Lots of well-regarded teams almost lost on the road Saturday.
But it wasn’t a long list of teams that actually did.
Michigan sputtered on offense and lost starting quarterback Wilton Speight to injury in the first quarter. The Wolverines still managed to earn a 28-10 victory at Purdue.
Southern California was its usual erratic self. Didn’t matter, though; the Trojans secured a 30-20 victory at previously undefeated California.
Oklahoma got the most boisterous version of Baylor seen all season, but Baker Mayfield, Trey Sermon and the Sooners survived 49-41 in Waco.
Penn State was in danger at Iowa and down to the last play before Trace McSorley hit Juwan Johnson for a 7-yard touchdown pass as time expired to secure a 21-19 victory over the Hawkeyes.
The list goes on. Alabama trounced Vanderbilt. San Diego State outlasted Air Force and a weather delay. Even some of the day’s surprises — N.C. State over Florida State and Texas Christian over Oklahoma State — were sprung by road teams.
One part of the formula for every team on the path to the playoff is finding ways to win on the road. Plenty of good programs met that challenge this week.
Zipping through the winners and losers from the fourth full Saturday of the college football season …
* Georgia. Did what Louisiana State couldn’t and contained Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald, who threw two interceptions and totaled 130 yards (83 passing, 47 rushing) in Georgia’s 31-3 demolition.
Kirby Smart’s team leaned on its strong defense, got solid play from its rugged running game and put freshman Jake Fromm in position to thrive. And so he did, throwing a flea flicker for a touchdown early and finishing with 201 yards and two touchdowns on 12 passing attempts.
* N.C. State: While there’s no such thing as a perfect game — somebody’s missing a block or a tackle, dropping a pass or, um, spitting on the opponent’s midfield logo — the Wolfpack didn’t make many mistakes in its 27-21 victory at Florida State.
There were no turnovers and less than half as many penalty yards as the Seminoles. The Wolfpack managed four sacks while giving up just one. And the result was one of the more riveting triumphs of the Dave Doeren era.
N.C. State (3-1, 1-0 ACC) was viewed as a potential breakout team in the preseason, but the presence of Clemson, Florida State and Louisville in the Atlantic Division was reason to rein things a bit. An opening loss to South Carolina, despite the Wolfpack doubling up the Gamecocks in yardage, provided even greater cause to figure this was another average N.C. State bunch.
It still might be, but winning in Tallahassee (and limiting miscues while doing so) is an accomplishment the Wolfpack should celebrate.
* Texas Christian: There is now a blueprint on how to handle Oklahoma State, thanks to Coach Gary Patterson and the Horned Frogs defense: Keep the Cowboys off the field.
TCU had the ball for more than 39 minutes in a 44-31 defeat of the Cowboys. It didn’t stop Oklahoma State from collecting 499 yards. It did stop Coach Mike Gundy’s bunch from constructing a massive lead. In fact, the Cowboys held just one brief lead (7-6), created on an 86-yard touchdown catch by James Washington. TCU’s response? A seven-play, 75-yard march capped by the first of Darius Anderson’s three touchdown runs.
The Horned Frogs (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) look like a much different team than a year ago, when they went 6-7 and lost to Georgia in the Liberty Bowl. The defense might not be up to the beginning-of-the-decade TCU standard, but QB Kenny Hill was in firm control of the offense and the Horned Frogs converted 11 of 19 third-down attempts.
As a result, TCU has vaulted to the top of the list of Big 12 teams most capable of challenging Oklahoma in the league race. It doesn’t mean the Horned Frogs will, but they’re much better equipped to do so than a year ago.
* Texas Tech: The Red Raiders of the Kliff Kingsbury era have perfected one — and pretty much only one — way to win. They score a bunch of points and pray their defense doesn’t give up more.
This put Texas Tech at exactly 26-26 over the past four-plus seasons entering the weekend. So it was both surprising and encouraging for both the Red Raiders’ long-term fortunes and Kingsbury’s hopes of long-term employment that they fended off Houston, 27-24, to improve to 3-0.
Don’t mistake this for a plodding, old-school game. Both teams surpassed 75 snaps, and Texas Tech had 17 possessions. But the Red Raiders forced seven punts and five turnovers, and they did so on the road against a team with plenty of success against brand-name foes over the past few years. Texas Tech might not be a Big 12 contender, but the early returns suggest it can be a solid midpack team and return to the postseason.
* Alabama: It’s going to take someone with some semblance of an offense to defeat the Crimson Tide (4-0, 1-0 SEC). That someone was not Vanderbilt, a 59-0 loser at home. Damien Harris rushed for three touchdowns, and the Commodores mustered only 78 yards as Alabama turned a potentially interesting game into a laugher in a hurry.
* Kentucky. The Wildcats are just never going to beat Florida, are they? Kentucky wasted a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter, falling 28-27 to the Gators. It is the Wildcats’ 31st consecutive loss to Florida, a streak that began in 1987.
* Oklahoma State: So much for the Cowboys parlaying three dominant showings in nonconference play into an unbeaten run entering November’s Bedlam game against Oklahoma.
Oklahoma State’s defense allowed points on seven of Texas Christian’s first nine possessions, and the Cowboys scattered four turnovers throughout the afternoon. It was a recipe for their first loss of the season and a screeching halt to any Mason Rudolph-for-Heisman chatter. The Cowboys aren’t toast in the Big 12 race, but their margin for error is gone after getting outplayed on their own field by the Horned Frogs.
* Arkansas: The Razorbacks’ hopes of making a stealth run in the SEC West hit the same roadblock every season: an early encounter with Texas A&M that is usually close and always a loss. Only this season, with the Razorbacks coming off a bye and the Aggies discombobulated after their meltdown against UCLA and lackluster showings against Nicholls State and Louisiana-Lafayette (for a half), things could have been different.
They were not, as the script was followed to perfection. Texas A&M bagged a 50-43 overtime triumph, three times erasing deficits in the fourth quarter before Christian Kirk’s go-ahead touchdown reception in the extra session provided the difference.
It’s a relief for Texas A&M (3-1, 1-0 SEC) and yet another deflating setback for the Razorbacks (1-2, 0-1), who are 0-6 against the Aggies since Texas A&M entered the SEC in 2012.
* Maryland: The Terrapins’ era of good feelings lasted just two games, thanks to the return of one of their long-running themes: quarterback injuries.
True freshman Kasim Hill was hurt in the first quarter of a 38-10 loss to Central Florida. Hill was starting because sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome was lost for the season in the opener. And while the Terps (2-1) are in better shape as a program under second-year Coach DJ Durkin than before his arrival, they are not built to withstand injuries to their top two quarterbacks.
Losing to a solid Central Florida bunch wasn’t ideal. Potentially facing undefeated Minnesota and perennial power Ohio State in the next two weeks with a third-string quarterback is even worse. If Max Bortenschlager is forced to start next week, it will mark the third consecutive year and fourth time in six years that Maryland has used at least three starting quarterbacks in a season.