Week 3 of College Football Shows Glimpse of Possible Chaos on the Horizon

Adam Kramer@kegsneggsNational College Football Lead WriterSeptember 19, 2021

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney pumps his fist to the crowd as he leaves the field after defeating Georgia Tech 14-8 in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
John Bazemore/Associated Press

It is in our nature to overreact in a sport that is largely built on emotion. In college football, a season is segmented up into more than a dozen declarations—a collection of strong opinions based on weekly results that vary wildly in nature.

While three weeks is clearly an insufficient sample size to define a season, one theme stood out above all others during Week 3.

There might not be a dominant college football team this season. No one, not even the giant of the sport, looked unbeatable. And if that is indeed the case, we are in for one glorious ride after the next.

There wasn't a jarring upset. That came in Week 2 when Ohio State fell at home to Oregon despite being more than a two-touchdown favorite. The theme started to take shape there.

Week 3 was more about optics and, specifically, a lack of domination from programs where domination is pretty commonplace.

Alabama has set an unfairly high bar in this department. The No. 1 team in the country looked like an unbreakable force in Week 1 when it crushed Miami in its opener by 31 points. Playing at Florida, the Crimson Tide looked mortal.

In fairness to Alabama, this group is held to a different standard. Winning in a hostile environment against a good team isn't a bad thing—most programs spend years searching for a win of this nature. For this team, though, we just don't normally see 31-29 victories.

It wasn't a blowout win, something Alabama has standardized. But it wasn't a terrible loss, either. Nick Saban's team simply might be mortal. Not bad. Mortal.

GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 18: Jahleel Billingsley #19 of the Alabama Crimson Tide scores a touchdown during the first quarter of a game against the Florida Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 18, 2021 in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by
James Gilbert/Getty Images

If that is the case, the outlook of the season changes. Alabama has had that kind of stranglehold on the sport.

Move down the rankings, and the takeaways become more pronounced.

Oklahoma, playing as more than a three-touchdown favorite against Nebraska, looked beatable for the second time in three weeks. After a close-ish call with Tulane in the opener, the Sooners failed to overwhelm a program that lost to Illinois to kick off the year.

Given his talent and expectations, quarterback Spencer Rattler has underwhelmed thus far. That's not to say he won't turn it on as the season progresses—and the schedule certainly is ripe with opportunities to do just that—but he, like the rest of his team, has not looked the part to date.

Again, the Sooners won, but a 23-16 win at home leaves a lot to be desired.

Ohio State knows the feeling. One week after losing its first game of the year, the Buckeyes let winless Tulsa hang around far too long. The final score, 41-20, fails to capture how the majority of this game unfolded.

This was a one-score game with 12 minutes in the fourth quarter. As a footnote, Tulsa lost to UC Davis a few weeks ago.

Ohio State's deficiencies have been well established. The defense has plenty of holes, and the offense is powered by a young quarterback still coming into his own. Like Oklahoma, the Buckeyes should benefit from a schedule that affords plenty of chances to improve on the fly. The last two weeks, though, have shown us that this team is nowhere close to what many thought they might be.

COLUMBUS, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 18: Quarterback C.J. Stroud #7 of the Ohio State Buckeyes is sacked by defensive lineman Cullen Wick #91 of the Tulsa Golden Hurricane during the third quarter at Ohio Stadium on September 18, 2021 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by G
Gaelen Morse/Getty Images

On the topic of one-score games deep into games, let's move to Clemson. Having already lost in Week 1 to Georgia, style points matter. Playing as a near four-touchdown favorite at Georgia Tech, the Tigers barely survived a late rally by the Yellow Jackets.

More concerning than the 14-8 win is the fact that Clemson compiled only 284 yards of offense. Excluding their demolition of South Carolina State, Clemson has scored two touchdowns in two games.

Perhaps assuming that the Tigers' offense would naturally absorb the losses of Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne was a mistake on our end. Regardless, it is clear that this version of Clemson, a program that has won bigger than anyone not named Alabama, is not what we thought it would be.

Nonetheless, the dominant group could still be out there lurking. Georgia, a football team powered by 5-star recruits, might overtake this role. Oregon could turn one win into many. Or maybe, just maybe, a team like Iowa or someone else from the pack will evolve into a force we never saw coming.

Or perhaps that dominant team is still just coming into its own. Maybe Alabama, no matter what Saturday's win says, will take this close call and morph into its typical juggernaut self.

Or maybe that team isn't out there this year. Maybe the optics and the upsets will rain down on a season where home field is back in play. Maybe brilliance will be week-to-week, and the only constant will be chaos.

If that happens, the sport will be better for it. Greatness is always welcomed in college football, but the fuel that powers this sport is the notion that things can change drastically on a single Saturday.

That didn't happen in Week 3. The upsets largely never came. However, there are signs that madness is on the horizon.