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College football Week 3: Top takeaways from Saturday's action

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 9/15/2019 Dan Wolken, USA TODAY
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There was good reason to spend the entire college football offseason talking about how the hierarchy was Alabama and Clemson well ahead of everyone else. But now that we’re 25% of the way through the regular season, does that still seem like the case? 

Maybe this will be a fleeting feeling and we’ll end up right back where we were last January when Alabama and Clemson met in the College Football Playoff for a fourth straight year. But for now, some other teams are deserving of a second look. 

At the front of that group is Ohio State, which has outscored its three opponents 138-31 so far while uber-talented transfer quarterback Justin Fields looks more comfortable each week. Then there’s Georgia, which we'll learn more about next Saturday against Notre Dame, that has a defense that appears to hold true dominance potential. Even Oklahoma, with Jalen Hurts off to a smoking start and a defense that looks a bit better than the last few years, looks kind of intriguing. And LSU, with a big win at Texas in the bank and a legitimately good quarterback in Joe Burrow, looks more legitimate than in recent years.  

Based on performance, in fact, you could easily put Ohio State or Georgia at No. 1 or No. 2 right now. And on résumé, LSU certainly would figure in the mix at this point. It’s early, but this may not be just a two-horse race after all. 

Week 3 winners and losersNotre Dame and Georgia lead the way

Here are other observations from Week 3: 

Alabama worries: The dirty little secret for Alabama last season was that Tua Tagovailoa’s crazy offensive production was partly out of necessity. As we found out against Clemson, Nick Saban loosened the reins of the offense because he knew his defense wasn’t great and that Alabama needed to get more possessions and score a bunch of points to win.

Alabama gave off that same kind of vibe Saturday in a 47-23 win over South Carolina, which had 459 yards of offense but failed to convert in some key situations and eventually got buried by Tagovailoa’s ability to open things up. 

But if the Crimson Tide’s defense is going to be as ordinary-looking as it was against South Carolina, Tagovailoa is going to have to shoulder a huge amount of the burden once again. That won’t matter against most of the teams Alabama plays, but it certainly could against the Clemsons, Ohio States and LSUs. 

He’s not named Math Narduzzi: If there were a weekly award for a coach who makes the worst time and score decision, Pitt’s Pat Narduzzi would have wrapped it up by happy hour. Trailing 17-10 to Penn State, the Panthers mounted a 10-play drive that got them all the way down to the 1-yard line with 4:59 remaining. On fourth down in that situation given the entire set of circumstances, there is no choice — you go for it, every time. You go for it, that is, unless you’re Narduzzi, who decided to kick a 19-yard field goal, watched it clank off the upright and lost the game.

Sorry, but there’s no justification for kicking there. If you're trying to win the game, you trust your team to get a yard, tie it up and go from there. Cutting it to 17-13 that late in the clock does very little for your chances of winning. Narduzzi, however, still wouldn't admit that it was a bad decision. 

“We could have gone for it there and not gotten it,” Narduzzi told reporters. “I thought if we kicked a field goal it’s a two-possession game. We need two scores. A field goal is a good play, then come back and score again … you need two scores anyway to win a football game.”

Beyond being factually inaccurate — you could, in fact, score a touchdown and go for two to take the lead — it’s bad strategy when your absolute best-case scenario with a field goal is getting the ball back with three minutes or so left and still needing a touchdown. 

Narduzzi is just wrong and got what he deserved. 

Cardiac Cougars: Think the nickname “Mormon Manziel” might catch on for BYU quarterback Zach Wilson? It’s got a chance if he keeps this up. Of course, it’s way, way too early to put Wilson into the same category as the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, but you can kind of see the stylistic comparison watching Wilson play with his ability to run around and change direction and extend plays just long enough to sling it to an open receiver. Wilson, who is actually much bigger than Manziel at 6-foot-3, completed 20-of-33 passes for 280 yards and a touchdown in BYU’s 30-27 overtime win over USC. 

This isn’t a great USC team — the Trojans are starting a talented but raw freshman quarterback, and coach Clay Helton is likely going to be swept out after this season — but beating name-brand programs in back-to-back weeks is huge for BYU. 

On the heels of last week’s comeback at Tennessee, when Wilson threw a miracle 64-yard pass  to Micah Simon in the final seconds to set up a tying field goal, this is some real positive momentum for the Cougars for the first time in the Kalani Sitake era. With another big opportunity at home next Saturday against Washington, BYU has a chance to set up a really memorable run as the schedule gets much easier in the second half of the year.

Replay Video

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Play to win the game: It’s time to admit something. A lot of us — myself, particularly — were dead wrong about Arizona State hiring Herm Edwards. On the surface, it didn't make a lot of sense to bring the then-63-year-old Edwards out of the ESPN booth having not worked on a college campus since 1989. It also smacked of cronyism, as he was hired by athletics director Ray Anderson, his former agent.

But Edwards has been an effective coach, and the work he’s done to turn the entire identity of the program around 180 degrees in just two seasons is pretty remarkable. Under Todd Graham, the Sun Devils basically played finesse football: They scored a bunch of points, but they didn’t exude much toughness on either side of the ball and usually folded up on defense against any team with a pulse.

But Edwards has totally changed the character and the physicality of the team, and the one thing you can say about Arizona State now is it doesn't look real fun to play against. Though the Sun Devils' 10-7 win at Michigan State wasn’t pretty — and they were the recipients of some pretty good luck and egregious late-game coaching mistakes by Mark Dantonio’s staff — it’s a great win. And it’s great because Arizona State got out-gained in yards 404-216 and did a whole bunch of stuff wrong on offense but was able to find a way. That wouldn’t have happened before Edwards arrived.

On the radar: Given the amount of turnover in the coaching ranks over the last four years, you’ll often hear athletics directors and some search firm types lament the small number of slam-dunk coaching prospects who are ready to move up to Power Five jobs. But we should probably add Eastern Michigan’s Chris Creighton to the list of guys who will get a close look during this hiring cycle. Creighton is just 24-41 overall in his six years, but that doesn’t even begin to tell the story of how he’s turned around an Eastern Michigan program that was so bad, some groups on campus were calling for it to be eliminated.

That’s not happening much anymore, as Creighton has led Eastern Michigan to two bowl games in the past three years and will probably do it again this year based on Saturday’s 34-31 win over Illinois. In the process, Saturday marked the third consecutive year Creighton has beaten a Big Ten team (Purdue and Rutgers were the others), which is pretty impressive for a program that has been truly awful since the 1980s. Creighton won’t be a sexy name on the coaching carousel — his pedigree is filled with small schools like Drake and Wabash — but he’s proving he can really run a program. 

Unpredictable letdowns: Ah, the challenge of getting college students to focus the week after they’ve celebrated a big win. First-year Colorado coach Mel Tucker and first-year Maryland coach Mike Locksley found that challenge too much to overcome in somewhat surprising losses Saturday. Of the two, Maryland’s performance in a 20-17 loss at Temple was more difficult to see coming. Just one week earlier, the Terrapins’ offense looked unstoppable in a 63-20 win over a good Syracuse team. But against the Owls, quarterback Josh Jackson really struggled to make anything happen, completing just 15-of-38 passes for 183 yards. Maybe we should hold off on making any big proclamations about what the Locksley era is going to look like.  

Colorado, meanwhile, nearly pulled off a huge second-half comeback for the second straight week. But unlike the Nebraska game in Week 2, which the Buffaloes won in overtime, they lost to Air Force 30-23 in the extra period after erasing a 23-10 fourth-quarter deficit. This isn’t a bad loss for Colorado because Air Force is always tough to play, but it probably doesn’t help the Falcons’ chances of getting back on the Buffaloes’ schedule in the future. Saturday’s meeting was the first between the schools since 1974, and they’ll have one more meeting at the Academy in 2022 but nothing on the books after that. 

As Air Force’s program ascended to national prominence in the 1980s and 1990s, there was a strong desire to play Colorado, but the Buffaloes were never particularly interested in facing Fisher DeBerry’s option offense. Plus, Colorado already has one annual in-state rivalry with Colorado State, so adding a second one doesn’t make a ton of sense. But they probably shouldn't wait 45 years between meetings ever again. 

Strong start: The Kansas State fan base wasn’t overly impressed last December when athletics director Gene Taylor opted to hire Chris Klieman, whom Taylor had worked with previously at North Dakota State. Though Klieman had been a huge success with four national titles at the FCS level, there was nothing in his background to suggest how well he would transition to FBS. 

It turns out that Klieman may, in fact, know what he’s doing. Kansas State is a pretty solid-looking 3-0 after going into Starkville and rallying for a 31-24 win over Mississippi State. The Wildcats aren’t going to blow you away with their skill level (they had just 269 yards of offense) but played an opportunistic game with some timely turnovers and a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. At the very least, the early returns suggest the Kansas State program isn’t going to fall off a cliff in the post-Bill Snyder era. 

Quote of the week: South Carolina coach Will Muschamp was efficient in getting his point across at halftime against Alabama when asked by CBS for his thoughts on why a close call at the goal-line wasn’t reviewed to see if it was a touchdown. 

“I’ll get fined for the rest of my life if I comment on that,” said Muschamp, whose team would have pulled within 24-17 at halftime but instead got no points out of that sequence and eventually lost 47-23. 

First of all, ruling Rico Dowdle down at the 1-yard line was probably the correct call. But it absolutely should have been reviewed, and if replay officials aren’t buzzing down to take a closer look at a play like that, what's the point of replay in the first place? 

But as frustrated as Muschamp was, he’s got to be pleased about the performance freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski. In his second career game, Hilinski completed 36-of-57 passes and threw for 324 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. 

Hilinski, of course, is the younger brother of former Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski, who committed suicide in January 2018 and was later found to have CTE, which has been linked to concussions.  

Apart from that highly-publicized aspect of his life, Ryan Hilinski has been a well-chronicled quarterback prospect for quite some time but it wasn’t clear how much he’d get on the field this year playing behind senior Jake Bentley. But with Bentley now out for the year with a foot injury, we’re getting an early preview of Hilinski’s ability. So far, he certainly looks like a good one. 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football Week 3: Top takeaways from Saturday's action

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