Easing into the Deion Sanders era against TCU, Nebraska and Colorado State goosed No. 19 Colorado's confidence and helped make the Buffaloes the biggest story in college football, if not all of sports.
Yet lost amid the hoopla was a question few seemed to want to ask: Was Colorado actually good?
The Buffaloes are definitely better than they've been, but that's a low bar to clear given how the program has spent years scraping along the bottom of the Power Five. Whether they deserve a spot in the US LBM AFCA Coaches Poll or warrant continued wall-to-wall coverage is up for debate after a revealing result against one of the best teams in the Bowl Subdivision: No. 11 Oregon 42, Buffaloes 6. It felt much worse than that.
The Ducks showed off the miles and miles of distance still separating Colorado from the top of the Pac-12 in one of the most extreme week-to-week course corrections of this or any season. The splash of cold water won't derail the attention paid to Sanders and the program, but it should send the Buffaloes out of the Top 25 and portend another humiliating loss next Saturday against No. 5 Southern California.
To call Oregon the better team doesn't quite do it justice. At halftime, Oregon had 35 points to Colorado's 22 yards. The Buffaloes ended up with 199 yards of offense, all coming in garbage time, and gave up 522 yards on 7.2 yards per play.
Motivated by one factor or another, the Ducks and coach Dan Lanning were angling for a fight from the opening kickoff, only the Buffaloes provided little resistance. Heading off the field after two quarters, Lanning said, "I hope all those people that have been watching every week are watching this week." This is going to be a season-long theme: Opponents looking to take Colorado down a peg.
Hype had upended the reality of the situation. Colorado is a solid team, which should be enough given the state of affairs when Sanders entered the building. The Buffaloes will get better, likely topping out at six or seven wins during the regular season. Again, that would be a commendable achievement and warrant placing Sanders in the conversation for national coach of the year.
But they are just barely breathing the same air as the best teams in the Pac-12 and FBS. More losses are going to follow, several likely following Saturday's script.
The Buffaloes and Ducks top the winners and losers from a loaded Saturday:
No. 3 Florida State's 31-24 overtime win at No. 23 Clemson marks the official changing of the guard in the ACC, ushering in the Seminoles' return to prominence eight years after ceding generation-long ownership of the conference to the Tigers. Given the trajectory of these two rivals — one is skyrocketing and the other plateauing, and you can guess which is which — it's hard to see how and when Clemson regains control. The individual story lines of note coming out of the win include the play of quarterback Jordan Travis, who has to be seen at this point as a major Heisman Trophy contender, and the under-recognized work done by fourth-year coach Mike Norvell. But the biggest takeaway is in the bigger picture: Florida State is simply better than Clemson.
FOLLOW ALONG: Updates and highlights from all the Week 4 action
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It's a drive that will find a place in highlight montages celebrating the long history of an elite program: No. 4 Ohio State went 65 yards in under 90 seconds and scored on a short touchdown run with one second left on the clock to beat No. 9 Notre Dame 17-14. Along the way, you saw the maturity of young quarterback Kyle McCord, who made several clutch throws and finished with 240 yards without an interception. You saw more strong play from running back TreVeyon Henderson, who eclipsed the 100-yard mark, and strong contributions from the receiver corps without a standout game from Marvin Harrison Jr., who was injured in the second half. Most of all, the Ohio State defense stood up and delivered a championship-caliber performance that speaks to the potential of this year's team when both sides of the ball are working together.
This is going to be a pulling-teeth type of season for No. 12 Alabama given the state of the offense, which may have been better in a 24-10 win against No. 16 Mississippi but remains mystifyingly poor behind new coordinator Tommy Rees. It's clear the Crimson Tide's best method for success moving forward is to turn back the clock and embrace the sort of defense-and-ball-control game plan that has been phased out of the SEC. The defense stepped up against the Rebels, giving up just 301 yards on 4.6 yards per play, while Jalen Milroe completed 17 of 21 throws with a touchdown and one mindbogglingly bad interception in his first game back in the starting lineup. It wasn't pretty, but Alabama got the job done in a crucial SEC West matchup.
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Maybe No. 7 Penn State's 31-0 throttling of No. 22 Iowa says all you need to know about the state of the Hawkeyes' maligned offense even after last week's 41-point explosion against Western Michigan. The Nittany Lions allowed just 76 yards: 56 through the air on 16 attempts and 20 yards on the ground on 17 carries. While not productive on a per-pass basis, Penn State quarterback Drew Allar had four touchdowns without an interception while the running game did the heavy lifting outside the red zone, going for 215 yards on 57 carries against what has been one of the best defenses in the Power Five. The physicality of this win speaks to the Nittany Lions' flexibility and adaptability to meet the challenge of a specific opponent or specific defense.
Duke and Kansas
More known for their basketball exploits, the No. 18 Blue Devils and Jayhawks are a combined 8-0 after another two impressive wins. Duke quarterback Riley Leonard continued his hot play with 248 passing yards and one rushing and one passing score in a 41-7 blowout of Connecticut that was just seconds away from being just the program's second shutout since 2014. Kansas drew 184 yards of offense and three passing scores from quarterback Jalon Daniels and kicked off Big 12 play with a 38-27 win against Brigham Young. The Jayhawks deserve Top 25 consideration and have clearly taken yet another step forward after last year's bowl bid.
No. 10 Utah is now 4-0 with three wins against Power Five competition after smothering No. 25 UCLA 14-7, thanks to an early pick-six and a dominant run defense that gave up all of 9 yards on 32 carries, counting sacks. The Utes have stayed on track for another conference championship and New Year's Six bowl berth despite missing senior quarterback Cam Rising, who was dressed Saturday but has yet to be cleared after last year's knee injury. To be unbeaten at this point and against this schedule makes this September one of the finest coaching performances of Kyle Whittingham's Hall of Fame-caliber career, which is really saying something.
This was crazy: Northwestern trailed Minnesota 31-10 after three quarters and 31-24 with just over two minutes left but scored the game-tying touchdown with five seconds remaining and then won 37-34 in overtime. Brutal for Minnesota — after barely beating Nebraska and losing to Northwestern, this clearly isn't a very good team — but the win is huge for interim coach David Braun and the Wildcats, who had a deeply tumultuous run-up to the regular season and were expected to finish dead last in the Big Ten. Instead, NU is already 2-2 with losses to Rutgers and Duke.
The Cowboys are making a case for being counted among the top handful of teams in the Group of Five. After coming back from 12 points down to beat Appalachian State 22-19, Wyoming is now 3-1 with just a very competitive loss to Texas. The Cowboys also topped Texas Tech in the season opener.
It's been an incredible run: seven ACC championships, two national championships, four trips to the national championship game and five trips to the playoff, all since 2015. Clemson remains a top-end program with realistic annual goals of competing for the ACC crown and battling for a playoff berth, but the dynasty is over. Winning in Death Valley makes the Seminoles the new boss of the ACC and the league's strongest contender for a top-four finish, docking the Tigers into the crowded second tier of good-but-not-good-enough teams with no real chance of playing for and winning the national championship. The decline hasn't been sudden; this program has melted over the course of several seasons, making Saturday's passing of the torch back to Florida State feel inevitable.
Needing just one more stop to land one of the program's biggest regular-season wins in years, Notre Dame might need a few weeks to shake off this narrow loss to the Buckeyes — but won't get that chance with Duke waiting next Saturday. Making that late stand and pulling out the win would've given the Irish incredible room for error the rest of the way against a fairly manageable schedule that only has one other prime contender, USC. Now, making the playoff requires that Notre Dame not lose once the rest of the way. Very doable, but not easy.
Sanders (Deion and Shedeur)
Shedeur Sanders' Heisman campaign lasted about a week, though it might be rekindled if Colorado pulls off a miracle against USC next week. He was under pressure constantly against the Ducks and was not helped by the Buffaloes' thin receiver corps, finishing with 23 completions in 33 attempts for 159 yards while getting sacked seven times. And for the first time in his major-college coaching career, Deion Sanders will need to respond to a negative result and keep the Buffaloes on an even keel with the Trojans one week away.
Sadly, someone had to lose the Pac-2 championship game. No. 24 Washington State got the better of No. 15 Oregon State, 38-35, in a matchup of the two teams left holding the bag in the disappearing Pac-12. What this game showed, however, was the high quality of play between two teams and programs about to be left out of the Power Five. Down 35-14 entering the final quarter, the Beavers went on a 21-3 run to get within a field goal but were unable to recover an onside kick with just over a minute left, sealing the Cougars' win.
This continues to get worse with no indication that things will get better. The Hokies entered Saturday's game against Marshall on the heels of losses to Purdue and Rutgers — that is an absolutely heartbreaking collection of words to string together, by the way — and then converted just two of 13 third-down attempts, averaged 4.5 yards per throw and allowed 214 rushing yards in a 24-17 loss to the Thundering Herd. Tech has shown no progress in Brent Pry's second season and ranks easily among the worst teams in the Power Five through four weeks.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football Week 4 winners and losers: Colorado humbled