Give thanks for the actual playing of college football contests, because without laboratory disasters like Week 7’s meat extruder explosion, we'd have to be worlds more demented to create these story lines on our own. Missouri perches precariously atop the SEC East; Stanford is unexpectedly out of favor in the Pac-12 North race; Texas Tech is the first bowl-eligible team in the Big 12; and Oklahoma was on the butt-supplying end of a Red River spanking.
Take heart, adherents of college football outfits reeling this Monday from ignominious Saturday defeats: You have company. You have so much company. You are the sleeping arrangement scene from A Muppet Family Christmas, and some of you are going to have to crash in the bathtub.
It should be noted that on a Saturday littered with upsets, two of the three higher-ranked teams in Top 25 matchups delivered wins, while the third was battling unforeseeable circumstances beyond its control. We saw the best of these contenders secure a road win on the shore of Lake Washington, with a performance so fierce it was hard to come away unimpressed with the losing side.
We Went There: No. 2 Oregon 45, no. 16 Washington 24
Refrains of UW greatness are splashed on banners all around the inside of the freshly renovated Husky Stadium, and behind the home sideline there's a snatch of lyrics from the school fight song that reads "MIGHTY ARE THE MEN." It's difficult to disagree halfway through Steve Sarkisian's fifth campaign in Seattle, even following two consecutive Pac-12 North losses.
A week after taking one full on the sternum from Stanford, the Huskies held the Ducks to their lowest point total of the season, while scoring more points on Oregon than any opponent had managed thus far. It does help that Washington is the first Oregon opponent of the year that's any good at football, but regardless, there's a lot here for UW faithful to like: None of these scores were garbage scores. Washington went into the locker room after two quarters down 21-7, then scored 17 points in the third, 14 of them on 85 yards' worth of Bishop Sankey touchdown runs. That's not nothing, especially considering the well in which this program was mired at the start of Sarkisian's regime.
That's a lot of qualifications for a couple of paragraphs. If there are salient points to them, let them be a profound appreciation for the Pac-12 North and a sustained awe for Oregon, which is looking lethal under first-year head coach Mark Helfrich and operating under the command of the staggeringly poised and astoundingly fast Marcus Mariota.
You ever lose yourself in a stadium environment for just a minute, gaze down at the field, and admire the picture quality before you remember you're not watching television? There's a bit of cognitive dissonance that comes with seeing Mariota run; you have to actively remind yourself you're not looking at sped-up highlight film.
"The general plan," said Sarkisian afterward, "was to try to keep him in the pocket, and then when he ran the ball to make sure we always had somebody with their eyes on him to go tackle him. Unfortunately, when that happened, he ran away from our guys. And when we really tried to bring more people to keep him there he just threw accurate ball after accurate ball. What was our answer at this point?"
The answer, apparently, was "Marcus Mariota is going to complete 24 of 31 passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns, and run for 88 yards and another score, and he's going to do so without De'Anthony Thomas for the entire game and Josh Huff for part of it, and there's nothing you can do about it." Byron Marshall, in for Thomas, carried 19 times for 106 yards and two scores, while Huff scared the living daylights out of Oregon fans by leaving the field with what appeared to be a serious leg injury, then terrified Washington fans by returning to action and promptly catching a 65-yard touchdown to open the second half. Huff would finish with 107 yards and that touchdown, trailing only Bralon Addison, who caught eight balls for 157 yards and two scores.
Given all that, when is it appropriate to write a heroic ballad to a team that has just surrendered 631 yards of offense in a home loss to a division rival, the 10th consecutive such defeat? "When it's Washington" is a "because we said so" answer, but it's sincere and it's all we've got. As the stands emptied near the final whistle, Oregon fans stomped, whistled, and bellowed "10 MORE YEARS!" We'll see. Quack sera, sera.
That Did Not Go As Planned
• Utah 27, no. 5 Stanford 21. If you possess a human heart, you should feel it warming right about now to the tale of Utah quarterback Travis Wilson, who last week played against UCLA with the flu and threw six interceptions, and who this week was carried off the field by his own student section following a 23-of-34, 234-yard, two-touchdown performance, the main factor in the Utes' biggest upset victory since the January 2009 pantsing of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
While Stanford's loss doesn't knock much of the luster off next week's matchup with a certain band of ninth-ranked Bruins, the Cardinal's loss in Salt Lake City does kick off a Pac-12 lobster fight good and proper: The only remaining teams in the league with undefeated conference records are Oregon, Oregon State, and UCLA, all of whom still have to play Stanford and almost all of whom (except the Beavers and Bruins) still have to play each other. And given the way Utah's defense swatted Stanford's offense about, the Utes' November 16 trip to Eugene just became appointment television.
• No. 25 Missouri 41, no. 7 Georgia 26. This is why you never get Missouri wet or feed Missouri after midnight. It's also why losing three of your four best receivers and both halves of your star rushing tandem — and those are just Georgia's injuries on offense — is not the best strategy for success when playing your fourth ranked opponent in six games.
But it's not called fairball, just like it's not called feelingsball, and Saturday's outcome didn't just lay waste to the depleted Dawgs' national title hopes: Missouri starting quarterback James Franklin, hailed as healthy at last and putting on a fine show through five games and then some, separated his throwing shoulder late in the game and could miss the remainder of the regular season.
The mean thing here is still not knowing how good Missouri might turn out to be, not really. The Tigers are a loud rustle in tall grass hiding a creature of indeterminate size, and will face two more ranked SEC East teams (Florida and South Carolina) at home in the next two weeks. Expect to see a lot of the freshly hatched Maty Mauk in for Franklin, and hope we get to see this again:
• Texas 36, no. 12 Oklahoma 20. In accordance with all the best prophecies, of course the 2013 Red River Shootout featured:
• A 295-pound running back turned defensive tackle, Chris Whaley, returning a Blake Bell interception 31 yards for Texas's first touchdown of the day.
• Case McCoy walking upright after this happened to him.
• Texas outgaining Oklahoma 445 yards to 263.
• A final score that might have been even more grisly but for a fourth-quarter McCoy pick-six.
Zombie Mack Brown, your thoughts?
Mack Brown: "We’ve got a chance to win the Big 12 and go to the BCS. We really do. We’re not in the grave. We’re crawling out."
— David Ubben (@davidubben) October 12, 2013
• Penn State 43, no. 18 Michigan 40 (4OT). This might be the most bizarre manifestation of the Tess Effect in the modern history of sport. We passed out from sheer ennui after the fifth or sixth turnover, but are told we have this blocked field goal to blame for the perhaps unwanted extra football, and PSU's Bill Belton to thank for putting this thing to bed in the fourth overtime period with a two-yard burst.
Devin Gardner and Christian Hackenberg each completed just more than 50 percent of their attempted passes while throwing three touchdowns and two interceptions, but only one of them is a freshman slated to terrorize the Big Ten for seasons to come with throws like this:
• Wisconsin 35, no. 19 Northwestern 6. The relative rankings of dispatched Ohio State opponents appear to have executed a decisive course correction. Also, Northwestern is a very good football team that currently has the same conference record as Purdue.
Elsewhere in Footballvania
• No. 3 Clemson 24, Boston College 14. Last Monday, in this space:
If you're a Clemson player or coach or trained video parakeet or whatever, you have to think about Boston College football for this entire next week. Those of us at home? We get to train our sights on October 19 and the visiting Florida State Seminoles and the science-fair volcano show that must surely result between these two top-15 offenses, and just marinate in the possibilities for a couple weeks.
CUT TO (20-second mark):
Following that Chase Rettig–to–Alex Amidon bomb, the Tigers trailed the Eagles until the fourth quarter, when a six-yard Tajh Boyd rushing touchdown and a Rettig fumble recovered for a score by Clemson's Vic Beasley allowed the Tigers to retire for the evening with the same margin of victory that Boston College enjoyed over Villanova.
• No. 9 Texas A&M 41, Ole Miss 38. Forty-one of this game's 79 points were scored in the fourth quarter, and that wasn't even the dramatic part: Pearls were clutched all over the SEC West as Johnny Manziel and Rebels Robert Nkemdiche and Serderius Bryant left the game with varying degrees of scary injury. Manziel returned to action after getting his knee braced; Nkemdiche sat out the rest of the game with a strained hamstring; and Bryant returned to the team today after being removed from the field on a stretcher.
• No. 10 LSU 17, no. 17 Florida 6. Les Miles has some thoughts:
• No. 15 Baylor 35, Kansas State 25. True champions fight through any adversity that comes their way, which in Baylor's case in Week 7 meant the consecutive indignities of a three-and-out (gasp!), a blocked punt (quelle horreur!), and a K-State team just generally hell-bent on ruining Baylor's title hopes the way Baylor ruined K-State's in 2012.
People won't be impressed w/ the score but Baylor's win at K–State is first Big 12 road win for Bears since 2011 comeback at Kansas, in OT.
— Matt Hinton (@MattRHinton) October 12, 2013
• No. 20 Texas Tech 42, Iowa State 35. The Red Raiders are the first bowl-eligible team in the Big 12, and achieved this with their third starting quarterback since fall camp. Davis Webb, in for the injured Baker Mayfield, who was himself slotted in Week 1 as a replacement for the injured Michael Brewer, completed 35 of 56 pass attempts for 415 yards and three touchdowns.
Profiles in Profiteroles
• ASCENDANT: Tulane, undefeated in Conference USA play following a 36-33 triple-overtime victory over East Carolina.
• ASCENDANT, SORT OF: UMass, 17-10 victor over Miami (Ohio), marking the first victory in 2013 for either squad.
• HOLDING: No. 23 Northern Illinois, still riding that Jordan Lynch–based offense to an undefeated first half of the season, but still fielding a defense that allowed 35 points to Idaho and 39 to Eastern Illinois. The last thing you want to do is get tripped up by a directional Michigan or beat Akron by only one touchdown whilst trying to again crash the BCS.
We're sure you tried your best, but
• Washington State. This is actually unreal-looking. It led us to check three competing box scores looking for the glitch.
Coming up in Week 8: Tuesday football returns, in the form of Hilltoppers vs. Ragin' Cajuns Louisville hosts 4-1 Central Florida in Friday prime time Florida and Missouri fight it out with inexperienced quarterbacks in Columbia Stanford tries to knock off the only undefeated Pac-12 South squad as the Bruins head north Johnny Manziel's and Nick Marshall's knees hopefully allow them to score all kinds of points all over one another in College Station Ed Orgeron interacts with the locals of South Bend, which should be a decorous affair and two top-five ACC teams meet with a possible national title bid on the line, making this FSU-Clemson contest already more important than the eventual conference championship game.