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Nuggets: Penn State survives a trip to the Twilight Zone, and other thoughts from Week 4

1. Kinnick Stadium at night is college football's version of the Twilight Zone. Iowa regularly forces Top 5-ranked visitors to run in the mud in Iowa City, as evidenced by upsets of No. 3 Penn State in 2008, No. 5 Michigan State in 2010 and No. 3 Michigan last season. It's like The Ghost of Football Past somehow injects five pounds of lactic acid into every opposing player's muscles each time a Top 5 team crosses the Iowa City borders or something. No. 4 Penn State was in another upside down game on Saturday night, where a career night from Saquon Barkley (358 all-purpose yards) and 514 yards of total offense somehow translated into only 15 points when Penn State took over at its own 20 with 1:42 to play and a 4-point deficit.

Trace McSorely channeled his Baker Mayfield North abilities, converting a do-or-die 4th-and-2 near midfield and moving the Nittany Lions into a do-or-die-again situation, a 4th-and-goal from the seven with four seconds remaining.

His pass could not have been more perfect.

Penn State survived by the microfibers on the hair of its chin, but greater challenges await. The Lions get Indiana and Northwestern over the next two weeks. After that? Michigan and at Ohio State in consecutive weeks. 2. TCU is for real. Since there are so few games -- I think the CFP selection committee requires us to call them "data points" now -- in college football, there's a tendency to digest upsets by assuming the team that got beat must not have been that good in the first place. TCU's 44-31 upset of Oklahoma State doesn't mean the Cowboys were a fraud. It means TCU is that good. The Frogs have found a formula that will work for them as long as they can replicate it, because it has worked for every team that has been able to accomplish said formula since the game was invented: they run the ball and they get after you on defense. After rushing 42 times for 195 yards and four touchdowns in a 28-7 win in Fayetteville two weeks ago, the Frogs went to Stillwater and rushed 52 times for 238 yards and four more scores while forcing Mason Rudolph into three turnovers -- a fumble and a pick that led to TCU scores, and another pick that halted any last-gasp comeback attempt. Oh, and there is this.

3. You can take your pick of the most impressive Nick Saban-Alabama stats, but I like this one. There are the 117 wins over the past nine seasons and counting, the nine straight top-10 finishes, the four national championships, the 26-7 record against AP Top 10 teams, or the record streak of 10 straight seasons with at least one AP No. 1 ranking, but I like this one: 68 straight wins over unranked opponents. To me, nothing epitomizes the metronomic brilliance of Saban's Process simply like never, ever losing games you absolutely should not lose. Alabama has not fallen to an unranked foe since Nov. 24, 2007, a 17-10 loss to Auburn that served as the final setback in a 6-game Iron Bowl losing streak. (How many decades will it be before Alabama loses six straight Iron Bowls again?)

And while it's utter folly to suggest Alabama was at risk of losing to unranked Vanderbilt, it didn't seem insane to imagine a tight game, maybe 14-7 Tide lead with Vandy having a can-they-really-do-this chance at a tying drive late in the fourth quarter. (Or maybe we're all that bored with Bama's brilliance.) After all, this Vanderbilt defense looked really good against Middle Tennessee and Kansas State!

Yeah, that didn't happen. The Tide essentially put the game out of reach on Bo Scarborough's 6-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and piled it on from there, leading 21-0 after one, 31-0 at the half and 59-0 at the final gun. It was one of the biggest blowout wins in Alabama history.

4. We probably already know Alabama's SEC Championship opponent. As mentioned above, you may be tempted to downgrade Mississippi State's 30-point beatdown of LSU after Georgia whipped Mississippi State 31-3 on Saturday night. Don't. Even if that LSU win doesn't impress you, consider that the same Louisiana Tech team that very nearly beat South Carolina in Columbia on Saturday was housed 57-21 by Dan Mullen and company in Ruston. That said, Georgia's defense looked positively, well, Alabama-like against Mississippi State. Kirby Smart's defense limited Nick Fitzgerald to 83 yards on 29 passing attempts with two interceptions. An offense that averaged 493 yards per game fell more than 200 yards shy of that number, and Jake Fromm was an ultra-efficient 9-of-12 for 201 yards with two touchdowns and no picks, aided by Jim Chaney's brilliant flea flicker call on Georgia's first offensive snap that turned into a 59-yard score. Look at Georgia's remaining schedule and point out where you see a loss coming. 5. Texas A&M beats Arkansas. Again. The Aggies and Hogs resumed their Southwest Conference rivalry in 2009 with the opening of AT&T Stadium. Arkansas won each of the three meetings that were played as non-conference games, when A&M was still in the Big 12. Then the Aggies joined the SEC, and everything changed. The series returned to campus sites as A&M transitioned into the SEC, and Johnny Manziel pushed the Aggies to easy wins in 2012 and '13. The games Jerry Jones's palace in 2014, and each year has seen a repeat version of the same game.

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  • 2014: Arkansas leads 28-14 entering the fourth quarter, A&M wins 35-28 in overtime.
  • 2015: Arkansas holds a 21-13 lead and the ball in A&M territory with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, A&M wins 28-21 in overtime.
  • 2016: In a break from monotony, Arkansas watches a 17-10 second quarter lead turn into a 45-24 loss.

And this brings us to Saturday. Arkansas led 21-7 in the second quarter, and 36-33 with 5:21 to play, and 43-30 with 3:39 to play, and could have won the game in regulation with a 4th-and-2 stop with 1:53 to play. Yet again, Kevin Sumlin pulled the football away from Bret Bielema at the last moment as A&M knocked in a field goal to send the game to overtime, scored in the top of the first overtime and intercepted Hogs quarterback Austin Allen in the end zone to seal it. Ags 50, Hogs 43. If there's one way to expire a fan base's patience, it's losing to the same opponent in the same way over and over again. And speaking of that... 6. Florida beats Kentucky. Again. Every Kentucky fan had to know how it was going to end. And deep down, you have to wonder if Kentucky's players and coaches harbored the same thoughts. After Austin McGinnis booted in a 50-yard field goal, all Kentucky had to do was be 12 points or fewer worse than Florida over the game's final 11:33 to end Big Blue's 30-game losing streak to Florida. What happened from there:

  • An 80-yard Florida touchdown drive.
  • A Kentucky three-and-out.
  • A 58-yard Florida touchdown drive, completed when the 'Cats did not have enough men on the field to cover a wide open wide receiver.

Kentucky momentarily raced the ball to the Florida 25-yard line, but a holding penalty pushed the ball 20 yards in the wrong direction and Austin MacGinnis's 57-yard field goal came up short.

7. The most shocking result of the weekend came on Friday night. Put simply, I didn't think Virginia had it in itself to cross the country and spank Boise State, and I didn't think it was possible for Boise State to get blown out on its own blue carpet. Neither did anyone else, as the Broncos entered the game a 2-touchdown favorite.

And yet: Virginia 42, Boise State 23.

The Hoos out-rushed the Broncos 167-30 and led 42-14 until the final two minutes of the game. It was Boise State's worst home loss since 2001, Chris Petersen's first season... as offensive coordinator. Boise is still a good program, but just that -- good. The Broncos are in the midst of a 3-game losing streak to Power 5 programs (two of them blowouts) and 5-5 overall in their last 10 games.

8. The Super 16. The Nuggets is honored to once again vote in this year's FWAA-NFF Super 16 poll. Here's this week's ballot.

  1. Clemson
  2. Alabama
  3. Oklahoma
  4. Washington
  5. Penn State
  6. TCU
  7. Georgia
  8. USC
  9. Michigan
  10. Oklahoma State
  11. Wisconsin
  12. Ohio State
  13. Mississippi State
  14. Virginia Tech
  15. Louisville
  16. Auburn

9. Odds and Ends

a. NC State went to Tallahassee and beat Florida State, the Wolfpack's last win over a ranked team since the last time they went to Tallahassee and beat Florida State. It's also the second straight year Florida State has lost to a Tar Heel State team. Hurricane Irma and the Injury Gods have had a lot to say about it, but it feels wild that we're headed into Week 5 and Florida State hasn't won a game yet.

b. Speaking of the Tar Heel State, Wake Forest may be the best team in North Carolina.

c. Another school that would have something to say about that? Duke. The Blue Devils are also 4-0 after a 27-17 win over North Carolina in Chapel Hill. d. Cal hung tough with USC before falling, 30-20. Justin Wilcox should be on your Coach of the Year radar, or at least your First Year Coach of the Year radar. e. The question about USC after last week's Texas escape: What team is this really? We're beginning to find out. It's a team that plays like a Top 5 team only when it absolutely has to do so. The Trojans go to Pullman on Friday night in what should be a fascinating game. e. San Diego State had to rally from three separate deficits to remain undefeated, surviving Air Force 28-24 in Colorado Springs. f. South Florida was expected to be the best Group of 5 team in the country, but it may not be the best Group of 5 team on I-4. Central Florida went to Maryland and whipped the Texas-beating Terps, 38-10. Rushing yards: UCF 250, Maryland 42. g. FCS over FBS, though this one is kinda weird: Western Illinois 52, Coastal Carolina 10. h. Georgia State blanked Charlotte 28-0, handing Shawn Elliott his first win as a head coach. i. Best game you didn't see: Louisiana-Monroe 56, Louisiana-Lafayette 50 in double overtime. The Warhawks blew a 43-22 fourth quarter lead before recovering for the win. j. Second best game you didn't see: Idaho 29, South Alabama 23 in double overtime. The Vandals scored with 10 seconds left to force overtime, then capitalized on a missed field goal to win it in the second extra frame. k. Can't say I expected to see this on Saturday.

l. Remember that time you were 17 years old and started a game at quarterback against an ACC team? Steven Williams, Jr., does. The young man went 8-of-26 for 85 yards and an interception and led his Old Dominion team in rushing with six carries for 24 yards in a 38-0 loss at Virginia Tech.

m. Going on the road in conference produces weird results. After losing to San Diego State and Texas Tech, Arizona State knocked off undefeated Oregon 37-35 in Tempe.

n. Texas Tech defensive coordinator David Gibbs should be a dark horse Defensive Coordinator of the Year candidate -- or, perhaps, a Defensive Coordinator of September candidate. The Red Raiders completed a 3-0 non-conference season by going to Houston and winning, 27-24. Tech limited Houston to 110 rushing yards on 31 carries. The last time Texas Tech won on the road while scoring less than 30 points? Sept. 29, 2012.

o. In the hottest rivalry that you probably didn't know was a rivalry, Oklahoma survived a scare from Baylor, 49-41. Zach Smith hit 33-of-50 throws for 463 yards with four touchdowns and no picks for the Bears.

10. And finally... A Division III record 37,000 people -- beating the unofficial previous record by 20,000 -- showed up to the Minnesota Twins' Target Field watch St. John's beat St. Thomas, 20-17. God bless college football.