It felt just like January's Rose Bowl, when Penn State had a 15-point third-quarter lead against Southern Cal and ended up losing on a last-play field goal.
On Saturday, the second-ranked Nittany Lions were up 15 at No. 6 Ohio State going into the fourth quarter. And they were still ahead by 11 with less than five minutes to go. But they would lose by one, on J.T. Barrett's third touchdown pass of the period and fourth of the game, a 16-yarder to Marcus Baugh at 1:42.
Those are the only games they've lost in the last 13 months.
Now it's going to be hard for the Lions (7-1, 4-1 Big Ten), who dropped to seventh, to make the four-team playoff field. Or even get back to the conference title game. Ohio State (7-1, 5-0) got to the tournament last year without even winning the East Division, but it had a 21-point win at Oklahoma on the resume. The Nits have no such signature win. Still, stuff can and often does happen, especially late. So don't rip up those tickets just yet.
Saquon Barkley ran back the opening kickoff for a TD, and scored on a 36-yard run to make it 21-3, 19 minutes in. On his other 20 carries, he gained 8 yards. Barrett looked more like the Heisman Trophy guy. He went 33-for-39 for 328 yards and ran for 95 on 17 attempts.
The Nits are at Michigan State (6-2, 4-1) this week. The Spartans lost at Northwestern (5-3, 3-2) in three overtimes. Penn State needs Ohio State to lose twice because of the tiebreaker. The Buckeyes are at Iowa (5-3, 2-3) next and at Michigan (6-2, 3-2) on Nov. 25. They host Michigan State in two weeks. At home with Illinois (2-6, 0-5) doesn't count, because Illinois stinks.
And, of course, that assumes the Lions are going to win out. The dilemma is if they beat Michigan State, that lessens the possibility of a three-way tie, which is how they got into the final a year ago. But again, things you don't expect sometimes create havoc. Which is why there's a Fraud Five. Ohio State, by the way, moved up to No. 3. That 15-point home loss to Oklahoma on Sept. 9 doesn't seem so devastating anymore. Funny how that works.
There's a month left. The first playoff standings come out Tuesday night. Remember that the final standings don't always look like the first one.
Elon 19, Villanova 14
The Wildcats (4-4, 2-3 Colonial Athletic), undermanned offensively due to injuries, lost their second straight. Coming off a bye, they were still ranked 13th in FCS. Elon (7-1, 5-0) was 10th. They led by seven early and by four late. The Phoenix went in front for keeps with just under 11 minutes left on a 21-yard pass, and added a short field goal at 4:45.
This was the Wildcats' third home game. They didn't give up a point in the first two (90-0). True freshman Kyle McCloskey (Germantown Academy) got his first start at quarterback and finished 9-for-20 for 137 yards and two scores. He ran for a team-high 65 yards on 19 carries.
Elon had 12 more first downs, 17 more plays and 225 more yards. True freshman David Cheek threw for 357 yards. Kortez Weeks had 11 receptions for 205 yards.
The 14 points were the most Villanova has scored in any of its eight losses the last two seasons.
Elon, which lost its opener by 34 at FBS Toledo, has won its seven games by a total of 28 points. This was the fourth time it's won on a fourth-quarter comeback.
This week, the Wildcats host Richmond (4-4, 2-3), which has lost its last two. These were the teams that were picked to finish second and third behind James Madison. Seven CAA teams remain in playoff contention, which means this one will be pretty much an elimination game. A 7-4 record could be good enough to get into the 24-team tourney, especially in a year when everything is so scrambled. Yet even then you might need some help.
Penn 17, Brown 7
The Quakers (3-4, 1-3 Ivy League) broke a four-game losing streak in Providence.
They scored all their points in the first half. Justin Watson scored on an 80-yard pass from Nick Robinson on the first play. The two hooked up again on a 20-yarder eight minutes later.
The senior now has 29 career TD receptions, a Penn record. He had eight catches for 132 yards. He has caught at least one TD pass in every game this season. And he holds the Ivy League record for 100-yard games with 17.
Nick Soslow had a 51-yard field goal just before halftime.
The Bears are 2-5, 0-4.
Penn now hosts Princeton (5-2, 2-2), the team it tied for the title last year. The Tigers lost at home to Cornell (3-4, 3-1) by one. And if anyone can figure out this league this year, please drop me a clue.
Yale and Columbia (both 6-1, 3-1) are tied for first, after being picked to finish fourth and seventh, respectively. Yale just beat Columbia at home, 23-6.
Temple was off. The Owls (3-5, 1-3 American Athletic) host Navy (5-2, 3-2), which has lost two in a row, on Thursday night. They beat the Midshipmen in Annapolis in last year's title game.
Mike Kern’s Top 10
1. Alabama (8-0). Idle. Saturday. vs. LSU. Has beaten Tigers six straight, after losing seven of nine to them before that.
2. Georgia (8-0). Beat Florida, 42-7. Saturday: vs. South Carolina. Will try not to be looking ahead to game at Auburn.
3. Ohio State (7-1). Beat Penn State, 39-38. Saturday: at Iowa. Has lost to Iowa twice in last three decades.
4. Notre Dame (7-1). Beat North Carolina State, 35-14. Saturday: vs. Wake Forest. Wake has scored 24 in three losses to Irish.
5. Penn State (7-1). Lost at Ohio State, 39-38. Saturday: at Michigan State. Had lost 3 straight to Spartans before last year's 45-12 win.
6. Clemson (7-1). Beat Georgia Tech, 24-10. Saturday: at North Carolina State. Has won 12 of last 13 against Wolfpack.
7. Wisconsin (8-0). Beat Illinois, 24-10. Saturday: at Indiana. Has beaten Indy nine straight. Doesn't have a signature win yet.
8. Oklahoma (7-1). Beat Texas Tech, 49-27. Saturday: at Oklahoma State. Has won 12 of last 14 against OSU. Two of last five games went to OT.
9. Miami (7-0). Beat North Carolina, 24-19. Saturday: vs. Virginia Tech. Lost to Tech last year, 37-16. Won three of four meetings before that.
10. TCU (7-1). Lost to Iowa State, 14-7. Saturday: vs. Texas. Has beaten Longhorns three straight by a combined 129-26.
Next in line: Oklahoma State (7-1), Washington (7-1), Virginia Tech (7-1), Iowa State (6-2) and Central Florida (7-0)/Auburn (7-2).
Florida State – Should never be losing 35-3 at Boston College.
Florida – It's OK to lose to Georgia, even by 42-7, but Gainesville has become a Dumpster fire.
South Florida – Can't be losing at home, even to a decent Houston team, as a double-digit favorite when you're trying to get to a major bowl game.
Washington State – I know Arizona isn't bad, but you can't be giving up 58 points and losing by 21 when you were in the Top 10 three weeks ago.
Arizona State – It's OK to lose to USC, even at home as a slight underdog. But maybe not by 48-17, to a team that lost the week before by 35 at Notre Dame.