The distance between greatness and failure in college football is a matter of inches. Week 4 left the airtight margins shockingly bare. No. 6 Ohio State beat No. 9 Notre Dame on a 1-yard touchdown run in the waning seconds to stay afloat. Clemson missed a field goal by inches to elevate No. 4 Florida State.
This week's loaded slate presented plenty of prove-it opportunities across the sport as many programs opened their respective conference schedules. No. 16 Oklahoma survived an ugly 20-6 game against Cincinnati. No. 2 Michigan overcame a slow start to outlast Rutgers 31-7. Even No. 11 Utah picked up another signature win by beating No. 22 UCLA in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Not everyone was as lucky, however. Let's have a look at the biggest winners and losers from Week 4, including several outcomes that could shake the College Football Playoff race.
Winner: Ohio State
The Buckeyes appeared cooked facing third-and-19 with only 15 seconds remaining on the road against a feisty Notre Dame team. A loss in Notre Dame Stadium would have been Ohio State's first since 1936, a 7-2 decision in South Bend, Indiana. It almost certainly would have ended with Ohio State coach Ryan Day on the hot seat heading into a must-win game against rival Michigan later this season.
Instead, quarterback Kyle McCord came through with the throw of his life, finding wide receiver Emeka Egbuka for a 21-yard gain. Running back Chip Trayanum had the push of his life to get into the end zone as the clock ticked to one second. In the end, The Buckeyes are 4-0.
The dramatic win buys Day some much-needed goodwill heading into the Big Ten slate with a first-year starting quarterback. The Buckeyes shouldn't face any real challenges aside from the usual showdowns with Penn State and, of course, Michigan.
The Buffaloes were heavy underdogs coming into Week 4, but a 42-6 loss to No. 10 Oregon defied all expectations. Colorado allowed touchdowns on six of its first seven drives and the Ducks rushed for 6.3 yards per carry against a completely overmatched Buffaloes squad. Star quarterback Shedeur Sanders was held to just 159 yards through the air.
Given the magnitude of the loss, it's difficult to evaluate exactly how to weigh the Deion Sanders experience. TCU slipped to No. 42 in the CBS Sports 133 rankings last week. Nebraska sits outside the top 60. On the other side, No. 5 USC, No. 11 Utah, No. 14 Oregon State, No. 21 Washington State and No. 22 UCLA remain on the schedule.
The Coach Prime experience is built on much more than just results, but it's impossible to imagine the hype not taking a hit after appearing so far below conference attention.
Winner: Florida State
It wasn't ugly, it wasn't impressive, but snapping a seven-game losing streak against Clemson, the top dog in the ACC for most of the past decade, counts all the same. Florida State came back from down 17-7 in the first half and managed to get key stops down the stretch to take it to overtime. Star quarterback Jordan Travis and wide receiver Keon Coleman connected for a 24-yard touchdown that clinched the game.
Every national title contender has a hump they have to overcome to reach the top level. 2019 LSU had to beat Alabama. 2021 Georgia topped Alabama in the national title game. 2018 Clemson needed the rematch against Alabama. For Florida State, that challenge was Clemson. Despite the early jitters, they responded.
Suddenly, the schedule looks home free as the Seminoles attempt to reach the College Football Playoff for the first time since 2014. After handing Clemson a second ACC loss, Florida State might even have shoved the Tigers out of the ACC Championship Game.
Loser: Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech has faced plenty of lows during the Brent Pry era in Blacksburg, Virginia, but Saturday might be the lowest. The Hokies lost to Marshall 24-17 after surrendering a 24-3 lead across the middle two quarters in a game arguably not as close as the final score. Marshall's offensive line manhandled the defensive-minded Hokies, rushing for 214 yards and two touchdowns behind a tremendous performance from running back Rasheen Ali.
The Hokies signed up for a full-scale rebuild when Pry took over in 2022, but results have been decidedly lackluster. Virginia Tech went just 3-8 in Pry's first season, but that included two nonconference victories over Wofford and Liberty. With a 1-3 record in nonconference play, things are only getting worse.
After the loss, it's hard to find winnable games remaining on the schedule. Matchups against Virginia and Boston College are on the road. Trips to Florida State and Louisville remain. The Hokies could be facing a one- or 2-win season. Can Pry survive that?
Winner: Georgia State
Despite a 3-0 start, there were real questions about exactly how serious Georgia State was after a disappointing 4-8 campaign last season. After beating Coastal Carolina 30-17 on the road, coach Shawn Elliott has validation. To be clear, this isn't the same Coastal Carolina that won 31 games over the past three years after a coaching change, but the Chanticleers are still a serious Sun Belt foe. Going on the road and coming away with a two-score victory is a validation. Elliott needed a turnaround after the program seemingly grew stale. Georgia State now has its first 4-0 start since moving to the FBS.
Keeping pace with No. 7 Penn State on White Out night was a tall order, but the Hawkeyes were thoroughly outplayed and outclassed by the Nittany Lions. Iowa was held to just 76 total yards and 1.2 yards per carry. Penn State held the ball for 45 minutes and Iowa punted seven times. After the game, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz defended their offensive process.
"I'm not a wholesale believer in changing just because you had a bad game," Ferentz said, according to the Des Moines Register. "It was not a good game tonight. I think we made progress in three weeks … we'll keep it in perspective."
Here's some perspective: For all the jokes about the putrid offense, Iowa had not been shut out since 2000. The performance ranked among the worst of the Ferentz era in Iowa City, Iowa. The Big Ten West goes away in 2024, meaning that Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan and USC are about to show up on the schedule far more often. If these are the kinds of performances Iowa has in store for legitimate national contenders, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz's point totals will soon be the least of their issues.
Winner: Washington State QB Cam Ward
The final battle between No. 14 Oregon State and No. 21 Washington State as legacy Pac-12 members was always going to be epic, but the Cougars needed something to rally around. After a 38-35 win for Wazzu over the Beavers, it's clear: Quarterback Cameron Ward.
Ward was unbelievable against a stout Beavers defense, throwing for 404 yards and finishing with five total touchdowns. He completed 28 of his 34 passes and produced a pair of 150-yard receivers while outdueling the highly touted DJ Uiagalelei for Oregon State.
Ward has fallen under the radar due to the sheer amount of quarterback talent in the Pac-12, but his performance for the Cougars deserves him shooting up the list of Pac-12 signal-callers. In four games under offensive coordinator Ben Arbuckle, Ward has thrown for 1,390 yards, 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Winner: The 12th Man
Texas A&M picked up a vital 27-10 win over Auburn on Saturday, but coach Jimbo Fisher showed just how committed he is to the cause during a hilarious play. Auburn scored its only touchdown of the game on a 67-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown. Bizarrely, as linebacker Eugene Asante ran down the field for a touchdown, Fisher was so far out on the field that he accidentally served as a blocker for Auburn on the play. Luckily, Texas A&M owns the copyright to having a 12th Man, so no flag was thrown.
Loser: Ole Miss
Rebels coach Lane Kiffin talked plenty before the game, implying that Nick Saban might be coaching his last matchup against Ole Miss and insinuating the Crimson Tide were lying about their defensive coordinator. The Saban assistant curse seems to be over after Steve Sarkisian joined Kirby Smart and Jimbo Fisher as assistants to beat the master.
Then, No. 15 Ole Miss blew a halftime lead as No. 13 Alabama rolled to a 24-10 win. Ole Miss had nothing on the ground, mustering just 56 yards on 29 carries. The Tide found their offense, scoring more points against the Rebels than they did against South Florida. Ole Miss crumbled in the moment.
If there was a chance to take a shot at Alabama, this was the year. Kiffin teamed up with fellow former Saban assistant Pete Golding to create what seemed like one of his best teams. Instead, Kiffin's struggles against winning programs proved too much. Since becoming a Power Five coach, Kiffin is 1-19 against Power Five teams that went on to win at least nine games. The win came in 2011 at USC.
Northwestern's roster has faced unbelievable adversity this season after losing its coach only months before the year started. Things looked bleak as the Wildcats trailed Minnesota by 21 points entering the fourth quarter. But on their first offensive play after forcing overtime, Northwestern quarterback Ben Bryant found tight end Charlie Mangieri for a game-winning touchdown to give NU an improbable Big Ten victory. After the throw, Bryant keeled over with emotion as players stormed the field. Despite all the off-field chaos surrounding the program, the Wildcats continue to fight.