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College Football Corner: Year of the Wildcat

Northwestern running back Isaiah Bowser runs for a 34-yard touchdown in the second half against Iowa on Saturday in Iowa City. Northwestern won 14-10. (AP/Charlie Neibergall)

WASHINGTON — Two weeks ago I was amazed at how Kentucky, for the first time since 1977, was going to finish with a winning conference record. Well, those Wildcats are going to have to take a back seat to a school that wrapped up a division title, with two weeks in the regular season to spare.

Northwestern’s 14-10 win at No. 21 Iowa clinches their first West Division title, putting the Wildcats within one victory of their first Big Ten championship since 2000. It’s easy to sell this year’s team short. They lost to Akron, a school that had last beaten a Big Ten team two years before the conference was founded in the 19th century. They were 1-3 at the start of October — and that one win was a four-point Labor Day weekend victory over Purdue. Northwestern needed overtime to edge then-winless Nebraska and a fourth quarter touchdown to beat Rutgers (!) in October, and it felt as though whatever division hopes they had were a mirage.

But nobody told the school with the smallest enrollment and tiniest stadium (21,000 and 47,330 respectively) in the Big Ten. And the little program that could beat ranked foes Wisconsin and Iowa en route to its first division title. Now coach Pat Fitzgerald’s team waits to see if they’ll face No. 4 Michigan or 8th ranked Ohio State in the championship game at Indianapolis next month. I wouldn’t sell them short.


Maryland (5-5, 3-4 Big Ten) lost quarterback Kasim Hill to injury and fell 15 points behind Indiana — twice — before rallying to take a late lead over the Hoosiers. Unfortunately, IU’s offense woke up to drive for a go-ahead field goal and backup quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome fumbled on the Terps’ last possession in a 34-32 loss. The road to bowl eligibility just got a lot tougher.

  • Terrapin Triumphs: Anthony McFarland rushed for a career-high 210 yards. Tyrrell Pigrome completed 10 of 13 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown and also made plays with his feet coming off of the bench. Tre Watson tallied seven tackles plus an interception to direct a defense that held the Hoosiers to three for 12 on third down.
  • Terrapin Troubles: Four turnovers — the first three leading to 17 IU points and the fourth extinguishing any hopes for a victory in the final minute of regulation. Ten penalties for 93 yards — life is tough enough in the Big Ten … but when you beat yourself it’s even more difficult.

Next: Saturday at noon against No. 8 Ohio State.


Virginia (7-3, 4-2 ACC) didn’t make things easy of its fan base at Scott Stadium. Coach Bronco Mendenhall’s team took a while to get going, falling behind Liberty on the first possession of the game outscoring the Flames 21-7 after intermission en route to a 45-24 triumph. University of Virginia can still win the Coastal Division, but need a 2-0 finish plus a pair of Pitt losses.

  • Cavalier Congrats: Bryce Perkins threw for two touchdowns while running for two more scores. Both of Perkins’ TD passes were to Joe Reed who also returned a kickoff 90 yards for touchdown. Jordan Ellis had his first 100-yard rushing game since September. Juan Thornhill tallied 13 tackles while Robert Snyder posted 11 stops with a sack. Three takeaways for the defense and just one penalty for the team.
  • Cavalier Concerns: Allowing 24 points to … Liberty? The Flames scored on three of their five first half possessions, with the other two resulting in a missed field goal and an interception in the red zone. U.Va. allowed 205 yards rushing … and their next foe will try to exploit any weaknesses on the ground early and often.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against 6-4 Georgia Tech.


Virginia Tech (4-5, 3-3 ACC) was still in control of its path to the Coastal Division heading into their game at Pitt … only to run into a Panthers team that appears to be destined this fall. The 52-22 loss eliminated the Hokies from the division race and put their bowl hopes on life support. Yes, they face a fading (four straight losses) Miami team followed by the annual duel with Virginia (they haven’t lost to the Cavaliers since joining the ACC)- but the margin for error is ridiculously thin.

  • Hokie Highlights: Ryan Willis threw for 231 yards and three scores on a turnover-free day while also leading the team in rushing. Oscar Bradburn averaged over 40 yards per punt. Hey-in a 30-point drubbing, you look for what you can get…
  • Hokie Humblings: The defense coughed up 492 yards on the ground and allowed 31 points in the first half. This is the fourth time this fall that the D has allowed 40 points or more and the primary reason why instead of talking division title this year’s team is on the precipice of bowl elimination.

Next: Saturday vs. 5-5 Miami.


Navy (2-8, 1-5 AAC) rallied after falling behind to #11 UCF 21-3 at intermission. While they were able to reach the endzone three times in the second half, it wasn’t enough as the Midshipmen lose 35-24 and are officially eliminated from bowl eligibility. The good news is the run through the gauntlet is over.

  • Midshipman Medals: The offense converted 8 of 13 third downs and scored touchdowns on three of four second half possessions. Taylor Heflin led the defense with 14 tackles. Owen White averaged 54 yards per punt.
  • Midshipman Miscues: Zero sacks as the defense was unable to make McKenzie Milton uncomfortable to any degree (he completed 17 of 21 passes). The run defense allowed 5.7 yards per carry on the afternoon.

Next: Saturday vs. 2-8 Tulsa. The Mids’ last five opponents currently have a combined-eight losses.


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