Every now and then, a football player has a name that doubles nicely as an illustration of his game. Kansas has a defender with the surname Defense. Arkansas State has a defensive lineman named Dee Liner. And who can forget Chris Blewitt—the kicker for Pittsburgh who did exactly that on multiple occasions?
It’s time to add Iowa State’s new quarterback to that list.
Kempt (adj.): Maintained in a neat and clean condition; well cared for.
What an apt description for the way Kyle Kempt fared in a national landscape-altering 38-31 road win over No. 3 Oklahoma at Memorial Stadium.
It’s a result that makes the College Football Playoff picture look, well, unkempt.
Iowa State announced Friday night that former starting QB Jacob Park was taking a leave of absence for medical reasons. Suddenly thrust into the job, Kempt—a senior who entered the day with just two pass attempts in his FBS career—threw for 343 yards and three touchdowns against what had previously been one of the top candidates for the CFP.
And at a point in the game where even most four-year starters would have folded under the pressure, Kempt was simply unflappable. On Iowa State’s final four drives prior to a couple of victory-formation kneels, Kempt completed 11 of 12 passes for 212 yards. All three of his touchdowns came during this time, and the fourth drive resulted in a field goal.
It’s also worth noting that Joel Lanning—the quarterback-turned-linebacker who spent a lot of time as the Wildcat QB in this game—was a two-way star on par with what Jabrill Peppers used to do for Michigan. This means the Cyclones won the game with a third-string QB and a linebacker taking every snap behind center.
To put it lightly, no one saw this coming.
According to a Fox graphic during the game, in program history, Iowa State had never won a road game against a team in the Top Five of the AP poll. Per Winsipedia, the Cyclones had an all-time record of 5-74-2 against Oklahoma and had lost 18 consecutive games in the series. And per OddsShark, Iowa State went from a 26.5-point underdog all the way up to 31.5 points by kickoff as more and more money came in on the Sooners.
Heck, even one-third of the way through the game, it felt like Iowa State had no hope. Early on, Baker Mayfield was simply doing what made him a two-time Heisman finalist and one of the top candidates for that honor this year. On Oklahoma’s first four possessions, Mayfield threw for two touchdowns, rushed for a third and paced the Sooners to a 24-10 lead.
Whether the Sooners became complacent in what looked to be another comfortable win or whether it was at this point in the game the Cyclones finally woke up is an interpretation left to the eye of the beholder. Regardless, Iowa State outscored Oklahoma 28-7 the rest of the way.
ust like that, the first massive domino of the college football season fell. After five weeks without a single AP Top 10 team losing to an unranked foe, No. 3 lost at home to drastically shake up the (admittedly still way too early to legitimately talk about) College Football Playoff picture.
Everyone has more or less penciled Alabama and Clemson into 50 percent of the playoff spots, and thanks to a Week 2 road win over Ohio State, Oklahoma was well-cemented at the top of the list of “other” teams jostling for the other two spots.
The Sooners didn’t necessarily need to go undefeated to appear in the selection committee’s final four, but if they were going to drop a game, the smart money was on either the road game against Oklahoma State or the home game against TCU that come in back-to-back weeks in the first half of November.
At this point—unless things go completely haywire in at least two of the other four Power Five conferences over the next two months—Oklahoma will need to win every remaining game (including the Big 12 Championship) to have a realistic argument for the playoff. Sorry to the fans in Norman who might want to believe otherwise, but a two-loss team with one of those losses at home against Iowa State simply is not a candidate for a national championship.
The other half of the long-term outlook to monitor is the ripple effect this loss has on the rest of the country.
Ohio State has been crushing inferior competition over the past few weeks, but this result has to have at least a slight negative impact on the Buckeyes’ case for the CFP, right? You would hope the selection committee would look at much more than just the transitive property, but a home loss to a team that lost at home to Iowa State isn’t anywhere near as forgivable as a home loss to the No. 3 team in the country.
If the Buckeyes take care of business the rest of the way, it shouldn’t really matter. But what if they lose to Michigan in the regular-season finale or lose to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game? Hard to imagine there’s a scenario where that team gets in ahead of either the Pac-12 champion or the second-best candidate from the SEC.
Oklahoma entered the day as the clear top candidate for a conference that has already been left out of the CFP in two of its three years of existence. With the Sooners almost certain to drop outside the Top 10 of the next AP poll, there might not be a single team left in the Big 12 that can stomach a loss and still have a case for the playoff.
There’s a reason the selection committee is going to wait three more weeks before releasing its first CFP rankings, though. It’s still early in the season. Oklahoma, Ohio State and the other contenders in the Big 12 all still have plenty of time to prove their worth and avoid further disaster.
But this is around the time of year things tend to start spiraling out of control.
In the first Saturday of October 2015, No. 3 Ole Miss, No. 6 Notre Dame, No. 7 UCLA and No. 8 Georgia all suffered losses. Not one of those teams finished in the Top Nine of the final CFP rankings, and two of them didn’t even finish in the Top 25.
Early October 2016 wasn’t quite as wild, but it was in Week 6 that No. 6 Houston suffered a shocking loss to unranked Navy, starting its slide from CFP contender to a tie for fifth place in the American Athletic Conference.
If Oklahoma is going to bounce back from this, though, at least there’s a precedent. It was at this time in 2014 that No. 2 Oregon lost a home game to Arizona, but the Ducks ran the table from that point forward, finishing at No. 2 in the CFP standings.