Texas and the Sun Belt rattled CFB's hierarchy in a weekend that upended the sport

by Ricardo Gutierrez - The Longhorns came so close to taking down the No. 1 Crimson Tide, and the Sun Belt disrupted everything we thought we knew about college football.

Best of Week 2: No, Texas is not back (yet), but it was no joke Saturday play Bryce Young's clutch run leads to Alabama's winning field goal (0:37) Bryce Young escapes the blitz for a big first down, leading to Alabama's game-winning field goal. (0:37) 9:08 PM ET David M. HaleESPN Staff Writer Close ACC reporter. Joined ESPN in 2012. Graduate of the University of Delaware. Texas is not back. Not on Saturday, anyway. Not without its burgeoning star QB, Quinn Ewers . Not on Nick Saban's watch. But for 59 minutes against Alabama, Texas seemed astonishingly close to turning the page on a decade of heartbreak, embarrassment and jokes before falling to the Tide 20-19 . For much of the 12 years since Texas last played Alabama -- another game in which it lost its starting quarterback -- the Longhorns have served as a national punchline, with "Texas is back!" the easiest joke in college football. (Though, credit to Texas for providing plenty of other material, from "OK, cool. Hook 'em" to multiple losses to Kansas to an attack monkey trained to steal Halloween candy . It has been a wild decade.) And yet, Texas was no joke Saturday. It was a worthy competitor for a team many expect to win the national title. It was a team that, with Ewers -- or, perhaps, a properly called safety in the end zone in the third quarter -- might've pulled the miracle. play 0:33 Alabama escapes safety with roughing the passer call Alabama escapes a safety after DeMarvion Overshown is penalized with a roughing the passer call on Bryce Young. Instead, it was still a loss, the seventh in the past nine games for Texas. But the feeling in the aftermath isn't the familiar aura of malaise. No, as the Gen Z kids would say, Saturday felt like a genuine vibe shift. Texas might've won with Ewers, who left the game with a shoulder injury in the first half (or, perhaps, because he only had enough quarters to feed the meter through halftime ). Texas might've won if its kicker hadn't flubbed a 20-yard field goal. Texas might've won if it simply wasn't Texas, wasn't the team that had been on the wrong side of things for so long that the universe simply couldn't allow such a massive upset to occur so early in the season. Mostly though, Texas might've won if it had Bryce Young , who proved once again that he's the best player in college football (and saved this weatherman a very embarrassing apology during Sunday's weather report). Young accounted for 68 yards on Alabama's gotta-have-it 11-play touchdown drive with 8:29 to go, a merciless shredding of a Texas defense that had been dominant to that point. Then, after the Longhorns took a two-point lead with 1:29 play, Young delivered again, a Houdini-esque escape from a sack turning into a 20-yard gain that set up the game-winning field goal. "When his best was needed," Saban said after the game, "he was really good." Young has done this again and again in his brilliant career, saving Alabama against Florida and LSU and Auburn last year, and again Saturday, with one unflappable late drive after another. Much as we might want to turn our attention elsewhere, he is without question college football's best player. But so much of what we thought we knew about these two teams now seems far less solid in the aftermath of Alabama's 20-19 win. How good is Texas? Ewers was shredding Alabama's secondary before suffering a shoulder injury in the first half, and Longhorns fans will spend the next few days -- heck, maybe the next few years -- wondering what might've been if the former five-star recruit had remained in the game. The Texas defense dominated at the line of scrimmage, inhaling Alabama blockers and tormenting Young throughout, while the DBs gave the Tide virtually nothing downfield. How seriously should we consider Alabama's struggles? Young remains a superstar, and Will Anderson Jr. delivered with a game-saving sack when it was needed the most. But a good chunk of the state of Texas already knew Bill O'Brien wasn't exactly a hall-of-fame play caller. The Alabama receivers offered little help, and the O-line was hardly the brick wall we'd grown used to seeing from Saban's teams over the years. Has Saban's NIL money from all those Aflac commercials become a distraction to the team? (Note: How has this not been a message board topic yet?) It's easy to shrug off an Alabama setback because previous prognoses of Saban's demise have resulted in utter embarrassment for all the dime-store Miss Cleos who predicted it. And yet, we've seen this version of Alabama more in the past year -- often against lesser teams -- than we've seen throughout the bulk of Saban's elite career. Are we living in a computer simulation? The fact that a red-haired kicker named Bert Auburn nearly sealed a Texas win over the Tide would lead us to believe that, yes, we are. No way that happens unless we're in the Matrix. That's actually fitting because, for much of the past 12 years, the only case to be made for Texas' return to national prominence required a bit of theoretical physics and a healthy imagination. After Saturday, however, it's not so outlandish. No, Texas isn't back, but even a win Saturday wouldn't have proved the Longhorns had reached some long-anticipated mountaintop. The journey back is exactly that -- a journey. And what Saturday was, in spite of the final score, was a necessary and emphatic step in the right direction. Aggies fall off a cliff Fifteen years ago, Appalachian State knocking off a traditional power was an earth-shattering moment. Now? Maybe a mild surprise, with the Mountaineers delivering their latest stunner Saturday. Editor's Picks Saban critical as sloppy Tide survive vs. Horns 5h Alex Scarborough Texas QB Ewers exits early with clavicle sprain 9h Dave Wilson 2 Related Check back on App State's recent history against the Power 5: Just a week ago, the Mountaineers traded body blows with North Carolina in a 63-61 loss. In 2021, only a late field goal saved Miami , which won 25-23. In 2019, App State won on the road at North Carolina and South Carolina . In 2018, App took Penn State to overtime. In 2017, it lost to Wake Forest by just one point. Add in another overtime loss to Tennessee in 2016, and App has been tied or ahead in the fourth quarter in eight of its past 10 against the Power 5. On the other end of the Mountaineers' 17-14 win Saturday was No. 6 Texas A&M , which was kind enough to upend its fans' expectations in Week 2 rather than waiting until October to do it. The Aggies managed just 186 total yards and one offensive touchdown. A&M paid App State $1.5 million to come to College Station. Add that to the $9 million Jimbo Fisher is being paid not to develop a quarterback, and that's a lot of cash without much return on investment. Aggies boosters are going to have to think twice before ordering the 82-ounce ribeye at breakfast Sunday. For years, Fisher was viewed as a quarterback whisperer, putting three straight into the first round of the NFL draft during his Florida State tenure. But since Jameis Winston left after the 2014 season, it's been rough. No Fisher QB in that span has completed 60% of his passes and thrown more than 20 TDs in a season. For reference, 36 different QBs did that last season, including his current backup, Max Johnson , who transferred from LSU . No luck for the Irish After a loss to Ohio State in the opener, Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman insisted there was a silver lining: The Irish clearly had their QB in Tyler Buchner . Buchner's line in the 26-21 loss Saturday to Marshall : 21-of-38 for 221 yards and two picks, including one returned for a TD that all but sealed the Thundering Herd's stunning upset late in the fourth quarter. The Irish are 0-2 to start a season for the first time since 2011. play 0:56 Marcus Freeman reacts after Notre Dame upset by Marshall Marcus Freeman talks after Notre Dame falls to 0-2 to start the 2022 season. It's hard to blame Buchner alone though. Khalan Laborn , a Florida State transfer, ran for 163 yards for Marshall, the most the Irish have allowed to a back since 2016. Or, perhaps it's the AP voters' fault for overrating Notre Dame (again). According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Irish are the first team to start 0-2 while being ranked in the AP top 10 for both games since the 1986 Ohio State Buckeyes. Or, perhaps it's Las Vegas' fault. The Irish closed as a 20.5-point favorite, making this the third-largest upset of Notre Dame in the past 45 years -- and the largest since the team fell to Air Force in 1996. How is this Brian Kelly's fault, though? We haven't figured that out yet, but we're sure he's involved somehow. Under-the-radar game of the day How wild was the UTSA -Army game? It featured just three punts, nearly 1,000 yards, 18 third-down conversions and four game-tying touchdowns in regulation. Oh, and Army threw for 300 yards in a game for the first time in 15 years. The Black Knights led 28-14 after scoring early in the second half, but UTSA responded with three straight TD drives to take a 35-28 lead. Army responded with a game-tying TD with 1:03 to play, but UTSA wasn't done. The Roadrunners marched 53 yards in nine plays to set up a game-winning 41-yard field goal try ... and missed. Instead, it was Frank Harris who delivered the final dagger in overtime, connecting with JT Clark for a touchdown and a 41-38 victory. Harris threw for 359 yards in the game, which bested Army's trio of passers, who collected 304 yards through the air. The last time Army hit that mark was Nov. 17, 2007 against Tulsa, when Carson Williams threw for 340 -- on 38 passes. Under-the-radar play of the day Eastern Kentucky 's Jayden Higgins did his Stretch Armstrong impression, reaching to haul in the one-handed grab in the second quarter against Bowling Green . play 0:38 Jayden Higgins makes beautiful one-handed TD catch for Eastern Kentucky Jayden Higgins' terrific one-handed catch cuts into the Falcons' lead. Of course, Higgins wasn't the last highlight from this game. His catch made the score 10-7 Bowling Green, but EKU would eventually charge back to take a 31-17 lead midway through the third quarter. Not to be outdone, the Falcons scored the next three touchdowns to take a 38-31 lead before Higgins hauled in a 3-yard TD pass as time expired to send the game to overtime. And then the real fireworks began. The two teams traded scores through seven overtimes before EKU emerged with a 59-57 win. The most college football thing to happen Saturday Across the country, fans were left without access to digital tickets Saturday afternoon, including the good folks at Iowa . Imagine their terror worrying how many punts they'd miss before the system was up and running again. We feel for them. Thankfully, the issue was resolved by mid-afternoon. Iowa's offensive woes, however, keep returning an "Error 404: Page not found." After escaping South Dakota State with a 7-3 win (a field goal and two safeties accounting for all of Iowa's points) in Week 1, Iowa lost the CyHawk trophy to Iowa State on Saturday 10-7 . According to Elias, this marks the first time an FBS or Division I-A team both scored 10 points or less and allowed 10 or less in each of its first two games since 1979. It's fair to wonder how long Kirk Ferentz can allow his son to call plays when, two games into the season, Iowa has 14 points scored and 16 punts kicked. Break up the Blue Devils Is it too soon to start talking about Mike Elko as a coach of the year candidate? After winning just five games in the previous two seasons combined, Elko has Duke at 2-0 after knocking off Northwestern 31-23. Jordan Waters scored twice on the ground and Duke recovered a fumble in the end zone with just seconds left on the clock to secure the win. A look ahead at the Blue Devils' schedule -- FCS North Carolina A&T , Kansas , Virginia and Georgia Tech await next -- and there's a real chance the ACC's worst team will go bowling in Elko's first year at the helm. Or, perhaps, it's a bit of Duke's patented early-season success. Since 2017, the Blue Devils are 7-1 in Power 5 nonconference games in August and September -- the most such wins by any Power 5 team. Their lone loss came to Alabama in 2019. Five of those wins came as an underdog. After the season's opening month, however, things haven't gone quite as well. Duke is just 8-28 vs. Power 5 teams in October, November and December in that stretch. Big bets and bad beats Betting Alabama to cover the first-half spread had been one of the safest wagers in the sport. Since 2020, Saban's team is 21-7 against the spread in the first half of games (and 11-4 ATS overall in nonconference play). Not surprisingly, the bettors at Caesars Sportsbook backed the Tide heavily. The line opened with Alabama as an 11.5-point favorite, but that number climbed all the way to 14 as 95% of tickets backing the Tide. Instead, the Tide went to halftime tied with Texas at 10 -- a reminder that even Bryce Young can't outrun Vegas. Northwestern was headed to a potential score-tying TD -- and a cover for bettors who took the over of 57 -- as Evan Hull rumbled toward the end zone with just seconds left on the clock. But Hull fumbled at the 1, and Duke recovered in the end zone to secure the 31-23 win -- and the under, in painful fashion. The Sun Belt spent Saturday making magic. First, it was Marshall (+950) knocking off No. 8 Notre Dame. Then it was Appalachian State (+750) toppling No. 6 Texas A&M . So, how much would a $100 parlay on those two teams have paid out? That'd be a cool $8,300. Never doubt the Fun Belt. According to ESPN's David Purdum, a Caesars bettor in New Jersey cashed in on an even more unlikely parlay -- winning all three legs of an in-game wager on Marshall (+1050), Washington State (+650) and App State (+700). His $50 wager returned $34,450.