College football rankings: Sun Belt upsets shake SI’s Top 10

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We bow to our new lords, the Sun Belt Conference. Who knew, right? A league that not too long ago was considered the lowest in the FBS barrel is suddenly toasted to the game, scoring a trio of seismic upsets on a Saturday that looked sleepy and turned into a furniture fury on the lawn.

(As this chaotic beauty of a sport so often does.)

Often referred to as the Fun Belt, the league turned into the Stun Belt on Saturday, picking up victories over three established powerhouses.

Score one for your sense of realignment, with the Sun Belt pulling Marshall and others out of Conference USA, then accelerating their membership for this season. The Thundering Herd (2-0) immediately paid off that bet by shocking Notre Dame, pushing the Fighting Irish season to a precipice after just two games. Marcus Freeman is now 0-3 as coach of the Irish, and while the first two defeats were understandable, they weren’t. It’s Notre Dame’s worst loss since the Charlie Weis era, at least.

Score another to keep the conference’s most successful program in the fold. Fearsome Appalachian State, winner of at least nine games in each of the past seven seasons, trailing stunner Texas A&M and cementing the Aggies’ status as the most overrated program in America. A&M have been ranked in the top 10 of the preseason despite going 8-4, and have lost their last three games against FBS opponents since last season.

And score one for Georgia Southern, who took on Clay Helton on the rebound from USC and was rewarded with a wild 45-42 win at Nebraska. Scott Frost is Lincoln’s story, that seals it. It’s only a matter of time, with the halving of its takeover on October 1 looming on the horizon.

According to a league statement, this is the first Group of 5 conference to record multiple wins over top 10 opponents on the same day since September 2003.

Marshall, the first Sun Belt team to play at Notre Dame Stadium, broke a Top 10 for the second time in school history.

There are major issues at all of these heavyweight schools, but give The Belt a championship belt for those Buster Douglas moments. It’s harder than ever for teams outside the “gated community,” to use ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips’ apt phrase, to compete fairly against those inside. What the herd, climbers and eagles did on the same day was monumental. And, as a bonus, each of them pocketed a seven-figure check for what was supposed to be a loss. It’s the ultimate win-win.

It was a big day nationally for the underdogs and a humbling day for the SEC and Big Ten “Power 2” conferences that supposedly split from the rest of the sport. Alabama was extremely lucky to beat Texas, needing late heroics from defending Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young, an early injury to Texas QB Quinn Ewers and some curious referee calls. to win by one point. Tennessee also benefited from a QB injury to hold off Pittsburgh in overtime. Washington State, perhaps the most endangered member of the endangered Pac-12, went to Madison and upset Wisconsin. Iowa State ended its six-game losing streak against rival Iowa. Missouri was wiped out at Kansas State, Northwestern was beaten at home by Duke, Vanderbilt was no match for Wake Forest, and Nebraska did their job as well.

Let’s move on to a seriously rebuilt SI Top Ten with this caveat: preseason rankings are largely ignored. If your team hasn’t played against anyone so far (hello, Michigan and Oklahoma), don’t expect me to rank it.

1. Georgia (2-0)

Stetson Bennett completes a pass against Samford.

Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett posted his second straight 300-yard passing game on Saturday.

Last match: Beat Samford, 33-0.
Next game: In South Carolina (Saturday).

Georgia coach Kirby Smart continued his Nick Saban impersonation by pouncing on an FCS opponent for half time – it was 30-0 in the second quarter between hurdles – before putting the game on ice. The Bulldogs’ offensive evolution toward passing strength continued in this game, with 43 assists and just 32 points. Quarterback Stetson Bennett had his second straight 300-yard passing game and fourth of his last five dating back to last season. As for the rebuilt Georgian defence? Three points allowed in two games.

2. Arkansas (2-0)

Last match: Beat South Carolina, 44-30.
Next game: Missouri State, in Bobby Petrino’s return to Fayetteville (Saturday).

Should Razorbacks be this high in our rankings? Well, think about it: has any team had two best wins so far? Arkansas handed Cincinnati its first regular season loss since 2019 in Week 1, then easily managed an improved Gamecocks team. The Hogs are yet to trail this season and led most of the way Saturday in double digits. Running back Raheim Sanders had his second straight 100-yard rushing game.

3. USC (2-0)

Last match: Beat Stanford, 41-28.
Next game: Fresno State (Saturday).

The Lincoln Riley scoring machine continued to roll in Palo Alto, racking up 28 points in the first half. Quarterback Caleb Williams was razor sharp again, completing 13 of 15 passes for 244 yards and four touchdowns in the first half alone. Defensively, the Trojans continued to be opportunistic – after four takeaways and three defensive scores against Rice, they had three more takeaways in the first half against Stanford.

4. Ohio State (2-0)

Last match: Beat Arkansas State, 45-12.
Next game: Toledo (Saturday).

The Buckeyes drop in the standings as their win over Notre Dame was downgraded by the Fighting Irish’s flop to Marshall. The Thundering Herd scored more on the Irish than Ohio State, after all. Again playing without top receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, the Buckeyes still haven’t followed through on their passing game against the Red Wolves. CJ Stroud threw for 370 yards and four touchdowns, and Marvin Harrison Jr. had seven catches for 184 yards and three touchdowns.

5. BYU (2-0)

Last match: Beat Baylor, 26-20 (2OT).
Next game: In Oregon (Saturday).

The Cougars overcame receiver absences and kicker debacles to beat the Bears in a game that was well played until it frayed around the edges late. Quarterback Jaren Hall threw for 261 yards and a touchdown, and BYU’s defense kept Baylor out of the end zone in second overtime to consolidate the victory. (That helped the Bears turn ultra-conservative in the final stages of regulation and overtime.) If BYU can win in Eugene, the potential path to 6-0 and hosting Arkansas in mid-October is manageable.

6. Kentucky (2-0)

Last match: Beat Florida, 26-16.
Next game: Youngstown State (Saturday).

For the first time in 45 years, the Wildcats have beaten Florida in consecutive seasons. This time they have done so without the bulk of their running back depth roster, including star Chris Rodriguez, who is ruled out of the competition amid an eligibility inquiry. And the Wildcats did it on the road. And they did it by evaporating Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson’s Week 1 hype. Kentucky has mastered the ability to win games like this under Mark Stoops. Sorry, John Calipari, but is this becoming a legitimate football school?

7. Alabama (2-0)

Bryce Young celebrates a touchdown against Texas.

Bryce Young’s fourth quarter drive helped Alabama escape Austin with a win over Texas.

Last match: Beat Texas, 20-19.
Next game: Louisiana-Monroe (Saturday).

Winning is really all that matters in college football, but wow, the Crimson Tide ruined their game against the Longhorns. Alabama had 15 penalties and probably could have been called for a few more that could have changed the result. But give credit to Young for overturning a one-game struggle with brilliant fourth-quarter possessions to pull the game out of the fire. Here’s the problem with Alabama’s labor body so far: That Utah State opening rout? Well, the Aggies followed up with a blowout loss to FCS Weber State.

8.Texas (1-1)

Last match: Lost to Alabama, 20-19.
Next game: UTSA in a potential trap game (Saturday).

Texas is back? Let’s not go there yet. But as crushing as the loss to Alabama was, progress on the program seemed tangible. Texas was competitive at the line of scrimmage, especially on the defensive end, and had point guards at receiver to complement running back Bijan Robinson. If Ewers returns quickly from the shoulder injury that knocked him out early against Alabama, coach Steve Sarkisian has plenty to work with.

9. Tennessee (2-0)

Last match: Beat Pittsburgh, 34-27.
Next game: Akron (Saturday).

The Volunteers earned the overtime victory in Pitt, thanks in part to an injury to Panthers starting quarterback Kedon Slovis and backup Nick Patti who were also hampered. Hendon Hooker and Cedric Tillman hooked up nine times for 162 yards and a touchdown to power Tennessee’s offense.

10. Penn State (2-0)

Last match: Beat Ohio, 46-10.
Next game: In Auburn (Saturday).

The Nittany Lions’ road win over Purdue on Sept. 1 pays early dividends here, certainly weighing more than beating the Bobcats on Saturday. Running back Nicholas Singleton, part of a talented first-year tandem at the position, rushed for 179 yards against Ohio. Penn State fans keep wishing someone beat sixth-year quarterback Sean Clifford, but he’s off to a good start.

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