There are Saturdays when the true playoff contenders emerge with such ferocity and dominance they cannot be ignored.
There are Saturdays when the whole system feels rigged, and upsets knock one team after another from the ranks of the elite.
And then there are Saturdays like Week 4, where the goal is simply survival.
In each case, however, the favorite survived.
It was the same story up and down the top 25. Georgia struggled to put away Kent State, allowing more than twice as many points Saturday as the Bulldogs had all season. Baylor had two takeaways, held Iowa State to just 66 yards on the ground, and still had to hold its breath on a final onside kick try. Ole Miss barely scraped by Tulsa. Kentucky went to halftime tied with Northern Illinois. Tennessee dominated Florida, then nearly let the Gators come back in a frenetic final few minutes, saved, in part, by Billy Napier’s inexplicable decision to go for two with 4:49 to play, trailing by 11.
Saturday was like one long thriller, the main character narrowly escaping one harrowing scenario after another, emerging battered, bloodied and bruised … but alive.
The same could not be said for everyone.
Texas saw a 14-point second-half lead disappear as Texas Tech roared back to take a 34-31 lead with 21 seconds remaining. Still, the Longhorns fought back, sending the game to overtime, only to witness Bijan Robinson fumble on the first play of extra time. It was the Longhorns’ seventh loss by a touchdown or less in their past 11 games.
Arkansas went to Dallas and appeared poised to trounce Texas A&M, but a KJ Jefferson fumble as he leaped for the end zone turned into a 97-yard touchdown for the Aggies, and the entire script was flipped. Jimbo Fisher dove deep into his Cheesecake Factory menu — wait, no, we’re being told those are his play sheets — and finally found a spark for the Aggies’ offense, knocking off the Razorbacks 23-21. It was a shocking outcome, given that Jerry Jones usually has to wait until the NFL playoffs to witness his team incomprehensibly fall apart.
Jimbo apparently doing expense reports on the sideline between plays. pic.twitter.com/mNDwVPfxFe
— 💫🅰️♈️🆔 (@ADavidHaleJoint) September 25, 2022
Oklahoma became the latest victim of the curse of Scott Frost. Northwestern beat Nebraska in Week 0, and it hasn’t won since. Georgia Southern stunned the Cornhuskers in Week 2, then lost the following week to UAB. Oklahoma delivered a rout of Nebraska last week, then could not stop former Huskers QB Adrian Martinez on Saturday, as Kansas State knocked the Sooners from the ranks of the unbeaten, 41-34. Nebraska is like the VHS tape in “The Ring.” All who come into contact with it are doomed to perish within seven days.
It might be easy to find fault with Clemson, which needed overtime to vanquish Sam Hartman and Wake’s downfield passing attack, but the Tigers still won and remain in the playoff hunt. Perhaps that’s all the narrative that matters. Plus, Swinney got to scold reporters for criticizing his QB.
Did Georgia sleepwalk through what it reasonably expected to be an easy win? Probably. But it’s OK for 21 guys to sleepwalk, so long as Brock Bowers is occasionally running.
Did J.J. McCarthy look mortal against Maryland? Perhaps. But after playing three of the worst teams in the country to open the season, Michigan was bound to find tougher sledding in Big Ten play.
Riley could’ve added transfers from 2019 LSU, 2013 Florida State and several members of the 2001 St. Louis Rams, and it might not have been enough to answer the terrific defensive performance from Oregon State. But Williams, who completed fewer than half his passes, completed the necessary throws.
See, winning is hard, and for a few potential contenders the job proved too big Saturday.
For the rest, they’ll survive a bit longer. But as with all horror films, there will be sequels, and what ultimately determines who’s ready for a real playoff push and who’ll simply get a cameo in the next movie might come down to what lessons they learned from a brutal Week 4.
Kansas is actually good
It is written in the Book of Revelations (or maybe it’s in “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey”) that in the end times all mountains and valleys will be leveled to the plains and, we assume, from those Great Plains a Jayhawk will rise from the ashes.
Well, the apocalypse is upon us. Thanks a lot, Lance Leipold.
Yes, Kansas is 4-0. And it’s not just a schedule-aided, paper-thin 4-0. The Jayhawks upended undefeated Duke on Saturday, throwing for 324 yards, rushing for 204 and looking like one of the most dynamic offenses in the country. This comes on the heels of an overtime win against West Virginia and a surprising upset of Houston.
Kansas, dare we say, is for real.
Daniel Hishaw Jr. breaks tackles left and right as he goes 73 yards for the Kansas touchdown.
To understand just how wild that sounds, remember that the last time Kansas won four games in an entire season, “Avatar” was in theaters. (OK, we’re being told “Avatar” is somehow in theaters again now. Is this Kansas season all just CGI from James Cameron?)
The Jayhawks went to the Orange Bowl in 2007, won eight games in 2008, then stumbled to a 5-7 finish in 2009. What followed was the most prolific comedic run since Bob Hope. Now what will we laugh at? Will it even still be funny the next time Kansas beats Texas?
Kansas spent a decade trying past-their-prime quick fixes such as Charlie Weis and Les Miles and up-and-coming coaches such as Turner Gill and David Beatty. We’re fairly certain at one point the Jayhawks resorted to a shaman and a wax statue of Bear Bryant. None of it helped. Then Leipold arrived and it was as if the program awakened from a long sleep.
Think of the litany of players who’ve come through Lawrence in the past 15 years. Seriously, think of them because, frankly, we can’t remember any. For a generation of college football fans in Kansas, the closest thing they had to a celebrity was Baby Mangino, and he’s now a retired sanitation worker living outside Sarasota, Florida, and collecting social security (again, we assume).
But now, there are stars. Jalon Daniels threw for 324 yards Saturday, ran for 83 more and accounted for five touchdowns. Jayhawks boosters might as well start chipping in for a statue of the guy now. Four different Kansas receivers caught a touchdown against Duke. In 2020, four different Kansas receivers caught a touchdown all season! Kansas has a cornerback named Cobee Bryant. Sure, it’s spelled differently from the better-known Kobe, but “C” is a more versatile letter than “K” and the extra “E” is for “eventually we’re gonna be ranked.”
And no, it probably doesn’t signify the end is near. Had Kent State pulled the upset over Georgia or Central Michigan stayed with Penn State or Wake Forest finished off a win over Clemson, then maybe it’d be time to head for the underground bunker.
But these are strange times. The Jayhawks aren’t just relevant, they’re actually good.
Perhaps there’s a lesson in here for all of us — something about persevering through adversity and knowing that someday hard work will be rewarded. Or, perhaps, it’s that you should never give Charlie Weis a long-term contract. Both options are good advice.
The remaining schedule will be tougher with Iowa State, undefeated TCU and then three straight ranked foes. Perhaps this is the Jayhawks high-water mark for 2022. If so, that’s OK. Because we’ve seen a new horizon for a team that spent the past 15 years steadily walking into a brick wall like a video game character after your cat sits on the controller. But now, Kansas is something more — a program with a pulse, a team moving in the right direction, a fan base that isn’t simply counting down the days until basketball season.
We’re 4-0, too
Kansas may have finally earned some respect with its win Saturday to move to 4-0, but the Jayhawks aren’t the only remaining undefeated teams still hoping to attract a few poll voters.
P.J. Fleck likes to tell his team to “row the boat,” but at this point, the Minnesota Golden Gophers are sailing a yacht confiscated from a Russian oligarch. The Gophers dominated Michigan State on Saturday, and Tanner Morgan & Co. continue to impress. But the really interesting thing about Minnesota is the defense. The Gophers have held 16 straight opponents to fewer than 30 points — the longest active streak in the country.
UCLA narrowly escaped against some lesser opposition earlier this season, but Saturday, Chip Kelly’s crew delivered a dominant win over woeful Colorado 45-17. Dorian Thompson-Robinson threw for 234 yards and two touchdowns, which is impressive for a guy who has to be in his mid-50s by this point.
After Tulane fell to Southern Miss on Saturday, Coastal Carolina is the last remaining team outside the Power 5 with a 4-0 record. Of course, with QB Grayson McCall leaving this week’s win over Georgia State with an injury, the Chanticleers’ hopes could be dashed.
Perhaps it’s still too early to fully endorse any of them, but it seems well past time for each to get some attention from voters and a little love in the top-25 poll.
Punt-a-palooza on the Plains
The college football gods wouldn’t let him off so easily.
Instead Harsin — and the rest of us — were forced to endure as unfortunate a pillow fight as the season is likely to offer (though Iowa certainly will try to match it).
A quick review of the drive chart from the second half, with the score tied at 14: punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, turnover on downs, missed field goal.
(To answer your question, yes, Kevin Warren has extended an offer for both teams to join the Big Ten.)
That final drive was the most insulting. Auburn had mustered nothing on offense and was down to its fourth-string quarterback. Missouri drove to the 3-yard line to set up a first-and-goal with 45 seconds left. Then, the Tigers — the, um, Missouri ones — took a knee twice to set up a game-winning field goal on third down.
And, of course, the kicker missed.
Missouri RB Nathaniel Peat fumbles at the goal line in overtime for a touchback, giving Auburn the win.
Auburn won it in overtime 17-14 after kicking a field goal following a drive in which it ran three plays and lost 2 yards. But to be fair, Mizzou really lost the game after fumbling the ball in the end zone when it had its chance to win in OT.
So it was with great pain that Harsin had to cancel his tee time next Saturday, so he can coach this team again. Hasn’t the man suffered enough?
Stroud leads Buckeyes in rout
C.J. Stroud threw five touchdown passes. The Buckeyes had two 100-yard backs. The defense held Wisconsin to just 296 yards and 11 first downs.
The 52 points was the most scored against a Wisconsin defense since 2014, when the eventual national champion Buckeyes beat the Badgers 59-0 in the Big Ten title game.
And all of Saturday’s dominance came in a game in which Jaxon Smith-Njigba shut things down early, and the Buckeyes played without a couple of starting defensive backs.
If the sluggish start against Notre Dame in Week 1 offered any opening for doubt, Ohio State has clearly delivered an emphatic rebuke. The remaining schedule appears to offer few serious challenges — a road trip to Penn State on Oct. 29 and the season finale against Michigan excepted — and Stroud’s Heisman push is in full stride.
The biggest threat for Ohio State for the next month might simply be boredom. Or Iowa. They’re kind of the same thing.
JMU ends the mountain magic
It had been a magical start to the season for Appalachian State. In the second half Saturday, however, the Mountaineers’ only trick was making their New Year’s Six hopes disappear.
After jumping out to a 28-3 lead, App State’s second half included four punts, two turnovers on downs and a backbreaking interception that set up a go-ahead touchdown for JMU. Not since the Federalist papers has James Madison delivered such an emphatic defeat to the interests of America’s majority.
So perhaps America’s Cinderella story wasn’t meant to be App State after all. How about the Dukes?
JMU is 3-0 in its first season as an FBS team, and quarterback Todd Centeio has thrown 11 touchdowns without an interception. JMU now has as many wins as an FBS program in three games as UMass has over the past four seasons.
The most college football thing to happen Saturday
Middle Tennessee delivered a dagger to Miami to open the fourth quarter, when quarterback Chase Cunningham connected with DJ England-Chisolm, who corralled the pass behind the defense and sprinted into the end zone for a 98-yard touchdown.
Ah, but Miami had an answer. On the ensuing kickoff, Key’Shawn Smith burst up the middle and ran 91 yards to pay dirt, too.
So, to recap: It took 22 seconds and one offensive play for the two teams to rack up 189 all-purpose yards and 14 points.
After a 98-yard Middle Tennessee State touchdown, Miami answers right back with a 91-yard touchdown of its own.
It might’ve been an exciting exchange for the upwards of nine fans in attendance to enjoy, but unfortunately, Miami offered little else to cheer for. MTSU stunned the Hurricanes with a 45-31 win. But take heart, Canes fans. Nick Saban lost to Louisiana-Monroe in his first season at Alabama, so Mario Cristobal is still right on track to win a half-dozen national titles in the coming years.
The most college football thing to happen this week (FCS edition)
Stephen F. Austin had a chance to hang 100 on Warner (which Google tells us is a private Christian school in Florida with an enrollment of 815 students). Rather than hit the century mark, however, the Lumberjacks took a knee on a 2-point try.
Somehow, this feels even more insulting.
Stephen F. Austin just scored a TD to take a 98-0 lead on Warner.
The offensive was on the field for a 2pt conversion
BUT THEY TOOK A KNEE! pic.twitter.com/EYqfFhvnpC
— Chris Hassel (@Hassel_Chris) September 25, 2022
Saturday marked the best day of the season for Alabama’s passing game, with 11 players hauling in a grab and Young throwing for 385 yards and four TDs. More importantly, the game offered a check-in on Clark Lea’s preseason prediction that Vanderbilt would eventually become the best team in the country. Perhaps no opponent offers a better measuring stick than Alabama, but the Tide rolled 55-3. It should be noted that the last time these two teams played was 2017, and Alabama won 59-0. So, Vandy is heading in the right direction, and if this trend continues, Lea could be proven correct by 2043.
Bryce Young throws for 385 yards and four touchdowns as the Crimson Tide roll past the Commodores with a 55-3 victory.
In the Bulldogs’ win over Kent State, Bennett threw for a mere 272 yards and no TDs, while also tossing a pick. A blemish on the Heisman resume, you ask? Ha! Bennett is next level, guys. He handed over the offense to Brock Bowers in a brilliant move to boost team chemistry. The rest of the world is playing checkers and Bennett is playing — what’s even better than chess? Backgammon? Hungry Hungry Hippos?
Stroud threw his first interception of the season. What a bum! Oh, the other throws? Let us check on that and … ah, 235 yards and five TDs.
Tanner Morgan tossed three touchdowns and had just three incompletions in a win over Michigan State, which meant a little less work than normal for Ibrahim. Still, he kept his 100-yard game streak intact, racking up 103 yards on 22 carries with a touchdown. He’s now hit the century mark in 13 straight games dating back to 2020, matching Nick Chubb and D’Onta Foreman as the second-longest stretches of the playoff era. The only player with a longer streak is Ezekiel Elliott, who went for 100 in 15 straight games from 2014-2015.
Hooker is the first quarterback with 300 passing yards, 100 rushing yards and a TD both ways in an SEC game since 2018. Since his first start in Week 3 last year, Hooker has played in 15 games, averaging 10 yards per pass, accounting for 45 touchdowns and throwing just two interceptions. He’s been incredible.
Bowers pounds the rock
Brock Bowers is a tight end. He’s an incredibly talented tight end, of course, but a tight end, nevertheless.
And yet, Georgia has seen fit to use Bowers as a runner on three occasions this season. Those three runs resulted in a 5-yard touchdown, a 75-yard touchdown and a 2-yard touchdown.
To recap for those who are not great at math, that’s three rushes and three rushing touchdowns.
Brock Bowers takes the handoff and scores to put the Bulldogs up 7-0.
How impressive is that? Well, Massachusetts is an entire football team. Bowers is one guy. UMass has 201 rushing attempts this year. Bowers has three. UMass has two rushing TDs. Bowers has three.
We can’t help but wonder, if Mike Bobo had Bowers in his backfield instead of just Todd Gurley and Sony Michel and Nick Chubb and Keith Marshall, how much heartache could’ve been saved among Georgia Twitter users?
Under-the-radar game of the week
Both teams had more than 600 yards of offense. Both had more than 500 passing yards. Both had more than 100 penalty yards.
Final score: Ohio 59, Fordham 52.
But the score was hardly the best part of the action. The highlight was Fordham receiver Fotis Kokosioulis, who finished with an astounding 320 yards receiving on 13 catches, four of which went for TDs. And he did all that despite lugging around all those letters on the back of his jersey. Amazing.
Fordham’s Fotis Kokosioulis has 13 receptions for 320 yards and four touchdowns vs. Ohio.
Under-the-radar play of the week
The 285-pound defensive lineman caught a batted ball and returned it 52 yards for the score against Princeton.
LEHIGH WITH THE THICC SIX 💨 pic.twitter.com/l3fo3dMuPi
— ESPN+ (@ESPNPlus) September 24, 2022
Big bets and bad beats
DJ Uiagalelei managed to rescue Clemson from the precipice of defeat against Wake Forest on Saturday, but he didn’t salvage a hefty contingent of bettors. Clemson closed as a 7.5-point favorite at Caesars Sportsbook, with 82% of tickets and 87% of money on the Tigers. When the two teams made it to a second overtime, things set up nicely for Clemson to muster a shocking cover. The Tigers scored first and then, by rule, had to go for 2. Uiagalelei’s pass fell incomplete, however, and Clemson won 51-45.
After trailing for the bulk of the game, Oregon roared back in the second half and looked poised to cover a 6-point spread. But the betting gods intervened. Washington State backers had to watch their team fall apart in the final quarter, but the Cougars got the ball with 1:01 to play, drove 75 yards and scored with one second remaining. Final score, 44-41 Oregon and a very lucky cover for Washington State.
Middle Tennessee was Week 4’s upset special. The Blue Raiders closed at +25.5, and +1550 on the money line, against Miami. They never trailed in the game and won by 14. It was a tough day if you bet the Miami money line, which failed to pay out at -4500.