Oklahoma's defense came up short in Saturday's shocking 48-41 loss at Kansas State, sending the Sooners reeling in the College Football Playoff race and calling into question whether the Big 12 will be represented in December's national semifinals.
The defeat ends one of the most impressive streaks in college football: Oklahoma hadn't lost a true road game since falling to TCU on Oct. 4, 2014. The 22-game winning streak was the longest in the Bowl Subdivision.
There was reason for optimism surrounding the Sooners' defense. New coordinator Alex Grinch had a profound impact during the team's unbeaten start, trimming the defense's per-play average by one full yard compared to a year ago — OU entered Saturday ranked 37th nationally in yards allowed per snap — and molding together a unit that seemingly meshed with an offense once again ranked among the nation's best.
Stranger still, the defense entered Saturday playing its best football of the season: OU gave up just 242 yards across 64 plays in last week's 52-14 win against West Virginia, and had nine sacks in the rivalry win against Texas on Oct. 12.
Then came Kansas State, with a ball-control offense that negated the Sooners' greatest asset — keeping Jalen Hurts and the offense on the sidelines — while taking advantage of two OU turnovers. In all, the Wildcats gained 428 yards on 72 plays, 215 coming on the ground across 44 carries, and possessed the ball for more than 37 minutes.
Conversely, the Sooners ran only 53 plays and trailed 48-23 two minutes into the fourth quarter before a burst of scoring to draw within a touchdown. While Hurts threw for 395 yards and added another 96 on the ground, the rest of Oklahoma's running game combined for just six yards on seven carries.
So there's the blueprint for beating the Sooners: Don't let the Oklahoma offense operate. In this case, Kansas State operated the blueprint nearly to perfection while the Sooners' defense was unable to hold up its end of the bargain.
For the first time this season, one of the gold-standard postseason contenders has stumbled. It had been the status quo since August for teams such as the Sooners, Clemson, Alabama, LSU and Ohio State — but now the playoff race takes on a different feel heading into November.
One of the big winners, beyond the Wildcats themselves, might be Oregon. The current Pac-12 Conference favorite had been shipped to the outskirts of the playoff chase after losing in the opener to Auburn. In the weeks since, however, the Ducks have built a case for being included among the best teams in the FBS. Now Oregon finds a potential path for eventually joining the top four, at Oklahoma's expense.
Here are the rest of Saturday's winners and losers:
If everything ends up according to plan for the Wildcats' new coaching staff — and there are some major expectations surrounding first-year coach Chris Klieman, formerly of North Dakota State — Saturday's win will be seen as the turning point. Well, obviously. But Kansas State's style of play, with its more methodical offensive approach and dedicated running game, seems almost an outlier in a conference built around offensive ingenuity along with speed and tempo. After losing two in a row to open Big 12 play, the Wildcats are now 5-2 and a lock for a return to the postseason, with the likelihood of drawing some attention in this week's Amway Coaches Poll.
The Buckeyes continue to impress. Saturday's 38-7 win against Wisconsin was once a close game, believe it or not, with sloppy weather and the Badgers' defense keeping Ohio State off the scoreboard until a field goal more than midway through the second quarter, though the Buckeyes added a touchdown before halftime. Then OSU flexed: Wisconsin scored a touchdown to make it 10-7 a few minutes in the second half and the Buckeyes responded by scoring the game's final 28 points to cruise to 8-0 heading into an off week to open November.
A second Ohio State item, in brief: Chase Young is beginning to build some Heisman Trophy momentum from his spot at defensive end, with a particularly disruptive performance against the Badgers' solid offensive line. While it's almost impossible to picture a defender winning the Heisman, Young has at least proved himself more than worthy of being the first overall pick in next year's NFL draft.
LSU passed another test, though Auburn made the unbeaten Tigers sweat. Auburn led 13-10 with five minutes left in the third quarter until Joe Burrow and the LSU offense began to wear down Auburn's defense with two scoring drives. While freshman quarterback Bo Nix led Auburn to late touchdown to draw within 23-20, the Auburn offense struggled — Nix ended his day with 15 completions in 35 attempts for 157 yards and the Tigers gained just 287 yards overall — while LSU rallied around Burrow, who hit on 32 of his 42 throws for 321 yards and a touchdown. LSU will have a week off before the winner-take-all matchup with Alabama on Nov. 9.
The Hoosiers are now 6-2 under coach Tom Allen after a 38-31 win at Nebraska, which has gone from preseason favorites in the Big Ten West to a team that will have to scramble to reach the postseason. While the Hoosiers don't seem to be in the same class as the best teams in the East Division, Allen has Indiana back in bowl play for the first time since 2016 with a shot at nine wins. The program hasn't won nine games since 1967, when the Hoosiers last won a Big Ten championship and reached the Rose Bowl.
While on the topic of things that don't make sense, the Big 12 saw three perceived front-runners lose on Saturday. The first was Oklahoma. Later, Texas lost 37-27 at TCU after another impressive performance by the Horned Frogs' freshman quarterback, Max Duggan, who looks the part of a multiple-year starter. That gives the Longhorns two losses in three games, sandwiching last week's 50-48 win against Kansas, and three losses overall. Worse yet, Iowa State suffered its second conference loss after falling 34-27 at home to Oklahoma State. That leaves just one team, Baylor, without a Big 12 loss. (As everyone predicted back in August.)
Saturday saw the Spartans trail 21-0 at halftime in a listless, rain-soaked 28-7 loss to surging Penn State. To put this team's offensive ineptitude into perspective: Michigan State ended the month of October with 17 points. That's 17 points, added up, across three games; Stanford scored 24 points in the second quarter of Saturday's 41-31 win against Arizona. The Spartans' offense has become an annual embarrassment and Dantonio can no longer afford keep ducking questions about the continued nosedive on this side of the ball.
Pittsburgh entered Saturday's matchup with reeling Miami (Fla.) with a good chance at drawing even with Virginia atop the division — though the Cavaliers own the tiebreaker — and maybe squeezing into the final spot or two of the Amway Coaches Poll. But this is the Coastal, where nothing goes according to plan. After the Hurricanes' 16-12 win and the Cavaliers' 28-21 loss to Louisville, six of the seven Coastal teams are either 3-2, 2-2 or 2-3 in league play. (Georgia Tech is the exception at 1-3 in the ACC.) There's still a shot at every team in the Coastal minus the Yellow Jackets finishing tied atop the conference standings come the end of November.