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Seven-Step Drop: Oklahoma's Inexplicable Loss One of Many Along Path to College Football Playoff

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Tried to tell you in this very column that Week 6 just had the feeling of chaos breaking loose in college football... and that’s just what happened.

Two top-10 teams went down, including one in the top three, to unranked opponents at home. A further four teams in the top 25 suffered a loss and a handful of Heisman hopes took a serious hit as well. Even the top two teams, which previously looked like juggernauts, had their issues in putting away wins on a night where just about everybody felt a little vulnerable.

But there was only one seismic upset of the bunch and that came in Norman, a place where Iowa State had won just three times in school history, in one of the most lopsided series in the country dating back to 1928. Going into the game, many were surprised to see that starting quarterback Jacob Park would not make the trip to deal with personal issues and assumed that an overmatched Cyclones team with a backup quarterback would be competitive for a quarter before Baker Mayfield would slice them up and all the focus would turn to the Red River Showdown next week in Dallas.

Head coach Matt Campbell, and more importantly QB/LB Joel Lanning, had other ideas of course. The end result – Iowa State 38, Oklahoma 31 – was an outcome few could have seen coming when the afternoon began but many started to come around to as the teams traded blows down the stretch.

Naturally, Sooners fans were apocalyptic about the loss (as they should be), but the sentiment was shared by many around the country about the team’s College Football Playoff chances too. While the game will be rehashed for weeks to come, history when it comes to the postseason should too when trying to put the loss in a little bit of context.

Think back to last season. Eventual national champion Clemson had close calls with Louisville, NC State and Florida State before eventually suffering a 43-42 loss at home to Pitt, which finished 8-5 on the year and lost to Northwestern in their bowl game. Heck, two seasons ago it was Oklahoma who lost to a Texas team that eventually finished 5-7, but still managed to rally and make the final four. Fellow 2015 College Football Playoff team Michigan State lost to a 6-7 Nebraska squad the same season,  and eventual champ Alabama lost at home to (an admittedly good 10-3) Ole Miss squad.

And who could forget the very first edition of the playoff, which featured a title game between Oregon (home loss to Arizona) and Ohio State (home loss to 7-6 Virginia Tech).

So no, Oklahoma is by no means automatically out of the running for a playoff spot. Win out, capture the Big 12 title and the Sooners will have as good of a case as anybody not named Alabama or Clemson to be one of the best four teams in the country. That’s certainly not to say they will of course, but the path remains the same as it was prior to that shocking afternoon outing in Norman.

More concerning for the Sooners is their defense, which seemed to slow down the Buckeyes but have done little else this season outside of that high-profile matchup. If Iowa State, with a backup quarterback, can drive down the field three times to beat you, what will Oklahoma State, TCU or even West Virginia do? The defensive flaws we first saw in the Baylor game appear to be real and it tripped Mike Stoops’ unit up for real against the Cyclones. That’s not a death blow to making a playoff semifinal as we’ve come to see but it is not a great sign of things to come for the Sooners going forward.

Since they have (a now extra-fired up) Baker Mayfield at quarterback and more talent than just about anybody in the conference, a loss isn’t the end of the world for Oklahoma as we’ve come to seen. As much as that is true however, so is the fact that the Sooners need to step things up defensively over the coming months or Saturday’s loss will be more trend than blip on the radar.

Six other takeaways from the weekend:

2. Little brother wins again

When you view things from 40,000 feet, Michigan’s loss to Michigan State was somewhat understandable. It didn’t happen on a fluke once-in-a-century play like the last time the two met in the Big House, the Wolverines were playing their backup quarterback and of course there was one wild rain storm that swept through the game and made life difficult for both sides in what has almost always been a closely contested rivalry game.

Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh was Big Ten MVP under legendary coach Bo Schembechler.

But this is Michigan and Jim Harbaugh we’re talking about so it’s not quite that simple, especially as they dropped to 1-4 against their two biggest conference rivals during their head coach’s tenure. The Wolverines have more talent, period. They were playing at home and had more to lose. They also have three $1 million-plus coordinators and a head coach that bumps up against the $10 million mark himself.

Yet for all of that, where was the offensive creativity against the Spartans when things got slogged down? Heck, where was the common sense of throwing the ball less in those conditions and running it more — the supposed bread and butter of this group? Plus, it seemed like the Wolverines came out like they did for every other game this season while Michigan State appeared not only ready for the atmosphere but excited for it.

It will be curious to see where both teams go from here after a few plays went one way and helped decide the game. But one thing is for certain, the outcome will be brought up quite a bit around the state until next fall and proof that the folks up in East Lansing are still capable of pulling out a surprise result just when you thought to write them off.

3. Miami finally ends the streak

As the final few minutes were winding down and Florida State re-took the lead on Miami as part of a 17-point fourth quarter, I caught myself saying “If not now, when?” to the Hurricanes.

Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt

Well, it turned out to be just a few seconds later that point was moot.

Just before the final play, there was a great shot on the broadcast of head coach Mark Richt, who calls plays for the Canes, reminding Malik Rosier to be smart with the football given the situation. That’s no surprise, given that the team was within field goal range and had a great chance to tie (minus the history of kicking in the series) if there was an incomplete pass. But Rosier made a play that will be talked about for a long time in South Florida, dropped back and dropped it into Darrell Langham’s hands and that was that with six seconds left.

It’s still a little early to say that “The U” is back after such a win but the team is right on the cusp of the top 10 and has a legitimate path making the playoff this year. They’ve got a big test at home next week (see below) and now have to deal with star tailback Mark Walton being out for the season. This isn’t a squad that is in the same league as the big boys quite yet but you can tell the trajectory is pointing them there. Based on Saturday’s result (and not the quality of the game itself), perhaps Richt’s team is a little ahead of schedule at this point and if nothing else has put the days of Al Golden and Randy Shannon well behind them.

On the other side, the loss also further put Florida State behind the eight-ball in the Atlantic Division and they may not even finish in third place despite starting the year No. 3 in the polls with serious championship aspirations. While the loss of quarterback Deondre Francois is certainly a huge reason for their struggles, the fact of the matter is that there are both talent and coaching deficiencies in Tallahassee right now and no signs of being able to buck those trends like they did late last season.

The Seminoles are better than the 1-3 record besides their name but that’s what they are at the moment when it comes to the bottom line. Jimbo Fisher is a top-10 coach and can turn things around but the malaise the program is experiencing is very real right now and not showing any signs of stopping in the near term.

4. Closer than expected outcomes for Clemson, Alabama

So apparently the top two teams in the country are just a little bit mortal? Perhaps it’s a sign of how big expectations have become that Clemson playing another ACC game closer to the vest than expected and Alabama not blowing out an SEC opponent are cause for concern.

Not really, in the grand scheme of things. Though a mobile quarterback did appear to be a bit of an issue for the Crimson Tide that could be worth monitoring and the health of Tigers quarterback Kelly Bryant is something to note if he doesn’t participate fully in practice this week.

5. Western Michigan-Buffalo keep playing over... and over... and over

#MACtion is not just a hashtag that trends on Twitter during mid-week football games in November – it’s a way of life in MAC football. Perhaps no game embodied that more than Western Michigan’s seven overtime victory over Buffalo, 71-68. As much fun as it was on Saturday, it definitely seemed like more and more folks started to catch on that something wild was happening over in upstate New York as afternoon turned into evening.

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The final numbers were staggering. Just the fourth game ever to need seven overtimes and the 139 points are a new FBS record for combined points scored. All told, it was the longest game in more than a decade and certainly was on-brand for the conference that loves to produce wild shootouts in unexpected moments.

Hard to believe it was 31-all at the end of the fourth quarter and finished with a basketball score but it’s one more reminder of how great college football can be.

6. Group of 5 update: Navy, UCF on collision course but don’t discount Memphis spoiling things

The Knights beat Cincinnati 51-23 in a game that was called after three quarters due to weather. Before the storm sent both sides to the locker room, UCF had scored on all eight of their drives against the Bearcats and totaled 511 yards. Scott Frost’s group is looking more impressive by the week and even if Cincy isn’t quite the kind of team it once was a few years ago, going on the road and putting up those numbers — in that fashion — is still mighty impressive.

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The continued play of the Knights is one reason why everybody needs to start circling that Oct. 21 date when the team hosts Navy. The Midshipmen were not quite as impressive as their AAC counterparts on Saturday, allowing rival Air Force to stage a massive comeback before eventually mounting a game-winning touchdown drive in the final minutes to win a thriller 48-45. Still, there’s a unique confidence in this team that is sitting at 5-0 and continues to find a way to win games even when they hit a rough stretch.

A big part of that has been the play of quarterback Zach Abey, who not only threw the winning score with 15 seconds left but is fourth in the country in rushing. If the team keeps winning, you might be able to see the signal-caller start to sneak into the Heisman conversation too given how wide open the field is right now — especially if he can take home a conference title and Group of 5 bid.

Don’t discount Memphis putting a dent into those plans this upcoming week however. While the Tigers did suffer a letdown loss to UCF, this is still the same team that beat UCLA in a shootout and just hung 70 on an overmatched UConn team. Wideout Anthony Miller looks like he could really feast on that suspect Navy pass defense, especially after 15 catches for 224 yards and four scores against the Huskies. Outside of Oklahoma State’s James Washington, there really hasn’t been anybody who’s really jumped off the page in terms of the Biletnikoff Award race but Miller and Colorado State’s Michael Gallup are pretty strong contenders as we head into the midway mark of the year.

7. Kickoff comments get Washington more press than their play this week

Washington coach Chris Petersen probably didn’t set out to pick a fight with Pac-12 brass or ESPN this weekend, but he should have been prepared for the backlash that was sure to come when he complained last Monday about the Huskies’ late kickoffs.

Washington Huskies head coach Chris Petersen

“I just want to say something to our fans: We apologize for these late games,” Petersen said at his weekly press conference. “And I’d also like to reiterate it has nothing to do with us or the administration. We want to play at 1 o’clock. It hurts us tremendously in terms of national exposure. No one wants to watch our game on the East Coast that late, and we all know it.”

Predictably, there was quite a bit of pushback on the subject. Kirk Herbstreit fired back with some pointed words on College GameDay. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott met with the Seattle media to push back on some points he made. Then ESPN’s broadcast continually addressed the issue during Washington’s blowout of Cal to the point where it was a little too much for those following along at home (especially if you wore purple).

Petersen’s comments were made to help curry favor with the fan base, there’s no getting around that — it’s at the heart of why he said them last week. And he’s correct that late kickoffs are a source of frustration for coaches out West, who have added logistics to deal with on a regular basis when it comes to things like official visits and booster functions. Every coach is ingrained to want to play games under the sunshine around noon and that probably doesn’t help given Petersen’s rather old-school mentality on everything either.

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The Huskies have not played an afternoon game this season, kicking off at 5 p.m. PT three times, 6:30-7 p.m. PT twice and 7:45 p.m. two more times counting this Saturday’s trip to Arizona State. It’s not ideal, that’s for sure, but it’s the road Washington has to take and you won’t hear the Selection Committee citing late kickoff times as the reason they might leave your team out of the playoff.

The fact is, UW is boxed in a little right now from multiple angles. One is the simple geography of playing football on the West Coast, which will automatically mean later games unless somebody wants to volunteer to play at 9 a.m. The second is the fact that the Huskies haven’t really played any good teams yet.

It also doesn’t help Petersen’s case that USC also is pretty good at the moment and very marketable. The Trojans are the much bigger name nationally and as a result have certainly played a role in Washington getting bumped down the totem pole one notch to later games. Finally, there are only so many TV windows to go around in the conference and the network suits in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Bristol are paid a lot of money to successfully put matchups in the right spot to generate the biggest audience. Given some of the Nielsen ratings of the late windows this season, they are doing just that fairly successfully at the moment.

Petersen is the highest paid coach in the Pac-12 because he’s good at his job and because his school takes in a ton of money from those hefty television contracts. The latter helps drive the former in college football and has for well over a decade and shows no signs of stopping.

So a word of advice when trying to pick an un-winnable fight, perhaps start to use a little more honey to catch flies than with the vinegar you’re currently using.

Stat(s) of the Week

— Nevada won on Saturday to give head coach Jay Norvell his first career victory. He’s the ninth member of the 1985 Iowa Hawkeyes to record an FBS win as a head coach. That group includes Hayden Fry (head coach), Bill Snyder (offensive coordinator), Barry Alvarez (LB coach), Dan McCarney (DL coach), Kirk Ferentz (OL coach), Bob Stoops (Volunteer coach), Chuck Long (QB), Mike Stoops (DB), and now Norvell (DB).

— Urban Meyer coached his 200th career game against Maryland. He’s now an even 170-30 all-time (.850) and 66-7 at Ohio State.

— Penn State is the only FBS team to not allow a score in the opening quarter this season, outscoring their opponents 76-0.

Tweet of the Week

Superlatives of the Week

Arizona Wildcats QB Khalil Tate

Best player: Arizona QB Khalil Tate (14 carries, 327 yards, 4 TDs, 154 passing yards, TD)

Heisman five: 1. Saquon Barkley (Penn State), 2. Bryce Love (Stanford), 3. Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma), 4. Rashaad Penny (San Diego State), 5. Joel Lanning (Iowa State)

Projected final four: 1. Alabama, 2. Clemson, 3. Penn State, 4. TCU

Team of the week: Iowa State

Honorary Les Miles goat of the week: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Quote of the week: "All that stuff you write about how good we are. All that stuff they hear on ESPN. It's like poison, it’s like taking poison. Like rat poison." — Nick Saban.

Play of the Week

Super 16

I’m a voter in the FWAA/National Football Foundation Super 16 Poll and will be releasing my ballot here every week. Here’s my ballot heading into Week 7.

1. Alabama

2. Clemson

3. Georgia

4. Penn State

5. TCU

6. Washington State

7. Auburn

8. Washington

9. Oklahoma

10. Ohio State

11. Wisconsin

12. Notre Dame

13. USC

14. Miami (FL)

15. Oklahoma State

16. San Diego State

Best of the rest: Virginia Tech, N.C. State, Michigan, Navy, UCF, Stanford, Michigan State, Georgia Tech, Texas A&M

Pre-snap Reads

Georgia Tech at Miami

This is a perfect combination of factors for a letdown game by a Miami team riding high after beating their rivals in a wild ending. While it is at home for the Hurricanes, they’ll be facing a rested Georgia Tech coming off a bye and the option is always difficult to deal with on just a week’s preparation. This one is going to come down to the final two possessions before UM sneaks out with a close victory.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Miami
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Oklahoma vs. Texas (Dallas)

The shine is off this matchup significantly following Oklahoma’s loss to Iowa State but that won’t matter to the two teams in this one when they take the field at the Cotton Bowl to a split crowd. That performance against the Cyclones is probably the last thing that Texas wanted because now the Sooners will come out extremely fired up for this one. Lincoln Riley gets the slight edge in a bounce-back performance as Baker Mayfield lights up the Longhorns one last time.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Texas
College Football Top 25 Rankings: Oklahoma

Boise State at San Diego State

This just might be the game of the week given how weak the slate is and the implications it has in the Mountain West and beyond. A win for the Aztecs would mean they would essentially wrap up the division and have a clear path to a Group of 5 bid. The Broncos won’t go quietly into the Southern California night however and will put up a fight for three and a half quarters before turnovers end their bid for an upset.

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College Football Top 25 Rankings: Boise State

— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.

(Top photo courtesy of @CycloneFB)