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Winners and losers of college football’s Week 9: Florida sliding in wrong direction; Jim Harbaugh still can’t get a signature win

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Only a late touchdown with the game well out of reach allowed Florida to avoid being blanked for the first time since 1988.

Small victories will have to suffice in place of actual wins, which have proved harder to come by in coach Dan Mullen’s fourth season. The 34-7 loss to Georgia illustrated the chasm of space separating the Gators from the top-ranked Bulldogs and raised another round of questions about whether Mullen has what it takes to close the gap.

It’s been that kind of year for the Gators. After winning the SEC East and putting a scare into Alabama during the pandemic year, Florida stands among the biggest flops in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

While the schedule gets significantly easier from here — South Carolina, Samford, Missouri and Florida State — don’t let an eight-win regular season distract from what’s really at play: Florida is a team and program heading in the wrong direction.

The Gators are among Saturday’s biggest winners and losers:

WINNERS
Michigan State

Down 16 points in the third quarter and with a magical season on the brink, Michigan State outscored Michigan 23-3 in the final 19 minutes to become the only unbeaten team in the Big Ten. The star was running back Kenneth Walker III, who ran for 197 yards and five scores — the most Michigan had ever allowed to a single player. Walker should be at or near the top of every Heisman Trophy watchlist.

Ohio State

Heavy favorites against slumping Penn State, the Buckeyes suffered uncharacteristic struggles in the red zone, scoring just one touchdown in six trips, and didn’t put the Nittany Lions away until under three minutes left in a 33-24 win. On defense, the Buckeyes shut down Penn State’s running game but failed to get stops on third down, allowing conversions on 11 of 15 attempts. The good news? Even three touchdowns inside the PSU 20-yard line — and OSU had been getting six points on almost 80% of those trips — and a grind-it-out win becomes a blowout.

Looking ahead:Big Ten title runs through Michigan State and Ohio State – for now

Miami (Fla.)

The Hurricanes upset Pittsburgh 38-34 and have won back-to-back games against ranked teams to right the ship heading into a big slate of games in November. One factor that reflects well on embattled coach Manny Diaz is the Hurricanes’ effort, which didn’t waver amid a very poor first half of the season. This run of strong wins has been highlighted by a star turn from young quarterback Tyler Van Dyke, who threw for 426 yards and three scores to outduel Kenny Pickett.

Kansas State

Much like Miami, the Wildcats have reversed a troubling run of ugly losses with two straight wins in Big 12 play. The latest, 31-12 against TCU, was keyed by another all-conference performance from running back Deuce Vaughn, who ran for 109 yards and two scores with another 49 receiving yards. Kansas State is now 5-3 and a virtual lock to reach bowl eligibility for the second time under coach Chris Klieman.

Minnesota

Tossed aside after last month’s loss to Bowling Green — and yeah, that was a horrific loss — Minnesota now sits in first place in the Big Ten West after a 41-14 win against Northwestern. That makes four straight wins for the Golden Gophers with two enormous games to come in November: Iowa on Nov. 13 and Wisconsin on Nov. 27.

Auburn

The Tigers are starting to make a move under first-year coach Bryan Harsin after a sluggish start to the regular season. Auburn is 6-2 and set to rocket up the USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll after a 31-20 win against Ole Miss keyed by quarterback Bo Nix, who threw for 276 yards with three touchdowns, two coming on the ground. The win leaves Auburn at 3-1 in SEC play and raises the chances that the Iron Bowl against Alabama will be for the division. And nothing wacky ever happens in that rivalry, right?

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