It was technically an upset. It sure didn’t feel like it.
Team of the Week: TCU (def. Oklahoma State, 44-31)
At their best, Gary Patterson’s TCU Horned Frogs have been an efficiency machine on both sides of the ball, fast and steady on offense and willing to give up a few big gains in the name of constant three-and-outs. And after a couple of glitchier-than-normal seasons, they were putting together an awfully TCU-like résumé through three weeks of 2017.
Most of my S&P+ ratings are derived from two concepts: efficiency and explosiveness. Success rate is my measure of down-to-down stability, and IsoPPP measures the magnitude of a team’s successful plays. Efficiency carries far more weight, but particularly big big plays can level the playing field to a degree.
TCU came to Stillwater ranked eighth in success rate on offense. Darius Anderson and Kyle Hicks were gaining at least five yards on 48 percent of their carries, and quarterback Kenny Hill was completing a whopping 75 percent of his passes.
Defensively, the Horned Frogs were 15th in success rate and 125th in IsoPPP, the perfect opposite of a bend-don’t-break defense and the personification of what Patterson is looking for.
Could these stats hold up against an Oklahoma State that had been among the nation’s best through three weeks?
Oklahoma State’s success rate against TCU: 43 percent, 11 percent worse than what the Cowboys had managed against Tulsa, South Alabama, and Pitt. The Cowboys got their big plays — an 86-yard pass to James Washington, completions of 34 and 21 to Jalen McCleskey, completions of 29 and 27 to Marcell Ateman — and TCU won most of the other plays.
Against a seemingly unstoppable attack, TCU kept the Cowboys out of the end zone on six of their first eight drives. On five of those, the Frogs leveraged OSU into third-and-long, then closed out the drive. And even when OSU got rolling a bit more late in the game, they twice baited quarterback Mason Rudolph into interceptions.
At the end of TCU’s win, OSU had outgained the Horned Frogs by 33 yards because of the big plays, but Rudolph had completed just 54 percent of his passes (he was at 72 percent coming in) and had committed three turnovers — two picks and a fumble.
Meanwhile, Hill completed two-thirds of his passes with only one turnover, and Anderson rushed for 160 yards.
It bears mentioning that the god of turnover luck very much favored TCU. The Horned Frogs recovered all four of the game’s fumbles, and on average, TCU’s five passes defended would be far more likely to produce one interception, not three. But this was a patented Patterson win by what is looking like an increasingly strong Patterson team.
TCU was 16th in the AP poll last week, and with their second power conference road win of the year (they thumped Arkansas in Fayetteville in Week 2), the Horned Frogs have earned top-10 status. After a bye, they get a home game against WVU before a road trip to Kansas State. There are hurdles still to clear, but they will be favored in each of their next five games before their Nov. 11 trip to Norman.
Other Teams of the Week
2. Georgia (def. Mississippi State, 31-3)
After their dominant win over LSU, I called Dan Mullen’s MSU “a big, physical, exciting, and mature football team.” Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs took that team behind the woodshed. They bolted to a 14-0 lead and never allowed the visitors hope from there. The Dawgs have looked really, really good this year.
3. Washington (def. Colorado, 37-10)
The Huskies took some early shots from a solid team in a raucous environment. Then they calmly laid the hammer down, outscoring the Buffs by 34 points after the first quarter and moving to 4-0. Since a shaky opening win against Rutgers, Washington has been virtually perfect.
4. Alabama (def. Vanderbilt, 59-0)
Nick Saban saves a particular level of vengeance for SEC up-and-comers. “Oh, you think you might be ready for us? You’re not.”
5. Virginia (def. Boise State, 42-23)
Boise State suddenly has a lot of questions to answer, but teams simply don’t thump the Broncos like this on their blue home field. Bronco Mendenhall’s Hoos are now 3-1, and all three wins have come by at least 18 points.
6. Notre Dame (def. Michigan State, 38-18)
Like TCU, Mark Dantonio’s Michigan State had begun looking a lot like its 2014 self. We’ll see if the Spartans are actually any good in the coming weeks, but the Fighting Irish took no chances. With a little help from the turnover fairy, they bolted to a 28-7 lead and put it in cruise control.
7. UCF (def. Maryland, 38-10)
UCF has played only two games. In one, the Knights hung 61 points on FIU. And in the other, they held an explosive Maryland offense to 10 points in a statement-making road win (one I’m pretty sure Nebraska fans noticed).
8. Arizona State (def. Oregon, 37-35)
After losing approximately 1,430 good assistants to other jobs, Todd Graham has found his ASU tenure on life support. The Sun Devils had lost 14 of their last 22 games, but they put together a lovely performance against a flawed but scary Oregon.
9. New Mexico State (def. UTEP, 41-14)
BREAK UP THE AGGIES. Yes, UTEP is terrible, but the Aggies moved to 2-2 with a dominant win. They’ve been legitimately decent this year, beating New Mexico (which just beat Tulsa) and nearly taking down Arizona State and Troy as well. With home games against Idaho and South Alabama and winnable road trips to Texas State and UL-Lafayette still on the docket, Doug Martin's team has a legitimate shot at bowl eligibility. They haven't been bowling since 1960.
10. Miami (def. Toledo, 52-30)
Toledo’s pretty good, and Miami had been dealing with Hurricane Irma and its effects. There was reason to wonder how well Mark Richt’s Hurricanes might play under the circumstances. But after falling behind 16-10 at halftime, the Canes went on a 28-0 run. And when Toledo cut their lead back to eight, they put the game away with two more TDs.