A pair of top-10 upsets
After the exclusive group of likely national championship contenders made it through opening day mostly unscathed, Saturday brought major shakeups as two top-10 teams suffered shocking home defeats against Sun Belt opposition.
No. 8 Notre Dame hosted Marshall in South Bend, looking to put its loss against Ohio State in the rearview mirror and claim its first win under new head coach Marcus Freeman. Instead, the Irish saw their 42-game win streak against unranked opponents crumble as they fell 26-21 to the Thundering Herd. Notre Dame was favored by 20.5 points, but a strong defensive effort from Marshall combined with an inept offensive performance meant that the Irish struggled to even score that many points, much less win by that margin. Notre Dame’s quarterbacks combined to throw three interceptions, including a backbreaking pick-six that put Marshall ahead by two possessions in the game’s closing minutes. The Irish had high expectations for the season, but after an 0-2 start, and with starting quarterback Tyler Buchner out for the year with a shoulder injury, significant adjustments are clearly needed.
Further down south, No. 6 Texas A&M faced Appalachian State in College Station. After spending the last few seasons compiling some of the nation’s best-recruiting classes while consistently being on the outside looking in on the playoff picture, many believed that everything had finally come together for the Aggies to break through. That will likely have to wait for at least another year after they were defeated 17-14 by App State. A week after an impressive offensive outburst that saw them push North Carolina to the absolute limit in a 63-61 loss, it was the Mountaineer defense that rose to the occasion in their huge upset win, holding the Aggies to under 100 passing yards and just 186 yards in total. Fifteen years after their legendary upset of Michigan, the Mountaineers have shocked the world again as they continue to establish themselves as one of the nation’s most consistently successful programs.
Texas is (almost) back
Over the last half-decade, it has been tradition for Texas to begin each season highly rated before ultimately failing to live up to expectations, a trend best typified by former Longhorn quarterback Sam Ehlinger’s now infamous claim in 2019 that Texas was “back,” a statement that has become a target for mockery in recent years as the Longhorns proceeded to frequently show that they were not, in fact, back. This year, though, the expectations for Texas seemed to finally align with their on-field performance, and they entered the season unranked a year after posting a 5-7 record. Accordingly, it was no surprise that the Longhorns were huge underdogs against No. 1 Alabama on Saturday, with many pundits predicting them to lose by upwards of 30 points.
Instead, Texas came within seconds of one of the season’s biggest upsets in a 20-19 loss. The Longhorn passing attack was strong out of the gates, but the offense struggled to move the ball after star quarterback Quinn Ewers was knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury. Texas was able to stay within striking distance by stifling Alabama’s normally prolific offense and the Longhorns converted a field goal with under two minutes remaining to go ahead 19-17. That was just enough time for reigning Heisman winner Bryce Young to orchestrate a game-winning drive and a last-second field goal gave the Tide a 20-19 win. Texas will now have to deal with losing Ewers for the next several weeks in addition to the pain of having come excruciatingly close to finally being back.
Michigan’s unorthodox quarterback battle concludes
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh found himself in a quandary this offseason regarding the team’s quarterback competition. In one corner was senior Cade McNamara, last year’s starter who led Michigan to a Big Ten championship and playoff berth but did so in a “game manager” role. In the other was sophomore J.J. McCarthy, a former 5-star recruit considered to be one of the most talented passers in the country. Faced with this potentially season-altering decision, Harbaugh settled on an extremely unique strategy to fairly evaluate the two players. Before the season began, Michigan announced that McNamara would start the opener against Colorado State while McCarthy would run the show during the following game against Hawaii. After these two games, the starter for the remainder of the season would be announced.
Michigan began the year with a dominant 51-7 victory against Colorado State, though McNamara completed only 50% of his passes and threw for just 136 yards. This weekend featured another blowout Wolverine win, 56-10 over Hawaii, and McCarthy was nearly perfect as he cemented himself as the starter moving forward, completing 11 of 12 passes for 229 yards and three touchdowns before being substituted at halftime with the game well in hand. With a 2-0 record, ranked No. 4 nationally and having found a potential star in McCarthy, Michigan’s experiment seems to have been a rousing success, as the decision of who to start was essentially made for them by the players’ on-field performance. It remains to be seen whether any other programs will handle a quarterback controversy similarly in the future.
Ranked vs ranked tripleheader
While this week had its fair share of upsets, it also featured a trio of games pitting ranked teams against each other, and all three were won by the lower-ranked side. In a non-conference game (that will soon be a Big 12 matchup), No. 21 BYU won at home against No. 9 Baylor in dramatic fashion. With the score knotted at 20-20, BYU had a chance to win in regulation but missed a field goal in the final seconds. The Cougars had another opportunity to win in overtime, but another missed field goal continued the game. Given a third chance to win, BYU did not leave anything to chance, scoring a game-clinching touchdown and emerging with a 26-20 win in double overtime.
No. 17 Pitt was back at home to face No. 24 Tennessee after their season-opening rivalry win against West Virginia. The Panthers started strong, taking a 17-7 lead in the first half, but Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker, who threw for 325 yards on the day, led a Volunteer comeback to force overtime with the score at 27-27. Hooker threw a quick touchdown pass to start overtime, and a goal line stop by the Tennessee defense sealed the statement win.
Florida began the season unranked, but after upsetting Utah in week one, the Gators jumped all the way up to No. 12 in advance of their duel with No. 20 Kentucky. After losing to the rival Wildcats for the second straight season, they will likely be on their way back down. Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson looked like a potential Heisman candidate against Utah but was shut down by a ferocious Kentucky defense, posting a completion percentage of just 40% and throwing two interceptions, including a pick-six that provided the Wildcats with the game-winning points in a 26-16 victory.
Eastern Kentucky-Bowling Green seven-overtime thriller
The most dramatic finish of the week came from an under-the-radar source, as Bowling Green and FCS opponent Eastern Kentucky squared off in a Saturday afternoon matchup that turned into a marathon. Bowling Green jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead, but buoyed by a 24-point second quarter, the Colonels took a two-possession advantage midway through the third. Despite having lost the momentum, Bowling Green had an answer of their own, scoring three straight touchdowns to go up 38-31 before Eastern Kentucky went on a clinical 14-play, 75-yard drive, culminating with a touchdown pass as time expired to send the game into overtime, where the fun was just beginning.
Both teams scored touchdowns in each of the first two overtimes, and the deadlocked game was sent into a two-point conversion shootout. There was still no separation to be had, as the two sides continued to match each other for the next four overtimes. Finally, Eastern Kentucky got the necessary stop and score to eke out a 59-57 seven-overtime win in what was one of the longest games in college football history.