Two top-10 teams lost on Saturday. The Pac-12 rose from the ashes of so many years of misery to make an emphatic statement on a national stage. Nick Saban lambasted his Alabama team for a 48-14 win. Texas is already 0-1 in SEC play.
Week 2 had all the hallmarks of a great day of college football, and yet, like a Tennessee coaching search, it's sort of amazing it didn't end with even more chaos.
To be sure, Oregon delivered a seismic shift to the 2021 College Football Playoff picture. With the Ducks' 35-28 win over Ohio State, the Pac-12 has a genuine contender -- and maybe more than one. Arizona State is cruising along and UCLA already owns a marquee nonconference win, too. (Pay no attention to Washington and USC and Utah and ... hey, it's a glass-half-full league.) In previous years, the Pac-12 was already an afterthought by Week 3. But in 2021, the league is like a pair of denim shorts -- something we made fun of for much of the past 15 years, now suddenly cool again.
While the Pac-12 celebrates, the Big Ten is reeling. Its three highest-ranked teams in the preseason -- Ohio State, Wisconsin and Indiana -- already have losses. Meanwhile, Iowa made an emphatic statement in winning the Cy-Hawk Trophy, clearing the way for the now-inevitable 9-6 win over Michigan in the Big Ten title game.
But if Oregon-Ohio State delivered a stunning headliner, the undercard tantalized but ultimately fizzled at the finish.
At Notre Dame, it took a late TD throw from a QB with a dislocated finger to escape a devastating loss to Toledo. Six days ago, Brian Kelly took a swing at humor, joking his team should be executed after blowing a 16-point lead in an overtime win over Florida State. After turning the ball over three times in a 32-29 win Saturday, the Fighting Irish might want to consider witness protection.
In Denver, Texas A&M needed its own dramatic fourth-quarter drive to beat Colorado 10-7. Starting QB Haynes King left with an injury in the first quarter, and since the Aggies' entire budget is tied up in contract extensions for Jimbo Fisher, they'd failed to recruit a backup. Colorado took a 7-3 lead into the fourth quarter, and only an 11-play, 77-yard grind with less than eight minutes to play saved A&M from disaster.
In Miami, a cat fell from the upper deck to the lower level of the stadium, only to be miraculously caught by a couple of fans with an American flag. Then Andy Borregales saved Miami with a 43-yard go-ahead field goal with less than three minutes to play to escape Appalachian State 25-23.
Months from now, the games will simply be remembered as wins for Notre Dame and Texas A&M and Miami. On Saturday, they were heartburn-inducing, edge-of-your-seat, hold-your-breath miracles. Cinderella's shoe didn't always fit, but the dance was still fun.
In the aftermath of Week 1's blockbuster matchups, Week 2 was supposed to be a bit of a snoozer. Instead, we got a circus, with five ranked teams losing. Still, it was more of a local circus with fried turkey legs, demolition derbies and some terrifying clowns, rather than a real Ringling Bros. production.
Iowa makes a statement
Saturday's Cy-Hawk game was a beautiful tribute to all things Iowa, from Ashton Kutcher's appearance on College GameDay, to the 15 total punts, to the two teams combining to run the ball 66 times despite averaging just 2.3 yards per carry. At one point, a fullback wearing a neck roll named Monte Pottebaum (who, we assume, was contractually obligated at birth to play at Iowa) delivered the lead block for an Iowa touchdown. This game really couldn't have been any more Iowa if an overcaffeinated Howard Dean had interrupted the postgame news conference to whoop out the names of the Hawkeyes' next five opponents.
For Iowa State, however, the outcome felt all too familiar. This was supposed to be the Cyclones' year. They had all the offseason buzz, a No. 9 ranking, a roster chock-full of veteran stars and a genuine path to the College Football Playoff. And yet, this Cy-Hawk game ended the way each of the previous five had -- with a stagnant offense, a bitter loss and deflated expectations for the season.
Perhaps the problem was that we expected anything different. While Iowa State got all the offseason love, it's Iowa that now looks like it could make a real run at the playoff. With Ohio State's loss, the Big Ten seems entirely winnable, and the Hawkeyes' defense looks to be impossibly good, forcing four turnovers that made life awfully easy for the Iowa offense. It was still ugly for Iowa -- the Hawkeyes managed just 173 yards of offense -- but maybe that's why we always overlook Kirk Ferentz's team.
There's nothing sexy about Iowa -- sorry, Ashton -- but once again, Ferentz has his team in the top 10, materializing from a cornfield to become one of the most feared teams in the country.
Big week for the new Big 12
On Friday, the Big 12 made it official. In a move to preserve the conference's Power 5 status, it plans to add BYU, UCF, Houston and Cincinnati, replacing SEC-bound Texas and Oklahoma.
For a weekend, at least, it felt like a good trade.
Texas got a taste of life in the SEC, and it didn't go well. The Longhorns couldn't throw the ball, struggled to run and watched its defense get trucked for more than 300 yards on the ground. Somewhere, Tom Herman was giggling like a Bond villain.
Meanwhile, the Big 12's new additions all won easily. Cincinnati turned a 7-7 halftime score into a 42-7 win over Murray State. UCF cruised to a 2-0 record, and Houston dominated Rice in a matchup of old Southwest Conference foes.
What does this mean for the Big 12 long-term? Probably nothing, but when there's a chance to laugh at Texas, the league needs to sit back and enjoy it.
Not this time. pic.twitter.com/tWRzlZuFh8— Arkansas Razorback Football (@RazorbackFB) September 12, 2021
A new low at FSU?
There are losses. There are bad losses. And then there's what happened to Florida State on Saturday.
A week ago, McKenzie Milton and the Seminoles were one of college football's feel-good stories, even in an overtime loss to Notre Dame. On Saturday, any goodwill Mike Norvell's team had built was out the window as Jacksonville State's Damond Philyaw-Johnson darted into the end zone with no time left to down FSU 20-17.
How bad was it?
Well, start with the fact that this was Florida State's first loss to a team currently playing FCS football since 1959. The offense was a mess. The Seminoles averaged fewer than 4 yards per pass and blew a chance to ice the game midway through the fourth quarter when they flubbed consecutive plays from inside the 3-yard line. The defense, which had played well, coughed up 13 points in the final 4:45 of the game.
But nothing will top the way it ended. Former Clemson QB Zerrick Cooper dropped back to pass on a fourth-and-10 with 1 second to play, hit Philyaw-Johnson, the Duke transfer, near the sideline, and Philyaw-Johnson made two defenders miss as he cut back across the field and into the end zone for a 59-yard TD reception and the win.
There have been a lot of inexplicable performances for FSU over the past five years, but the failure of the defense to have defenders deep on the last-gasp throw from Cooper might be a new low point.
In fact, as much as we love "celebrating NC State fan" and "book-reading FSU professor," it's possible that these cheerleaders even gave us a new leader among the brutal FSU loss reaction GIFs on Saturday.
It was truly one for the ages.
Week 2 Stock Report
Who's hot, who's not and who's just biding their time coming out of the second full week of college football action.
Buy: Oregon's offensive line
There was plenty of credit to go around for Oregon's big win, but no unit worked harder than the Ducks' front five. QB Anthony Brown had a clean pocket for nearly the entire day, and he wasn't sacked once. Meanwhile, Oregon gained 269 yards on the ground, including a whopping 206 before contact. The outside run game was especially dangerous, as Oregon effectively used the same run play, sprung by crackback blocks at the line, on three different touchdowns. It was particularly impressive considering how rare it is for the Buckeyes' defense to look so bad. It only happens against historically great teams like last year's Alabama, the 2016 Clemson national champs and, um, 2018 Purdue.
Buy: UAB's 'turnover dragon'
Credit UAB for pulling off the reverse "Game of Thrones." Against Georgia, the Blazers delivered the opposite of the show's plot by being terrible for the vast majority of the game, only to end on a high note with a 61-yard pick-six that concluded with an awesome dragon.
Buy: A QB controversy at Florida
Dan Mullen didn't want to talk about it. Then he denied it. But the numbers speak for themselves: Florida has a QB controversy brewing. Emory Jones has looked downright bad in two games against lesser competition so far this year (two TD passes, four interceptions), while backup Anthony Richardson has been electric. In a 42-20 win over USF on Saturday, Richardson threw just three passes, but finished with more passing yards (152) than Jones (151) did on 22 throws.
Faked the run, then dropped the dime 🙌 pic.twitter.com/KNaKLDRoNG— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) September 11, 2021
Hold: Randy Edsall jokes
Sure, the UConn coach stepped down last week after a dismal 0-2 start for the Huskies, but his former players were hardly inspired by the decision. Purdue demolished UConn 49-0, the team's biggest margin of defeat since 2018. But you've got to hand it to Edsall: The guy knows how to negotiate a contract, because, sure enough, a careful reading of his retirement paperwork shows that any decline in performance after his departure nets him another $140 and free subs for a week at any area Quiznos location.
Buy: Old-school offense
Army's option faced off against high-flying Western Kentucky on Saturday in a contrast in styles so wide, there might as well have been a postgame concert featuring Kenny G opening for Insane Clown Posse. But in the battle of old-school running games (Army ran the ball 67 times) versus new-school up-tempo passing games (WKU threw for 435 yards on 42 attempts), it was the option attack that won the day with Army prevailing 38-35.
Sell: The over in Commander-in-Chief Cup games
Air Force topped Navy 23-3 in the first game between military academies this season, and the result fits nicely into one of the most consistent trends in college football. Since 2005, 39 of 49 games have failed to hit the Las Vegas total. Saturday's over/under was set at an impossibly low 39.5, and yet the matchup never came close to eclipsing that total. Air Force hosts Army on Nov. 6, so mark your calendars to bet on that one, too.
Most of the top Heisman contenders had cupcake opponents on the schedule for Week 2, but that didn't keep our top five from getting a slight shake-up -- even if the name at the top didn't change.
1. Alabama QB Bryce Young
It was a rather pedestrian performance against an FCS opponent for Alabama's star QB, with Young completing 19 of 27 passes for 227 yards, but don't forget, Mercer has a knack for shutting down stars. The Bears once held Jabari Parker to 4-of-14 shooting and beat Duke in the NCAA tournament. In comparison, Young had a great day.
2. Ole Miss QB Matt Corral
The bad news is, there were no dogs in the stands to witness Corral's latest passing feats. The good news is, Corral's Heisman campaign has rocketed into serious contender status in the past week, first with a dominant performance against Ole Miss, and then, five days later, another easy win over Austin Peay. Corral could all but secure the award by beating Alabama on Oct. 2 or throwing a touchdown to a golden retriever in the Egg Bowl. Fingers crossed for the latter.
3. Oklahoma QB Spencer Rattler
Rattler shook off the Week 1 struggles against an overmatched Western Carolina, throwing more first-quarter TDs Saturday (two) than he threw in the game against Tulane (one). Of course, he'll have a chance to kick his Heisman campaign (and the "Fire Scott Frost" campaign) into overdrive next week when the Sooners host Nebraska.
4. Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud
It's hard to blame Stroud for the Buckeyes' loss. He was terrific -- 484 yards and three TDs, with three different 100-yard receivers -- until a final interception ended things. But Stroud got little help. The ground game didn't do much (just 4.1 yards/rush), and the defense couldn't get off the field when it had to.
5. SEC East backup QBs
Can we give a group award to Florida's Richardson, Georgia's Stetson Bennett (who filled in for an injured J.T. Daniels against UAB) and Tennessee's Hendon Hooker (who came on in relief of Joe Milton and nearly led the Volunteers to a come-from-behind win over Pitt)? Combined, the three backup QBs in the SEC East finished 28-of-36 passing for 629 yards, ran for another 183 and tallied 10 total touchdowns with just one interception. Add in South Carolina winning its second straight with grad assistant-turned-starting QB Zeb Noland, and the SEC East can rightfully claim to be the best division for backup QBs in the country. Texas A&M could learn something here.
Under-the-radar Play of the Week
Nothing generates buzz on a college football Saturday like some truly epic punting, so never mind the fact that Buffalo lost its game at Nebraska. The real news was the 81-yard punt late in the first half -- the longest punt of 2021 so far. Not impressed? Oh, we forgot to mention, it was Buffalo QB Kyle Vantrease who delivered the kick. It wasn't entirely out of character. Vantrease worked as a punter in 2019 before taking over as the team's starting QB, and he added a 42-yard boot against Ball State last season.
Under-the-radar Game of the Week
Northern Illinois didn't win a game in 2020, but it's been among the most fun teams to watch so far in 2021. A week after the Huskies converted a two-point attempt with less than a minute to play to stun Georgia Tech, they nearly pulled off another dramatic comeback.
Trailing Wyoming 42-16 midway through the third quarter, NIU QB (and Flash Gordon look-alike contest winner) Rocky Lombardi led three TD drives in seven minutes to pull the Huskies to 42-36. NIU got the ball back again with 9:58 to go and marched 45 yards on 10 plays for the TD and a one-point lead.
Unfortunately, the magic wore off in the final five minutes of action, with Wyoming going 75 yards for a touchdown of its own to secure a 50-43 win.
Still, NIU was the first team to trail by at least 26 in the third quarter of a game and hold a lead in the fourth quarter of the same game since Colorado State did it against San Jose State in 2018. It's just the fifth time that's been done in the past decade.