That was then. The Mountaineers have since moved up to the top level of college football, and after a couple years of forgettable years have averaged 10.4 victories a season since 2015. It’s a run that included defeats of North Carolina and South Carolina in 2019, a near-upset of Penn State in 2018, and a wild 63-61 loss at home against North Carolina last week.
So App State winning 17-14 at No. 6 Texas A&M in 2022? An upset, certainly, but not incomprehensible.
The way the Mountaineers looked like the national power by smothering the Aggies and remaining in complete control of the game’s pace was impressive. Appalachian State outgained Texas A&M, 305-186, and it ran 80 plays to the Aggies’ 38. It owned a better than 2-to-1 edge in time of possession.
If there was a blue collar-over-blue chip blueprint, the Mountaineers (1-1) followed it exactly and deserve credit for doing so. Camerun Peoples ran for 112 yards, mostly chipping away for small gains before a 48-yard burst effectively sealed it in the closing minutes. And App State opportunistically converted a pair of fumble recoveries into touchdowns.
Yet Texas A&M played a role in its own demise. It couldn’t stitch together long drives, it wasn’t much of a threat in the passing game and it could not generate stops when needed. The Mountaineers went 9 for 20 on third down and another 3 for 5 on fourth-down conversions.
It’s now Jimbo Fisher’s fifth season in College Station, and he’s being compensated in a manner that suggests the Aggies should be contending for national titles. They’ve looked like that sort of team once in his tenure, when they went 9-1 with a loss to Alabama in 2020 and just missed out on a playoff berth. Last year featured a victory over Alabama, but it was also erratic and produced an 8-4 mark.
It appears more of the same could be on the way this season. What will the Aggies’ 2022 highlight be? The two notable early favorites are winning signing day with the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class and Fisher’s impromptu news conference in May blasting Alabama coach Nick Saban.
That was an entertaining offseason diversion, and everyone promptly circled Texas A&M’s trip to Tuscaloosa on Oct. 8 as one of the season’s biggest games. It won’t be if the Aggies remain inert over the next three weeks. App State was the first team to pick off Fisher’s bunch this year. Without a considerable jolt, it will be far from the last.
Appalachian State wasn’t the only Sun Belt team to make a splash Saturday. There’s a case to be made Marshall’s 26-21 defeat of No. 8 Notre Dame was even more significant.
Yes, the 0-2 Irish’s offensive foibles have been completely exposed, and they shouldn’t have been a top-10 team. That didn’t make the Thundering Herd’s triumph in South Bend any less sweet.
The first-year Sun Belt program (which arrived after a nearly two-decade run in Conference USA) trailed for less than three minutes in the first three quarters. After Notre Dame nosed ahead 15-12 early in the fourth, Marshall stitched together an 11-play, 94-yard march capped by Devin Miller’s 3-yard touchdown catch.
Less than a minute later, Steven Gilmore’s 37-yard interception return for a touchdown made it 26-15 and left the Irish scrambling.
It was Marshall’s first victory over a (nominally) top-10 opponent since stunning Kansas State in 2003.
Notre Dame (loser)
So you want to be the head coach of the Fighting Irish, huh?
In fairness to Notre Dame’s Marcus Freeman, snap judgments on a head coach after three games are seldom wise. Still, facts are facts: Freeman is the first coach to begin his tenure in South Bend with three consecutive losses.
The first two were a come-from-ahead Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State and this year’s opener at Ohio State. A lot more short-term questions are going to be asked after a 26-21 loss to Marshall.
Two games into this season, and the Irish’s offensive identity isn’t a particularly strong one. It does not look like a team capable of dropping 40-plus points on nearly anyone, especially with a quarterback in Tyler Buchner who appears to be more of a threat on the ground than as a passer at this stage of his career.
Notre Dame is going to have to win slugfests this year, with a methodical, low-risk, run-heavy approach. It isn’t going to be much fun, but it’s the path to success. A lot went wrong against the Thundering Herd, but the three interceptions — including one returned for a score and another that short-circuited a fourth-quarter drive — are errors this version of Notre Dame simply cannot afford.
Well, now the No. 24 Volunteers have gone and done it. They’ve gotten all of Rocky Top’s hopes up after outlasting No. 17 Pittsburgh, 34-27, in overtime.
A 2-0 start doesn’t guarantee anything, but for a team that showed serious defensive liabilities last season, keeping the score in the 20s during regulation is a sign of progress. Some of that was tied to knocking Pitt quarterback Kedon Slovis out of the game just before halftime, but Tennessee’s defense did have something to do with that.
It’s nonetheless undeniable the schedule sets up reasonably well from here. Tennessee gets Akron and then Florida before visiting LSU off an open date. Three more home games follow (the first against Alabama, the third against Kentucky). Squint at it enough, and a 7-1 start doesn’t seem fantastical.
But first things first. The Vols played a far from perfect game and have plenty of room to grow. They’ll need to do some of it in the next two weeks.
It turns out that seven points isn’t enough to win every game, a theory the Hawkeyes have tested two weeks in a row.
It did work in a 7-3 defeat of South Dakota State a week ago when the Hawkeyes stitched together a field goal and a pair of safeties. It didn’t turn out as well in a 10-7 loss to Iowa State despite needing just two plays to cash in a blocked punt early in the first quarter.
Iowa managed 150 total yards, including just 58 yards on 25 carries. The Cyclones own a commendable defense, so chalk some of this up to the opposition. The game also ended in a downpour, though Iowa did manage to get in range for a last-second field goal try to attempt to force overtime (it missed).
In so many ways, it set up as an Iowa sort of day: Low-scoring. Unpleasant conditions. A day when the forward pass was, if not a rumor, then at least rarely combustible. (There were no completions of more than 24 yards and only two completions for more than 16 yards; Iowa had neither).
The Kirk Ferentz formula has always been a bit retro, but it needs to be a reasonable throwback (to, say, the Big Ten of the 1970s or 1980s) as opposed to a more extreme one (like the 1920s or 1930s). Iowa needs to summon some offense, and in a hurry. Even in the Big Ten West, seven points isn’t going to cut it often the rest of the way.
The No. 13 Utes probably would have handled Southern Utah with ease. But the Thunderbirds unfortunately got Angry Utah after its loss at Florida last week and, well, things got ugly in a hurry and then got worse.
Utah rolled to a 73-7 victory, the Utes’ most points in a game since an 82-6 pounding of Texas-El Paso in 1973.
“The game plan was just to come out and dominate,” quarterback Cameron Rising told reporters.
Mission accomplished on that front.
Nakia Watson (winner)
It was quite the homecoming for the Washington State running back, who played two seasons at Wisconsin and rumbled for a pair of touchdowns in a 17-14 victory over the Badgers.
The Cougars managed a bit of conjuring to come out of Camp Randall Stadium with a victory. Teams that commit three turnovers and roll up only 53 rushing yards don’t usually pull off victories at Wisconsin.
But the Badgers had their own set of problems — three turnovers of their own, 11 penalties and a pair of missed field goals. Overall, Wisconsin had four drives of at least 10 plays come up completely empty.
The Cavaliers had the nation’s No. 2 passing offense last season and ranked third in the country in total yardage. They averaged 34.6 points. They weren’t great, going 6-6, but they usually weren’t boring or bottled up.
So to lose in the fashion Virginia did in its first test against a Football Bowl Subdivision team under new coach Tony Elliott — 24-3 at Illinois, with its quarterbacks completing 13 of 36 for 180 yards and two interceptions — is not encouraging.
To give up 146 yards to Illinois running back Chase Brown is perfectly understandable. He was going to get his. For an offense to take a step back despite returning starting quarterback Brennan Armstrong and receivers Keytaon Thompson and Dontayvion Wicks while getting deep threat Lavel Davis Jr. back from injury is less so. Well, except for the whole rebuilt offensive line.
As ever, an offensive line makes all things possible in football. Its apparent absence could make Elliott’s debut season tougher than anyone would like in Charlottesville.
So much for that stealth run at a playoff berth in its final Group of Five season. The No. 25 Cougars survived overtime at Texas-San Antonio last week. They weren’t so fortunate in a 33-30 loss at Texas Tech.
The good news for Houston, which will reunite with its former Southwest Conference rival in the Big 12 next year? Red Raiders fans were so overjoyed by the victory they stormed the field. After Saturday’s loss, the Cougars won’t face a big risk of that happening to them again this season.
Kansas State (winner)
The Wildcats were a team last season you had to make an effort to notice. They lost to the four best teams in the Big 12 (Baylor, Iowa State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State) and went 8-1 against everyone else. Maybe the most notable thing connected to K-State was that Texas Tech and TCU made coaching changes in consecutive weeks after losses to the Wildcats.
But for those who cared to look closer, Kansas State was a consistently good defensive team. It had some games it wasn’t as sharp — against Oklahoma State’s passing game and Iowa State’s rushing attack — but only three opponents managed to score 30 points against the Wildcats, and none of their last seven foes did.
Moving ahead to the present, K-State nearly went two full games without surrendering a touchdown. Go ahead and chalk up the 34-0 blanking of South Dakota last week to an FBS-vs.-FCS mismatch, but Saturday’s 40-12 thumping of Missouri goes down as a bit more impressive.
The Wildcats (2-0) held the Tigers to 222 total yards, and Missouri’s touchdown came on the final play of the game (and was set up by a reserve back’s fumble at the K-State 20 in the closing minutes). Kansas State isn’t an offensive juggernaut, but it might not need to be with its defense. The Big 12 will find out soon enough; the Wildcats visit Oklahoma on Sept. 24.
Sam Hartman (winner)
The Wake Forest quarterback missed several weeks during preseason camp and the Demon Deacons’ opening rout of VMI because of a blood clot issue. He was cleared this week and promptly completed 18 of 27 passes for 300 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-25 victory at Vanderbilt.
To state the obvious, the No. 23 Demon Deacons have a far higher ceiling with the redshirt junior — whose 76 career touchdown passes are a school record — than without him. Having him shake off whatever rust accumulated (and clearly there wasn’t much) in the two weeks before Wake Forest (2-0) welcomes Clemson to Winston-Salem is also beneficial for Dave Clawson’s team.
The most noteworthy part of the Golden Gophers’ 62-10 rout of Western Illinois was the score. It was the most points in any game for Minnesota since a 63-26 pounding of Indiana in 2006, and the Gophers’ total yardage figure (679) was their largest since rolling up 704 yards on Toledo in 2004.
The Black Knights haven’t had an easy go of it, opening at Coastal Carolina and then welcoming defending Conference USA champ Texas-San Antonio to the U.S. Military Academy. And it’s not as if Army is getting blown out; it has yet to trail by more than 10 points.
Nonetheless, the Black Knights sit at 0-2 for the first time since 2015 after Saturday’s 41-38 overtime loss to UTSA. The Roadrunners — themselves coming off an overtime loss to Houston — bounced back from a two-touchdown deficit in the second half and a missed field goal on the last play of regulation to win it on De’Corian Clark’s seven-yard touchdown reception from Frank Harris.
Losses at Michie Stadium have become rare for Army, which was 29-3 at home over the last five seasons. The other teams to upend the Black Knights in West Point since 2017: Tulane (2019), San José State (2019) and Wake Forest (2021).
Southern California (winner)
One of the questions of the day was whether the 10th-ranked Trojans would fall into the familiar trap of stumbling against Stanford despite yet another new coaching staff taking over the storied program in Los Angeles.
USC offered a more-than-adequate response on the road, besting the Cardinal, 41-28, behind Caleb Williams’s 341 yards and four touchdowns passing. Jordan Addison caught two of those strikes and collected seven receptions for 172 yards.
The Trojans never trailed, were up 35-14 at the half and stretched the advantage to 41-14 before Stanford tacked on two meaningless touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
In short, there’s little argument with the early returns on coach Lincoln Riley’s rapid rebuilding job. A 2-0 start doesn’t ensure conference titles and playoff berths, but Southern Cal definitely handled its business in the Bay Area on Saturday.
Mark Stoops (winner)
The winningest coach in Kentucky history is no longer Paul “Bear” Bryant. Stoops collected his 61st victory since coming to Lexington, and did so with a 26-16 triumph at Florida.
There was something appropriate about the milestone coming against the Gators. Kentucky went 32 years (and five full-time head coaching tenures) without beating Florida before picking off the Gators in 2018. Now the Wildcats have done it three times in the last five seasons, smothering Florida in the second half to improve to 2-0.
The Holy Cross Hail Mary (winner)
Last year was graced by a Jacksonville State-over-Florida State bomb to win it on the final play of the game.
Saturday, Holy Cross took down Buffalo in similar fashion to earn an FCS-over-FBS victory to go with the guaranteed paycheck.
It’s also the second consecutive year the Crusaders beat an FBS school. Last season, Holy Cross took down Connecticut, 38-28, to send Randy Edsall into retirement. The Crusaders had to wait 19 years between FBS upsets a year ago, but the wait this time was just a tad shorter.
Scott Frost (loser)
The Nebraska coach’s tenure moved another step closer to its conclusion with a 45-42 loss to Georgia Southern.
The Eagles, it turned out, had the Cornhuskers right where they wanted them: In a one-possession game.
Nebraska is a stunningly dismal 5-22 in one-possession games in five seasons under Frost. And with the Cornhuskers sitting at 1-2 and Oklahoma coming to town next weekend, this campaign is closing in on lost-cause territory. Nebraska surrendered 642 yards at home, and Kyle Vantrease became the first Georgia Southern quarterback to throw for 400 yards since Tracy Ham did it against Furman in the 1985 Division I-AA national title game.
Frost’s buyout is cut in half Oct. 1, dropping from approximately $16.25 million to $8.125 million. After facing Oklahoma, Nebraska gets a bye week and then possibly a buyout week.