College Football Week 8: Pitt Might Actually Be It

Football player in white and orange uniform running with football
Clemson running back Will Shipley (1) plays against Pittsburgh during an NCAA college football game, in Pittsburgh Clemson Football, PittsburghKeith Srakocic/AP / Shutterstock

The college football season is now just about two-thirds finished, as dozens of teams have played eight of their 12 regular season games and the rest will get there over the next week or two. No matter how bleak the schedule looks for any given week—and Week 8’s had virtually nothing in the way of blockbuster matchups—every week finds a way to provide some form of unique drama, and this one was no different.

It featured the longest string of overtimes in the sport’s history, one team in Pennsylvania rising to heights it hasn’t reached in a generation, another losing the aforementioned overtime game, and Ohio State continuing to look like perhaps the sport’s most well-oiled machine. Here are three teams that emerged from the fray looking pretty and three that did not.

Winner: Pitt

The Panthers almost always occupy a space in college football’s middle class. They’re rarely bad and have qualified a bowl game every year but one since 2008 (though they opted not to play in one in 2020). They churn out plenty of NFL talent, including the best player in the world right now, Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald. But they haven’t finished a season ranked in the AP Poll since 2009, and their best moments have tended to be upsets of other teams that were en route to special seasons when Pitt derailed them.

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Maybe that’s changing in 2021. The Panthers took an embarrassing home loss to Western Michigan in Week 3, but otherwise, they’ve been rock solid. They passed a major test by beating Clemson at home on Saturday, 27-17, putting the ACC Coastal in a chokehold. Clemson’s offense has been out of sorts all year, but the defense remains elite, and ascendant Pitt QB Kenny Pickett had a nice afternoon with both his arm (302 yards) and legs (a couple of key first downs to close out the game) en route to the win. Pitt is on a collision course with Wake Forest for the ACC Championship (more on the Deacs shortly) in December.

Loser: Penn State

Pennsylvania’s other Power Five team had a horrible, no-good, very bad afternoon at home against Illinois. The Nittany Lions lost to Big Ten bottomfeeder Illinois in a record-setting nine overtimes, the most ever played in a Division I game. That record comes with an asterisk, as the NCAA instituted a rule this year that makes overtime periods into a two-point-conversion shootout from the three-yard line if a game isn’t settled after two standard overtimes from the 25. But the asterisk should not obscure how painstaking it was to watch PSU and the Illini trade scoreless attempts near the goal line, until Illini QB Brandon Peters finally broke through.

Winner: Ohio State (or, at least, Ohio State fans)

Ohio State fans, despite having a team that’s pretty much always one of the four or five best in the country, are always stressed about something. The Buckeye fans in my life were in mild shambles when their team lost to Oregon in Week 2 and seemed destined for a subpar year. Things have drastically turned since then, as Ohio State has won its last five games by a combined score of 272-71. The latest was a 54-7 thrashing of Indiana on Saturday in Bloomington, which was even more lopsided than the score indicated. The margin was 44-7 at halftime, after which point Ohio State let up on the gas considerably. The Buckeyes scored 42 points on 38 offensive plays in that half and added a safety on defense for good measure.

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Loser: Oklahoma State

One of the sport’s other OSUs had a tougher Saturday. The Cowboys lost their first game of the year at Iowa State, 24-21. They’re listed as a loser here not because they played poorly or there’s any shame in losing on the road to the Cyclones, who make a habit of beating up on good Pokes teams in Ames, but because they were very much on the short end of an iffy fourth-down spot that likely cost them the game. Had they gotten better ball placement on their final drive, even by another six inches, they would’ve had a solid chance to at least force overtime and perhaps win in regulation. College football is a tough business.

Winner: Surprise unbeatens not named Oklahoma State

UTSA, Wake Forest, San Diego State, and SMU are all fine programs. But UTSA is a startup that only started playing football a decade ago; Wake is usually mediocre or worse in the ACC (or at least was, before head coach Dave Clawson arrived in 2014); San Diego State is generally more good than great; and SMU has not been near the top of the sport since the late ‘80s; when things ended in an episode you might have watched a documentary about.

Yet this year, those four teams are a combined 29-0. All won on Saturday, and usually convincingly. SDSU only beat Air Force by six points, but the winning margins for UTSA, Wake, and SMU were 29, 14, and 29, respectively. Wake beat Army 70-56, as both teams individually hit the full-game total of 56 points that Las Vegas bookmakers had laid out.

Loser: Gary Patterson

Patterson’s TCU lost at home, 29-17, to what had been a 2-4 West Virginia team. The head Frog has had a rough year, as his team has played some of the worst defense of his decorated tenure in Fort Worth. Too often, TCU hasn’t been able to make up for it on offense.

Losing at home to WVU will be a low point, and it comes just four days after Patterson got publicly furious at a blog post that argued for TCU to fire him. Patterson has done a lot for TCU, piling up wins for more than two decades while stewarding the football program from the WAC to Conference USA to the Mountain West to the Big 12. But his team is bad, and he doesn’t look equipped to make it good again. I don’t think the ending here will be happy.

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