Pour one out for all the overmatched security guards this weekend because it was not a fun one for those in yellow windbreakers trying to hold back the masses.
On what could only be described as an epic Saturday in a sport that charms you sixty ways before Sunday, field stormings were in vogue from coast to coast. It wasn’t just uncut euphoria of a wild upset that led fans to jump down walls or over barriers, either because this wild Week 6 brought some heft to it that will have ramifications far beyond a set of polls that now more and more like the second coming of the infamous 2007 campaign.
You can quite obviously start in Dallas. The Red River Don’t-Call-It-A-Shootout is a bucket-list type of game for all involved and even more so outside the Texas-Oklahoma sphere of influence that don’t get to experience the sights and sounds of the Cotton Bowl on a regular basis. But this year’s edition seemed pulled straight from a screenplay few would have cause for picking up into a pilot.
Not only was it the first meeting between the Longhorns and Sooners since they announced their departure to the SEC, but it was also a critical first matchup between Steve Sarkisian and Lincoln Riley. It was laden with plenty of College Football Playoff drama and had the added benefit of a preseason Heisman favorite facing off against a burnt orange quarterback whose family loyalties typically came from north of the two states’ border.
Then kickoff happened and things unfurled into a contest that may have been one of the best in the illustrious series’ history — certainly so in the Big 12 era. There were wild plays, an early Texas lead, Oklahoma storming back like lightning, some crazy high-level football plays being made and a signal-caller dramatically coming off the bench to lead a rally that was straight out of central casting.
And it was all occurring just as an equally bonkers Ole Miss-Arkansas game was trading blows down in Oxford at the same time. You know, the one where Sam Pittman seemingly gave in to the social media masses urging him to go for two at the end — even if it meant an eventual Rebels victory in the bounce-back bowl that could well lead to a Sugar Bowl berth for Lane Kiffin’s side down the road.
If that had all been enough on a weekend where the matchups didn’t look particularly compelling, then we’d all be plenty happy and more than content to hit the pillow with a smile.
Alas, this is college football. That was simply the appetizer.
Over in Iowa City, Penn State seemed like they were on their way to a mile-marker win against that stingy Hawkeyes defense but then lost quarterback Sean Clifford to an injury. After he was seen heading to the locker room just before half, it was almost like a balloon being slowly drained of its remaining air. Ta’Quan Roberson showed a few flashes but was clearly in over his head in a way that Oklahoma backup Caleb Williams was not.
The end result is that it is once again time to talk to your kids about an undefeated Iowa at the end of this season. Kirk Ferentz has been around longer than anybody in the game at the moment and has therefore delighted and disappointed his own fan base in fairly measurable cycles. Yet it wasn’t hard to sense the real elation those in yellow and black had as they made their way onto the field at Kinnick to celebrate what could be one of the best home wins in the modern era and the fact that Iowa managed to do so on the backs of an endearingly stodgy offense and defense that looks unparalleled in school history.
For good measure though, the day’s chaos was widespread enough that you could toss in some "Enter Sandman" at Virginia Tech followed by a last-minute, game-winning field goal from Notre Dame. Add a dash of LSU getting thumped by Kentucky in a rather matter-of-fact way and Wake Forest surviving in OT to stay unblemished. Oh and stir in all the momentum flipping back-and-forth between Michigan and Nebraska like a hot potato in a way that produced several meme-worthy moments.
Saturday was a day in college football unlike many before it.
To which Texas A&M rose up completely unexpectedly and saved the best for last by slaying mighty Alabama in a way that one really hasn’t seen before in the Nick Saban era. The Aggies seemingly pulled off a remarkable rope-a-dope strategy the past few weeks and had wrinkles upon wrinkles saved up to allow a stilted offense to find success against the Tide. Zach Calzada was as wide-eyed a quarterback as you would find when he was thrown in against Colorado and didn’t seem to show any linear progress as a passer in losses to Arkansas and Mississippi State that allowed for panic to creep into the program and beyond.
To which it all mattered little against the reigning champs, who were humbled for their first loss against an unranked opponent after an even 100-game streak dating back to Nick Saban’s first season in Tuscaloosa. While we were seemingly building toward this type of win ever since Jimbo Fisher was hired in College Station, the real accomplishment for A&M’s handsomely paid leader — beyond being the first former assistant in 24 tries to knock over the originator of the Process — was how mortal and flawed he made Bama look.
Bryce Young went from leading the Heisman race to being chased around on every other snap. A powerful offensive line and run game took over 30 minutes to start clicking. Even the defensive lapses that were uncharacteristic for past editions cropped up again to the point where coordinator Pete Golding’s name was persona non grata on more than just a few crimson-colored message boards.
The end result is that list of undefeated teams narrowed ever more so and those remaining looking just as flawed.
SMU had to fight and claw its way to a victory over one-win Navy. Oklahoma State got to bypass the carnage this weekend but just a few weeks ago was an inadvertent whistle away from having a very different story being written in Stillwater. Both Michigan schools moved to 6-0 with deficiencies that they narrowly avoid being made into true Achilles heels. UTSA is a feel-good story but had a late interception to seal a shootout over WKU while BYU was completely disjointed in a home loss to Boise State.
Blame super seniors, disappointing quarterback play, bad coaching, or just plain dumb luck but this is once again shaping up to be a year where everybody is going to need a mulligan because the gap between the top end and the bottom just isn’t that great. Usually such variance leads to predictability.
In 2021 however, the margins are so thin that chaos reigns at seemingly every turn. Thankfully, that’s just what makes things so much sweeter each and every Saturday as supposed weaknesses become features and not bugs.
Seven Up This Week
— Texas A&M’s banner day
Alabama has lorded over this sport for so long that any loss gets overanalyzed from the standpoint of what did the Tide do wrong that led to this result. That will be true inside the football offices in Tuscaloosa, across the national media landscape, and on every Bama message board. But what gets lost by focusing on the favorite taking the L is what the underdog did right in order to secure the W.
That’s why there’s no amount of credit that can probably do what Fisher just pulled off any sort of proper justice. Whatever buttons he and the coaching staff weren’t pushing amid those losses to Mississippi State and Arkansas, they did against the Tide. Certainly the environment at Kyle Field helped but it was also players making the effort between the lines and the masterclass of offensive and defensive play-calling coming together to produce an epic upset. This is something that many Aggies have been lusting for ever since Fisher was hired and a moment the coach has steadily been building the program up for. Recruiting, facilities, off-field staff… it was all done for nights like that in College Station.
To make matters just a bit sweeter, Texas blew a big lead on the national stage and LSU tanked against Kentucky. That’s certainly going to translate into even more momentum on the recruiting trail in the region and make A&M even more of a pain in Saban’s side going forward.
— Akron’s got Bowling Green’s number, UMass snaps 16-game losing streak to UConn
You know it’s truly an incredible day of college football when the nation’s longest active winning and losing streaks come to a close. While Alabama’s 19-game run coming to a close received far more attention, UMass knocking off UConn 27-13 should be celebrated just as much given what it means to a program fighting for relevancy. Ellis Merriweather was quite the bell cow, carrying the rock 39 times for 171 yards and two scores for the Minutemen. The Huskies were without some of their coaching staff due to COVID issues but that’s the kind of loss that could linger far beyond this year if the program can’t nail their next coaching hire.
Speaking of a few teams at the bottom of the FBS standings, how about Bowling Green beating Minnesota and coming back a few weeks later to promptly lose to Akron. Tom Arth’s tenure with the Zips has not gone well to put it mildly but he can be thankful for the Falcons giving him two-thirds of his win total and all the victories at the FBS level. Only the most ardent of supporters would have tuned in for either of these two games but credit to those that did watch some entertaining bad football. The torch is now passed to the next Sickos Game of the Week between 0-5 Arizona and 1-4 Colorado.
— Georgia’s defense remains stellar, the law firm keeps Dawgs rolling toward history
The biggest beneficiary of Alabama’s loss was naturally the new No. 1 in the polls, Georgia. The Bulldogs made it look easy against their Deep South rival Auburn, giving up a touchdown in a 34-10 game that didn’t seem as close as even that score would indicate. While the kudos has been heaped on Iowa and Cincinnati’s defensive units this year, UGA is simply on another level between the athletes they trot out on the field to the stats reflecting their dominance. Kirby Smart’s crew is allowing less than half the points per game as the next closest team in the country and it’s getting to the point where you start to feel like it’s now or never in terms of winning another national title for the program given how the rest of the field has fallen off. Credit to the law firm of Stetson Bennett, who has proven way more capable than he was last year as JT Daniels' fill-in by completing 69 percent of his passes at 12 yards per attempt. The full complement of UGA pass catchers isn’t even on the field yet but it’s clear the coaching staff has confidence in the offense continuing to evolve no matter who is being trotted out there. Critically, so too do the players.
— Cincinnati’s playoff path keeps getting clearer
The Bearcats are firmly in the top four of both polls after they destroyed Temple on Friday night and it’s pretty easy to see a once-perilous path to the College Football Playoff looking quite easy if they keep taking care of business. Not only does the AAC look a step behind where it usually does, but all the other contenders keep taking self-inflicted losses. Oregon may have a mulligan from the Stanford loss but the Pac-12 remains a toss-up, the Big Ten is just entering the beat-each-other-up phase of the schedule, and Oklahoma may be reliant upon a freshman quarterback the rest of the way. If the SEC can remain a one-bid league instead of two, the spot is there for the taking. Luke Fickell will keep preaching taking things one week at a time but UC fans can be forgiven if they actually take a slight peek into the future and ponder making it to a spot no other Group of 5 team has before.
— MACtion continues to confound
We’re not yet to the midweek MACtion portion of the fall slate but football in the Midwest is straight-up confusing. Toledo should have been one of the favorites in the West Division after knocking off Ball State but then gave up a field goal in the final minute to lose to Northern Illinois on Saturday. Those same Cardinals were tied with Western Michigan for a good portion of their game before flipping some sort of switch and winning 45-20. Buffalo roared back in the third quarter to take the lead against Kent State only to turn around and lose by double digits — two weeks after nearly blowing a 28-point halftime lead to Old Dominion. Eight teams are now 1-1 in league play and it looks like another year of at least one of the divisions being decided on the final weekend of the regular season at this rate.
— Position players' second straight Heisman opening?
The dearth of elite quarterback play across the country could have a trickle-down effect when it comes to the Heisman for the second year in a row. After DeVonta Smith broke through as a receiver, might it be time for running backs to have their moment in the sun? Kenneth Walker III and Bijan Robinson are earning plenty of kudos nationally and both should benefit from the fact that there’s no real candidacy push from any singular quarterback like there typically has been by this point in the season. Feels like the field is as wide open as it’s been in a decade-plus when it comes to the stiff-armed trophy.
— Gerry Bohanon putting it all together at Baylor
Baylor has been one of the biggest turnaround stories of the season so far after doubling their 2020 win total and the Bears hit another gear on Saturday in a 45-20 romp over West Virginia. While Dave Aranda’s defense has certainly made strides, it is the play of Gerry Bohanon who has seemingly raised the ceiling on the team’s fortunes the most in 2021. The signal-caller put his all-around best effort together against the Mountaineers, throwing for 336 yards and four touchdowns plus another score on the ground. He’s now put together a streak of 183 attempts without a pick and has given the team some consistency under center that it had been lacking since the early Charlie Brewer days in Waco. It may not be enough to lay claim to being the second- or even third-best Big 12 squad right now but thanks to the QB, the Bears are ahead of schedule and looking quite dangerous.
Seven Down This Week
— Red River Blackout
Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley got to celebrate a massive Red River comeback with the traditional golden hat but things were a bit more subdued for the new sensation at quarterback. That’s the result of Caleb Williams being denied the opportunity to be interviewed by ESPN after the game, with the coach citing a program rule about freshmen talking to the media. To say that’s outdated thinking especially from a younger coach in the current NIL era, is an understatement. A former five-star recruit like Williams has done hundreds of interviews with major media outlets already and knows better than most what to say and what to avoid discussing. We’re sure a few opposing coaches will be bringing up the policy with top recruits OU is recruiting going forward. Even if Riley wants to dig in his heels to try and maintain some measure of the control he once enjoyed, the days of restrictions like this will soon be out the door completely — and it can’t happen soon enough.
— UNC’s skid continues
Thanks to Texas A&M’s resounding victory, there’s a very easy answer for the most disappointing team in the country in 2021 and it has a familiar face leading the charge in Mack Brown and North Carolina. The Tar Heels were a team many labeled as Clemson’s biggest threat in the ACC but are now below .500 in league play on the backs of a dreadful 35-25 loss to Florida State. Carolina jumped out to a double-digit first-quarter lead but never did seem to get a stop after that, allowing Jordan Travis to run free for the Seminoles' second straight shocker against the Coastal favorites. Brown is now 0-8 against his alma mater and has the look of a coach that looks longingly for a chair on the beach. He’s done a good job sparking a second renaissance in Chapel Hill and recruiting well, but there’s no getting around this being a massive letdown to the point where it’s basketball season in earnest.