Syracuse, Appalachian State get wild wins (college football winners and losers)

Matthew Bergeron (60) lifts Oronde Gadsden II of Syracuse after Gadsden II scored a touchdown during the final minute to beat Purdue. (Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

The Orange’s game against Purdue was like a late-night bowl game featuring teams hovering around .500 after largely forgettable seasons, only it was transported to mid-September.

It didn’t make any sense at all, no one beyond the two fan bases involved really cared and it was nearly impossible to turn away from (particularly in a bonkers fourth quarter).

Syracuse came away with a 32-29 victory, a score that seemed unlikely when the Boilermakers limped into halftime with a 9-3 lead and Syracuse held a 10-9 edge after three quarters. And it definitely wasn’t in the cards when Syracuse defensive tackle Caleb Okechukwu brought back an interception for a touchdown to make it 25-15 with 8:08 to play.

But that discounted the possibility of Syracuse’s defense melting away. And Purdue kicking off from the 10 with 51 seconds to go thanks to a pair of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties after it took the lead on Payne Durham’s 12-yard touchdown catch. Not to mention Garrett Shrader’s 25-yard strike to Oronde Gadsden II with 7 seconds remaining to win it.

And just like that, the Orange is 3-0 with victories over Louisville, Connecticut and Purdue. With Virginia and Wagner coming up at home the next two weekends, Syracuse could well find itself unbeaten in mid-October heading into the guts of its schedule.

Appalachian State (winner)

One way to be a winner? Score the winning touchdown on a Hail Mary that actually came five yards short of the end zone.

For the record, the Mountaineers (2-1) have lost at home to North Carolina, 63-61, and beaten Troy on the final play of the game, making their 17-14 victory at Texas A&M the least exciting of the three they’ve played this season.

Oregon (winner)

The Ducks were rightfully a wait-and-see proposition after Georgia sent some feathers flying in a 49-3 rout in Atlanta two weeks ago.

No. 25 Oregon offered as good a response as it could its next time out, a 70-14 pummeling of Eastern Washington. But it was always going to require a complete showing against a more high-profile opponent to restore some measure of faith in Dan Lanning’s team.

Consider it done thanks to a 41-20 defeat of No. 12 BYU.

Bo Nix threw for 222 yards and two touchdowns for Oregon (2-1), which led by as many as 31 and was never seriously threatened by a Cougars bunch coming off an overtime victory over Baylor.

The Ducks scored on their first six possessions and denied BYU on all four of its fourth-down tries. They bottled up BYU’s rushing game, and their only turnover was a fourth-quarter interception — long after things had been decided, and thrown by Nix’s backup.

There was 60 minutes of evidence earlier this month that Oregon wasn’t as good as Georgia. But the Ducks very well may be better than a lot of other teams, as the last two weeks suggest. The way back into the national conversation was by pounding one opponent at a time. Oregon seems to have put the philosophy into practice.

Auburn (loser)

The Tigers’ 41-12 loss at home to No. 22 Penn State will leave a mark, especially for a team that still has to navigate the likes of Georgia, Arkansas and Alabama later in the season.

Auburn’s famously impatient power brokers were quite coup-curious after last season, but coach Bryan Harsin managed to survive for a second season. Taking lopsided losses at home, even to brand-name opponents like Penn State, won’t do anything to pacify those opposing forces.

The Tigers (2-1) already had a lackluster victory over San José State on their ledger, and now they have a four-turnover performance that went a long way toward ensuring a loss Saturday to their credit. Expect some rumblings on the Plains this week. Well, more rumblings than usual.

Georgia Tech (loser)

On the subject of Deep South coaches who might have crossed the Rubicon in their tenures, Geoff Collins’s tenure with the Yellow Jackets is closing in on untenable territory.

The Yellow Jackets went 3-9, 3-7 and 3-9 in Collins’s first three seasons after he replaced Paul Johnson, whose penchant for usually churning bowl berths and occasionally making a push for 10-win seasons has to look a lot better by the week.

Going from a triple-option system to, well, nearly anything else was always going to require at least some time to adjust. But by Year 4, it’s largely on a coach to have things moving in the right direction.

And so far this season? Georgia Tech has a predictable opening loss to Clemson, a sluggish showing in a 35-17 defeat of Western Carolina in a short week and now a feeble 42-0 loss to No. 20 Mississippi. The trend is not a good one.

For nearly a quarter-century — spanning the George O’Leary, Chan Gailey and Johnson years in Atlanta — Georgia Tech was about as reliable as could be. The Yellow Jackets still are, just not in the way anyone would want to be.

Oklahoma (winner)

The first alleged test of the Brent Venables era didn’t prove to be much of one as the Sooners clocked Nebraska, 49-14, to improve to 3-0.

Oklahoma scored touchdowns on seven of its first 10 possessions, and recorded its largest margin of victory over the Cornhuskers since a 45-10 rout in 1990.

That’s not what matters in the here and now. The Sooners head into Big 12 play having outscored UTEP, Kent State and Nebraska by a combined 127-30. It doesn’t ensure Oklahoma will run roughshod over its conference rivals, but it is an encouraging sign.

Nebraska (loser)

Lost by 35 at home to Oklahoma, which isn’t really a surprise considering the Cornhuskers (1-3) appear well on their way to a sixth consecutive losing season and the Sooners are a perennial playoff contender.

But considering Nebraska (or, more specifically, its various donors) ponied up last weekend to pay a buyout to coach Scott Frost that would have shrank by about $8 million on Oct. 1, it really is worth asking: Aside from the deafening clamor to make a change, would things really have been worse Saturday had some patience and/or financial restraint been exercised?

South Alabama (loser)

There’s playing to win, and then there’s whatever the heck this is.

Look, good on the Jaguars for deciding that going for a first down on fourth-and-2 from the UCLA 22 with a two-point lead was a bright idea. With about three minutes to go, South Alabama could have milked the clock and/or forced the Bruins to exhaust their timeouts if it converted.

And a run of some kind would have made sense. To that point, the Jaguars were averaging a robust 5.2 yards a carry (173 yards on 33 attempts). Even setting aside an outlier — La’Damian Webb’s 47-yard rumble early in the game — and South Alabama was still at a solid 3.9 yards a pop.

Instead, the Jaguars not only ran a fake field goal but made it clear well before the snap it was a fake field goal. UCLA snuffed it out for a loss of 11, cruised downfield and had plenty of time to set up Nicholas Barr-Mira’s 24-yard field goal to escape with a 32-31 victory before an announced crowd of 29,344 at the cavernous Rose Bowl.

All of which prompts a philosophical thought experiment: If a game happens in a two-thirds empty stadium and airs on the Pac-12 Network, did it really happen? Thanks to South Alabama’s lamentable play call late in the contest, it became one of the week’s most memorable contests.

Indiana (winner)

No one is going to confuse the Hoosiers for a juggernaut. They’ve edged Illinois in a game that would have come and gone largely unnoticed had it not been played on the Friday night of the opening week (rather than amid a bunch of games the following day), dispatched Football Championship Subdivision school Idaho and now rallied past Western Kentucky, 33-30, in overtime.

Nonetheless, Indiana is 3-0, which means something for a team that went 2-10 a year ago. Well, sort of, since those two victories came against … Idaho and Western Kentucky.

Look at things from the right angle (preferably one that emphasizes things like Charles Campbell’s 51-yard field goal to win it and overlooks the 11-point deficit Indiana took into the fourth quarter) and it isn’t impossible to imagine the Hoosiers being 5-0 with Michigan coming to town or 7-1 heading into a late October open date.

Tom Allen’s team gets Cincinnati and Nebraska on the road, then Michigan and Maryland in Bloomington before a trip to Rutgers. That could be a 4-1 stretch if things break right. It could also end up the reverse — which would still be better than how last season went.

The Hoosiers are halfway to bowl eligibility after a harrowing escape. For the moment, that’s what counts the most.

Northwestern (loser)

Well, the Wildcats will always have Dublin. Since rallying past Nebraska last month in Ireland, Northwestern enjoyed an open date, lost to Duke, 31-23, and then nearly matched the score to the point with a 31-24 loss to Southern Illinois.

The Salukis, two weeks removed from yielding 64 points to Incarnate Word, largely bottled up the Wildcats (1-2) after a pair of early touchdown drives. They also went 3 for 3 on fourth-down attempts and scored quick touchdowns after beginning a pair of drives in the red zone after forcing turnovers.

In other words, they played to win and exploited mistakes, two of the biggest elements in the blueprint of most FCS-over-FBS victories.

Southern Illinois improved to 2-7 all-time against Big Ten teams, earning its first victory against the former realm of Legends and Leaders since 2006 — when current coach Nick Hill, who engineered that victory 16 years ago against Indiana while making his second college start.

As for Northwestern, it’s becoming fair to wonder whether 3-9 — the Wildcats’ final record in both 2019 and 2021 — is about where things will wind up this fall.

Colorado (loser)

The Buffaloes (0-3) didn’t have the friendliest nonconference schedule, with a home game against TCU followed by trips to Air Force and Minnesota. For a program that has struggled to even reach bowl games over the last decade and a half, it could have used a more manageable start to the season.

Still, the way Colorado has gone winless over the last three weeks is dicey. The Buffs have been outscored 128-30 after Saturday’s 49-7 trouncing in the Twin Cities.

Minnesota more than doubled up Colorado in yardage (500-226), and the Buffaloes didn’t score until the final 10 minutes. It was a wholly uncompetitive showing, though there actually was a little more competence on offense than in last year’s 30-0 loss to the Gophers.

The somewhat navigable portion of Colorado’s Pac-12 schedule comes early: UCLA, at Arizona, California and at Oregon State over the next month. If there isn’t a quick turnaround, Colorado could be a candidate for a winless season.

Washington (winner)

One of this year’s participants in quarterback transfer roulette is the Huskies, and while the early returns on ex-Indiana QB Michael Penix Jr. were promising, they also came against Kent State and Portland State.

So the first real test for Penix — and, really, first-year coach Kalen DeBoer — was going to be Saturday against Michigan State.

Penix, DeBoer and the rest of the Washington program passed in a 39-28 victory over the Spartans. Penix threw for 397 yards and four touchdowns, the Huskies darted to a 22-0 lead and the program took a major step toward moving past last season’s forgettable 4-8 debacle.

Miami (loser)

The Hurricanes … are not back, at least not yet. Miami always warranted skepticism as an immediate breakout team under new coach Mario Cristobal — not because of Cristobal, but rather because of the program’s nearly two-decade streak of stops and starts.

Miami (2-1) did a commendable defensive job in a 17-9 loss at Texas A&M, but wound up with three field goals to show for four red-zone trips. The absence of injured receiver Xavier Restrepo couldn’t have helped the Hurricanes, who nonetheless moved the ball reasonably well (5.1 yards per play) until it mattered most.

Ultimately, Saturday represented a missed opportunity for Miami, which could have piled on a sputtering Aggies team coming off a loss to Appalachian State. Instead, Texas A&M (2-1) stabilized itself a little at the expense of the Hurricanes, who wrap up their nonconference schedule next week against Middle Tennessee.

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