College Football Corner: It’s a Wildcat world

WASHINGTON — While most of the eyes in the Southeastern Conference were focused on Jacksonville and the game unofficially referred to as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party,” another SEC East school was busy making history.

At the same time, No. 7 Georgia was shutting the door on 9th ranked Florida, Kentucky rallied to beat Missouri 15-14 with a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns. The game-winner came in as time expired. The No. 12 Wildcats — ranked this season for the first time since 2007 — improved to 7-1 on the season and more importantly 5-1 in the SEC.

Yes … for the first time since 1977, Kentucky will finish with a winning conference record. Since going an unbeaten 6-0 in league play under Fran Curci (and also under probation so they couldn’t play in a Bowl that year) the Wildcats have had almost as many winless (six) SEC campaigns as they’ve had .500 seasons (eight).

When Mark Stoops took over for Joker Phillips in 2013, many thought he had a tough task ahead of him while others remained flummoxed that a school would hire somebody with the nickname “Joker” (for the record, it’s Joe Jr.) as head coach. The process has been slow yet steady as the Wildcats have gone from two to five to seven wins thus far … and now Kentucky will host Georgia Saturday with a trip to the SEC Championship Game on the line. What’s this about basketball?

Virginia Tech (4-3, 3-1 ACC) turned the Coastal Division race upside down with a 49-28 loss to Georgia Tech. Every fear or nightmare one has entering a game against an option team like the Yellowjackets came true. It’s a good thing Navy isn’t on Tech’s schedule this fall.

  • Hokie Highlights: Ryan Willis threw two touchdown passes while Damon Hazelton caught six passes for 81 yards and a score. Khalil Ladler made a team-high 12 tackles. Oscar Bradburn averaged 41.5 yards per punt.
  • Hokie Humblings: The Yellowjackets chewed up yardage and the clock all night, holding the ball for 42 minutes while gaining 465 yards on the ground. The offense converted just two of eight third downs and gained just 19 yards on its first 11 plays from scrimmage in the second half. Eight penalties for 87 yards didn’t help either.

Next: Saturday at 3:45 p.m. against 6-2 Boston College.

Virginia (6-2, 4-1 ACC) clinched bowl eligibility for the second straight year by beating North Carolina 31-21. The Cavaliers also move into first place of the Coastal Division, something that might not sit well in Blacksburg if they didn’t have their own problems to deal with.

  • Cavalier Congrats: Bryce Perkins threw for 217 yards and three touchdowns while running for 112 yards and another score. Olamide Zaccheaus notches 10 catches (setting the career mark at U.Va.) for 108 yards. Juan Thornhill tallied seven tackles to pace the defense that held the Tar Heels to four-of-14 on third down. Just one penalty on the day.
  • Cavalier Concerns: Lester Coleman averaged just 34.5 yards per punt, and the return game (17 yards per kickoff return, 1.4 yards per punt return) was somewhat lacking.

Next: Friday night at 7:30 p.m. against 4-4 Pitt.

Maryland (5-3, 3-2 Big Ten) moved within one victory of bowl-eligibility with its 63-33 rout of Illinois. The big play was the thing as five of the Terps’ nine touchdowns were by more than 40 yards.

  • Terrapin Triumphs: Javon Leake ran for 140 yards and three touchdowns while scoring a fourth on a 97-yard kickoff return. Kasim Hill threw for a career high 265 yards and three touchdowns. The offense converted 12 of 15 third downs while holding the Illini to four field goals on four trips to the red zone.
  • Terrapin Troubles: After 2 1/2 quarters of lockdown defense, Maryland went into break-but-don’t-bend mode by allowing touchdowns of 61, 89 and 84 yards. The team was penalized seven times — once in the pregame warmups while another was a targeting penalty that resulted in linebacker Tre Watson’s ejection.

Next: Saturday at noon against 6-3 Michigan State.

Navy (2-6) dropped its fifth straight game in a 44-22 loss to No. 3 Notre Dame … and it could have been a textbook case for the 2018 season. The offense struggled in the first half, gaining just 62 yards on 24 plays from scrimmage-while the defense allowed four touchdown drives of 67 yards or more. Now the Mids are in danger of missing postseason play for just the second time in coach Ken Niumatalolo’s tenure.

  • Midshipman Medals: After a disastrous first half, they actually outscored the Fighting Irish 22-16 the rest of the way. Malcolm Perry ran for 133 of the team’s 292 yards. Taylor Heflin led the defense with 14 tackles.
  • Midshipman Miscues: The offense was held to 2-for-12 on third down. Meanwhile, the defense was unable to slow down the Fighting Irish: Quarterback Ian Book completed 82 percent of his passes for 330 yards while Dexter Williams ran for 142 yards.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at 7-1 Cincinnati.

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