Commentary

Iowa State shakes up BCS race

Originally Published: November 19, 2011
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

AMES, Iowa -- So what happens now?

We've spent the past few weeks wondering what would happen to the BCS national championship race if No. 2 Oklahoma State lost to No. 5 Oklahoma in the Dec. 3 Bedlam game in Stillwater, Okla.

[+] EnlargeIowa State celebrating
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallIowa State notched its biggest win in program history Friday night.

We've pondered what would happen if No. 1 LSU lost to No. 6 Arkansas in Baton Rouge, La., on the day after Thanksgiving, or maybe even against No. 14 Georgia a week later in the SEC championship game.

If the Cowboys lost to the Sooners, which they'd done in each of the past eight seasons, would No. 3 Alabama play LSU again in the Jan. 9 Allstate BCS National Championship Game?

If not Alabama, then what about No. 4 Oregon? The Ducks lost to the Tigers 40-27 in their Sept. 3 season opener and haven't lost since.

Or, even better, what would happen if LSU and Oklahoma State both lost?

Well, let the debate begin.

Somehow, Bedlam arrived two weeks early, and it was delivered by the most unlikely of teams. Iowa State, which had been 0-56-2 against opponents ranked in the top six of the Associated Press top 25 poll since 1936, stunned the No. 2 Cowboys 37-31 in double overtime at Jack Trice Stadium.

The Cowboys, who only had to win at Iowa State and then beat Oklahoma at home to punch their tickets to the BCS title game, had a chance to defeat the Cyclones in regulation. But after OSU intercepted a tipped pass at the Iowa State 29 with the score tied at 24 with 3:16 to play, Cowboys kicker Quinn Sharp narrowly missed a 37-yard field goal wide right with 1:17 to go.

After the teams traded touchdowns in the first overtime, the Cyclones intercepted Heisman Trophy candidate Brandon Weeden for the third time on the first play of the second overtime. Three plays later, Iowa State running back Jeff Woody plowed into the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown, giving the Cyclones their biggest win in school history.

"Once I got in the end zone, I realized the enormity of what happened," Woody said. "Senior night. Friday night on ESPN; only show in town. We're 0-for-history [against top-six teams]. We need a sixth win to go bowling, and on ESPN.com they say we've got a 12 percent chance of playing in a bowl. All those things combined together create the perfect storm."

On a cold night in America's heartland, the Cyclones turned the BCS race into an absolute mess.

"We knew when we got on the field, it was our time," said Iowa State quarterback Jared Barnett, who completed 31 of 58 passes for 376 yards with three touchdowns, while running 14 times for 84 yards. "It was our time to shock the world."

It was a nightmare for the Cowboys, who might have been playing with heavy hearts after OSU women's basketball coach Kurt Budke, assistant Miranda Serna and two others were killed in a plane crash Thursday. The Pokes committed a season-high five turnovers against Iowa State.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Weeden
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallHeisman candidate Brandon Weeden threw three costly picks in the loss.

"Obviously, it's a real tough loss for our team, and I hated it for the guys," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. "But it's real simple: If you lose the turnover battle in such a big fashion, it's definitely difficult to win games, especially on the road. We had five turnovers. And with five turnovers, it's quite difficult to overcome."

Weeden didn't labor through the game, completing 42 of 58 passes for 476 yards with three touchdowns, but his three interceptions were costly. Running back Joseph Randle lost two fumbles, and the Cowboys failed to cover an onside kick in the third quarter.

"They're just mental errors," OSU receiver Tracy Moore said. "Fumbles aren't something Joe does and throwing picks isn't like Brandon. You can blame it on the weather, but that's not what we do. I don't expect it to happen in the next game. Those are the things that happened just in this game and there's nothing we can do about it."

With two more weeks to play in college football's regular season, the Cowboys might not be entirely out of the BCS championship race. But their loss at Iowa State certainly pushes them to the back of the line.

As many as five teams -- LSU, Alabama, Oregon, Oklahoma and Arkansas -- could end up being in the mix to play in New Orleans. The Tigers still have to play at Ole Miss on Saturday, host Arkansas next week and then play in the SEC championship game if they win the first two. Alabama plays FCS foe Georgia Southern at home Saturday and at No. 24 Auburn in the Iron Bowl on Nov. 26, which is never a given regardless of the teams' records.

The Ducks might be tested by USC at home on Saturday night and then host rival Oregon State in the Nov. 26 Civil War. Oklahoma still has three games to play -- at No. 22 Baylor on Saturday, home against suddenly dangerous Iowa State next week and then at Oklahoma State.

The Razorbacks host Mississippi State on Saturday before playing at LSU next week.

With so many games left to be played, there's still a lot left to shake out.

But there's little doubt the Cyclones mucked it up pretty good on Friday night.

"We know this isn't the end of the road," Iowa State receiver Darius Darks said. "It didn't surprise us."

Hang on. College football might have plenty of more surprises in store for us.

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

Mark Schlabach | email

College Football and Basketball

ALSO SEE