College Football, Week 13: Stay Gold

It was too impeccably constructed to last. Heading into Week 11, we had five contenders, one undefeated team from each of college football’s most powerful conferences, humming happily in the rarefied air of the BCS standings’ uppermost reaches. The fact that we were even presented with that scenario as far into the season as the second weekend of November was a minor miracle in itself. But Week 11 took out then–no. 3 Oregon and Week 13 did in another top-five outfit, Baylor.

It’s so monstrously difficult to string together an undefeated college football season when there are so many moving parts, so many fragile parts. There’s a team in Tuscaloosa currently gunning for a third consecutive national title, and it hasn’t managed to pull off a perfect year in either of its past two championship runs. Things happen. Every once in a while, they all happen at the same time.

We Went There: No. 10 Oklahoma State 49, No. 4 Baylor 17

Stillwater can sneak up on a person, particularly one who’s never been. Here are our driving directions to Oklahoma State from Oklahoma City: highway, highway, ’nother highway, drive drive drive, cow, creek, Cow Creek, BLAMMO LOOKIT A STADIUM.

Stillwater football can have the same effect. Remember Week 12 and the standard to which Baylor’s opponents have needed to hold themselves? How every punt, every chain measure that comes up just short, every instance of settling for a field goal has been an assurance of defeat because the Bears have been automatic scoring threats every time they’ve gotten the ball back, and how that has opened gaps nobody’s been able to close? You are cordially welcomed to the flip side. It’s very, very cold over here.

“It’s always little things,” said freshly shellacked Bears quarterback Bryce Petty. “They just all happened at once.”

The little things began accumulating long before the Bears even crossed state lines, and it’s a mark of roster quality that Baylor could make losing Lache Seastrunk, Glasco Martin, and Tevin Reese look like no big deal for even a couple of games. Middle linebacker Bryce Hager didn’t dress Saturday night. Starting left tackle Spencer Drago was just ruled out for the rest of the year owing to a need for back surgery.

There were factors already built into the game that would make life more difficult for the Bears: the road trip, not a Baylor strong suit to begin with; the fiendishly hostile crowd in Boone Pickens Stadium; the bitter cold and punishing wind.

There were also the little things the Bears did to themselves, beginning with their second offensive possession, when Petty took off from the Cowboys’ 28-yard line, bolting for 27 yards toward the end zone only to fall over what looked like nothing at all and slide the rest of the way on his stomach for precisely no points. His torso left a visible skid mark on the turf. Weirded out but undaunted, the Bears lined up at the 1, sent Shock Linwood up the middle to no effect, and tried Linwood again on second-and-goal. That’s about when Linwood decided to stretch for the plane, and here is how that worked out. Seven plays and 99 yards later, Baylor had gone from “precisely no points” to “negative-seven points.” All for want of one (little!) yard, that first unraveling thread.

None of this is to suggest that the Cowboys were passive participants in their own signature win. Baylor might have overcome the luck and the little things had it not been playing an Oklahoma State outfit so far removed from the team that lost in Morgantown in September. Clint Chelf, benched in the season opener before returning to starting duty several weeks ago, played like the living embodiment of that interminable Blur song, just the chorus, over and over again, WOO HOO WOO HOO WOO HOO, hitting deep ball after deep ball in the crackling chill. Him, and OSU’s defensive front playing like a school of piranhas. Them, and Tracy Moore’s hands defying meddling intrusions, the weather, and occasionally physics. It’s another minor miracle, and a credit to Baylor’s third-down defense, that this game stayed close on the scoreboard for as long as it did, even though it hadn’t felt close since Petty’s red zone slip-'n'-slide.

And then in the second half, Mike Gundy and his bloody-minded band began showing off some little things of their own. Big things, too, but what hurts more? A bad beat on a long bomb, or this?

Trick question. It’s this.

“You can’t do that,” Art Briles said afterward. He was talking about an Antwan Goodley touchdown getting called back for a step out of bounds, but he could have meant any of it. “You can’t do that at home, you can’t do that on the road, and you can’t do it against a good team on the road, and that is what happened tonight.

“Without question there are rodeos, and this is not their first.”

Big 12

All that said: What happened Saturday doesn’t make the first nine games of Baylor’s season less meaningful. These squads are the class of the conference, and to write off the Bears now is (a) dumb, and (b) takes away from Oklahoma State’s sterling game planning and stupendous execution. The Big 12 has joined the Pac-12 in cannibalizing itself out of the national title game, but both the Bears and the Cowboys are bound for prestigious bowl bids, and they’ll have been well earned.

More immediately: Last week’s exhortation not to miss BU-OSU carries over to Week 15, the vestigial tail of the college football season and the Saturday on which the Big 12 counterprograms other leagues’ conference championship games with its own regular-season finales. Two of those contests, though not championship games in name, could determine the league winner: If Baylor beats TCU and Texas beats Texas Tech in Week 14, the Bears, Longhorns, and Cowboys will take identical 7-1 conference records into their final regular-season games, and at least one of the three will be knocked down a rung with Texas and Baylor playing each other. Oklahoma State, which holds the head-to-head advantage over both teams, will take the conference title with a win over Oklahoma on December 7, and if Saturday’s atmosphere is any indication, you owe it to yourselves as sports fans not to miss this year’s Bedlam.

No. 20 Oklahoma 41, Kansas State 31. Speaking of the Pokes’ last remaining regular-season impediment: Saturday’s victory saw Bob Stoops notch two wins. The first, over Kansas State, was his 158th as head coach of the Sooners, and it pushed him past Barry Switzer on the all-time program wins list. The second, against much steeper odds, saw him elude his own players attempting to bathe him in sports drink. Congrats on both counts.

Pac-12

Arizona-Oregon

Talk about delusions too beautiful to last: The dream of Ed Orgeron, Pac-12 South champion, has departed. The Trojans fulfilled their bit of the bargain with a frosty trouncing of Colorado, but Arizona State’s victory over UCLA secured the division title for the Sun Devils regardless of the outcome of the Arizona and Los Angeles rivalry games still to come in Week 14. Farewell, sweet specter.

No. 17 Arizona State 38, no. 14 UCLA 33. All due respect to the Bruins for clawing their way back to a one-score game: This was a 35-13 contest at the half, advantage Sun Devils. UCLA-ASU is making something of a habit of going down to the wire; this year’s iteration featured a missed Ka’imi Fairbairn field goal with just less than five minutes to play and two sacks plus 20 yards of holding penalties on the Bruins’ final drive to maintain Arizona State’s lead. Myles Jack, because you’re wondering, had 16 carries for 86 yards and a score, but the offensive show was stolen by ASU’s Taylor Kelly, who completed 20 of 27 passes for 225 yards and a score and added 99 yards rushing and another touchdown. Beat Arizona and the Sun Devils will host the Pac-12 championship game.

No. 9 Stanford 63, Cal 13. The Golden Bears’ defense was the perfect balm for the Cardinal’s stinging post-USC wounds. The elaborately casual postgame burn from Stanford QB Kevin Hogan: “It was fun to get the passing game going, especially the way they were playing defensively, allowing us to throw the ball, trying to take away the run game.” Hogan proceeded to throw 329 yards’ worth of football passes and five touchdowns. His previous season high: 286 and three touchdowns.

Arizona 42, no. 5 Oregon 16. Also soothing, when one has played one’s way out of a potential Rose Bowl appearance, as Stanford had: Allowing one’s fiercest division rival to put one back into the conference championship game. This upset had a little something for everyone: Marcus Mariota’s extraordinary INT-free streak snapped in extraordinary fashion! A 200-yard game from Ka’Deem Carey! Almost certainly some vengeful spirits lurking on the sideline!

Washington State 49, Utah 37. The Utes continue to be the difference-makers in their conference-mates’ seasons for all kinds of reasons; in this case, Utah helped the Cougars become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2006.

Washington 69, Oregon State 27. Y’all know what we get to credit for this, right?

Big Ten

In further clinching news, another conference championship game is already set: Michigan State and Ohio State are on course for a smashy showdown in Indianapolis. The division titles were claimed with little fanfare, with the Buckeyes playing Indiana and the Spartans tasked with mopping up whatever’s left of Northwestern, but a couple must-see highlights:

No. 3 Ohio State 42, Indiana 14. Braxton Miller, aerialist, Cirque du Broleil:

No. 13 Michigan State 30, Northwestern 6. Let any game in which your team is on the receiving end of a Michigan State offensive highlight serve as a dire warning:

No. 19 Wisconsin 20, no. 25 Minnesota 7. James White: fourth straight triple-digit rushing performance, and eight total on the year. Wisconsin: new owners of the longest streak in series history. Chris Borland: going to be a very rich dude in his postcollegiate career. Minnesota’s scoreboard operator: aware of all Internet traditions.

SEC

Georgia 59, Kentucky 17. The final indignity in a season absolutely overflowing with them: Aaron Murray’s career at Georgia has been cut short. Cut short by a game and a half in the regular season plus a bowl appearance, but that’s not going to help the hurt. Murray was taken to the locker room near the end of the second quarter, and Georgia announced Sunday night that the senior quarterback will have season-ending surgery this week on his ACL. Murray tore it on a run in the second quarter, without contact, which always seems to make these injuries more capricious, more cruel, somehow. He came in for another series after that, and had to be helped off the field. Murray exited Sanford Stadium for the last time having already thrown four touchdown passes and becoming just the fourth player in FBS history to string together four 3,000-yard seasons. (To say nothing of surviving this long into 2013 as a Georgia offensive player without previous catastrophic injury.) It’s not called feelingsball, but right now we just can’t seem to convince ourselves.

No. 22 LSU 34, no. 12 Texas A&M 10. No matter the state of his personnel, LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis does seem to have the measure of Johnny Manziel, who completed less than 50 percent of his passes for the first time in his career and refused to blame it on his injured thumb.

No. 8 Missouri 24, no. 24 Ole Miss 10. Glory be: Somebody wants to win the SEC East. The 2013 Fightin’ Ackbars have been frequently pesky and occasionally poisonous to conference rivals, but the Tigers never trailed by less than a touchdown after Henry Josey’s four-yard score less than three minutes into the first quarter. Fellow SEC neophyte A&M is all that stands between Mizzou and Atlanta.

Georgia Southern 26, Florida 20. No, not Regular Georgia. No, not even the GSU that plays in the Sun Belt. Florida lost, in the Swamp, to a team that’s currently 4-4 in the SoCon. The Eagles recorded zero passing yards and 429 rushing yards. We’ll come back to this game in a little bit, but first, just marinate uncomfortably in this image:

Strange days we live in. Strange days.

ACC

IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE PROPHECIES, it’s win-and-you’re-in time for the emerging Duke football juggernaut. ACC mad scientist Patrick Stevens has updated his ever-narrowing set of Coastal Division scenarios, by which the Blue Devils, Virginia Tech, Miami, and even Georgia Tech all still have a shot at staring down Florida State in Charlotte.

Duke 28, Wake Forest 21. It would be ostentatious of the Blue Devils to just waltz into the conference championship game, after all. Please enjoy this snuggly Jamison Crowder touchdown over a hot midmorning chai latte.

Boston College 29, Maryland 26. That notice–Andre Williams train is rumbling downhill after a 263-yard outing that put him well over 2,000 rushing yards on the season. Saturday’s performance was Williams’s fifth 200-plus-yard game of 2013.

Pitt 17, Syracuse 16. Underheralded ACC postseason hardware candidate of the year, defense edition: Panthers defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who recorded 3.5 tackles for loss, two QB hurries, and a blocked PAT versus the Orange.

AAC

No. 18 UCF 41, Rutgers 17. This was a Thursday-night game, but on the off chance you haven’t seen Storm Johnson, watch Storm Johnson.

UConn 28, Temple 21. A 59-yard pick-six with less than five minutes to play pulled the Huskies out of the winless bin.

Profiles in Profiteroles

Derek-Carr

Both BCS-bustin’ hopefuls remain upright, with Northern Illinois topping Toledo in weeknight #MACtion, Fresno State annihilating New Mexico on Saturday afternoon, and the Huskies and Bulldogs slotting in at nos. 14 and 16, respectively, in this week’s BCS standings.

No. 15 Fresno State 69, New Mexico 28. Derek Carr’s Senior Day totals: 527 passing yards, seven touchdowns. Never ones to make blowouts all business, the Bulldogs also planned a fumblerooski touchdown for fellow senior Isaiah Burse.

San Diego State 34, Boise State 31 (OT). Week 4’s Fresno-Boise tilt remains one of the best games we’ve seen all year, but after Week 13, a rematch in the Mountain West championship game is slipping away. The Broncos could still take the Mountain Division, but only with a Week 14 Utah State loss to Wyoming. And while we’re wallowing in regret: How much would you have loved to see a Derek Carr–Chuckie Keeton quarterbacking duel in that league title game?

East Carolina 42, NC State 28. Conference USA West is a tangle of Rice, Tulane, and UTSA at the moment, but there’s a play-in game for the East Division title this Friday between East Carolina and Marshall. Trouble choosing a side? How do you feel about pirate puns?

Grape Job!

Grape-Job

The subtitle for this section formerly read, “We’re sure you tried your best,” but when a program earns Grape Job! accolades two weeks in a row, that can no longer be written with confidence. You might call this piling on. We might point out that Florida is trying quite visibly here to pile onto itself:

The horror. The horror.

Filed Under: College Football