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Campus Cleanup: Only the luckiest people get to live in Ames, Iowa

Iowa State wide receiver Matthew Eaton is lifted up by offensive lineman Jake Campos after scoring a touchdown. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)
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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tuesday, which will be Oct. 31, will bring a hallowed American tradition that dates back all the way to 2014. On that evening — calm down, now — the College Football Playoff Selection Committee will issue its first ranking of this 2017-18 season. Many precincts will watch. Somebody might even serve cold cuts.

This committee of former coaches, current athletic directors, a university president, a former NCAA administrator and a media dude, having studied all the tapes and numbers of the first two months of the season, will answer the central question that has overarched in America through much of October and especially ever since Saturday.

Where will they rank Iowa State?

Actually, there might be other revelations, right after the mandatory ranking of Alabama at No. 1, but what manna suddenly has settled upon Ames, Iowa, population 60,000-ish. It has reached the point where we might as well go ahead and say there are people who live in Ames, people who visit Ames sometimes, or people who attend football games in Ames, and then there are the rest of us losers.

What a moment they’re having. On Oct. 14, in an absurdity that upturned decades of accepted football procedure, Iowa State won 38-31 at then-No. 3 Oklahoma, which remains incomprehensible to the human mind. The win pushed the Cyclones upward to 2-45-1 against Oklahoma since 1962, and 6-74-2 overall. Two weeks later on Saturday, Iowa State took a 14-0 halftime lead toward a 14-7 win over visiting TCU, No. 4 in the nation. TCU’s offense, a respectable No. 26 in the country with 466.3 yards per game coming in, managed 307 in Ames. It amassed zero offensive touchdowns.

Clearly, you don’t want to take your gaudy stats and go messing around up there in Ames.

Thereby did this alleged and entrenched pushover, Iowa State, become the first team since Florida in 2005 to defeat two top-five opponents before November, according to Ralph Russo of the Associated Press.

It’s not just beyond belief, but beyond beyond belief, and it has elevated Iowa State to 6-2 and 4-1 in the Big 12 Conference. That’s the same Iowa State that went 3-9 last year, 3-9 the year before that, 2-10 the year before that and — uptick! — 3-9 the year before that. It went 28-57 in the first seven seasons of this decade, 44-90 over the past 11 seasons. In general, it is thought to exist so that the Big 12 big boys might fatten their records, until everybody adjourns into basketball season and into Iowa State’s uncommonly loud gym. The Cyclones did have a football moment on Nov. 18, 2011, when they toppled No. 2 Oklahoma State on a Friday night to cause parties in dormitories in Tuscaloosa, Ala., another reminder of how weird we are as a nation. That outcome cleared Alabama to play LSU in a national championship game that wound up dreary for everyone except Alabama.

Yet by Saturday, 37-year-old Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell was telling reporters, “We played harder for longer,” and, “It’s hard to stay the course, and our kids are doing it.” Fans had spilled onto the field. In that funny way about sports, the losses through the years had contributed to the meaning of the moment.

Iowa State had stopped TCU with a sack and fumble just as TCU threatened near the doorstep of the goal line in the third quarter. They got an interception late of which the interceptor, linebacker Marcel Spears, said, “I can’t even explain the feeling.”

The Big 12 playoff hopefuls Oklahoma and TCU have only one loss each, with Iowa State dispensing both those losses, in Campbell’s second year after his compelling work (35-15) in four-plus seasons at Toledo. “Real football at this level is grinding it out,” Campbell told reporters in Ames. “You’ve got to figure it out and stick it out. This place gives you chills. To be able to see that environment today after what they’ve sacrificed, it’s so rewarding. It’s humbling.”

It was, in fact, a comparatively docile Saturday in college football. Many ranked teams held their places. No. 15 Washington State did not, because of its 58-37 loss to the revelation Kahlil Tate of Arizona, the quarterback whose 146 rushing yards gave him 840 for the month of October, and helped push Arizona to 6-2 and 4-1 in the Pacific-12 Conference, after many had forgotten it maintains football operations. No. 21 Southern California’s 48-17 romp through Arizona State ended Arizona State’s run of defense (against Washington and Utah), which had been so surprising you would think it some West Coast, wee-hour mirage. No. 7 Clemson, the defending national champion, got a not-easy 24-10 win over Georgia Tech. No. 3 Georgia’s 42-7 mastery of Florida (3-4) might have marked an unexpectedly brisk end of tenure for third-year Florida Coach Jim McElwain.

Otherwise, the national picture had its brilliant motion picture here at Ohio Stadium, where No. 6 Ohio State edged No. 2 Penn State 39-38 in a game so chockablock with stuff, it could take years to discuss it all.

In shocking Penn State, Ohio State and J.T. Barrett refused to let go

Luckily, the players have years.

“That was amazing, honestly,” Ohio State linebacker Jerome Baker said. “It’s something you can’t really dream of. You just really appreciate that whole game, and I’m definitely going to talk about this game 10 years down the road.”

It gave Ohio State the edge in the Big Ten East and sustained its hopes for the College Football Playoff. It both elevated and then dented the Heisman Trophy candidacy of the luminous, all-purpose Saquon Barkley of Penn State. He ran the opening kickoff back a whooshing 97 yards, and who wound up Ohio State’s defense allowed him 44 rushing yards in 21 carries, and just 23 yards on four receptions.

In turn, the game then propelled to the fore J.T. Barrett, the fifth-year Columbus resident and Ohio State quarterback, whose replacement some fans had craved in September, shocking as that might sound in a college town. After his 33 completions in 39 attempts for 328 yards, he has 25 touchdown passes and one interception this season, plus two touchdown drives in the final 5:42 after his desperate team trailed 38-27.

The 39-38 wonder of a game might turn out to be the game of the year in the land.

The team of the year, of course, plays in Ames. The rest of us don’t live there, and here in this giddy 2017, we’re just going to have to cope with our envy.

More college football:

College football winners and losers: Penn State must hope it’s this year’s Ohio State

In shocking Penn State, Ohio State and J.T. Barrett refused to let go

Terps’ defense finally holds at end for a wild win over Indiana

Dartmouth assistant tossed for smashing window in coaches’ box in loss to Harvard

These five teams are poised to ruin someone’s College Football Playoff dreams

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