There was a telling stat that flashed on the screen as the Penn State Nittany Lions fell to No. 8 Michigan. They’re now 2-11 against top-10 opponents during James Franklin’s eight-year tenure.
On its face, that seems to be an indictment of Franklin’s ability to win big games. There’s absolutely some truth to that, though it’s a bit simplistic as all but the very best teams are going to have losing records against the top 10. No doubt 2-11 looks awful, though.
It’s also true that not all losses are equal. Consider that Penn State is 0-3 against Iowa, Ohio State and Michigan this season with the losses by a combined 16 points. Two of those games were on the road. The four previous losses to the Buckeyes were by a combined 26 points with two of them being by one point.
Even the Nittany Lions’ other loss – the now-infamous nine-OT game against Illinois – was by only two points.
Yes, there’s no moral victories. The Lions are close, though, and that’s where Franklin comes in. He seems to be a magnet for critics who relish his failures while failing to acknowledge his achievements at Vanderbilt and his rebuilding of Penn State.
Franklin has talked about taking the step to being elite being the hardest one for a program. The obvious areas that have needed addressing are offensive line and quarterback so the offense can be dynamic enough to score and possess the ball against the best defenses. That would go a long way toward overcoming these close losses that see Penn State playing its guts out for 60 minutes and falling short. For those eager to see Franklin leave so someone better comes in … you’ll find yourself very disappointed should that happen.
A loss was coming Sooner or later
There’s a reason the College Football Playoff committee had Oklahoma ranked No. 8, despite the Sooners being one of two unbeatens left in the Power Five at the start of the weekend. Oklahoma just wasn’t that good, even if it had a 17-game winning streak that was longer than any team in the FBS. None of its first five defeats against Bowl Subdivision teams were by more than one score. The Sooners required late stops and monumental comebacks that kept the record flawless but revealed true flaws in this team.
Then came the switch to Caleb Williams at quarterback with Spencer Rattler struggling. The true freshman had led OU to three consecutive double-digit wins, inspiring talk of a possible Heisman run and resurgence for Oklahoma on both sides of the ball.
It was all fool’s gold, though. Williams and the Sooners hadn’t been tested in a tough road environment against a team that was going to punch them in the mouth for four quarters. And that’s what Baylor effectively did. The Bears dominated on both lines of scrimmage, outrushing Oklahoma 296-78.
They put the onus on Williams to beat them with a defense that had his receivers covered for most of the game. Williams couldn’t deliver in what was his worst game as a college player. He threw for just 146 yards – much of those on a cosmetic touchdown drive – and had two interceptions.
That he struggled shouldn’t be a surprise. There are always highs and lows as young quarterbacks develop. When that happens, the rest of the team has to pick him up. That’s where Oklahoma couldn’t deliver. The offensive line couldn’t take the pressure off by establishing the run. The defense played solid for most of the game, allowing just 10 points until the final quarter. The unit then wilted after the punches thrown by Baylor took effect.
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It’s a disappointment for a program with such high expectations. It’s also potentially an enlightening moment of how far it still has to go. Wins can paper over deep-rooted issues. Oklahoma must recognize them and make the needed adjustments or its run of six consecutive Big 12 titles will be over soon.
Wake me up when it’s over
One more win in its final two games and Wake Forest is in the ACC title game. That’s the microcosm of this wild and unpredictable college football season.
This is no fluke, however. The Demon Deacons will score on everybody. They had put up 157 points in three games before facing North Carolina State in a game that was going to decide the Atlantic division leader. Wake put up 45 on the Wolfpack, who were fifth in scoring defense at 16 points per game.
The defense doesn’t have to be great when the offense is this good. One or two stops in a half might be enough because the Demon Deacons offense can really only stop itself. That’s what happened in the loss to North Carolina last week.
Ahead in Week 12 is a trip to Clemson. You have to like Wake’s chances given how poorly the Tigers have played on offense this season. Yes, Clemson will score some but so will the Demon Deacons. Nobody has held them under 35. Only two have held them below 40. Wake fans might want to start making some travel plans to Charlotte in December.
Utah holds the keys to College Football Playoff chaos
Oklahoma’s loss has created a new outlook to the playoff picture.
Georgia being in the semifinals seems inevitable with its dominance worth an at-large berth in the field even if it loses in the SEC title game. The Big Ten winner seems assured if it is Michigan or Ohio State. Cincinnati seems a shoo-in if the Bearcats can avoid a loss. That leaves one spot for someone to grab.
The problem is that there is no clear favorite for the last spot. Oregon will stay in the top four of the committee rankings. Ahead for the Ducks are two expected games against Utah. The first will be next week in Salt Lake City and a second in the Pac-12 title game, barring something strange happening. It seems doubtful Oregon can pull off the sweep.
So where does that leave the rest of the contenders? Oklahoma’s slip puts Oklahoma State in the best position in the Big 12. Wake Forest is the only one-loss team in the ACC. Notre Dame is lurking out there as a possible one-loss team at the end. A two-loss Alabama might be considered if it doesn’t win the SEC.
It’s exactly the scenario that probably causes problems for the committee, but will create an amazing debate on Dec. 5. Now Utah just has to deliver by winning one of those games.