Before we begin, a note. A note about this season at the midway point. We in college football say every Saturday, every season is wild. And it's always true in some since. Put hundreds of college football games into a blender and you're always bound to taste something funky.
But this year we have the numbers to prove it.
The 2007 campaign is universally regarded as the most hectic in college football history and, with most teams now six games into their regular season schedules, well...
After the mess of last season, 2021 was always going to be the most celebrated, most anticipated season in modern college football history. So far, it's lived up to the hype.
A beautiful scene in Iowa City. I don't know about you, but I spent the waning moments of No. 3 Iowa 23, No. 4 Penn State 20 accompanied by an overwhelming sense of joy and gratitude.
Watching week after week of crowd-free games played in hollowed out stadiums last season, we got a once-in-a-generation scene in Iowa City where the crowd flat out won the home team the game.
Once Penn State took a 17-3 lead in the second quarter, Iowa's defense limited the Lions to three points, 48 yards, two interceptions, and eight (8!!) false start penalties. The Iowa crowd did that. (Sean Clifford's injury didn't help Penn State's cause; get better, Sean.)
The first game involving two AP top-5 Big Ten teams other than Michigan and Ohio State since 1959, and the first AP top-5 game at Kinnick Stadium since 1985, Iowa-Penn State lived up to the hype. It was everything a big B1G game was supposed to be: big hits, excellent special teams, overcast weather, and big plays when you needed them.
This is Iowa's remaining schedule. Kirk Ferentz's team has won 12 games in a row, it tied a program record with six straight wins over ranked teams, and it'll be heavily favored from here to Indianapolis. The College Football Playoff forecast has a high chance of Hawkeyes.
But Saturday wasn't about that. It was about this.
Jimbo walks the walk. “We’re going to beat his ass when he’s there,” Jimbo Fisher told a room of Aggies on May 5. “Don’t worry.”
Nick Saban mocked the comment when asked later this summer, and didn't we all? How could a team that just lost to Mississippi State a week ago turn around and beat Alabama, with a backup quarterback, who wasn't even playing well?
There's no other way to say it: Jimbo totally out-coached The Boss on Saturday night.
Zach Calzada completed 21-of-31 for 285 yards, three touchdowns and only one WTF interception.
Most impressively, when Alabama inevitably surged in the second half, turning a 31-17 deficit into a 38-31 Tide lead, Texas A&M didn't fold. They made Alabama fold. From the moment Alabama took the lead with precisely five minutes to play: A&M completely out-executed the No. 1 team in the country:
-- A 6-play, 65-yard touchdown drive
-- An Alabama three-and-out
-- An 8-play, 54-yard drive to punch in the winning field goal with no time on the clock.
You simply can't do it better than that.
Not only does Jimbo become the first former Saban assistant to beat their former boss, he becomes the first coach to lead an unranked team to a win over the AP No. 1 team in 13 years.
A moment of silence for all these Alabama milestones.
Sooner Magic. Spend more than a few moments with Oklahoma football's various social media accounts and you can't miss the hashtag #OUDNA. It's been all over the place since Lincoln Riley ascended to the head coaching position, and Saturday showed exactly why. You don't come back from 21 down against your archrival without having the winning strain in your DNA.
Consider this, Oklahoma fell behind 28-7 in the first quarter, allowed 20 more points over the course of the game, and still came back to win.
You need to make a number of plays to do that, and Oklahoma made every one of them.
-- Before he was pulled, Spencer Rattler hit Michael Woods II for a 29-yard completion on 3rd-and-10 that kept OU from punting, down 14-0. They scored a touchdown on the drive.
-- A 66-yard touchdown run by Caleb Williams on 4th-and-1.
-- A 52-yard touchdown pass from Williams to Marvin Mims on 3rd-and-19.
We say football is a game of inches. Red River was a game of millimeters.
Lincoln Riley turned to his feared counter with the game on the line, with a twist. Running back Kennedy Brooks took a direct snap and Oklahoma simply out-numbered an exhausted and outmanned Texas defense at the point of attack to take its two leads of the game -- the 18-yard score after the Xavier Worthy fumble to go up 48-41, and then the 33-yard game winner.
For decades, Red River was a series of blowouts. Saturday's game was the eighth straight (excluding the 2018 Big 12 Championship, which was closer than the final score but a 12-point margin nonetheless) decided by one score. Oklahoma is 6-2 in those games.
That's #OUDNA. Or you could use another term they like to use in Norman -- it's Sooner Magic.
One step forward, a rough stumble backward for Texas. Texas was right there with Oklahoma. If you'd told anyone in a burnt orange T-shirt at the fair grounds on Saturday that Casey Thompson would throw for 388 yards and five touchdowns, Bijan Robinson would run for 137 and a score, and Spencer Rattler would account for more turnovers than touchdowns, they'd have bought you a wax beer.
As Mike Finger writes for the San Antonio Express-News:
There was a moment Saturday, just as the latest edition of the Red River Rivalry transitioned from showdown to meltdown, in which all of this dawned on Sarkisian, probably for the first time. His Longhorns led their vaunted archnemesis by 18 points in the closing minutes of the third quarter.
And they were doomed.
The crimson half of the Cotton Bowl, raucous and eager, knew it. The burnt-orange half of the Cotton Bowl, fidgeting and frightful, knew it, too. And after No. 6 Oklahoma fulfilled 92,100 hopes and fears by completing a cruel 55-48 extrication of another round of UT souls, it finally could be said:
Welcome to Texas, coach.
Sarkisian will watch the film and tell himself his team was thisclose to slaying the crimson monster, but Tom Herman and Charlie Strong spent nearly every post-Red River Sunday doing the same, too. Sark was hired to win these games, and he let a golden opportunity slip off the hook.
Red River wasn't the only bonkers noon game. Red River was the game of the day, and quite likely the game of the year, but No. 17 Ole Miss 52, No. 13 Arkansas 51 was darn close. Save for one drive, the entire game was within a single score, and the outcome was decided by a single play.
Our John Brice has the full breakdown.
Arkansas has watched a potential Iowa-like dream season melt within a fortnight, while Ole Miss, if the season ended today, would be in line for a Sugar Bowl berth.
Kentucky pounds LSU. It shouldn't necessarily be a surprise when the No. 16 team in the country beats an unranked 3-2 team at home, but I -- and you, be honest -- can't help but be surprised at the way Kentucky pounded an extraordinarily average LSU team. The Wildcats led 35-7 at one point en route to a 42-21 win.
I could write 3,000 words about where LSU is at 3-3, but nothing I can say carries the weight of what Scott does here in one tweet.
A massive win for Boise State. Boise State hadn't started 2-4 since 1997 -- aka, before Boise State was Boise State -- and to avoid that, they'd need to win at No. 10 BYU.
So, of course, they won at BYU.
The Broncos trailed 10-0 within the game's first 10 minutes, then ran off 23 straight points to take control. Forcing four turnovers helped. When BYU scored to pull within 23-17, Hank Bachmeier pieced together a 9-play, 71-yard field goal drive that put Boise up 26-17 with 3:27 to play, and Kaonohi Kaniho sealed it with an interception.
Would you believe this was Boise State's first road win over an AP top-10 opponent since 2001? This program usually does most of its damage on neutral turf.
It's a devastating loss for BYU. In one game, the Cougars went from dreaming of a Fiesta Bowl berth, and maybe more if Cincinnati slipped up and chaos reigned elsewhere, to a likely Independence Bowl berth against a Conference USA opponent. That's quite a fall.
Seen and Heard
Marvin Mims made the catch of the year. And remember, they don't win the game without this play.
What happened here?
Noted Sooner dad takes a break from work to watch the big game.
Florida State stunned North Carolina, 35-25, dropping Mack Brown to 0-8 against his alma mater and 3-3 on the season, which began in the top-10. Afterward he blamed... the media?
Not heard Saturday was Caleb Williams, because Lincoln Riley trusts his true freshman to carry the ball on 4th-and-1 in minus territory by 21 points but doesn't trust him to tell a reporter about it afterward. C'mon, man.
Brian Kelly defending (?) his starting quarterback.
Nick loses one game and turns into the Dalai Lama on us.
The Super 16. This week's FWAA-NFF Super 16 ballot.
4. Ohio State
9. Michigan State
11. Penn State
12. Ole Miss
13. Coastal Carolina
14. Oklahoma State
15. Notre Dame
16. Wake Forest
Odds and Ends
a. I thought the boys in Vegas were fools for making No. 22 Arizona State a 17-point favorite over Stanford on Friday night. Final score: Arizona State 28, Stanford 10.
b. What a program win to come out six days after winning on the road at Notre Dame for No. 5 Cincinnati to not only beat Temple, but pummel them. Bearcats 52, Owls 3.
c. Not that there was ever any doubt, but Josh Heupel can scheme up an offense.
d. Massive win for UTSA, going on the road to beat Western Kentucky, 52-46. The Roadrunners are 6-0 for the first time ever.
e. Might UTSA at UTEP (Nov. 6) be a C-USA West title game? Believe it, friends. The Miners are 5-1 after a 26-13 win in Hattiesburg.
f. While we're at it, SMU is 6-0 after a 31-24 win at Navy.
g. Wake Forest is 6-0 for the first time since 1944.
h. If it's possible for Ohio State to do anything quietly, the No. 7 Buckeyes are quietly putting this together. They blew Maryland off the field today, 66-17.
i. Michigan State continues to be a migraine headache to play. The No. 11 Spartans are 6-0 after a 31-13 win over Rutgers. They have a trip to Indiana and an off week before Michigan comes to East Lansing.
j. Wisconsin 24, Illinois 0.
k. I truly, honestly feel bad for everyone connected to Nebraska football. The Huskers rallied from a 13-0 deficit to take a 29-26 lead on No. 9 Michigan, held the Wolverines to a game-tying field goal and, driving to kick their own game-winning field goal, Adrian Martinez fumbled while straining for extra yardage. Michigan 32, Nebraska 29.
As Scott Frost said, Nebraska keeps watching the same movie Saturday after Saturday, and it's the movie the characters watch in The Ring.
l. Alabama, Penn State and BYU weren't the only unbeatens to go down Saturday. 4-0 Wyoming fell 24-14 to Air Force.
m. Best game you probably didn't see: Texas State 33, South Alabama 31 in four overtimes.
n. How about Northern Illinois? The Huskies went to Toledo and pulled a 22-20 upset to move to 2-0 in MAC play.
o. Much respect for No. 14 Notre Dame to shake off the Cincinnati loss and get a road win in a tough environment, 32-29 at Virginia Tech. It hasn't been pretty, but 5-1 is 5-1 and the Irish won't play another ranked foe this season.
p. Utah beat USC on the road for the first time since 1916, 42-26.
q. It's a shame it's happening in near darkness, but Drake London's numbers are ahead of DeVonta Smith's pace from last season. The USC wideout caught 16 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown, giving him 64 grabs for 832 yards and five touchdowns at the midway point.
r. UMass snapped its 16-game losing streak to beat UConn, 27-13. It was the Minutemen's first win in more than two full years.
s. Virginia scored 21 fourth quarter points to rally past Louisville, 34-33. The Cavs trailed 30-13 entering the frame.
I want to thank all you dear readers who said nice things when I put Nuggets on hiatus to start this season, it really meant a lot. It was with you in mind I brought it back this weekend, and hopefully every weekend moving forward.