NCAAF Teams
Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer 27d

GameDay Final: Say hello to college football's newest contenders

College Football, TCU Horned Frogs, Georgia Bulldogs

It's fair to say that most of what happened Saturday wasn't totally surprising. Exciting, of course, but surprising?

Come on, this is college football.

What we did learn in Week 4 is that the gap between the favorites and the rest of the field is not as wide as we may have thought in some Power 5 conferences, and formidable challengers have emerged in unexpected places. Thanks to TCU's blowout of Oklahoma State, Georgia's domination of Mississippi State and Penn State's last-second victory over Iowa, it's time to adjust some of our preconceived notions.

Take the Big 12, for example.

Entering Saturday, the cream of the conference resided in the state of Oklahoma. You had the third-ranked Sooners planting flags, putting up points and inflicting pain on their first three opponents. You also had high-flying No. 6 Oklahoma State, a team many were picking as a dark horse for the College Football Playoff.

By the end of the night, the 16th-ranked Horned Frogs were the talk of the conference with their 44-31 win over the Cowboys in Stillwater. TCU dominated this game from the second quarter on, leading by as many as 20 points early in the fourth quarter.

TCU entered the season under the radar and relatively unknown. Head coach Gary Patterson, forever the forgotten man in the Big 12, outcoached Mike Gundy, while his players out-everythinged Oklahoma State. TCU forced Heisman Trophy candidate Mason Rudolph to make some uncharacteristically bad throws (two interceptions) as the Horned Frogs beat an opponent ranked in the top six on the road for the third time in their past four tries.

It was a purple clinic by the Frogs, who managed nearly 500 yards and had 32 first downs while witnessing tremendous growth from quarterback Kenny Hill, who was actually a thrill to watch, turning into both a weapon and a game-manager.

The Frogs' domination put Oklahoma on notice, too, especially with their much closer-than-expected 49-41 win over Baylor, after trailing 31-28 in the third quarter and surrendering 523 yards.

TCU's win won't shove them to the top of the Big 12, but it means that Oklahoma's grip on the conference isn't as tight as expected.

The same can be said for the SEC. Kind of.

Now, let' be clear: This is No. 1 Alabama's conference. In fact, a 59-0 pounding of a pesky and confident Vanderbilt reminded everyone in the SEC of their rightful place -- way behind the Tide.

However, 11th-ranked Georgia's 31-3 obliteration of red-hot No. 17 Mississippi State left the door cracked open a little in the SEC. As it stands, there are only two teams capable of beating Alabama -- Alabama and maybe Georgia.

Nick Saban, forever the master manipulator of motivation (just look at the faux outrage created when one Vanderbilt player dared to show confidence about upsetting the Tide) won't let his team slip into complacency after such a commanding conference win, so that leaves the Dawgs to try to dethrone this juggernaut.

UGA quarterback Jake Fromm, evolving at tremendous speed, looks good enough to keep his starting job even when Jacob Eason returns from a knee injury, and that defense is absolutely smothering, holding one of the SEC's most exciting quarterbacks in Nick Fitzgerald to just 130 total yards and two interceptions.

Head coach Kirby Smart, created in Saban's image, has a brutally tough team erected in Alabama's mold in an SEC East that seems to get worse every week. Tennessee and South Carolina survived UMass and Louisiana Tech, respectfully, while Missouri is one of the nation's worst teams, and No. 20 Florida is three terribly bad defensive breakdowns by Tennessee and Kentucky away from being 0-3 instead of 2-1.

Georgia made the statement that it's the closest thing the SEC has to having a challenger to Alabama, and if these two don't meet in Atlanta in the SEC championship game in December, it'll be a travesty.

When it comes to challengers in the Big Ten, things might have opened up some for the conference. Fourth-ranked Penn State's fantastic finish in Iowa City keeps the Nittany Lions in the Big Ten driver's seat, but this kind of scare should give No. 8 Michigan and No. 10 Ohio State fans a little comfort. If not for another incredible performance by Saquon Barkley, who might be at the top of the Heisman list now, and a gutty last-second touchdown pass by Trace McSorley, Penn State wasn't leaving with a 21-19 win.

Michigan hasn't looked nearly as dominant since its opening win over Florida, and quarterback Wilton Speight went down in an ugly 28-10 victory over an improved Purdue. Meanwhile, Ohio State is trying to figure out if it's more Jekyll or Hyde right now.

But Penn State's Saturday struggles should give these two teams a little more leeway in the Big Ten race, and the window remains very much open for ninth-ranked Wisconsin, which won't see the Buckeyes or the Nittany Lions during the regular season.

Here was the best stuff from Week 4 in college football:

Heisman hurdle?

Sheldrick Redwine took his turn wearing Miami's "Turnover Chain" during the Hurricanes' win over Toledo.

Is that some kind of record?

Abdul Adams' 99-yard run is the longest run in OU history. The previous record was 96 yards, set by Jeff Frazier in 1995.

A man can dream

INT of the day

Happy birthday to you!

Pokes fans loving Melo move

A Texas-sized burger

This is actually the "Super 16" Burger at AT&T Stadium. The burger has 16 ounces of meat, including chopped brisket, the official barbecue delicacy of Texas. It has four slices of cheese.

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