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Friday, September 30, 2022
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Fleeting lessons from Week 3: Texas A&M, Oregon might be better than we thought

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It’s a product of college football’s uniquely meaningful regular season that, as each Saturday’s slate draws to a close, we assume we’ve learned something significant. Through two weeks, we had learned that Oregon was overrated, that Notre Dame was toast, that LSU was no better under Brian Kelly than it was under Ed Orgeron, that Texas A&M couldn’t score enough to win a big game.

But to paraphrase the great Scottish philosopher Sir Roddy Piper, just when you think you have all the answers, college football changes the questions.

And so it was in Week 3 that Bo Nix emerged from the abyss — for the 106th time in his career — to deliver an emphatic Ducks win over BYU. After Oregon was demolished by Georgia in Week 1, the Ducks felt like an afterthought, but Saturday’s win was a sharp shift in perspective. Welcome to the Bo Nix Experience, Ducks fans. So few Auburn fans lived to tell of it.

And so it was that LSU scored 21 points in the fourth quarter to knock off one of the SEC’s presumed power players in Mississippi State. Jayden Daniels threw for 210 yards, ran for 93 more and accounted for two touchdowns. Oh, sure, it’d be less stressful if he could play well prior to the fourth quarter at some point this season, but LSU fans will take what they can get.

And so it was that Notre Dame’s offense flickered to life in the waning moments of Saturday’s win over Cal, then managed to fend off a ridiculous Hail Mary try — and no, not the most ridiculous Hail Mary of the day — to earn win No. 1 for Marcus Freeman. It’s still probably best not to dig too deep into this one. A win is a win.

And so it was that Texas A&M rebounded from last week’s miserable loss to Appalachian State by looking nearly as inept on offense, yet still managing a critical win over No. 13 Miami. Jimbo Fisher switched QBs and Max Johnson did just enough to earn the win. It was ugly, but not nearly as ugly as last week, and given the Aggies were down four DBs by halftime, it was a defensive effort worthy of celebration.

Up and down the schedule, Saturday offered its share of shaken expectations.

We assumed USC was the Pac-12’s best hope for a playoff team, but Washington delivered an impressive 39-28 win over Michigan State, with Michael Penix Jr. tossing four touchdowns in the effort.

We assumed Anthony Richardson‘s shaky Week 2 was a result of a stout Kentucky defense, and Florida‘s emerging star would shine once more against woeful USF. Instead, Richardson threw for just 112 yards and tossed two picks as the Gators narrowly held on, escaping with a 31-28 win only after USF missed a 49-yard field-goal try.

We assumed Texas might struggle without Quinn Ewers, but that was dumb, because the Longhorns still have Bijan Robinson, and he is a bad, bad man.

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Bijan Robinson scores 41-yard rushing TD

We assumed Iowa forgot where the end zone was located, but the Hawkeyes actually scored two touchdowns in just one quarter. (Then the game got delayed, and no one should have to wait around to see more Iowa.)

We assumed the strong start for the basketball schools couldn’t last, but Kansas, Syracuse and Duke are all 3-0.

Pitt, down to its third-string QB, would struggle on the road against a team it lost to last year? Nope.

A QB debate might stifle Ole Miss‘ offense? Nope.

Penn State would be rattled by a trip into SEC country? Ha. Not even close.

And, of course, there remains the very real possibility that whatever lessons we might take from Week 3 will prove fleeting, too. We so desperately want to believe each week is a main course, but we’ve hardly finished the amuse-bouche. (Note: That’s what we assume Stetson Bennett IV calls an appetizer.) That’s the beauty of the college football season. Every game matters, but nothing is ever certain.

Well, except Georgia. Don’t doubt Georgia.


Georgia looks better than ever

A year ago, the world was a very different place. A high school team named Bishop Sycamore was the talk of the country. Now, it’s a college team called Nebraska making questionable financial decisions off the field and looking embarrassing on it.

A year ago, college football fans could not escape an Applebee’s commercial. This year, it’s Nick Saban chasing a goat.

A year ago, Georgia was 3-0, having utterly dominated its early schedule, but there was one big red flag, one clear Achilles’ heel for an otherwise terrific football team. His name was Stetson Bennett IV.

What a difference a year makes.

Bennett wrapped his day early Saturday, leading the Bulldogs to a 48-7 thrashing of South Carolina. In the game, Bennett completed 16 of 23 passes for 284 yards and two TDs, then added another 36 yards on three rushes, one going for a touchdown.

How good was Bennett on Saturday? He did all this while, according to the ESPN broadcast, he was sick and throwing up on the sidelines during the game.

The play before Bennett vomited featured one of the most spectacular grabs a tight end has ever made.

After he vomited, Bennett was 6-of-10 for 159 yards with a passing and rushing score.

The man is a legend.

A year ago, Bennett was keeping the QB1 chair warm for JT Daniels. Now, he’s completing 74% of his passes and averaging 11 yards every time he throws the ball.

In a game in which no Georgia player ran for more than 36 yards (that was Bennett, by the way), the Bulldogs still cruised to an easy road victory against an SEC East foe. It’s mind-boggling just how good this team has looked.

Like last year, Georgia opened against a ranked foe. But this time, rather than a narrow 10-3 win over Clemson behind a stagnant offense, the Bulldogs dominated Oregon 49-3.

Like last year, Georgia moved to 3-0 with an easy win over the Gamecocks, but this time around, it wasn’t a test run for Bennett helming the offense but rather the latest example that he’s just built different.

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A year ago, Georgia outscored its first three opponents by a score of 106-23.

One national title and a busload of NFL draft picks later, the Dawgs are 3-0 again by a combined score of 130-10.

No, this is not the 2021 Georgia Bulldogs. This team might be even better because this isn’t 2021’s Stetson Bennett. The guy spent last season doing what no one believed possible, then celebrated with a championship and an appearance on “Good Morning America.”

This year? As impossible as it might sound, he might end up doing even more.


Hogs escape disaster

Bobby Petrino’s return to Fayetteville, Arkansas, on Saturday began like a joy ride, but went off the road late, and ultimately left his Missouri State team red-faced, falling 38-27 to the No. 10 Razorbacks.

Missouri State jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the second quarter, and was still up 10 after batting a 31-yard field goal early in the fourth. That’s when Arkansas hit the throttle.

KJ Jefferson threw a 73-yard TD pass before Bryce Stephens returned a Missouri State punt 82 yards for a TD, a three-minute spread that wiped out the Bears shot at an upset. Petrino’s team couldn’t put the brakes on the Razorbacks’ offense, with the whole affair coming to an end with one last Arkansas TD on a one-yard Jefferson run.

Arkansas is now 3-0 for a second season in a row and has critical SEC West games against Texas A&M and Alabama upcoming. Petrino, meanwhile, will likely be hired back at Louisville by 2025.


The Fun Belt rides again

Oh, you thought Week 2 was drama-filled in the Sun Belt? Appalachian State was just getting warmed up.

One week after the Sun Belt pulled off three shocking upsets, the conference delivered another trio of games that culminated with last-second drama.

Old Dominion nearly pulled off its second shocker of the season against Virginia, scoring late to take a lead over the Cavaliers. But a frenetic drive down the field put UVA in range for a chip-shot field goal and a last-second win.

Out West, South Alabama came oh-so-close to taking down undefeated UCLA. The Jaguars attempted a fake field goal from the UCLA 22 with 2:52 remaining, and it went horribly. Tanner McGee was tackled for an 11-yard loss, the Bruins got the ball back, drove 61 yards on 10 plays and delivered a game-winning field goal as time expired.

The Sun Belt has four wins over Power 5 teams this season, but it also now has three losses on the final play of the game.

And speaking of final plays, App State delivered one for the ages, as Chase Brice‘s Hail Mary heave came up short of the end zone, was deflected and caught by receiver Christian Horn at the 8, who then took a looping path toward the sideline and sprinted into the end zone for a shocking 32-28 win.

A quick flashback to the past three weeks for the Mountaineers:

Week 1: App State scores 40 points in the fourth quarter against North Carolina, including two touchdowns in the final 31 seconds, but was upended by two failed 2-point tries.

Week 2: App State goes on the road to Texas A&M and pulls off the massive upset of the sixth-ranked Aggies, the biggest win for the program since its famed victory over Michigan in 2007.

Week 3: A walk-off Hail Mary in a win over Troy on a day ESPN’s College GameDay came to campus.

That the mayor of Boone hasn’t announced some sort of “Purge” situation in which everything is legal for 24 hours probably doesn’t matter much. The party on the mountain might last until next week’s kickoff against James Madison.


It’s getting ugly at Auburn

Across the state of Alabama, Auburn boosters are sitting in smoke-filled rooms, maniacally patting their checkbooks and cackling like Bond villains.

It’s buyout season again on The Plains.

It must’ve been frustrating last week for all those Auburn money men to witness Nebraska make an expensive coaching change and think, “Why not us?”

Undoubtedly, there was a powder keg of nervous anticipation Saturday, as Penn State — the first Big Ten visitor to Jordan-Hare Stadium — ran the ball to the tune of 245 yards and five touchdowns in a 41-12 win, with the knowledge that spending a bunch of money on another failed coaching hire was now within arm’s reach. Boosters were likely reaching for their wallets faster than Nick Singleton runs the 40.

There was, to be sure, a brief moment of horror when Robby Ashford entered the game and created a spark for the Tigers. Could Bryan Harsin, amid a blowout loss, have found a savior? No. The Auburn offense quickly regressed to its fundamental mediocrity, and again, order was restored and boosters breathed a sigh of relief.

After nearly nixing Harsin last winter, then forcing out the athletics director who hired him last month, the question always felt more about when a change was coming than if it would happen. And at Auburn, there’s nothing the Tigers do better than letting a head coach twist in the wind.

How long will Harsin twist? Auburn has won just two of its past eight games, has scored 24 points or less in six of them. After a home game against Missouri in Week 4, the remaining schedule includes games against five ranked teams. Bowl eligibility could be tough, and that’s an awfully low bar for a fan base that, by its very nature, must compare itself to Alabama.

That’s bad news for Harsin, of course. But not that bad. That $18 million buyout is cathartic for everyone.


Sooners make a statement

The change at Nebraska was instantaneous. Scott Frost is gone, and suddenly the Huskers aren’t losing close games anymore.

Instead, Nebraska got blown out by former Big 12 rival Oklahoma 49-14.

OK, so the problems in Lincoln didn’t end with a coaching change. Instead, Saturday offered emphatic evidence that Oklahoma’s fortunes haven’t shifted with a coaching change either.

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Dillon Gabriel takes off on a 61-yard run for Oklahoma to tie the game against Nebraska.

In its first game against a Power 5 foe with Brent Venables at the helm, Oklahoma looked an awful lot like the Sooners we’ve come to expect. The offense was potent, with Dillon Gabriel throwing for two touchdowns and running for another. The defense dominated. After Nebraska scored on its opening drive, the Huskers didn’t sniff the end zone again until the game was well out of hand. As with Venables’ best Clemson teams, the Oklahoma defensive front dominated the line of scrimmage, tormenting Casey Thompson to the tune of four sacks.

For the Sooners, it was a statement that Lincoln Riley’s departure won’t keep this team from being in the playoff hunt.

For the Huskers, it was a perfect opportunity to interview Urban Meyer for the open head-coaching job. After all, Nebraska has lots of wide-open spaces for a man to display his picture frames.


Heisman Five

Technically, Appalachian State’s Chase Brice doesn’t make our top five, but if there was some award for the most magical player in college football this year, it’d be him. As for the Heisman, this week’s leaderboard includes four other QBs.

1. Alabama QB Bryce Young

Young accounted for four TDs in Alabama’s 63-7 win over Louisiana-Monroe, but he also threw two picks for just the second time in his career. Nick Saban probably made him walk home.

2. Georgia QB Stetson Bennett

Bennett had three touchdowns in a 48-7 win. He also ate a 96-ounce sirloin at halftime, sketched out a rough plan to address inflation on his wristband during one third-quarter huddle, and after the game, he brokered a fragile peace between Chris Pine and Harry Styles. The guy is a legend.

3. Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud

Stroud had as many touchdowns (five) on Saturday as he had incompletions. He threw for 367 yards, averaged nearly 14 yards per throw and saw three different Buckeyes receivers top 100 yards.

4. USC QB Caleb Williams

Williams once again looked dominant. USC’s offense kept humming along in a 45-17 win over Fresno State, with Williams accounting for four TDs in the process. None of this is surprising, so let’s use this space to note that the guy Williams replaced at Oklahoma last year, Spencer Rattler, struggled mightily as South Carolina fell to Georgia on Saturday and now has two touchdown passes and five picks this season. Hard to believe this time last year Rattler seemed like an obviously better option than Williams.

5. Minnesota RB Mohamed Ibrahim

The Golden Gophers are 3-0 with one of the highest scoring offenses in the country, and Ibrahim is a huge reason why. Against Colorado on Saturday, Ibrahim married the ball 23 times for 202 yards and three touchdowns. It was his third career 200-yard game and his 12th straight with 100 on the ground. The truly wild thing about that streak is, it dates all the way back to the 2019 season. Ibrahim went for 140 in Minnesota’s bowl game against Auburn Tigers that season, then hit the century mark in all seven of Minnesota’s games in the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign. He ran for 163 in the opener for 2021, but got hurt and missed the rest of the season. He returned for 2022 and has gone over 100 in each of Minnesota’s first three of this year. It’s the longest streak by an FBS back since Texas’ D’Onta Foreman had 13 straight in 2015.

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Touchdown! Mohamed Ibrahim scores vs. Colorado


Under-the-radar play of the day

It’s ironic that Liberty raised eyebrows this week when players referred to the Wake Forest offense as “cute,” but it turns out, it was the Demon Deacons’ defense that got a little too cute and nearly cost them the game.

Here’s a lesson for all the defensive backs out there: Bat down the ball.

Oh, we know, the interceptions look cool on the stat sheet. But what won’t look cool? Watching this play in film study on Monday.

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Liberty scores to get within one point, but Wake Forest’s defense holds strong to deny the Flames the 2-point conversion.

Wake Forest managed to escape 37-36 after Liberty attempted a 2-point conversion for the win and came up short.


Under-the-radar game of the day

A week ago, Marshall pulled a stunner by beating Notre Dame.

A week ago, Bowling Green was dealt a heartbreaker, losing to Eastern Kentucky in seven overtimes.

So, what happened when the two faced off on Saturday? It’s college football, so of course the Falcons rebounded and pulled off an upset of their own.

Bowling Green took a 28-21 lead early in the fourth quarter, only to see Marshall charge back and tie it, sending the game to yet another overtime for the Falcons. This time Bowling Green persevered, countering Marshall’s field goal with a 2-yard Matt McDonald TD pass for the win.

That probably serves as the end of Marshall’s brief hope for a New Year’s Six berth, but hey, you can’t play Notre Dame every week.


Quote of the day

Colorado fell to 0-3 with a blowout loss to Minnesota on Saturday. All three losses have come by 25 points or more. After the game, head coach Karl Dorrell summed things up succinctly.

In other words, the Buffaloes like football, they just aren’t good at playing it.

We can empathize. That’s how we ended up writing about football.


Around the horn for the FCS

Week 3 again had its share of FBS-FCS mismatches, but that didn’t mean the games came without any interest.

The good: Southern Illinois‘ defense forced four turnovers as the Salukis scored the upset over Northwestern 31-24 on Saturday. Reminder: Northwestern beat Nebraska but is now not even close to being the best team in the state of Illinois.

The bad: Virginia Tech cruised to a 27-7 win over Wofford, but that wasn’t all bad for the Terriers. Nathan Walker‘s 3-yard TD run with 9:34 to play marked the first points of the year for 0-3 Wofford. That’s progress!

The ugly: Kent State earned its first win of the season, thumping Long Island University 63-10. LIU cashes its share of FBS checks, but what it has done with that money is anyone’s guess. In addition to Saturday’s defeat, the Sharks (we looked that up) lost 37-0 to Toledo in Week 1, 42-7 to Miami (Ohio)and 66-0 to West Virginia last year, and opened the 2021 season with a 48-10 loss to a Florida International team that didn’t win again that season.

So, if you’re keeping score at home, that’s five games vs. FBS foes in the past 13 months that resulted in an 0-5 record by a combined score of 256-20. Long Island University is to college football teams as Long Island iced teas are to beverages — it’s comprised of a haphazard assortment of ingredients and results in a seemingly endless series of bad decisions.


The most college football thing to happen Saturday

There’s a long and colorful history of mascot shaming among rivals in college football, but this week, Virginia took things too far.

On Wednesday, Hudson — the yellow lab puppy and Old Dominion‘s unofficial mascot — announced via his Twitter account that he’d been denied field access for Saturday’s road game in Charlottesville.

Virginia claimed that Hudson was technically a service dog and not a mascot, and therefore he wouldn’t be allowed on the field. Given that Virginia’s offense, which scored just three points in a loss to Illinois last week, was allowed on the field for the game, the bar for entry couldn’t have been that high.

Not surprisingly, furor erupted on social media. After all, Hudson is a puppy who wears rec specs and crocs. Who doesn’t want a puppy wearing crocs on the sideline for a game? That’s Showbiz 101.

Thankfully, the problem was rectified when Virginia’s own service dog, Champ, got involved. (It’s a relatively little known fact, but upon his death, Thomas Jefferson bequeathed control over all university decisions to a line of yellow labs. History is wild.)

With that brief bit of drama resolved, there were but two lingering questions.

The first, would the pups actually meet? The answer, of course, was yes. But this was still a big game for both teams, so Champ and Hudson were all business. No fraternizing with the enemy.

The second, would Hudson’s presence rally Old Dominion to its second win of the season over an in-state, Power 5 opponent?

For a brief moment, it looked like it might. ODU scored with 1:01 to play to take a 14-13 lead. But that’s when the Monarchs — uh — stepped in it.

Brennan Armstrong hit Lavel Davis Jr. for 30 yards, then ran for another 13. A pass interference call set UVA up at the Old Dominion 5, and Brendan Farrell, who’d missed a 36-yard kick one drive earlier, delivered as the clock expired, giving Virginia a 16-14 win.

Now, if Champ can start lining up in the slot for Virginia, the Hoos might really be on to something.


Big bets and bad beats

If you had the under in the Purdue-Syracuse game, you were feeling pretty good at the half. The total closed at 59.5. The game went to the break with Purdue nursing a 9-3 lead.

Even after the third quarter, the scoring was still in short supply. But in the fourth, that’s when things got weird.

Purdue scored with 11:25 to play to take a 15-10 lead. Then Syracuse scored. Then Purdue threw a pick-six. Then the Boilermakers completed a 55-yard touchdown throw and found the end zone again on their next drive, taking a 29-25 lead with just 51 seconds to play.

Still, the under would cover if Purdue could keep Syracuse out of the end zone.

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Two penalties after Purdue’s touchdown gave Syracuse excellent field position for its final drive, and Garrett Shrader connected with Oronde Gadsden II for a 25-yard TD with 7 seconds to go.

Final score: Orange 32, Purdue 29. The over hit after 42 points were scored in the final quarter.

Oh, and if you also had Purdue plus-1.5 — good luck recovering from this one.


Michigan hasn’t exactly challenged itself with its nonconference schedule to start the season. In Week 1, the Wolverines were 31-point favorites against Colorado State. In Week 2, Michigan was a 52-point favorite against Hawaii. And on Saturday, UConn arrived at the Big House as a 47.5-point underdog.

According to ESPN, Michigan is the first team since the FBS/FCS split in 1978 to be favored by at least 45 points in consecutive games and the first team to be favored by at least 31 in its first three games of the year since 2001 Florida.

And even with the hefty spread, Michigan still had no trouble covering Saturday. Behind five touchdowns from Blake Corum, the Wolverines topped UConn 59-0.


It’s just three weeks into the season, and both Kansas and Vanderbilt have already hit the over for their preseason win total at Caesars Sportsbook. The Jayhawks toppled Houston 48-30 to move to 3-0. Kansas hasn’t won more than three games in any season since 2009, and it could get to four next week in a showdown against another surprising 3-0 team — Duke.

Meanwhile, Vandy went on the road and knocked off Northern Illinois to get its third win of the season 38-28.

The preseason win total at Caesars for both teams was 2.5.





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