Top takeaways from college football in September

Hi Jesse Reed
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The opening month of the 2018 college football season brought plenty of valuable lessons about what to expect the rest of the year.

College Football Playoff favorites emerged — particularly that one from Tuscaloosa — and Heisman Trophy candidates starred. While championships and awards aren’t won in September, several teams and players are off to great starts.

But not everything is so great around the college football world entering October. Injuries and regression have appeared in several unfortunate spots.

We’ve recapped and broken down all the important stories from an action-filled month.

Alabama is here to destroy everyone

The Crimson Tide always have an elite defense. Despite losing a bunch of starters to the NFL, they’re an absolute force. But unlike previous years — and we mean Nick Saban’s tenure, not just recently — Alabama boasts a legitimate star at quarterback. Tua Tagovailoa is a nightmare to defend. Through five games, the southpaw has posted a 75.0 completion percentage with 1,161 yards, 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions. As if that’s not dominant enough, he literally did not throw a pass during the fourth quarter in September. Give Alabama the trophy already.

Redshirt rule also helping out transfers

This offseason, the NCAA approved a rule allowing eligible players to appear in four games yet preserve their redshirt. While that largely benefits freshmen, it has also resulted in Kelly Bryant highlighting a group of unexpected transfers. Coaches have publicly voiced their displeasure, saying the rule should be limited to young talent. But this rule has been in the works for 15 years; coaches knew about this possibility. Though it’s weird to see recognizable faces leave, players are well within their right to pursue a new opportunity. Fortunately, they didn’t waste a year of eligibility figuring it out.

Bryce Love, Stanford O-line not what we thought

Stanford is a decent team. A 10-win year remains a realistic projection for the Cardinal. But this isn’t the dominant run-first offense many anticipated, and it’s not even close. Bryce Love has fallen completely out of Heisman contention, mustering only 327 yards and three touchdowns on the ground in four appearances and missing one game due to injury. Stanford needed a lucky break to clip Oregon and collapsed at Notre Dame during a chance to eliminate any doubt. Instead, the Cardinal are once again a competitive squad without a championship ceiling.

LSU survives tough month

The upcoming four-game slate that includes Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State and Alabama was always the scariest stretch of LSU’s season. But if the Tigers couldn’t topple Miami and Auburn in September, the impact of these showdowns wouldn’t have been as critical. Fortunately for Ed Orgeron’s club, a ferocious defense and capable offense carried LSU to 5-0 and a No. 5 national ranking. Although the Tigers still shouldn’t be expected to remain unblemished, they’ve become a front-runner for a New Year’s Six bowl berth. And that is no small accomplishment.

Notre Dame looking fierce after slow start

The Fighting Irish jumped out to a big lead over Michigan in the first half of the opener. From the second half through Week 3, however, Notre Dame really didn’t play well. Brian Kelly’s team mustered one-possessions wins over both Ball State and Vanderbilt, creating serious concern about the team’s ability to survive its schedule. Since turning to Ian Book at quarterback, that narrative has dramatically changed. The Irish thumped Wake Forest and used a second-half domination to crush Stanford. Notre Dame isn’t a lock, but it’s certainly in the CFP conversation now.

Heisman race should be electric

Tagovailoa is shredding defenses at a terrifying rate, and he’s simply one of several quarterbacks who excelled in September. Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray accounted for 21 touchdowns and more than 1,700 yards, while Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, UCF’s McKenzie Milton and West Virginia’s Will Grier all collected at least 1,400 total yards and 17 touchdowns. Oregon and Penn State each lost once, but Justin Herbert and Trace McSorley were largely terrific during the month. Late-rising contenders will emerge, and this race is already heading toward a dramatic finish.

Big Ten has thin margin for error

Ohio State navigated the opening stretch at 5-0, but it’s a genuine surprise the Buckeyes are the only undefeated Big Ten team entering October. Michigan lost to Notre Dame, Michigan State fell at Arizona State and Wisconsin failed to hold off BYU. Throw in Penn State’s collapse against Ohio State, and the once-stacked Big Ten is full of one-loss teams destined for more. Michigan, MSU and PSU must play each other, and Wisconsin gets Michigan and PSU, too. Given that outlook, the Big Ten probably won’t have a CFP representative unless it’s Ohio State.

Kentucky taking aim at Georgia

The breakout team of September, without question, was Kentucky. Not only did the Wildcats rattle off a 5-0 record, they ended a 31-game losing streak to Florida, smashed Mississippi State and owned South Carolina. All three are Top 25-caliber teams — and, more importantly, are SEC opponents. Kentucky suddenly is the chief SEC East threat to Georgia, which must travel to Lexington in November. As long as Benny Snell and Co. navigate the upcoming month 2-1 or better, the Wildcats should set up a winner-take-all clash with UGA. Who would’ve expected that?

Second tier in ACC is confusing

Clemson entered 2018 as the only elite program in the ACC. Provided quarterback Trevor Lawrence is healthy, the Tigers will keep that billing. However, the remainder of the league lacks any clarity. Miami could be a 10-win club, but the switch to freshman N’Kosi Perry under center creates an unknown. Florida State is a mess. Virginia Tech lost quarterback Josh Jackson to injury. Louisville’s offense is a disaster. NC State, Boston College and Syracuse are intriguing, but they — along with Duke and Virginia — can’t be trusted. It’s anyone’s guess what might happen in October.

Rebuilding years in Lincoln and Los Angeles

Fans of Nebraska, UCLA and USC, avert your eyes. September ended with the programs combining for a 3-10 record, and USC accounted for all three wins. Yikes. Scott Frost deserves benefit of the doubt at Nebraska. Still, while his roster and system overhauls aren’t a one-year process, this 0-4 start is atrocious. UCLA holds the same winless mark, and the offense ranks 119th in yards per play. That’s not acceptable for a Chip Kelly team. USC has an outside shot at a Pac-12 title, but two September losses ended any chance at the ultimate goal. Better luck next year, fellas.

Oklahoma remains Big 12 favorite

Despite losing a record-setting quarterback in Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma hasn’t dropped from its spot atop the Big 12 hierarchy. That’s largely a credit to Murray, who’s been a near-seamless replacement. The Sooners needed overtime to survive Army yet have otherwise cruised to a 5-0 record. Texas and West Virginia are both unbeaten in Big 12 action to date, so by no means does Oklahoma have the conference locked up. But unless the Sooners lose to both programs, they’ll likely be headed back to the Big 12 Championship Game.

Group of Five bid is UCF’s to lose

After all that offseason hype around Florida Atlantic, Lane Kiffin’s squad failed to meet expectations. Perhaps it was rat poison, after all. Nevertheless, Central Florida obliterated FAU en route to a 4-0 record, making the Knights one of three remaining non-power unbeatens. The other two are Cincinnati and South Florida, which will likely lose before UCF even encounters the AAC foes to close the campaign. Boise State, Memphis and North Texas have already dropped a game, too. UCF is best positioned to represent the Group of Five in a New Year’s Six bowl once again.