NUGGETS

A normal college football schedule in this time of year gives us around 70 games at the FBS level alone. This weekend gave us 20 — total. But that’s the thing about this beautiful sport. The lightest schedule in living memory still gives you a national championship contender fighting for its life by noon.

Oklahoma State’s title run nearly ended before it began. Mike Gundy’s team very much believes it’s contending for the Big 12 title this year, and therefore for a Playoff spot as well. That belief is built on an offense that returns Spencer Sanders, the most talented quarterback Gundy’s ever signed, plus a pair of skill players in Chuba Hubbard and Tylan Wallace who should probably be drawing NFL paychecks right now.

And then all of a sudden it was halftime, Sanders was out for the game with an undisclosed lower-body injury, Wallace didn’t have a catch, Hubbard was under three yards a carry and Oklahoma State trailed Tulsa, 7-3.

Make no mistake about it. With the Big Ten officially coming back in the fold, a team like Oklahoma State’s margin for error against opponents like Tulsa — especially with the Big 12’s middle and lower classes stumbling out of the gate — is zero. And with 15 minutes left in the opener, the Cowboys still trailed 7-3.

In fairness, this was a team playing with four new offensive line starters, with a coordinator in Kasey Dunn calling his first game, and with backup quarterback Ethan Bullock running the show for the first time in his career.

But when Bullock was intercepted trying to force a pass to Wallace at the Tulsa 24-yard line, Gundy and Dunn pulled him and put the game — their Playoff plans — on the shoulders of true freshman Shane Illingworth.

The freshman rewarded that faith, hitting Wallace for gains of 24 and 36 yards on the first and third passes of his career. His first drive ended in a touchdown, and Oklahoma State had juuuust enough to beat Tulsa, 16-7.

To be fair, Tulsa provided plenty of help on Saturday afternoon. The Golden Hurricane missed a 26-yard field goal, went 0-for-11 on third down, committed 15 penalties and struggled just as much with the play clock as they did the Oklahoma State defense.

The Pokes will take it. College football is the ultimate survive and advance sport, and this is the ultimate survive and advance season.

“I was proud of our team,” Gundy said afterward. “We got put in a unique situation there for a while and had to regroup particularly on offense. The defense was fabulous. Zero-for-12 on third down and one-for-four on fourth down is really the story of the game. We played well enough late to rally and get the guys the football that it needed to get to score points. I’m thrilled with the guys for fighting through all of the adversity and playing well enough to win the game at the end.”

Navy doesn’t sink. The puns were so obvious they basically wrote themselves. Capsized by a green wave, Navy was in real danger of watching its entire fleet drown in a driving New Orleans rain.

After losing 55-3 to BYU on Labor Day, Navy spent the next 12 days regrouping and retraining, then promptly fell behind Tulane 24-0 at the half. Opponents 79, Midshipmen 3. “We’re probably the cleanest team in the country (in terms of COVID-19) but unfortunately we suck at football right now,” Ken Niumatalolo said after the BYU game.

So, following six quarters of putrid football, Navy played near perfect football in the second half.

The defense forced three three-and-outs to start the half. The fourth, following a 63-yard punt down at the Tulane 1, resulted in a safety one snap later.

That score complimented Navy’s trademark quick-strike offense led by its lethal downfield passing attack. (Right?) The Middies’ three touchdown drives covered 187 yards in 15 plays and just 5:17 of clock time, including completions of 24, 44 and 32 yards, the latter of which set up the game-tying 2-point conversion.

Navy’s defense fended off the Wave with two fourth down stops inside their own territory, and the offense perfectly executed its final drive, moving 52 yards and eating up every second of the final 4:41 to set up Bijan Nichols’ 33-yard field goal as time expired.

It was the biggest comeback in Naval Academy history. Because of course it was.


FRIES

The Super 16. To the best of my knowledge, the first national poll to re-include the Big Ten. Take that, AP poll!

  1. Clemson
  2. Ohio State
  3. Alabama
  4. Georgia
  5. Oklahoma
  6. Texas
  7. Penn State
  8. LSU
  9. Notre Dame
  10. Florida
  11. Cincinnati
  12. North Carolina
  13. Central Florida
  14. Texas A&M
  15. Miami
  16. Auburn

Odds and Ends

a. A team that needs some of that Navy energy: Middle Tennessee. After losing 42-0 to Army last week, MTSU fell 47-14 at home to Troy on Saturday. The Blue Raiders will play a hastily scheduled non-conference game at fellow Conference USA member UTSA on Friday.

b. Speaking of UTSA, after going 21-39 as an assistant under Charlie Strong and Chad Morris, Jeff Traylor is on a personal 18-game winning streak as a head coach. Sixteen of those carry over from his 2014 Gilmer High School team, sure, but he’s off to a 2-0 start at UTSA.

c. It’s been a good year for new head coaches named Jeff. We’ve mentioned Traylor. Jeff Scott won his opener at South Florida last week, and Jeff Hafley led Boston College to a 26-6 victory over Duke on Saturday, making the club a perfect 3-for-3 in openers.

d. We’ve reached a level of gambling acceptance where it’s now cool for an official team account to mention the spread and no one pretends to be scandalized.

e. The Fighting Jeff Scotts experienced a rapid change of altitude from Week 1 to Week 2. The Bulls opened with a 27-6 win over The Citadel, but lost 52-0 to Notre Dame on Saturday.

f. Conference USA’s West Division is one of the most competitive races every year, and Louisiana Tech took a major step forward in rallying from 27-10 down in the third quarter to beat Southern Miss, 31-30. This is how it ended.

g. We’re hard on replay here at the Nuggets, but they got it right here.

h. UCF earned a transitive property win over Florida State in drumming Georgia Tech — who won in Tallahassee last week — 49-21. The Knights fell behind 7-0, went on a 28-0 run, saw Georgia Tech pull back within 28-21, then ended on a 21-0 run. Sophomore quarterback Dillon Gabriel went 27-of-41 for 417 yards with four scores and a pick.

i. It was bombs away for SMU against a depleted North Texas defense. Shane Buechele threw for 344 yards and four scores on 33 attempts, Ulyesses Bentley IV ran for 227 yards and three scores on 19 attempts and two wideouts topped 100 yards in a 65-35 win. The Ponies rolled up 710 yards on 8.45 a pop.

j. Technically speaking, Texas State’s 38-17 win over ULM was the school’s best since joining FBS.

k. Louisiana has been America’s most entertaining team through two weeks. Coming off the high of winning 31-14 at Iowa State, the Cajuns went back on the road to Georgia State and immediately fell behind 14-0. ULL rallied to take a 28-21 lead, led Georgia State tie it in regulation, then won it with a 12-yard Elijah Mitchell touchdown run, 34-31.

l. Miami scored 47 points and needed just 60 snaps to rack up 485 yards of offense. Then again, you don’t need many plays with busts like these. The Hurricanes scored second-half touchdowns of 75, 75 and 47 yards in a 47-34 win at Louisville.

m. Tim Beck had a great debut as NC State’s offensive coordinator. His Wolfpack rushed for 270 yards and threw for 191 more in a 45-42 win over Wake Forest. The win snaps a 6-game ACC losing streak for NC State.

n. Most turnover props are just that — props. This is a turnover activity.

Pitt has allowed 10 points through two games.

o. Syracuse quarterback Rex Culpepper tossed his first touchdown since beating cancer in 2018.

p. Marshall’s 17-7 win over No. 23 Appalachian State was the Thundering Herd’s first over an AP Top 25 opponent since 2003, its first since 2003 and third in school history. And it happened on CBS. The American, Sun Belt and C-USA all benefitted from pressing forward where other conferences pulled back.


DESSERT

Let’s close with three thoughts.

1. One thing I’ve learned from watching football on television the past three weeks: The difference between 100,000 fans and 10,000 is nothing compared to the difference between 10,000 fans and zero.

2. All summer, in my dark moments where it seemed like football might not happen, I thought back to the photo you see below and told myself, “Surely if they found a way to play 100 years ago, we can do it in 2020.” So this was cool to see.

3. The SEC begins play next week, the Big 12 and ACC get in full swing, and the Big Ten is coming. Let’s go.

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National columnist - Zach joined the staff in 2012...and has been attempting to improve Doug and Scott's writing ability ever since (to little avail). Outside of football season, you can find him watching the San Antonio Spurs reading Game of Thrones fan theories.