For complete results from the weekend in college football, check out Sports on Earth's scoreboard.
Sports on Earth Saturday stories: Lions roar past Iowa on final play | Georgia proves to be SEC beast | Horned Frogs leap into Big 12 race | Aggies call off the Hogs in overtime | NC Statement: 'Pack Takes Down FSU
1. On a Saturday ripe for upsets, TCU and N.C. State pull through.
Saturday did not have one clear-cut headlining game. TCU at Oklahoma State and Mississippi State at Georgia offered ranked matchups, but there was no top-10 showdown, no clash like anything we saw in the first three weeks of the season. However, Week 4 seemed so intriguing in advance because of the long list of upset opportunities, with many undefeated national contenders facing tricky road tests.
Home teams ended up being the ones to actually fall in the two most notable upsets: one undefeated (Oklahoma State) and one a preseason playoff frontrunner (Florida State). The No. 6 Cowboys and No. 12 Seminoles were the only two top-15 teams to lose, and although their losses come as surprises, it would be an exaggeration to say that either was stunning.
Oklahoma State lost to No. 16 TCU 44-31 in a game in which the Horned Frogs announced their presence as Big 12 contenders, after already winning by 17 at Arkansas in a big nonconference win. In some ways the final numbers look familiar for Oklahoma State, as Mason Rudolph passed for 398 yards and had a pair of 100-yard receivers. But mistakes derailed the Cowboys. Rudolph was intercepted twice and lost a fumble, receiver Jalen McCleskey was intercepted on a trick play and the Cowboys committed eight penalties. Time of possession became an important factor -- which is bizarre for an Oklahoma State game -- as the Horned Frogs controlled the first half and played with a lead. Thanks to a solid game from QB Kenny Hill and 160 rushing yards from Darius Anderson, they held onto that lead and earned a huge road victory in a game that might not come to be viewed as an upset as the season progresses.
The other upset featured a winless team on the losing end. Florida State opened the season ranked No. 3 and lost to No. 1 Alabama in a game in which starting quarterback Deondre Francois suffered a season-ending injury. After two weekends off because of Hurricane Irma, the Seminoles returned after a long layoff for a tough home date with N.C. State and its excellent defensive line, making for a tough matchup for true freshman QB James Blackman in his starting debut. Blackman played pretty well, but an injury to WR Auden Tate in the third quarter was costly, as were 11 penalties and settling for field goals. N.C. State's biggest stars -- DE Bradley Chubb and all-around offensive weapon Jaylen Samuels -- stole the show, delivering the Wolfpack their first top-25 win since upsetting Florida State in 2012.
Both TCU and N.C. State hoped to be sleeper contenders in their conference this year. They couldn't have asked for a better start to conference play.
2. Penn State survives the closest call, among games that were too close for comfort.
Undefeated Penn State (at Iowa), USC (at California), Oklahoma (at Baylor), Michigan (at Purdue) and San Diego State (at Air Force) were all pushed in road games. All survived, some more emphatically than others.
The most dramatic, of course, was Penn State. The No. 4 Nittany Lions visited the always-treacherous Kinnick Stadium, and although they dominated the box score thanks to a dazzling night from star RB Saquon Barkley, they could not put Iowa away. The Hawkeyes blocked a field goal with 2:42 left, and despite their offense being stuffed most of the night, it took less than a minute for them to go 80 yards in three plays, capped by Akrum Wadley's 35-yard touchdown run for a four-point lead. Penn State needed all of its 1:42 to win the game, as Trace McSorley completed a seven-yard touchdown pass to Jawun Johnson over the middle with no time left on the clock to allow the Nittany Lions to escape and capitalize on a night in which Barkley had 305 yards from scrimmage.
If you're just now catching your breath, we don't blame you.- Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) September 24, 2017
Get that heart rate goin' again by re-living that amazing game and finish: pic.twitter.com/WSoFMmnI6s
No. 22 San Diego State, which is making an argument for best Group of Five team, survived a trip to Air Force in which the weather was terrible and prompted a second-quarter delay. The Aztecs won 28-24 thanks to star tailback Rashaad Penny's 53-yard TD in the fourth quarter.
Other undefeated teams escaped with wins that were in some places closer than the final score indicated:
- No. 5 USC beat California 30-20. The Golden Bears also entered the game 3-0, and the teams were tied at 13 entering the fourth quarter. USC scored 17 points in the first 4:04 of the fourth to take control, turning both a fumble recovery and an interception into touchdowns.
- No. 8 Michigan traveled to Purdue for the first sold-out game at Ross-Ade Stadium since 2008. The Boilermakers have a spark under new coach Jeff Brohm, and they led 10-7 deep into the third quarter. However, with John O'Korn replacing the injured Wilton Speight at QB for Michigan, the Wolverines scored three TDs in the final 18 minutes, all on long drives, to shut the door on Purdue's upset hopes.
- No. 3 Oklahoma hoped for a convincing win on the road at Baylor, which went 0-3 in nonconference play. Instead, the Bears were ready to try to pull off a surprise, looking significant improved in Matt Rhule's fourth game. Zach Smith threw for 493 yards and four TDs, and the Bears gave themselves a chance with a Denzel Mims TD catch and an onside kick recovery late. Alas, Smith lost a fumble, and Oklahoma held on to win 49-41. Baker Mayfield threw for 283 yards on only 13 completions, and Abdul Adams (164 yards) and Trey Sermon (148) both had big games on the ground.
- No. 2 Clemson hosted Boston College in a trap situation between big road games at Louisville and Virginia Tech. Like others, it didn't go smoothly for a while, as the Tigers and Eagles were tied at seven after three quarters. But Clemson put its foot on the gas and scored four touchdowns in the fourth quarter to roll to a 34-7 win.
3. Alabama and Georgia rise above the rest of the SEC.
We already knew this about Alabama. Bama is still Bama, and it made sure to emphasize that on Saturday at Vanderbilt, which was 3-0 after upsetting Kansas State 14-7. Vandy earned a reputation for stingy defense, but it meant nothing in this game. The Crimson Tide humiliated the Commodores 59-0, with 35 more first downs (38-3) and 599 more total yards (677-78). This almost reached 2016 Michigan-Rutgers territory, and it was CBS' chosen SEC game of the week.
Georgia, the presumed SEC East frontrunner, also faced what was thought to be a test against a team coming off a huge win. Last week, Mississippi State blew out LSU 37-7, its biggest win against the Tigers ever. This week, Mississippi State had to turn around and visit Sanford Stadium, to face a Georgia team that appears to have a top-five defense nationally. No. 11 Georgia beat No. 17 Mississippi State 31-3, as its defense held MSU to 280 total yards, and it got big plays from freshman QB Jake Fromm plus strong running from Nick Chubb and others.
I wrote during the week that Georgia must win this SEC East. That's even truer after Saturday, even if Florida pulled off a comeback to devastate Kentucky with its 31st straight win in that series. It's far to early to make any sweeping conclusions about the 2017 college football season, and yet it feels relatively safe to say that Alabama-Georgia is the best hope for a compelling SEC title game after the Crimson Tide clobbered Florida the past two years.
4. Saquon Barkley is the September Heisman frontrunner.
That term should be used cautiously. Lamar Jackson was an exception in 2016, but the Heisman is rarely won in September. Nevertheless, it's hard not to give Barkley the entirely-too-early slight edge over Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield through four weeks. Mayfield had the biggest win at Ohio State, but Barkley has looked like the best player. Despite Penn State's need for a last-play touchdown to escape Iowa, Barkley especially proved that on Saturday night.
One highlight can't summarize his case ... but this highlight almost does:
Barkley ran 28 times for 211 yards and a touchdown. He caught 12 passes for 94 yards. That's 305 yards from scrimmage on offense. Add in 53 kick return yards, and Barkley's 358 all-purpose yards set a single-game Penn State record.
In four games, Barkley has 518 rushing yards, 335 receiving yards and six TDs.
5. Washington continues its quiet dominance.
With a backloaded schedule featuring no USC in the regular season, Washington's biggest first-half game appeared to be Saturday night, in a late time slot. In a rematch of the Pac-12 title game, which the Huskies won easily last December, No. 7 Washington traveled to Colorado to face a 3-0 Buffaloes team that has played well defensively.
The result was quite similar to last year. After winning by 31 in that previous meeting on a neutral field, Washington won 37-10 in Boulder on Saturday. Jake Browning threw for only 160 yards, but Myles Gaskin ran for 202 yards and two TDs. Washington's defense contained the Colorado ground game and intercepted Steven Montez three times, completing a dominant win that reminded us that the Huskies should be considered one of two teams to beat in the conference, right alongside USC.
Big games are still ahead -- Stanford got back on track by beating UCLA 58-34, Washington State is 4-0 and Oregon is better despite losing at Arizona State by two -- but Washington is the obvious favorite in the Pac-12 North. The Huskies expect a playoff bid to be on the line in the Pac-12 title game, and those thoughts have yet to change.
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