Running through the highs and lows from Saturday afternoon’s action:
LOSER: Central Michigan-Oklahoma State officiating crew. Imagine for a moment flipping channels in time to see presumably the last play of a game Oklahoma State led by a field goal. Cowboys quarterback Mason Rudolph takes a snap with four seconds to go and tosses it out of bounds. Game over and it’s safe to move on to another finish, right? So when Central Michigan’s 30-27 triumph over the Cowboys scrolls across the screen a few minutes later, it’s hard to comprehend just what happened.
Well, here’s what happened: The officials messed up. Badly. Rudolph was called for intentional grounding, which he could have avoided by rolling out of the pocket. But a game can end on an intentional grounding call, even if it’s on fourth down.
Instead, Central Michigan was granted an untimed down, and this happened:
This isn’t a phantom pass interference flag or a missed holding call. It’s not a judgment call that’s tough to overturn like a catch-no catch or a fumble-no fumble. Those are, ultimately, decisions made rapidly and matters open to interpretation.
This one’s spelled out pretty clearly in the rulebook.
“Despite the error, this will not change the outcome of the contest.” pic.twitter.com/4uwTeC70Mh
— Ralph D. Russo (@ralphDrussoAP) September 10, 2016
Was Oklahoma State going to contend for a playoff berth this season? The guess is no, but that was the assumption at this time last year and the Cowboys opened 10-0. Should the Cowboys have stopped the Hail Mary-lateral sequence on the untimed down? Yup.
But it shouldn’t have come to that, and it means the most controversial ending of the 2016 season might have already occurred — and emerged as the biggest highlight of a relatively dull slate of games.
LOSER: Oklahoma State. It still counts as a loss for the Cowboys, who had won their previous seven one-possession games stretching back to the middle of the 2014 season.
WINNER: American Athletic Conference. The American had two realistic chances to bag a Power Five opponent Saturday and collected on both of them. East Carolina, which has a long history of making life miserable for ACC teams, knocked off N.C. State 33-30 at home. Cincinnati went to Purdue and came away with an entirely predictable 38-20 victory over the forlorn Boilermakers.
Then there was what seemed like an unrealistic upset bid, at least until Southern Methodist was tied at halftime at Baylor. The Bears went on to a 40-13 victory, but the Mustangs lingered a lot longer in Waco than anticipated.
LOSER: Northwestern. Two weeks in and two close losses at home for the Wildcats. Those setbacks came against Western Michigan and now lower-division Illinois State, which earned its 9-7 victory on a last-second field goal that clanked off an upright but still floated over the crossbar. The Wildcats went 8-0 in games decided by 10 points or less last season and 5-0 in one-possession games, good fortune that has not carried over to 2016.
WINNER: Brock Spack. He would be the coach at Illinois State, where he’s taken the Redbirds to the FCS playoffs in three of the last four years. He would also be a former Purdue linebacker who spent more than a decade as the Boilermakers’ defensive coordinator under Joe Tiller. That’s the same Purdue that’s now 7-31 under fourth-year Coach Darrell Hazell.
Those are some dots that are easy to connect. Spack was already about as obvious a candidate for a specific potential job opening as there was this season. Beating a Big Ten team — something Hazell’s done only twice in 24 games — only adds to Spack’s appeal this offseason.
LOSER: N.C. State. The math does not look good for the Wolfpack after its loss at East Carolina. N.C. State (1-1) still has to face Clemson, Florida State and Louisville in division, Miami and North Carolina as crossover opponents in league play and it draws Notre Dame this season as well. That’s six games to come when Dave Doeren’s bunch will probably be an underdog, and it needs to win one of them.
Little over Doeren’s three-year tenure to date suggests the Wolfpack will do that. N.C. State is 0-8 against Clemson, Florida State and Louisville under him, and has defeated two FBS teams that have gone on to winning seasons (2014 Georgia Southern and 2014 Central Florida) over the last three years. The Wolfpack, largely predictable over the last three years, needs to have a surprise in it to make a bowl game.
WINNER: Army. The Black Knights are 2-0 for the first time since 1996 after handling Rice, 31-14. They finish the month with trips to Texas-El Paso and Buffalo, so a 4-0 start isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Meanwhile, both Air Force and Navy got to 2-0 as well. It’s the fifth time all three service academies won their first two games; it also happened in 1956, 1960, 1963 and 1996.
LOSER: Clemson (perception-wise, anyway). For the second consecutive week, the second-ranked Tigers claimed a one-possession game. Last week’s came at Auburn and could be shrugged off a bit. This week’s came at home against a Troy team that went 4-8 last season. That’s a little more puzzling.
There are two things to remember. One, if Clemson runs the table, no one will really care it had a close call against a rebuilding Sun Belt program unless there are somehow five undefeated power conference teams. And that’s not especially likely. Two, it took the Tigers a month to get everything together last year, and then they really got everything together.
So maybe that’s what is happening again. But it’s fair to say Clemson hasn’t played as well as expected two games into its schedule.
WINNER: Florida. Kentucky clearly isn’t very good, so administering a 45-7 thumping on the Wildcats doesn’t come off as a major surprise. But the Gators (2-0) looked good on offense as quarterback Luke Del Rio threw for 320 yards and four touchdowns. That makes an even 30 consecutive victories in the series for Florida.
WINNER: Pittsburgh. Earned in-state bragging rights over Penn State with a 42-39 triumph in the teams’ first meeting since 2000. The Panthers’ reward? A trip to Oklahoma State, of all places, in what is suddenly one of the more fascinating games on next week’s schedule. Can the Panthers reload the musket? Will the Cowboys sulk after a victory was stolen away?
Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech (8, ABC): There’s thinking outside the box, and then there’s inside-the-track thinking. A massive crowd at Bristol Motor Speedway awaits the Volunteers and Hokies.
Washington State at Boise State (10:15, ESPN2): The visiting Cougars look to avoid an 0-2 start as they visit the famed blue turf of Boise to take on the Mountain West favorite Broncos.