If Cincinnati was going to get a fair shake this season (and it remains the most massive of ifs given how college football’s postseason playing field is tilted against teams outside the Power Five), it needed to shine in its rare high-profile chances.

It’s precisely what the Bearcats did in the second half of Saturday’s 38-24 victory at Indiana, leaving exactly the sort of impression No. 8 Cincinnati (3-0) needed.

The Bearcats forced four turnovers, bottled up Hoosiers quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and had an immediate response to Indiana’s lone touchdown of the second half when return man Tre Tucker took a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown.

But will it matter?

It would certainly help Cincinnati if Indiana (1-2) can revive its fortunes in a loaded Big Ten East. And it’s an absolute requirement that the Bearcats also get the better of No. 12 Notre Dame in two weeks.

The one thing the triumph in Bloomington suggests is this year’s Bearcats could handle the sort of solid power conference foes they don’t normally face. And best of all, Cincinnati improved at both ends of the field as the game unfolded.

Indiana had 10 points to show for its final eight possessions. And the Bearcats scored five of the last seven times they had the ball when the outcome was still in even some doubt.

Any time an undefeated Group of Five team makes a playoff case, the underlying argument is “they did everything they could.” The Bearcats delivered the ultimate example of that Saturday even if the time to make those arguments remains a few months away.

Winners

Penn State: There are two things that are easy to dwell on regarding the Nittany Lions’ 28-20 victory over Auburn.

One was the environment in Happy Valley, more than 100,000 white-clad fans crammed into Beaver Stadium for a night game like old times.

The other was a taut game; neither team led by more than 11 at any point, and Auburn corrected that temporary imbalance with a 15-play scoring drive in the third quarter.

But there’s something else to think about here. A quarter of the way into the season, Penn State has built a solid track record for itself. It won at Wisconsin in its opener, and it did an admirable job of preventing the Tigers (2-1) from busting through with big plays. Auburn had only three gains of at least 20 yards in 79 plays.

The Nittany Lions (3-0), who have won seven in a row dating back to last season, get Villanova and Indiana at home the next two weeks. A potential clash of unbeatens at Iowa on Oct. 9 could wind up being one of the Big Ten’s most pivotal games this season.

Utah State: The Aggies rallied from double-digit deficits three times at Air Force, and made the last one stick after Calvin Tyler Jr.’s 61-yard touchdown run with 3:54 capped a wild 49-45 victory.

The teams combined for 1,247 yards. Utah State had 448 passing yards and a pair of 100-yard receivers. Air Force rushed for 437 yards and produced two 100-yard rushers. And in new coach Blake Anderson’s first season, the Aggies improved to 3-0 for the first time since 1978.

Reggie Roberson Jr. (and Southern Methodist): Possibly the play of the week. Definitely the day’s “Right Place, Right Time” award winner.

Roberson collected the carom of a Hail Mary while standing in the end zone to give the Mustangs a 39-37 victory at Louisiana Tech. It was the last of Tanner Mordecai’s five touchdowns passes for SMU (3-0), which joins Cincinnati and Memphis as the only remaining undefeated teams in the American Athletic Conference.

Southern California: Less than a week after the firing of Clay Helton, the Trojans found themselves down injured quarterback Kedon Slovis, trailing Washington State by two touchdowns late in the first half and staring at the potential of a mess of a season.

Slovis didn’t return, and the season could yet devolve into something forgettable, but it won’t be because of what happened in interim coach Donte Williams’s first game.

Backup quarterback Jaxon Dart threw for 391 yards, four touchdowns and two picks, and Drake London hauled in 13 catches (all from Dart) for 170 yards and two scores as Southern Cal ultimately rolled to a 45-14 victory. Next up for the 2-1 Trojans: A home date with Oregon State, which has not won at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum since 1960.

Brian Kelly: The Notre Dame coach tied Knute Rockne with his 105th victory leading the Fighting Irish, the most in school history. Even better for Kelly: His team didn’t have to sweat it until the final seconds, controlling the final 20 minutes of a 27-13 defeat of Purdue.

Unlike escapes in victories over Florida State and Toledo, Notre Dame (3-0) wasn’t in serious jeopardy in the fourth quarter against the Boilermakers (2-1). And by the time Kyren Williams rumbled into the end zone on a 51-yard touchdown run with 6:05 remaining, it was clear Kelly would tie Rockne’s record and keep the Irish undefeated entering next week’s date with No. 18 Wisconsin in Chicago.

Oklahoma: The 50th anniversary of the Sooners’ famed showdown with Nebraska — now, unfortunately, a nonconference matchup — did not produce the game of the century. Or the week. Or even the noon television window.

No. 3 Oklahoma’s 23-16 victory was not an offensive explosion, but there was plenty to like about the Big 12 standard-bearer’s defensive approach. Nebraska mustered just 2.5 yards a carry, and came away empty on a pair of red zone trips.

And then there was maybe the most deflating sequence of the day for the Cornhuskers (2-2). Nebraska had just pulled within 14-9 when the Sooners (3-0) blocked the extra point and Patrick Fields collected the carom and ran the length of the field for two points. Kennedy Brooks capped the ensuing drive with a 2-yard touchdown run and Nebraska didn’t seriously threaten to tie again.

It’s all Big 12 play from here for Oklahoma, which improved to 13-0 in regular season nonconference games since 2017.

Minnesota: It will go largely unnoticed because it was buried on the Pac-12 Network, but the Golden Gophers throttled host Colorado, 30-0, behind a smothering defense and Trey Potts’s three touchdown runs.

Minnesota (2-1) outgained the Buffaloes — who were just a week removed from making life miserable for Texas A&M before falling late — by a whopping 441-63. Colorado managed only six first downs, ran eight total plays in Gopher territory and never made it past the Minnesota 39.

Consider the Gophers’ next six games: Bowling Green, at Purdue, Nebraska, Maryland, at Northwestern and Illinois. There’s a good chance they’ll be right in the middle of the Big Ten West race entering a Nov. 13 trip to Iowa.

Michigan State: That’s three impressive outings from the Spartans, who opened with a defeat of Northwestern and handled Youngstown State last week. Tack on Saturday’s 38-17 triumph at No. 24 Miami, and it’s time to take Mel Tucker’s team seriously.

It’s not so much the “beating Miami” portion of things — that’s a common enough occurrence these days — as how poised the Spartans (3-0) were throughout. Michigan State pestered the Hurricanes into four turnovers, wisely unleashed Kenneth Walker III (27 carries, 172 yards) and then deftly finished things off with two late touchdowns.

Much like with Minnesota, it’s not hard to envision the Spartans continuing to roll for a little while. They get Nebraska and Western Kentucky at home the next two weeks before trips to Rutgers and Indiana before an open date. A 7-0 start would be a tough ask, but it isn’t out of the question given how well Michigan State is playing at this point.

Losers

Utah (via instant replay): This isn’t meant to pour it on the Utes too much. After all, they wiped out a 14-point deficit in the final five minutes of regulation, and their dueling missed field goals with San Diego State in the second overtime required a partner to extend the contest to a 2-point conversion shootout.

It’s a pretty capricious way of deciding a game, and it has to hurt a bit more when an attempt is initially ruled good and then overturned by replay.

The result was a 33-31 victory for San Diego State, and the Utes dropping to 1-2 a week after falling to Brigham Young in the renewal of the Holy War.

Miami: Can’t take care of the ball (four turnovers). Too undisciplined (10 penalties for 84 yards, though opposing Michigan State did have more). A running game that never entirely got going (24 carries, 52 yards).

All popped up in Miami’s 38-17 loss. All have been reasonably common developments for the Hurricanes against good opponents in recent years. At 1-2, with a predictable blowout loss to Alabama, an escape against Appalachian State and now this, Miami’s 2021 season is already headed in a forgettable direction.

Pittsburgh: It may be possible for the Panthers to have nice things, but it’s perfectly fair to wonder at this point. A week after winning at Tennessee, Pitt came home and dropped a 44-41 decision to Western Michigan.

Pitt’s pass defense had no answer for the Broncos, who picked off their first power conference opponent since defeating Illinois and Northwestern in 2016. Kaleb Eleby threw for 337 yards and three touchdowns for Western Michigan (2-1), which scored on three consecutive second-half drives before running out the clock.

Virginia Tech: Completing the ACC Coastal Division’s early afternoon trifecta, the No. 15 Hokies were on the cusp of erasing a 20-point deficit on the road, getting a first-and-goal at the West Virginia 3 in the final two minutes.

Then came an unimaginative series that included a rush for no gain, a rush for a loss of a yard and then two incompletions to seal a 27-21 loss to the Mountaineers.

On the bright side for the 2-1 Hokies: It’s not as if the rest of their division looked much worse.