College football winners, losers from Week 3: Michigan, USC, Wake Forest on rise; ACC disappoints again
Alabama surged in front 21-3 against Florida but needed almost every second of four quarters to beat the Gators, raising some questions about whether the Crimson Tide are quite as invincible as they looked through two games.
Oklahoma met old rival Nebraska and struggled putting the Cornhuskers away in the Sooners' second mediocre performance of the young season against FBS competition.
Cincinnati remained unbeaten against Indiana and can start planning ahead to the trip to Notre Dame on Oct. 2. Virginia Tech was the latest casualty in the hugely disappointing ACC. Several Big Ten teams looked the part of true contenders.
Those teams and others top the winners and losers from Week 3 of the season.
Winning in Gainesville against the No. 9 Gators should be celebrated, even if the Tide have a few concerns coming out of the 3-0 start. There's no bigger issue than the state of the running game, which was simply dominant a year ago but has struggled under the direction of new offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien. After running for 91 yards on 28 carries against the Gators, the Tide are averaging only 3.9 yards per carry. That level of production is not good enough for Alabama to run the table and repeat as national champions.
The Bearcats topped Indiana 38-24 and will have an extra week to get ready for the biggest game in program history. On Oct. 2, Cincinnati will travel to Notre Dame and attempt to notch a second win against Power Five competition and become the first Group of Five team to truly factor into the playoff debate. To get there unblemished, the Bearcats had to climb out of a 14-0 hole in the second quarter and weather a rowdy, back-and-forth third quarter before pulling away from the Hoosiers in the fourth. Quarterback Desmond Ridder finished with 246 yards of total offense and two touchdowns.
Michigan's first three games have painted the Wolverines as a legitimate contender for the Big Ten championship and the New Year's Six. UM wrapped up non-conference play with a 63-10 win against Northern Illinois keyed by another powerful performance on the ground. Four players gained at least 40 yards, three scored at least twice and the offense at large went for 373 yards and eight touchdowns on 48 carries. That gives the Wolverines 1,056 rushing yards and 15 scores through three games.
And the Wolverines' in-state rivals continue to impress under second-year coach Mel Tucker. Pegged to finish near the bottom of the East division, the Spartans are now 3-0 with two Power Five wins after knocking off Miami (Fla.) 38-17 on the road. An influx of transfer talent and Tucker's ongoing flip of the roster has yielded a team good enough to secure bowl eligibility by the end of October.
The Wildcats beat Carson Strong and Nevada 38-17 without starting quarterback Skylar Thompson and will have an argument to earn a spot in next week's USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll. With Thompson sidelined, Kansas State used its running game to loosen up the Nevada defense and churn out five scoring drives lasting eight or more plays. Overall, the Wildcats ran for 269 yards and four touchdowns while holding the Wolf Pack to 25 yards on 23 carries.
For one day, the focus was on the Trojans' on-field performance and not the job opening that may be one of the dominant themes of the 2021 season. And USC looked pretty good under interim coach Donte Williams, who replaced Clay Helton earlier this week. Down 14-0 until under a minute left in the first half and with quarterback Kedon Slovis injured, the Trojans got 391 passing yards and four touchdowns from backup Jaxson Dart and beat Washington State 45-14.
It may be too soon to call this the best team of Dave Clawson's tenure, which has seen the Demon Deacons reach six straight bowl games and post a pair of eight-win seasons. But the potential is there for a breakthrough finish and a push for the Top 25 after Wake barely broke a sweat in a 35-14 win against overmatched Florida State. Now 3-0, the Demon Deacons have several winnable games ahead before a tough run of opponents in November. Clawson is very rarely mentioned among the best coaches in the ACC and the Power Five but may finally get the national attention he's deserved.
UTSA is 3-0 under second-year coach Jeff Traylor after beating Middle Tennessee State 27-13 behind another 100-yard game from running back Sincere McCormick, an All-America contender. Losses by Marshall (42-38 to East Carolina) and Charlotte (20-9 to Georgia State) have left the Roadrunners as the only undefeated team in Conference USA and the current favorite to win the league's East division. Next week's trip to Memphis marks the Roadrunners' biggest test to date.
San Diego State
The Aztecs continue to chew up teams from the Pac-12. San Diego State is 2-0 against teams from the Power Five league this season and 7-2 since 2016 after beating Utah 33-31 in a wacky, three-overtime game that seemed well in the Aztecs' corner before Utah stormed from 14 points down in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. SDSU keeps getting solid production from running back Greg Bell, who went for 119 yards against the Utes and has cracked the 100-yard mark seven times in his 10 games since transferring into the program from Nebraska.
Miami's 21-point loss to Michigan State was the low point in another low week for the ACC, which already has suffered a series of devastating setbacks before the end of September. Even before Saturday, the ACC had to deal with losses by Clemson, North Carolina and the Hurricanes, the league's top three preseason contenders. That was joined Saturday by Miami's horrible loss, Pittsburgh falling 44-41 to Western Michigan and Virginia Tech's 27-21 loss at West Virginia. About the only ACC team looking the part is Boston College, which moved to 3-0 after an easy win at Temple.
What's wrong with Clemson? The Tigers scuffled for the second time in as many games against Power Five competition, this time in a 14-8 escape against Georgia Tech that featured the program's worst offensive performance in ACC play in years: 284 yards, the fewest in league play since gaining 190 yards against the Yellow Jackets in 2014, on just 4.3 yards per play. The last time Clemson was held under 300 yards in back-to-back games against the Power Five was in the final two games of the 2010 season. Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei has 349 passing yards through three games; his predecessor, the great Trevor Lawrence, exceeded that total four times in 2020 alone.
How bad will it get for FSU and coach Mike Norvell? One week after losing in heartbreaking fashion to Jacksonville State, the Seminoles dropped to 0-3 for the first time since 1976 — legendary coach Bobby Bowden's first season — after giving up 484 yards of offense and 27 first downs in the ugly loss to the Demon Deacons. At this point, the only clear win on the schedule is Massachusetts at home on Oct. 23. Could the Seminoles lose more than eight games for the first time since 1974?
The Huskies scored 21 points in the second half against Army after failing to score one point in eight quarters of play against Fresno State and Purdue. (Not to mention losing 38-28 to Holy Cross.) Unfortunately, the Huskies also gave up 52 points and 397 rushing yards to the Black Knights, who held onto possession for more than 40 minutes and smothered the worst team in the FBS.
One of the surprise Power Five teams of 2020, the Buffaloes will head into Pac-12 play at 1-2 after being destroyed by Minnesota in a 30-0 loss. A far cry from last week's competitive 10-7 loss to Texas A&M, the Buffaloes allowed 441 yards of offense, 277 on the ground, and gained just 63 yards on 45 plays. Colorado hadn't been shut out since losing 28-0 to Washington State in 2017 or been held under 100 yards of offense since gaining 76 yards in a 48-0 loss to Stanford in 2012.
It's not just that Marshall lost to East Carolina but that it did so despite gaining 647 yards of offense and holding a significant lead late in the second half. Unbeaten entering Saturday, the Thundering Herd were ahead by 17 points, 38-21, heading into the fourth quarter. But ECU scored with 7:31 left to make it 38-28. Again with 2:31 left to make it 38-35. And the game-winning drive went 53 yards in 1:36 and ended with a short touchdown run to push the Pirates ahead 42-38 with just under a minute left. The last Conference USA team to gain that many yards and lose was Rice, which went for 647 yards in a loss to Marshall on Sept. 9, 2012.
Boise held Oklahoma State to 87 yards passing but still managed to lose 21-20, marking the second time the Broncos have given away a very winnable game in the program's first three games under coach Andy Avalos. As in the earlier loss to Central Florida, the Broncos held a solid lead (10-0 in the first quarter, 19-7 in the second) but had no response to the Cowboys' comeback. Boise also missed a 36-yard field goal in the final minutes that might've been tipped at the line of scrimmage by a leaping OSU defender.
Follow colleges reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg