I'm not a fan of using individual games to make sweeping conference statements, especially when it comes to the College Football Playoff. At the end of the day, the selection committee picks what it feels are the four best teams, not the four best conferences. The rest is fun fodder and that's about it.
However ... Oklahoma's win over Ohio State in Columbus was huge for the Big 12, if for no other reason than the opportunities this conference has to make big statements are limited. Most of those chances have come and gone by now. It also marked the conference's first nonconference win vs. a top-two opponent since Texas' national championship win over USC in 2006. As it relates to the Sooners specifically, quarterback Baker Mayfield once again showed why he's a Heisman candidate and coach Lincoln Riley proved he's not just some novice trying to break in his coaching skins.
The Sooners were big winners on Saturday, but they weren't the only ones. Clemson's defense showed up in a big way against Auburn, and Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson went off against North Carolina in a shootout. What were the highlights from Saturday of Week 2? What were the moments some programs want to forget? We hash out the best and worst below with this week's version of Winners and Losers.
Winner -- Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield: Football is the ultimate team game. However, big games need big players to step up and take the lead. They need someone to take over. Mayfield was that player for Oklahoma in a critical 31-16 win over Ohio State in Columbus. With the Sooners defense on the ropes against Ohio State's ground game and with Oklahoma's best receiving weapon, Mark Andrews, out with an injury, Mayfield played his best football. The redshirt senior threw for 386 yards on an effective 27-of-35 passing with three touchdowns. He's a guy who makes his teammates around him better and he performs best when his back is against the wall.
Reminder: Baker Mayfield has yet to lose a true road game at Oklahoma. 10-0 if he wins tonight.— Max Olson (@max_olson) September 10, 2017
Loser -- No answers for Ohio State's offense: One area where Ohio State could have shown improvement was in the passing game. Adjustments from Week 1 to Week 2 can be noticeable, but the Buckeyes left a lot to be desired in that part of their offense. Quarterback J.T. Barrett averaged 5.2 yards per pass attempt with no touchdowns. Wide receivers again struggled to be difference-makers. This doesn't look like something new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson can fix -- at least not overnight. Without that element to the offense, the Buckeyes look easy to stop. They'll get some big plays from running back J.K. Dobbins or Parris Campbel because they're world-class athletes, but the consistency and production just aren't there.
Winner -- Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley: We'd be remiss if we didn't also mention, in the Mayfield frenzy that is surely to follow, that Riley did a heck of a job in his road debut as a head coach. In fact, the entire Sooners coaching staff did. They all deserve credit. Still, Riley called a tremendous game. Despite not having a great rushing presence, Riley called plays designed to get Ohio State to bite on play actions or screens while opening up targets in the next levels of the defense. It helps to have a game-changer like Mayfield on the field. Defenses have to respect his ability to run and pass. Still, Riley put him in positions to be successful without his normal top targets around him.
Loser -- Louisiana Tech's hilarious fumble: If you haven't seen this by Louisiana Tech that cost them 87 yards -- yes, 87 -- against Mississippi State, you can change that now. The loss of yardage, which practically flipped the field position from end to end, put the Bulldogs in a 3rd-and-93 situation. On one hand, you have to feel for Tech for such an unfortunate play. On the other hand, college football never ceases to disappoint in its absurdity.
Winner -- Clemson's pass rush: So much was made about all the offensive studs Clemson had to replace coming into the season that I wonder if it crossed anyone's mind that the Tigers might win a bunch of games with defense. We have an answer already, and it's an emphatic "yes." Clemson sacked Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham a jaw-dropping 11 times in a 14-6 win. It was a one-score game the entire night, but once Clemson took over, it never felt as though the game was in doubt. That speaks to how dominant the Tigers were, especially along the defensive front. They're going to win a lot of games by putting opposing quarterbacks behind the sticks. Next up: Louisville, Lamar Jackson and a porous O-line. Interesting ...
To put Clemson's 11 sacks into some perspective, Auburn hadn't allowed more than 19 in an entire season since Malzahn took over in 2013— Paul Myerberg (@PaulMyerberg) September 10, 2017
Loser -- Auburn's passing offense: Outcomes aren't usually decided by either/or scenarios. Clemson's defense, particularly its pass rush, can be excellent and Auburn's air attack needs to be able to respond. It didn't. The visiting Tigers mustered just 79 passing yards at 3.3 yards per attempt. Pass protection obviously didn't help, but there's something kind of strange about Auburn's quarterback play in recent years. At best, it's been average. Sean White was probably better than advertised a season ago, but he wasn't good enough to keep his starting job over Stidham. Against Clemson, Stidham was a non-factor. Auburn's base is always going to be the run as long as Malzahn is there, but even a slight improvement in the passing game takes this team to the next level.
Winner -- Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship: It's been a great week for Blankenship. Not only did he make 2-of-3 field goals in a 20-19 win over Notre Dame, including the eventual game winner, but he also got placed on scholarship this past week. The addition wasn't known to the rest of the team, though, until Blankenship had the opportunity to share the good news with his teammates. Congratulations to Blankenship. He's a reminder that hard work pays off.
Loser -- Iowa State's oh-so-close Cy-Hawk loss: The sneaky good early game of the afternoon was Iowa and Iowa State battling it out in the Cy Hawk series. Iowa came away with the 44-41 overtime win and it was a tremendous showing for the Hawkeyes to come from behind in the fourth quarter to steal the win. On the other side, though, is Iowa State's bitter disappointment. Rivalry losses are always tough, but this had the potential to be a springboard for the Cyclones throughout the rest of the season. Getting back to a bowl game in Year 2 of the Matt Campbell tenure is the goal around Ames. It's a realistic one because this team looks a lot better already, but starting 2-0m and potentially 3-0, moving into Big 12 conference play takes a lot of pressure off this team come November. There are still plenty of opportunities to get five more wins, but this would have helped Campbell a lot as he continues to build this program. Now, he has to be careful not to let it spiral down.
Winner/Loser -- Washington State quarterback Luke Falk: So, get this. Falk, as he was predicted to do this season, became the school's all-time leader in career passing yards (11,320) and career total offense (11,068) Saturday night against Boise State. An impressive accomplishment, yes? Except, just after Falk set his record, he was benched by coach Mike Leach for overall poor play against the Broncos. He later came back in after his replacement, Tyler Hilinski, threw an interception. However, an apparent, undisclosed injury kept Falk out for the rest of the game, a wild 47-43 come-from-behind overtime victory.
If all of this seems absurd, it is. The Cougars were once down 31-10. But this is Leach's Washington State we're talking about here. And it's #Pac12AfterDark. It wouldn't be a record-setting night if it wasn't a little strange.
Winner -- Oregon: We're not to the point where we know exactly what to make of Oregon yet. And how could we be? We're two games into the Willie Taggart era. In that vein, Oregon's 42-35 win over Nebraska was a tale of two halves. The Ducks scored all 42 points in the first 30 minutes and were outscored 21-0 in the final 30. Still, we know two things: Quarterback Justin Herbert is raw, but he can spin it; and the defense is already showing signs of improvement by creating takeaways. Oregon isn't good enough to win the Pac-12 North (yet), but they'll be competitive. A big nonconference win on Saturday proved as much.
Loser -- Stanford: Across the board, USC has a better starting 22 than Stanford. That doesn't mean the Cardinal couldn't beat the Trojans on the road. This is a series that has favored Stanford in the past largely because of its ability to be more physical in the trenches. The opposite happened in a 42-24 loss. The Cardinal's defense was especially bad. Tackling was non-existent at times and defenders were getting handled blocks. Giving up 6.4 yards per carry is not something you expect from this team. Some of USC's big plays were a matter of a great offense always winning out. That happens sometimes. More often than not, though, the Cardinal were getting destroyed.
Winner -- USC running the dang ball: USC's running game was on point against Stanford. Jones rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns while Stephen Carr added on another 119 yards. There's been so much talk about quarterback Sam Darnold that it's easy to forget there's a phenomenal supporting cast around him. USC took it to Stanford by beating them in run blocking and being more physical in the open field. That doesn't happen often. That's a positive sign for the Trojans moving forward.
Loser -- Syracuse: It's never fun losing at home to Middle Tennessee. It's definitely not fun losing at home to Middle Tennessee when the Blue Raiders' defensive coordinator, Scott Shafer, is your former coach. The Cuse have a brutal schedule with games against LSU, Clemson, Florida State and Louisville, among others, yet to be played. They had to get wins where they can get 'em.
Winner -- Purdue quarterback David Blough: You can't get much more efficient than 11-of-13 for 235 yards and three touchdowns. There was a sneaky interesting quarterback competition for the Boilermakers going into Week 2, but Blough had himself a night in a 44-21 win over Ohio. Also: ? It sure looks that way. It might be a different story come time for Big Ten play, but for now first-year coach Jeff Brohm has done some nice things with this team.
Loser -- Arkansas: The Razorbacks lost arguably the ugliest game of the day, , at home to TCU. The Frogs hardly played a perfect game themselves, but they exerted themselves along the line of scrimmage by averaging 4.6 yards per rush and holding the Hogs to just under five yards per play. Getting beat in the trenches is not something you'd associate with a Bret Bielema team. Couple in the mistakes in the kicking game and it was an all-around miserable afternoon. Bielema has done some good things with the program in the past, but he's now 26-27 in his fifth year. While it would be surprising if Arkansas fired Bielema barring a disastrous season, the lack of a ground game is concerning for this team's outlook.
Winner -- Penn State-Pitt trash talk: I am here for rivalry trash talk. Class in a sport as violent as football is overrated and can be on occasion borderline disingenuous. But this Penn State coach James Franklin after beating Pitt 33-14 is a next-level dagger that goes straight to the heart of the Panthers.from
James Franklin: "I know last year beating us for them was like the Super Bowl. This was just like beating Akron for us."— Ben Jones (@Ben_Jones88) September 9, 2017
Ouch. Granted, a couple of things need to be taken into consideration. For one, Pitt also beat eventual national champion Clemson that season. In the big picture, that's the more impressive win. Secondly, Pitt's win over the Nittany Lions in 2016 helped keep Penn State out of the College Football Playoff. Still, it's good to have this rivalry back.
Loser -- Whatever Maryland was thinking: Attendance is an issue around college football and schools are always thinking of innovative ways to get butts in seats. Offering $10,000 to a random student if he/she sat through Saturday's game against Towson and witnessed a punt return for a touchdown is certainly a bold strategy. But the optics on offering money to someone else when a college football player makes a play are horrible. I'll join the chorus of critics and suggest that there's another group of people who actually earned that money. For the record, Maryland did not return a punt for a touchdown on Saturday.
Winner -- Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson: I don't know that college football "forgot" about Lamar Jackson in the offseason, per se, but it definitely buried the lede with him coming into August. Consider that rectified. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner tallied 525 yards of offense and six touchdowns in a 47-35 win over North Carolina. The highlight plays were there, but what continues to be the most impressive part of Jackson's game is his development as a passer. His pocket presence and reads are getting better and better. Louisville still has some cause for concern in protecting Jackson, on defense and with its mental errors; however, having Jackson is enough to put Louisville in a position to win all of its games. If he wasn't the Heisman leader after Week 1, he very well could be come Monday (though Mayfield probably has something to say about that).
Loser -- East Carolina's "Power Six" flag: The Pirates are bad, but you probably knew this after they lost to James Madison 34-14. A 56-20 blowout at West Virginia certainly confirmed it. There's no need to drag East Carolina more because a winless season looks like a real possibility and that stinks for everyone involved. However ... flying the American Athletic Conference's "Power Six" flag -- a nod to the conference's attempt to #brand itself as a power conference -- after getting shellacked by James Madison and before getting stomped by West Virginia is an ... interesting choice. Might be time to retire it, too.
Winner -- Colorado's fumbled punt return for a touchdown: Fumbling a kick return can be disastrous because it can flip both the field and the momentum of a game. Or it can go for a 55-yard touchdowns, as it did with Colorado against Texas State. Props to Laviska Shenault of the Buffs for being Johnny on the spot with the fumble recovery. It's just how they drew it up.
Loser -- Vandals caught red-handed: The Holy War between BYU and Utah is a a hate-fueled rivalry that is criminally underrated nationally. Speaking of criminals, a group of four suspects were cited with criminal mischief when they were literally caught red-handed painting BYU's cougar early Saturday morning. The Deseret News reports officers responded to a call just before 5 a.m. "and located the suspects in a vehicle with red paint on their hands. The suspects admitted to vandalizing the statue, were cited for criminal mischief and released." So, yeah. They probably should have cleaned their hands off first.
Winner -- Texas cornerback Holton Hill: Because Texas lost its season opener to Maryland, we haven't talked much (i.e. at all) about defensive back Holton Hill. His 45-yard pick six in a 56-0 win over San Jose State was his second of the season and his third touchdown (he had a scoop and score on a blocked kick against the Terps). It's rare for a defensive player to score that many touchdowns over the course of a career, let alone a season or in a two-game span. Another thing, too: Hill hails from the Houston area, which was hit hard by Hurricane Harvey. In his Monday press conference following the Maryland loss, Longhorns coach Tom Herman said Hill hugged him after the game and thanked his coach for believing in him. It's been a bit of an up and down road for Hill. Good on him for starting off this season with some big plays.
Loser -- San Diego State's prevent defense: Honestly, there's not much to rag on for San Diego State. The Aztecs beat Arizona State 30-20 and running back Rashaad Penny had himself a game with 216 yards. But, yo, let's talk about that prevent defense that gave up a touchdowns on 3rd-and-37 ...
Winner -- Eastern Michigan: I'll admit beating Rutgers 16-13 doesn't jump off the page, but to call it a meaningless win for Eastern Michigan would be a grave misrepresentation. The road win over the Scarlet Knights was the first victory over a Power Five opponent in EMU's football history. Prior to Saturday, the Eagles were ... wait for it ... 0-58 against such competition. Eastern Michigan coach Chris Creighton remarked after the game that he made the team aware of the streak last week. Make all your jokes about Rutgers being a Power Five program if you must, but Creighton showed incredible awareness at what was at stake and used it to fuel his team. Well done.