8:03 PM ET
David M. HaleESPN Staff Writer
- ACC reporter.
- Joined ESPN in 2012.
- Graduate of the University of Delaware.
A year ago, the world was a very different place. A high school team named Bishop Sycamore was the talk of the country. Now, it’s a college team called Nebraska making questionable financial decisions off the field and looking embarrassing on it.
A year ago, college football fans could not escape an Applebee’s commercial. This year, it’s Nick Saban chasing a goat.
A year ago, Georgia was 3-0, having utterly dominated its early schedule, but there was one big red flag, one clear Achilles’ heel for an otherwise terrific football team. His name was Stetson Bennett IV.
What a difference a year makes.
Bennett wrapped his day early Saturday, leading the Bulldogs to a 48-7 thrashing of South Carolina. In the game, Bennett completed 16 of 23 passes for 284 yards and two TDs, then added another 36 yards on three rushes, one going for a touchdown.
How good was Bennett on Saturday? He did all this while, according to the ESPN broadcast, he was sick and throwing up on the sidelines during the game.
The play before Bennett vomited featured one of the most spectacular grabs a tight end has ever made.
After he vomited, Bennett was 6-of-10 for 159 yards with a passing and rushing score.
The man is a legend.
A year ago, Bennett was keeping the QB1 chair warm for JT Daniels. Now, he’s completing 74% of his passes and averaging 11 yards every time he throws the ball.
In a game in which no Georgia player ran for more than 36 yards (that was Bennett, by the way), the Bulldogs still cruised to an easy road victory against an SEC East foe. It’s mind-boggling just how good this team has looked.
Like last year, Georgia opened against a ranked foe. But this time, rather than a narrow 10-3 win over Clemson behind a stagnant offense, the Bulldogs dominated Oregon 49-3.
Like last year, Georgia moved to 3-0 with an easy win over the Gamecocks, but this time around, it wasn’t a test run for Bennett helming the offense but rather the latest example that he’s just built different.
A year ago, Georgia outscored its first three opponents by a score of 106-23.
One national title and a busload of NFL draft picks later, the Dawgs are 3-0 again by a combined score of 130-10.
No, this is not the 2021 Georgia Bulldogs. This team might be even better because this isn’t 2021’s Stetson Bennett. The guy spent last season doing what no one believed possible, then celebrated with a championship and an appearance on “Good Morning America.”
This year? As impossible as it might sound, he might end up doing even more.
The Fun Belt rides again
Oh, you thought Week 2 was drama-filled in the Sun Belt? Appalachian State was just getting warmed up.
One week after the Sun Belt pulled off three shocking upsets, the conference delivered another trio of games that culminated with last-second drama.
Old Dominion nearly pulled off its second shocker of the season against Virginia, scoring late to take a lead over the Cavaliers. But a frenetic drive down the field put UVA in range for a chip-shot field goal and a last-second win.
Out West, South Alabama came oh-so-close to taking down undefeated UCLA. The Jaguars attempted a fake field goal from the UCLA 22 with 2:52 remaining, and it went horribly. Tanner McGee was tackled for an 11-yard loss, the Bruins got the ball back, drove 61 yards on 10 plays and delivered a game-winning field goal as time expired.
The Sun Belt has four wins over Power 5 teams this season, but it also now has three losses on the final play of the game.
And speaking of final plays, App State delivered one for the ages, as Chase Brice‘s Hail Mary heave came up short of the end zone, was deflected and caught by receiver Christian Horn at the 8, who then took a looping path toward the sideline and sprinted into the end zone for a shocking 32-28 win.
APP STATE WON ON A HAIL MARY ON THE FINAL PLAY‼️ pic.twitter.com/yDlzYYtU19
— ESPN (@espn) September 17, 2022
A quick flashback to the past three weeks for the Mountaineers:
Week 1: App State scores 40 points in the fourth quarter against North Carolina, including two touchdowns in the final 31 seconds, but was upended by two failed 2-point tries.
Week 3: A walk-off Hail Mary in a win over Troy on a day ESPN’s College GameDay came to campus.
That the mayor of Boone hasn’t announced some sort of “Purge” situation in which everything is legal for 24 hours probably doesn’t matter much. The party on the mountain might last until next week’s kickoff against James Madison.
It’s getting ugly at Auburn
Across the state of Alabama, Auburn boosters are sitting in smoke-filled rooms, maniacally patting their checkbooks and cackling like Bond villains.
It’s buyout season again on The Plains.
It must’ve been frustrating last week for all those Auburn money men to witness Nebraska make an expensive coaching change and think, “Why not us?”
Undoubtedly, there was a powder keg of nervous anticipation Saturday, as Penn State — the first Big Ten visitor to Jordan-Hare Stadium — ran the ball to the tune of 245 yards and five touchdowns in a 41-12 win, with the knowledge that spending a bunch of money on another failed coaching hire was now within arm’s reach. Boosters were likely reaching for their wallets faster than Nick Singleton runs the 40.
There was, to be sure, a brief moment of horror when Robby Ashford entered the game and created a spark for the Tigers. Could Bryan Harsin, amid a blowout loss, have found a savior? No. The Auburn offense quickly regressed to its fundamental mediocrity, and again, order was restored and boosters breathed a sigh of relief.
After nearly nixing Harsin last winter, then forcing out the athletics director who hired him last month, the question always felt more about when a change was coming than if it would happen. And at Auburn, there’s nothing the Tigers do better than letting a head coach twist in the wind.
How long will Harsin twist? Auburn has won just two of its past eight games, has scored 24 points or less in six of them. After a home game against Missouri in Week 4, the remaining schedule includes games against five ranked teams. Bowl eligibility could be tough, and that’s an awfully low bar for a fan base that, by its very nature, must compare itself to Alabama.
That’s bad news for Harsin, of course. But not that bad. That $18 million buyout is cathartic for everyone.
Sooners make a statement
The change at Nebraska was instantaneous. Scott Frost is gone, and suddenly the Huskers aren’t losing close games anymore.
Instead, Nebraska got blown out by former Big 12 rival Oklahoma 49-14.
OK, so the problems in Lincoln didn’t end with a coaching change. Instead, Saturday offered emphatic evidence that Oklahoma’s fortunes haven’t shifted with a coaching change either.
Dillon Gabriel takes off on a 61-yard run for Oklahoma to tie the game against Nebraska.
In its first game against a Power 5 foe with Brent Venables at the helm, Oklahoma looked an awful lot like the Sooners we’ve come to expect. The offense was potent, with Dillon Gabriel throwing for two touchdowns and running for another. The defense dominated. After Nebraska scored on its opening drive, the Huskers didn’t sniff the end zone again until the game was well out of hand. As with Venables’ best Clemson teams, the Oklahoma defensive front dominated the line of scrimmage, tormenting Casey Thompson to the tune of four sacks.
For the Sooners, it was a statement that Lincoln Riley’s departure won’t keep this team from being in the playoff hunt.
For the Huskers, it was a perfect opportunity to interview Urban Meyer for the open head-coaching job. After all, Nebraska has lots of wide-open spaces for a man to display his picture frames.
Around the horn for the FCS
Week 3 again had its share of FBS-FCS mismatches, but that didn’t mean the games came without any interest.
The good: Southern Illinois’ defense forced four turnovers as the Salukis scored the upset over Northwestern, 31-24, on Saturday. Reminder: Northwestern beat Nebraska but is now not even close to being the best team in the state of Illinois.
The bad: Virginia Tech cruised to a 27-7 win over Wofford, but that wasn’t all bad for the Terriers. Nathan Walker‘s 3-yard TD run with 9:34 to play marked the first points of the year for 0-3 Wofford. That’s progress!
The ugly: Kent State earned its first win of the season, thumping Long Island University 63-10. LIU cashes its share of FBS checks, but what it has done with that money is anyone’s guess. In addition to Saturday’s defeat, the Sharks (we looked that up) lost 37-0 to Toledo in Week 1, 42-7 to Miami (Ohio) and 66-0 to West Virginia last year, and opened the 2021 season with a 48-10 loss to a Florida International team that didn’t win again that season.
So, if you’re keeping score at home, that’s five games vs. FBS foes in the past 13 months that resulted in an 0-5 record by a combined score of 256-20. Long Island University is to college football teams as Long Island iced teas are to beverages — it’s comprised of a haphazard assortment of ingredients and results in a seemingly endless series of bad decisions.
The most college football thing to happen Saturday
There’s a long and colorful history of mascot shaming among rivals in college football, but this week, Virginia took things too far.
Virginia claimed that Hudson was technically a service dog and not a mascot, and therefore he wouldn’t be allowed on the field. Given that Virginia’s offense, which scored just three points in a loss to Illinois last week, was allowed on the field for the game, the bar for entry couldn’t have been that high.
Not surprisingly, furor erupted on social media. After all, Hudson is a puppy who wears rec specs and crocs. Who doesn’t want a puppy wearing crocs on the sideline for a game? That’s Showbiz 101.
Thankfully, the problem was rectified when Virginia’s own service dog, Champ, got involved. (It’s a relatively little known fact, but upon his death, Thomas Jefferson bequeathed control over all university decisions to a line of yellow labs. History is wild.)
Hey @HudsonODU, I talked to my people and asked if we could have a play date Saturday. They said yes! And guess what? They said we could meet up on the field at the @UVAFootball–@ODUFootball game! You in?@servicedogsva | @MuttswaMission
— Champ UVA (@UvaChamp) September 16, 2022
With that brief bit of drama resolved, there were but two lingering questions.
The first, would the pups actually meet? The answer, of course, was yes. But this was still a big game for both teams, so Champ and Hudson were all business. No fraternizing with the enemy.
— Preston Willett (@PrestonWillett) September 17, 2022
The second, would Hudson’s presence rally Old Dominion to its second win of the season over an in-state, Power 5 opponent?
For a brief moment, it looked like it might. ODU scored with 1:01 to play to take a 14-13 lead. But that’s when the Monarchs — uh — stepped in it.
Brennan Armstrong hit Lavel Davis Jr. for 30 yards, then ran for another 13. A pass interference call set UVA up at the Old Dominion 5, and Brendan Farrell, who’d missed a 36-yard kick one drive earlier, delivered as the clock expired, giving Virginia a 16-14 win.
Now, if Champ can start lining up in the slot for Virginia, the Hoos might really be on to something.
Big bets and bad beats
If you had the under in the Purdue-Syracuse game, you were feeling pretty good at the half. The total closed at 59.5. The game went to the break with Purdue nursing a 9-3 lead.
Even after the third quarter, the scoring was still in short supply. But in the fourth, that’s when things got weird.
Purdue scored with 11:25 to play to take a 15-10 lead. Then Syracuse scored. Then Purdue threw a pick-six. Then the Boilermakers completed a 55-yard touchdown throw and found the end zone again on their next drive, taking a 29-25 lead with just 51 seconds to play.
Still, the under would cover if Purdue could keep Syracuse out of the end zone.
Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Two penalties after Purdue’s touchdown gave Syracuse excellent field position for its final drive, and Garrett Shrader connected with Oronde Gadsden II for a 25-yard TD with 7 seconds to go.
Final score: Orange 32, Purdue 29. The over hit after 42 points were scored in the final quarter.
Oh, and if you also had Purdue +1.5 — good luck recovering from this one.
Michigan hasn’t exactly challenged itself with its nonconference schedule to start the season. In Week 1, the Wolverines were 31-point favorites against Colorado State. In Week 2, Michigan was a 52-point favorite against Hawaii. And on Saturday, UConn arrived at the Big House as a 47.5-point underdog.
According to ESPN, Michigan is the first team since the FBS/FCS split in 1978 to be favored by at least 45 points in consecutive games and the first team to be favored by at least 31 in its first three games of the year since 2001 Florida.
And even with the hefty spread, Michigan still had no trouble covering Saturday. Behind five touchdowns from Blake Corum, the Wolverines topped UConn 59-0.