With two road wins against Power Five competition through three weeks, No. 23 Penn State has taken care of business in September and set a course for nine or more wins during the regular season.
Saturday’s 41-12 win at Auburn even included beauty points. To start with, winning by 29 points against an SEC opponent even as downtrodden as the Tigers speaks for itself.
Add in an offense that gained 477 yards, averaged 6.3 yards per carry and 10.1 yards per pass attempt. Two freshmen running backs with extreme potential, Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen, combined for 176 yards and four touchdowns — one, Singleton’s 54-yard score in the fourth quarter, put a dent in the concept of SEC speed.
Defensively, PSU forced four turnovers, hassled Auburn quarterback T.J. Finley and held the Tigers’ running game to just 119 yards on 36 carries.
More so than the narrow season-opening win at Purdue, the victory validates the Nittany Lions’ place in the USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll and hints at the increasing possibility that PSU could land in the New Year’s Six.
To get into one of these major bowl games, the Nittany Lions have to avoid stumbling against the third and fourth tiers of the Big Ten — Northwestern, Indiana, Maryland, Rutgers — and earn a split in the four games that will determine whether they earn any sort of national respect: Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State and Michigan State
After two middling seasons under James Franklin, the win at least ensures that PSU deserves to be included among the best teams in the conference. For Auburn, there’s only one way this thing is going to end: in a coaching change.
No. 24 Oregon will regain some credibility and earn a place near the top of the Pac-12 power rankings after handing No. 14 Brigham Young a 41-20 loss. Bo Nix and the Ducks’ offense had 439 yards, 24 first downs and 11.4 yards per pass attempt, delivering the second very strong performance in two weeks after beginning the year with a blowout loss to Georgia. While that defeat may linger in the minds of some voters, topping the Cougars by three touchdowns should reinforce Oregon’s place as one of the teams to beat in the conference race.
Alabama, Georgia, etc.
Another weekend of games against overmatched competition resulted in a series of lopsided wins for the best of the best in the FBS. Four of the top teams in action Saturday afternoon — No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Georgia, No. 5 Michigan and No. 6 Oklahoma — won by a combined score of 219-28. One week after struggling to put away Texas, the Crimson Tide had three non-offensive touchdowns in a 63-7 win against Louisiana-Monroe.
The Huskies are no longer a secret after a 39-28 win against No. 9 Michigan State. Sneaking under the radar after an uneven two seasons under former coach Jimmy Lake, UW remained overlooked following easy wins against Kent State and Portland State but is destined for this week’s Top 25. New coach Kalen DeBoer has made an immediate impact on the quality of the Huskies’ offense and in particular on quarterback play: Indiana transfer Michael Penix Jr. had four touchdowns against the Spartans, giving him 10 on the season with just one interception.
It’s interesting to think about the vibe around LSU had the Tigers lost to Mississippi State and fallen to 1-2 in Brian Kelly’s first season. Not good, right? Instead, the 2-1 Tigers scored 21 points in the fourth quarter and beat the Bulldogs 31-16 to secure Kelly’s first SEC win. With New Mexico and Auburn up next, LSU should be 4-1 before meeting Tennessee on Oct. 8.
On the same day the school played host to ESPN’s “College GameDay,” the Mountaineers pulled off the most incredible finish of the season’s opening month. With his team trailing Sun Belt rival Troy 28-26 with two seconds left and the ball near midfield, Appalachian State quarterback Chase Brice’s desperation heave was tipped by a group of Troy defenders and deflected into the arms of wide receiver Christan Horn, who caught the ball around the 7-yard line and weaved around the right side to complete the improbable win. It’s been a memorable week for the Mountaineers, who upset Texas A&M last Saturday.
The Jayhawks are the best story in college football. Now 3-0 after topping Houston 48-30, Kansas is way ahead of schedule under second-year coach Lance Leipold and in range of the program’s first bowl bid since 2008. This coaching staff has played a huge role in the development of third-year quarterback Jalon Daniels, who had 281 yards of total offense, 123 coming on the ground, and five touchdowns in the upset of the Cougars. That KU is surging will put Leipold on the list for every significant job opening in the Big Ten footprint, beginning with Nebraska.
The No. 22 Aggies were able to right the ship against No. 13 Miami (Fla.), as the defense locked down a 17-9 victory that reinserts some optimism into a season that could’ve run off the rails with a loss. The offense looked better at times behind new starting quarterback Max Johnson, the former LSU transfer who replaced a struggling Haynes King, but was still bogged down by often conservative and unimaginative play calling and design. While the Hurricanes deserve some credit, the Aggies gained just 265 yards
Auburn coach Bryan Harsin is the next Power Five coach facing extremely dire job security after the Tigers’ ugly loss at home. While the first loss of Auburn’s season, the performance Saturday comes just seven days after the Tigers struggled to put away San Jose State and just as the team turns to SEC play. Auburn takes on Missouri next weekend in a must-have game before facing LSU, Georgia and Mississippi.
The first win of the Marcus Freeman era very nearly wasn’t: Notre Dame was able to sneak past California 24-17 after knocking down the Golden Bears’ possible game-tying heave into the end zone as time expired. While the win should relieve some pressure amid a very poor start to the year, issues on offense remain a major concern. The Fighting Irish gained just 297 yards on 64 plays against an opponent that ranked 50th nationally in yards allowed per play despite facing UC Davis and UNLV to open the year.
Beating Oregon would’ve given BYU two wins against teams that may end up winning a Power Five championship, joining last week’s double-overtime victory against No. 19 Baylor. That would’ve sent the Cougars rising up the Coaches Poll and in position to crash the College Football Playoff with an unbeaten regular season, especially with high-profile games still to come against Notre Dame and Arkansas. While still in range of a nine-win season, BYU won’t be a factor in the race for the top four.
With interim coach Mickey Joseph on the sidelines in place of Scott Frost, Nebraska scored the first and last points in a non-conference rivalry game against No. 6 Oklahoma. Unfortunately, those two touchdowns merely sandwiched a 49-point scoring barrage that represents the latest low point for this stumbling program. Led by another 100-yard game from running back Eric Gray, the Sooners put up 580 yards of total offense and had 31 first downs while holding Nebraska to just 4.3 yards per play.
Well, the Bulldogs gave up a touchdown. It took until the final moments of the fourth quarter of the blowout of South Carolina and involved the backups to the backups defense, snapping Georgia’s run of touchdown-free play to start the year at 179 minutes and 7 seconds. The Bulldogs have now given up 10 points in three games. How embarrassing, right?