There wasn’t much reason to think about Iowa State this month, not with Kansas, an open date and Kansas State on the docket, even if the Cyclones’ activity became increasingly interesting each week. But they were waiting the whole time for other Big 12 contenders.
Oklahoma State. Texas. Oklahoma. All still had to deal with the Cyclones. And as Oklahoma State can now attest, it isn’t a whole lot of fun to do so.
Iowa State dealt the No. 8 Cowboys their first loss Saturday, a 24-21 triumph that prompted a field-storming and served as a reminder of how Iowa State (5-2, 3-1) will have a say in how the Big 12 race sorts itself out.
There is a faint echo of another undefeated Oklahoma State team going to Ames, that one a 10-0 bunch playing a Friday night game in its last contest before a showdown with Oklahoma in 2011. But the Cowboys left with a 37-31 double-overtime defeat, and ultimately had to settle for being the best team not selected for that year’s BCS title game.
But it’s not a great comparison. That Oklahoma State team was thumping just about everyone in its path. That Iowa State team was on its way to 6-7 and would drop its last three.
This year’s Cowboys have four one-possession victories. They’re resilient and, while maybe not as potent on offense as many of Mike Gundy’s teams, a commendable defensive team (they entered the day 18th in total yardage allowed). They grind teams down, much like Iowa State, and it shouldn’t have been a surprise to see the Cowboys and Cyclones deliver a mutually methodical game.
Sure enough, no one led by more than seven at any point Saturday, with Iowa State wresting the lead away for good on Breece Hall’s 4-yard touchdown burst with 5:29 left. It was also a chance for quarterback Brock Purdy — benched in that Iowa game, responsible for the pick on the two-point play late against Baylor — to demonstrate his value now that he’s back on track.
Making his 40th career start, Purdy was 27 of 33 for 307 yards and two touchdowns. If he’s that crisp, Iowa State can beat anyone in the Big 12.
These Cowboys (6-1, 3-1) are good, but the scheduling combination of back-to-back trips to Texas and Iowa State always appeared challenging. A split isn’t bad, though it is disappointing for a team with national title hopes. Those may or may not be gone now; who knows given how this season has unfolded. But any margin of error is gone, which is probably not for the best for a team with a habit of playing close games.
There is one thing going for Oklahoma State moving forward: It won’t have to deal with Iowa State in the regular season again. Others in the Big 12 title race aren’t so fortunate.
Pittsburgh. The No. 23 Panthers (6-1, 3-0 ACC) delivered a no-doubt-about-it showing with a 27-17 defeat of Clemson.
No doubt about Kenny Pickett’s bona fides after connecting on 25 of 39 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns.
No doubt about Pitt’s ability to keep its offense on the field against a quality defense.
No doubt about the Panthers’ depth at receiver.
No doubt about how well Pat Narduzzi’s team responded to a comfortable victory at Virginia Tech last week.
And no doubt Pitt is in firm control of the Coastal Division, with at least a two-game lead in the loss column over everyone and three of its next four games at home. It’s a little early for Panthers fans to book nonrefundable flights to Charlotte for the first weekend in December. It isn’t too early for them to start looking at hotel rates.
Oregon. The Ducks remained alive in the playoff picture, fending off UCLA, 34-31, thanks to a late interception.
No. 10 Oregon (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) has one of the simpler formulas among the one-loss teams. The Ducks need to keep winning (six more times, including the Pac-12 title game) and hope Ohio State keeps winning, too. Oregon’s playoff candidacy is based on a single result (a road victory over the Buckeyes) far more than style points.
A pair of sub-.500 teams are up next for the Ducks. Colorado (2-5, 1-3) visits Eugene next week before Oregon makes the trip to Seattle to face disappointing Washington (3-4, 2-2).
Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons got to 7-0 with a big 7-0 — a 70-56 victory at Army — in one of the season’s more entertaining games so long as defense isn’t terribly desired.
No. 16 Wake Forest, fresh off its open date, didn’t have a lot of answers for the Black Knights’ option offense. But it didn’t matter, since the Demon Deacons scored on all but two of their possessions. They turned it over on downs in the first half, and knelt for the final play of the game.
Wake was especially efficient in the second half, when it scored 42 points and ran only 21 offensive plays. Needless to say, it was a good ratio (even if Traveon Redd’s interception return for a touchdown on a fake punt boosted the numbers a bit).
Demon Deacons quarterback Sam Hartman threw for 458 yards, and had just one more incompletion (six) than touchdown passes (five). Three of those went to Jaquarii Roberson, who totaled 157 yards on eight catches.
Michigan. Still undefeated after dominating the second half in a 33-7 drubbing of Northwestern, the Wolverines have done their part to maintain as much intrigue in the Big Ten East as the division’s top four teams take turns playing each other over the next four weeks (Penn State, not so much).
No. 6 Michigan (7-0, 4-0) controlled the clock, with Blake Corum (119 yards) and Hassan Haskins (110 yards) both rushing for a pair of touchdowns. Things should be more interesting next week at fellow unbeaten Michigan State, but few teams have handled their business this season more consistently than the Wolverines — especially at home.
Oklahoma. Yes, the No. 3 Sooners were a winner, but this comes with a major caveat. Oklahoma sleepwalked through more than a half of its trip to Kansas before figuring things out and escaping Lawrence with a 35-23 victory.
And yes, the thing that will be remembered about that game a month or two from now will be Caleb Williams astutely taking the ball away from running back Kennedy Brooks to secure a fourth-down conversion late in the game as the Sooners (8-0, 5-0 Big 12) clung to a 28-23 lead.
It should also be noted this isn’t a same-old, sad-sack Kansas clown show, either. The Jayhawks (1-6, 0-4) aren’t good by any stretch, but they were effective on offense Saturday and (just as importantly) shortened the game exceptionally well.
It’s just that Oklahoma keeps toying with teams it is more talented than, like Tulane and Nebraska and now Kansas. If it keeps happening, eventually someone is going to take the Sooners up on the offer and deal them a defeat, and a one-loss resume filled with close victories isn’t necessarily the ticket to earn a playoff berth come December.
Texas-San Antonio. It was quite a week for the Roadrunners. They were among the six Conference USA schools to receive invitations to move up to the American Athletic Conference, then rolled past Louisiana Tech (one of the C-USA schools getting left behind by realignment).
UTSA (8-0, 4-0) got 113 yards and three touchdowns from running back Sincere McCormick in the 45-16 victory. The Roadrunners have scored at least 45 points in three consecutive games, and get an open date to prepare for surprising Texas-El Paso (6-1, 3-0) on Nov. 6 in a game that will go a long way in sorting out C-USA’s West Division.
San Diego State. In an extremely on-brand showing, the defense-minded Aztecs had only one drive of more than 42 yards, but still smothered Air Force, 20-14, to remain undefeated.
San Diego State (7-0, 3-0 Mountain West) converted a pair of turnovers into field goals and had a touchdown drive after Air Force turned it over on downs on its side of the field on the way to building a 20-0 lead. The Aztecs’ defense handled the rest, limiting the Falcons to 259 total yards to remain the only unbeaten team in Mountain West play.
Clemson. A basic truth about the Tigers’ 27-17 loss at Pittsburgh: The Panthers didn’t just win, but they were clearly the better team. And after seven games, the conclusions that were tempting to make after just three are now basically cemented.
Namely, Clemson (4-3, 3-2 ACC) is unremarkable thanks to its middling offense.
The Tigers are good enough on defense to stay in most games, and they probably would have made things interesting if Pitt hadn’t returned an interception for a touchdown early in the second half. But “interesting” is not the bar Clemson has set for itself over the last decade.
Tigers coach Dabo Swinney yanked quarterback DJ Uiagalelei for part of the second half, and while he wasn’t good (12 of 25, 128 yards, two interceptions), he is far from the only problem. A limited offensive line. No more than two consistent threats at wideout (and one of them, Joseph Ngata, was out Saturday). The absence of an electrifying, seasoned back that defenses must always pay heed to.
In short, this loss was a continuation of the same season-long themes, and the Tigers’ remaining relevance this year will be whether they play a role in derailing Wake Forest’s Atlantic Division push. But rest assured, few teams will be scrutinized more in the offseason than Clemson. It will be an interesting — hey, there’s that word again — time in Death Valley.
Penn State. The No. 7 Nittany Lions donned throwback uniforms Saturday, but what they really could have used was retro rules as well. Because however unhelpful a tie at home against Illinois would have been, a nine-overtime loss to the Illini is worse.
The 20-18 setback — which featured three successful two-point conversion attempts out of 14 in the final seven extra periods — should pretty much finish off the Nittany Lions’ playoff hopes. After a 5-0 start, they’ve dropped consecutive games, and have a trip to Ohio State up next.
Justin Fuente. The Virginia Tech coach had a hard job when he came to Blacksburg. He was tasked with replacing program legend Frank Beamer, whose accomplishments with the Hokies weren’t tarnished by a four-year stretch of mediocrity at the end.
And when Fuente opened with a 10-4 season and a division title in his debut year, it seemed Virginia Tech had made a solid transition. Instead, the opening offering was the best part of Fuente’s tenure.
In 2018, the Hokies suffered their first losing season since 1992. Last year was their first year without a bowl berth since ’92. But the season unraveling now — and Saturday specifically — might really be the program’s lowest point since Beamer got his breakthrough in 1993.
Virginia Tech (3-4, 1-2 ACC) has dropped three in a row at home since its open date, each more excruciating than the last. The Hokies led by eight after scoring with 3:55 left against Notre Dame, and found a way to lose 32-29 in regulation. They no-showed on offense last week against Pittsburgh. And then the defense collapsed in a 41-36 loss to Syracuse on Saturday.
The Hokies were up nine with 5:36 to go, only for the run-heavy Orange to throw for a pair of touchdowns — including a 45-yard strike with 19 seconds left — to win it. With four of the last five on the road, a coaching change appears plenty possible and a turnaround seems unlikely. Then again, it’s not as if playing at Lane Stadium seems to suit this edition of Virginia Tech, either.
Steve Addazio. Dude, how in the world does this happen?
Colorado State came up with one of the more creative — and mind-boggling — endgame mismanagements in recent memory on Friday night. Down 26-24 at Utah State and lacking a timeout, the Rams converted a first down with 11 seconds to go. But instead of spiking the ball to stop the clock, the field goal team ran on the field. That 42-yard attempt missed, and Colorado State took a loss.