Winners and Losers from Week 3 of College Football

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistSeptember 18, 2016

Winners and Losers from Week 3 of College Football

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    Welcome to the 2016 college football season, where each week is crazier than the last.

    During Saturday's afternoon slate alone, a Top Five team allowed the most points in program history, two more trailed by multiple touchdowns and a squad that went 12-0 last season lost to an FCS opponent.

    Even without the night slate—which was loaded with name-brand matchups—enough had already happened to fuel a news cycle. Players, teams and coaches saw their stocks rise and fall considerably.

    Let's take a look at where the pieces landed.

        

    Note: This piece will be updated as new scores go final.

Winner: Louisville

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    Saturday's unthinkable blowout was more about the team, Louisville, than the quarterback, Lamar Jackson.

    Jackson was still the catalyst and improved his Heisman Trophy stock with 362 total yards and five touchdowns (four rushing, one passing). Even Michael Vick sang his praises on Twitter, calling Jackson five times better than Vick himself was at Virginia Tech.

    But more than setting up Jackson for individual praise, the 63-20 win set up Louisville for a College Football Playoff run. That's what happens when you beat the No. 2 team in the country so thoroughly and dominate across all three phases. We've heard about the offense ad nauseam, but the defense and special teams look strong, too.

    Granted, the road to the CFP won't be easy. Looming on Louisville's schedule are two of the toughest road games imaginable: at No. 5 Clemson (October 1) and at No. 6 Houston (November 17). As good as the Cardinals have looked, they're still a long shot to run the table.

    But now they have a signature victory, and if they split against Clemson and Houston, they'll have another. Depending on how Clemson fares elsewhere, plus how things shake out in other conferences, how many one-loss teams would have better resumes?

    The answer would likely be none.

Loser: Florida State

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    Florida State opened the season with a win over No. 11 Ole Miss, but despite that it left Week 1 surrounded by questions. Which team represented the actual Seminoles: the one that trailed 28-6 after 29 minutes, or the one that went on a 39-6 run thereafter?

    On Saturday, we got our answer—and it was definitive. Florida State is the team Ole Miss carved up in the first half. The FSU that made the comeback was the imposter.

    Even in the 2014 Rose Bowl, when Oregon beat it 59-20, Jimbo Fisher's team has never looked so…helpless.

    "It starts with me and ends with me as the head coach," Fisher said after the game, per Tim Linafelt of Seminoles.com. "You’ve got to fix it and look at your issues and (see) what you’ve got to do.

    "Find it, correct it, coach them better. And they've got to play better."

    Considering the Noles needed 25 points of turnover luck to beat Ole Miss, per SB Nation's Bill Connelly, perhaps we should have seen this performance coming. Florida State should be thankful for its 2-1 record. It still has time to correct itself, round into form and contend for a New Year's Six Bowl.

    It can't, however, contend for a national title. No one-loss team that has made the CFP has ever suffered a defeat quite like this one.

Winner: Mark Richt

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    When was the last time Miami has looked this good?

    If you answered "some time before the Al Golden era," you're correct. In dominating a good Appalachian State team 45-10 on the road, the Canes made winning look easy. That's something they never did under Golden.

    Under new head coach Mark Richt, though, the Canes have looked organized, energized, physical and confident—four things they rarely appeared to be the past five seasons. There's been less hollow talk about bringing back "The U," and more actual playing like "The U."

    And yes, it's just one win against a Sun Belt team. As good as Appalachian State looked at Tennessee in Week 1, no one should overreact to this. We'll know "The U" is back when winning these games feels unremarkable, not impressive.

    For now, though, it's the latter…which is fine. Richt has his alma mater back on track. Considering the state of this turnaround, plus how his former team, Georgia, nearly lost to Nicholls State in Week 2, it's hard to question the enormity of Richt's impact.

Loser: Iowa's Scheduling Department

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    When will FBS teams learn to stop playing North Dakota State?

    The Bison won their sixth straight game against FBS opponents, this time at No. 13 Iowa, 23-21. Even after failing a two-point conversion with 3:41 to play, they rallied to force a three-and-out, drive 46 yards and nail the game-winning field goal as time expired.

    The Hawkeyes went 12-0 last regular season, won the Big Ten West and played in the Rose Bowl, but the five-time defending FCS champions were too much to handle. That's not necessarily an indictment of Iowa's team, though; it's an indictment of the forces that scheduled this game.

    The problem with playing NDSU is that it's all risk, no reward. Even if Iowa beat them, the Bison would not have been considered a quality win. They would have been just that, in reality, but the national consensus and CFP selection committee will never respect a bunch of no-names from some place called Fargo.

    Why put your team in that situation?

Winner: Jabrill Peppers

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    With Michigan on the ropes against Colorado, its best player showed up.

    Doing anything the Wolverines needed, Jabrill Peppers played the best game of his career, willing Michigan to a 45-28 win. His final line was ridiculous, featuring nine total tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and 204 all-purpose yards—the highlight of which was a 54-yard punt return touchdown that put Colorado's upset bid on ice.

    "You know that college basketball team that stays in contention on the back of its lottery pick?" B/R's Ben Axelrod tweeted. "That might be Michigan and Jabrill Peppers."

    With Florida State safety Derwin James sidelined, there's room for someone else to emerge as the freakiest defensive playmaker in college football. Peppers has the pedigree, has always had the talent and appears to have developed the attitude.

    Michigan learned a lot this week, and much of it wasn't pretty, but Week 3 was still a net positive. That Peppers leveled up from "star" to "superstar" will prove to be that important.

Loser: Tennessee's Defense

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    Tennessee escaped a trap game with a 28-19 win over Ohio, but it might have been a Pyrrhic victory.

    All-SEC cornerback Cameron Sutton went down with an ankle injury, writhing in pain before heading to the locker room. Head coach Butch Jones wouldn't give an official diagnosis, but according to Tom Fornelli of CBSSports.com, he expects Sutton to miss "an extended amount of time."

    Sutton is a singular talent whose loss would hurt the Vols in a vacuum. It hurts even more, considering how short-handed this defense is around him. Cornerbacks Justin Martin and Malik Foreman (suspension) both sat out against Ohio, and linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, the defense's emotional leader, also left Saturday's game with a shoulder injury.

    That's a lot to overcome before next week's SEC opener against Florida. The Gators have beaten Tennessee 11 straight times, and while their offense is far from a juggernaut, their defense is such that they can win low-scoring games.

    It shouldn't take more than three touchdowns to beat Tennessee next week. Can such a depleted defense hold Florida below that?

Winner: Nick Saban

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    For a while, it looked like Hugh Freeze really did have Nick Saban's number. After leading Ole Miss to two straight upsets of Alabama, his Rebels jumped out to a 24-3 lead and appeared on their way to No. 3.

    And then, in the blink of an eye, they weren't.

    Alabama stormed back with 14 points in 65 seconds, then used that momentum to power a 45-6 run. Ole Miss made it respectable with a pair of touchdowns late but still fell short, 48-43.

    If you're having deja vu, that's because you saw the same thing happen to Ole Miss in Week 1 (and read about it on the second slide of this article), when Florida State used a 36-7 run to erase a 21-3 deficit.

    What happened Saturday, however, meant more for Alabama than Ole Miss. The Tide defense looked vulnerable, but if you don't feel good about it rounding into form by December, you haven't paid attention the past two seasons. Meanwhile, the offense, which entered as the question mark, gained 334 yards on 48 carries (7.0 YPC).

    Saban has his team right where he wants it—only this time, unlike the past two years, it's leaving the Ole Miss game undefeated. That means it has margin for error moving forward.

    How soon is too soon to pencil it into the playoff?

Loser: Mark Helfrich

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    Oregon and Nebraska each scored five touchdowns Saturday.

    So why did the Huskers win, 35-32?

    The answer lies with Ducks head coach Mark Helfrich, who went for two after each of his team's five scores. Charles Nelson converted the first, but the next four were all unsuccessful, which means Oregon left a field goal on the board in a game it lost by a field goal.

    Which is crazy.

    According to ESPN Stats & Info., it was the most two-point conversion attempts by one team in a game in the last 10 seasons. That's not the kind of history coaches are typically eager to make.

    "We just believe a lot in what we’re doing in the swinging gate," Helfrich explained after the game, per Rob Moseley of GoDucks.com. "We need to coach it better, execute better."

    For some reason, I doubt Oregon fans will accept that.

Winners: Mason Rudolph and James Washington

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    We have to award winner status to Mason Rudolph and James Washington—especially after what they did to Pittsburgh's defense.

    In the first 20 minutes of Saturday's game, Rudolph already had 13 completions for 303 yards. Five and 214 of those went to Washington, who had also caught both of Rudolph's touchdowns.

    A 90-minute weather delay slowed their rhythm, but Rudolph still finished with 540 passing yards, breaking Brandon Weeden's program record (502); Washington finished with 296 receiving yards, all in the first three quarters; and Oklahoma State beat a scrappy Pittsburgh team, 45-38. It was a perfect way to rebound after last week's soul-crushing loss to Central Michigan.

    This is not a fully realized Pat Narduzzi defense, but any group Narduzzi coaches at least knows what it's doing.

    Rudolph and Washington torched it.

Loser: JuJu Smith-Schuster

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    For the second time in three games, JuJu Smith-Schuster was a non-factor, catching three passes for 34 yards in a loss at Stanford. He's now caught 11 passes for 99 yards on the season, and his most remarkable play has been a block, not even a catch.

    That's one of the roughest starts we've ever seen from a preseason All-American. Stanford basically washed him out of the game plan, and for the second time he stayed passive as USC lost by double digits, this time 27-10.

    This couldn't come at a worse time for his NFL draft stock, either. According to Matt Miller of Bleacher Report, scouts are down on his lack of speed and don't trust the recent performance of USC receivers.

    But at least guys like Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor balled out in college. Smith-Schuster looked unstoppable as a sophomore but is going through a serious mental funk.

    For his and his team's sake, he needs to snap out of it ASAP.

Winner: Mark Dantonio

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    Every offseason, we underrate Michigan State. Then it looks sluggish against a bad team in Week 1, and we underrate it even more.

    Then it plays a good team, and we eat our words.

    Lather, rinse, repeat.

    Mark Dantonio pulled the same hustle this season, needing 60 minutes to put away Furman in Week 1 but then beating Notre Dame on the road, 36-28. After falling behind 7-0, the Spartans scored 36 straight points and held on for a statement victory.

    The defense played its tail off for three quarters, and the offense, while unspectacular, showed enough to inspire confidence. Quarterback Tyler O'Connor isn't Connor Cook, Kirk Cousins or Brian Hoyer, but he's also not Andrew Maxwell, which is good to know.

    Combine that with the promise of running backs LJ Scott and Gerald Holmes (35 carries, 198 yards, 3 TDs) and freshman wide receiver Donnie Corley (4 receptions, 88 yards, 1 TD), and it's reasonable to assume this group will improve.

    The struggle to finish games remains an issue, as it was last year, but that's about the only negative to take from Saturday.

    Dantonio has another Big Ten title contender.

Loser: Notre Dame

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    Despite a fast start, Notre Dame got blown off the field—its field—by the Spartans.

    Turnovers, sloppiness and breakdowns led to the largest home deficit of the Brian Kelly era, per ESPN Stats & Info.

    With that, the Irish stand 1-2. Considering their depth of talent, the fact that they have two starting-caliber quarterbacks and the way they played last season, that's not how they envisioned coming out of the gate.

    It's not hard to find at least a couple more losses on their upcoming schedule, either. USC and Stanford are obvious. Virginia Tech and Miami look improved under new head coaches. Navy is always trouble, and even Army—don't laugh—has shown some pluck in its first three games.

    What once looked like a promising season could go downhill in a flash. The next three games are winnable (vs. Duke, vs. Syracuse, at North Carolina State), but this team can't afford to take anything for granted between now and the Stanford game on October 15.

Winner: Alabama North

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    The Ohio State machine keeps on rolling.

    Lose six NFL draft picks on offense? No worries. Curtis Samuel and Mike Weber can rush for 221 yards against Oklahoma, and Noah Brown can catch four touchdowns on five receptions.

    Lose six NFL draft picks on defense? No worries. There are still 4- and 5-stars everywhere, and a supposedly "basic" defensive scheme can confuse and frustrate Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield throughout.

    The Buckeyes have become Alabama North: a program so well-coached, so good at recruiting that departures hardly matter. As long as they have Urban Meyer, they will always be a safe bet to compete for the national title.

    Saturday's win at Oklahoma further proved that. That they won by three touchdowns, 45-24, only emphasized the point.

Loser: Big-Game Bob

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    It's been a rough start to the year for the Stoops brothers.

    Mark's job is on thin ice at Kentucky, and Bob, whose Oklahoma team debuted at No. 3 in the AP rankings, has opened a disappointing 1-2.

    This latest loss was particularly devastating. The Buckeyes hung 35 points in the first half alone, then coasted to a 45-24 win.

    It was only the seventh time in Stoops' tenure that Oklahoma allowed at least 35 points at home.

    Again: The Buckeyes did it before halftime.

    "The leadership isn't close to what it was a year ago," Stoops said after the game, per OU Football on Twitter. "That's on me. I've got to do a better job."

    That last point is something most Sooners fans agree with.

Winner: Jacob Eason

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    Jacob Eason came of age in his SEC debut, leading Georgia to a comeback win at Missouri, 28-27.

    Trailing by six with 3:18 to play, Eason mounted a heroic touchdown drive, moving the Bulldogs 80 yards in 10 plays. The climax came on 4th-and-10 at the Missouri 20-yard line, where Eason spotted Isaiah McKenzie over the top and lofted a beautiful touch pass.

    McKenzie hauled it in for the game-winning score.

    "After throwing the game-winning touchdown…questions [about who should start at quarterback] are all but gone," Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee wrote after the game. "The answer is Eason, was Eason and should be Eason for the foreseeable future."

    The freshman quarterback finished with 308 yards, three touchdowns and one interception on 29-of-55 passing. On the road against a top-level defense, those are numbers any quarterback would take pride in.

    For a true freshman making his first true road start? They're fantastic.

Loser: The Texas Bounce-Back

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    Two steps forward, one step back.

    That's better than the inverse, but it still makes a loser of Charlie Strong and Texas, which lost a winnable game at California, 50-43.

    The Longhorns entered with a No. 11 ranking but lost to a Cal team with no defense (for the second straight year). There's no shame in allowing Davis Webb to rack up numbers, but if San Diego State can outscore him, Texas should too.

    This loss slows the momentum of the Longhorns' restoration project. So does the loss Notre Dame suffered against Michigan State. 

    UT's signature win looks worse in hindsight, to the point where Notre Dame might be unranked next week. Assuming Cal is also, that would make Texas 2-1 with no games against ranked opponents.

    Does that sound like a rejuvenated powerhouse? Not quite.

    Strong has things heading the right direction, but let's not pretend he's further along than he is.