Tasked with following a wild week 2, week 3 provided relative calm. There were no upsets that were too insane, and only a couple top-25 matchups took place. The favored teams mostly won, and in the case of the top teams, won big. Admittedly, that makes it a bit harder to find interesting things to write about, but I will do my best to provide insights, trends, and nuggets that you will enjoy. After all, unlike in the NFL, a single loss in the first 3 weeks of the season can doom a team’s playoff hopes, and one signature win can revive a downtrodden program. So let’s see what we can infer from this slate of games in my week 3 takeaways!
Mismatches Make Blowouts Rule the Day
As I alluded to in the intro, matchups that looked poor on paper ended up playing out exactly how they appeared. The top 9 teams in the AP rankings outscored their opponents by a combined 390 points! Even some of the theoretically lower-tier matchups produced some lopsided results, with Tennessee, Baylor, Ole Miss, Army, Kent State, West Virginia, Central Michigan, Iowa State, Ball State, UNLV, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Middle Tennessee, Southern Mississippi, Washington State, East Carolina, Tulsa, and Oregon State all winning by 30 or more points. Granted, some of those wins came against FCS foes, but not all of them, and even those games don’t always go exactly according to plan. In most cases, the teams that were expected to win simply demolished their opponents, depriving us of some of that close-in-the-4th-quarter action we all love. Some games had tension and came down to the wire of course, but not at the same rate as in the past two weeks. I expect that this was more of a scheduling anomaly than a massive talent disparity across the CFB landscape.
AAC Relinquishing Reign as Best Group of 5 Conference
The Sun Belt’s incredible performance in week 2 might have foreshadowed this, but I’m not making this statement based on what the other conferences have done. I’m thinking of it more in terms of what the AAC has NOT done. This week, not a single AAC team was ranked in the top 25 in either the AP poll or the coaches poll; it feels like it’s been forever since that was true. We knew Cincinnati would take a step back after losing a ton of talent (including QB Desmond Ridder) to the NFL, but this much? Houston has also disappointed with a 1-2 start. UCF lost to Louisville, who we now know is not very good, in week 2. These 3 teams are all leaving soon for the Big 12, but it’s fair to ask what exactly that conference is getting at this point. It’s not like other teams have supplanted them as major threats. Tulane is the only unbeaten left in the conference, but their schedule has been extremely weak. Others, like Navy, have been dreadful, even losing to FCS foes. A year after housing the only Group of 5 school to ever make the CFP, the AAC is looking up at the Sun Belt and perhaps soon at the Mountain West as well.
Disappointing QBs Through 3 Weeks
Whether it’s a current developing player who was expected to take the next step or a transfer who was brought in to change the fate of a program, some QBs just haven’t done as well as their fans and coaches have hoped. I’d like to highlight 3 of those players here to see what’s gone wrong.
First, we have Spencer Rattler. The expectations imposed upon him at Oklahoma were unfair, and when his freshman phenom backup came in and played great, it was simply too much. Rattler moved to South Carolina, where he’s been much of the same. The athleticism and live arm show up every time he plays, but so do the head-scratching decisions that made OU fans crazy. Even if we discount the fact that he was playing an elite Georgia team today, he’s still thrown 5 INTs and taken 9 sacks through 3 games. His completion percentage remains under 60, and when he faces pressure, he gets rattled (pun intended). It’s amazing that Rattler has gone from potential #1 pick to barely draftable prospect, but that’s where we are.
Next up is Brennan Armstrong. He had a very strong (don’t hate me; that one was intended too) 2021 season, with 4449 yards passing, 31 passing TDs, and 9 rushing TDs. The thought was that he’d take another step forward as a senior. Armstrong has thrown 3 INTs versus just 2 TDs, and his completion percentage is barely above 50. He struggled to put away FCS Richmond, and it took a last-ditch effort to top Old Dominion this week. This just doesn’t look like the guy who beat Miami and went toe-to-toe with conference champion Pittsburgh last year. His comfort level in the pocket has deteriorated, and he is flipping back and forth being playing scared and forcing balls into ill-advised places.
Finally, let’s discuss Anthony Richardson. We all knew he was raw as a passer, but the theory was that he was an incredible athlete with amazing upside that would be harnessed once he got true starter’s reps. Well, that’s turned out to be true in the rushing department, but his passing is completely unrefined. Despite running for 3 TDs to lead the Gators to an upset over Utah, he only threw for 168 yards and no TDs; however, he didn’t turn the ball over and completed 70.8% of his passes, so that looked like a great first step. The wheels completely fell off the following week against Kentucky, as Richardson completed just 40% of his passes for 143 yards, with 0 TDs and 2 INTs. Things were no better against an inferior USF squad; Richardson went 10/18 for 112 yards and 2 more INTs. He still has not thrown a TD this season, and Florida only won because USF imploded in the final 50 seconds. Richardson could still pan out, but it’s clear he needs a lot more development that a lone year as a college starter won’t provide; he’ll forgo the draft for sure with a few more performances like this.
Surprising 3-0 Teams: Are Any of Them Real?
Some teams, like Georgia and Alabama, are not surprising us by sitting at 3-0 right now. Others, to put it nicely, are stunning. I’m going to list a few of them and then state whether I think they’ve really turned a corner or are pretenders that have been propped up by easy schedules.
Florida State: Real. I didn’t expect to come to this judgment. They’ve had a fair bit of luck in their wins over LSU and Louisville, but their offense has looked MUCH improved. The defense was always decent, but the other side of the ball is catching up.
Tulane: Fake. Two of their wins have come against an FCS foe and UMass. That proves absolutely nothing at this time.
Syracuse: Real. Their 31-7 opening win over Louisville speaks volumes after the Orange lost 41-3 to the same team late last season. The UConn win is meaningless, but today’s victory over Purdue tells me a lot. The team has grit, plays complementary football, and has a solid roster. Things are looking up.
Duke: Fake. This offense is definitely better than last year’s version, but an FCS team, Temple with D’Wan Mathis, and Northwestern aren’t good benchmarks of progress. They have potential though, so we’ll revisit them later on.
Washington: Real. We did have ONE major upset today, but perhaps it shouldn’t have been seen as that big of a shocker: a 39-28 win over (11) Michigan State. Wins over Kent State and Portland State didn’t convince me, but this game did. Michael Penix Jr. looks all the way back from the injury he suffered at Indiana, and the upgrade he provides over Dylan Morris changes the entire team. The defense was already good, but now they can score. They’re dangerous.
Kansas: Real. This two-win team in 2021 showed signs of life when they upset Texas in a thriller. This year, they’re already notched shootout wins over WVU and Houston. Those are legitimate offenses, but this week in particular, Kansas looked in control throughout the game. A trio of games later in the season against Oklahoma, Baylor, and OK State in succession will reveal the truth about this team.
Rutgers: Fake. I know this team hasn’t been good in a while, but their start is a mirage. Tight wins over Boston College, who has proven to be a mediocre team at best, and Temple, who was struggling so much that they changed their QB, aren’t signs of a strong team. Only their win over FCS Wagner was convincing. In two weeks, Ohio State will likely send them back to earth.
Washington State: Real. The main question with this team was what the offense would look like with their new QB, Incarnate Word transfer Cameron Ward. The answer: it’s decent, and it was at its best this week against Colorado State. Their signature win, however, was their road upset of Wisconsin. That 17-14 win showed the Cougars’ ability to compete with a great defense while mitigating offense with their own. Oregon will provide an even stiffer test next week.
Indiana: Fake. The Hoosiers only won 2 games last season as Michael Penix went down early on. Connor Bazelak, a Missouri transfer, has stabilized the QB position, but this still isn’t a great roster. They won a squeaker against fellow pretender Illinois, beat an FCS team after struggling for a full half, and then needed a frantic comeback this week to beat Western Kentucky at home. I wonder how they’ll look against Cincinnati in their first road game of the season.
Heisman and CFP Watches: BYU’s Hopes Dashed, CJ Stroud Still Trophy Favorite
It’s hard for an FBS independent to reach the CFP due to the lack of a title game to put on your resume. These teams might also not have the strongest schedules, meaning that they really have to dominate to be considered. Any loss becomes disqualifying. BYU was riding high after their upset over Baylor, a signature win that could’ve paid dividends down the road. Getting obliterated 41-20 by an Oregon team that was already exposed as a pretender dooms the Cougars just 3 weeks in. MAYBE a loss like that to Georgia could’ve been overlooked, but not this.
In terms of the Heisman, this race is slowly evolving into CJ Stroud’s award to lose. Alabama won easily today, but Bryce Young still didn’t look totally in command, tossing two more INTs in his 18 pass attempts. Stroud on the other hand put up another set of gaudy numbers in the Buckeyes’ 77-22 win over Toledo, going 22/27 for 367 yards, 5 TDs, and no turnovers before being mercifully benched (mercifully for Toledo’s sake that is). Ryan Day’s offense will continue to give Stroud opportunities to stuff the stat sheet, so unless he starts turning the ball over, he’ll remain the Heisman favorite.