An unusual college football weekend means upsets likely

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Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) walks off the field after an NCAA college football game against Iowa State in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017. Iowa State defeated No. 3 Oklahoma 38-31.

It’s a weekend where college football’s upset alert siren could be sounding often.

A total of 20 ranked teams are in action Saturday, and not one is playing another. According to the Associated Press, this is the first time in eight years (Week 12 of 2009) that games will be held after the month of September without two ranked teams facing off.

Two other ranked teams, Clemson and Washington State, played Friday night.

While upsets happen when you least expect them (see: 30-point underdog Iowa State at Oklahoma last week), six ranked teams playing on the road could be at risk.

No. 24 Texas Tech and No. 25 Navy are slight underdogs at West Virginia and Memphis, respectively. Four others – No. 6 Texas Christian (at Kansas State), No. 10 Auburn (at Louisiana State), No. 17 Michigan (at Indiana) and No. 21 Michigan State (at Minnesota) all are favored by a touchdown or less.

A major upset watch will be on a home team – No. 11 Miami – which needs to come back down to earth following its win over arch rival Florida State to deal with the methodical rushing attack of Georgia Tech. The Hurricanes have three starters who are expected to miss the game.

The Oklahoma watch

Then there is Oklahoma, which can’t afford another loss if it wants to remain in College Football Playoff consideration, in the annual Red River Rivalry against Texas in the Cotton Bowl.

Lincoln Riley knew of the game having grown up in Texas and experienced it as Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator, but now the pressure is squarely on him as the Sooners’ first-year head coach.

“It’s a different game, a different atmosphere,” Riley said in an Associated Press story. “It’s closer to a bowl game to me than anything else. I think you’ve got to have the kids in the right mind frame for it, the right mindset. As a coach, you have to know regardless of what you’ve seen on tape from either team, it’s going to be probably the best and hardest that both those teams have played all year.”

As for the expectations of Oklahoma fans, Riley said, “You start worrying about the outside opinions or what a team’s done before that, it doesn’t matter in that game. Both teams are damn good in that game.”

The Longhorns are 6-3 in the last nine games in which they were unranked and the Sooners were ranked.

Concrete Charlie lives

Young people from Iowa State and elsewhere were on Google looking up the late Chuck Bednarik last weekend after Joel Lanning played middle linebacker, quarterback and on special teams in the Cyclones’ upset of then-No. 3 Oklahoma.

Bednarik, of course, played 60 minutes as a center and linebacker back in the day, first at Penn in the late 1940s and with the Eagles from 1949 to 1962.

Lanning, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound fifth-year senior, was moved during the off-season from quarterback to linebacker but had to fill in as a backup signal caller last week after starter Jacob Park left the team for personal reasons. Kyle Kampt started in place of Park.

Lanning rushed nine times for 35 yards, completed two of three passes for 35 yards, made eight tackles including one sack, and recovered a fumble. He was on the field for 78 plays – 57 on defense, 13 on offense and eight on special teams.

Iowa State offensive coordinator Tom Manning wouldn’t tip his hand on what Lanning would do this week against Kansas. “You never really know,” he said.

Yes, he’s a freshman

Jonathan Taylor set a modern-era New Jersey record last season with 2,815 rushing yards while scoring 35 touchdowns for Salem High School, but he is surprised at how much success he’s had running the football as a freshman at No. 7 Wisconsin.

After rushing for 249 yards last week at Nebraska, the 5-foot-11, 214-pound Taylor ranks fourth in FBS in rushing, averaging 153.4 per game. Injuries in the Wisconsin backfield since training camp have given him an opportunity, and he has delivered.

“Definitely surprising, but the guys give me so much confidence,” Taylor, the Inquirer’s South Jersey senior male athlete of the year, said in an AP story. “The O-line, the receivers, they always give me so much confidence knowing that they have my back.”

Hard-luck career

The college football career of Pittsburgh quarterback Max Browne has ended, with Browne undergoing season-ending surgery on his right (throwing) shoulder this week after being injured against Syracuse. He signed with Southern California as a five-star recruit in 2013 but never quite lived up to expectations. He won the Trojans’ starting job last season but lasted just three games before Sam Darnold took over. After transferring to Pitt for his final season of eligibility, he ended up sharing time with Ben DiNucci, throwing for 997 yards (410 in one game against Rice) and five touchdowns in six games.

Expatriate of the Week

Pittsburgh punter Ryan Winslow, a graduate of La Salle College High School, is enjoying his best season with the Panthers. The 6-foot-6, 225-pound redshirt senior is averaging 46.0 yards per punt, eighth in FBS, and the Panthers’ 41.5-yard net punting average is 20th in the nation. Winslow, who has his undergraduate degree in finance, is on the watch list for the Ray Guy Award given to the nation’s top punter.

Games of the Week for Saturday

Michigan at Indiana, noon, 6ABC: Last chance for Penn State fans to scout the Wolverines before the team’s visit to Happy Valley. The Michigan offense has been horrendous but its defense leads the nation in total defense and is in the top seven against the rush and the pass, and in points allowed.

Texas Christian at Kansas State, noon, FS1: Coming off wins against a pair of ranked teams, the Horned Frogs head into Manhattan (Kansas, that is) to face the stingy defense of the Wildcats behind a pair of solid offensive players in quarterback Kenny Hill and running back Darius Anderson.

Auburn at Louisiana State, 3:30 p.m., CBS3: Try to figure out LSU if you can – a home loss to Troy and a win at Florida in the last two weeks, and now a chance to climb into SEC West contention by beating Auburn. The visitors are 3-0 in conference, with at least a 20-point margin in all of its wins.

Texas vs. Oklahoma at Dallas, 3:30 p.m., ESPN: The Sooners must bounce back after being shocked at home last week by Iowa State while the Longhorns seek to go 3-0 in the Big 12 for the first time since winning the conference title in 2009. Look for freshman Sam Ehlinger to start at quarterback for Texas.

Star Watch

QB Will Grier, West Virginia, 6-2, 214, R-Jr., Davidson, N.C.

Grier, who began his career at Florida before transferring, has impressed in his debut season with the Mountaineers. He is third in the nation in touchdown passes with 16, fourth in total offense at 376.0 yards per game and sixth in passing yards at 348.0 per game. He brings a run of five straight 300-yard passing games into Saturday’s contest against Texas Tech.

The Inquirer Top 10

(not including Friday’s games)

1.Alabama (6-0)

2.Clemson (6-0)

3.Penn State (6-0)

4.Washington (6-0)

5.Georgia (6-0)

6.Wisconsin (5-0)

7.Texas Christian (5-0)

8.Washington State (6-0)

9.Ohio State (5-1)

10.Miami (4-0)