Winners and Losers from Week 3 of College Football
Alabama made it more interesting than expected, but the Crimson Tide earned a key victory at Florida. The reigning champions lead the winners and losers from Week 3.
If September is any indication, however, the 2021 campaign might just be the long-awaited transitional year for the sport. Four traditional powers—Clemson, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Oklahoma—each dealt with another rough showing in Week 3.
On the other hand, Cincinnati is staking an early claim to national attention. The Bearcats landed a major win early on Saturday—a stark contract to the performance of several ACC teams.
While the choices are subjective, they're focused on the key results, top storylines and best or worst moments or Week 3.
Winner: Louisville's One-Snap Wonder
Louisville held a 35-28 advantage late in the fourth quarter, but UCF scored a game-tying touchdown with 1:21 to play. On the next drive, Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham threw an interception.
But in a matter of seconds, the Louisville crowd shifted from a nervous wreck to a joyful madhouse.
On the very next play, UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel tried to hit Amari Johnson on a crossing route. However, the pass deflected into the arms of Louisville linebacker Jaylin Alderman. The freshman sprinted 66 yards for a touchdown, giving the Cardinals a 42-35 lead with 13 seconds remaining in the game.
The most ridiculous part? Prior to his game-changing interception, Alderman hadn't logged a single snap.
Pretty efficient day, I would say.
Loser: Spencer Rattler's Heisman Hype
After collecting 3,191 offensive yards, posting 34 total touchdowns and leading Oklahoma to a Big 12 title last season, Spencer Rattler entered the 2021 season as the Heisman Trophy favorite.
It's too early to panic. It's not too early to be concerned.
Rattler tossed two interceptions a closer-than-expected 40-35 victory over Tulane to open the year. Although he threw five touchdowns as the Sooners smashed Western Carolina last weekend, Saturday brought a second mediocre showing from the sophomore.
Oklahoma edged Nebraska 23-16, and Rattler mustered just 6.3 yards per attempt. He finished the game 24-of-34 for 214 yards, throwing and rushing for one touchdown apiece.
Yes, the Sooners care most about their 3-0 record. But if Rattler doesn't improve, neither his Heisman candidacy nor OU's undefeated record will last much longer.
Winner: Cincinnati Passes Power 5 Test
Entering the season, most analysts circled two games on Cincinnati's schedule: Sept. 18 at Indiana and Oct. 2 at Notre Dame.
One down, one to go.
Cincinnati took advantage of a mistake-filled day from Indiana, creating four turnovers in a 38-24 road victory. The hosts outgained Cincinnati 376-328, but a goal-line fumble recovery and interception—both in the fourth quarter—sparked the Bearcats' win.
Last year, Cincinnati put together a 9-0 regular season. But the College Football Playoff selection committee never seriously considered the Bearcats because of a perceived lack of schedule strength. While there's no guarantee that changes in 2021, a road victory at Indiana undoubtedly helps Cincinnati's case.
Do this again in two weeks at Notre Dame, and Luke Fickell's squad will—at worst—be part of the CFP conversation.
Loser: ACC's Awful Afternoon
Let's be blunt: During the early afternoon slate, the ACC stunk.
Boston College smacked Temple, and Syracuse rolled Albany. But otherwise, the conference saw No. 15 Virginia Tech fall 27-21 at West Virginia, No. 24 Miami implode in a 38-17 home shocker to Michigan State and Pitt lose 44-41 to Western Michigan.
Virginia Tech was the underdog, yet WVU stormed out to a 20-point lead. Miami's tackling was an absolute nightmare, and the offense couldn't finish drives. Pitt gave up 516 yards.
Bad, awful and terrible.
The incredibly rosy-glassed view is a nonconference loss doesn't hurt any of the three programs' pursuit of a Coastal Division title. However, none of Virginia Tech, Miami or Pitt have inspired much confidence in that being a realistic possibility.
The ACC's cynical reputation of being a Clemson-only league certainly didn't get better Saturday.
Winner: Alabama Clips Florida on the Road
Fifteen minutes in, Alabama seemed like it would cruise to a blowout win over Florida. Bryce Young tossed three touchdowns in the opening quarter, and the Crimson Tide built a 21-3 lead.
Although the Gators fought back—and even had a chance to tie—Bama outlasted the hosts for a 31-29 victory.
Clearly, it was not a comprehensive win. Nick Saban will remain unsatisfied at his team still not playing a strong 60-minute game. And in particular, run defense was an issue. Florida shredded Alabama for 245 yards and four scores on the ground.
But the Crimson Tide navigated one of their most difficult tests in 2021. On a day where several top-ranked teams struggled to put away mediocre competition, Alabama clawed out a reputable road win.
Improvement is essential. At the same time, Alabama is one valuable step closer to another College Football Playoff trip.
Loser: Unconvincing Days for Rest of 2020 CFP Field
Along with Alabama, the other three College Football Playoff teams in 2020 were Clemson, Ohio State and Notre Dame. But in 2021, none of them have looked especially great.
Clemson mustered just 180 yards in a season-opening loss to Georgia. Ohio State had a poor first half at Minnesota before losing at home to Oregon. Notre Dame edged Florida State in double overtime and barely survived at home against Toledo.
Week 3 didn't alleviate the early concerns, either.
Clemson led Georgia Tech 7-3 at halftime. Ohio State only had a 27-20 advantage on Tulsa—which recently lost to lower-division program UC Davis—in the fourth quarter. Notre Dame held a slim 17-13 edge on Purdue late in the third quarter.
Thanks to a couple of late touchdowns, Ohio State survived. Notre Dame did, too. As of publish, Clemson remained in the lead.
But if you're questioning the upside of these top-ranked teams—the usual suspects in the CFP race—you're not alone.
Winner: Jaxson Dart's USC Debut
Two years ago, Kedon Slovis received his first chance at USC after a leg injury sidelined JT Daniels. Slovis thrived as a true freshman, causing Daniels to leave USC for Georgia.
We're not saying history is about to repeat itself. Jaxson Dart, nevertheless, has demanded our attention.
Slovis took a sack on USC's opening drive at Washington State, went to the medical tent and never returned to the field. Dart replaced the third-year starter. While it didn't go well immediately—Wazzu held a 14-0 lead midway through the second quarter—Dart ripped off a fantastic finish to the Pac-12 contest.
Late in the first half, Dart tossed a 38-yard score to Gary Bryant Jr. on a 4th-and-9. In the third quarter, Dart led three touchdown drives (two passing scores), which helped propel the Trojans from a 14-7 deficit to a commanding 35-14 edge.
Dart added his fourth and final touchdown in the fourth quarter, racking up 391 yards in his college debut.
If Slovis is healthy, let the quarterback controversy begin. USC hosts Oregon State next weekend.
Loser: Defenses in Chapel Hill
Defense? Never heard of it.
North Carolina and Virginia scored a combined 98 points in UNC's entertaining 59-39 victory on Saturday night. And together, the offenses piled up a ridiculous 1,273 yards.
Sam Howell threw for 307 yards and ran for 112, totaling five touchdowns. Ty Chandler scampered for 198 yards and two touchdowns, while Caleb Hood added 66 yards. Josh Downs paced the Heels with eight catches for 203 yards and two scores.
In a losing effort, UVA quarterback Brennan Armstrong completed 39-of-54 passes for 554 yards and four touchdowns. Dontayvion Wicks made seven receptions for 183 yards, and Billy Kemp crossed the 100-yard barrier with two scores.
Most importantly for North Carolina, it recorded what's looking like a pivotal Coastal Division win. For everyone other than defensive purists, though, it was an enjoyable, scoreboard-breaking game.
Winner: Marquee Nonconference Game on Campus
Money runs college football. That's not a surprising statement, nor is it meant to be contemptuous. But that reality has resulted in many of the best nonconference games heading to NFL stadiums.
Week 3 offered a great reminder of why we love this sport.
For its annual White Out game, Penn State hosted Auburn in the first-ever regular-season meeting between the teams. And with 109,958 in attendance, it marked the 10th-largest crowd in Beaver Stadium history.
Playing in a true college environment only increased the intensity of a competitive game. Unlike most neutral-site tilts, thousands of students actually had a chance to impact the clash. And, unsurprisingly, the stadium was deafening to the final second.
Yes, the officiating crew had a miserable night. But that should not detract from one obvious takeaway in Penn State's 28-20 win: We need more meaningful nonconference matchups on campus.
Loser: Pac-12's Brutal Night
Not again. Ugh. Here we go again.
As the day became #Pac12AfterDark, the beleaguered conference added another chapter to its inglorious recent history. No. 19 Arizona State fell 27-17 at No. 23 BYU, and No. 13 UCLA squandered a fourth-quarter surge and lost to Fresno State 40-37.
Just three weeks into the season, Oregon is the Pac-12's last remaining undefeated team.
And that, unfortunately, wasn't the entirety of the league's rough evening. Utah benched quarterback Charlie Brewer and lost to San Diego State 33-31 in triple overtime. FCS school Northern Arizona beat Arizona for the first time since 1932.
It's not even October, and we're already one Oregon loss away from the Pac-12 leaving the national discussion. Again.