69-7 drubbing at Washington State. The Wildcats (2-7, 0-6 Pac-12) won’t extend their bowl streak to five years, and remain both offensively inept and defensively deficient.

Rodriguez’s name surfaced during last year’s coaching carousel, and given the former West Virginia and Michigan coach’s geographic history, it always seemed logical that he could wind up back in the eastern half of the country. But with so much going wrong with Arizona this fall, he might not help many athletic directors win a news conference.

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WINNER: Air Force. The Falcons (6-3) locked up a postseason trip and clinched the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, winning 31-12 at Army to sweep their fellow FBS service academies.

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