There were some great matchups that lived up to the hype (Alabama-Florida, Auburn-Penn State & Fresno State-UCLA) and some games that were supposed to be blowouts that got VERY interesting for awhile (Tulsa-Ohio State & Nebraska-Oklahoma) in Week 3. All in all – another fun week but the picture is still pretty confused on what we are dealing with as a whole in the sport. Let’s try to provide some clarity…
First – Main Storylines from Week 3:
Is it possible everyone stinks?
Other than Georgia, who won their first SEC game convincingly over South Carolina, everyone else in the top…whatever…struggled. Admittedly, SC is bad, but so is 0-3 Tulsa but that didn’t stop Ohio State from only being up 7 with half a quarter to play in Columbus before pulling away. Clemson nearly found themselves tied or even could have lost very late to mediocre Georgia Tech (who they beat 70-7 last year). Oregon’s final score against FCS Stony Brook was 48-7 but it was 24-7 deep in third quarter. Oklahoma needed the greatest interception you’ll ever see and a extra point block return for 2 points to help hold off Nebraska who…isn’t very good. Alabama roared to a 21-3 lead over Florida in the Swamp but then gave up over 6 yards per carry and had to hold on for dear life to win 31-29. At least in that case, the Gators are a legitimate Top 10-12 team it looks like. Other teams outside the top 5-6 had mixed results as well.
It seems pretty clear that the opportunity for good but not NFL-ready players to return for an extra year of eligibility has really helped teams in the middle of the pack in Power 5 conferences and many teams in the G5 as well. While the Alabamas, Oklahomas and Ohio State’s of the world are replacing established stars who left early for NFL (or graduated and went to NFL), teams like Ole Miss, Arkansas, Maryland, Memphis and BYU have lots back. Same for other AAC, MAC and Sun Belt teams. Make no mistake – the superpowers are putting REALLY good players in the game but they are inexperienced and raw in spots. Will the season even out? Or will this be another 2007-type year with wild upsets? For a sport that needed a shakeup at the top – it looks like it could be more like the latter.
From Auburn-Penn State to Mississippi State-Memphis to Alabama-Florida, there were some dreadful officiating flubs, shaky communication leading to confusion amongst coaches and players and clock operation shenanigans mysteriously starting when one team was needing to bleed it. (You’re right Coach Saban - it IS nice to know if the clock is running under 2:00 when leading by 2 with the ball) Most of it involved Southeastern Conference officials but not always benefitting SEC teams. If there’s one conference who has NO excuse to not have top notch officiating considering the amount of money they bring in and have riding on their games it’s the SEC. I think I speak for everyone when I say - get it right, guys! The conference did at least acknowledge the officials’ brain fart in the MSU-Memphis and Auburn-PSU matchups.
Next, let’s look at the Three Top Coaching Performances of Week 3:
Kalen DeBoer – Fresno State: Fresno is 8 points away from possibly being a top 10 team after beating UCLA in the wee hours of Sunday morning in a thrilling back and forth game. In Week 1, the Bulldogs lost to Oregon by just 7 points, and were tied late in that game. DeBoer has got this FSU rocking and rolling. They may be the best team in the Mountain West.
Mel Tucker – Michigan State: Many experts (and yours truly) had predicted that this would be a tough year for the Spartans. After a pandemic year where Tucker came in very late to a program that has fallen pretty quickly in the final years of Mark Dantonio, I thought the talent wouldn’t be there for another year or two. Michigan State thumped Miami Saturday on the road to go 3-0. While I do think they will take some lumps in Big 10 play, the Spartans have the look of a team that will continue to surprise and go to a bowl – possibly a pretty good bowl.
Luke Fickell – Cincinnati: Facing Indiana in Bloomington on Saturday, the Bearcats got off to a rocky start, falling behind 14-0 and opening the game with 5 straight 3-and-outs on offense. But Fickell’s team stayed calm like he always seems to and righted the ship, pulling away to win 38-24 in a game crucial to any playoff hopes that Cincy has. Now, they need to root for Indiana to win a lot of games and also…beat Notre Dame in two weeks and keep winning.
Honorable mention: Kalani Sitake, BYU, P.J. Fleck, Minnesota
Finally, the Three Worst Coaching Jobs of Week 3:
Pat Narduzzi - Pitt: I think I speak for a lot of Pitt backers when I say…what are we doing here? The Narduzzi “era” is in Year 7 and it’s kind of same old same old. They get big wins from time to time but every year is basically a regression to a 6-6/7-5/5-7 mean. Losing to a Western Michigan squad that is…average at best in the MAC is not getting it done. Giving up 44 points stings even more for a supposedly defense-first coaching staff. It signals another ho-hum year for the Panthers. While Narduzzi has brought stability to the program…many Pitt backers are looking for an upgrade.
Herm Edwards – Arizona State: The Sun Devils were – and still are – in great position to contend in the PAC-12, particularly the South with USC and Utah’s struggles. Unfortunately, an early loss can make it harder to get luster and momentum nationally. There’s no shame in losing to a good BYU team on the road but the way it happened with15 (!) penalties, goofy turnovers and a real thumping that was worse than the 27-17 final score makes it seem like the program is really not better off than it was during the Todd Graham years…and they’ve got accusations of cheating to boot. Not a good look for Herm.
Bryan Harsin - Auburn: Harsin and the Auburn staff generally had a good plan heading into Happy Valley – and Auburn’s normal complement of friendly SEC referee-ing. It was undone by two really bonehead decisions, the second worse than the first. Coming out of halftime running a goofy reverse pass with a freshman WR on the road in a game where you’d been moving the ball and were only down by four. Freshman decides to just run – a justifiable move – but simply drops ball on ground. Penn State goes up 11 and makes it much tougher on the Tigers. The second decision was far worse. Facing a 4th and 2, Harsin burns one of his two remaining timeouts – which with under 3:00 to go puts team in much tougher position to get ball back if they fail – and then comes out of the timeout with a fade to the end zone that is literally 10 yards too high and out of bounds. The fade thrown by Bo Nix, who while very mobile is not known for his passing touch, against Penn State’s best corner – one of the best in America – AND – Auburn has two running backs that were clearly 2 of the 3 best players on the field during the game. I don’t get it.*
Dishonorable Mention: Manny Diaz, Miami, Karl Dorrell, Colorado
* FYI – James Franklin from Penn State would have been on this list had the Nittany Lions lost the game. He and the offensive staff bungled multiple third and fourth and short plays with rushed hurry up stuffs, a very predictable fake punt (which they actually probably converted but still) and even a jet sweep on another 3rd & 2 when they’d been running effectively. Franklin is a great program builder but still leaves much to be desired in the game management department.
Stay tuned for Week 4’s “Most Meaningful Matchups” coming later this week. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @ReadyCFB to argue or agree and see my takes throughout the week – especially on game day as we sample the Saturday Smorgasbord that is college football.