College football winners and losers, Week 8: Saquon Barkley, Josh Adams shine

The second half of the college football season is underway, and with that, some teams are beginning to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. 

Penn State and Notre Dame were two of those teams with statement blowouts over Michigan and USC, respectively. Conversely, the Trojans and Wolverines likely find themselves out of the playoff hunt. But that's not all that happened. Games in the Big 12 proved to be survival Saturday with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and West Virginia barely holding off upsets. There were also a healthy batch of highlights and trick plays (both good and bad). 

With so much happening, we hash out the best and worst below with this week's version of Winners and Losers.

Winners

Penn State running back Saquon Barkley: If it wasn't evident before, it is now. Barkley is having that special kind of season. The Heisman Trophy candidate -- and presumably frontrunner -- had 263 total yards and three touchdowns in Penn State's easy 42-13 win over Michigan. His 69-yard score to start the game set the tone and his bobbling touchdown grab was an amazing way to cap off the performance. The Nittany Lions could be favored in every game moving forward depending on the opening line against Ohio State (the game is in Columbus). With Barkley, Penn State obviously has a chance to win every game. He's likely going to be the best player on the field in every week. 

Notre Dame running back Josh Adams: Notre Dame's sensational running back tallied 191 yards and three touchdowns in the Irish's 49-14 win over USC. The combination of Adams and quarterback Brandon Wimbush has proven nearly impossible to stop (only Georgia has successfully done it). Adams' quick feet and lateral agility have made him one of the most entertaining running backs to watch this season. And, don't look now, but the Irish have made a statement in the playoff conversation. Praising Notre Dame doesn't gain nearly as much attention as trashing them -- unless it's over-praising, in which case that morphs into its own form of criticism. But Notre Dame is a team to watch with a fascinating final five-game stretch (NC State, Wake Forest, at Miami, Navy, at Stanford). 

Iowa State coach Matt Campbell: Last week, I noted that Syracuse coach Dino Babers could be a name to watch in the coaching silly season over the next few months. Add Campbell to that carousel as well. Iowa State's 31-13 win at Texas Tech wasn't more impressive than the win over Oklahoma, but it's up there. While it's true stock in the Red Raiders is starting to fall, how often do you see the Cyclones -- on the road, no less - go out and take care of business? That's even stranger when you consider the line closed with Iowa State as a touchdown underdog. And yet, judging by the game, anyone would have figured the opposite. If all of this seems confusing, well, it's supposed to be. We're not used to Iowa State being 5-2 and good. (We're used to them being better than their losing record indicates.) The Cyclones have a brutal final five games, but the end results are somewhat secondary at this point. What Campbell has done in one-and-a-half seasons in Ames is rare. He's going to get paid this offseason, either by Iowa State or someone else. 

Arizona schools: Remember when Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez and Arizona State coach Todd Graham were on the hot seat? Good times. Since starting the season with a pair of September losses, both the Wildcats and Sun Devils have orchestrated major turnarounds. Arizona is undefeated in its last three games and has found its version of Pat White in quarterback Khalil Tate, who continues to be a late-night highlight reel. Meanwhile, Arizona State has defense-anchored wins against Washington and Utah, the latter of which was a convincing road victory. There's a lot of season left, but these are two examples of coaches who found their stride when they needed it most. 

Losers

Florida State: If the wheels haven't flown completely off this wagon yet, they're about to. Despite a fourth-quarter surge, Florida State literally fumbled away a victory in a 31-28 loss to Louisville. The Seminoles are certainly better than their 2-4 record indicates, but, eventually, the only record that matters is the one you have. It stinks that quarterback Deondre Francois went down in the first game of the season, but this program is built to survive an injury like that. James Blackman has done fine filling in as a true freshman signal-caller and the roster is filled with top-five recruiting classes. There are All-American-caliber players on both sides of the ball (though admittedly more on defense), and Jimbo Fisher is a national championship-winning coach. Conservative and predictable offensive play-calling has a lot to do with the struggles and the defense is giving up some big plays. FSU never had to win the ACC after losing Francois, but it has every reason to feel it should be better than this. 

The pain of moral victories: Texas has been in a position to beat USC (then ranked No. 4), Oklahoma (then ranked No. 12) and No. 10 Oklahoma State ... and lost all three games. By a combined 11 points. Two of those losses, including Saturday's 13-10 gut-punch against the Cowboys, were in overtime. Texas is now 3-4, and while a bowl game is still certainly within reach, there's a mounting uncertainty over what to make of this team. Is Texas in a better place with Herman? Sure. There was no inexplicable loss to Iowa State and there probably won't be against Kansas, either. Clearly there's growth on the defensive side, too. Texas followed TCU's game plan from the Frogs' Week 4 win over Oklahoma State and even improved upon it. The offense is a different story, however. Coordinator Tim Beck is going to hear from fans if he's not already, and Tom Herman is going to hear it, too, since he defends Beck. Overall, there are enough positives to be happy with what Herman is doing. The wins just haven't been there ... but that's the thing, as well. This isn't the same rebuilding job Charlie Strong inherited from Mack Brown. Herman got a team that was built to reasonably win eight or nine games right away. 

USC coach Clay Helton: Let's get one talking point out of the way: Helton's not on the hot seat. Not yet anyway. USC has made rash midseason coaching changes in the past (hello, Lane Kiffin), but those came courtesy of former AD Pat Haden. Lynn Swann has yet to show he's the same type of change agent. But after getting whacked by Notre Dame, Helton is at a point of reflection. The reality is the Trojans haven't looked anything like a final four team save for a comfortable win over Stanford -- which, OK, a preseason swing and a miss there. The Pac-12 title is still in play. However, Helton may need to make changes among his staff if he's going to achieve anything more because he's still in that grace period where the axe won't fall directly on his neck. Once coaches get into Year 3 and Year 4, especially at a place like USC, results like Saturday's are far less forgiving. 

The Mountain West: With Fresno State's 27-3 win over San Diego State, every Mountain West team now has two losses. While the story should be about Fresno's quick turnaround under first-year coach Jeff Tedford -- this program was 1-11 last year and now leads the conference's West division by two games -- it will instead be about something larger. The mounting losses are a bad thing for the Mountain West. Barring an unexpected change of events, it appears the American Athletic Conference will nab the Group of Five's bowl slot. 

Best of the Rest

Boston College: Wait. Who are you and what have you done with the Eagles? Because the Boston College I know would not have scored 41 points against Virginia, marking the second straight game this team has eclipsed the 40-point mark. Boston College, a potent offensive team, just isn't something the world is ready for. Also: RIP Steve Addazio Vines. 

Dr. Tulsa and Mr. Golden Hurricane: Tulsa is now 2-for-2 on perplexing scores in consecutive games. One week after dismantling Houston 45-17, Tulsa took to the road and lost to lowly UConn 20-14. That's what you call an up-and-down series. The lesson here, of course, is never travel to Storrs, Connecticut. It is a death trap. 

A great fake flea flicker: This is what it looks like when good play callers know how to set up trick plays. Purdue's fake flea-flicker didn't go for a touchdown, but it did net a 41-yard gain on the ground and served as its own little reverse play-action. 

A terrible actual flea flicker: Now let's examine what a bad flea flicker looks like. Here we have Tennessee trying one against Alabama. You have to admire the stones to try a trick play early, but its effectiveness goes down the tubes when the wideouts don't even run down the field. Not to mention Da'Ron Payne almost took the pitch back. That's how far in the backfield he was. 

You know what they say: the flea flicker giveth and the flea flicker taketh away. 

Kansas: The Jayhawks had an appalling 21 yards in a 43-0 loss to TCU. That sets a new low record for yards in a Big 12 game. Ouch. 

West Virginia: In the span of two games, West Virginia needed a 22-point comeback to beat Texas Tech and gave up 23 fourth-quarter points in a near-collapse against Baylor. Make of that what you will but the Mountaineers have given me whiplash. 

UMass: Hey, someone had to win the Bottom 25 Game of the Week. UMass did just that with a 55-20 win over Georgia Southern. Welcome to the winners' circle, Minutemen. You've been terribly close so many times before. 

Charlotte: The 49ers not only got their first win of the season, they did so in dramatic fashion by going for two, in overtime, to beat UAB 25-24. That's quite a homecoming victory for the program. Check out the video of the game-clinching score below. 

Delaware running back Jamie Jarmon: Who says we have to leave the leaping to the big boys? Full front flip touchdowns have become en vogue in college football this season. Jarmon's somersault to tie Richmond in a 42-35 overtime win might be the prettiest-violent move of the day. 

BYU: It was abundantly clear by now that BYU was bad. It's uncharacteristic to see the Cougars struggle, but generally it seems as though we had accepted this fact. But then you see BYU get housed by equally bad East Carolina and the sobering reality that a once-proud program has fallen on historically bad times sets in. I mean ... like ... what happened, man?

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Quick Hits 

  • Florida State is 0-3 at home for the first time since 1974. The last time the Seminoles didn't make a bowl was 1976. That's the longest active streak in the FBS. 
  • Penn State has outscored opponents 90-0 in first quarters this season. Verdict says that's good. 
  • Saquon Barkley is also the first Penn State player to have at least 3,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving. 
  • Texas participated in just four overtime games in its history prior to this season. In 2017, the Longhorns have been in three overtime games, going 1-2. 
  • UConn, Boston College and Rutgers are each on two-game winning streaks. Northeast football has risen from the ashes like the phoenix, y'all. 
  • Wisconsin's fourth pick-six came in a win 38-13 win over Maryland. That ties with Duke for the most pick-sixes on the season. The Badgers' defense is for real and good enough to carry them to the Big Ten Championship Game. 
  • Eastern Michigan, at 2-5, has now lost five games in a row by a combined 20 points. That's an average of an agonizing four points per game. 
  • With 160 yards, Oregon running back Royce Freeman became the program's all-time leading career rusher (5,103) over LaMichael James (5,082 yards). There have been a lot of ups and downs in Freeman's career, but he's quietly been one of the more accomplished and productive runners over the last four years. He won't get all the props he deserves, but he'll get one here. 
  • LSU running back Derrius Guice is the first player in SEC history to have three games of at least 250 yards rushing in his career. He had 276 yards against Ole Miss in a 40-24 win. Considering the running backs that have come through the SEC, that's impressive. 
  • Florida Atlantic finished with a Conference-USA record 804 yards in a nice 69-31 win over North Texas. The entire box score is a piece of art, really. 
CBS Sports Writer

Ben Kercheval joined CBS Sports in 2016 and has been covering college football since 2010. Before CBS, Ben worked at Bleacher Report, UPROXX Sports and NBC Sports. As a long-suffering North Texas graduate,... Full Bio

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