Tennessee finally beats a rival (College football winners and losers)

Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) led the Volunteers to a 38-33 win over Florida. (Wade Payne/AP)

It was all set up for the Volunteers to lose in the most excruciatingly Tennessee manner possible. After leading by 17 with five minutes to go, the Vols gave up a pair of scores and allowed Florida to corral a perfectly executed onside kick in the closing seconds.

But maybe things are turning a bit for Tennessee, which got Kamal Hadden’s interception on the final play of the game to secure a 38-33 victory.

The No. 11 Vols (4-0, 1-0 SEC) got brilliant work from quarterback Hendon Hooker (349 yards, two TDs passing; 112 yards, 1 TD rushing). They played from ahead most of the day, and for the entire second half.

Maryland comes close, but not close enough to beat No. 4 Michigan

And most tellingly, they knocked off one of the three major rivals that have caused them so much trouble since the Phil Fulmer era began to fade in the mid-2000s.

Alabama has taken 15 in a row from the Vols since 2007. Georgia has won 10 of 12 and 11 of 14 against Tennessee.

And No. 20 Florida had claimed 16 of 17 since 2005, with Tennessee’s victory in 2016 the only oasis in a stretch that covered some good times in Gainesville (the Urban Meyer years) and some largely forgettable ones (the coaching stints of Will Muschamp, Jim McElwain and, to a lesser extent, Dan Mullen).

The Volunteers still have to deal with Alabama (Oct. 15) and they still have to visit Georgia (Nov. 5). One victory doesn’t make Tennessee relevant nationally again, but it does provide some needed validation.

Oklahoma (loser)

It’s probably safe to assume the Sooners aren’t going to miss facing Kansas State every year when they move to the SEC in 2025.

The Wildcats — fresh off a loss to Tulane and led by ex-Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez — handed No. 6 Oklahoma a 41-34 defeat in Norman, the third time in four years they’ve knocked off the Sooners.

Martinez ran for 148 yards and four touchdowns for Kansas State (3-1, 1-0 Big 12), and he also threw for 234 yards and a score. He was a notable part of the Sooners’ headache Saturday and effectively sealed the game with a 55-yard run on third-and-16 with 2:30 to play.

It was a scramble that summed up an alarming night for the Oklahoma defense, which was exposed after smothering the likes of Texas-El Paso, Kent State and Nebraska. And it leaves the Sooners (3-1, 0-1) with basically no wiggle room for playoff purposes for the rest of a regular season with no shortage of tricky tests throughout Big 12 play.

Oregon (winner)

It’s easy to bury a team after the opening week of a season. Too easy, really. And it’s especially easy to bury a team after it takes the sort of loss Oregon did over Labor Day weekend, a 49-3 thumping against Georgia.

The No. 15 Ducks were about to get buried again Saturday, staring at a 12-point deficit in the final five minutes at Washington State in an intriguing game symbolic of just how curious a start the Pac-12 has authored this year.

Only Oregon wasn’t done. It got Cam McCormick’s 1-yard touchdown pass from Bo Nix, Troy Franklin’s 50-yard dart from Nix (plus a Nix scamper for a two-point conversion) and Mase Funa’s gift-wrapped 27-yard interception return for a score.

And the Ducks got all of that in a span of 2 minutes, 27 seconds, and it was enough to secure a 44-41 victory in Pullman.

Oregon (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) had already reestablished some credibility with a rout of BYU last week, but it sure didn’t hurt to knock off the other Cougars (3-1, 0-1) in riveting fashion. The Ducks scored 29 points in the final quarter, and offered a reminder of why they were expected to be a league title contender and maybe a top-10 team nationally when the season began.

Southern California is the headline-grabber in the Pac-12 thanks to a new coach (Lincoln Riley), his handpicked, imported quarterback (Caleb Williams) and a bevy of other transfers. The rest of the Pacific Northwest has more than acquitted itself well, with Oregon State, Washington and Washington State all entering the weekend without a loss.

Saturday demonstrated Oregon won’t be nudged out of the spotlight easily. The schedule is manageable into November, and the talent is intriguing. The Ducks are far from finished — and certainly shouldn’t be written off like they were on Labor Day weekend after their brutal encounter with the defending national champs.

Arkansas (loser)

Think the Razorbacks won’t be asking what-if about this play for a while?

It’s actually hard to sort out which bad break was actually more frustrating for the No. 10 Razorbacks (3-1, 1-1 SEC) in their 23-21 loss to No. 23 Texas A&M. After all, they overcame the 13-point swing of having a fumble a few yards from the goal line returned for a touchdown to having a chance to win it with 90 seconds to go.

Only kicker Cam Little missed a 42-yard field goal by doinking the kick off the top of the upright.

Arkansas went from having a potential showdown of unbeatens against Alabama next week in Fayetteville to … well, having unbeaten Alabama come to town as the Razorbacks attempt to move past a frustrating loss. One way or another, we’ll learn something about the Hogs next Saturday.

Northwestern (loser)

A week after falling at home to Southern Illinois and becoming the Salukis’ first Big Ten victim since 2006, the Wildcats (1-3) dropped a 17-14 decision to Miami (Ohio) and became the first Big Ten team to lose to the RedHawks since 2003 … when Ben Roethlisberger-led Miami won at Northwestern in the second game of the season.

It’s all conference play from here for Northwestern, and maybe that’s a blessing after losing three consecutive nonconference games since returning from last month’s victory over Nebraska in Ireland.

Notre Dame (winner)

The Irish (2-2) discovered their offense in a 45-23 victory at North Carolina, and while the Tar Heels played their part, it was a welcome bit of progress for a team that lost to Marshall and had to scrap its way past California the last two weeks.

Drew Pyne threw for 289 yards and three touchdowns, Audric Estime (134 yards, two TDs) was one of three running backs with at least 50 yards and Notre Dame piled up 576 total yards in almost perfect balance to head into its open date at .500.

Considering how the month started, it is not a bad place for the Irish to find themselves, especially with a navigable October that includes meetings with BYU, Stanford, UNLV and Syracuse.

Kansas (winner)

The Kansas Jayhawks are 4-0 for the first time since 2009 after a 35-27 defeat of Duke, but that doesn’t really do justice to what’s happening in Lawrence.

This does: Kansas has four victories — in a season — for the first time since 2009.

The Jayhawks won this game in a similar manner to their victory at West Virginia, piling up yardage and daring an opponent to keep pace. Jalon Daniels rolled up 324 yards and four touchdowns through the air and another 83 yards and a touchdown on the ground as Kansas collected 528 total yards.

If this was a team that typically found itself in conference title contention, there would be a worthwhile conversation to have about how sustainable it is to give up 402.5 yards a game (Duke managed 463). But when you’ve struggled as long as the Jayhawks have, it’s an issue that can be dealt with at another time.

Nearly a month into the season, there isn’t much reason to doubt Kansas will be able to stay in most games thanks to its offense. And that means a cute story about a program that spent a decade-plus as a doormat has a real chance to zoom past merely becoming bowl-eligible and actually finishing in the top half of the Big 12.

Michigan State (loser)

No one is going to soon forget the Spartans’ 8-0 start last year, in part because of the lengthy and lucrative contract extension coach Mel Tucker earned as a result. But it’s already clear whatever magic there was in 2021 has not carried over into 2022 — just like Tucker’s 2-5 debut during the pandemic season didn’t reflect how things would go in his second year.

The troubling thing for Michigan State isn’t the 2-2 start, though that can’t have many people in East Lansing happy. It’s how the Spartans got there. They no-showed in the first half last week at Washington, giving up the first 22 points before scrambling to make it a 39-28 final margin. They just flat-out no-showed Saturday in a 34-7 loss at home to Minnesota, scoring only in the final minute.

The 4-0 Golden Gophers moved the ball at will, scoring on six of their seven possessions that didn’t end a half. As for Michigan State, it doesn’t appear to have many answers against a remotely decent defense, which spelled trouble against a stingy Minnesota bunch.

Michigan State’s next four games: At Maryland, at home against Ohio State and Wisconsin, and then a trip to Michigan after an open date. The Spartans are at a crossroads in their season, and things could go sideways in a hurry without a victory to open October.

Miami (loser)

Despite the hype machine in south Florida doing its annual task of pumping up the No. 25 Hurricanes into something far better than they really are, some skepticism was always warranted this fall. Mario Cristobal inherited a 7-5 team, and Miami has fallen short of its inflated expectations so many times in the last 15 years that everyone should know better than to buy the big talk.

But a 45-31 loss to Middle Tennessee? Really? Who saw that coming?

Maybe more accurately, who saw how it was coming. The Blue Raiders popped touchdown passes of 71, 69 and 98 yards and tossed in an early interception return for a score for good measure, cramming big plays down the throat of a team that should have the ability to do the same. Miami averaged 1.6 yards a rush and surrendered 8.3 yards a play. That just shouldn’t happen to the Hurricanes.

Colorado State (loser)

Speaking of teams that have lost to Middle Tennessee this month, the Rams were humbled, 41-10, at home by Sacramento State.

If that seems like a lopsided margin for an FCS-over-FBS result, that’s because it is. Since 2003, the only such games that were bigger routs were Portland State’s 66-7 pounding of North Texas in 2015, Western Illinois’ 52-10 drubbing of Coastal Carolina in 2017 and McNeese State’s 53-21 blowout of South Florida in 2013.

The Rams (0-4) were bad last year, which is why former coach Steve Addazio is now coaching the offensive line at Texas A&M. But they might be worse now, and with 10 losses in a row dating back to last season, first-year coach Jay Norvell has a long, hard lift in front of him to get Colorado State back to even the middle of the Mountain West pack.

Ohio State (winner)

The notable part of the Buckeyes’ night was how mundane their 52-31 blowout of Wisconsin really was.

They scored touchdowns on their first four drives to build a 28-0 lead. C.J. Stroud tore up a defense with a formidable reputation, throwing for 281 yards and five touchdowns. And No. 3 Ohio State got to 4-0 with ease on a day some other big-name unbeatens either lost (Oklahoma) or barely survived (Clemson).

Clemson (winner)

Considering the standard the Tigers set throughout the Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence years, it’s obvious enough that at the moment, Clemson isn’t quite at the level that earned it a pair of playoff titles.

And considering Saturday’s 51-45 double-overtime victory at Wake Forest, it’s also reasonable to conclude the Tigers are probably going to be just fine.

That might not be good enough to win a national title. It could very well be enough to secure an ACC championship. The No. 5 Tigers (4-0, 2-0 ACC) wasted an early two-touchdown lead, then erased three deficits in the second half and another in overtime to take down the No. 21 Demon Deacons (3-1, 0-1) on the road.

After being picked on all game, a Clemson DB gets to be the hero

There was a lot to like about Clemson’s path to victory. It converted third downs (16 of 23). It got a stellar day from much-maligned quarterback DJ Uiagalelei (26 of 41, 371 yards, five touchdowns). It controlled possession, a wise approach given how little it could do to stop Wake QB Sam Hartman (337 yards, six touchdowns).

Yes, the defense still has a ways to go in the post-Brent Venables era. It also probably won’t face that stern of a test again before December. There’s still plenty of talent everywhere in Death Valley, and put on the spot, the Tigers showed off a lot of it in earning their 14th consecutive victory over the Demon Deacons.

Western Kentucky (winner)

When somebody — anybody — beats another FBS team by a 73-0 margin, it is worth a mention. The Hilltoppers channeled the 1940 Chicago Bears against Florida International, amassing 688 total yards as quarterback Austin Reed threw for 381 yards and five touchdowns.

It tied for the second-most lopsided victory in Western Kentucky history, matching a 73-0 thrashing of Bethel in 1924 but trailing an 87-0 bludgeoning of West Virginia Tech in 2007. Unsurprisingly, it was the most one-sided loss in FIU history; the Panthers have lost 19 consecutive games to FBS opponents, last knocking one off in 2019 when they defeated Miami.

Air Force (winner)

At the least the home-field version of the Falcons, who smacked Nevada, 48-20, on Friday night is a winner. Air Force (3-1, 2-0 Mountain West) has surpassed 40 points in each of its three home games, but that doesn’t really touch on how unstoppable the Falcons have been in those games.

In its opener against Northern Iowa, Air Force scored on its first eight possessions before a couple garbage-time fumbles and a few kneel downs to end the game. The next week against Colorado, the Falcons produced points on seven of the 13 possessions that didn’t involve taking a knee, and two of the misfires were fumbles after drives of 65 and 75 yards, respectively.

Then came Friday’s showing, when Troy Calhoun’s team scored on all eight possessions that didn’t close out a half — a welcome bounce back from a 17-14 loss at Wyoming.

Given the state of the Mountain West, Air Force is in fine shape to contend for its first league title since 1998. And it certainly will pose a challenge for Navy, which heads west for the first game of this year’s Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy series next week.

Boise State (loser)

First, an acknowledgment: Boise State hasn’t been Boise State — flirting with top-10 national finishes, a serious threat for giant-slaying, unquestioned titans of the Smurf Turf — for a little while now.

That said, what the Broncos have been since their last high-end bowl appearance (the 2014 Fiesta Bowl) is still quite strong. They averaged more than 10 wins a season from 2015-19, and went 5-2 in the pandemic-truncated 2020 season.

So when Boise State went 7-5 last year under first-year coach Andy Avalos, it was not an exaggeration to say it was the program’s worst season this century. But that may turn out to be a picnic compared to what the Broncos are this season.

They opened with a 34-17 loss at Oregon State that featured a wholly uncompetitive first half, then bounced back to bottle up New Mexico and Tennessee-Martin. Then came Friday’s step back, a 27-10 loss at Texas-El Paso that saw the Broncos muster just 177 total yards.

Some of that was on UTEP (2-3) converting third downs (8 of 15) and playing keep-away from Boise State. But the Broncos had only one play out of 53 go for more than 15 yards. That’s a problem.

Boise’s blue field was home to a lot of excellent offenses over the last two decades. This isn’t one of them, but it needs to get better if the Broncos are to avoid their first losing season since 1997. Whether Saturday’s decision to fire offensive coordinator Tim Plough and replace him with former Broncos boss (and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach) Dirk Koetter helps remains to be seen.

Jaydn Ott (winner)

A year ago, California scored three points against Arizona, rushing for a total of 28 yards while becoming the only team to succumb to the Wildcats in 2021.

Arizona is better this year, but it appears Cal is, too. It helps to be free of the Bay Area’s considerable pandemic restrictions. It helps even more to have Ott.

The true freshman ran for 274 yards and three touchdowns as the Golden Bears rolled to a 49-31 defeat of Arizona. It was the third-most rushing yards in Cal history, behind only Jahvid Best (311 against Washington in 2008) and Jerry Drew (283 against Oregon State in 1954).

It also bumps the Golden Bears to 3-1, with their only loss coming last weekend at Notre Dame.

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