ON A SATURDAY in which five of the 11 teams ranked ahead of it lost, Penn State was trailing by 10 points at Indiana - a team it had beaten 19 of 20 - late in the third quarter. Then the Nittany Lions (8-2, 6-1 Big Ten) began playing like the team it has become over the last month. More than 18 minutes later, they'd scored 31 of the last 38 points to get a 45-31 win.
It's what the better teams do. And right now the Nits look to be one of those teams. They moved up three spots in the rankings to ninth, cracking the top 10 for the first time since the 2009 season. They were 10th in last week's college football playoff standings, which are released on Tuesday.
Saquon Barkley's 2-yard touchdown run with just under four minutes to go put the Lions on top, 35-31. A Tyler Davis 39-yard field goal at 1:07 extended their lead to seven. And Torrence Brown returned a fumble for a 9-yard score with 29 seconds left.
"It was a gutsy, gutsy win on the road," said coach James Franklin, who won seven games in each of his first two seasons.
Indiana (5-5, 3-4) lost five fumbles, four in the first half.
Barkley, whose 4-yard TD run had put PSU up 28-24 early in the fourth period, was held to 58 rushing yards on a career-high 33 carries. He had 20 on 20 through the first 45 minutes. Trace McSorley passed for 332 and two scores. He also ran for one.
This week the Lions are at Rutgers (2-8, 0-7), the last-place team in the East. Then they host Michigan State (3-7, 1-6), the team just ahead of Rutgers. They could still make the Big Ten final, and at worst have put themselves in position for one of the New Year's Six bowls.
The visiting Dukes (9-1, 7-0 Colonial Athletic Association), ranked sixth in FCS, were averaging 49 points a game. They lost their quarterback, Bryan Schor, on the first play of the second period with an undisclosed injury. They were up 7-0 at the time. They wouldn't score another touchdown until there was 2:36 left. And that was the result of a seven-play drive, following a turnover. But it was still enough.
The No. 9 Wildcats (7-3, 5-2) missed a chance to secure a spot in the NCAA playoffs. And tie for first in the CAA. They turned the ball over three times on downs (once on a fake punt) and had a short field goal blocked when the game was tied early in the third period. JMU's go-ahead field goal was set up by an interception off a tipped pass at the Villanova 14. The Dukes clinched their second title, and first since 2008, which was also the last time they won here. That one came on a Hail Mary pass.
The Dukes had to use freshman quarterback Cole Johnson for the first time. He went 5-for-12 for 43 yards, after Schor started out 10 of 11 for 108. Villanova rushed for 168 yards on 31 carries. But 56 of that came on Zach Bednarczyk's 56-yard second-quarter TD. Under constant pressure, he finished 12-for-30 for 71 yards with four interceptions. A week earlier he'd thrown for a career-best 326 yards in a 26-7 win at Maine.
It was Andy Talley's final regular-season game at Villanova Stadium after 32 seasons. Matt Szczur, the Most Outstanding Player of the 2009 national title game and member of the World Series champion Chicago Cubs, was honored on the field at the end of the first period.
Now the Wildcats head to Delaware (4-6, 4-6, 2-5), which will have its first back-to-back losing seasons since 1938-39. A win would put them in the 24-team tournament field. They might even get in at 7-4. But who wants to leave it up to a selection committee? The Wildcats have won nine of the last 10 against the UD.
If the Wildcats are 8-3, they'll likely have a home game on Thanksgiving weekend. Talley is 8-2 in the postseason on the Main Line.
In case you missed it on Friday night, Penn (6-3, 5-1) created a three-way tie for first in the Ivy League with a 27-14 win at Franklin Field over Harvard (7-2, 5-1). The Quakers got two touchdowns in the final 15 seconds, a 2-yard pass from Alek Torgersen to Justin Watson and an 18-yard fumble return by Taylor Hendrickson on the last play. Penn closes at Cornell (4-5, 2-4), while Harvard hosts Yale (2-7, 2-4) and Princeton (7-2, 5-1) hosts Dartmouth (4-5, 1-5). Last year Penn shared the title with Harvard and Dartmouth.
Temple (7-3, 5-1 American Athletic Conference) had a bye. This week the Owls are at Tulane (3-7, 0-6). Next week they're home against East Carolina (3-7, 1-5). If they win out they'll go back to the title game. Navy (7-2, 5-1) leads the West Division by a game over Houston and Tulsa, two teams it has beaten. Overall record wouldn't come into play (because Navy has to play Army on Dec. 10). So the right to host would come down to whoever is highest in the playoff standings. If neither is ranked in the Top 25, it goes to composite computer average.
1. Alabama (10-0). Beat Mississippi State, 51-3. Saturday: vs. Chattanooga. Tide's scout team could win this week by 50. Auburn at home on deck.
2. Ohio State (9-1). Beat Maryland, 62-3. Saturday: at Michigan State. It should still come down to Buckeyes or Michigan coming out of the Big Ten East, so that much hasn't changed. Lost at Michigan State last year, but that was much different MSU.
2a. Louisville (9-1). Beat Wake Forest, 44-12. Thursday: at Houston. Remember when this matchup looked like it might be huge back in September? Cards' biggest problem is it needs Clemson to lose at Wake Forest or it can't get into ACC final. They played Houston in Conference USA (1996-2004) and American Athletic (2013).
4. Clemson (9-1). Lost to Pitt, 43-42. Saturday: at Wake Forest. Hasn't lost to Wake since 2009. Hosts South Carolina after this.
5. Michigan (9-1). Lost at Iowa, 14-13. Saturday: vs. Indiana. Has lost to Indiana once since 1967. That was 29 years ago. Then it's on to Columbus. Can hardly wait.
6. Washington (9-1). Lost to Southern Cal, 26-13. Saturday: vs. Arizona State. Guess USC really has improved. Huskies have lost 10 straight to ASU. Then they go to Washington State, where Pac-12 North could be on the line.
7. Wisconsin (8-2). Beat Illinois, 48-3. Saturday: at Purdue. Hasn't lost to Boilermakers since 2003. Finishes with Minnesota at home. Could a two-loss Big Ten champion get into playoff field?
8. Oklahoma (8-2). Beat Baylor, 45-24. Saturday: at West Virginia. Not the same team it was in early September, when it lost to Houston and Ohio State by double digits at home. Closes with Oklahoma State on Dec. 3.
9. West Virginia (8-1). Beat Texas, 24-20. Saturday: vs. Oklahoma. Hasn't beaten Oklahoma since joining Big 12 in 2012.
10. Penn State (8-2). Beat Indiana, 45-31. Saturday: at Rutgers. Rutgers stinks. Ditto Michigan State, which just broke a seven-game losing streak with a 49-0 win over those Scarlet Knights. That's what the Nittany Lions have left. If they win out and Ohio State beats Michigan they're in Big Ten title game.
Next in line: Utah (8-2), Colorado (8-2), Oklahoma State (8-2), Southern Cal (7-3) and Auburn (7-3).
Clemson - Shouldn't be losing at home to three-touchdown underdog after you've put yourself in position to make playoffs again. The only good news was that Michigan and Washington also gagged.
Washington - It might be OK to lose to Southern Cal, even at home, since Trojans have gotten much better. But you might want to score more than 13 points.
Michigan - It might be OK to lose at Iowa, by one, even though like Clemson you were favored by three TDs. But Hawkeyes had lost week before by 31 at Penn State. At least Wolves still have Ohio State on their schedule.
Auburn - It might be OK to lose at Georgia, even if Dawgs were 5-4. But you shouldn't score just seven. So much for trying to win the SEC West, which might have been impossible anyway, since Tigers had to go to Alabama.
Virginia Tech/North Carolina - Two teams trying to win ACC Coastal and get shot at Louisville or Clemson. Hokies lost by 10 at home to 5-4 Georgia Tech, two days after Tar Heels went down by one at 3-6 Duke. I suppose Louisville/Clemson aren't too worried. I could have put Army in, even though I rarely pick on the academies (for all the obvious reasons), for losing by 38 to Notre Dame in San Antonio. But that might be construed by some as taking a good-natured jab at the Irish.