Midway through the college football season and Tennessee is a walking MASH unit. Fourteen starters have missed at least a game due to injury, making real loser of this post the poor trainer that has to care for all those guys.
The news got worse this week with the announcements that defensive tackle Khalil McKenzie (shoulder) will miss the rest of the season, as will Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who missed the past month of action with a shoulder injury before finally electing to have surgery.
Star running back Alvin Kamara's been added to the injury list, too, after suffering a sprained LCL and meniscus injury in his left knee in Saturday's blowout loss to Alabama.
Frankly, when you consider all the injuries it's amazing Tennessee held it together as long as it did. The bye week could not have come at a better time.
Here are this week's college football winners and losers:
Vanderbilt Coach Derek Mason
As the final seconds ticked off the clock Saturday at Sanford Stadium, Mason was overcome by emotion. The third-year Vanderbilt coach just got his first SEC road win in dramatic fashion at Georgia. The anemic Commodores offense driving 75 yards in 7 plays for the go ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, and Mason's defense preserved a 17-16 win when national defensive player of the week Zach Cunningham made his 19th tackle of the afternoon on a fourth and one run by the Bulldogs. The Commodores have slowly, but surely shown progress under Mason, but he needed a marquee win to prove it, and got one between the hedges. All the criticism and all the hard work boiled over in those tears after the game as Mason likely secured himself a fourth season on the Vandy sideline next year.
The Crismon Tide showed exactly why they are the no. 1 team in the nation at Tennessee, piling up nearly 600 yards of offense and adding touchdowns on defense and special teams in the 49-10 romp over the Vols. Alabama now has 11 non-offensive touchdowns this season, which just seems unfair when combined by an offense that hasn't skipped a beat despite having to replace several playmakers from a year ago. Jalen Hurts hardly looks like a freshman quarterback, mixing efficient football with explosive running ability that helped the Tide rack up 436 yards rushing in Knoxville. The toughest games in the SEC West are still ahead, but Alabama looks ready.
The Buckeyes got their first real test of the season on the road at no. 8 Wisconsin under the lights Saturday night. It wasn't easy, but they passed the test rallying from a 10 point halftime deficit to win 30-23 in overtime. J.T. Barrett posted 318 total yards and three touchdowns as Ohio State won in one of the nation's toughest road venues to remain on a collision course with Michigan Thanksgiving weekend.
The Mountaineers are the best team in the country no one is talking about. After finally senaking into the top 25, WVU went on the road and bludgeoned Texas Tech 48-17 in Lubbock Saturday. Dana Holgorsen's one of the country's most imaginative playcallers and Skyler Howard has emerged as one of the Big 12's top QB's. The 5-0 'eers host TCU this week before going to Stillwater to face Oklahoma State, but we may not know just how good WVU is until Oklahoma and Baylor come to Morgantown in the final three weeks of the season.
The second best team that noone knows about is the Broncos. P.J. Fleck's team has rowed the boat to a 7-0 record, starting 3-0 in the MAC and beating a pair of Big Ten teams (Northwestern, Illinois) in the process. WMU has a dynamic pass duo between QB Zach Terrell and WR Corey Davis, but its a running game averaging 265.6 yards per game that has helped them get to the next level. It's hard to see a loss on the schedule for a team that hasn't won by less than 15 points since opening weekend.
Playing arch-rival Western Kentucky, the Blue Raiders rallied to take the lead in the fourth quarter only to watch the Hilltoppers tie the game on a field goal with :05 left. MTSU then lost on a blocked extra point in double overtime. There's still a lot of season to play, but that loss forces a real bottlekneck at the top of Conference USA's division. If Middle doesn't end up winning the division or, worse yet, Western wins it, it will be a loss that haunts the Blue Raiders for a long time.
All of a sudden Brian Kelly's seat may be getting hot in South Bend. The coach who had the Fighting Irish playing for the BCS Championship after the 2012 season and in a New Year's Six bowl game just last season has seemingly lost his way. Even with a lot of talent returning from last season, the Irish have looked listless. It started when Kelly couldn't decide between Deshone Kizer or Malik Zaire at quarterback out of fall camp and has continued through a 2-5 start. The schedule is favorable to produce some wins down the stretch and Kelly made need every one of them.
The hangover from a seventh straight loss to Florida State was very real Saturday. A week after losing to their biggest rival because of a blocked extra point, the Hurricanes found themselves down 20-3 at home in the first half against North Carolina. They rallied back to get within a score, but 1-2 in the ACC and out of the top 25 with a second straight loss.
A week after blowing out North Carolina on the road, the Hokies couldn't handle their prosperity. After
three straight impressive performances Virginia Tech came out flat at Syracuse, falling behind 17-3 at the half. They managed to tie it after three quarters, but Bud Foster's lunch pail defense couldn't stop Dino Babers' wide open Orange attack, surrendering a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns. The 31-17 defeat should quiet some of the talk that Justin Fuente's already returned the Hokies to ACC prominence.
Poor Scarlet Knights. Not even a home game against fellow Big Ten cellar dwellar Illinois can help them. Rutgers fell behind 17-0 before finally ending a nearly three-game scoring drought with a fourth quarter touchdown. The score stopped a 160-0 run by four Big Ten opponents. In all, Chris Ash's turned the ball over five times in the 24-7 loss to the Fighting Illini, squandering what was likely their only chance left on the schedule to get a win.