Although the matchups for Week 3 did not jump off the page entering the weekend, there was plenty of drama that left us with a lot of questions as we look forward.
What is going on in the SEC? Do we have a full-fledged quarterback controversy in Alabama? Are Michael Penix Jr. and the Washington passing attack really this good? And how high can the hysteria get surrounding Coach Prime and Colorado?
Our college football reporters look at those topics and more with this week’s takeaways.
The SEC remains one big mystery
It’s probably not wise to offer up a news flash three weeks into any college football season. But here goes nothing: The SEC looks pretty ordinary. Not to diss Georgia and the Dawgs’ ring collection over the last two years, but they looked beatable for much of the South Carolina game before rallying in the second half at home. I’m not sure there are any givens at the top of the league, as has been the case with Georgia, Alabama and LSU over the last five or six years. We’ve already seen some serious gnashing of teeth over the quarterback play, which is to be expected to some degree with so many new starters and others, such as Mississippi State’s Will Rogers, playing in a new offense.
Nowhere has there been more angst over the quarterback spot than at Alabama. What does Nick Saban do now, after his switch to Tyler Buchner did not go well? Some close to the program think Saban will go back to Jalen Milroe, which probably makes the most sense at this point.
Florida’s upset win over Tennessee at the Swamp cooled a lot of the offseason hype surrounding Joe Milton III and the Vols, while LSU and Texas A&M get chances in the coming weeks to make amends for humbling losses to ACC foes in the first two weeks. Ole Miss is unbeaten but gets its first SEC test this week at Alabama.
Some have suggested that the SEC (gasp!) might even be left out of the playoff. I don’t see that happening, but we could see some real carnage with schools beating up on each other and a lot of the records looking similar at season’s end. It’s what the rest of the college football world has been waiting for. — Chris Low
Penix deserves more hype
Michael Penix Jr. solidified himself as a legitimate Heisman candidate who should be getting as much hype as anyone after an incredible performance against Michigan State on Saturday. Penix threw for 473 yards, five touchdowns and completed 77% of his passes in just three quarters of UW’s 41-7 win. He became the first quarterback in Washington history to throw for 400 yards and three or more touchdowns in each of the team’s first three games. He has already thrown for 1,332 yards this season, which is the most through a team’s first three games of a season since 2016, when both Davis Webb and Patrick Mahomes reached that mark.
Penix will have the chance to showcase his ability on the national stage when his team plays Oregon, USC and Utah later this season. The game against USC will put him against last season’s Heisman winner, Caleb Williams, and is sure to be an offensive duel worth watching. — Tom VanHaaren
Washington’s receiver depth showing
Of course, someone has to be on the other end of all those Penix passes, and for the third straight week, a pair of Washington wide receivers went over the 100-yard mark in the same game. Rome Odunze (eight catches for 180 yards) and Ja’Lynn Polk (five receptions for 118 yards and a TD) turned the trick Saturday.
The emergence of Polk (300 receiving yards) and tight end Jack Westover, who had three touchdown catches against the Spartans, behind Jalen McMillan and Odunze will allow coach Kalen DeBoer to keep his foot on the gas and continue to make opposing defenses dizzy. A week after 10 Huskies caught passes in a win over Tulsa, nine receivers had receptions Saturday in East Lansing. That sort of balance, which doesn’t allow defenses a chance to breathe, could prove pivotal as the Pac-12 gauntlet commences. — Blake Baumgartner
The Pac-12 is easily the nation’s best league
Late Saturday night, I was asked on ESPN radio whether the Pac-12 champion had a chance to make the CFP. A fair question, given the league’s absence from the event since 2016, but the answer clearly is yes. The Pac-12 has backed up the offseason hype and established itself as easily the top conference in the FBS. The disappointing starts by both the SEC and Big Ten factor in, and some ugly Pac-12 results can’t be ignored, but the league deserves credit for how its top teams are performing.
For years, the Pac-12 botched the nonleague portion of its schedule, as its better teams — 2019 Oregon, 2022 Utah — would lose to inferior opponents. This season, the Pac-12 largely has taken care of business, beating Florida (Utah), Texas Tech (Oregon), Wisconsin (Washington State), TCU (Colorado), Michigan State (Washington) and others. Although the biggest nonconference test remains — USC at Notre Dame on Oct. 14 — the Pac-12 has minimized the damage and had its best teams often look dominant. The league will beat up on each other, as always, but wins within the league will resonate more because of what’s happened outside of conference play. — Adam Rittenberg
Don’t panic over sloppy September wins
Yes, the CFP selection committee certainly pays attention to how teams win, and it’s obviously better to handle unranked competition with some style. After a sluggish Saturday when many teams sputtered their way to victory, though, it’s worth noting the group also recognizes when contenders simply find ways to win.
The question is if the struggles are more indicative of larger problems (Alabama?), or if maybe a team was looking ahead (Florida State?), or simply ran into a gritty little guy swinging for the fences (Texas?). Whatever it was, it seemed to be contagious Saturday, and the final scores didn’t reveal how close some of the games were at one point. Georgia was trailing South Carolina by 11 at the half. Texas was tied at 10 with Wyoming late in the third quarter. Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy threw a career-high three interceptions and was clinging to a 1-point lead at the half before beating Bowling Green.
Sometimes, those performances can be more impressive than clobbering, say, NC Central, 59-7 (UCLA). This is why the committee doesn’t release its first ranking until Halloween — it’s still too early to tell who’s a pretender. But Week 4 will be much more revealing. Ohio State at Notre Dame. Colorado at Oregon. Florida State at Clemson. Those games will help show us who to take seriously. — Heather Dinich
It’s Deion Sanders’ world, we’re all just living in it
Saturday’s win over Colorado State didn’t just feel like the marquee game of the day. It was the sporting event of the weekend. Between the celebrities on hand and the hype leading up to the matchup against a Colorado State team that was neither ranked nor on the radar of most college football fans, Deion Sanders & Co. were the talk of the sport once again. Then the game began and Sanders’ son Shilo had an 80-yard pick-six, while his son Shedeur led the game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter that helped the Buffs secure a thrilling win in overtime.
Everything was literally turning up Sanders. Three games and three wins into the season, we’re reaching a point where it feels like everything Sanders touches — from shades to interviews to pregame speeches and his entire roster — turns to gold. The injection of energy Sanders has given the sport since he began his coaching tenure at Jackson State and now in Boulder isn’t without substance, which makes the coming two weeks all the more compelling. Matchups against Oregon in Eugene and USC at home will show where Colorado truly stands, but no matter the result, one thing is certain: Everyone will be watching. — Paolo Uggetti