There were a number of early-season marquee matchups between ranked teams on Saturday, and when put to the test, four of the most successful programs in the College Football Playoff (CFP) era – No.1 Alabama, No. 3 Oklahoma, No.6 Clemson and No. 9 Ohio State – all emerged as victors, but not without showing chinks in their armor.
Alabama looked beatable for the first time.
Ohio State's defense still looks discombobulated, Clemson's offense still looks limp and Oklahoma still looks far from elite.
Maybe college football's season of the super teams won't be such a foregone conclusion after all?
Those four teams have combined for 20 CFP appearances. Fans, at least those of other teams, have been lamenting the same old, same old and bracing for another round of it in 2021.
Three weeks in, dare to dream of something different.
Bryce Young’s first collegiate road start was a rousing success, a three-touchdown performance that helped top-ranked Alabama hold off No. 11 Florida 31-29 in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams Saturday.
The defending national champion Crimson Tide (3-0, 1-0) stopped a 2-point conversion with 3:10 left and extended its winning streak to 17, making it 32 in a row against teams from the SEC’s Eastern Division.
The Gators (2-1, 0-1) have dropped eight straight in the series and fell to 0-5 against No. 1-ranked teams at Florida Field.
This one was closer than oddsmakers and just about everyone else expected, with 14 1/2-point underdog Florida having a chance to tie the game in the closing minutes despite playing without dynamic backup quarterback Anthony Richardson.
Coach Dan Mullen held Richardson out as a precaution because of a strained right hamstring and said he would only be available in case of an emergency.
That never became the case even though the Gators trailed 21-3 at the end of the first quarter. Young built the lead with TD passes to Jase McClellan, Jahleel Billingsley and Brian Johnson.
The Gators rallied and were in a position to tie late. Dameon Pierce capped a 75-yard drive with a 17-yard run that made it 31-29. But fellow running back Malik Davis failed to get the 3 yards needed on the 2-point conversion.
Spencer Rattler passed for a touchdown and ran for another and Oklahoma held on to beat Nebraska.
Celebrating the 50-year anniversary of the “Game of the Century” – No. 1 Nebraska’s 35-31 win over No. 2 Oklahoma in 1971 – the teams rewarded their nostalgic fans with a competitive contest.
In the first meeting between the former conference rivals since 2010, Nebraska got the ball trailing by a touchdown with 57 seconds remaining and no timeouts. The Cornhuskers could not manage a first down.
Eric Gray ran for 84 yards on 15 carries and Kennedy Brooks added 75 yards on 14 attempts for the Sooners (3-0).
Adrian Martinez passed for 289 yards and a touchdown for Nebraska (2-2), which was seeking its first win over a ranked team since 2015.
Will Shipley ran for two touchdowns and Clemson had a goal-line stand in the final seconds to hold off Georgia Tech.
The Yellow Jackets (1-2, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) had a chance to force overtime after recovering an onside kick with 1:19 to play. But they were held out of the end zone on four plays from the Clemson 2 in the closing seconds – the last when linebacker James Skalski tackled Dylan Deveney a yard short.
The chaos continued, though, when Shipley fumbled in the end zone with Clemson (2-1, 1-0) attempting to run out the clock and was tackled after recovering for a safety with seven seconds left. The Tigers kicked the ball away and Georgia Tech quarterback Jordan Yates’ last-ditch throw with 3 seconds left was ruled an incomplete forward pass, ending the game.
The game was delayed nearly two hours just before the half because of the threat of lightning around Memorial Stadium.
JT Daniels returned to the lineup with three touchdown passes, Georgia’s fearsome defense nearly made it three straight games without allowing a TD and the Bulldogs romped past South Carolina.
Daniels completed 23 of 31 for 303 yards, including scoring throws of 43 yards to Jermaine Burton, 38 yards to freshman Adonai Mitchell and 4 yards to James Cook.
Georgia (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) finally gave up a touchdown while on defense when Luke Doty, getting the ball on the Bulldogs’ side of the field after a fumble, connected with Josh Vann on a 36-yard touchdown pass with 10:55 remaining.
With Doty playing for the first time this season, South Carolina (2-1, 0-1) gave up three sacks and a safety, along with two turnovers that led to Georgia touchdowns.
Freshman Ty Thompson threw two second-half touchdown passes and No. 4 Oregon overcame a sluggish start to beat Stony Brook in a game delayed because of lightning.
Ducks starter Anthony Brown threw for a touchdown and ran for another but left the game at halftime after he was sacked twice to close out the second quarter. It was unclear if he was injured.
The Ducks, coming off their big win last weekend at Ohio State, improved to 3-0 as they head into Pac-12 play next weekend. It was Oregon’s 14th straight win at Autzen, as well as its 28th nonconference victory at home.
Stony Brook, which plays in the lower-tier Colonial Athletic Association, fell to 1-2. The game against the Ducks was Stony Brook’s first against a Pac-12 opponent. Oregon was also the highest-ranked team the Seawolves had ever faced.
Tyler Goodson ran for a career-high 153 yards and three touchdowns and Iowa beat Kent State.
The Hawkeyes (3-0) have won nine straight games. They have won 14th consecutive nonconference games, the second-longest current streak in the nation.
Goodson had a 46-yard touchdown run in the first quarter to give Iowa a 9-0 lead, then added a 35-yard scoring run in the third quarter. He had a 2-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to close the scoring.
The Hawkeyes’ defense got a first-quarter safety when Kent State quarterback Dustin Crum was sacked in the end zone after a bad snap. Crum was 16-of-23 passing for 185 yards and was sacked seven times. Kent State is 1-2.
Zach Calzada threw for 275 yards and three touchdowns in his first career start. The victory extends A&M’s winning streak to 11 games and gives the Aggies a 3-0 start for the first time since opening the 2016 season with six consecutive wins.
Calzada was thrust into the job last weekend against Colorado when Haynes King was injured on A&M’s second possession. King had surgery this week to repair a broken right leg, leaving Calzada to run the offense.
Calzada looked more comfortable, and the Aggies moved the ball much better Saturday than last week while scoring just 10 points in a win over the Buffaloes. They eclipsed their total points from that game in the first six minutes of this one and built a 24-point lead by halftime.
Terry Wilson, a transfer from Kentucky who had 559 yards passing in the first two games, threw for just 33 yards Saturday for New Mexico (2-1) while being hurried and harassed all day.
Desmond Ridder threw the go-ahead touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter, then scored on a 7-yard TD run. Jerome Ford ran for two scores and Tre Tucker scored on a 99-yard kickoff return as the Bearcats (3-0) won their first road game of the season. They’ve won 12 of 13 since the start of 2020.
Indiana (1-2) lost despite taking a 14-0 lead – and playing in front of its largest crowd for a non-conference game since September 1987.
The turning point came when starting linebacker Micah McFadden was ejected for targeting late in the first half. The Bearcats, who struggled to move the ball, scored 10 points in the final 93 seconds of the first half and finally took the lead on Ford’s 3-yard TD run in the third quarter.
The Hoosiers regained the lead on D.J. Matthews Jr.’s 14-yard scoring run then gave it right back on the kickoff return. A missed extra point opened the door for Indiana, and the Hoosiers grabbed a 24-23 advantage on Charles Campbell’s 49-yard field goal late in the third.
Then Ridder got hot. He made it 30-24 with the scoring throw to Pierce before the scoring run and a successful 2-point conversion pass.
TreVeyon Henderson broke Archie Griffin’s 49-year-old freshman rushing record, romping for 277 yards and three touchdowns to help Ohio State beat Tulsa.
Henderson scored on runs of 5, 48 and 52 yards, which managed to paper over some of the same weaknesses Ohio State showed in a 35-28 loss to Oregon last week that sent the Buckeyes tumbling in the AP Top 25 poll.
As a team, the Buckeyes (2-1) were not sharp. But Tulsa (0-3) couldn’t match them blow for blow, and Henderson, who ran for 69 yards in the first two games combined, broke through with some huge plays at critical times. A late interception that Cameron Martinez returned for a 61-yard touchdown made the score look worse than it was for the persistent Golden Hurricane.
Jaquan Brisker broke up a desperation pass toward the end zone by Auburn’s Bo Nix as time expired and Penn State held on to beat Auburn.
Sean Clifford completed 28 of 32 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns as Penn State (3-0) welcomed back its white out crowd to Beaver Stadium for a rare visit from a Southeastern Conference team.
Jahan Dotson added 10 catches for 78 yards and a touchdown, tight end Brenton Strange caught a touchdown and tight end Tyler Warren and Noah Cain ran for scores to help the Nittany Lions beat an SEC opponent at home for the first time since 1985 against Alabama.
Penn State had to make two late defensive stands to make the lead hold. First, it kept Auburn (2-1) out of the end zone after a first-and-goal at the 10. An incomplete fade from the 2 on fourth down with 3:08 left gave Penn State the ball back, but the Nittany Lions could not run out the whole clock. Auburn managed to get to the Penn State 23 with 3 seconds left. Nix fired deep down the middle but Brisker cut in front Demetris Robertson a few steps in front of the goal line and knocked it down.
Kyren Williams had two long touchdown plays, the second a 51-yard run with 6:05 remaining, and Notre Dame held off Purdue for its 26th straight victory at home.
The victory was the 105th in Brian Kelly’s 12-year career at Notre Dame, tying him with Knute Rockne as the winningest coach in school history. The Fighting Irish won their eighth straight over Purdue and first since 2014.
Williams, who scored on a fourth-and-3 pass play of 39 yards from Jack Coan early in the second quarter to give the Irish their first lead 7-3, finished with 86 yards on 11 carries and two receptions for 47 yards.
Coan, who was sacked four times and struggled with his accuracy, completed 15 of 31 for 223 yards and two touchdowns. He connected on a 62-yarder to Avery Davis in the third quarter that put the Irish up 17-6. Davis led the Irish in receptions with five for 120 yards.
The Boilermakers (2-1) outgained the Irish 348-343 thanks to a 291-223 edge through the air and got their only touchdown on a 2-yard pass from Jack Plummer to Milton Wright in the third quarter.
Brock Purdy completed 21 of 24 pass attempts for 288 yards and three touchdowns to lead Iowa State to a rout of UNLV.
Purdy, who also rushed for 33 yards, finished with a 229.6 quarterback rating, the third-highest of his career.
Iowa State (2-1) finished with 486 yards of offense and 7.59 yards per play, scoring on eight of its 11 possessions, including six touchdowns.
Breece Hall rushed for 70 of his 101 yards in the first quarter to lead the Cyclones’ rushing attack. Hall scored two touchdowns. Wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson had 10 receptions for 133 yards and two touchdowns.
UNLV (0-3) was held to 23 yards on 18 plays in the first half and finished with 130 yards for the game.
UNLV freshman Cameron Friel and junior Tate Martell split time at quarterback. Friel was 7 for 12 for 55 yards with one interception, while Martell finished 2 of 6 for 27 yards.
Running back Charles Williams had 46 yards rushing on 19 attempts.
Jarret Doege threw two touchdown passes, Leddie Brown rushed for 106 yards and a score and West Virginia survived Virginia Tech’s furious rally from a 20-point deficit.
The Mountaineers (2-1) built a 27-7-point lead midway through the third quarter but saw that mostly evaporate due to Virginia Tech’s Braxton Burmeister.
Burmeister threw for two scores, including a 29-yard toss to Jalen Holston with 3:10 left. Virginia Tech got the ball back with 2:11 remaining on Jermaine Waller’s interception of Doege at the West Virginia 17, but Burmeister threw incomplete on fourth-and-goal from the 3 and West Virginia ran out the clock.
It was one of three Virginia Tech (2-1) drives that stalled inside the West Virginia 10, with the Hokies coming away with no points.
Grayson McCall threw for three touchdowns, while Shermari Jones ran for 149 yards and another score.
McCall, who entered the day leading the nation in passing efficiency and completion rate, was 13 of 19 for 232 yards with his first interception of the season. Jaivon Heiligh caught four passes for 91 yards and a touchdown for the Chanticleers (3-0), becoming the fourth receiver in school history to surpass 2,000 career yards.
Buffalo (1-2) got within a field goal with 2:41 remaining. Kevin Marks’ 7-yard touchdown run capped a 92-yard drive that started when Logic Hudgens intercepted McCall in the end zone. But the Chanticleers held on.
Matt Corral passed for 335 yards and three touchdowns, ran for four scores, and Mississippi score all of its points in the first three quarters in a win over Tulane.
The Rebels are off to a 3-0 start for the first time since 2015, and after an open date next week, visit Alabama on Oct. 2.
Michael Pratt threw two touchdown passes for Tulane (1-2), but the Green Wave – wearing helmets honoring the school's time in the SEC in the first half of the 1900s – never really had a chance.
Corral ran for two touchdowns in the first quarter as Ole Miss built a 19-7 lead. He then tossed two TD pass in the second quarter and the Rebels led 40-21 at the half.
Jaren Hall threw for 214 yards and two touchdowns and added 38 yards on seven carries, leading BYU to its third straight win over a Pac-12 team.
Tyler Allgeier added 69 yards and a touchdown on the ground for the Cougars (3-0), who forced four turnovers and posted its third straight victory over Arizona State.
Jaylen Daniels threw for 265 yards to lead the Sun Devils (2-1), but also tossed a pair of interceptions. Danyiel Ngata ran for 82 yards and a touchdown to lead Arizona State’s ground attack.
The Cougars sealed the win after backup quarterback Baylor Romney tossed a 3-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Rex with 1:19 left. Romney came into the game after Hall was injured at the end of a QB run with 2:22 remaining.
KJ Jefferson threw for a career-high 366 yards and tied a career high with three touchdowns to lead Arkansas past Georgia Southern.
Arkansas all but ended it on a 91-yard pass from Jefferson to preseason All-SEC wide receiver Treylon Burks with 11:18 left in the third quarter. It was Jefferson’s final touchdown pass of the game and gave Arkansas a 38-10 lead.
The Razorbacks (3-0) led 14-0 after touchdown runs from Trelon Smith on the first drive and Dominique Johnson on the second.
Georgia Southern is 1-2.
Sam Howell threw five touchdown passes and ran for a career-best 112 yards as North Carolina took over after halftime to beat Virginia.
The Tar Heels (2-1, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) scored touchdowns on all five of their second-half drives, which helped turn a 28-24 halftime deficit into a 52-31 lead on Howell’s short TD throw to Kamari Morales with 12:13 left. And after a first-half shootout with Brennan Armstrong and the Cavaliers (2-1, 0-1), UNC gave up only a field goal in the third quarter while also coming up with Ja’Qurious Conley’s interception.
Tennessee graduate transfer Ty Chandler ran for a career-high 198 yards with two touchdowns, the last coming from 7 yards out with 2:57 left to seal it. And Josh Downs had eight catches for 203 yards and a pair of TDs.
Payton Thorne passed for 261 yards and four touchdowns, two of those scoring throws going to Jalen Nailor.
Kenneth Walker III rushed for 172 yards and caught a touchdown pass for the Spartans (3-0), who are off to their best start since 2015. Jayden Reed also had a scoring catch and a touchdown run for Michigan State, which forced Miami quarterback D’Eriq King into four turnovers.
King was 38 of 59 – both of them Miami (1-3) school records – for 388 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Charleston Rambo tied a school record with 12 catches for Miami, good for 156 yards and both of the Hurricanes’ touchdowns.
Blake Corum rushed for 123 yards and three touchdowns. The Wolverines (3-0) scored touchdowns on their first nine drives, eight of them on the ground. The 10th drive also included a touchdown run, but it was called back for a holding penalty and Michigan turned the ball over on downs. The Wolverines never punted.
The Huskies (1-2) kicked a field goal on their second possession of the game, but it was already clear they were in major trouble. Michigan scored short rushing touchdowns on its first four possessions, two by Hassan Haskins, to take a 28-3 lead in the second quarter.
The Wolverines changed up a bit on the fifth possession, scoring on an 87-yard pass from Cade McNamara to Cornelius Johnson – the third-longest passing play in school history – to lead 35-3 at the half.
Nothing is more Pitt than the Panthers losing at home to Western Michigan of the Mid-American Conference the week after beating an SEC team (Tennessee) on the road. ... Memphis won a wild game against Mississippi State with one of the more bizarre punt return TDs you'll see – and one that Bulldogs fans will be fuming over. ... Kedon Slovis got his opportunity at USC two seasons ago because of an injury to JT Daniels. Did Jaxson Dart just Wally Pipp Slovis? The Trojans' freshman came off the bench to pass for 391 yards and four touchdowns in a rout of Washington State. ... Florida State is 0-3 for the first time since 1976, the late Bobby Bowden's first season as coach. Rutgers is 3-0 for the first time since 2012.
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