College Football: Winners and Losers from Week 3
The marquee matchups in Week 3 of college football didn't provide much sizzle, but there was still plenty of excitement in a full slate in the sport.
Plenty of near-misses provided a weekend of sweating for national-tier programs and Top 25 teams. Meanwhile, the best of the best cruised to easy victories.
In Boone, North Carolina, Appalachian State converted an improbable catch-and-run Hail Mary to beat Troy on the last play of the game after ESPN's College GameDay crew traveled to the campus to do its show.
While Syracuse isn't ranked, the Orange are turning heads and did yet again with a last-minute, penalty-fueled comeback win over Purdue.
Top 10 teams took care of business in a big way, dismantling opponents, and Penn State traveled to SEC country and whacked Auburn.
Let's take a look at the winners and losers from the early slate of games.
Winner: Georgia and That National Champion Flex
It may not have been clear who the best team in the nation is, but the defending champion national champion Georgia Bulldogs left little doubt of that in their wake on Saturday.
They departed Columbia, South Carolina, leaving plenty of fried chickens behind them after a 48-7 win that could have been worse. The Gamecocks had zero answers on either side of the ball, and whether you believe in Carolina coach Shane Beamer's rebuild or not, one thing was clear:
The Gamecocks may be in the same division as Georgia, but they aren't in the same class.
In case you were wondering just how dominant UGA has been, in three games against Oregon, Samford and now an SEC foe, the Dawgs have allowed just 10 total points and an average of just 249 yards per game. Opponents have converted third downs just 29 percent of the time.
"Oh, but Georgia is one-dimensional," you may think. Nah. That's the Kirby Smart teams of a couple years ago. With Stetson Bennett under center, their offense is more of an efficient, but deadly, knife fight than a quick explosion.
In the first-team offense's 21 possessions so far this season, they have scored 14 touchdowns, made four field goals, missed one and punted just twice. Offensive coordinator Todd Monken's unit is clicking, too. Oh, and tight end Brock Bowers (who scored on two receptions and a run Saturday) is still a star.
Nobody wants to face the Dawgs, who lost tons of talent from last year's title team but reloaded with more stars.
Loser: A Day of Almosts
Oh, what might have been.
There was so much that happened in college football on Saturday that could have shaken up the national picture in a massive way. In other cases, there were nearly incredibly embarrassing losses for top-shelf teams.
But several survived near-misses and lived to sweat another day.
Few would have been more embarrassing than FCS program Missouri State coming into Arkansas and upsetting the Razorbacks, especially considering former head Hog Bobby Petrino is the coach. The Bears built a 17-0 lead and even held an advantage entering the final quarter before the Hogs posted three fourth-quarter touchdowns to win 38-27.
Speaking of embarrassment, all that goodwill Billy Napier fostered with a season-opening upset of Utah is fading. After losing to Kentucky last week, the Gators hosted hapless South Florida on Saturday night and scraped by with a 31-28 win.
The Bulls were in position for a go-ahead touchdown until an awful snap forced a long field goal. A poor hold ensued, and USF still narrowly missed the game-tying kick in the closing seconds.
Notre Dame had to sweat out a seven-point win over California, and Wake Forest had to stop a two-point conversion in the closing seconds against Liberty to pull out a 37-36 win. The Demon Deacons' defense failed them much like they dealt with throughout much of a successful 2021 season.
Though it was on a smaller scale, Chip Kelly's UCLA Bruins needed a last-second field goal to win 32-31 over South Alabama.
Winner: Syracuse Dipping into that Carrier Dome Magic
Maybe it's time to stop thinking of the Orange as a "fun little team to watch" and start believing they may be an ACC contender with quarterback Garrett Shrader at the helm.
The Syracuse quarterback who transferred from Mississippi State and found a second life in Northern New York may have built his reputation as a battering-ram running the football, but in coach Dino Babers' new offense, he's rejuvenated passing, too.
On Saturday, a three-quarter defensive struggle with Purdue turned into a fourth-quarter barnburner with a frenzied, game-winning drive in a 32-29 comeback.
Needing a miracle after Purdue took a four-point lead with less than a minute to go, the Boilermakers were gifted 30 yards of unsportsmanlike penalties against Payne Durham and coach Jeff Brohm. Purdue kicked off from its own 10, ultimately leading to Syracuse starting the game-winning drive on the plus side of the field.
Following a pass interference penalty, Shrader delivered a beautiful, 25-yard fade pass on the pylon to Oronde Gadsden II for a game-winning scoring strike with seven seconds left.
Was there a Purdue meltdown involved? Yes. But the Orange are now 3-0 and survived a 42-yard performance from star running back Sean Tucker, mainly because of Shrader who finished with 264 total yards and three touchdowns.
"You know, sometimes you don't have your best stuff as a pitcher, but you just find ways to get guys out, and that's Garrett Shrader," Babers told ESPN after the game. "I mean, he may not have had all his best stuff today, but his leadership, his feet and just his tenacity and his will to win carried us."
Much like Florida State, the Orange has to face a gauntlet from Oct. 15-Nov. 19 (vs. N.C. State, at Clemson, vs. Notre Dame, at Pittsburgh, vs. Florida State and at Wake Forest) but the Orange could be looking at a 5-0 start.
Loser: Any Thoughts of Nebraska Post-Frost Positivity
Nebraska fired coach Scott Frost following last week's inexplicable loss to Georgia Southern, but unfortunately for the Cornhuskers, that move didn't erase his handprints from the program he's augured into the ground.
Saturday held potential promise with a huge crowd in Lincoln faithfully cheering on the Huskers and interim coach (and former player) Mickey Joseph as they took on the sixth-ranked Oklahoma Sooners in a renewal of a long-ago rivalry between powerhouses.
It didn't take long for the same ol' Nebraska skeletons to emerge from the closet, proving there was only one current strong program in this matchup.
While Frost's teams became well-known for their propensity to lose one-score games, a lack of toughness and defensive prowess ultimately doomed his tenure. Saturday's 49-14 annihilation by the Sooners would be far from a one-score game, but those two forgettable characteristics lingered.
The Cornhuskers had zero answers for quarterback Dillon Gabriel, OU's offensive playmakers and coach Brent Venables' complex blitz packages on the other side of the ball. It was 35-7 by halftime, and you were almost begging for a continuous clock or mercy rule.
It's that bad at Nebraska right now. It could have been much, much worse.
Whoever takes that job has a mess to clean up, a roster that may contain talented players but zero toughness and confidence. It's one that has either lost, or forgotten, its will to win.
The Nebraska-Oklahoma game could have been an outlet for the Huskers to prove they weren't that far off and they'd gotten rid of the problem. Instead, it was an embarrassment that further cemented just how far they've got left to go.
Winner: Manti Te'o's Return to South Bend
Manti Te'o returned to the place where he terrorized offenses for four years from 2009-12, as the legendary Notre Dame linebacker was honored before the Fighting Irish's game against California.
Despite all the on-field struggles for the proud Irish, the team's fans roared for nearly a minute celebrating Te'o, and the emotions expressed by the former Notre Dame great and NFL 'backer made it one of the most awesome moments of the day.
Te'o amassed 437 tackles during his time in South Bend, ranking third all-time at the school in that category. He was a consensus All-American who won eight awards in 2012, including the Maxwell Award, Butkus Award, Lombardi Award, Lott Trophy, Chuck Bednarik Award, Walter Camp Award and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy.
He was one of the most decorated defenders in recent memory and became a second-round draft pick of the San Diego Chargers in 2013.
It's a shame Te'o has become more well-known for being the victim of an elaborate catfishing scheme that is the focus of a new Netflix documentary. But, while Te'o has moved on and enough time has passed for him to speak freely about that dark time of his life, it was great that Saturday was all about football.
Te'o was a superstar and a legend at one of the most storied programs in college football. The raw emotions of him getting honored were enough to send chills down your spine.
Loser: BYU's Early-Season Mojo
Last weekend, Baylor went to Provo, Utah, and found out just how tough it was to beat BYU in its stadium, even though the Cougars were without playmaking receivers Gunner Romney and Puka Nacua.
That win surged BYU up to No. 12 in the polls.
A week later, coach Kalani Sitake took his team on the road to No. 25-ranked Oregon and found the road equally as bumpy.
First-year Ducks head coach Dan Lanning got his first signature win. Though they were slight favorites entering the game, the Ducks destroyed BYU, 41-20.
Despite BYU closing the lead to 10-7 early, it was never in doubt afterward. While quarterback Jaren Hall made some plays, the Cougars looked woefully out-manned by a Pac-12 opponent that has stacked quality recruits throughout the past few classes.
Things looked especially one-sided along the lines of scrimmage. BYU couldn't ever muster any running game against Oregon, and the Ducks pretty much did what they wanted to offensively.
Quarterback Bo Nix ran around like a man possessed, extending plays and providing plenty of feast after his famine-filled season-opener in Atlanta against defending champion Georgia. The Auburn transfer finished with 257 total yards and five touchdowns.
Even when BYU sustained drives, it couldn't finish them, going 0-for-4 on fourth-down conversions. The Cougars are a good team capable of beating Power 5 teams most weekends, but the Ducks were just too talented and had no trouble proving their opponent was simply ranked too high.
Winner: Notre Dame and Marcus Freeman—Finally
The ball seemed to hang in the air forever, pin-balling between Notre Dame defenders and two California receivers laying in the end zone before falling harmlessly—thankfully, if you're a Fighting Irish fan—to the ground.
Playing with a new starting quarterback in Drew Pyne after last week's season-ending injury to Tyler Buchner, Notre Dame and coach Marcus Freeman finally got in the win column with a 24-17 victory over the Golden Bears in Notre Dame Stadium.
The win was Freeman's first as head coach, following last year's bowl game collapse against Oklahoma State and an 0-2 start to the season. It didn't come without some bonkers (and bone-headed) moments.
"We find a way to keep it close," Freeman told NBC after the game. "I'm proud of our guys for finishing. There's a lot of teaching. There's a lot of plays we've got to learn from. But we're going to savor this victory."
The Irish never moved the ball consistently through the air with Pyne, but they sustained drives and controlled the pace of the game.
Notre Dame's pass rush consistently got to Bears quarterback Jack Plummer and brought him to the ground time after time, affecting most plays with pressure.
The Irish thought they had the game won late when they intercepted Plummer, but a targeting call on linebacker JD Bertrand occurred a split-second before the pick, so Cal retained possession. Then, Notre Dame scooped up a fumble for a score after sacking Plummer, but the call was overturned after officials ruled him down by contact.
All those shenanigans set up a last-second heave into the end zone by Plummer, and though two receivers could have caught it, they didn't, and Notre Dame finally won.
Loser: Auburn and a Precarious Predicament on the Plains
Penn State chugged away like a quality, all-around football team on Saturday, traveling to the SEC and embarrassing Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium by handling the Tigers in every facet with a 41-12 win.
But the real story is all of the warts they further exposed on the Plains.
The Nittany Lions' season story has yet to be written after two seasons of uneven football. They started the 2020 campaign 0-5 before winning four straight to end the season and went 5-0 last year before losing six of their final eight. For Auburn, though, the writing on the wall is in bold font for the season and coach Bryan Harsin's regime.
If things don't change in a hurry, both are doomed.
During a tumultuous offseason, Harsin's job seemed in jeopardy after rampant rumors and a very public evaluation. And with athletic director Allen Greene parting ways with the university, who knows what will happen?
Harsin's squad does not look like the proud Auburn teams of recent memory. Even though the Tigers have one of the most talented running backs in the country in Tank Bigsby, he cannot get any traction because his offensive line is so bad.
T.J. Finley won the quarterback job to start the year, but he's been largely ineffective and was replaced by Oregon transfer Robby Ashford (not Texas A&M transfer Zach Calzada) in the third quarter. Neither played that well against the Nittany Lions.
Auburn's defense had no answer for Sean Clifford or upstart freshman running back Nicholas Singleton, who torched the Tigers for 124 yards and a pair of scores on just 10 carries. It was a brilliant, thorough performance for Penn State.
Cue up the questions in the loveliest village on the Plains.
Winner: Hail Yes, Appalachian State!
Appalachian State has the 2007 upset win over Michigan when it was an FCS program, considered by many as the largest upset of all time. The program has last week's upset of No. 6 Texas A&M in College Station.
Now, they have the Mountaineer Miracle.
This program knows how to maximize the national spotlight, doesn't it?
With an ESPN College GameDay crew in town and celebrity guest picker and graduate Luke Combs in attendance, everybody was paying attention to the Sun Belt Conference power on Saturday against Troy.
For much of the game, it looked like the Mountaineers would fall flat. Instead, their flair for the dramatic led to one of the best plays of the young season.
Trailing by two with two seconds left from their own 47-yard line, quarterback Chase Brice dropped back to heave a hope downfield. Though his arm wasn't strong enough to get the ball all the way to the end zone, he threw it to the 5-yard line.
There, Dalton Stroman tipped the pass into the waiting hands of Christan Horn at the 7-yard line. Horn caught the ball, ran to the right sideline around the clustered mass of players, got a terrific sealing block from Kaedin Robinson and scored the remarkable game-winner.
It isn't every day you see a catch-and-run Hail Mary, but Appalachian State was just doing Appalachian State things to set off a Disney-movie finish—a Boom! in Boone with a national spotlight focused squarely on the Mountaineers.
Loser: Mississippi State's Air Raid Grounded
It's easy to wonder what the long-term viability of Mike Leach's Air Raid offense is in the SEC. Every time it seems Mississippi State is clicking, the Bulldogs will have a game like they did Saturday night.
Will Rogers played a pedestrian game after looking like a potential all-conference candidate to start the season. He didn't get much help, either, as Brian Kelly's team solidified his biggest win yet as the head coach of the Bayou Bengals with a 31-16 win in Death Valley.
MSU actually held a halftime lead over LSU and was dominating the game, but the Tigers were able to put the clamps down defensively after the break, allowing Jayden Daniels and Co. to come back and take a decisive lead.
As Mississippi State started its final drive, LSU had outgained the Bulldogs 250-67 in the second half. Despite a drive to get near the red zone, Rogers threw an awful interception to essentially end the game. Daniels kneeled in the victory formation to close out the win.
Kelly's team is talented, and it is taking a while to learn to play together, but Saturday night was a big step in front of the home folks. Leach, on the other hand, is trying to have his program take the next step in the SEC, to the tier just behind Alabama.
There are glimpses of brilliance when Leach's offense is clicking, but then there are times when the Bulldogs are playing a quality unit or out-classed talent-wise like they were on Saturday night when it looks stuck in the mud.
That may be what they consistently get in Starkville.
Winner: Kansas Partying Like It's Hoops Season
It's football season, right?
If you're looking in the direction of Lawrence, Kansas, it may be hard to tell. After all, the national champion Kansas Jayhawks basketball team isn't even playing yet, since we're in September.
Instead, it's the Jayhawks football team making headlines. Coach Lance Leipold's team is unbelievably 3-0 after Saturday's 48-30 dismantling of a good Houston Cougars team.
Before you hit the "who cares" button this early in the season, that three-win plateau is saying something. The Jayhawks haven't won more than three games in a year since going 5-7 in 2009. The last winning season for Kansas was an 8-5 campaign the year before, which followed its sterling 12-1 record in 2007.
What Leipold has done to turn around this program in less than two seasons is nothing short of remarkable. Kansas has easily been the worst Power 5 program in the nation for more than a decade. Now, the Jayhawks have wins over West Virginia and Houston in consecutive weeks.
They also have a star in quarterback Jalon Daniels, a game-changing talent who leads an explosive offense. He threw for 158 yards and a trio of touchdowns against the Cougars and added 123 rushing yards and two more scores. While Daniels is obviously the catalyst, this is a good, fundamentally sound football team that makes plays on both sides of the ball.
They are making plays and, most importantly, winning games. This is something that hasn’t happened at Kansas on the gridiron in a long, long time.
Loser: Jordan Travis (But Not Florida State Without Him)
You could feel Jordan Travis' frustration through the television screen.
After a brilliant first two games and a scintillating start to Friday night against Louisville, completing his first 11 passes, Florida State's upstart signal-caller tried to escape pressure on a second-quarter play but was brought down by the ankles and injured.
As he writhed on the turf afterward, Travis pounded the ground with his fist in obvious pain. He'd return to the sideline in the second half on crutches with what looked like a walking boot.
If you thought the Seminoles would roll over without Travis, though, you'd have been wrong. Tate Rodemaker entered and, after some early jitters, completed 6-of-10 passes for 109 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He looked capable of leading the 'Noles, at least for a while.
Receiver Johnny Wilson enjoyed his breakout game with seven catches for 149 yards and a couple of scores, and FSU's running backs rolled up 216 rushing yards behind a dominant offensive line in coming from behind for a 35-31 road win over the Cardinals.
The victory pushed coach Mike Norvell's team to 3-0, but following next week's game against Boston College, the 'Noles play No. 19 Wake Forest, travel to No. 16 North Carolina State, host No. 5 Clemson and go to No. 13 Miami all in the span of five treacherous weeks.
Will Travis be back? If not, it's going to be tough sledding for Norvell's team. But getting a tough, battle-tested win on the road was a big survival test. Still, they need their leader back soon.
Winner: Pittsburgh's Beautiful, Ugly Win
KALAMAZOO, Mich. — It wasn't pretty. But it was effective.
Led by a stifling defense, Pitt avoided a repeat of last season's upset loss to Western Michigan. This time around, the ACC program—making a rare journey into MAC country—overcame an unimpressive opening three quarters and pulled away in the final frame for a 34-13 victory.
Pitt leaned heavily on the rushing attack, giving 33 carries to Israel abanikanda and 11 to Vincent Davis. They rushed for 133 and 81 yards, respectively. Nate Yarnell, making his first career start at quarterback, attempted just 12 passes on the night.
The most impressive unit, though, was Pitt's defense.
Marquis Williams had an early pick-six, and the Panthers limited WMU to just 180 offensive yards with a meager 3.8 allowed per snap. It was a massive improvement for the Panthers, who surrendered 517 yards in a 44-41 loss to the Broncos last year.
Pitt, which improved to 2-1, may turn to Kedon Slovis if he's healthy next week, but Yarnell played well enough that the Panthers don't need to rush back the USC transfer.
Loser: Miami's Opportunity to Make a National Move
A week ago, Texas A&M was ranked sixth, boasting a wealth of young talent and a ton of national hype surrounding the program. Then Appalachian State waltzed into College Station and upheaved everything with an upset win.
This weekend, it was Miami's turn to lay an egg on Kyle Field.
The No. 13 Hurricanes traveled to Texas, missed a couple of field goals, made a boat-load of mistakes and walked out a 17-9 loser to the Aggies. In the process, the Hurricanes proved they may have been a little bit overrated, and A&M maybe wasn't as bad as it looked a week ago.
Yes, the Aggies still sputtered on offense. Coach Jimbo Fisher replaced Haynes King with Max Johnson, and A&M wound up with 264 total offensive yards and converted just 4-of-12 third downs. They never looked comfortable on that side of the ball.
But Johnson made enough plays with his arm and feet to squeak out the win. The biggest difference, however, was on the other side of the ball, where Fisher's elite recruiting showed out in a big way.
The Hurricanes were a step slower and much less athletic, and quarterback Tyler Van Dyke was harassed just enough all game to keep him off rhythm. Even when he made the right passes, his receivers failed to bail him out.
Mario Cristobal may build an elite program in Coral Gables, but it isn't there yet. With A&M's injuries, suspensions and offensive change-of-guard, things were set up nicely for a signature win for the U. Instead, it proved it didn't belong in the Top 15.
Winner: Kalen Deboer and U-Dub's Return to the Conversation
While everybody buzzed about headline hires like USC's Lincoln Riley, Miami's Mario Cristobal, LSU's Brian Kelly, and high-profile assistants like Dan Lanning (Oregon), Marcus Freeman (Notre Dame) and Brent Venables (Oklahoma) getting jobs, Washington quietly hit a grand slam.
They grabbed Kalen DeBoer from Fresno State, where he'd built a quality Group of Five program.
Now, he's taken over a proud Washington program that not-so-long-ago ruled the Pac-12 North. He's already got the Huskies playing outstanding football.
In front of a national television audience on ABC, the unranked U-Dub program hosted No. 11 Michigan State and promptly dissected the Spartans' defense on the way to a 39-28 win.
The catalyst for the entire team, of course, is transfer quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who transferred from Indiana after an injury-plagued career with the Hoosiers. Reunited with his former offensive coordinator DeBoer at IU, Penix is proving to be the perfect leader for the system.
DeBoer is an incredible offensive mind who gave Michigan State fits all night as Penix piled up 397 passing yards and four scores. But Washington has plenty of other weapons, too. Thankfully for the program, it can move quickly from the forgettable Jimmy Lake tenure and get back to where they belong.
Under DeBoer, Washington looks like it will be a force to be reckoned with in the Pac-12 immediately.