Luicci’s College Football Plus: Week 4 Recap

Five questions

Q. Who had Iowa State at Oklahoma State on Oct. 24 as the key game in the Big 12 race?

Looks like we were all fooled by Texas and Tom Herman again. The Longhorns are a lot like USC: Programs steeped in tradition and annually given too much early respect nationally because of it. They have also spent the better part of the past decade promising more and delivering less. That’s how it is for programs living off their past with inflated opinions of self-worth (see Nebraska and Florida State).

For Oklahoma, that should have meant a clear path to the Big 12 title. But at 1-2 overall and 0-2 in the league, the Sooners are an afterthought in the conference race. The silver lining for Lincoln Riley: At least he won’t lose again in the playoffs.

What the league is left with is one unbeaten team in Oklahoma State – coincidentally the only team in the conference currently playing defense – and Iowa State, which has rebounded from an opening loss to Louisiana to go 2-0 in Big 12 play.

So mark your Big 12 calendar: Oct. 24, Iowa State at Oklahoma State. Stillwater will run deep that day.

Q. Have Mississippi State fans already gotten the full Mike Leach experience?

This is what you get with the Pirate: His team will beat the reigning national champs on the road one week and then lose at home to a team that had been without an SEC win for nearly three years the next week. Starkville, this what you signed up for. So buckle up. This is just the beginning. It’s going to be a wild ride.

Q. With UCF’s annual loss to Tulsa what impact can the AAC have nationally this year?

It’s pretty much up to SMU and Cincinnati to carry the league’s banner now, since they’re the only two unbeaten teams left (though Houston and Temple haven’t even played a game yet). With UCF losing, and forced to finally stop whining about national respect for a while, the AAC can only hope to survive the year with one unbeaten team, since SMU and Cincinnati play Oct. 24 in Dallas. The league actually is pretty solid overall. There’s just no marquee team that dazzles anyone when it comes to national poll implications. UCF had that potential. But not after the latest Tulsa loss. It’s a missed opportunity for the league, since the Big 12 is down and no one is going to take the Pac-12 seriously this year.

Q. Okay, this is an old-school, curmudgeon-like beef, but can players hold off on celebrating until AFTER they cross the goal line?

Twice on Saturday players headed for sure touchdowns decided to flash the “deuce” on the way to the way to the end zone only to get caught from behind because of their premature celebrating (search for the videos).

Against Army, Abilene Christian’s Lionel McConnell showed the deuce at the 20 yard line on a jet sweep on what looked to be a sure touchdown. He obviously wasn’t aware of the opponent, because the academies never give up on a play. Sure enough, McConnell was tackled from behind at the 7 yard line.

Then Mississippi’s Asim Rose did the same thing against Kentucky. Free and clear of defenders and headed for a touchdown, he gave the deuce sign at the 20 and was tackled inside the 10. Think anyone remembered that Rose ran for 117 yards and a TD in the game? No, they remember his look-at-me antics (and later in the game a fumble at the goal line).

Q. Is Alabama just bored at this point?

This looks like a very good Alabama team, especially on offense – and that’s saying something. But with the SEC West looking like a cakewalk for the Tide, a challenge is needed. Not a fake challenge like wannabe-SEC contender Texas A&M. A real challenge that tests Nick Saban’s team and gives us an indication of just how good it is.

Fortunately, there is Georgia. The teams meet on Oct. 17 in Tuscaloosa. That shapes up as the SEC’s Game of the Year.

On the rise

SMU (4-0)

Mustangs’ victory over No. 25 Memphis has them at 4-0 for a second straight year – something that last happened during the 1983 and 1984 seasons (the Pony Express years). The next test is Oct. 24 when Cincinnati visits.

Oklahoma State (3-0)

Is it time yet to take the Cowboys seriously? Their defense has been superb and suddenly those victories over Tulsa and West Virginia look better than the original impression. They steamrolled Kansas the way a good team should.

Tulsa (1-1)

Golden Hurricane ended UCF’s 21-game home winning streak and recorded the program’s first win over a Top 15 team since 1991 with the 34-26 victory over the Knights. Considering Tulsa gave Oklahoma State fits in a 16-6 opening-game loss, this team merits some attention now.

On the decline

Oklahoma (1-2)

You can tell Shane Rattler will be a good one. But he’s too mistake-prone right now and Oklahoma is paying the price – especially since the Sooners can’t help their young QB through some good defensive play. OU and Kansas are tied for last in the Big 12 standings at 0-2. Think about that.

Kentucky (0-2)

The Wildcats have been competitive both games but have found ways to lose both – the latest being a 42-41 OT loss to Ole Miss because of a missed extra point. Last year’s magic is this year’s reality. Kentucky is not quite good enough.

Navy (1-2)

When do you see a Navy team rush for just 90 yards – and score seven points? Clearly the Midshipmen have issues on offense, especially at the QB position. The 40-7 loss to Air Force featured Navy’s lowest rushing total since 2016.

Who’s hot

Zach Wilson, QB, BYU

Another dazzling performance in Friday’s 45-14 victory over Louisiana Tech: 24-of-26 for 325 yards and two TD passes. With the Cougars off to their best start since 2014 at 3-0, Wilson has directed the offense to three straight games of more than 500 yards of offense.

Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

It’s too easy to overlook Alabama guys, especially when there’s another very special QB. Jones has made a seamless transition to being the starter, throwing for a career-high 435 yards (20-of-27) and four TDs in the 52-24 victory over Texas A&M.

Devin Lear, QB, N.C. State

In his first start of the season, the third-year sophomore directed two long fourth-quarter drives to enable the Wolfpack to re-take the lead against previously-unbeaten Pittsburgh, throwing the game-winning 13-yard TD pass with 23 seconds left. He passed for 336 yards and four TDs with no interceptions in the 30-29 win.

Who’s not

Bo Nix, QB, Auburn

Okay, so Georgia’s defense is as good as there is. But has Nix, who has a habit of prematurely bailing on the pocket, really improved off his freshman year? He didn’t have a TD pass and suffered an INT in the 27-6 loss to the Bulldogs, adding eight rushing yards on 11 carries.

USF quarterbacks

Sophomore Jordan McCloud and freshman Katravis Marsh combined for a school-record five interceptions in a 28-7 loss to Cincinnati. Marsh suffered two interceptions in his first four pass attempts.

Brady White, QB, Memphis

It’s been a crazy year for the Tigers due to COVID-19 issues but White is a fifth-year senior who should be better than he was in the 30-27 loss at SMU. He suffered two interceptions and his lost fumble on a sack with 1:25 to play set up SMU for the winning score.

Playing it forward

Previewing the top games coming up this weekend (All times Eastern)

Texas vs. Oklahoma, noon, FOX

This is why people stop to watch car accidents. One of the most meaningless Red River Rivalry games ever.

Miami at Clemson, 7: 30, ABC

Finally, an ACC test for the Tigers – or is it? Miami is about to find out how real its return to prominence is.

Florida at Texas A&M, TBA (either noon or 3:30 on CBS or ESPN)

Time for the Gators to take their high-powered offense on the road again. Aggies can sneaky good at home at times, so it’s a game the Gators have to be wary of.

Tennessee at Georgia TBA (either noon or 3:30 on CBS or ESPN)

The biggest test yet for the Vols’ eight-game winning streak – though Jarrett Guarantano vs. this Georgia defense looks like a mismatch on paper.

Tom Luicci was the national college football and basketball writer for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. from 1979-2014.

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