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

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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. 

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. 

LOSERS

Michigan

There is still no signature moment for Jim Harbaugh, who has managed to build a program that beats nobodies but can’t nail down meaningful wins in the biggest games on Michigan’s schedule. The loss to MSU drops Harbaugh to 3-9 in rivalry games against the Spartans and Ohio State and 2-13 in games against top-10 competition. In games against everyone else, Harbaugh’s record is 54-10.

Iowa State

Losing 38-31 to West Virginia is dreadful for a laundry list of reasons, beginning with the fact that falling on the road to a team near the bottom of the Big 12 standings essentially eliminates the Cyclones from contention for the conference championship game. In a broader sense, this is just the latest setback for a team once picked to contend for the playoff. Instead, Iowa State is the biggest letdown in the Big 12.

Iowa

Iowa flirted with disaster during its 6-0 start, when consistent failures on offense were papered over by the play of an elite defense. But as bad as the Hawkeyes were in losing to Purdue on Oct. 16, that performance had nothing on the egg laid in Saturday’s 27-7 loss to Wisconsin. The Badgers held Iowa to 156 yards of offense, including 24 yards on 30 carries; forced three game-changing fumbles to build a 20-0 halftime lead; and gave up just two third-down conversion in 13 attempts. 

Texas

What do losses to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Baylor have in common? Beyond the fact that each loss was to a ranked opponent and each sent Texas tumbling down the power rankings in the Big 12, the losses are linked by this: In each game, Texas held a double-digit lead in the second half but still managed to give it away. Up by 21 points against the Sooners and 11 points against the Cowboys, the Longhorns led Baylor 21-10 in the third quarter.