College football Week 4 winners and losers: Saturday showed just how unpredictable 2020 season could be

Nick Bromberg and Sam Cooper
·14 min read

The 2007 season is the most revered college football season of the past two decades. The season featured nine teams getting ranked in the top five of the BCS rankings in November. That’s not even counting a Boston College team that was No. 2 on Oct. 28 after an 8-0 start.

The season was wild, wacky and featured everything we love about this crazy sport. And 2020 could wind up being a worthy sequel. Or even “The Godfather 2” to 2007’s “The Godfather.”

Saturday started with No. 3 Oklahoma losing at home to Kansas State after giving up an inexplicable 24 straight points to the Wildcats inside of the final 20 minutes. The game was followed by No. 6 LSU losing 44-34 at home to Mississippi State in Mike Leach’s debut as No. 8 Texas had to score 15 points in the final three minutes of regulation simply to force overtime and eventually beat Texas Tech.

The Kansas State team that took down Oklahoma was missing eight contributors for coronavirus-related reasons and lost to Arkansas State in its season opener while Texas Tech was a two-point conversion away from going to overtime against FCS-level Houston Baptist in its first game of the season.

Heck, No. 4 Georgia was trailing 7-5 at halftime to an Arkansas team that was a four-touchdown underdog. That same halftime score got replicated hours later when No. 10 Texas A&M took a two-point lead against lowly Vanderbilt to the locker room. Both top-10 teams prevailed in the second half, but the rare scores were further early evidence that this season is going to be a weird one.

Kansas State defensive back Jahron McPherson (31) celebrates with teammates Ross Elder (19) and Justin Hughes (32) after an interception to seal the win over Oklahoma in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Norman, Okla. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki).
Kansas State beat Oklahoma State for the second-straight season. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki).

The lack of spring practices and coherent plans throughout the summer and fall are likely going to be significant factors in that weirdness. While those factors may diminish as teams get accustomed to their regular season routines, the coronavirus is an added variable that could impact team rosters on a weekly basis.

Saturday marked the third straight season where two top-10 teams in the AP poll had lost on the final weekend of September. But every conference was playing in September in the last two seasons. We’re still weeks away from the Big Ten and the Pac-12 kicking off.

And it wasn’t like the teams that lost were only in the top 10 because the college football field isn’t at full strength. Both Oklahoma and LSU were widely considered to be contenders for the College Football Playoff when factoring in the other two Power Five conferences.

Heck, maybe LSU and Oklahoma still are playoff-worthy teams. It’s hard to draw too many conclusions after the first month of a normal season, let alone a season like this. But there is one judgment we’re confident in making right now: This 2020 season has a lot more unpredictability in store.

— Nick Bromberg

Here are this week’s winners and losers.

Winners

Alabama: The No. 2 Crimson Tide easily and efficiently dispatched Missouri on Saturday, 38-19. Alabama stifled the Missouri offense until garbage time in the second half and QB Mac Jones was 18-of-24 passing for 249 yards and two touchdowns before giving way to freshman Bryce Young in the second half.

Sixteen of the 23 passes that Jones and Young completed were to star receivers DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle. Waddle had eight catches for 134 yards and two scores while Smith had eight catches for 89 yards. Linebacker Dylan Moses also showed that he was fully recovered from a 2019 knee injury and was everywhere for the Alabama defense.

Florida offense: The Florida offense was firing on all cylinders in its season-opening win over Ole Miss. The Gators put up 642 yards, including a career-high 416 yards through the air by senior Kyle Trask. Trask completed 30 of his 42 throws and tied an SEC and school record with six touchdown passes. Four of those touchdowns went to star tight end Kyle Pitts, who finished the afternoon with eight catches for 170 yards and those four scores. Like Trask, Pitts also tied a school record with his four TD receptions. Throw in 196 rushing yards, and it was an excellent 2020 debut for Dan Mullen’s unit.

Mike Leach: If you dismissed the idea that Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense could work in the SEC, Mississippi State’s Week 1 win over LSU is going to test how committed you are to that skepticism. The Bulldogs went into Tiger Stadium and put up 632 yards of offense in a 44-34 win. Of that total, 623 yards came in the passing game from Stanford transfer K.J. Costello, who set an SEC single-game record for passing yards in his debut in an MSU uniform. Leach, in classic Leach fashion, described his first game as a debut head coach as “better than average.”

Pittsburgh: Pitt is quietly off to a 3-0 start. The 21st-ranked Panthers knocked off No. 24 Louisville at home 23-20 on Saturday and limited the high-powered Cardinals offense to just 223 yards in the process. The Pitt defense forced three turnovers (all interceptions) and finished the afternoon with seven sacks. Patrick Jones II had three of those sacks. Offensively, the Pitt has been up-and-down, but was able to string together enough scoring drives to come away with a victory. If the offense can be a bit more efficient, Pitt can be a dangerous team when the defense is playing at this high of a level.

Cincinnati: It was a game that was a bit overshadowed by the return of the SEC, but No. 14 Cincinnati picked up a hard-fought win over No. 22 Army on Saturday. In the 24-10 win, the Bearcats limited the Army option attack to just 182 yards while forcing two turnovers. Most importantly, UC kept Army’s offense out of the end zone. Army’s only TD came on a fumble return in the game’s first minute. Army kept things close until Cincy put the game away on a 60-yard Desmond Ridder touchdown pass to Gerrid Doaks with 6:55 to play. If an AAC team like Cincinnati wants to be in the CFP picture, non-conference wins like this one are important.

Virginia Tech: The Hokies entered Saturday night’s game without 23 players because of injuries, positive coronavirus tests and contact tracing. And Tech had no problem with NC State in a 45-24 win. One of the players unavailable was QB Hendon Hooker and his absence led Virginia Tech to run the ball over and over and over again. The Hokies rushed 41 times for 314 yards while throwing it 17 times for 181 yards. Former Kansas RB Khalil Herbert had six carries for 104 yards and a score and Rutgers transfer Raheem Blackshear also scored a TD.

Syracuse: After putting up a combined 16 points in its first two games, Syracuse snapped out of that funk and upset Georgia Tech, 37-20. The Orange came out hot and took a 17-0 lead after the first quarter. Georgia Tech fought back and cut Syracuse’s lead to 23-20 late in the third quarter, but a 43-yard touchdown catch by Nykeim Johnson and a 43-yard pick-six by Trill Williams put the game out of reach and sealed the first win of the season for Syracuse.

Louisiana: It looks like No. 19 Louisiana will stay in the Top 25 rankings for another week. For the second straight week, UL was brought to the brink of defeat by a Sun Belt opponent. Last week, Georgia State pushed the Ragin’ Cajuns into overtime. This time, it was Georgia Southern that took an 18-17 lead with 54 seconds to play. That set up these heroics from kicker Nate Snyder, who booted a game-winning 53-yarder as time expired to improve his team’s record to 3-0 on the year.

UTEP: UTEP has reached three wins in a season for the first time since 2016. Since that 4-8 2016 season, the Miners went a combined 2-34 over the next three seasons. On Saturday afternoon, the Miners improved to 3-1 with a 31-6 road win over UL Monroe. That’s right, UTEP is 3-1. In the win, UTEP’s first over an FBS opponent this year, Gavin Hardison threw for 302 yards while Deion Hankins rushed for 118 yards and three scores. Now the Miners have two weeks off before beginning Conference USA play.

Losers

Georgia and Texas A&M’s offenses: Both teams have work to do on offense before pivotal matchups next week. No. 4 Georgia’s offense was stagnant in the first half of a 37-10 win at Arkansas and starting QB D’Wan Mathis got benched in favor of Stetson Bennett. Bennett started the summer as Georgia’s No. 4 QB behind Jamie Newman, J.T. Daniels and Mathis. But with Newman opting out after transferring from Wake Forest and the USC transfer Daniels not medically cleared to play on Saturday, Bennett had to be Georgia’s catalyst.

The No. 10 Aggies, meanwhile, fumbled four times in a 17-12 win over Vanderbilt. It was a slog of a game for an A&M team that some think have the talent to finish behind Alabama in the SEC West.

And the Crimson Tide is who A&M gets on Oct. 3 while Georgia plays No. 8 Auburn. It seems overly optimistic to think that both teams were simply being bland on offense against huge underdogs in preparation for their top-10 matchups.

Texas Tech wide receiver Kesean Carter holds up two fingers as he scored his second touchdown of the game during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Texas Tech, Saturday Sept. 26, 2020, in Lubbock, Texas. (AP Photo/Mark Rogers)
There were a lot of points in Lubbock on Saturday. (AP Photo/Mark Rogers)

Oklahoma and Texas’ defenses: If Saturday’s action told us anything, it’s that the Big 12 is wide open in 2020. Oklahoma blew a 28-7 lead and was upset 38-35 at home by Kansas State, a team that lost its opener to Arkansas State. The Oklahoma defense limited KSU to just seven first-half points, but could not stop the Wildcats in the second half. K-State finished the game by scoring 24 unanswered points and nobody on the Sooners defense was able to step up and make a play. Things were arguably worse for Texas, except the Longhorns managed to somehow escape their upset scare with a 63-56 overtime win over Texas Tech. TTU looked like it had the upset sealed when SaRodorick Thompson broke off a 75-yard TD run to make it 56-41 with 3:13 to play. But Texas managed to force overtime and avoided a disaster.

Florida State: If you thought Florida State was going to rebound for a rivalry game after losing to Georgia Tech you thought very wrong. The Seminoles were dominated in a 52-10 loss at Miami on Saturday night. It’s the worst loss for FSU against Miami since a 47-0 loss in 1997. FSU gave up over 500 yards of offense to Miami and each of the three QBs that threw a pass — James Blackman, Tate Rodemaker and Jordan Travis — threw an interception. And the offensive line was brutal again too. Most figured that this was going to be a rebuilding year in Tallahassee for Mike Norvell. But it’s possible that there was some widespread underestimating of how much had to be rebuilt.

LSU offensive line: As bad as LSU’s passing defense was in its 44-34 loss to Mississippi State, the coaching staff has to be worried about the offensive line, too. Mississippi State’s defense was able to sack Myles Brennan seven times on the afternoon. Some of that was on Brennan holding the ball for too long in his first career start, but it was surprising how often MSU defenders were able to leak into the backfield. The o-line struggles extended to the running game, too. LSU running backs mustered just 117 yards on 27 carries. And when you add sacks to the mix, LSU finished with 80 rushing yards on the day.

Kentucky: Kentucky has a legitimate gripe regarding what looked like a touchdown by running back Christopher Rodriguez late in the first half in its loss against Auburn. But the Wildcats have nobody to blame but themselves for the series of mistakes committed afterward. Two plays after that controversial non-TD, Terry Wilson threw an inexcusable interception on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line. In the second half, Wilson inexplicably threw the ball away on a two-point try that, if successful, would have tied the game at 15-15 in the third quarter. On UK’s next possession, Wilson fumbled on a third-down run, setting up a short field and an Auburn touchdown. And on the following UK possession, all-SEC punter Max Duffy took off running on a fake punt that went nowhere. Two plays after that gaffe, Auburn scored again on a 21-yard TD pass. Kentucky had its chances to pull off the upset, but had too many self-inflicted wounds.

South Carolina running back Kevin Harris (20) carries against Tennessee's Kenneth George Jr. (5) and Devon Dillehay (23) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
South Carolina lost to Tennessee. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

South Carolina: It looked like South Carolina was going to get a chance to put its offense back on the field down 31-27 to No. 16 Tennessee with about 1:30 left in regulation. Instead, disaster struck. Tennessee punter Paxton Brooks booted a low line drive that bounced and deflected off an unsuspecting South Carolina player. Tennessee then alertly pounced on the loose ball and subsequently ran out the clock. That turnover followed a decision from Will Muschamp that could be scrutinized. On South Carolina’s previous drive, Muschamp sent his field goal unit out onto the field on fourth-and-12 from the Tennessee 28 with 3:16 to play. The field goal cut the lead to 31-27 and Muschamp hoped his defense would give the offense one more try. The defense got the stop it needed, but a special teams gaffe ultimately doomed the Gamecocks.

Duke: Duke’s quarterback troubles may not be solved, after all. The addition of Clemson transfer Chase Brice seemed like a major pickup for the Blue Devils, but he has struggled mightily through three games in a Duke uniform. In Saturday’s 38-20 loss to Virginia, Brice completed just 16-of-36 passes and tossed four interceptions. All four came in the second half and three of those interceptions came on consecutive possessions. Duke actually led 20-17 when Brice threw his second INT inside the UVA 10-yard line. From there, Virginia scored on its next two possessions, flipping a 20-17 deficit into a 31-20 lead. Duke finished the afternoon with seven turnovers. Yes, seven. The Blue Devils are now 0-3.

Southern Miss: It has been a rough month in Hattiesburg. Southern Miss lost its season opener at home to South Alabama. A few days later, head coach Jay Hopson was no longer the head coach. Last week, the Golden Eagles blew a 27-10 second-half lead and lost to Louisiana Tech 31-30 on a fourth-and-goal touchdown pass with 14 seconds to play. If those outcomes weren’t disheartening enough, USM allowed a ridiculous 430 rushing yards in Saturday’s 66-24 home loss to Tulane. Southern Miss is now 0-3 and headed for a long season.

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