The End Zone: Sorting through the CFB chaos

What a week of college football. An opening weekend void of surprise was clearly just the calm before the storm that was this weekend’s results. On Saturday, the upsets came quick and early, exposing glaring weaknesses in some of college football’s most feared teams. USC is notably absent from this list.

It would not have surprised any longtime USC football fan if the Trojans had the same fate as University of Notre Dame and Texas A&M University this week, both of which were upset by unranked teams. USC has had trouble in Palo Alto for years, and were 4-5 in the last 9 matchups before winning 41-28 this weekend.

 After watching Lincoln Riley’s offense in full force, it is clear to see that this season is different. In its current form, any Pac-12 opponent will have major difficulties keeping up with the pace and tenacity of USC’s offense. Sophomore quarterback Caleb Williams and junior wide receiver Jordan Addison’s connection looked telepathic (Heisman watch?) as they shredded the trees into wood chips. The duo connected for 2 touchdowns and averaged 24.6 yards per reception. 

Despite the fireworks on offense, it was hard to ignore USC’s abysmal run defense. Luckily, the Trojans got bailed out by Stanford’s absurd turnover problem, two of which occurred within the 5-yard line. While some pundits blamed USC’s spotty defense on the injury of freshman cornerback Domani Jackson, I think there is a more systemic issue that could lead to losses unless the Trojan offense can consistently score 60 points a week.

 For now, Trojan fans should celebrate the first conference win of the Lincoln Riley era and hope the defensive struggles are just growing pains, which are not irregular for a team full of transfers that had only played one game together. 

While USC, now ranked No. 7, did not have their prowess tested by Stanford, other major programs faced headwinds across the country. 

As USC’s most ardent fans traveled north, I went south hoping to witness one of those upsets myself as No. 1 ranked University of Alabama traveled to Texas. I’ve never seen Head Coach Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide play scared in my entire life, but Alabama looked like underdogs in the face of 105,213 fans at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium (which was an attendance record). Alabama junior linebacker Will Anderson Jr., even called the atmosphere at DKR the “loudest environment [he’s] experienced” in his illustrious college career. 

After many forecasters predicted a 20+ point blowout Alabama victory for weeks, Texas held Alabama to 20 points, losing just 20-19 despite missing a 20-yard field goal and losing their starting quarterback in the first quarter. 

Texas showed they have the talent and passion to join the ranks of the NCAA Southeastern Conference Football in the next few years as planned. The College Football Playoff’s board of managers unanimously voted to implement a 12-team playoff starting in 2026 after years of complaints about the current format. This decision is partially related to the will of fans who are tired of seeing the same teams — Georgia, Alabama, and Ohio State — make the playoffs every year. 

Critics argued that SEC and Big Ten brass will be the last teams standing in an event and expanding the playoffs just elongates the process. However, after this week, I’m not so sure.

 Auburn University and  University of Tennessee, Knoxville almost lost to teams that are mediocre at best, and Texas A&M lost to Appalachian State University. 

If Texas A&M can lose to Appalachian State — a team that was supposed to lose so badly that they got paid 1.5 million to come to College Station — then there’s nothing stopping elite programs like USC from benefiting from an expanded playoff table and making a run to the national championship game. 

This week of college football was profoundly entertaining, but it also provided a much needed reminder to some disgruntled fans that anything can happen and that no amount of five-star recruits or NIL money can immunize teams from an upset. 

Ethan Horowitz is a junior writing about the ever-changing college football landscape. His column “The End Zone” runs every other Tuesday (except for this week).