Winners and Losers from Week 3 of the 2015 College Football Season
On paper, Week 3 had one of the more exciting slates of the young college football season. And it sure didn't disappoint.
Though some of the early games were slow starters, there were standout individual performances from the get-go. The place to start is LSU, where running back Leonard Fournette ran wild over Auburn and right into the heart of the Heisman conversation. Meanwhile, Ohio State and Oklahoma each survived a scare against non-Power Five opponents. In Tuscaloosa, Ole Miss got yet another signature win over Alabama.
Who were the winners and losers from Week 3 of college football? We break down all that was good, bad, ugly, gorgeous and more in the following slides.
Winner: LSU Running Back Leonard Fournette
Here at Winners and Losers, we're not about the whole "gotcha" thing. On the contrary, it's great when players have enough confidence in themselves and their team to make bold statements.
But we can't not rehash the Rudy Ford quote leading into Auburn's game against LSU. When asked about stopping LSU running back Leonard Fournette, Ford, a defensive back for Auburn, said, "It shouldn't be that difficult of a challenge," per Tom Green of the Opelika-Auburn News.
Fournette was brilliant in a 45-21 win for LSU, rushing for 228 yards. Two of his three touchdown runs were enough to render one speechless. The first, for 40 yards, was superb. The second, a 29-yarder, was the stuff of legends.
This was Fournette's official introduction into the Heisman race. And now, he's starting to get the Herschel Walker comparison. And if Tony Barnhart, who knows the SEC as well as anyone, thinks you look like Herschel, well, you probably look like Herschel.
And that's amazing, because no one looks like Herschel.
Loser: Florida State's Offense
Weeknight games were bad news for ACC favorites this week. If Clemson's offense was on life support against Louisville, Florida State's offense was flatlining in a 14-0 win over Boston College on Friday.
Only seven of those points came from the offense—and from the very first drive of the game, no less. Other than that, the Eagles stopped the Seminoles cold on nine consecutive drives (though one drive resulted in a missed field goal, while the other marked the end of the game). Only a scoop and score by defensive back Jalen Ramsey put the contest out of reach.
Like Clemson, Florida State's best asset was its running back (Dalvin Cook). Unlike his Clemson counterpart, though, Cook didn't have a huge game. BC limited the dynamic sophomore to 54 yards and 3.6 yards per carry. Part of that was due to an unspecified upper-body injury he sustained in the second half, which head coach Jimbo Fisher said afterward wasn't "anything major," per Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel.
That's a good sign, because Cook is about the only consistent part of the Seminoles offense. The passing game is more hit than miss thanks to dropped passes and inaccurate throws. The offensive line is young and inexperienced, and BC was blowing it up regularly.
It was expected that Florida State's offense would take a step back this year. That's what happens when you lose big-time players like Jameis Winston, Rashad Greene, Nick O'Leary and Cam Erving. But, goodness, this is quite a step back.
Winner: Clemson Running Back Wayne Gallman
Clemson's offense wasn't its usual self in Thursday's 20-17 victory over Louisville. Credit the Cardinals defense, which got all kinds of pressure on quarterback Deshaun Watson. As a result, Watson's accuracy and decision-making were off all night, even on wide-open throws.
Not having big-bodied receiver Mike Williams (6'4", 220 lbs), who is still recovering from a neck injury sustained in Week 1, hurt too. The downfield passing game was, save for a few instances, nonexistent.
The only piece of the Tigers offense working at full effectiveness was running back Wayne Gallman. The redshirt sophomore rushed for 139 yards, most of which came after contact. It's not like he was running through gaping holes; Gallman was juking, spinning and powering his way through defenders all night.
Without Gallman, who knows if Clemson would have been able to survive its first road trip of the season.
"He's developing into a big-time back, right before our eyes," head coach Dabo Swinney said, per Aaron Brenner of the Post & Courier.
Loser: Did the Idaho State Punter Have the Worst Punt Ever?
There was nothing particularly noteworthy about Boise State's 52-0 win over Idaho State on Friday night...
...Except this glorious, line-drive punt by Idaho State punter Zak Johnson that hit a Boise State special teams player right in the belly.
First of all, Johnson never got the ball cleanly connected to his foot. As a result, it shot off to the left like some wild firework. As if the game were being played in some alternate universe, physics didn't appear to be in play there.
Second, a rocketed football to the gut has to hurt something fierce. Sure, these players wear pads, but that midsection is exposed. This seems like a situation in which everybody loses. So many legacies have just been formed in the worst possible way.
What will these people tell their children?
Winner: Oklahoma Quarterback Baker Mayfield
Since leading Oklahoma's miraculous double-overtime comeback against Tennessee in Week 2, Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield has been on fire.
Not in the literal sense, of course. That'd be awful.
But Mayfield has been excellent. In a 52-38 win over Tulsa, the first-year starter for the Sooners went 32-of-38 passing for 487 yards and four touchdowns. He also added 85 yards on the ground and two scores, bringing his total yardage to a school-record 572.
Yes, it was just Tulsa's defense, but Mayfield did a great job of extending plays with his feet and making things happen. That athleticism, combined with his overall confidence, gives Oklahoma something it hasn't had at quarterback in quite some time.
When Mayfield did have a clean pocket, he showed off tremendous accuracy and a live arm.
It's still hard to believe Mayfield was 1) a walk-on at Texas Tech and 2) transferred to Oklahoma right after Trevor Knight had the game of his career in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama. He's defied the odds in many ways and is making the case to be the most exciting player in the Big 12.
Loser: Hail Mary Coverage
There are two sides to every Hail Mary: pure euphoria and heartbreaking, stunning defeat.
Whichever side your respective team has fallen on this year, the Hail Mary is quickly becoming college football's most fascinating trend for 2015. If nothing else, it beats low-percentage fade routes and cruddy late-game clock management, which have been college football fads of the worst kind in previous years.
BYU lays claim to the two most famous Hail Marys—or, if you want to be technical, a Hail Mary-and-a-half—this season. However, Tulsa wasn't about to allow the Cougars to have all of the fun. Down 31-17 to Oklahoma with nine seconds left in the first half, the Golden Hurricane recovered a surprising onside kick. Then, quarterback Dane Evans connected with receiver Keyarris Garrett in the end zone on a 43-yard Hail Mary to cut the lead to 31-24.
Oklahoma would go on to win 52-38, but Tulsa will always have the Hail Mary. Now, expect every team to brush up on its desperation-throw coverages this week, lest they be the next victims to more improbable touchdowns.
In the technical sense, Missouri beat UConn 9-6, so the Tigers are winners in Week 3 and 3-0 heading into SEC play. But anyone who watched Mizzou need a hilariously ill-advised, poorly executed fake field-goal attempt by UConn to win knows this was as ugly as it gets.
Let's put it another way: One of the top rushers in the game was UConn punter Justin Wain, who had one carry for 13 yards. For that matter, UConn special teams were the highlight of the day (one blocked punt for a safety, one faked punt, one muffed punt off a Mizzou player and the fake field goal.)
Missouri escaped this one, but there are glaring problems for this team moving forward. Head coach Gary Pinkel doesn't appear to have a ton of confidence in quarterback Maty Mauk. Mauk has always been inconsistent, though he does tend to play better as games progress. But Pinkel gave freshman Drew Lock some opportunities to lead the offense. Neither option was particularly effective.
Of course, Missouri lost to Indiana last year and still made the SEC title game, so this year's Tigers are probably playoff bound for all we know.
Northwestern is ranked (No. 23) and is now 3-0 with wins over Stanford and Duke. There's a lot about that sentence that's pleasantly surprising. For one, good on Northwestern. This is a program that has endured all sorts of injuries and bad luck over the past couple of years. To begin the 2015 season undefeated with two quality wins is a nice change.
And these are good wins for Northwestern. Beating Stanford was the true upset from Week 1, and Duke was nearly a field-goal favorite coming into the game, per OddsShark.com.
The Wildcats won 19-10 Saturday in spite of their offensive struggles. Redshirt freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson had a miserable day, going 9-of-23 passing for 70 yards with pair of picks. That's called growing pains.
But this defense is for real, and in a wide-open Big Ten West division, it might just be enough to get the Wildcats to the Big Ten title game.
And now we see what Auburn looks like when it faces a tough divisional opponent. The result? Not great, Bob.
Leonard Fournette, as you know, ran up and down the Auburn defense in a 45-21 win for LSU. It's another bad game for Auburn and first-year defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, but the absence of defensive end Carl Lawson (hip injury) didn't help matters.
The offense is still sluggish. Quarterback Jeremy Johnson continues to stare down receivers and make poor decisions. Not much has changed there.
And not much may change over the course of the season, either. Auburn isn't falling on the wrong side of bad luck or showing signs of promise/improvement in key areas. If Johnson continues to struggle, at what point does head coach Gus Malzahn make a change? If the defense keeps giving up yards, at what point does Muschamp try shaking things up?
This could be a long season for Auburn, a program that had playoff aspirations just a month ago.
Loser: Notre Dame's Injury Problems
Is there a more snake-bitten team in major college football right now than Notre Dame? The Irish already were without quarterback Malik Zaire (ankle), running back Tarean Folston (knee), tight end Durham Smythe (knee, shoulder), defensive tackle Jarron Jones (knee) and cornerback Shaun Crawford (knee) heading into Saturday's game against Georgia Tech.
Now, Notre Dame is down yet another starter: defensive back Drue Tranquill. Tranquill sustained a knee injury late in the first half against the Yellow Jackets. It appears the sophomore hurt himself during a celebration of a deflected pass in the end zone. Audio from NBC's broadcast picked up Tranquill's screams as he clutched his knee on the ground.
It was a brutal sight and especially tough considering Tranquill was coming off a season-ending ACL injury from 2014.
Notre Dame's depth and resiliency are being tested. This team has enough talent to compete for a playoff spot, and the 30-22 win against Tech only confirmed that (although it needed to hold off a late rally).
Quarterback DeShone Kizer looks like he can manage the offense. Brian VanGorder's defense was as disciplined and well-prepared for the Yellow Jackets offense as any team could be. It's a good sign when your opponent's first third-down conversion of the game comes in the fourth quarter, as Tech's did.
However, injuries are already an issue for the Irish, and it's only September. The upcoming schedule is filled with a few more challenging games, namely against Clemson and USC. Can Notre Dame keep it up?
Winner: The Best Game Nobody Watched
Hey, there. Did you watch Memphis beat Bowling Green 44-41 Saturday? You know, the game that featured more than 1,100 yards of offense?
Of course you didn't. Stop lying.
OK, maybe some of you did.
Also, Winners and Losers didn't turn it on until the fourth quarter. So we're not in a position to judge.
Anyway, Memphis-Bowling Green had "underrated game of the week" written all over it, and it certainly delivered. Not only was it an offense-lover's dream, featuring mid-major star quarterbacks Paxton Lynch and Matt Johnson, but it also had some great trickery, like this awesome reverse flea flicker.
It may not have shaken up the Top 10 rankings or had major playoff implications, but Memphis-Bowling Green was pure American college football entertainment. Sometimes, that's enough.
Loser: Ohio State
Originally, this was going to focus on Ohio State's quarterbacks, because in what alternate reality did you ever think that situation would be a problem?
Cardale Jones began the day against Northern Illinois going 4-of-9 with a pair of interceptions. J.T. Barrett took over but finished 11-of-19 for 97 yards with a touchdown and a pick.
As Ralph Russo of the Associated Press opined, the Buckeyes have to go with someone. Playing Barrett and Jones and putting an "OR" between them on the depth chart probably has a limited shelf life. When asked who his starting quarterback is, head coach Urban Meyer said he didn't know, per Eric Seger of Eleven Warriors.
But, boy, oh boy, what a mess the Buckeyes were in a 20-13 win over the Huskies. Had it not been for linebacker Darron Lee's pick-six or NIU coach Rod Carey's curiously ultra-conservative play-calling, a legitimate upset might have occurred.
Ohio State had five turnovers, late-game clock-management issues and couldn't convert key third downs. Basically, the Buckeyes did everything they could to keep NIU in a position to win. If Carey wasn't content to punt away the game, the Huskies might have shocked the world.
It's tough to win every single game. It's tough to be perfect. Keeping that edge while evading the target on your back is a harder task than it's given credit for. But Ohio State doesn't look like the No. 1 team in the country right now.
Oh, Nebraska. You did all that work to come back and tie Miami at 33-33 to send the game into overtime. You scored 23 straight points in the fourth quarter, giving fans all kinds of hope. Yet, an interception in the first overtime allowed Miami to kick the game-winning field goal, giving the Hurricanes a 36-33 win.
Had Miami lost, all the Al Golden hot-seat chatter would have multiplied by 100, if not 1,000. Before the game, a banner flew over Sun Life Stadium in Miami calling for Golden's job. That hot-seat talk might not have cooled any, but it has at least been delayed for another week.
As for Nebraska, it's the second loss this season on the last play of the game. The Cornhuskers, as you'll recall, lost to BYU on a Hail Mary in Week 1. Mike Riley's team showed tremendous resiliency by battling back, but there have been some heartbreakers thus far.
And we're not even that far into the year.
Winner: Michigan State Wide Receiver Aaron Burbridge
Did you know: Michigan State wide receiver Aaron Burbridge leads college football in spectacular sideline catches?*
Joking aside, Burbridge's 28-yard touchdown to put Michigan State up 20-7 on Air Force was nothing short of spectacular. It was one of eight catches Burbridge had on the day for 156 yards and three scores in a 35-21 win over the Falcons.
One of Michigan State's question marks for 2015 revolved around the receiving corps. Namely, who would replace Tony Lippett on the outside? Looks like Michigan State has its answer, as Ralph Russo of the Associated Press tweeted. Burbridge isn't just a highlight-reel playmaker for the Spartans; he's quarterback Connor Cook's No. 1 target. Tight end Josiah Price is a great red-zone choice, but it helps to have a playmaker outside the middle of the field too.
Sparty's vertical passing game is solid. As good as Cook is at slinging it, that part of the offense wouldn't be nearly as good if Burbridge hadn't emerged.
Loser: Steve Spurrier's Retirement Rumors
The Steve Spurrier retirement rumors won’t end until the moment they’re no longer rumors. Whether that’s in three months or three years, it’s unclear. But following South Carolina’s 52-20 loss to Georgia, one thing is beyond doubt: The conversation won’t end anytime soon.
The Gamecocks look done. They’re 0-2 in SEC play and could struggle to make bowl eligibility. The defense hasn’t performed much better this season (Georgia quarterback Greyson Lambert went 24-of-25 passing) and freshman Lorenzo Nunez might be the best option at quarterback.
Spurrier is an all-time great and has taken two SEC programs to the pinnacle of success. But this will be the second year in a row the Gamecocks have disappointed, and the 70-year-old Spurrier isn’t getting any younger.
Winner: North Carolina Wide Receiver Ryan Switzer
For as dynamic as North Carolina wide receiver Ryan Switzer is in the return game, it's been a while since he's returned a punt for a touchdown.
Just how long? A whopping 630 days, according to Greg Barnes of Scout.com. In a 48-14 win over Illinois, Switzer returned an 85-yard punt for a touchdown, the sixth of his career. That ties him with Maryland’s Steve Suter for the most punts returned for a touchdown in ACC history. Additionally, Switzer set a single-game school record with 168 punt return yards.
“When you don’t get into the end zone for a whole year, you don’t start to doubt yourself, but you start to lose focus of it,” Switzer told Barnes. “I’m very glad we got back on track today.”
Loser: Central Florida
If Dan Wolken’s report from USA Today is to be believed, Central Florida head coach George O’Leary will soon be Central Florida athletic director George O’Leary. So here’s the question: Does AD George O’Leary fire coach George O’Leary?
Because the Knights are 0-3 after losing 16-15 to Furman of the Football Championship Subdivision ranks.
There’s not much to add to this. What an absolute disastrous start this has been for the 2013 American Athletic Conference champs. This is a team that already lost by one point to Florida International and got blasted by Stanford. How much worse will it get?
Winner: Texas Tech
Since starting 7-0 in his first season in 2013, Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury has been searching for a signature win. There haven't been many as of late, but a 35-24 revenge-game victory at Arkansas will do nicely.
Kingsbury's program had been plagued by two things over the past couple of years: poor defense and mental errors. Against the Hogs, the Red Raiders allowed just three second-half points—a credit to defensive coordinator David Gibbs—and committed just four penalties.
Yeah, that's a noticeable improvement. Even quarterback Patrick Mahomes' two interceptions were more arm punts than terrible decisions that gave Arkansas a short field.
Texas Tech didn't have a ton of hype heading into the year, but that could change quickly. At 3-0, the Red Raiders host TCU next in an upset bid. A win over the Frogs, who are decimated with injuries on defense, would be a huge boost for Kingsbury's program.
Loser: Losing Streaks to Divisional Foes
This year's Florida-Kentucky game very much had a "if not now, then when?" feel to it. It had been 28 years since the Wildcats defeated the Gators. But with head coach Mark Stoops building the program and Florida restarting under first-year head coach Jim McElwain, now felt like the time for Kentucky to get the proverbial monkey off its back.
Unfortunately for the 'Cats, it wasn't to be. In a game in which offense was at a premium, the Gators escaped Lexington with a 14-9 win. The loss extends Kentucky's misery against Florida to 29 straight games, the longest active streak in college football.
An early interception from Florida's star cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III set the tone for the whole game. There were three turnovers between the two teams, and neither topped 300 yards. It was an especially sloppy game with 15 combined penalties.
Stoops has been doing a nice job, but we saw Kentucky crash down the stretch last season. For all the steps being taken, it still feels like the Wildcats are a win away at any given point.
Winner: Texas Quarterback Jerrod Heard
Yes, it was in a 45-44 defeat to Cal, but Texas quarterback Jerrod Heard was nothing short of electric. How much do you want to bet the No. 1 question in Austin, Texas, Sunday morning will be: Why wasn’t Heard starting at quarterback before?
Actually, scratch that. How much do you want to be that's already the question? After accounting for a school-record 527 yards and three touchdowns, what's left to discuss? Heard's 45-yard touchdown run in the final two minutes to bring Texas within a point was Vince Young-esque. Only the ensuing missed extra point kept the Longhorns from taking this game to overtime with a chance to win.
Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman said it best: Heard gives Texas (and the whole atmosphere inside Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium) a jolt of energy. There’s a confidence about him that Tyrone Swoopes didn’t carry. Heard is also an electric playmaker, but he wasn’t just breaking off runs for big gains; he was standing in the pocket and making throws.
Who knows for sure why Swoopes was starting at the beginning of the year and not Heard. Chances are, Swoopes was showing more to the coaches in practice. But the decision not to start Heard from the get-go looks a lot worse now. Heard was nothing short of amazing, and the future is bright for him and this team, which, in the words of head coach Charlie Strong, "grew up" against the Golden Bears.
One of the trendy preseason playoff picks, USC, has suffered its first setback in getting to college football's final four.
The Trojans can score with anybody, but Stanford pushed around the defense in a 41-31 win for the Cardinal. Yes, the same Stanford team that lost 16-6 to Northwestern just two weeks ago.
Although, it didn't look like the same Stanford team.
Quarterback Kevin Hogan was sharp, throwing for 12.1 yards per attempt and a pair of touchdown passes. Christian McCaffrey led all rushers with 115 yards.
But the reason why Stanford's offense looked so different was because there was little to no pressure from USC. You'd be amazed how many quarterbacks suddenly get better when they have all the time in the world to throw, or how many running backs look great when the holes they run through are gaping.
USC's defensive front was its biggest liability coming into the season, and it proved to be a weakness against the Cardinal. (That, and self-inflicted penalties.) The Trojans offense, as good as it is, can only do so much on its own. And blitzing is a high-risk, high-reward tactic.
USC's playoff hopes aren't dead yet, but the concerns about this team from the offseason have come to fruition. As such, USC will need to fix them quickly if it's to realize those hopes.
Winner: SMU Head Coach Chad Morris
We know for a fact first-year SMU coach Chad Morris isn't into moral victories. Explaining that a 1-2 record is somehow acceptable won't fly with him. And that's how it should be because it's the only way this Mustangs program will get back on track.
But we'd be remiss if we didn't at least point out that Morris is already working magic in Dallas. Yes, SMU lost 56-37 to No. 3 TCU, but it gave the Horned Frogs everything they could handle for as long as they could handle it. The Frogs might be severely banged up on defense, but that's an impressive showing.
For the second time in three weeks, SMU has played, and hung with for at least a half, an Associated Press Top 10 team. (In Week 1, SMU trailed then-No. 4 Baylor 28-21 at halftime before losing 56-21.)
Last year, that wouldn't have come close to happening.
The success starts with quarterback Matt Davis, who has been skewering defenses left and right. The American Athletic Conference isn't exactly a cake walk for a rebuilding program like SMU, but the opportunity is there for this team to rack up some wins. Even coming close to .500 would be nothing short of a monster success in Year 1 for Morris.
This team is exciting again, similar to when former coach June Jones finally got things turned around. That counts for something.
Winner: Ole Miss
If one win is an upset, do back-to-back wins redefine what that means? Because, for the second year in a row, Ole Miss has topped Alabama on the biggest of stages. The Rebels stunned the college football world by beating the Tide 23-17 a year ago. This time around, in a 43-37 shootout in Tuscaloosa, Ole Miss seemed to be in a different spot as a program.
Ole Miss is no longer trying to "arrive." It already has. This is a team, a program, that expects to win just like Alabama.
The Rebels are loaded with NFL-caliber talent, and they showed up in a big way despite not having perhaps the best player of them all, tackle Laremy Tunsil (NCAA investigation). Defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, who has taken his share of criticism for not lighting up the stat sheet in the past, was almost unblockable. The junior was chasing down Alabama's skill players and disrupting things in the backfield all night.
Receiver Laquon Treadwell led all Ole Miss receivers with five catches and scored his first touchdown of the season.
Quarterback Chad Kelly, the newcomer, threw for 341 yards and three touchdowns. To beat the Tide, Kelly had to be prolific through the air, and he was with two huge passing scores of more than 60 yards.
Though aided in part by Alabama turnovers (more on that later), it was a total team effort from Ole Miss to win one of the biggest games in this young season.
Loser: Alabama Turnovers
Not to take anything away from Ole Miss' well-deserved win over Alabama, but the Tide lost the turnover battle 5-0 and gave the Rebels excellent field position on multiple occasions. And still only lost by six. It's a classic case of "what could have been" had the Tide taken better care of the ball.
A pair of fumbled kickoff returns and three interceptions—two from Jake Coker and one from Cooper Bateman—made it hard for Alabama to dig itself out of the hole it consistently dug. Though the Tide came roaring back from a double-digit deficit, turnovers plagued this team through the game.
Those still incredulous at Ole Miss' win may call it luck. Some may think the better team didn't win. Whatever excuses are made masks the fact that Alabama was nowhere near as sharp as it needed to be to win.
Loser: Playoff Cinderella Hopes
BYU has lived a charmed life through two weeks, but the third time wasn't as fortunate. The Cougars went on the road to UCLA but came up short, 24-23.
In the big picture, the loss ended any hopes BYU had of crashing the playoff. On a more narrow scope, BYU was unable to cash in on a third straight dramatic victory. It's a shame for the Cougars. Beating the Bruins on the road would have been the most impressive win in what was already a good-looking resume.
The Cougars needed to go undefeated to have a shot at the playoff. While their schedule is incredibly difficult, the flip side is that it would have provided BYU with an arguing point to state its case.
It's all moot now, but this team has two quality wins and played an AP Top 10 squad down to the last minute. BYU is a lot of fun and will win plenty of games this year.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.