The race for No. 1 got muddled and more takeaways from Week 3 in college football.
Week 3 was heart-pounding, unpredictable and astounding from start to finish. From Clemson’s narrow escape of Louisville on Thursday to Ole Miss and UCLA’s victories early Sunday morning, nearly every game seemed to go down to the wire. Here are three takeaways from a glorious week that encapsulates everything we love about college football:
1. Does anyone want to be No. 1?
Let’s take a quick look at how some of the top teams in the AP poll entering this week fared. No. 1 Ohio State looked lost offensively with both Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett under center and would have likely fallen to Northern Illinois if not for a standout defensive performance. No. 2 Alabama destroyed itself with turnovers and defensive breakdowns in a 43–37 defeat to No. 15 Ole Miss. No. 3 TCU led SMU by just five midway through the fourth quarter before pulling away late. No. 6 USC was upset by Stanford at home.
So who deserves to be the top seed at this point? Luckily, that’s moot, as Week 3 rankings won’t matter when the College Football Playoff field is announced on Dec. 6. But with most teams a quarter of the way through their regular season, little certainty has developed. That’s making for a fun year.
It’s important to remember, though, as several times pile more cons than pros onto their résumés that one loss doesn’t eliminate a team from playoff contention. Three of the four playoff teams last year had a loss, and with parity seemingly on the rise this season, it’s very possible a two-loss squad will make this year’s final four. The season is far from over for the Alabamas and USCs despite Saturday’s results.
2. New contenders move to the forefront of the SEC, Pac-12
Less than a month into the season, and the apparent frontrunners in the SEC West are Ole Miss and LSU—just like we all expected, right? On the other side of the country, Stanford proved it’s still a contender in the Pac-12 and UCLA looks to be the favorite in the South Division. The two toughest conferences in the country haven’t followed their preseason playbooks.
The Rebels scored the marquee victory of the weekend, downing the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa. Still, Ole Miss let Alabama back into the game several times after seeming to put the Tide away and needed a 5–0 turnover margin to pull the upset. The Rebels deserve tremendous credit for their resiliency and never giving in to the immense pressure, but no one could watch Saturday’s matchup and say they looked invincible. Leonard Fournette looked superhuman for No. 13 LSU in its 45–21 victory over No. 18 Auburn, but the dominant victory spoke equally to how downtrodden and error-filled Auburn appears to be. The Tigers from Baton Rouge are definitely contenders in the SEC, but we won’t know if they’re actually capable of a conference title until their Nov. 7 date with Alabama.
No team’s stock has been more volatile this season than Stanford’s. The Cardinal looked anemic on offense in a 16–6 loss to Northwestern in Week 1 but reemerged as a Pac-12 threat with their 41–31 takedown of USC. Suddenly No. 12 Oregon’s path to the Pac-12 title game looks a lot less certain, especially since that path involves a Nov. 14 trip to Palo Alto. USC’s defeat stings, but Arizona lost two conference games en route to a Pac-12 South title last year and UCLA fell three times in Pac-12 play before claiming the division in 2012. The No. 10 Bruins have emerged as the early favorite in the South but needed a Heisman-worthy performance from running back Paul Perkins (26 carries for 219 yards and one touchdown) to make up for true freshman quarterback Josh Rosen’s struggles (11 of 23 for 106 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions) in a 24–23 win over No. 19 BYU on Saturday. The races in the SEC and Pac-12 haven’t gone according to plan so far, but they’re far from settled.
3. Don’t count out Notre Dame just yet
When Malik Zaire fractured his ankle against Virginia last week, it was easy to dismiss the Fighting Irish from playoff consideration. The ever-growing list of injuries seemed too daunting to overcome, especially with the inexperienced DeShone Kizer taking over under center. But reports of No. 8 Notre Dame’s death proved to be greatly exaggerated, at least on Saturday, when the Irish rolled past No. 14 Georgia Tech 30–22 in a game that was 30–7 until the Yellow Jackets scored twice in the final minute. Kizer demonstrated the combination of his arm strength and receiver Will Fuller’s deep-threat speed could be potent, while running back C.J. Prosise settled in nicely as Notre Dame’s workhorse back. The Irish’s defense stepped up to the task of slowing Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense, holding an attack that entered Saturday leading the country in rushing yards with over 450 per game to just 216 on 47 carries.
Notre Dame’s road ahead is still daunting, as the Irish face a trip to Clemson and a home date with USC in the next four weeks. But unlike last year, when a rash of injuries sent it into a tailspin, Notre Dame appears poised to weather its awful luck this season. The Irish are definitely still in the playoff mix for now.