If you haven't figured it out by now, there's no such thing as a "down week" in college football. Exhibit A: Week 4, which delivered one of the wildest days yet as much of the impending chaos that had been bubbling to the surface finally came to fruition. Two AP Top 10 teams lost in brutal fashion and four other top-25 teams dropped as well. Four of the six losses came at the hands of unranked opponents.
In one of the most shocking upsets of the year, No. 9 Clemson lost in overtime to NC State, which could sound the death knell for the Tigers in the College Football Playoff race. No. 4 Oklahoma needed a last-second field goal just to survive yet another low-scoring test, this time from West Virginia. Finally, No. 7 Texas A&M's quarterback play finally reached a breaking point in the loss to No. 16 Arkansas. And that's just the beginning.
Here are the winners, losers and overreactions from one of the wackier conference opener weeks in recent memory.
Arkansas: Flattening on Texas and first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian is one thing. Dominating a Texas A&M team that came into the year expecting to make a playoff run by a score of 20-10 is quite another.
Arkansas imposed its will against the Aggies on both sides of the ball and proved it deserves to be ranked in the AP Top 10. Regardless of what happens with the Razorbacks as they face off against three ranked opponents in October -- the Hogs get No. 2 Georgia, No. 13 Ole Miss and No. 23 Auburn in consecutive weeks -- Sam Pittman's rebuild in Fayetteville is a rousing success.
Notre Dame's defense: It's been a shaky start to the season, but Notre Dame's defense finally put together a complete performance in a 41-13 win over No. 18 Wisconsin. The Fighting Irish held the Badgers' vaunted running game to just 2.8 yards per carry and forced five turnovers, including four off UW quarterback Graham Mertz. This was the kind of get-right performance we needed to see from Notre Dame to still take them seriously as a top-15 squad. Even if Wisconsin ends up being a paper tiger, putting together a complete performance is a step in the right direction.
Baylor: The Bears quietly started the season on a hot streak against bad competition, but beating No. 14 Iowa State 31-29 proves that Baylor deserves our attention. Quarterback Gerry Bohanon had an effective day, completing 73.7% of his passes, averaging 8.6 yards per attempt and throwing for a pair of scores.
Baylor has been efficient running a new wide zone offense and managed to create opportunities on both sides against a highly experienced Cyclones team. Now, the Bears should be considered dark horse candidates to compete for the Big 12 and easily slide into the AP Top 25 on Sunday.
ACC favorites: Clemson won 36 straight games against unranked opponents dating back to a famous Kelly Bryant loss at Syracuse in 2017. The Tigers' luck finally ran out as it followed up a six-point win over Georgia Tech with a 27-21 double-overtime loss against NC State. Losing this kind of game is a seminal moment for this iteration of the program. The Tigers have hit on consecutive transcendent runs in a row, but Dabo Swinney's program is very publicly falling back towards the pack.
One state away, the bottom fell out on No. 21 North Carolina. Georgia Tech entered the matchup at 1-2 with the lone win coming over an FCS opponent. The Jackets responded by more than doubling UNC in a 45-22 win. To give perspective, the last time UNC lost that badly, Larry Fedora was still the coach the Heels were on the wrong end of a 47-10 beatdown against Miami in 2018. The shine is gone from Mack Brown's honeymoon phase. Now, it's onto results.
Oklahoma: The Sooners survived one-score quarterback battles against Tulane's Michael Pratt and Nebraska's Adrian Martinez early in the season. Needing a field goal as time expired to beat a mediocre West Virginia team is disgusting.
The game against WVU was the third straight Big 12 game in which Oklahoma scored 27 points or fewer. The Sooners didn't have a single game under 28 points in Lincoln Riley's head coaching tenure before this streak. The last time Oklahoma scored fewer than 24 points in consecutive home games at all was 1998, according to ESPN's Chris Fallica.
This has gone far beyond a blip – it's a trend. The offense is broken and Riley is running out of time to fix it.
Vanderbilt: We knew when Clark Lea took over the Vanderbilt program that the Commodores were in a deep hole. Unfortunately, going down 35-0 in the first quarter against No. 2 Georgia and getting roasted across the internet was a painful reminder of what the next few years will look like. Vanderbilt mustered just 77 total yards -- at 1.7 yards per play -- against the Bulldogs' top-ranked defense in a 62-0 shutout. This isn't just one of the worst teams in modern SEC histor, it's one of the worst overall FBS teams in America. Sorry Vandy, you've reached Kansas meme level.
Wake Forest can win the ACC
The ACC will never look back at the 2021 season as its shining moment, but failures from Clemson, Miami and North Carolina could very well open the door for a well-coached, consistent program to compete for a conference title. Why not Wake Forest?
Coach Dave Clawson doesn't get anywhere near the credit he deserves for consistent excellence. His 2021 squad looks like it could be his crowning achievement in Winston-Salem after a 4-0 start with dominant wins over Florida State and Virginia. If quarterback Sam Hartman can continue his torrid pace – he's at 961 yards passing, 66.1% completion, nine touchdowns and just one interception – the Demon Deacons can walk away with the conference crown.
Taulia Tagovailoa belongs in the Heisman conversation
When he arrived at Alabama, Tagovailoa was just Tua's younger brother. Since transferring to Maryland, Taulia has become a superstar in his own regard. The junior had his third game over 300 yards and his third three-touchdown game of the season in a 37-16 win over Kent State.
While single games don't tell the whole story, West Virginia's defensive performance against Oklahoma also helps contextualize Tagovailoa's 332-yard, three-touchdown performance against the Mountaineers in Week 1. Through four games, Tagovailoa sits at 1,340 yards, 75.5% completion, 10 touchdowns – and just one interception.
The SEC is lapping the rest of the country
Look, I'm not an SEC supremacist. Honestly, I think the process of comparing conferences is typically a boring exercise. But after seeing the way the rest of the nation's conferences have fallen apart, it's hard not to stare. As many as seven of the 14 SEC programs will be ranked this week. Five of them could push for spots in the top 10.
When the College Football Playoff committee finally sits down and ranks teams, there are going to be cries of frustration about the number of SEC teams that end up in the conversation for those four coveted spots. But looking at the way the usual suspects from the Big 12, Big Ten and ACC have competed to this point ... it's hard to argue.
There's always talk about how the SEC's financial power impacts the sport. The bigger issue right now remains that the SEC's on-field product is crushing the rest of the field. If that doesn't change, why would it matter how many Playoff spots are available?