There’s a difference, however, between not being playoff-bound and not being able to stop anyone. And that’s the Rubicon the No. 18 Sooners have crossed since entering Big 12 play.
Last week’s 41-34 loss to Kansas State could be chalked up as an off day, a weird outcome against a program that routinely plays Oklahoma well. But Saturday’s 55-24 bludgeoning at TCU is another matter entirely.
The Horned Frogs (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) scored 27 points in the first quarter and 41 before halftime. They rolled up 668 total yards on the helpless Sooners, and averaged a cool 8.9 yards a snap.
TCU had four scoring plays of at least 62 yards, and it did it against a team that it was 1-10 against since entering the Big 12. There was no history of unusual success in this series for Oklahoma’s opponent.
The Sooners (3-2, 0-2) didn’t fare any better on offense, as quarterback Dillon Gabriel left after absorbing a late hit in the first half. Gabriel wasn’t great even before the injury — 7 of 16 for 126 yards — but with the way TCU moved the ball, it probably wouldn’t have mattered if any of Oklahoma’s recent Heisman-contending QBs was taking the snaps.
Any talk of a playoff berth has evaporated in Norman, and any chance to win the Big 12 is probably gone with another loss — including in next week’s Red River Whatchamacallit against Texas. Yet considering how things have gone the last two weeks, simply regrouping on defense is a far bigger priority for Oklahoma than wins or losses.
Georgia (winner ... barely)
If the Bulldogs raced to the airport to get out of Columbia, Mo., before someone tried to take their 26-22 victory over Missouri away, it would be hard to blame them. The top-ranked Georgia juggernaut looked decidedly mortal on a night it trailed until the final 4:03.
There was the slow start on offense, which had three punts and two lost fumbles in its first five possessions. And there was Missouri’s solid offensive movement for the first three quarters, enough to net a touchdown and five Harrison Mevis field goals. That’s not an explosion, but against Georgia, most teams will take what they can get.
And it was almost enough, at least until Daijun Edwards’s one-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter that gave the Bulldogs their first lead of the night.
What did it show? That Georgia isn’t completely invulnerable, and that the right team (Florida? Tennessee? Kentucky?) on the right day could get itself into a slugfest with the Bulldogs.
It was a lesson better learned in a victory than a loss, but nonetheless a sobering message for last year’s national champs to receive.
The No. 5 Tigers followed up their double-overtime defeat of Wake Forest with a 30-20 triumph over No. 10 N.C. State, taking another step toward reclaiming the ACC Atlantic Division in its final year before the league discards its divisional split.
Even with 50 points being scored, it was a methodical game filled with long possessions. Clemson’s defense was a bit better. The Wolfpack’s two turnovers helped provide the 10-point margin.
And a week after torching Wake Forest, Tigers quarterback DJ Uiagalelei wasn’t dominant but still plenty effective, throwing for 209 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 73 yards and two scores. Clemson doesn’t need the Wake Forest version of Uiagalelei to win most games; the N.C. State version that took what was available to him will usually be plenty suitable.
First the Jayhawks were a curiosity, beating West Virginia to get to 2-0. Then they became a development, knocking off Houston and Duke in toss-up games to close out September.
Now? Well, now Kansas is a full-fledged situation, a 5-0 team on the cusp of bowl eligibility after fending off Iowa State, 14-11.
The Jayhawks get no style points after collecting a mere 213 yards — a number that probably won’t cut it next week when TCU pays a visit to Lawrence. But they made the most of an interception (turning it into a 19-yard touchdown drive), were stingy against the run and frankly fortunate the Cyclones missed three of four field goal attempts (all of the misses were between 37 and 45 yards).
Kansas hasn’t reached a bowl game since 2008. It has seven chances to become eligible for one. At this point, the expectations for the Jayhawks should be recalibrated. They’re almost certainly heading to a postseason destination. How they do in the next eight weeks will determine their ceiling.
The most encouraging development of the day for the Crimson Tide is that quarterback Bryce Young’s injury is a sprained shoulder, something Coach Nick Saban said is not unheard of for the defending Heisman winner.
Nick Saban on Bryce Young's AC shoulder sprain: "He's had these before. In a few days he starts to respond pretty well, so we just have to see how it goes."— Brandon Marcello (@bmarcello) October 2, 2022
Tide will take it day to day with their Heisman Trophy winner. Texas A&M comes to Tuscaloosa next week (Oct. 8).
Whether Young plays next week against Texas A&M remains to be seen, of course.
The second-best development is how the No. 2 Crimson Tide stared down resurgent Arkansas, which nearly climbed out of a 28-point hole after Young left. The No. 20 Razorbacks cut the deficit to five, only for Alabama to uncork three quick-strike drives early in the fourth quarter to pull away for a 49-26 victory.
Alabama (5-0, 2-0 SEC) benefited from Jahmyr Gibbs’s 206-yard, two-touchdown rushing outing, and the Georgia Tech transfer (who undoubtedly has no regrets about his portal decision given the Yellow Jackets’ struggles) delivered touchdown runs of 72 and 76 yards in the final quarter.
Toss in backup quarterback Jalen Milroe’s 77-yard scamper to set up another score, and Alabama required just eight plays for three scoring drives to swat away the Razorbacks (3-2, 1-2) when they threatened to really make things interesting in Fayetteville.
Virginia Tech (loser)
The struggling Hokies (2-3, 1-1 ACC) got to face a fine cure for an ailing offense: North Carolina.
The Tar Heels were a week removed from permitting Notre Dame to get well, to the tune of 45 points. They allowed 61 points in a regulation victory last month at Appalachian State.
So, naturally, North Carolina rolled to a 41-10 victory.
The opening loss to Old Dominion laid out how much of a struggle it will be for Virginia Tech in Brent Pry’s first season. But the last two games — an inert showing against West Virginia, and now this against North Carolina — underscore that whatever progress is made in Blacksburg, it probably won’t show up in the form of victories before next year.
Jimbo Fisher and the Aggies (losers)
The offseason champions will head into their much-anticipated trip to Alabama at 3-2. Not exactly what everyone was dreaming of when Jimbo Fisher was calling out Saban back in May.
The Aggies got outplayed by Appalachian State last month, yet things were arguably worse in Saturday’s 42-24 loss at Mississippi State because of the self-inflicted miseries. No. 17 Texas A&M committed four turnovers, including an interception brought back for a game-icing touchdown in the fourth quarter. Mississippi State also returned a blocked field goal for a score.
It’s too early to peg the Aggies as the nation’s most disappointing team. There are plenty of contenders for that dishonor, among them Miami, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. But Texas A&M is up there, and things could be on the verge of getting even worse next week in Tuscaloosa.
Bret Bielema (winner)
Not only did Coach Bret Bielema lead Illinois back to his old stomping grounds at Camp Randall Stadium, but his Illini basically out-Wisconsined Wisconsin in a 34-10 rout.
Illinois controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, especially on defense. Wisconsin mustered just 2 rushing yards, and it’s not as if the numbers when sacks were removed (19 carries for 31 yards) were something for the Badgers to be proud of.
Meanwhile, the Illini (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) doggedly stuck with the run, doing enough with the help of a few turnovers to create separation from the Badgers in Bielema’s first game in Madison since leaving for Arkansas after the 2012 season.
Fresno State (loser)
Flew across the continent and came away with a 19-14 loss to Connecticut. The Bulldogs amassed only 187 yards to fall to 1-3 — and did so against a team they drubbed, 45-0, at home to begin last season.
Connecticut is probably better under first-year coach Jim Mora, but this was hardly the way Fresno State should have played coming off an open date.
Mississippi’s fourth-quarter defense (winner)
The No. 14 Rebels outlasted No. 7 Kentucky, 22-19, to improve to 5-0, and their victory ultimately came down to three plays in a scoreless fourth quarter.
On the first snap of the period, Otis Reese broke up a fourth-down pass from Kentucky quarterback Will Levis from the Ole Miss 32 to give possession to the Rebels.
On a third-and-2 with 2:55 to go at the Rebels 19, Levis lost a fumble to stymie what looked like it would produce — at minimum — the tying points for Kentucky.
And with 51 seconds left, Levis fumbled again, this time on a sack at the Ole Miss 25 to lock up the victory for the Rebels.
Mississippi plays three of the next four on the road — at Vanderbilt, LSU and Texas A&M, with an Oct. 15 home game against Auburn tossed in. It isn’t the easiest path to 9-0, but it’s plausible the Rebels take an unblemished record into a Nov. 12 date with Alabama.
No Mo Ibrahim meant more problems for the No. 21 Golden Gophers, who are probably the best team in the Big Ten’s West Division but find themselves in a giant scrum thanks to a 20-10 loss to Purdue in Minneapolis.
Minnesota (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) rolled through September without incident, but it never got its running game on track against the Boilermakers without Ibrahim. The Gophers accrued 47 yards on 26 carries, and struggled to get traction on offense all day. A bye week could help Ibrahim get healthy, and Minnesota could surely use him as it pushes for a division title.
Not only did the Cornhuskers pull away from Indiana 35-21, they also moved into a share of first place in the Big Ten West.
Granted, it’s a six-way tie for first, and the only team in the scrambled division without a 1-1 record is Wisconsin (which sits at 0-2). But it’s still a slice of first place, and that’s a pleasant development for a team that opened with a loss in Ireland to Northwestern, got its coach fired with a loss at home to Georgia Southern and seemed headed for nowhere.
That may still be Nebraska’s fate, but at least for now, it can dream of contending every bit as much as it would have if things hadn’t gone sideways to start the season.
The Panthers, other than with peak Kenny Pickett under center last season, have always kept people guessing since they moved into the ACC (and honestly were doing so on a semi-regular basis even before leaving the Big East).
In that long and not exactly proud tradition of befuddling results, let’s present Saturday night’s gem: Georgia Tech 26, Pitt 21.
The Yellow Jackets were less than a week removed from firing coach Geoff Collins, which made them an unlikely candidate to go on the road and do something surprising. But there was Pitt (3-2, 0-1 ACC), committing three turnovers, going 2 for 12 on third down and allowing Georgia Tech to average 5.4 yards a carry as Hassan Hall rolled up 157 yards and quarterback Jeff Sims collected 81 yards and a score.
To be clear, good for Georgia Tech (2-3, 1-1), which demonstrated some gumption as well as some intent to inject the ACC Coastal Division with its usual brand of chaos in its swan song. But it was also an all-around failure for the Panthers, who probably have a monster performance in them at some point to balance the scales on this clunker. Good luck to anyone who tries to guess when that will occur.
The Bruins were a bit of an unproven entity entering Friday. Their first four games were all victories, largely uneventful defeats of Bowling Green, Alabama State and Colorado and an escape at home against South Alabama.
So Chip Kelly’s bunch earned some credit — and its eighth consecutive victory dating back to last season — with a 40-32 defeat of No. 15 Washington. Dorian Thompson-Robinson threw for 315 yards and three touchdowns and tacked on a rushing score for UCLA (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12), which is off to its best start since 2013.
There’s plenty more to learn about the Bruins, who play host to Utah next weekend and then visit Oregon on Oct. 22 after an open date. For now, they’re doing their part to make the Los Angeles area a center of power in the Pac-12 (at least until they and Southern Cal bolt to the Big Ten after next season).
Boise State (winner)
Where, exactly, did Friday’s 35-13 defeat of San Diego State come from? Considering where the Broncos were a week ago, the question isn’t unreasonable.
Boise State was coming off a 27-10 loss at UTEP that cost its offensive coordinator his job. Quarterback Hank Bachmeier entered the transfer portal a few days later. And it’s not as if the Broncos were great in the first half against the Aztecs, trailing 13-0 at the break while managing 43 yards on 13 carries.
Things were a bit different in the final 30 minutes, as Boise State (3-2, 2-0 Mountain West) rolled up 273 yards and five touchdowns on 31 carries. It led to the Broncos’ best rushing output since 2018, and in tandem with a defense that gave up just 114 yards might have revived the hopes of turning around a season that seemed ticketed for a lackluster finish throughout a forgettable September.