Steve Megargee Rivals.com College Football Staff Writer
Missouri couldn't get off to another fast start, and now its national title hopes are finished.
One week after the Tigers returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown in an upset of Oklahoma that catapulted them into national championship contention, they never completely recovered from an early 24-point deficit Saturday and lost 31-17 to Nebraska.
Missouri wasn't the only unbeaten upstart to watch its national title hopes vanish. Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins threw three interceptions Saturday in a 37-6 loss to Iowa that dropped the Spartans back in the pack and threw the Big Ten race into disarray.
Michigan State was fifth and Missouri sixth in the latest BCS standings.
Nebraska's victory gives the Huskers the upper hand in the Big 12 North race. Nebraska's head-to-head victory would give the Cornhuskers the tiebreaker advantage with Missouri.
Roy Helu Jr. rushed for a school-record 307 yards and three touchdowns against a Missouri team that entered the day ranked fifth in the nation in scoring defense and 23rd in run defense. His three touchdowns came from 66, 73 and 53 yards.
Helu is an unlikely candidate to own the single-game rushing record at a school that traditionally has run the ball as well as just about any program in the nation. Before Saturday, Helu had more than 12 carries in just one game all season. He ran the ball 28 times Saturday as Nebraska managed to overcome the absence of star quarterback Taylor Martinez, who didn't return to the game after getting hurt in the second quarter.
"You break a school record for single-game rushing at this place, with all the tradition around here, it's a pretty big deal," Huskers coach Bo Pelini said.
Helu provided more than enough offense because Nebraska's defense kept Missouri off balance most of the day. Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert was 18-of-42 and sacked six times as Missouri lost a road game to a ranked opponent for the 17th consecutive time.
Iowa's defense was equally effective against Michigan State. The Hawkeyes delivered an inspired performance in front of defensive coordinator Norm Parker, who returned Saturday for the first time since his Sept. 10 hospitalization for diabetes-related issues. The signature play came when safety Tyler Sash picked off a pass and tossed the ball to cornerback Micah Hyde, who raced 66 yards for a touchdown that gave the Hawkeyes a 17-0 lead.
"It feels good knowing [Parker's] up there watching us," Iowa cornerback Shaun Prater told reporters afterward.
Iowa's victory throws the Big Ten race wide open. Four Big Ten teams have one conference loss: Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa.
Here's a recap of the other winners and losers from the ninth week of the season.
Pittsburgh: The Panthers went 2-3 in non-conference play, but they have won three consecutive league games to emerge as the clear Big East front-runners. Pittsburgh already was the only Big East team unbeaten in conference play even before its 20-3 victory over Louisville. Pittsburgh already has beaten Syracuse, the Big East team with the best overall record.
Florida P Chas Henry: Two weeks after he missed each of his two field-goal attempts in a 10-7 loss to Mississippi State, Henry - who has been pressed into kicker duty because of an injury to Caleb Sturgis - made a 37-yarder in overtime to give Florida a 34-31 victory over Georgia. Florida still controls its destiny in the SEC East race, and has Vanderbilt next week and South Carolina on Nov. 13.
Syracuse: The Orange overpowered defending Big East champion Cincinnati 31-7 to continue one of the nation's most surprising stories. Syracuse (6-2) already has matched its highest win total since 2004 - the last time it reached a bowl - and is on the verge of clinching its first winning season since 2001.
Illinois coach Ron Zook: He gets plenty of grief whenever his teams struggle, so Zook deserves praise this season for helping make Illinois one of the nation's bigger surprises. Redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase continued his steady progress Saturday in a 44-10 rout of Purdue that put the Illini (5-3) one win away from bowl eligibility. Illinois' only three losses have came against Missouri, Ohio State and Michigan State, who have a combined three losses.
Oklahoma State P Quinn Sharp: The guy who headed into the weekend as the NCAA punting leader arguably was the most valuable player in Oklahoma State's 24-17 victory over Kansas State. Sharp's punting forced Kansas State to start four of its drives inside its 10. Oklahoma State needed to win the field-position battle to overcome the loss of star wide receiver Justin Blackmon, who was suspended for the game after getting arrested on a misdemeanor DUI charge.
South Carolina WR Alshon Jeffery and RB Marcus Lattimore: South Carolina's two biggest stars helped the Gamecocks maintain control of the SEC East race. Jeffery used his gamebreaking ability to turn a relatively short pass into a tiebreaking 70-yard touchdown in South Carolina's 38-24 victory over Tennessee. Lattimore rushed for 184 yards on 29 carries.
Boston College RB Montel Harris: Harris, a junior, rushed for 142 yards and caught a 36-yard touchdown pass as Boston College defeated Clemson 16-10 to end a five-game losing streak, its longest skid since 1998.
Temple's defense: Temple has recorded back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1971. The Owls followed up a 42-0 rout of Buffalo with a 30-0 trouncing of Akron. The Owls also tied a school record with their 10th consecutive home win.
Tulsa's creativity: Tulsa's offense didn't score a touchdown after its opening drive Saturday, but the Golden Hurricane still beat Notre Dame 28-27 by finding other ways to reach the end zone. Shawn Jackson scored on a 65-yard interception return, Damaris Johnson scored on a 59-yard punt return and Curnelius Arnick gave Tulsa two more points with his return of a blocked extra-point attempt.
Auburn QB Cam Newton's teammates: On a night when the Heisman front-runner wasn't as productive as usual, Auburn proved it's more than a one-man show. Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb rushed for a combined 279 yards and two touchdowns as Auburn breezed to a 51-31 victory at Ole Miss. Newton rushed for just 45 yards on 11 carries, but he also threw for two touchdowns and even caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Kodi Burns.
Oregon RB LaMichael James and WR Jeff Maehl: James cemented his status as Newton's biggest challenger in the Heisman race by rushing for 239 yards and three touchdowns in the Ducks' 53-32 victory at USC. Maehl helped out by catching three touchdown passes, including a 30-yarder that put the Ducks ahead for good midway through the third quarter.
Baylor: The Bears remained in a tie for first in the Big 12 South (hey, think about that for a second) by beating Texas 30-22, their first win in Austin since 1991. Robert Griffin threw two touchdown passes and ran for a third score. It's time to add his name to the list of Heisman candidates.
Penn State RB Evan Royster: Royster ran for 150 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-31 victory over Michigan to become Penn State's leading career rusher. Royster has rushed for 3,518 career yards to break the record formerly held by Curt Warner, a member of Penn State's 1982 national championship team.
Texas A&M's quarterback switch: Jerrod Johnson holds A&M's school record for career passing yards, but he also has struggled with turnovers this season, so Aggies coach Mike Sherman handed the starting job to Ryan Tannehill this week. Tannehill, who started at wide receiver earlier this season, responded by throwing for a school-record 449 yards in a 45-27 victory over Texas Tech.
Notre Dame's misfortune: Notre Dame headed into Saturday wanting to deliver a victory that would honor the memory of Declan Sullivan, the 20-year-old student who died Wednesday when heavy winds knocked over the tower from which he was filming practice. The Irish instead lost 28-27 to Tulsa in a game that may end up knocking them out of bowl contention. In the process, starting quarterback Dayne Crist ruptured the patella tendon in his left knee, sidelining him for the remainder of the season. His replacement, Tommy Rees, threw an interception in the end zone in the final minute after driving the Irish into position for a game-winning field goal. Notre Dame kicker David Ruffer hasn't missed a field-goal attempt all season.
Miami's quarterback depth: Miami quarterback Jacory Harris has come under criticism for his frequent interceptions, but he proved in his absence why he's one of the Hurricanes' most indispensable players. Harris was knocked out of the game after absorbing a punishing hit to the chest from Virginia's John-Kevin Dolce as he threw an interception, and the Hurricanes were lost without him. Backup quarterbacks Spencer Whipple, the son of offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, and Stephen Morris each threw two interceptions in Miami's 24-19 loss to the Cavaliers. A lack of quality reserve quarterbacks forced the Hurricanes to use Morris, a true freshman who was expected to redshirt this season.
Kansas: The team that won the Orange Bowl just three seasons ago has now lost 12 consecutive Big 12 games. Kansas couldn't hang on to a 9-7 halftime lead in a 28-16 loss at Iowa State.
California: The Golden Bears (4-4) are staring at the realistic possibility of missing a bowl for the first time since 2002. California fell 35-7 at Oregon State for its sixth consecutive road loss. California is awaiting word on the status of starting quarterback Kevin Riley, who injured his left knee in the first quarter.
The so-called ACC heavyweights: Atlantic Division front-runner Florida State and defending Atlantic Division champion Clemson both got upset. So did No. 22 Miami, one of the top Coastal Division contenders. North Carolina needed to rally from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat FCS program William & Mary 21-17. The only perceived ACC power to avoid trouble was Virginia Tech, which had the week off.
Cincinnati: The two-time defending Big East champions might not even qualify for a bowl. Cincinnati dropped to 3-5 by falling 31-7 to Syracuse, its worst home loss since 2005.
Navy's lack of momentum: Rather than building on its attention-getting victory over Notre Dame, Navy spotted Duke 24 points and went on to lose to the Blue Devils 34-31. Duke hadn't beaten an FBS team all season before Saturday.
Wake Forest on the road: Wake Forest has lost each of its four road games by at least 31 points, including Saturday's 62-14 blowout at Maryland. The Demon Deacons have allowed a total of 213 points in those four games.
The state of Washington: Washington State lost 42-0 to Arizona State, and Washington fell 41-0 to Stanford. The Cardinal outgained Washington 470-107 while handing the Huskies their first home shutout loss since 1976. Washington quarterback Jake Locker threw for just 64 yards with two interceptions. It's looking more and more likely that Locker will end his college career in the Apple Cup instead of a bowl game.
Texas' home-field disadvantage: Texas headed into mid-September with a 16-game home winning streak and an all-time home record of 67-6 during Mack Brown's coaching tenure. The Longhorns since have lost three consecutive home games, to UCLA, Iowa State and Baylor. Those are the only road wins of the season for UCLA and Iowa State.
Michigan: The Wolverines lost seven of their last eight games in 2008. They wrapped up 2009 with a five-game skid. Now they appear headed toward a third consecutive late-season collapse. Michigan (5-3) has dropped three in a row and has given up at least 34 points in each of those losses.
Air Force's turnovers: Air Force's inability to hang on to the football cost the Falcons dearly in a 28-23 loss to unbeaten Utah. Utah forced five takeaways and also made two fourth-down stops in the final period.