The most telling statistic regarding the 2017 Big 12 Conference wasn’t about Baker Mayfield, Mason Rudolph, Lincoln Riley, Bill Snyder, Dana Holgorsen or Mike Gundy’s mullet.
It was this: Each time TCU had suffered a losing finish under Gary Patterson, the Horned Frogs have come back the next year and won their conference championship. It happened in 2005. It happened in 2014, when TCU tied for the Big 12 title. Then came last season’s 6-7 record. History told us what would happen next.
No. 15 TCU topped No. 7 Oklahoma State 44-31 on the Cowboys’ home field to upset the perceived power structure in the Big 12. Before Saturday, the hierarchy went Oklahoma, then the Cowboys, then TCU. The Horned Frogs now move into second, meaning few games remaining across the Power Five conferences hold more intrigue than the team’s Nov. 11 matchup with the Sooners.
That’s down the road. But who’s beating TCU before then? The Horned Frogs’ next five games come against West Virginia, Kansas State, Kansas, Iowa State and Texas. Maybe they’ll lose once, if that. Either way, the November date with OU will have significant College Football Playoff implications.
Here are the rest of Saturday’s winners and losers in college football:
Miami (Fla.). Miami showed little rust in a 52-30 win against Toledo, the team’s first game in three weeks as a result of Hurricane Irma and its aftermath. The Hurricanes look the part of a top-20 team. Don’t ignore the score because of the competition: Toledo is really good, actually, as one of the top three or four teams on the Group of Five ranks.
North Carolina State. Big things — or bigger things, at least — were expected of N.C. State heading into September. A loss to South Carolina to open the year tempered those expectations. But the Wolfpack have responded with three wins in a row, with the latest Saturday’s 27-21 victory at Florida State. The Atlantic Coast Conference is Clemson’s league to lose, but N.C. State could make things interesting.
Texas Tech. Kliff Kingsbury has long dream of teaming his powerful offense with an efficient defense. Maybe this is the year. Texas Tech slowed down Houston in a 27-24 win to move to 3-0, a start that eases the pressure on Kingsbury and paints the Red Raiders as a dark-horse contender for one of the top four spots in the Big 12 Conference.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions piled up yards but had trouble scoring TDs against Iowa’s stout defense. But, after falling behind 19-15, Penn State mounted a 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, scoring a TD on the final play to escape Kinnick Stadium. All the goals, such as Big Ten title and College Football Playoff, are still out there.
UCF. The Knights’ 38-10 win over Maryland validates their place alongside Navy, Memphis and South Florida at the top of the American Athletic Conference. Nebraska fans took note of the win: UCF head coach Scott Frost was the starting quarterback on the Cornhuskers’ title-winning team in 1997.
Georgia. The Bulldogs made a resounding statement that they are the class of the SEC East with a 31-3 thumping of Mississippi State. Everything worked for Georgia, starting with a flea-flicker for a TD on the the Dawgs’ first play from scrimmage.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils needed a win. Big time. And they got one, knocking off resurgent Oregon 37-35.
Butch Jones. It’s nice to notch a victory, even if against UMass. After last week’s heartbreaking setback to rival Florida, the Volunteers needed to get back in the win column. Mission accomplished, I guess. But to need all of the 60 minutes for a 17-13 win against the Minutemen, which entered Saturday having lost 14 of 15 against FBS competition, will only add volume to the chorus calling for Jones’ ouster early in his fifth season.
Florida State. The loss to N.C. State dropped the Seminoles to 0-2 for the first time since 1989. That team rolled off 10 wins in a row following the ugly start to finish in the top five. This year’s FSU won’t repeat that feat. The program run by Jimbo Fisher remains one of the nation’s elite, so this isn’t some sign of a rocky future — it’s just that FSU lost its quarterback, Deondre Francois, and will struggle in 2017 as a result.
Bret Bielema. No fact encapsulates the utter disappointment that is Bielema’s tenure at Arkansas quite like this: He is 0-5 against Kevin Sumlin and Texas A&M. Sumlin has been on the hot seat for the better part of three seasons. What does that say about Bielema? That he has a $15.4 million buyout (it dips to roughly $11.7 million after Jan. 1) makes it complicated.
Vanderbilt’s defense. Derek Mason is one of college football’s top defensive minds. That still wasn’t enough to stop a 59-0 mauling at the hands of Alabama. Going against the nation’s top-ranked defense in scoring and yards allowed per game, the Crimson Tide racked up 677 total yards, a whopping 496 on the ground, and 38 first downs.
Kentucky: The Wildcats absolutely were going to end their 30-game losing streak to Kentucky this time. And they led by 13 in the fourth quarter. Alas, it wasn’t to be. Florida scored two TDs late, and a 57-yard field goal — thanks in part to a holding penalty after Kentucky had driven to the Florida 25 in the closing seconds — fell short. Now it’s 31 in a row.