Monumental showdowns, unforeseen upsets, shocking dominance and ridiculous individual performances highlighted college football in Week 3.
While the season is yet young, there is already a clear-cut favorite to win the Heisman. Though, we must point out that a sleeper exists who remains in the shadows of national perception.
An FCS powerhouse took down a top-ranked team on Saturday, while one of the biggest programs in college football took a nose dive.
We’re taking a look at these angles and more as we break down the top takeaways from college football in Week 3.
1. Lamar “Action” Jackson is unstoppable, Louisville is ACC’s best
So much for the much-anticipated “showdown” between Louisville (No. 10) and Florida State (No. 2). The Cardinals treated the Seminoles like they were the varsity squad going up against the J.V. unit, winning by the stunning score of 63-20.
It all started on the first offensive possession of the game. After receiving the opening kickoff, Lamar Jackson and the Cardinals marched downfield on a six-play, 75-yard drive that ended on an entertaining two-yard touchdown run by Jackson (watch here).
A short while later, Jackson capped off another impressive drive with a 14-yard touchdown run, making it 14-3 at that point after the Seminoles managed an early field goal. FSU made things interesting, scoring a touchdown of their own to cut the lead to just four.
But that’s when Jackson and the Cardinals took off and never looked back. Louisville went on a 49-point run, scoring seven touchdowns in a row to make it 63-10 in the fourth quarter.
It was as impressive a display of dominance as we’ve seen in recent history against such high-ranking teams.
Jackson finished with 362 total yards and five touchdowns. In three games now, he’s totaled 1,377 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Our current Heisman Top Three:
1.) Lamar Jackson
2.) Jackson, Lamar
3.) That Louisville QB
— CollegeFootballTalk (@CFTalk) September 17, 2016
While it’s still early, Jackson is looming large as the Heisman favorite. Heck, Michael Vick is taking notice and thinks Jackson is five times better than he was when he was destroying defenses at Virginia Tech.
Until further notice, he’s the Heisman favorite and the Cardinals are the toast of the ACC.
It’s going to be fascinating to see how this team and its young sophomore quarterback performs in two weeks when Louisville travels to Death Valley for a showdown against the Clemson Tigers, who also won big in Week 3.
2. Alabama guts out a thrilling road win against Ole Miss
Ole Miss (No. 19) worked Alabama (No. 1) over for almost 20 minutes. It looked like Chad Kelly and the Rebels had ‘Bama’s number, leading 17-3 after the quarterback hit Evan Engram on a 63-yard touchdown strike midway through the second quarter.
This rosy outlook quickly turned to thunderclaps and bolts of lightning, as the Crimson Tide machine finally awoke in a fury. They took the game over after finally taking the lead midway through the third quarter, and it looked like they’d never look back.
But Kelly and the Rebels weren’t ready to give up the fight. His final touchdown pass of the night was a thing of beauty. Down by 11 points with less than three minutes to go, he launched a deep pass down the right side, right into the waiting arms of A.J. Brown.
Ole Miss trying to make it a game https://t.co/boLdPjQJdf
— Patrick (@PatSportsGuy) September 17, 2016
Kelly, who typically offers a mixture of amazing throws and pound-your-head-into-the-wall poor decision making, was at it again Saturday. In addition to throwing three touchdowns, he turned the ball over twice — once on a bad interception and another on a fumble into the end zone, which was a huge turning point.
He also botched a two-point conversion that would have made it a three-point game late in the fourth quarter.
Alabama ran the ball excessively in this one, gaining 336 yards on the ground and 492 yards total in the 48-43 victory.
The Crimson Tide defense came up with clutch stops when it had to and scored two touchdowns. The special teams unit pitched in with an 85-yard punt return for touchdown, courtesy of Eddie Jackson.
It wasn’t pretty, but Alabama once again got the job done in a hostile environment, taking down the team that has won this rivalry game the two years prior to this year’s matchup.
Kelly deserves credit for keeping his team in the game after some critical mistakes. But his late-game surge was too little, too late.
3. Clemson finally woke up
It only took three weeks for the No. 5-ranked Tigers to wake up and start playing up to their talent level. Shady wins over Auburn and Troy did nothing to prove this year’s Clemson squad is better that it was in 2015. And even now it’s hard to say this team has that kind of clout.
Still, a 59-0 win over South Carolina State was exactly what the program needed heading into the difficult portion of its schedule.
Deshaun Watson, who had been awfully sloppy thus far, came out sharp. He completed 12-of-15 passes for 152 yards and three touchdowns.
The Tigers ran the ball at will, gaining 227 yards at a 5.3 yards-per-carry clip and scoring twice on the ground.
Heck, the special teams pitched in with a touchdown as well when a Bulldogs kickoff return man made one of the most mind-numbing mistakes we’ve seen in a long time (watch here).
Things were so out of hand at halftime that the Tigers showed mercy to the Bulldogs, with the third and fourth quarters going only 12 minutes.
This was a game Clemson was supposed to win big, but so were the first two. Now it’s on to Georgia Tech and then back home again for the battle royale against Louisville in Week 5.
4. Power 5 teams should stop paying North Dakota State to play them
Iowa (No. 13) was taken down Saturday by FCS powerhouse North Dakota State, a team that was paid to come into Kinnick Stadium, by the score of 23-21.
The Bison absolutely dominated the line of scrimmage in this game, rushing for 239 yards and holding the Hawkeyes to just 34 yards on 25 carries. They won the game on a last-second field goal, stunning Iowa and its fans.
This now marks the sixth win in a row by North Dakota State against FBS schools, all of which paid the Bison to bludgeon them. ESPN’s Darren Rovell reported after the game that the Bison have now earned $2.18 million during this remarkable stretch.
NDSU will have to start paying Power 5 teams to play them..
— Trey Wallace (@TreyWallace_) September 17, 2016
North Dakota State had the look of a Big Ten squad, and it took down one of the best teams in the Big Ten conference.
Power 5 teams are now officially on notice (as if they weren’t before) not to schedule this program for a tune-up game leading up to the ones that really “matter.”
5. Houston is more than just a one-man show
Going up against a very good Cincinnati team in Cincinnati on a short week, Houston (No. 6) was in a dog fight and was actually losing at one point in the fourth quarter, 16-12, before pulling out the 40-16 win.
Greg Ward Jr. played with a sore shoulder and was hit numerous times by the defensive linemen of the Bearcats, further aggravating it. He ended up throwing two interceptions, one of which turned into a touchdown on the next Cincinnati possession.
Ward did finish with 399 total yards and three touchdowns. But two of those scores came later in the fourth quarter when the floodgates finally opened for the Cougars.
It was the defense that ended up sparking the big win, as Howard Wilson (who had two interceptions) and Steven Taylor both returned interceptions for touchdowns.
As we saw in Week 1 against the Oklahoma, Houston’s defense is to be feared. This is a ball-hawking, opportunistic unit that complements the dual-threat offensive abilities Ward presents on a weekly basis.
6. Michigan passes first test of season
After absolutely annihilating the first two opponents of the season (both cupcakes, to be sure) by the combined score of 114-17, the No. 4-ranked Wolverines found themselves in an unusual position Saturday at home against Colorado.
The Michigan defense allowed an early 37-yard touchdown to Devin Ross. That was surprising enough, but it was nothing compared to the stunning development that put the home team in an early 14-0 hole (watch here).
Jim Harbaugh’s guys quickly responded with a touchdown of their own, but before you knew it the Buffaloes were back up by 14 after another offensive score.
The game began to turn in the Wolverines’ favor right before halftime, however, and they took a 24-21 lead into the break. We’re pretty sure Harbaugh lit into his guys in the locker room, because they came out with a vengeance in the second half.
The only score Michigan allowed the rest of the game was a 70-yard pass for a touchdown to open the second half. From there, the Wolverines scored 21 unanswered points to claim the 45-28 win over the feisty Buffaloes.
Colorado deserves a ton of credit for hanging tough and landing some early haymakers. Ultimately, however, Michigan was just too strong, too deep and too talented to lose at home in this one.
7. The J.T. Barrett and Noah Brown show was too hot to handle for Oklahoma
Oklahoma backup quarterback, Austin Kendall, is eating a fair amount of crow right about now after saying the Buckeyes have “a pretty basic defense” and that Baker Mayfield would “light them up.”
Ohio State’s defense absolutely owned Mayfield and the Sooners, forcing two key turnovers and returning an interception for a touchdown. In fact, the Buckeyes have now scored four times on defense, which is pretty good for such a “basic” scheme.
Mayfield finished with just 226 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, and he was getting hammered on a regular basis by Ohio State’s defensive linemen.
But as impressive as the Buckeyes were at shutting down Oklahoma, it was their offense that stole the show.
In particular, it was the chemistry between quarterback J.T. Barrett and receiver Noah Brown, who caught four touchdown passes on the night, that wowed us. His third touchdown, in particular, might end up being the catch of the year when the 2016 season is said and done (watch here).
In the end, the Buckeyes (No. 3) annihilated the Sooners (No. 14) by the score of 45-24, and the game never even felt that close.
8. Michigan State overwhelmed Notre Dame in the trenches
The final scoreboard read 36-28, but after the No. 12-ranked Spartans overcame an early deficit over No. 18-ranked Notre Dame they controlled the game the rest of the way.
Michigan State’s defensive front seven completely dominated Notre Dame’s offensive line. On running plays, Notre Dame’s running backs were swallowed whole, rushing for just 57 yards on 2.3 yards per attempt. On passing downs. DeShone Kizer was often running for his life.
The Spartans also owned Notre Dame on the other side. Without any pretense or trickery, Michigan State ran the ball down the throat of the Fighting Irish to the tune of 260 yards and three touchdowns on 52 carries. Two Spartans running backs, Gerald Holmes and LJ Scott, rushed for at least 98 yards.
In the trenches, it was a one-sided battle.
Thanks to some outstanding moments by Kizer, who totaled four touchdowns, the Irish remained close until the end.
But this contest was pretty much over before the fourth quarter, thanks to the outstanding play of Michigan State’s offensive and defensive lines and its remarkable linebacking corps.
The Spartans remained undefeated and will rise in the rankings, while the Fighting Irish dropped to 1-2 on the season. It seems unlikely they’ll be among the top 25, but stranger things have happened.
9. Christian McCaffrey likely wishes he could play USC every game
USC has no answers for McCaffrey. The dynamic dual-threat running back torched the Trojans for 461 all-purpose yards last year to help the Cardinal claim the Pac 12 crown. He was at it again Saturday night at home for No. 7 Stanford.
By halftime, McCaffrey had tallied 195 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns.
The second half wasn’t quite as explosive on the stat sheet. McCaffrey finished with 260 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns, helping his team take down USC handily, 27-10.
He would have padded his stats even more if not for a poor pass by Ryan Burns in the second quarter. It should have been his second receiving touchdown of the day after he busted loose with an easy 56-yard score in the first quarter (watch here).
While things started to bog down in the second half, he got some help from receiver Michael Rector. The Trojans were stacking the box to stop McCaffrey, so Stanford utilized some trickery on a fake to the back, resulting in another 56-yard score for Stanford.
— Armchair PAC12 (@ArmchairPAC12) September 18, 2016
In the end, USC was no match for the grind-it-out offense of Stanford. It wan’t one of McCaffrey’s most spectacular performances, but it’s remarkable he continues to produce at such a prodigious pace even when teams know he’s the only real threat the Cardinal have.
10. Patrick Mahomes deserves more national recognition
It’s crystal clear that Lamar Jackson is the top Heisman candidate right now. But there’s another quarterback who is matching Jackson’s gaudy stats, even though he isn’t being mentioned by most as a potential Heisman hopeful.
Texas Tech runs a gimmick offense, and it’s debatable if Mahomes is going to be any kind of good pro quarterback. But right now, he’s one of college football’s top offensive players — period.
Mahomes passed for 470 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions on Saturday night in the Red Raiders’ 59-45 win over Louisiana Tech. He added another 37 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Possessing one of the strongest arms in the nation, he makes the ridiculous look ridiculously easy.
— Big 12 Conference (@Big12Conference) September 17, 2016
Since the season started, this gunslinger has totaled 1,631 yards and 18 touchdowns. Remember, Jackson, who everyone agrees is the Heisman favorite right now, has totaled 1,377 yards and 18 touchdowns in the same stretch of time.
We’re going to continue to keep an eye on Mahomes in the weeks going forward. He’s not getting the same kind of hype others have earned, and it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison when talking about Jackson. But the numbers he’s putting up deserve to be recognized.