Each week is worse than the last for Clemson, which has dropped two games in September and suddenly is sent packing from the College Football Playoff race.
The Tigers’ 27-21 loss in double overtime to North Carolina State is the latest setback for a team that can’t do anything on offense and is facing major questions for the first time in a decade.
These two losses open a window for another team to win the ACC and for a surprise team to crack into the playoff. Clemson has reached the national semifinals in six straight seasons and claimed the last six conference championships.
But it’s been that kind of year: Clemson is just one of the top preseason contenders to struggle out of the gate, albeit the only one of this group — including Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State and Oklahoma — to already be eliminated from contention.
Here are the rest of Saturday’s winners and losers:
The Razorbacks are the mythical state champions of Texas after beating the Longhorns and now Texas A&M, the latter behind an opportunistic passing game — with one 85-yard touchdown and one from 48 yards — to go with 197 yards on the ground. Along with the Aggies’ continued issues at quarterback with starter Haynes King sidelined, this offensive balance carried Arkansas to the program’s first 4-0 start since 2003 and evened coach Sam Pittman’s record at 7-7 in his second season. The turnaround he’s orchestrated with the Razorbacks is remarkable given the state of the program coming out of failed tenures by Bret Bielema and Chad Morris.
Down 13-10 one minute into the fourth quarter against Wisconsin, Notre Dame scored 31 unanswered points on offense, on special teams and on defense to remain unbeaten heading into a key date with Cincinnati to open October. While driven by non-offensive scores, the surge in the fourth quarter included very strong play by backup quarterback Drew Pyne, who replaced an injured Jack Coan and threw for 68 yards and a touchdown. That creates some intrigue over which passer draws the starting nod from Brian Kelly when the Irish meet the Bearcats.
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The Mustangs should be ranked in this week’s USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll after beating rival TCU 42-34 for the program’s second win in a row in the Iron Skillet series. SMU was able to overcome three interceptions by quarterback Tanner Mordecai by gaining 350 yards and two scores on 6.7 yards per carry.
Now 4-0 after topping Missouri in overtime, the Eagles have stayed the course under second-year coach Jeff Hafley despite losing potential all-conference quarterback Phil Jurkovec to a hand injury earlier this month. That’s led to a reimagining of this offense: Boston College has gone from leaning on Jurkovec to a heavy emphasis on running the ball behind a very strong offensive front. The Eagles went for 275 yards on the ground in Missouri’s second loss of the season.
It’s too soon to say with full confidence that Texas has found the definitive answer at quarterback in Casey Thompson, given that his torrid two-game stretch has come against Rice and Texas Tech. Still, the offense has hit a higher gear behind Thompson, who went for 303 yards through the air and six combined touchdowns in the Longhorns’ 70-35 rout of the Red Raiders. His production has made things easier for star running back Bijan Robinson, who has 264 yards on just 31 carries in these last two games.
The Bruins bounced back from last Saturday’s shootout loss to Fresno State to beat Stanford 35-24 and regain momentum heading into the heart of the Pac-12 schedule. After collapsing against the Bulldogs, the Bruins’ defense held the Cardinal to 202 yards of offense, with only 17 coming on the ground. Meanwhile, UCLA went for 305 yards rushing, 208 coming from running back Zach Charbonnet, as Stanford’s run defense continues to rank among the worst in the Power Five.
Three wins to open the year did little to create any sort of enthusiasm around Oklahoma State, even if the third came on the road against Boise State. That should change after a 31-20 win against Kansas State highlighted by a strong game from quarterback Spencer Sanders, who threw for 344 yards with three touchdowns, one coming on the ground. One thing the Cowboys have done well all year is stop the run, and that continued against a very physical opponent: Kansas State had just 62 yards on 25 carries, with more than half of the yardage coming on a single play.
It’s already been a strange season for the Yellow Jackets, who lost to Northern Illinois in the opener, nearly knocked off Clemson last week and then beat up on North Carolina with 263 rushing yards and four scores in a 45-22 win. Is this a program about to turn the corner under coach Geoff Collins? With such uncertainty in the ACC, Georgia Tech is in position to get back into the top half of the Coastal Division for the first time since 2018.
As expected, Alabama cruised to a 63-14 win against Southern Mississippi and will turn to key SEC West games against Mississippi and Texas A&M to open October. Second-year quarterback Bryce Young had the most productive game of his young starting career, with 20 completions in 22 attempts for 313 yards and a career-best five touchdowns. Young did throw an interception, however, his first in 144 career attempts.
Losing 14-10 at home to Bowling Green ranks among the biggest regular-season letdowns in recent Big Ten history given the hype around Minnesota as a Big Ten West contender and coach P.J. Fleck’s place among the top presumed contenders for the opening at Southern California. One of the nation’s worst teams since 2016, the Falcons had dropped 12 of 13 against FBS competition with losses against such luminaries as South Alabama and Akron, the latter by 28 points to end last season. The Gophers had just 59 yards passing against a surprisingly effective Bowling Green secondary.
There’s a difference between being a pushover, which is normal ground for Vanderbilt, and being in a position where the only source of drama against Georgia stems from whether the Commodores would gain more yards than the Bulldogs would score points. It was close: Vanderbilt ended with 77 yards in the 62-0 loss.
What had the makings of a magical season — everything from the coach through the quarterback and defense seemed lined into place for Iowa State — has gone off the rails before the end of September, after a 31-29 loss to Baylor that ends the Cyclones’ chances of factoring into the playoff debate. That ISU has been eliminated from that conversation inside of one month represents the first real disappointment of Matt Campbell’s six seasons as head coach.
Losing to Arkansas doesn’t drop the Aggies out of the mix for the national semifinals but it makes the road obscenely difficult given what’s ahead, beginning with Alabama in two weeks. There are some major issues on offense: A&M has scored a combined 20 points in eight quarters against Colorado and the Razorbacks. Backup quarterback Zach Calzada has completed 51.8 percent of his attempts on just 5.8 yards per throw since replacing King early in the win against the Buffaloes.
FSU is now 0-4 and on pace for the program’s worst finish since 1974 after falling behind 31-7 to Louisville in an eventual 31-23 loss. McKenzie Milton threw for 248 yards and a touchdown but was outplayed by Louisville’s Malik Cunningham, who had 264 yards through the air, another 56 on the ground and four combined touchdowns. Outside of Massachusetts on Oct. 23, there is no clear win on FSU’s schedule.
There are two unbeaten teams heading into October: Wake Forest, which beat Virginia on Friday night, and Boston College. Both teams deserve heavy Top 25 consideration. But where does the ACC stand in the playoff debate when Clemson already is removed from consideration, North Carolina lost Saturday to Georgia Tech and Miami (Fla.) is again a major disappointment? The only good news is that there’s finally some parity in terms of determining the conference champion, if that means anything.
This may be the most frustrating team in college football. The Mountaineers have a very good defense, a surprisingly ineffective offense and a penchant for miscues at inopportune times, such as the false start on the lip of the Oklahoma end zone that negated a likely touchdown and meant the difference in a 16-13 loss. One major issue has been the inability to make adjustments on offense: WVU has scored just nine points in the second half against three FBS opponents, losing two of those games.
Nebraska is one of the select few programs capable of holding an opponent to just five yards in the second half and still finding a way to lose, this time thanks to another rash of special teams failures and an inability to protect the football. Despite getting nothing done in the third and fourth quarters, Michigan State won 23-20 in overtime thanks to a punt return for a touchdown and a key interception in the first extra frame. The Cornhuskers always will find new and exciting ways to give away games under coach Scott Frost.
Follow colleges reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg