11ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE
After two dominant outings, Alabama was finally tested. Down 24–3 to Ole Miss in the second quarter, the Crimson Tide reeled off 21 unanswered points to even the score and kept motoring along—until a 48–30 lead with 5:28 remaining in the game evaporated to 48–43 in just three minutes. Credit Jalen Hurts’s all-around effort (158 yards passing, 146 rushing) and the Tide’s three non-offensive touchdowns (an 85-yard Eddie Jackson punt return, three-yard Da’Ron Payne fumble return and Jonathan Allen’s 75-yard interception return) for giving Alabama just enough to hold on. As Nick Saban said after the game, “It was a great game for fans to watch. It really wasn’t a great game for an old coach to suffer through.”
Previous rank: 1
Last week: Beat Ole Miss 48-43
Next week: Saturday vs. Kent State
22oHIO sTATE bUCKEYES
Blame Oklahoma backup quarterback Austin Kendall all you want for trash-talking Ohio State. The way the Buckeyes fared in Norman, no amount of pre-game niceties would’ve made a difference. OSU’s relative youth and inexperience was a major storyline entering the Buckeyes’ first test of 2016, but everyone from junior quarterback J.T. Barrett (four passing touchdowns) to redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber (18 carries, 123 rushing yards) and junior halfback Curtis Samuel (98 rushing yards, including a 36-yard touchdown run for the game’s first score) came up huge. As Urban Meyer said after the win, “This was the coming of age game. … They’re no longer inexperienced.”
Previous rank: 4
Last week: Beat Oklahoma 45-24
Next week: Off
Lamar Jackson, Lamar Jackson, Lamar Jackson. Louisville’s transcendent quarterback is the talk of the college football world after racking up 18 total touchdowns through three games, and rightfully so. The Heisman Trophy favorite at this early juncture, Jackson’s performance (362 all-purpose yards, five touchdowns) in the Cardinals’ 63–20 decimation of Florida State had Michael Vick himself singing the praises of the former three-star recruit from Florida. But Louisville’s defense deserves just as much praise: the Cardinals limited the Seminoles to 284 total yards (including only 54 by star running back Dalvin Cook) and 2-of-13 on third downs.
Previous rank: 12
Last week: Beat Florida State 63-20
Next week: Saturday at Marshall
Houston ran away from Cincinnati with 28 unanswered, fourth-quarter points, benefitting from the return of quarterback Greg Ward Jr. from a shoulder injury and two interceptions returned for touchdowns. The first three quarters were much closer than the final score of 40–16 suggests, as the Bearcats were able to pressure Ward and force him into a pair of interceptions. The Cougars’ defense was stout throughout, though, limiting Cincinnati to 3-of-12 on third downs and 307 total yards.
Previous rank: 6
Last week: Beat Cincinnati 40-16
Next week: Saturday at Texas State
Disparage USC all you want—and the Trojans likely deserve it—but Stanford should get some credit. Christian McCaffrey amassed 260 all-purpose yards, while the defense limited the Trojans to 10 points, 4-of-12 on third downs and three red-zone chances in a 27-10 win in Palo Alto on Saturday. The difference in these rankings between Stanford, Clemson and Michigan is minimal, and the Cardinal have played one fewer game. We’ll get a much clearer read over the next two weeks: trips to UCLA and Washington loom.
Previous rank: 8
Last week: Beat USC 27-10
Next week: Saturday at UCLA
After the sluggish showing vs. Troy in Week 2, Clemson hung 31 first-quarter points on South Carolina State in a game where a hot start was an even more welcome site than usual. Deshaun Watson posted an efficient line of 12-of-15 for 152 yards and three touchdowns, while Tavien Feaster, Tyshon Dye and Wayne Gallman contributed to a rushing attack that carried 43 times for 227 yards. There isn’t much more to say about this one, but things will get interesting when Clemson travels to Georgia Tech on Thursday before hosting white-hot Louisville.
Previous rank: 5
Last week: Beat South Carolina State 59-0
Next week: Thursday at Georgia Tech
Michigan was among the crop of top teams to start slow in Week 3, spotting Colorado a 21–7 advantage after the first quarter and taking until 13:16 left in the third to grab the lead for good. At least the Wolverines received a sterling effort from Jabril Peppers, who returned four punts for 99 yards and one 54-yard touchdown, plus two kickoffs for 81 yards.
Previous rank: 3
Last week: Beat Colorado 45-28
Next week: Saturday vs. Penn State
8mICHIGAN sTATE sPARTANS
Along the lines of Alabama-Ole Miss, Michigan State-Notre Dame saw the lower-ranked home team jump out to an early, surprising lead that was later erased by a powerful comeback… which in turn was nearly all for naught. In this one, Michigan State yielded an early rushing touchdown before dropping 36 straight points, and then allowing 21 in the final 17:40 of the game. A road win at Notre Dame is impressive enough, but credit Michigan State even more for withstanding the Fighting Irish’s late surge. Quarterback Tyler O’Connor continued his strong play with a 241 passing yards and two touchdowns, while the Spartans’ rushers exceeded his effort with 260 total yards on the ground. Once again, Michigan State is for real and very much a threat to Ohio State and Michigan.
Previous rank: 9
Last week: Beat Notre Dame 36-28
Next week: Saturday vs. Wisconsin
The only knock on Washington thus far is its laughably soft early schedule, which the preseason-darling Huskies have shredded through by a combined 148–30. Things pick up for Washington this weekend with a trip to Arizona before it hosts Stanford on a short turnaround.
Previous rank: 7
Last week: Beat Portland State 41-3
Next week: Saturday at Arizona
1010tEXAS a&m aGGIES
Texas A&M followed up its riveting, season-opening win vs. UCLA and a laugher over Prairie View A&M with a tough win at Auburn, relying on five field goals, 247 passing yards from Trevor Knight and a seven-catch, 98-yard, one-touchdown effort from Josh Reynolds to overcome a 2-of-15 mark on third downs. Defensively, the Aggies notched four sacks, two coming from star end Myles Garrett. Saturday brings a fascinating test against also-hot Arkansas.
Previous rank: 16
Last week: Beat Auburn 29–16
Next week: Saturday vs. Arkansas
Wisconsin was resting starting running back Corey Clement, but there are few excuses for having to overcome a fourth-quarter deficit to Georgia State at home. Furthermore, the Badgers now face a possible quarterback battle after Alex Hornibrook relieved Bart Houston and guided them to victory. That’s cause for concern with arguably the toughest stretch in all of college football coming up (at Michigan State, at Michigan, bye, vs. Ohio State, at Iowa, vs. Nebraska). One reason Wisconsin fans aren’t panicking quite yet: the defense is really good.
Previous rank: 10
Last week: Beat Georgia State 23-17
Next week: Saturday at Michigan State
1212Florida State seminoles
Ahh, the Seminoles. Even with Lamar Jackson and Louisville riding unprecedented levels of hype and mojo, Florida State had rallied past Ole Miss in Week 1 and wrecked Charleston Southern in Week 2. It’s tough to pinpoint where exactly things went so wrong for FSU, considering Louisville scored 14 points in each quarter except the second, when it put up 21. Yes, Florida State was without Derwin James, but his absence isn’t a complete explanation for this result. There’s too much talent on this roster to not rebound at USF this weekend.
Previous rank: 2
Last week: Lost to Louisville 63-20
Next week: Saturday at USF
Georgia remains undefeated under Kirby Smart, although each of the Bulldogs’ three wins has probably been too close for comfort. Freshman quarterback Jacob Eason had his best game at Missouri on Saturday, completing 29 of a whopping 55 pass attempts for 308 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. His final score, a 20-yard toss to Isaiah McKenzie with 1:29 remaining, put Georgia ahead for good and capped a 10-play, 80-yard drive. McKenzie was key (especially considering Nick Chubb rushed for only 63 yards and the Bulldogs managed 101 as a team), hauling in 10 receptions for 122 yards and two touchdowns.
Previous rank: 18
Last week: Beat Missouri 28-27
Next week: Saturday at Ole Miss
Coming off the captivating double-overtime win at TCU, Arkansas enjoyed its first lopsided victory of 2016. Austin Allen went 16-of-21 for 241 yards and two touchdowns, Rawleigh Williams III rushed 19 times for 121 yards and two touchdowns, and the defense limited Texas State to 105 total yards. It’s been an undeniably promising start for the Razorbacks, but a reckoning could be coming—Arkansas gets Texas A&M, Alabama and Ole Miss in three of the next four weeks. At least all three games are at home.
Previous rank: 23
Last week: Beat Texas State 42-3
Next week: Saturday vs. Texas A&M
Is Miami back? It’s amusing to cite a win over Appalachian State as proof of that statement, but that’s where we are. No knock against the Mountaineers, either, who nearly upset Tennessee in Week 1 and had a record crowd on hand to see the Hurricanes. Only a third-quarter, goal-line interception by Brad Kaaya marred the win for Miami, which outgained App. State 549–241 and converted six of 12 third-down attempts.
Previous rank: Not ranked
Last week: Beat Appalachian State 45–10
Next week: Off
Will anything be easy for Tennessee this season? Saturday’s nine-point win over Ohio was the latest argument to the contrary, as the Volunteers kicked off without four starters before losing cornerback Cam Sutton and linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin to injuries in the first half. Tennessee fumbled five times, but recovered each one, preventing Ohio from notching its first top-25 win. Next up for the Vols? Oh, just Florida, Georgia on the road, Texas A&M on the road and Alabama.
Previous rank: 14
Last week: Beat Ohio State 28-19
Next week: Saturday vs. Florida
After a tumultuous off-season, Baylor cruised through its non-conference slate. The Bears finished with more than 600 yards at Rice on Friday despite both teams playing a scoreless first quarter. Seth Russell threw for 337 yards and three touchdowns, while JaMycal Hasty rushed for 105 yards and one touchdown on 14 carries. Only two teams on Baylor’s remaining scheduled are ranked (Texas and Oklahoma), so it could be a while until we figure out just how good the Bears are.
Previous rank: 21
Last week: Beat Rice 38-10
Next week: Saturday vs. Oklahoma State
Florida’s romp through September hit a snag on Saturday when quarterback Luke Del Rio injured his knee on a low hit in the third quarter. He’s expected to miss Saturday’s major rivalry game at Tennessee, a shame especially considering he had opened the season completing just above 61 percent of his passes with six touchdowns to two interceptions. Graduate transfer Austin Appleby should get the start against the Vols after starting 11 games over the last two years for Purdue. Expect Florida to continue leaning on its defense, which allowed a school-record 53 yards on 50 plays to North Texas.
Previous rank: 24
Last week: Beat North Texas 32-0
Next week: Saturday at Tennessee
Nebraska picked up arguably the first landmark victory of second-year coach Mike Riley’s tenure on Saturday, holding off Oregon for a 35–32 win. Riley, previously the coach at Oregon State, went 0–7 against the Ducks over the last seven years. Nebraska cruised through its first two non-conference games, and the win over Oregon could propel the Huskers through what appears to be a soft first half of the Big Ten season.
Previous rank: Not ranked
Last week: Beat Oregon 35-32
Next week: Saturday at Northwestern
Yes, Texas got screwed at the end of Saturday night’s loss to unranked Cal. It also gave up 507 yards to the Golden Bears and saw its secondary torched by wide receiver Chad Hansen (12 receptions, 196 yards, two touchdowns). Quarterback Shane Buechele missed part of the game after a hard hit resulted in a chest injury, but returned to throw a 51-yard touchdown pass. It looks like he’s OK, which means the Longhorns’ offense is OK. Charlie Strong’s defense, on the other hand? Not so fast, my friend.
Previous rank: 15
Last week: Lost to Cal 50-43
Next week: Off
LSU nearly blew a 20-point lead to Mississippi State, despite having Leonard Fournette back at peak Fournette (28 carries, 147 yards, two touchdowns) and a solid passing game from new starting quarterback Danny Etling (19-of-30, 215 yards, one touchdown). The Bulldogs scored a pair of touchdowns within 40 seconds after recovering an onside kick with four minutes remaining. It was hardly the kind of finish Les Miles needed to get off the hot seat.
Previous rank: 22
Last week: Beat Mississippi State 23-20
Next week: Saturday at Auburn
2222san diego state
The Aztecs won their 13th consecutive game Saturday, comfortably taking town Northern Illinois on the road. Donnel Pumphrey, SDSU’s all-time leading rusher, took 23 carries for 220 yards and three touchdowns, again powering a rushing offense that ranks No. 16 in the country (260.67 yards per game, ahead of last year’s pace of 233.29 that ranked No. 14).
Previous rank: Not ranked
Last week: Beat Northern Illinois 42-28
Next week: Off
Utah seems primed to make a run in the Pac-12 south, especially with a defense that just notched 10 sacks against San Jose State and recorded 17 points off three turnovers. Pac-12 plays begins Friday against USC.
Previous rank: Not ranked
Last week: Beat San Jose State 34-17
Next week: Friday vs. USC
2424tcu horned frogs
TCU bounced back from its painful loss to Arkansas with a Big 12-opening win vs. Iowa State. The 41–20 final would look even more lopsided had the Cyclones not tacked on 10 points over the final seven minutes. Kenny Hill threw for 219 yards and one touchdown, while Kyle Hicks ran 12 times for 117 yards and a touchdown, including a 64-yard score in the first quarter.
Previous rank: Not ranked
Last week: Beat Iowa State 41-20
Next week: Friday at SMU
2525ole miss rebels
If only these rankings factored in exposure to glimmers of hope. Just like in the opener against Florida State, Ole Miss managed a sizeable lead against Alabama before caving. The recipe was the same: a powerful offense with quarterback Chad Kelly at the helm, a fierce pass rush and a penchant for starting strong. The result was a blown 24–3 lead and another crushing defeat to one of the country’s top teams. Consider: according to ESPN, Ole Miss is the first Power 5 team in the last 10 years to blow two 21-point leads in the same season.
Previous rank: 19
Last week: Lost to Alabama 48-43
Next week: Saturday vs. Georgia
Dropped out: Iowa, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Oregon, Boise State
Next five: Oklahoma, North Dakota State, Boise State, North Carolina, Western Michigan