College football chaos arrives, from Sun Belt stunners to the hot seat: Saturday takeaways

Catch your breath yet? We’re only done with Week 2 and we need to pace ourselves, but college football may not let us. Just two (or three) weeks into the season, anything seems possible, coaches are on the hot seat and the season feels almost totally wide-open.

Notre Dame, Texas A&M and Nebraska all lost at home on the same day for the first time in the AP poll era — and they all lost to Sun Belt teams. With BYU topping Baylor late at night, three top-10 teams lost to non-Power 5 opponents.

Are we going to have a chaos season?

Two top-10 programs lost to Group of 5 teams and Alabama nearly lost to Texas. We’re years away from a 12-team playoff, but even a four-team playoff could be more wide-open than expected. It’s not going to be a repeat of 2007, because nothing can be, but it feels like anyone can beat almost anyone right now.

We have to start with Alabama, which escaped Texas with a 20-19 win. The Crimson Tide had 15 penalties for 100 yards. If not for a handful of Texas miscues — like a tipped 20-yard field goal attempt, a dropped touchdown, a safety-that-wasn’t and the missed sack on Alabama’s final drive — the Tide could’ve and maybe should’ve lost this one. And that’s not even mentioning the injury to Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers, who was tearing up the Alabama defense before he left the game.

It’s not often a team like Texas, with six five-star recruits and 52 four-star recruits, per 247Sports, can come away with a moral victory as a Cinderella team, but that’s the state of Alabama (and Texas, honestly).

Nick Saban called last season a rebuilding year, implying that this team would be much better in 2022. But the Alabama wide receivers were nowhere to be seen, and defensive backs were constantly beaten by Texas wide receivers on deep passes. Running back Jahmyr Gibbs had nine catches, while no other Alabama player had more than four. Even star linebacker Will Anderson Jr. had a relatively rough day, committing three offside penalties, though he made a handful of plays.

It’s easy to say things went great for Alabama when the Tide didn’t shoot themselves in the foot, but Texas had plenty to do with Alabama’s struggles. Maybe this Alabama team is more vulnerable than we thought, and the Tide have looked like a rattled team on the road several times in the past two years. Think about Florida and Auburn last year. Now this.


Alabama needed a last-minute field goal to escape Texas. (Scott Wachter / USA Today)

Up the road in College Station, Appalachian State beat No. 6 Texas A&M 17-14 in a game that wasn’t even really that close. App State ran 80 plays and held Texas A&M to just 38 plays, 186 total yards and seven offensive points. The Aggies ran just two plays in App State territory until their final drive.

At some point, Jimbo Fisher has to do better than this. He can recruit all the stars he can get, and he beat Alabama last year, but there are so many inexplicable losses on his Texas A&M resume in his five years. This one sits at the top of that list. My colleague Matt Fortuna and I put Fisher in our second tier in our preseason Coaching Tiers, but as one agent pointed out, “​​A&M’s guy has been there for four years and he’s got a national championship, but he’s also got more 8-4s than anyone in the country.”

The 247Sports team talent rankings rate Texas A&M as the fourth-most talented team in the country, with 10 five-star recruits and 46 four-star recruits. App State is 96th with one four-star recruit on the roster.

The Mountaineers absolutely deserved to win the game. They’re now 2-3 in their past five games against top-10 teams, going back to the Michigan upset in 2007, and two of those losses came in overtime (to Tennessee and Penn State). App State has been the best program in the Sun Belt for years and one of the best Group of 5 teams in the country. How do the Mountaineers keep punching above their weight? There’s a culture of winning, and the program knows what kind of players it needs. Despite being a Sun Belt team, App State is consistently tough inside and fast on the outside.

“It’s different here on the mountain,” head coach Shawn Clark told me this offseason. “You can’t recruit stars. You can’t recruit someone just because they have other offers. You have to recruit guys that want to come to Appalachian State, get a degree and play for championships. We say, if you’re looking for the nightlife and all that, Boone’s probably not the place for you. It’s been that way since 1989 when coach (Jerry) Moore was here. It’s about values and people.”

It’ll be a party in Boone next week, however, as “College GameDay” comes to town for App State’s game against Troy.

That wasn’t the only top-10 win by a Sun Belt team. Marshall went to No. 8 Notre Dame and won 26-21. The Thundering Herd controlled that game too, leading 9-7 at halftime and taking the lead for good with 5:16 left.

Although the Fighting Irish competed admirably in a closer-than-expected loss to Ohio State last week, all the concerns that came out of that game have increased exponentially. They don’t have dynamic skill weapons outside of tight end Michael Mayer (eight catches, 103 yards, one touchdown). Quarterback Tyler Buchner led the Irish with 44 rushing yards, and he left late in the game with an apparent shoulder injury.

How about the Sun Belt? It became the first non-power conference to beat two top-10 opponents on the same weekend since the MAC did so in 2003.

Along with those two wins, Georgia Southern went to Nebraska and won, putting up 642 yards of total offense. The Clay Helton hire sure looks like a good one right now. And last week, Old Dominion beat Virginia Tech. I wrote in July that the Sun Belt may have actually been the biggest winner of realignment after adding four regional schools with rivalries and a track record of success. Fans have bought up tickets in response, and now the league has two top-10 wins under its belt.

Elsewhere across the country, No. 7 Oklahoma trailed Kent State deep into the second half and scored only 33 points, Washington State won at No. 19 Wisconsin, Texas Tech beat No. 25 Houston, Iowa State finally beat Iowa, Louisville beat UCF and a bunch of FCS teams beat FBS teams.

Who is going to win the Big 12? The ACC? The Pac-12? Who is going to get the Group of 5’s New Year’s Six spot? So much feels wide-open.

The start to this season is everything we love about the sport, with absolute madness in the first two weeks. It’s also a reminder of why the Group of 5 deserves a seat at the table and will finally get it in a 12-team playoff.


Scott Frost fell to 16-31 at Nebraska after Saturday’s loss. (Dylan Widger / USA Today)

Coaching concerns?

The honeymoon period and the good vibes are over for a lot of coaches right now, and the hot seat is getting hotter for others.

Marcus Freeman is the first Notre Dame coach to start 0-3. Don’t forget the Fighting Irish blew a 28-7 lead in last year’s Fiesta Bowl. They just plain don’t look good right now. They lack playmakers and they lack a coherent operation. For all of Brian Kelly’s faults, he didn’t lose many games like this one against Marshall, and when things went bad, he fixed them. The Irish entered Saturday having won 42 consecutive games against unranked opponents. Now we’ll see what Freeman’s really got.

Jimbo Fisher just signed the highest-ranked recruiting class in the era of internet recruiting rankings. He’s in no danger of being fired, especially with his massive buyout, but when are the Aggies going to compete for the SEC title? It sure doesn’t look like this is the team.

Neal Brown seemed like a great hire for West Virginia at the time, but a 55-42 home loss to Kansas drops the Mountaineers to 0-2 and puts him in the danger zone. He’s 17-20 in three-plus years and hasn’t won more than six games in a season. By the way, Kansas has just two Big 12 road wins since 2009, and they’ve come in the past two years at Texas and West Virginia. Lance Leipold may indeed be building something, faster than anyone expected. KU is 2-0 for the first time since 2011.

Bryan Harsin didn’t do himself any favors as Auburn hung on to beat San Jose State 24-16, a game in which the Tigers trailed at halftime. With athletic director Allen Greene out, the pressure on Harsin has only gotten hotter. The Tigers host Penn State next week.

It’s fair to question what the ceiling is at Missouri, but it’s higher than a 40-12 loss to Kansas State. Eli Drinkwitz is 12-13 in two-plus seasons. He signed a top-20 recruiting class in 2022, but the 2023 class currently ranks 58th in the 247Sports Composite. Drinkwitz hasn’t been bad, but things haven’t gone as well as expected after a 12-1 season at App State.

Bowling Green lost to Eastern Kentucky in seven overtimes. Scot Loeffler is now 7-24 at the school, and his athletic director was just let go. (Maybe Bowling Green should check if Urban Meyer is interested in returning to his roots … )

Karl Dorrell is 8-12 at Colorado after a 41-10 loss to Air Force, their second matchup since 1974 (the other was 2019). There’s no greater indictment of the state of the Colorado program than getting bodied by the in-state service academy.

And Scott Frost … I don’t think there’s anything left to say. His buyout drops to $7.5 million on Oct. 1. Next week is Oklahoma, then an idle week, then Indiana… on Oct. 1.

FCS racks up FBS wins

Let’s give a shoutout to the teams at the FCS level, which racked up four wins over FBS teams in Week 2.

• Weber State beat defending Mountain West champion Utah State 35-7

• Holy Cross beat Buffalo 37-31 on a Hail Mary

• Eastern Kentucky beat Bowling Green 59-57 in seven overtimes

• Incarnate Word beat Nevada 55-41

That’s six FCS wins this season, when you include William & Mary’s win against Charlotte and Delaware’s win against Navy in Week 1. The 12 FCS-over-FBS wins last season were the most since 2013.

Stats of the Week

• Nebraska was 254-0 at home since 1901 when scoring at least 35 points, according to Sports Reference. It’s now 254-1.

• Kentucky is 3-2 in its past five games against Florida, including 2-1 in its past three trips to The Swamp. Before that, Florida had won 31 consecutive games against Kentucky. Mark Stoops and Kentucky, football school?

• Army had 222 passing yards at halftime against UTSA, its most in any single game since 2007. The Black Knights finished with 304 passing yards but lost 41-38 in overtime. They have six completions of at least 40 yards this year, equaling their total from all of last year.

• Missouri threw interceptions on four consecutive drives against Kansas State, spanning 10 offensive plays.

• Iowa has 316 total offensive yards this season, including 150 in a 10-7 loss to Iowa State. The Hawkeyes are the first FBS team since 1979 McNeese State to score and allow 10 or fewer points in their first two games, per Elias Sports.

Superlatives

Best hurdle: Pitt tight end Gavin Bartholomew

Best failed scoring attempt: Eastern Kentucky won in seven overtimes, but this failed hook-and-lateral in the fifth overtime was my favorite part.

Most entertaining interception: Courtesy of Arizona’s Jayden de Laura

Best social media dunk, Part 1: Texas Tech crushes Houston head coach Dana Holgorsen’s Red Bull after the Red Raiders won in double overtime:

Best social media dunk, Part 2: Washington State shuts down “Jump Around” after beating Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium behind two touchdowns from Badgers transfer Nakia Watson.

Best social media dunk, Part 3: It’s corn.

Biggest jinx: Everyone on the “College GameDay” set picked Northwestern to beat Duke. They were all wrong.

Smartest fan? This Iowa State fan hid his shirt under an Iowa sweatshirt.

Dumbest fan: Did this LSU fan think you can just walk on the field during the game?

(Top photo: Carmen Mandato / Getty Images)

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