Running through the highs and lows from Saturday afternoon's action:
WINNER: Alabama. Not much came easy for Tennessee in the first half of the season. Alabama made sure nothing did Saturday.
The Crimson Tide's spot atop the Southeastern Conference's pecking order was never threatened in a 49-10 victory in Knoxville. Alabama (7-0, 4-0) basically went down a checklist of all the things it usually does to dispirit, demoralize and ultimately demolish a potential threat.
It trampled Tennessee's defensive front (438 rushing yards) while yielding little on the ground (32 yards). It scored another two non-offensive touchdowns, with Ronnie Harrison returning a Joshua Dobbs interception for a score in the first quarter, and then Eddie Jackson bringing back a punt 79 yards early in the fourth quarter.
It smothered the Volunteers (5-2, 2-2), preventing any drive of more than 18 yards until well after halftime. And it left little doubt how much better it was than a team that forced overtime a week ago at undefeated Texas A&M -- which, by the way, comes to Alabama off a bye next week.
It was probably the most complete showing of the year for the Crimson Tide, which has done little to yield the place atop the national rankings it occupied since the beginning of the season.
- - -
WINNER: West Virginia. Credit where it's due: The Mountaineers (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) smashed Texas Tech, 48-17, in their first true road game of the season.
West Virginia was rightfully the overlooked Power Five unbeaten coming into the week. After all, its victories were against Missouri, Youngstown State, Brigham Young and Kansas State, though the best triumph of that bunch (BYU) did come on a neutral field.
Not only did Skyler Howard pick apart Texas Tech's sieve-like defense as the Mountaineers surpassed the 300-yard mark both on the ground and through the air, but the West Virginia defense did a stellar job in containing Patrick Mahomes and Co. The Red Raiders managed only 379 yards after entering the week leading the country in total offense (649.8 per game). They had scored at least 50 points in their previous nine home games, an NCAA record.
To do that on a far-flung road trip doesn't necessarily suggest West Virginia is a serious playoff contender, but it was a fine illustration that it earned a place in the discussion of the best teams in the Big 12.
- - -
LOSER: Georgia. The progress report on the Bulldogs' first season under Coach Kirby Smart is not flattering. They got hammered at Mississippi, lost in wrenching fashion (with the help of a silly penalty for a player removing his helmet on the field) to Tennessee and now have absorbed a 17-16 home loss to Vanderbilt.
Needless to say, Mark Richt could have done this.
The Bulldogs (4-3, 2-3 SEC) can point to two special teams plays that helped lead to a bewildering loss on a day when they outgained the Commodores 421-171. Vanderbilt brought the opening kickoff back to the Georgia 2-yard line to set up a short scoring drive, and Georgia couldn't bring the second-half kickoff beyond its 3, a field position nightmare that helped set up a field goal push for the Commodores.
That basically eliminates Georgia from league title contention, and it leaves the Bulldogs pondering just their third home loss to Vanderbilt since 1962 as they head into a bye week before facing Florida at the end of the month.
- - -
WINNER: Clemson (by a whisker). The Tigers survived N.C. State, 24-17 in overtime, and as an undefeated Power Five team, that's really all that matters. At the same time, Dabo Swinney's team got awfully lucky when N.C. State kicker Kyle Bambard missed a 32-yarder as time expired that would have won it for the Wolfpack.
Instead, Clemson (7-0, 4-0 ACC) got a Deshaun Watson touchdown pass to open overtime before Marcus Edmond intercepted N.C. State's Ryan Finley on the first play of the Wolfpack's turn in the extra period.
Perhaps this was a good thing for the Tigers, who still haven't lost a regular season game since 2014. It'll be two weeks before anyone knows for sure, though; Clemson has its open date next Saturday before traveling to Florida State.
- - -
LOSER: Virginia Tech. Well, that takes care of the talk of the Hokies as playoff sleeper possibility (and Tennessee's loss didn't help, either).
It was true Virginia Tech looked great last week at North Carolina (or as great as anyone can look in a torrential downpour). And it was true the Hokies entered the week in firm control of the ACC Coastal Division.
It's now also true that they lost, 31-17, at Syracuse, a program they hadn't played since 2003 and one that's gone even longer without being nationally relevant. And while Coach Dino Babers's team will rightfully celebrate one of the highest moments of the Orange program in the last decade and a half, this was a lost chance for Virginia Tech.
The Hokies simply could not get Syracuse off the field. The Orange was 10 of 21 on third downs, and the pass-happy offense led by quarterback Eric Dungey was not fazed by Virginia Tech's vaunted pass defense.
Realistically, Virginia Tech (4-2, 2-1 ACC) wasn't playoff material yet, anyway. But for as disappointing as this was, at least the Hokies still control their own destiny in the Coastal. The same can't be said in the Big Ten East for . . .
- - -
LOSER: Michigan State. The bottom fell out in East Lansing on Saturday. The Spartans are not only dropped their fourth in a row, but watched Northwestern (owner of the nation's No. 107 offense) drop 54 points on them. The Wildcats did have a kickoff return for a score and a safety; nonetheless, it's startling to see Coach Mark Dantonio's team losing, 54-40.
Remember, Michigan State (2-4, 0-3) still has to contend with Michigan and Ohio State later in the year. The fall from Big Ten champions to a possible losing season came quick, and next week's trip to Maryland represents a serious crossroads for the Spartans.