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A&M's win proof anything can happen

by J. BRADY MCCOLLOUGH LOS ANGELES TIMES | October 11, 2021 at 2:07 a.m.

A week ago, Texas A&M quarterback Zach Calzada walked off Kyle Field so vulnerable he couldn't hide his emotions after a shocking loss to Mississippi State.

Saturday night, Calzada injured his lower leg while delivering a game-tying touchdown pass to pull the 17-point underdog Aggies into a 38-38 tie with No. 1 Alabama. Now the whole country was watching and wishing the kid who started the season as an unknown backup would find his way back into the spotlight. Minutes after he was helped off the field, there was Calzada scampering for a first down on his bum limb and willing Texas A&M into position for what would be the game-winning field goal.

Quarterbacks were the story all day long during an unforgettable college football Saturday. In the Red River Rivalry, Oklahoma true freshman quarterback Caleb Williams came in for junior Spencer Rattler -- just two former five-star, can't-miss prospects passing by one another in the early afternoon at the Texas State Fair -- and led the Sooners to a thrilling 55-48 comeback victory over Texas.

In Iowa City, Penn State led Iowa 17-3 in the second quarter when Sean Clifford, the Nittany Lions' veteran starting quarterback, exited with an injury. Penn State had to play inexperienced backup quarterback Ta'Quan Roberson, who understandably was not up to the task, and the Hawkeyes escaped with a 23-20 victory.

But Calzada was the day's best quarterbacking story. This was the kid who took over for injured Haynes King and engineered a 10-7 win against a bad Colorado team in Denver and then could not get Texas A&M moving during losses to Arkansas and Mississippi State that sent the Aggies tumbling out of the top 25.

The 17-point spread does not do justice to the unthinkable nature of Texas A&M's 41-38 upset of Alabama on Saturday night in College Station. Because nobody could have fathomed Calzada taking down Nick Saban's latest juggernaut, quarterbacked by Heisman Trophy favorite Bryce Young.

Calzada completed 21 of 31 passes for 285 yards and 3 touchdowns and gave the entire sport what it's been craving: proof that in college football, anybody on any day can beat any team -- a reality that most of the country lives with on a weekly basis but certainly not the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Now, don't get me wrong, Texas A&M is no typical underdog. Coach Jimbo Fisher got a contract extension before beating Alabama that will pay him $9 million per year. But the lack of faith in Calzada entering Saturday night -- combined with defending national champion Alabama's 19-game win streak -- made Texas A&M's victory feel like one of the biggest upsets the sport has seen in a long time.

College football needed this. As chaotic as 2021 has felt through six weeks -- Clemson has two losses; Oregon knocked off Ohio State in Columbus and then lost to Stanford; and Cincinnati won at Notre Dame to put itself in true playoff contention -- it still seemed inevitable that Alabama and Georgia would go 12-0 and the loser of the SEC Championship Game would easily make the playoff semifinals, setting up a rematch in the College Football Playoff championship game.

The Bulldogs and Crimson Tide could still end up lording over the sport in December and January, but now there's a clear path to 2021 becoming the closest thing we've seen in a while to the 2007 season that gave us Kansas, Missouri, West Virginia, South Florida and Boston College as title contenders. (Of course, this being college football, it ended with two-loss LSU beating Ohio State in a forgettable national championship game).

Maybe this season won't end so predictably. At a minimum, Georgia or Alabama will surely be in the four-team field. But as of now, they'd be joined by Iowa, Cincinnati and maybe Oklahoma (despite the Sooners' spirited win Saturday and the emergence of Williams, they don't inspire confidence they will run the table).

Honestly, I'm disgusted with myself for even mentioning the playoff after a day like Saturday. We have seven weeks left in the regular season, and we should all thank Zach Calzada for reminding us that we actually have no clue what is going to happen the rest of the way.

Print Headline: A&M's win proof anything can happen

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