There have been better days for the SEC.
The strongest conference in the nation — uh, we think — had a pretty miserable Saturday, starting with No. 1 Alabama close sweaty shave is a big favorite against No. 22 Texas.
While the Crimson Tide survived, 20-19, the narrow victory raises some questions about the team’s place at the top of the USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches poll.
At least Alabama escaped what would have been a terrible loss.
No. 6 Texas A&M lost 17-14 to Appalachia State, sending the Aggies tumbling early in the Bowl Subdivision and reinforcing something every Power Five program should tattoo on their forehead: Don’t program the mountaineers – not home, not far, never.
Missouri was bombarded by former frontier state rival Kansas State in a 40-12 loss. The Tigers were rocked by the Wildcats’ terrific running game, paced again by star running back Deuce Vaughn, and were ultimately doomed by a streak of four interceptions in as many runs in the second half.
In another Power Five crossover game, Vanderbilt lost 45-25 to No. 21 Wake Forest and quarterback Sam Hartman, who threw for 300 yards and four touchdowns after missing the season opener.
It’s not all bad though. It shows SEC depth that another member, No. 2 Georgia, could supplant the Tide at the top of this week’s Top 25 after an easy win over Samford. Tennessee is destined for a national ranking after beating No. 14 Pittsburgh 34-27 in overtime, though the Panthers have starting quarterback Kedon Slovis sidelined for the second half.
This weekend’s list of winners and losers includes teams from the SEC, Big 12 and more:
Sometimes a loss isn’t just a loss, even though the Longhorns had multiple chances in the second half to put Alabama out and secure a decisive victory for second-year coach Steve Sarkisian. While Texas fell short, the performance bodes well for the team’s chances in an unpredictable Big 12 and should put some wind in the program’s sails after a terrible 2021 season. the Longhorns need is a healthy quarterback after losing starter Quinn Ewers early and seeing replacement Hudson Card battle his way through a gutsy performance.
After narrowly losing to North Carolina in the midst of an epic fourth-quarter point barrage, Appalachian State deserves to be chosen as a Sun Belt favorite and one of the best teams in the Group of Five after winning. at A&M. Later, there’s a chance that this team will look back on the loss to UNC and wonder what could have been; as proved last year, an undefeated All-Five team with solid non-conference wins over the Power Five could make a case for the college football playoffs.
Caleb Williams passed for 341 yards and four touchdowns as USC improved to 2-0 with a 41-28 win at Stanford. It’s pretty clear over the two weeks that this offense will be as good as expected, thanks in large part to the previous connection Williams had with Lincoln Riley and his scheme. But with Oregon and Utah already holding a loss, the Trojans are already the top-ranked team in the Pac-12 and possibly a contender for the New Year’s Six even sooner than expected.
The Cougars are poised for a big leap into the playoff conversation after bouncing back from a missed field goal in regulation and one in overtime to beat future Big 12 cohort Baylor 26-20 in double overtime. Thanks to quarterback Jaren Hall’s 261 passing yards, the win will send BYU skyrocketing in the coaches’ poll and build major momentum heading into next weekend’s game with Oregon. The Cougars will also face Notre Dame and Arkansas in October, providing even more opportunities to play a big part in this year’s New Year’s Six roster.
Kansas is 2-0 for the first time since 2011 after a 55-42 overtime win over West Virginia, capped by a six-overtime first-frame pick. The program has made huge gains in a very short time under second-year coach Lance Leipold, who took over the team last spring and turned the Jayhawks into a not-so-easy exit in the Big 12 Leipold’s job is going to make him a very intriguing option for some high profile jobs that are slated to open this winter and next in the Midwest.
History tells us that Alabama will bounce back and remain one of the teams to beat in the hunt for the national championship. In the aftermath, though, look for several teams on this year’s schedule to share this rare thought: Alabama looks beatable. One future opponent who may be dreaming of an SEC West crown is Arkansas’ No. 17, who moved to 2-0 with a 44-30 win over South Carolina. Quarterback KJ Jefferson had 229 yards on offense and two touchdowns while the defense gave up just 44 yards rushing, the least allowed by the Razorbacks in four years. The performance comes after a season-opening win over Cincinnati, one of the best five-man programs. For two weeks, Arkansas may have the best resume of any Bowl Subdivision team.
Will beating Florida give Kentucky some national respect? (Probably not.) A week after upsetting Utah, the Gators were rocked by a pretty vintage effort from Kentucky. The Wildcats held UF to 279 rushing yards and intercepted quarterback Anthony Richardson twice in a 26-16 win that should settle some things in the SEC East. With Georgia the overwhelming favorite, second place looks set to go to the Wildcats and Tennessee, with this meeting in Knoxville on October 29.
The Wildcats got very little through the air from transfer quarterback Adrian Martinez, who threw for just 101 yards but bullied Missouri on defense and with a physical running game that went for 235 yards and four scores. Going for 145 yards and two touchdowns will juice Vaughn’s underdog Heisman campaign with a huge matchup with No. 7 Oklahoma coming up on Sept. 24. Clearly Kansas State is a legitimate threat to winning the Big 12 and reaching a bowl major.
The solar belt
It was a stellar Saturday for a vastly underrated conference — though the Sun Belt secret may be coming out. In addition to Appalachian State’s win at A&M, Marshall shocked No. 9 Notre Dame, Georgia Southern beat Nebraska, FBS newbie James Madison went undefeated, South Alabama beat MAC favorite Central Michigan 38-24 and Georgia State pushed UNC to the edge with an 18-point third quarter before losing 35-28. With the Americans set to lose three key members to the Big 12, the Sun Belt is poised to take over as the premier Five Five conference.
The heat goes to freshman coach Marcus Freeman, who is the first coach in program history to lose his first three games. Last week’s 21-10 loss to Ohio State is one thing; falling 26-21 against Marshall is another. What are the Fighting Irish suffering from? Above all, this offense will be scrambling for answers after another subpar appearance. Notre Dame averaged 3.5 yards per carry and finished with just 351 total yards, with quarterback Tyler Buchner and Drew Pyne combining for 5.8 yards per attempt and three interceptions. We may be looking at a long season for the Irish.
Any ranking of the worst losses in the history of the program has a new entry. The Aggies were passed by 128 yards and had just eight first downs to the Mountaineers’ 22. It’s not that Appalachia State is a pushover, because we know the Mountaineers are among the best teams in the five-team. But this year was meant to be different: A&M was chosen as a near-lock for the New Year’s Six and even the best team in SEC West. Instead, coach Jimbo Fisher’s team hit rock bottom before a series of brutal games: No. 16 Miami (Florida), Arkansas, Mississippi State, Alabama, South Carolina and No. 23 Mississippi.
The Scott Frost era is unofficially over after Nebraska lost 45-42 to Georgia Southern behind one of the worst defensive performances in school history. The Eagles racked up 642 yards of offense, 409 through the air, and scored the game-winning touchdown with 36 seconds left to put a nail in the coffin for what was once one of the most promising coaching tenures in the game. Power Five. While Nebraska is unlikely to make a coaching move before October — and given Frost’s ties to the school, perhaps not before the end of the regular season — he’s been coaching the chain a lot as than alma mater.
A week after coming back from a 21-7 holeshot and passing Texas-San Antonio in overtime, Houston saw the odds turned in a 33-30 loss to Texas Tech. Up three points on a field goal with 37 seconds left, the Cougars allowed the Red Raiders to go 49 yards to tie the game with three seconds left. After a miraculous fourth down conversion by the Red Raiders, which forced a second overtime, Tech quarterback Donovan Smith ran it 9 yards for the win. This one hurts: Houston was poised to start 2-0 against a pair of quality non-conference opponents before heading into what is a very friendly remainder of the schedule.
There are several question marks in the wake of the narrow win, none bigger than the state of an offensive line that was expected to improve after a dwindling 2021 season but was generally unimpressive against the Texas. Is this offensive front capable of winning along the line of scrimmage against Arkansas, Georgia and the best in the SEC? One thing we know: Bryce Young is an incredible talent with a flair for the dramatic. He took a step towards reclaiming the Heisman Trophy with his marvelous fourth quarter.
Any thought the No. 18 from Wisconsin could make it out of the Big Ten West and make a run for the conference championship and a playoff berth completely evaporated with a 17-14 loss to Washington State. It’s becoming such a predictable part of the Badgers’ existence that one wonders why they’re consistently ranked so highly in the preseason. Will the program break through under Paul Chryst?
The Iowa Offense
At least the Hawkeyes scored an easy seven points: with a touchdown. Unfortunately, after scoring seven goals with a field goal and two safeties last week, the touchdown was all Iowa would muster in a 10-7 loss to rival Iowa State. Where does that leave the Big Ten West? Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Purdue, Northwest and Illinois have already suffered a loss. The only undefeated team is Minnesota.