Ten takeaways from an unexpectedly tumultuous Saturday in college football:
1. The College Football Playoff picture was significantly altered Saturday.
Oklahoma was knocked out of prime positioning in a stunning loss to Iowa State. Michigan also was shoved down the pecking order with a home loss to unranked rival Michigan State. And there was some ancillary damage from those outcomes to the Big Ten as a whole.
Ohio State lost by 15 points at home to Oklahoma, which now has lost at home to Iowa State. And the Wolverines’ comeuppance does no favors to Penn State or the Buckeyes, who will need quality wins after achieving nothing of note in non-conference play. Michigan State gets a nice boost from beating Michigan, but still is sitting behind Notre Dame in the one-loss pecking order after being routed at home by the Fighting Irish on Sept. 23.
And Wisconsin, the clear favorite to win the Big Ten West, just saw its one marquee regular-season matchup diminish in stature. The Badgers host Michigan on Nov. 18. Every other remaining opponent has at least two losses. Wisconsin’s best non-conference win was over a Utah State team that is now 3-3.
2. The Cyclones’ upset of Oklahoma in Norman goes down as the greatest victory in the school’s modest football history.
Some might argue that upsetting then-No. 2 Oklahoma State in 2011, knocking the Cowboys out of the BCS Championship Game, ranks higher – but that game was in Ames. This one was on the road, and the Cyclones did it with one of the most unique quarterback tandems ever to take the field.
On Friday, Iowa State disclosed that starting quarterback Jacob Park was taking a leave for “personal medical concerns.” Park’s backup, Joel Lanning, also happens to be the starting middle linebacker – making him the most unusual multi-tasker in college football. With Lanning committed to defense, the job of starting against the Sooners fell to fifth-year senior Kyle Kempt – and what a story he is.
From the football hotbed of Massillon, Ohio, Kempt originally committed to Cincinnati. But when Butch Jones left the Bearcats for Tennessee, Kempt changed course and went to Oregon State. He redshirted in 2013, then didn’t play a snap in ’14 and transferred to Hutchinson Community College – where he also didn’t play.
Still, from there, he planned on joining fellow Massillon product Matt Campbell at Toledo. But then Campbell got the job at Iowa State, and so Kempt opted to walk on in Ames at Campbell’s invitation.
Last year, Kempt finally got to play college football. He threw two passes and ran the ball once in a blowout of San Jose State, and took snaps at the end of a blowout of Texas Tech.
This season, his fifth and final as a collegian, Kempt once again had not gotten on the field – until being told he would start at Okla-freakin-homa.
“I felt pretty poised the whole game,” Kempt told the Des Moines Register. “I started to get my legs under me as the game went on.”
All he did was throw for 343 yards and three touchdowns in leading an epic upset. Iowa State’s second-half possessions: 50-yard drive for a field goal; 94-yard drive for a touchdown; 73-yard drive for a touchdown; 75-yard drive for a touchdown.
And the other Iowa State quarterback Saturday? Lanning, who went both ways like a boss. The Cyclones’ leading tackler on the season added eight more of those, including a sack, and recovered a fumble. And he ran and passed for 60 yards as well. All told he was on the field for 78 plays: 57 at linebacker, 13 at quarterback and eight on special teams.
A lot of people went into the game talking about Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield as a Heisman Trophy candidate, and some of them came out wondering if there might be a place on the ballot for the only QB-linebacker known to mankind.
“I don’t know if there’s a better story in college football,” Campbell said of Lanning. “There’s a lot of really good players in college football, but I don’t know if there’s somebody that does more for your team.”
Two quarterbacks who barely play quarterback did a whole lot for Iowa State football Saturday. They keyed the most significant upset of the 2017 season to date.
3. On a crazy, dramatic day in college football, no game was crazier than Western Michigan 71, Buffalo 68, in an FBS record-tying seven overtimes. And the craziest part of the game had nothing to do with the score, which was the highest combined point total in FBS history.
It had to do with the apparent sister of Western Michigan tight end Donnie Ernsberger rushing the field to hug him after scoring an overtime touchdown. The TD did not end the game – it, and the following extra point, merely tied it at 38 after the first OT. The woman might have thought the game was over, judging from her sudden and euphoric appearance on the field.
That drew a flag and an ejection for the woman, which means she missed the last six OTs. As they say, it’s important to know time and score. Even for the fans.
4. In his third year at Stanford, Jim Harbaugh unveiled Andrew Luck and everything began to change. In his third year at Michigan, Harbaugh is still waiting for a big-time quarterback.
In 2015, Harbaugh utilized Iowa transfer Jake Rudock and he was a solid starter. Last year, Wilton Speight was the man and he, too, was solid until the latter stages of the season. This year, whether it’s been Speight or injury replacement John O’Korn, Michigan’s quarterback play has not been good enough.
After the Saturday night downpour debacle, Speight and O’Korn have combined to throw six interceptions and just four touchdowns. Weather conditions certainly conspired against O’Korn, who threw three picks in 35 attempts, but Michigan State’s Brian Lewerke played in the same weather and didn’t throw any to the wrong team in 22 attempts.
Even before the loss to the Spartans, Michigan was just 10th in the Big Ten in pass efficiency. There were major receiving losses from the 2016 team, but there were even bigger losses on defense and the Wolverines were able to plug those holes effectively. For now, Michigan’s biggest roadblock to a Big Ten East title is quarterback play – and the former NFL QB who is the head coach hasn’t been able to figure out how to solve that issue.
5. After his team wobbled past Texas A&M 27-19, after leading 24-3, Nick Saban issued the most Nick Saban quote ever.
Addressing the media, Saban said, “All the good stuff you write is rat poison.” This is a more melodramatic variation on a long-running Saban theme; he lives is deep fear of the media injecting complacency into his players by writing how good they are. You can almost picture Saban scowling his way through glowing stories about his team, wondering how he’s going to be able to undo the terrible psychological damage inflicted by positive press.
Living in fear of praise. It’s the Saban way. He wins a lot, but it’s a fairly joyless worldview.
6. With the help of a bad hold and a botched extra point by Florida, LSU got its biggest win under Ed Orgeron.
An imperfect snap on what should have been the tying PAT led to a panicked hold, with the ball actually starting to fall over when kicker Eddy Pineiro made contact and smother-hooked it wide left. And on the strength of that missed kick and a 17-16 victory, LSU made the quantum leap from losing at home to Troy to winning in The Swamp.
It was a nice bounce-back that temporarily alleviates some of the heat on Orgeron. But it also was the fourth time in the last six SEC games under Oregon that LSU has scored fewer than 20 points. The Tigers showed a little bit of coordinator Matt Canada’s trademark spark, but they’re still far from explosive. They’ll need more points than 17 to beat red-hot Auburn in Baton Rouge next Saturday.
7. At one point this year, it looked like the state of Oklahoma was going to be the epicenter of the sport. That now seems like a long time ago.
Oklahoma State lost at home to TCU and Oklahoma lost at home to Iowa State, and now the Bedlam rivalry showdown Nov. 4 looks like just another game.
Instead, the state with the most going on is Washington. The Apple Cup looms larger with each passing week, and each victory by Washington and Washington State.
The Cougars (6-0) followed their breakthrough upset of USC with a resounding win in their first road game of the year, 33-10 over injury-riddled Oregon. The Huskies (6-0) then followed suit by thumping California.
Last time they both started 6-0? Twenty-five years ago. The only other time it happened was 1915.
8. Miami beat Florida State for the first time since 2009 because the Hurricanes were bold with the game on the line, and executed brilliantly.
Instead of playing for a tying field goal in the closing seconds, quarterback Malik Rosier fired a back-shoulder sideline strike that receiver Darrell Langham came down with in front of Seminoles cornerback Tarvarus McFadden for the winning touchdown. Throwing downfield was a risk, and that risk was amplified by the target (Langham hadn’t caught a pass since the season opener against Bethune-Cookman) and the cover man (McFadden was a preseason All-American who picked off eight passes in 2016). But the call, throw and catch were all perfect, leaving coach Mark Richt sinking to a knee as the sideline erupted around him.
Miami now is 4-0 and has its three toughest remaining tests at home: Georgia Tech next Saturday, Virginia Tech on Nov. 4 and Notre Dame on Nov. 11. The U may not yet be fully loaded for a return to national prominence, but Richt’s team will have a chance in the second half of the season.
9. The Central Florida offense continues to produce at a crazy rate.
The Knights rang up 51 points and 515 yards at Cincinnati Saturday – and they didn’t even play the fourth quarter due to severe weather. UCF averaged a whopping 12.9 yards per play, and is now averaging 8 per play for the season. Don’t think sullen Nebraska fans aren’t fully aware of what former standout quarterback Scott Frost is doing in Orlando.
10. Why is TCU 2-0 in the Big 12 and the league’s top College Football Playoff contender? Turnover margin.
The Horned Frogs were outgained at home by West Virginia Saturday, but were a plus-two in turnovers and won the game by a touchdown. They were outgained in their other previous Big 12 game by Oklahoma State, but were a plus-three in turnovers and won by 13.
TCU hasn’t been a plus-five turnovers over the course of consecutive games since mid-season 2014. When, it should be pointed out, the Frogs went 12-1 and were controversially left out of the playoff.