The sixth week of the college football season contained all the marks of excitement, including marquee matchups featuring top teams, a successful Hail Mary pass, record-setting shootouts, and upsets. Lots of upsets. The #2, #3, and #4 teams all lost, as did 11 of the top 20 teams, making week six one of the most memorable in recent memory.
The bar of improbable upsets was set rather high for this weekend when unranked Arizona traveled to Eugene on Thursday night and stunned the #2 ranked Oregon Ducks 31-24. The Wildcats managed to contain Oregon’s star quarterback, Marcus Mariota, and were able to exploit their weak defense. Oregon’s severely banged-up offensive line proved to be their undoing, as Mariota faced pressure all night and was sacked five times, two of which resulted in fumbles.
Saturday looked to be undoubtedly the best slate of games thus far in the season, and it did not disappoint. In a marquee matchup, #11 Ole Miss played host to the third-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide in Oxford. In front of a raucous home crowd, the Rebels battled the Tide throughout the first half and pulled away late behind quarterback Bo Wallace, winning 23-17. While inconsistent and enigmatic at times, Wallace has proven his ability to be one of the nation’s premier quarterbacks, throwing three crucial second-half touchdowns against the vaunted Alabama defense. The key to Ole Miss’s upset win was their fearsome defense shutting down Alabama’s dynamic offense, particularly containing Amari Cooper, likely the nation’s best receiver.
Across the state in Starkville, twelfth-ranked Mississippi State hosted #6 ranked Texas A&M. After upsetting LSU two weeks prior, expectations were high for the Bulldogs, but quarterback Kenny Hill and the Aggies seemed to be the team’s first true test.
The Bulldogs passed with flying colors in a 48-31 win that was even more of a rout than the score would suggest, with the Aggies scoring two garbage time touchdowns in the last three minutes. The Bulldogs’ offense rested squarely on the shoulders of dynamic quarterback Dak Prescott, who excelled through the air, while also rushing a team-high 23 times for a combined 5 touchdowns. And while the abilities of Prescott and company on offense were well-known, Mississippi State’s defensive strength was in question. Facing an Aggie offense spearheaded by first year phenom Kenny Hill and loaded at every skill position, the Bulldog defense employed a sort of “bend-but-don’t break” strategy. They allowed over 500 yards of total offense, but were able to come away with three interceptions.
Fittingly, in this week’s edition of the AP Poll, Ole Miss and Mississippi State tied for third, the highest ranking ever for the Bulldogs and the highest for the Rebels since 1970. The transition for both Mississippi teams from perennially marginal teams to legitimate playoff contenders means that this year’s Egg Bowl between the teams will likely be the biggest ever.
Oklahoma rounded out the top 4 woes, losing on the road to #25 TCU by a score of 37-33. The first half was characteristic of a Big 12 shootout, with the Sooners and Horned Frogs exchanging scores until halftime, when the score was knotted at 24. The second half, however, was a different story. Each team scored an early 3rd quarter touchdown before the game turned into a defensive battle. Oklahoma’s balanced offensive attack, led by quarterback Trevor Knight and running back Samaje Perine, faltered in the second half, and the only score in the final 20 minutes was the game-sealing interception returned 41 yards for a touchdown by TCU linebacker Paul Dawson.
Some of the most exciting games of the weekend were in the Pac 12. Sixteenth ranked USC looked as though they would survive a formidable test at home against Arizona St., until the Sun Devils scored three touchdowns in the game’s final four minutes, the most exciting of which being a 46-yard Hail Mary pass as time expired. In a less significant game within the grand scope of the college football season, Cal outshined Washington State in a high-powered shootout, winning 60-59. Despite a record-setting 734-yard passing performance from quarterback Connor Halliday, the Cougars still could not muster a win over the surprisingly exciting 4-1 Golden Bears.
This weekend encapsulated all the mayhem of college football, condensing all of its most exciting elements into one absurd stretch of games. As this week demonstrated, playoff expectations can shift entirely due to only a few games, and that’s part of what makes college football so great.