I don't like getting on coaches for making "wrong" decisions during games because there's often a lot going on within a team or situation that I'm probably not privy to at any given moment. Still, some moments stick out, and on Saturday night, Lincoln Riley provided one such moment.
On the road against a tough Iowa State team, a week after being upset by Kansas State at home, Oklahoma began the game with the ball. It undertook the process of marching 74 yards down the field with ease. Spencer Rattler hit Jeremiah Hall for eight yards, and then T.J. Pledger ran for 10 more. Then came the big play, with Rattler finding Charleston Rambo for a 51-yard gain deep over the middle. Oklahoma had a first-and-goal at the 6-yard-line, and after a Pledger run to the 1, it had two more opportunities to score.
It didn't. Both Hall and Seth McGowan were stuffed on the next two plays. It was a testament to Iowa State's defense, who did an excellent job filling gaps and keeping the Sooners out of the end zone.
Then Riley did something I cannot agree with. He kicked an 18-yard field goal. The only time an 18-yard field goal is the right decision is when you're down one or two points, and there's only time for one more play. Even if you're down three, there's an argument to go for it and win the game.
But instead, Riley elected to kick. It was at that moment when I thought Oklahoma could be in trouble again. It just felt like a decision made out of fear rather than one of confidence. It felt like Riley was scared of what would happen if he went for it on fourth down and Oklahoma was stuffed again.
Why the head coach of an offense that has averaged 44.6 points per game through his first 70 games as its primary play-caller would be scared in that situation, I don't know, but it couldn't have instilled a lot of confidence in his team.
Confidence his team could have really used in the second half as it was outscored 24-13. Confidence that will be all that much more difficult to come by considering the Sooners have now lost three of their last four games, with the only win coming against Southwest Missouri State.
Of course, even if the Sooners are struggling right now, I'm not ready to eliminate them from winning the Big 12. Hell, I'm not even willing to write them off as a College Football Playoff team. I look around the country right now and see very few teams who aren't capable of losing twice in this atmosphere. Even with the Big Ten and Pac-12 joining the party later this month, it'd be foolish to think that a jam-packed schedule like the ones they'll be playing won't lead to some eyebrow-raising results.
Oklahoma still has enough talent, and the rest of the Big 12 looks shaky enough that I'm not willing to write off the possibility of the Sooners getting their act together and winning out. But if they're going to do that, they'll need their coach to start making smarter decisions than the one he made on Saturday night when he settled for three points.
When you're the class of your conference, you shouldn't settle for anything.
Least Effective Hurdle of the Week
Just to make it clear that not everything went Iowa State's way during its upset of Oklahoma. The win was especially nice for the Cyclones, not just because it helped clear away the stench of the Louisiana loss, but because it improved the Cyclones to 2-0 in the Big 12. It's the first time Iowa State has started conference play 2-0 since 2002, and only the second time since 1983.
Although that might not be good news, either. The Cyclones finished 2002 at 7-7 after losing six of their final seven games. Things weren't much better in 1983, either, as the Clones finished 4-7.
Maybe they should've lost to Oklahoma?
Alarming Texas Stats of the Week
Oh no, Texas fan, don't for a moment think you were going to be able to read me second-guessing Lincoln Riley and get out of here unscathed. The Longhorns losing to TCU 33-31 shouldn't have been a surprise to anybody. Not just because TCU has now won six of the last seven meetings, but because losing games it is supposed to win is Texas' brand.
Following the loss, Tom Herman's Texas teams are now only 11-6 against unranked teams when ranked. According to ESPN Stats & Info, those six losses to unranked teams as a ranked team are the most by any FBS program since 2017.
Oh, and Texas is now 1-11 under Herman when it trails entering the fourth quarter. I guess Texas can't get back then, either.
Power Shift of the Week
For years, the SEC West has been the best division in college football. Since the inception of the BCS system that ultimately led to the College Football Playoff, the SEC has won 12 national titles. It's a stat that is touted by the conference at every opportunity.
The stat that isn't mentioned as much, since it reflects what has been a divide in the conference for the better part of 20 years, is that teams in the West have won nine of those 12 national titles. That includes the last seven, as Alabama, Auburn and LSU have all won national titles since Florida won in 2008.
Alabama, of course, is responsible for most of them. The Tide have won five of the 12 and are looking like the favorite to win lucky No. 13 for the SEC this year. But 2020 looks a little different in the SEC, and not just due to COVID-19.
No, it's different because Alabama's biggest threats within the conference aren't in the West this year. They're in the East.
Trying to reach conclusions after only two weeks of action is admittedly foolish, but like last week, I'm fine playing the fool in this case. Based on what I've seen from the first two weeks of SEC action, Alabama is clearly the best team in the conference. It handled Missouri with ease in its opener and dominated a top-15 team in Texas A&M on Saturday. Meanwhile, everybody else in the West has looked average or bad at times already.
Then there are Georgia and Florida. Two teams who are not perfect but are each strong enough on one side of the ball to challenge Alabama. In its opener against Arkansas, Georgia looked sluggish on offense before switching to Stetson Bennett at quarterback and managing to win by 27 points while looking "bad." Things improved against Auburn on Saturday night, and the Dawgs might have the best defense in the country. Something you need to slow down Alabama's offense.
If you can't stop Alabama's offense -- and few can -- the least you can do is try to keep pace with it, and Florida looks up to the challenge after two games. The Gators offense is averaging 44.5 points per game, ranking fourth nationally (a half-point behind Alabama), and might have the best QB in the SEC in Kyle Trask. Tight end Kyle Pitts has been so unstoppable through two games that people are mentioning him as a Heisman Trophy candidate, which would be a first for his position.
All three teams are ranked in the top five of this week's AP Top 25 poll, and all three look to be the SEC's only legitimate contenders for a playoff spot (or two) so far. Things change weekly in this sport, and while it's too soon to say that the East has caught up to the West as a whole, I'm ready to say it's home to two of the three best teams in the conference. That hasn't been the case for a long time.
Stat of the Week
Times with 35 points and 300 yards in the first half of an SEC game in the last five years…— 💫🅰️♈️🆔 (@ADavidHaleJoint) October 3, 2020
Rest of SEC, 7
One day you'll tell your grandchildren there was once a time when Alabama was known for its defense and they'll say "yeah OK sure" before dropping you back off at the home and posting about how stupid you are on TikTok.
Team of the Week
Most of the time, I don't like being made to look stupid, but when somebody I genuinely like is the one doing it to me, it's not so bad.
When the SEC put out its revamped schedule for the 2020 season, I said the conference's biggest mistake was not scheduling a game between Arkansas and Vanderbilt. The reason was simple: by not letting the two schools play each other, the SEC ran the genuine risk of finishing the season with two winless teams.
Well, it can't now. Not after Arkansas ended its 20-game SEC losing streak by beating the same Mississippi State team that upset LSU to start the season. I've loved the Sam Pittman hire at Arkansas since the moment it was made, but I didn't think we'd start seeing it pay off this quickly.
Pittman has brought energy and optimism to the program that can't be denied. And it couldn't have been easy to do considering the program entered the season having lost 19 straight conference games. But this is a team that believes in itself and might win a few more games in 2020.
Unstoppable Juggernaut of the Week
Zach finished the game (vs Louisiana Tech) 24-26 for 325 yds, 2 TDs and added a career-best 3 rushing TDs. It was his first career game with 5 total TDs.— BYU FOOTBALL (@BYUfootball) October 4, 2020
His completion percentage of 92.3% set the school record for completion percentage in a single game (min. of 20 or 25 att) pic.twitter.com/u2dfZQi1g8
Listen, I don't know how good BYU truly is. All I know is that the Cougars are 3-0 and destroying everything in their path. Yes, the three teams they've beaten are a 1-2 Navy team as well as Troy and Louisiana Tech.
At some point, though, it becomes less about who you're playing and more about how you're playing. And BYU is playing out of its damn mind. The Cougars have outscored opponents 148-24 through three games, and QB Zach Wilson trails only Alabama's Mac Jones in passing efficiency. He's completed 60-of-71 passes for 949 yards, six touchdowns and an interception. He's averaging a ridiculous 13.4 yards per attempt. He's also rushed for five touchdowns, and if he continues at this pace, he might be the first BYU player to finish the season as a Heisman finalist since Ty Detmer in 1991.
What I'm trying to tell you is that if you have a chance to catch a BYU game this season, do it.
Catch of the Week
It's not often this award goes to a defensive back, but if you were wondering what made Clemson's Andrew Booth a five-star recruit out of high school, well, that should help answer the question.
Troll Job of the Week
Tulsa ended UCF's 21-game home win streak on Saturday night, and if you aren't aware, UCF calls its home stadium The Bounce House. Also, while it was an upset, maybe it shouldn't have been? Not only was Tulsa the last team to beat UCF in Orlando back in 2016, but after Saturday night's win, the Golden Hurricane have now won four straight against UCF, and nine of 12 times overall since their first meeting in 2005.
College Football Playoff Projection of the Week
- Ohio State
Until the next Monday After!