Week 3 might not have yielded the flashiest slate of games—no ranked teams played each other—but it wasn’t short on intrigue. Penn State won the final iteration, for now, of its rivalry series with Pitt. The Pac-12 looked good. The ACC did not. And the Group of Five got a boost thanks to the team that’s lifted the American Athletic Conference’s reputation over the past few years. There wasn’t any major rankings shakeup with this week’s polls, but at the top, Alabama and Clemson both looked perhaps a tick short of perfect on offense, giving fans and critics alike plenty to be curious about when conference play begins in earnest.
Here’s a look at the week’s biggest winners and losers:
Defeating Stanford, 45–27, UCF earned its biggest regular-season win since it entered the College Football Playoff conversation in 2017. Over the course of the past two seasons and change, the Knights have lost just once, in last year’s Fiesta Bowl to LSU. There, they were without the quarterback who played such a huge part in their offensive success, McKenzie Milton, but Josh Heupel’s team has regrouped (without Milton, who is rehabbing his knee this year) in 2019, playing the same fast-paced, high-scoring and balanced offense behind first Brandon Wimbush and now Dillon Gabriel.
The Knights have had a ton of turnover at quarterback, and Saturday was the first time that Wimbush, Gabriel and Darriel Mack Jr. (who replaced Milton last year and broke his ankle this summer) were all healthy. Gabriel got the start, and it’ll be fascinating to see how Heupel deploys his quarterbacks as the season goes on and his team inevitably sparks the same questions it’s evoked for the past two years: How do opposing defenses stop UCF? And what does it take for a Group of Five team to crack the playoff?
The latter question has brought forth impassioned discussions of strength of schedule from college football’s traditionalists over the past two seasons. And sure, UCF still plays in the American Athletic Conference. But Stanford was the kind of signature opponent the Knights needed, and they get Pitt next week. Win there, and there’s no reason UCF shouldn’t crack the top 10.
2. Football out west
It wasn’t a perfect weekend for teams hailing from the Rocky Mountains and westward (consider the aforementioned Stanford loss as well as UCLA serving as yet another sacrificial lamb to Oklahoma), but it was still pretty darn good; teams from the Mountain West and Pac-12 got some big wins in Week 3 and saw two more teams (Cal and Arizona State) added to this week’s AP poll.
BYU went to 2–1 with an overtime defeat of USC. Washington State took down Houston decisively, and Arizona State disposed of Michigan State, benefitting from a late penalty on the Spartans that kept Mark Dantonio’s team from pushing one of the uglier games this season to overtime. Cal is also 3–0 after defeating North Texas, 23–17, and Arizona took down Texas Tech, 28–14. (Washington and Oregon also won and kept their respective hold on top-25 rankings.)
The Pac-12 has earned the criticism its received in recent years as it’s been left out of the playoff—and Stanford’s loss to UCF certainly strengthened the argument that the space between the best Group of Five conferences and the Power 5 is close to nonexistent—but it’s looking good through three weeks this season. Sure, it won’t have any top-five teams (Utah is the conference’s best, at No. 10), but now has a solid representation in the rest of the top 25 with six teams total; Boise State (out of the Mountain West) and BYU (an independent) are also propping up the reputation of college football west of the Rockies.
3. Kansas State
The Wildcats, under new coach Chris Klieman, beat Mississippi State, 31–24, on Saturday to start 3–0 for the first time since 2015. With the road win, Klieman made the biggest statement yet in his short tenure as Kansas State’s coach, taking down a team that had one of the best defenses in football a year ago and earning the Big 12 a nonconference victory over the SEC.
Klieman wasn’t the most popular hire among K-State fans last winter, but so far, he’s presenting a pretty compelling argument that his years winning at the FCS level at North Dakota State might translate pretty seamlessly to the Big 12. Early on, Klieman seems like a bit of a 180 from Bill Snyder, his 79-year-old predecessor whose ethos focused on playing mistake-free football. That served Snyder well for most of his more than two decades as the Wildcats’ coach, but the program needed a fresh start in 2019; it hadn’t won 10 or more games since 2012. Klieman, a so-called players’ coach, looks like just that. On Saturday, the Wildcats were sometimes sloppy, and much of Mississippi State’s scoring came in the wake of mistakes, but Klieman seemed unfazed. Through three weeks, after all, his team has the No. 14 defense in the FBS in terms of yards allowed; opponents are averaging just 256.0.
1. The ACC
It was not a banner week for the conference that includes the country’s top team… and 13 other programs that seem to be jostling for the honor of second-best in the conference. Through three weeks of play, only three ACC teams are undefeated (Clemson, Wake Forest and Virginia), and there were several inexcusable losses and near-losses this weekend.
The worst look for the conference was Georgia Tech’s loss to The Citadel, an FCS team that did play with Alabama for one half last year, if that’s any consolation. It took overtime for The Citadel to win, 27–24, and the irony was baked in: Just months after the Yellow Jackets moved away from the triple-option attack that had been their signature for years, a team running that same system upset them.
To make matters worse, the ACC came close to a second FCS upset: Virginia Tech trailed Furman through much of three quarters on Saturday before winning, 24–17. It was an ugly game in which the Hokies let Furman’s running backs rush at will for two quarters, and it looks a lot like Justin Fuente’s team is still not quite back.
On Friday night, Kansas defeated Boston College in a game that the Jayhawks—who lost to Coastal Carolina in Week 2—controlled from the second quarter on. The Eagles’ program seems to have plateaued at a series of seven-win seasons, and losing to Kansas doesn’t bode well for an argument that this year might be an uptick for Steve Addazio’s team. Elsewhere in nonconference play around the league, Pitt lost to Penn State and NC State lost to West Virginia. Oh, and who can forget Wake Forest’s win over North Carolina in a nonconference game played between two teams who belong to the same conference. This sport takes itself too seriously.
Maryland was everyone’s favorite surprise team through two weeks of play after it scored 79 points against Howard in Week 1 and 63 against Syracuse in Week 2. Saturday brought the Terrapins and new coach Mike Locksley back down to earth, though; Maryland lost, 20–17, to Temple. The worst thing about the game was that Maryland, despite its offense slowing down considerably, had ample opportunities to win the game late. With 3:15 remaining in the game, Temple’s punter shanked a punt out of his own end zone, which netted just seven yards. Starting what could have been a game-winning drive at Temple’s 10-yard line, Maryland managed to throw three incomplete passes and commit a false start that lost the team five yards, en route to a turnover on downs. The game ended in a fashion fitting the 60 minutes that preceded: with a safety.
3. The status quo at USC
USC coach Clay Helton couldn’t have been happy that Lynn Swann, the athletics director who’d expressed faith in him through a stretch of mediocre seasons and who gave him a huge contract extension last year, resigned Monday. And Helton didn’t get any help for his case to remain the Trojans’ coach after this season when his team lost in overtime to BYU Saturday.
Taking down BYU would have been a statement by Helton and the Trojans, who are playing behind true freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis after J.T. Daniels suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 1. Slovis was good in his first start, defeating Stanford last week, but it’s going to be a process for the young quarterback to settle in—and USC’s schedule won’t do him any favors. Next week, the Trojans host Utah; then they travel to Washington and Notre Dame. Barring USC upsetting one of the aforementioned teams, and perhaps even if it does, the wheels will be turning behind the scenes in Los Angeles to find a new athletic director who’s equipped to make a huge coaching hire.
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