Several of the top programs in college football had relatively manageable matchups in Week 8 in advance of what could be a monstrous final weekend in October. But, like so often in this sport, things didn't quite stay to script. There are very few "down" weekends college football and Saturday was no exception.
The craziness started in the noon slate. Kansas nearly pulled off the upset of the century against No. 3 Oklahoma, holding on to a lead heading into the fourth quarter before the Sooners eventually completed the comeback. No. 2 Cincinnati needed a late interception to put away 1-6 Navy. No. 4 Alabama took a shot right to the head in the first quarter against Tennessee before pulling away with a massive fourth quarter. And finally, Illinois shocked No. 7 Penn State in nine -- nine! -- overtimes to completely shake up the Big Ten East picture.
Only four AP Top 25 teams lost – down from seven a week ago – but the upsets kept what has been one of the wackiest season in college football history alive. Here are winners, losers and overreactions from another tremendous day of action.
Pitt: Clemson might not be "Clemson" this season, but the Tigers have still won the last six ACC championships. All the pressure was on No. 23 Pitt to prove it belongs in the AP Top 25 and taken seriously as the new favorite in the ACC. The Panthers passed with flying colors in a 27-17 win. Pitt outgained Clemson by more than 150 yards and got another great game from quarterback Kenny Pickett, who threw for 302 yards and two touchdowns in the win. The Panthers defense put so much pressure on Clemson QB D.J. Uiagalelei that coach Dabo Swinney benched him following his second interception. Pitt -- yes, Pitt -- is officially the ACC frontrunner. And Pickett is staking his claim as a bona fide Heisman contender.
Iowa State: The Cyclones were left for dead after losing to No. 11 Iowa and No. 20 Baylor, but edging No. 8 Oklahoma State suddenly vaults them back into the Big 12 Championship Game conversation. Matt Campbell's team have remained in the top 15 of most analytical systems, even as public perception has shifted, but a win over the Cowboys' aggressive defense proves they will be competitive down the stretch. There are four Big 12 teams with no more than one conference loss: Iowa State, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. With so much football left, the first conference championship since 1912 is well within reach.
Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman: The Demon Deacons' 70-56 win against Army got way out of control, but the electric Hartman was more than up to the challenge. The experienced sophomore dealt at every level of the field, making the right reads underneath and taking the top off of the defense when he needed to. Hartman finished the game completing 23-of-29 passes for 458 yards and five touchdowns in the win, along with a rushing score for good measure. Wake Forest has a number of great players on its first 7-0 team since 1944. Hartman's growth has provided the pivotal piece that has Dave Clawson's program poised to make history.
Penn State: Illinois came into its matchup with the Nittany Lions ranked No. 101 in the CBS 130 -- 30 spots behind Northern Illinois. The Illini had lost its four games against Power Five opponents by an average of two touchdowns, not to mention a home loss to UTSA. On Saturday, that team traveled to Happy Valley and handed the No. 7 team a 20-18 defeat after a FBS-record nine overtimes. Penn State flew close to the sun in one-score wins over Auburn and Wisconsin, but mustering just 227 yards against the No. 84 defense according to SP+ is nightmare fuel for a program that hoped to earn its first playoff trip just weeks ago. Those dreams are dead. Now, all Penn State can hope for in James Franklin's eighth season is playing spoiler.
Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente: When the Hokies beat North Carolina in its season opener, it seemed like Fuente finally may have turned a corner. After Virginia Tech blew a nine-point lead against Syracuse in the final 2:28 to lose 41-36 -- the Orange's go-ahead touchdown came with less than a minute left -- the Fuente era is all but officially coming to a close. The Hokies have lost three in a row and there aren't any opportunities to get a signature win on the remaining schedule. Last year's team snapped a bowl streak last season that dated all the way back to 1992, which is also the last time this program missed the postseason in consecutive years.
TCU: The Horned Frogs have slowly but steadily fallen towards the bottom half of the Big 12, but losing at home by double-digits to a West Virginia team with one FBS win -- against Virginia Tech, of all teams -- feels like rock bottom. Gary Patterson's once-proud defense gave up 7.0 yards per play against one of the worst offenses in the Big 12 and the Frogs are officially just a Kansas loss away from being in the conference cellar. With so much offensive production returning, there was hope that TCU could push its way into the top group. Instead, with multiple ranked games remaining on the schedule, the program could be headed towards its worst season under Patterson.
Oklahoma doesn't have 'It'
There's something to be said for surviving and advancing. Going down to the wire and needing some of the most uncommon rules in the book to cement a win over Kansas – Kansas! -- is something else entirely. The Jayhawks have been so dreadful as of late that their win over Texas remains a meme more than five years later.
If the game was a series of unfortunate events spiraling downhill into a once-in-a-lifetime college football memory, that's one thing. Kansas was better. It finished with more yards, was more efficient on third down and averaged more than eight plays per drive.
Oklahoma emerged victorious, but teams that can win national championships don't go down by multiple scores against Kansas. They don't wait nearly 48 minutes to take a lead against the Jayhawks or look so terrible that a downtrodden program decides to open the gates so anyone can see the spectacle for free. Oklahoma might still win the Big 12 and make the playoff, but if this is what the Sooners are, they have zero chance once they get there.
Abolish the new overtime rules
I was on the sideline of the seven-overtime masterpiece between LSU and Texas A&M a 2018. It was a heavyweight prize fight for the ages featuring 14 back-and-forth overtime possessions and 146 total points.
For some reason, the NCAA looked at that masterpiece and decided it was too pure for this world. Instead, the it instituted new rules effectively neutering OT and turning it into bizarro penalty kicks with each team attempting two-point conversions. That was on full display in the Illinois-Penn State game.
Technically, the game went nine overtimes. Instead of haymakers, Illinois and Penn State's putrid offenses blew bubbles at each other. The first 10 two-point conversions failed, an embarrassing display. Illinois finally emerged victorious with a pass to Casey Washington ending the game at 20-18 in 9-OT. We were all worse for watching it.