There have been better days for the SEC.
The nation’s strongest conference – uh, we think – had a pretty miserable Saturday, starting with No.1 Alabama’s sweat-inducing close shave as a huge favorite against No. 22 Texas.
While the Crimson Tide survived, 20-19, the narrow win raises some questions about the team’s place atop the USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll.
At least Alabama escaped what would’ve been a dreadful loss.
No. 6 Texas A&M lost 17-14 to Appalachian State, sending the Aggies tumbling in the early Bowl Subdivision pecking order and reinforcing something every Power Five program should tattoo on their forehead: Don’t schedule the Mountaineers – not at home, not away , not ever.
Missouri was blitzed by former border-state rival Kansas State in a 40-12 loss. The Tigers were pushed around by the Wildcats’ terrific running game, paced again by star running back Deuce Vaughn, and were eventually doomed by a run of four interceptions in as many drives in the second half.
In another Power Five crossover matchup, 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, however. It speaks to the SEC’s depth that another member, No. 2 Georgia, could supplant the Tide atop this week’s Top 25 after an easy win against Samford. Tennessee is destined for a national ranking after beating No. 14 Pittsburgh 34-27 in overtime, albeit with the Panthers having 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 if the Longhorns had multiple opportunities in the second half to put Alabama away and secure a tenure-making victory for second-year coach Steve Sarkisian. While Texas came up just short, the performance bodes well for the team’s chances in an unpredictable Big 12 and should put wind in the program’s sails after a dreadful 2021 season. One thing the Longhorns need is a healthy quarterback after losing starter Quinn Ewers early and watching backup Hudson Card limp his way through a gutty performance.
SHOWING FIGHT:Texas tells Alabama, rest of SEC it is ready for new league
After narrowly losing to North Carolina amid an epic fourth-quarter barrage of points, Appalachian State deserves to be picked as the favorite in the Sun Belt and one of the top teams in the Group of Five after winning at A&M. Down the road, there’s a chance this team looks back on the UNC loss and wonders what could’ve been; as proven last year, an unbeaten Group of Five team with solid non-conference wins against the Power Five could make an argument for the College Football Playoff.
Caleb Williams had 341 passing yards and four touchdowns as USC moved to 2-0 with a 41-28 win at Stanford. It’s pretty clear through two weeks that this offense is going to be as good as expected, largely due to the previous connection Williams had with Lincoln Riley and his scheme di lui. But with Oregon and Utah already holding a loss, the Trojans are already the highest-ranked team from the Pac-12 and maybe a contender for the New Year’s Six even earlier than expected.
The Cougars are set to take a big leap into the playoff conversation after bouncing back from a missed field goal at the of regulation and one in overtime to beat future Big 12 cohort Baylor 26-20 in double overtime. Keyed by quarterback Jaren Hall’s 261 passing yards, the win will send BYU soaring in the Coaches Poll and create some major momentum heading into next weekend’s matchup with Oregon. The Cougars also face Notre Dame and Arkansas in October, providing even more opportunity to play a big role in the makeup of this year’s New Year’s Six.
Kansas is 2-0 for the first time since 2011 after a 55-42 overtime win against West Virginia capped by a walk-off pick-six in the first extra frame. The program has made enormous gains in a very short time under second-year coach Lance Leipold, who took over the team last spring and has transformed the Jayhawks into a not-so-easy out in the Big 12. Leipold’s work is going to make him a very intriguing option for some high-profile jobs set to open this winter and next in the Midwest.
History tells us Alabama will bounce back and remain one of the teams to beat in the race for the national championship. In the immediate aftermath, however, 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 No. 17 Arkansas, which moved to 2-0 with a 44-30 win against South Carolina. Quarterback KJ Jefferson had 229 yards of total offense and two touchdowns while the defense gave up just 44 yards on the ground, the fewest allowed by the Razorbacks in four years. This performance comes after a win in the season opener against Cincinnati, one of the top programs in the Group of Five. Through two weeks, Arkansas may have the best resume of any team in the Bowl Subdivision.
Will beating Florida give Kentucky a little national respect? (Probably not.) One week after upsetting Utah, the Gators were shoved around by a pretty vintage Kentucky effort. The Wildcats held UF to 279 yards of offense and intercepted quarterback Anthony Richardson twice in a 26-16 win that should settle a few things in the SEC East. While Georgia’s the overwhelming favorite, second place seems likely to come down to the Wildcats and Tennessee, with that meeting set in Knoxville on Oct. 29.
The Wildcats got very little through the air from transfer quarterback Adrian Martinez, who threw for only 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 give Vaughn’s overlooked Heisman campaign some juice with a huge matchup with No. 7 Oklahoma coming on Sept. 24. It’s clear that Kansas State is a legitimate threat to win the Big 12 and reach a major bowl.
The Sun Belt
It was an outstanding Saturday for a wildly underrated conference – though the Sun Belt’s secret may be getting out. In addition to Appalachian State’s win at A&M, Marshall shocked No. 9 Notre Dame, Georgia Southern beat Nebraska, FBS neophyte James Madison remained unbeaten, South Alabama beat MAC frontrunner Central Michigan 38-24 and Georgia State pushed UNC to the edge with an 18 -point third quarter before losing 35-28. With the American set to lose three key members to the Big 12, the Sun Belt stands poised to take over as the top conference in the Group of Five.
The heat is on first-year coach Marcus Freeman, who is the first coach in program history to lose his first three games. Last week’s 21-10 setback to Ohio State is one thing; falling 26-21 to Marshall is another. What’s ailing the Fighting Irish? Most of all, this offense will be scrambling for answers after another subpar showing. 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 program history has a new entry. The Aggies were outgained by 128 yards and managed just eight first downs to the Mountaineers’ 22. It’s not that Appalachian State is a pushover, since we know the Mountaineers are among the top teams in the Group of Five. But this year was supposed to be different: A&M was picked as a near-lock for the New Year’s Six and even as the top team in the SEC West. Instead, coach Jimbo Fisher’s team has hit rock bottom heading into a brutal run of games: No. 16 Miami (Fla.), 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 put up 642 yards of offense, 409 coming through the air, and scored the game-winning touchdown with 36 seconds remaining to put a nail in the coffin for what was once one of the most promising coaching tenures in the Power Five. While it’s unlikely that Nebraska makes any coaching move before October – and given Frost’s connections to the school, maybe not until after the regular season – he is very much coaching out the string as his alma mater.
One week after storming back from a 21-7 hole and getting past Texas-San Antonio in overtime, Houston saw the script flipped in a 33-30 loss to Texas Tech. Ahead by three points thanks to a field goal with 37 seconds left, the Cougars allowed the Red Raiders to drive 49 yards to tie the game with three seconds left. After a miraculous fourth-down conversion by the Red Raiders forced a second overtime, Tech quarterback Donovan Smith ran it in from 9 yards out for the win. This one hurts: Houston was close to starting 2-0 against a pair of quality non-conference opponents before heading into what is a very friendly rest of the schedule.
There are multiple question marks coming out of the close win, none bigger than the state of an offensive line that was projected to improve after a down 2021 season but was mostly unimpressive against Texas. Is this offensive front capable of winning along the line of scrimmage against Arkansas, Georgia and the best the SEC has to offer? One thing we know: Bryce Young is an incredible talent with a flair for the dramatic. He took a step toward recapturing the Heisman Trophy with his wonderful fourth quarter.
Any thought that No. 18 Wisconsin could rise out of the Big Ten West and make a run at the conference championship and a playoff berth evaporated completely with a 17-14 loss to Washington State. This is becoming such a predictable part of the Badgers’ existence that it begs the question of why they are consistently ranked so high in the preseason. Will the program break through under Paul Chryst?
At least the Hawkeyes scored seven points the easy way: with a touchdown. Unfortunately, after scoring seven 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 this leave the Big Ten West? Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Purdue, Northwestern and Illinois have already suffered a loss. The only team standing unbeaten is Minnesota.