App State uses two turnovers to stun No. 6 Texas A&M 17-14

Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas – On paper, there was no reason to believe that Appalachian State would have a chance Saturday against No. 6 Texas A&M.

But Mountaineers coach Shawn Clark, who makes 10 times less than the over $9 million Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher receives each season at the Southeastern Conference school, made it clear to his 18 1/2-point underdog team that the game is not played on paper and mindset would mean everything.

“The key was belief,” an exhausted Clark said. “You have to believe in yourself and believe in this program. I told them take the logo off of the helmet, take the logo off the field and let’s go play football.”

And play football they did, with Chase Brice throwing for 134 yards and a touchdown and a stingy defense taking advantage of two turnovers to stun the Aggies 17-14.

“It didn’t feel real at first,” Brice said. “I’ll be honest, I was just in shock. I just couldn’t believe the way we fought and finished. It was just great.”

Appalachian State won a week after scoring six touchdowns and 40 points in the fourth quarter in a 63-61 opening loss to North Carolina.

“It means something to me to beat the No. 6-ranked program,” Clark said. “It’s two different programs. We don’t recruit at the same level. We don’t have what they have, but we have a lot of heart and we have the right kind of players in our program.”

Clark was thrilled to see Brice lead his team to the win after his school-record six-touchdown performance last week wasn’t enough to complete the comeback.

“He was crushed,” Clark said. “He loves this program and today was his shining moment.”

Along with the victory, the Mountaineers got a fat $1.5 million check to take back with them to Boone, North Carolina, for playing this game.

Appalachian State (1-1) settled for a 29-yard field goal by Michael Hughes to take a 17-14 lead with about eight minutes left after Christian Wells was wide open but dropped a touchdown pass on third down.

The Aggies (1-1) had a chance to tie it with about 3 1/2 minutes to go, but a 47-yard field goal attempt by Caden Davis was short.

Camerun Peoples, who finished with 112 yards rushing, had a 1-yard run on third down on the next possession to keep Appalachian State’s drive going. He then dashed 48 yards to the 12 on the next play and the Mountaineers ran out the clock.

“At the end of the day, that’s my fault as the head football coach,” Fisher said. “We have to have guys ready in all three phases. We had chances to make plays in all three phases.. We had opportunities, but we have to coach it better. That’s on me.”

It’s Appalachian State’s first win over a team in The AP Top 25 as a FBS team after losing in overtime to No. 9 Tennessee in 2016 and dropping an OT game to No. 9 Penn State in 2018.

The Mountaineers famously knocked off No. 5 Michigan 34-32 with a last-second blocked field goal in Ann Arbor in 2007 when they were still in the FCS.

“Respect all those guys they were great,” offensive lineman Cooper Hodges said. “But I’m tired of hearing about Michigan. I want our legacy to be Sun Belt champions and I want our legacy to be beating Texas A&M.”

The Mountaineers kept A&M’s offense in check a week after Clark was left looking for ways to fix his defense after the 63-point outburst by North Carolina.

Devon Achane ran for a touchdown in the first half and returned a kickoff for a score in the third, but the Aggies had trouble getting much else going on a mistake-filled day.

The Mountaineers outgained A&M 305-186 and had 22 first downs to just nine by the Aggies. They controlled time of possession, too, holding a 41:29 to 18:31 advantage in that area.

Fisher said he would consider a change at quarterback this week after a sub-par performance by Haynes King. He added that they probably would have made the switch Saturday if the game had gone differently.

“We were but we never had the ball,” he said. “If we had got more possessions maybe so.”

The Aggies were driving in the third quarter when Dexter Lawson Jr. forced a fumble by Evan Stewart after a 13-yard reception and it was recovered by Nick Hampton.

The Mountaineers took a 14-7 lead when Henry Pearson grabbed a 9-yard TD reception from Brice with about 2 1/2 minutes left in the third.

The lead was short-lived as Achane returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown seconds later. Achane, who is a sprinter on Texas A&M’s track team, juked a defender before shedding a would-be tackler and racing downfield for the score to tie it at 14-all.

King was sacked by DeAndre Dingle-Prince and fumbled late in the first quarter. Texas A&M lineman Layden Robinson recovered the ball, but he also fumbled and this time Appalachian State recovered it.

They cashed in on the mistake when Ahmani Marshall scored on a 4-yard touchdown run that made it 7-0 early in the second quarter.

The Aggies tied it up when Achane dashed 26 yards for a touchdown on the next drive.

King finished with 97 yards passing.

THE TAKEAWAY

The loss puts a huge dent on Texas A&M’s preseason goal of finally contending for a national title, leaving the Aggies in an early hole before they even begin the rigors of SEC play.

RECORD TALK

Fisher was hired to take A&M to the next level after coach Kevin Sumlin was fired after his sixth season. But so far Fisher hasn’t done any better than Sumlin did in his time with the Aggies.

Sumlin was 36-14 in his first 50 games and Saturday’s loss dropped Fisher to 35-15 in his first 50.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Aggies are certain to plummet in the poll after losing to an unranked opponent. Appalachian State should enter the poll after the big upset.

UP NEXT

Appalachian State: Hosts Troy next Saturday.

Texas A&M: Hosts No. 15 Miami next Saturday night.

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
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When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.

CFP expansion talks head toward October after 7-hour meeting

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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ROSEMONT, Ill. — The conference commissioners who manage the College Football Playoff met for almost seven hours Tuesday to work on expanding the postseason system from four to 12 teams as soon as the 2024 season.

There is still much work to be done.

“We will not wrap up this week,” CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock said.

The CFP management committee, comprised of 10 conference commissioners and Notre Dame’s athletic director, is scheduled to convene again at the Big Ten offices for a few hours Wednesday morning. They are set to meet again in person in Dallas on Oct. 20.

“That’ll be important,” Hancock said.

Expansion talks were revived by the university presidents and chancellors who oversee the College Football Playoff last month.

By adopting a 12-team plan that had been on the table since the spring of 2021, the presidents pushed the commissioners to try to implement a new format before the end of the CFP’s current contract with ESPN. That deal ends after the 2025 season.

Expanding from four to 12 in 2024 and ’25 will require rescheduling semifinals and championship games that already have dates and sites set, plus adding four new first-round games in mid-December to be played on campus sites.

Squeezing it all into about a month and working around the NFL for television will be challenging.

Hancock said the idea of moving up the start of the college football season to the week before Labor Day to create more room at the end for the playoff has been discussed, but more for beyond the 2025 season.

“I think most people view that as a future item. As long-term item and not an immediacy item,” Hancock said. “Remember, there’s so many details.”

Hancock said CFP officials have spoken to bowl partners and hosts cities that are set to hold semifinals and championship games after the 2024 and ’25 seasons, but they have not been presented definitive new dates.

Atlanta already has been chosen as the host city for the championship game to be played following the 2024 season, on Jan. 6, 2025. The game would have to be pushed back about two weeks if the playoff grows from four teams to 12.

“(Atlanta organizers) have some work to do because of other businesses in the community,” Hancock said. “Other meeting-type business, hotel business and Convention Center business there. They’ve been great to work with.”