By RALPH D. RUSSO
AP College Football Writer
Texas is ready for the Southeastern Conference. Then again, the SEC doesn’t look so tough right now.
In their final season as a member of the Big 12, the No. 11 Longhorns made a statement against Alabama and came away with the biggest victory of Steve Sarkisian’s three seasons as Texas coach.
Is Texas back? Who cares? Here’s what’s important: Texas was better than No. 3 Alabama in almost every way in Tuscaloosa on Saturday night.
The biggest difference between the two? Texas has difference-makers at quarterback and wide receiver.
“The players understood that we’re good enough to come in here and win. But the moment doubt starts to creep in, that’s when you start making the mistakes that get you beat,” Sarkisian said.
A year after losing by one to the Crimson Tide in Austin, the Longhorns never had a reason to doubt they belonged.
Quinn Ewers was every bit the five-star QB he was touted to be for the Longhorns, throwing for 349 yards and three touchdowns. Sarkisian has always been one of college football’s best play callers. He won a national championship with Alabama in 2020 and helped turn DeVonta Smith into a Heisman Trophy winner.
Now with Texas, Sarkisian has a wealth of weapons in receivers Xavier Worthy, Adonai Mitchell and Jordan Whittington and tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders, and he used them to carve up his old bosses’ defense.
Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban’s team had not lost a regular-season nonconference game since 2007, a 57-game winning streak that was the longest of its kind since the AP poll started in 1936. Alabama also saw its 21-game home winning streak end.
Be careful in pronouncing the dynasty dead, but coming off a two-loss season, Alabama still doesn’t look like its old scary self.
“This was a test for everybody. For me, for the staff, for the players. We didn’t do very well, but it’s the midterm, not the final,” Saban told reporters.
For most of Saban’s historic run with Alabama, he has dominated his former assistant coaches. Sarkisian is just the third to beat Saban in 31 tries, but all three have come in the last three seasons.
“It all starts with me, and I obviously let our team down with the way we executed,” Saban said.
It’s not just Alabama. The SEC as a whole has had a rough start to the season, going 3-6 against Power Five teams, including 1-4 against the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Mississippi State’s overtime victory over Arizona helped salvage the weekend for the SEC and finally handed the Pac-12 its first loss after 18 straight victories to start the season.
Instead of asking whether Texas is ready for the SEC, maybe we should be asking if the SEC is ready for Texas.
Last September’s Texas A&M-Miami game was a slog that portended disappointing seasons for both programs.
A little more than a year later, the Aggies and Hurricanes played a game that barely resembled the same sport, one that should bring hope for both — and maybe a real breakthrough for Miami coach Mario Cristobal.
The Hurricanes broke a five-game losing streak against SEC teams — notice a theme — running away from No. 23 Texas A&M 48-33 in one of the most encouraging performances by The U of the last decade.
“We work hard, we practice hard, we train hard,” Cristobal told reporters. “We felt if we’d eventually eliminate mistakes we’d take control of the game.”
The celebration of Miami’s biggest nonconference victory since the ‘Canes pounced on Notre Dame in a deafening Hard Rock Stadium in 2017 was tempered by a scary late-game injury to All-America safety Kamren Kinchens, who was carted off on a stretcher.
Cristobal said the initial report he received on Kinchens was positive.
There is no way to overstate how bad Cristobal’s first season was at Miami last year. The Hurricanes didn’t just finish 5-7; they also had a series of embarrassing performances and team chemistry bad enough to be visible.
Everything about the Hurricanes looked different against the Aggies, starting with Tyler Van Dyke, who passed 374 yards and five touchdowns. Miami has discovered weapons in Jacolby George (three touchdown catches) and Brashard Smith (98-yard kickoff return).
They helped erase an early 14-3 deficit.
“I think last year, I think we would have quit, honestly,” Van Dyke told reporters.
The Hurricanes’ victory capped a huge opening two weeks for the ACC against the SEC. The last time the ACC had four wins in an entire a season against the SEC was 2017.
As for the Aggies, it will be tough to sell moral victories to the folks in College Station after going 5-7 last season.
Coach Jimbo Fisher seems to have an offense now, coordinated by Bobby Petrino and led by Conner Weigman (336 yards, two TDs and two picks).
That’s the good news.
The bad? A&M is 3-9 in its last 12 games against Power Five teams. Oh, and Texas just beat ‘Bama.
In front of a full-house at Folsom Field, Deion Sanders and Colorado showed that last week’s rousing upset at TCU was no fluke.
Shedeur Sanders and Co. turned it on in the second half to rout of old Big Eight rival Nebraska and set up a huge rest of September for the No. 22 Buffaloes that includes hosting ESPN’s “College GameDay” next week before playing Colorado State.
The more notable story in Boulder on Saturday was the other team with a famous first-year coach.
Matt Rhule is taking a different approach to rebuilding Nebraska and there are already signs that, much like at his other college stops, the Huskers might take a step back before moving forward.
Rhule has talked a lot about how Nebraska is in much better shape than the previous programs he took over at Temple and Baylor. That might be true, but his rebuilds tend to take a minute. Temple was 2-10 in Rhule’s first season. Baylor was 1-11. Both took big leaps in Year 2 and won double-digit games in Year 3.
“I think we’re better than we’re showing. But what does that mean? It’s just words,” Rhule said. “I told the team, ‘We’re going to get this right.’”
Nebraska fans’ impatience can be forgiven after six straight losing seasons.
The Huskers have home games against Northern Illinois and Louisiana Tech the next two weeks, but a quick fix doesn’t seem to be in the cards.
AROUND THE COUNTRY: The Pac-12’s season-opening heater ended after dark Saturday night with Cal letting one get away to Auburn and Arizona State falling to Oklahoma State. The Pac-12 is 19-3 against nonconference opponents, including 6-3 vs. Power Five. … Virginia returned to Scott Stadium for its first home game since the shooting death of three teammates last November. The Cavaliers looked as if they might have a storybook return, grabbing a 35-24 lead against James Madison in the third quarter when Mike Hollins, a survivor of the shooting, scored a touchdown. The Dukes pulled out the win with a late touchdown, but Virginia might have found something to build on in freshman quarterback Anthony Colandrea. … Thunderstorms in ACC country wreaked havoc with the early part of the day’s schedule. No. 10 Notre Dame’s 45-24 victory against North Carolina State was delayed for 1 hour, 45 minutes in the first half. Sam Hartman, in his fourth career start against N.C. State after three while at Wake Forest, helped the Fighting Irish snap the Wolfpack’s streak of 16 straight games holding opponents under 31 points, which was the longest in the country. … No. 12 Utah improved to 2-0 without starting quarterback Cam Rising by rallying from behind to win at Baylor. Utah nearly gave away the victory in the final 20 seconds amid brain freeze, and it may have caught a break on a non-called pass interference on the last play. … Iowa beat rival Iowa State in a typical CyHawk affair. The Hawkeyes had a pick six and a blocked field goal. After two games, the Hawkeyes are averaging 22 points per game. The magic number for offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz to ensure he keeps his job is 25.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll