Saturday was a perfect example of why the best college football coaches are coveted like Infinity Stones


Kansas State Wildcats QB Martinez, Adrian (09) during a game between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Kansas State Wildcats at Gaylord Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma on September 24, 2022.

Kansas State Wildcats QB Martinez, Adrian (09) during a game between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Kansas State Wildcats at Gaylord Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma on September 24, 2022.
Image: Getty Images

Oklahoma getting caught by Kansas State is an annual tradition for the Sooners, and it happened again Saturday night, with the visiting team pulling out a 41-34 upset in Norman. Running back Deuce Vaughn and quarterback Adrian Martinez combined for 264 yards on the ground, with Martinez adding another 234 in the air and accounting for all five of the Wildcats’ scores (four on the ground, one in the air).

It was the third time in four years the Wildcats beat the Sooners, but this one felt different for a variety of reasons.

The first reason was because of last weekend. The Sooners pistol whipped Nebraska, and K State lost to Tulane. Martinez, a former Cornhusker, had been awful in his first three starts. He had 454 yards of total offense and three TDs overall heading into Saturday. No. 9 accounted for 382 yards, including a handful of clutch third-down conversions, and almost doubled his season’s numbers in a night.

The next difference was obvious: Lincoln Riley and Caleb Williams were busy in Corvallis leading USC past a tricky conference hurdle of their own. The Trojans trailed the Beavers for a majority of the night, and for the first time all season Williams looked human. They weren’t making their replacements at OU — Brent Venables and Dillon Gabriel — look like all that much of a downgrade.

USC still has yet to commit a turnover, and Williams conducted a clutch dive when his team needed it late in the fourth quarter, going 84 yards in 11 plays and hitting Jordan Addison from 21 yards out with 1:13 left to put USC ahead for good, 17-14. However, before that series he was 11 of 28 for 123 yards.

Gabriel finished OU’s loss with 330 yards and four touchdowns. Venables’ defense surrendered 509 yards to the Wildcats, but Riley’s offense mustered 357 yards total on about 5 yards per play. If not for Oregon State QB Chance Nolan’s four interceptions (USC’s turnover ratio on the year is now 14-0), the outcome of this game could’ve been very different. A few more third-down conversations and a couple more stops, and Oklahoma’s night might’ve had an alternate ending.

In a few years, Venables may have the defense where he wants it, with enough leftover infrastructure to make the offense hum how he wants it. There’s a scenario where he follows a Kirby Smart blueprint to contention year in and year out — and that’s contingent on getting Georgia-type defensive talent.

Oklahoms’s fan base isn’t accustomed to waiting though, and from the unamused look on many Boomer fans in the attendance (and not cheering), it won’t take long to grumble. Be that as it may, they’re not different from any other group of entitled supporters. They were just lucky because one of the few coaches who matters in college football was leading their program.

All of the cash and perk packages Riley got to go to Southern California were for him to pull out games like he did against Oregon State. The same goes Dabo Swinney against Wake, and Nick Saban in Austin.

The best programs have premier talent, probably a Heisman candidate and, most importantly, enough coaching to survive multiple brain farts a season. It’s harder than ever to get large, fluid rosters of 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds to maintain focus every week. And even innocuous conference games can feature a quarterback who’s had enough experience to catch a hot streak at the blackjack table and royally fuck up a season.

Oregon had to rally to beat Washington State after smoking BYU. Granted Texas is banged up, but the team that went blow for blow with Alabama a few weeks ago traded shots with Texas Tech and lost. Arkansas was sitting in the top 10 and primed to host Bama and College Gameday before their kicker hit the top of the goalpost, and they fell to Texas A&M, 23-21.

If this chip shot-turned-heartbreak isn’t emblematic of how difficult the easy things have become in college football, I don’t know what is.

Three top 10 teams could’ve lost to Oregon State, Kansas State, and Wake Forest on Saturday, and one of them did. Line up USC, Oklahoma, and Clemson. Now rank the coaches. Which one isn’t like the others?

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