Our slate was a little lighter this week with multiple teams idle. We can declare that we had quality over quantity though, as the teams that did play gave us plenty to see. Multiple previously unbeaten teams, including Marshall, Maryland, (24) Fresno State, (21) Missouri, (20) Kentucky, (17) Miami (13) Washington State, and even (3) Texas all fell. Some teams at the lower end of most power rankings also provided some intrigue. Let’s check out the details in my week 6 takeaways!
Some Transitions from the FCS to the FBS are Easier than Others
Last season, we talked about how James Madison had a stellar debut as a new FBS team. It’s important to remember that such transitions aren’t always so seamless. We do have one team this year doing rather well. Jacksonville State, now a member of C-USA, is off to a 5-1 start (3-0 in conference play). A respectable loss to Coastal Carolina aside, the Gamecocks have beaten every FBS team on their schedule. This week, they showed they can come from behind, going from 23-7 to 45-30 over MTSU. Last week, they required OT and another comeback to take out our next team of interest.
Sam Houston State has not had the start they were hoping for. Perennial FCS contenders, the Bearkats are now 0-5, but they’ve come painfully close to getting in the win column. Their aforementioned OT loss to JVST was a game in which SHSU led throughout but couldn’t close the deal. In week 6, the Bearkats played Liberty competitively in a 10-7 first quarter but got stuck in a 21-16 hole for most of the remaining time. The team finally put together a drive at the end of the game but couldn’t convert 4th and goal at the 3.
The point here is that even when a team looks close to figuring things out, it’s still hard to win at this level. SHSU is on the right track, but their more experienced competitors are just a bit too much to handle. The contrast makes Jacksonville State’s success look all the more impressive. They’re winning games like they’ve been on this stage before even though this is all brand new to them. Different teams find FBS success at different paces, and hopefully Sam Houston will find theirs soon.
Most Meaningful Red River Showdown in Years Goes (12) OU’s Way
For the last time as members of the Big XII, (12) Oklahoma and (3) Texas renewed their Red River Rivalry. There hasn’t been too much on the line for both teams in recent years. This year is a different story, with both teams entrenched in the playoff chase. The winner of this game would benefit greatly. The loser would face an uphill climb to the CFP. Things looked bleak for Texas early, whose first two drives both ended in INTs. Oklahoma scored on their first drive, but their second ended in a blocked punt and a TD for the Longhorns. The offenses woke up in the second quarter, and OU took a 20-17 halftime lead.
The Sooners maintained their edge well into the 4th quarter, but Texas led a TD drive to tie the score at 27. Another FG gave the Longhorns their first lead of the second half and left OU with just 1:17. QB Dillon Gabriel (23/38, 275 yards, TD, 14/113/1 on the ground) was not fazed. He calmly carved up Texas’ defense in 5 plays, hitting WR Nic Anderson for the game-winning strike. Quinn Ewers (31/37, 346 yards, TD, 2 INTs) got a Hail Mary attempt off, but it fell incomplete. For two hyped defenses, we sure got a lot of scoring. Ultimately, Ewers’ early mistakes made the difference in this one, and OU is now the favorite in the Big XII.
(25) Louisville is for Real, Punishes (10) Notre Dame
Louisville was ecstatic when former player Jeff Brohm left Purdue to coach his alma mater. Even the team’s brass expected a bit of a transition period though. They got a transition alright: they went from average to 6-0. However, their 5-0 selves had not played a single good team. Even their games against Indiana and NC State were 1-score affairs. With a chance to prove themselves at home against a top-10 foe, the Cardinals took full advantage. It didn’t seem that way in a sleepy first half, where each team scored 1 TD and did nothing else. The teams got going in the second half.
After trading field goals, Louisville’s offense got hot, while ND melted down. The Cardinals played efficient, complementary football and allowed their opponent to make the mistakes. And mistakes they did make. Specifically, QB Sam Hartman made them. Hartman has never been worse, turning the ball over 5 times (3 INTs and 2 lost fumbles). A garbage-time TD cut the final score to 33-20, but this outcome wasn’t in doubt. Hartman short-circuited his own team over and over, and the final nail is that as an independent with 2 losses, ND’s playoff hopes are toast. Louisville will hope to keep up their momentum and earn a spot in the ACC title game.
(17) Miami, (13) WSU Lose First Games Against Unranked Opponents
Favored by 20 or more at most sportsbooks over Georgia Tech, the 17th-ranked Canes struggled mightily for most of the game, particularly on offense. QB Tyler Van Dyke had his worst game of the year, throwing 3 ugly INTs. Miami’s defense tried their best, pitching a first-half shutout. They just couldn’t hold in the face of excellent field position repeatedly gifted to the Yellow Jackets by their own offense. In spite of all that, Miami had a 20-17 lead with 1:18 to go. Georgia Tech had no timeouts left, so all the Hurricanes had to do was kneel on the ball. Somebody should’ve told HC Mario Cristobal that nugget.
For some inexplicable reason, Cristobal called handoffs to RB Donald Chaney Jr. The first one was fine, but Chaney lost a fumble on the second, gifting the Yellow Jackets one last chance. Still, just 26 seconds remained. What could happen? QB Haynes King hitting a 30-yard pass and then a 44-yard TD to WR Christian Leary on a busted coverage of course! Making the kneeling point even more glaring, Ga. Tech didn’t attempt their point after and won 23-20. Unlike Miami, they refused to take any risks (such as a blocked PAT going for 6). This was one of the biggest blunders of the year, and Miami paid for it dearly.
(13) Washington State beat themselves as well in their 25-17 loss to UCLA, though not to the same ridiculous degree. QB Cameron Ward followed up last week’s stellar outing with his season’s worst. He threw 2 INTs and failed to reach 200 yards passing, but he does not get the majority of the blame. The Cougars ran for just 12 total yards, and Ward’s teammates lost 2 fumbles. Their defense also couldn’t get off the field at critical moments, probably because the offense went 3-and-out often and committed 4 turnovers. I’ll assume they were just tired given the 17-minute time of possession disparity between the teams.
Having (13) WSU fall to unranked UCLA qualified as our biggest upset of the day, but it doesn’t feel that way. It’s just another example of the Pac-12 having a lot of good teams but few great ones. That trait continues to cause the member schools to cannibalize each other, preventing any one school from going undefeated. Three teams ((7) Washington and (8) Oregon, who were idle, as well as (9) USC) remain unbeaten, but they all play each other. Once again, our likeliest outcome is a bunch of Pac-12 teams making good bowl games with none in the CFP.
(9) USC Overcomes Awful End of Regulation to Win in 3OT
Arizona is an average team. Apparently they forgot that fact on the road against USC. Catching fire to start the game, they took a 17-0 lead while shutting out the reigning Heisman trophy winner. Caleb Williams looked out of sorts, and he fumbled the ball on the Trojans’ one promising early drive. Fortunately, his defense earned an INT 2 plays later and helped USC right the ship. The Trojans stormed back to take a 28-20 lead, but Arizona wasn’t done. They scored a TD and 2-point conversion to tie the game, but missed a go-ahead FG on the next drive.
USC drove down the field to try and kick their own game-winner, but the final sequence was wild. After a 24-yard run by RB MarShawn Lloyd (15/86/1) got USC to Arizona’s 6, Williams threw a pass behind his WR instead of running. On the next play, a botched exchange put the ball on the ground, but Williams recovered. They attempted a 25-yard FG, but a high snap led to a failed attempt, forcing OT. Both teams scored TDs in OT, and each scored another OT but missed the corresponding 2-point conversion in 2OT. Williams snuck the ball inside the pylon for his 2-pointer in 3OT, while the defense finally sacked Wildcats QB Noah Fifita to win 43-41.
A ton of credit goes to Fifita, who filled in for injured starter Jayden de Laura. Fifita finished 25/35 for 303 yards, 5 TDs, and 1 INT, honestly outplaying Williams (14/25, 219 yards, TD, 41 rushing yards, 3 rushing TDs). In the clutch moments though, the veteran and future #1 draft pick rose to the occasion. Arizona is fine at 3-3. Jedd Fisch‘s squad is building their program properly, and the fans should be proud of this effort. Lincoln Riley will be horrified by his team’s effort. That mainly goes for the defense, who can’t stop anyone yet again in 2023. That unit ended USC’s playoff hopes in 2022, and they may well do so again this season.