Winners and Losers: Outside of Alabama, the SEC is looking rough (again)

The gap between Alabama and the rest of the SEC just continues to increase.

The Tide took care of business at home against a solid Colorado State team, winning 41-23 in a game that was not as close as the final score may suggest (CSU scored twice in the fourth against Bama’s backups). Beyond that, it wasn’t exactly a banner day for the SEC — though Vanderbilt fans would probably say otherwise (we’ll get to that in a bit).

We’ll start in the West, where LSU, at No. 12, was the conference’s highest-ranked team behind the Tide entering Saturday. That will certainly change after the Tigers were completely dominated by Mississippi State 37-7 in Starkville. LSU was totally lifeless on offense and had no answer for Nick Fitzgerald, Aeris Williams and the Bulldogs’ running attack.

Alongside LSU, No. 14 Auburn was expected to be Alabama’s top challenger in the SEC West. Maybe not. The Tigers were sluggish at home, turning the ball over five times against FCS Mercer, which lost last week to Wofford. The Bears cut Auburn’s lead to just seven points early in the fourth quarter before Auburn finally put the game out of reach on Kamryn Pettway’s third touchdown of the game with 4:50 to play.

You already know how Texas A&M started the season. The Aggies followed the UCLA disaster by barely beating FCS Nicholls last week before looking lackluster again at home, this time against UL-Lafayette. The Aggies eventually pulled away and won 45-21, but trailed at halftime to a team that allowed 767 rushing yards in its first two games. Not good.

Arkansas, coming off a 28-7 home loss to TCU, and Ole Miss, which lost at Cal Saturday night, won’t inspire much confidence either. With trips to Auburn and Georgia on the horizon, perhaps Mississippi State will emerge as a viable challenger to the Tide in the West.

Mississippi State running back Aeris Williams (22) leaps over an LSU defender during the first half of their NCAA college football game against LSU in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017. Mississippi State won 37-7. (AP Photo/Jim Lyle)

You know things are bad when Vanderbilt picks up the conference’s most impressive win of the weekend. With their 14-7 home win over No. 18 Kansas State, the Commodores registered their first non-conference win over a ranked opponent since 1946.

Vandy, which hosts the top-ranked Tide next week by the way, looks like a legitimate contender in the East, especially after the slopfest that took place in Gainesville. Don’t let the wacky long touchdown finish that gave Florida a dramatic 26-20 win over Tennessee overshadow how bad that game was for about 50 minutes. Things were nutty at the end when the defenses began to wear down, but that was a 6-3 game when the fourth quarter began. Neither of those teams are very good, but they are among the better teams in the East. That speaks to the conference’s averageness.

Through three weeks, No. 13 Georgia is the East’s top team, but the Bulldogs still have some questions to answer on offense. The defense is stout, no doubt, but with Jacob Eason’s status still up in the air, UGA is going to struggle throwing the ball. True freshman Jake Fromm, filling in for the injured Eason, threw the ball only 13 times in a 42-14 win over FCS Samford, completing eight balls for 165 yards and three scores. We’ll learn more about UGA with MSU coming to Athens next weekend.

Elsewhere in the East, many pegged South Carolina as an under the radar contender. That looked very far from the truth on Saturday, when the Gamecocks lost 23-13 at home to a Kentucky team that barely beat FCS Eastern Kentucky last week. And we know the Wildcats are now 3-0, but they haven’t given us much reason to believe they’ll be a factor in the conference race later in the year.

To make South Carolina’s loss worse, the team may have lost star wide receiver Deebo Samuel for an extended period of time. 

And to cap things off, Missouri was embarrassed at home by Purdue. Purdue! The Boilermakers are clearly much improved under Jeff Brohm, but a 35-3 home loss after Mizzou fired its defensive coordinator is a bad look. A very bad look.

WINNERS

J.T. Barrett: Ohio State needed to get things rolling on offense after its Week 2 loss to Oklahoma. Does a 38-7 win against Army count? Buckeyes’ quarterback J.T. Barrett was a cool 25-of-33 passing for 270 yards and two touchdowns and added a touchdown on the ground. With those three touchdowns, Barrett broke Drew Brees’ record for the most total touchdowns in Big Ten history. Barrett has now been responsible for 107 touchdowns in his Ohio State career.

Army doesn’t field a caliber of defense that Ohio State will see through the Big Ten. But the Black Knights entered the game on a five-game win streak. This should be a nice confidence boost for Ohio State’s offense.

Notre Dame’s running game: A week after getting stuffed by Georgia, Notre Dame ran all over a very good Boston College defense. The Irish tallied a whopping 515 yards rushing as running back Josh Adams had 18 carries for 229 yards.

Quarterback Brandon Wimbush was the scoring star, however. He had 21 carries for 207 yards and found the end zone four times. His rushing performance made up for a sub-par passing day. Wimbush was just 11-of-24 passing for 96 yards.

Purdue: Is Purdue a mirage at 2-1 or are the Boilermakers a bowl-caliber team? Purdue played Louisville tough in Week 1, dismantled Ohio in Week 2 and throttled Missouri on the road on Saturday 35-3.

Yes, Purdue beat a Power Five team 35-3. That may be a statement about the awfulness of Missouri in 2017, but still, this is a great win for Purdue. The Boilermakers have a shot to make some noise in the Big Ten West in coach Jeff Brohm’s first year.

Luke Falk: After sitting out the end of the Cougars’ Week 2 win vs. Boise State, Falk kept his starting job in Week 3 against Oregon State. And he tortured the Beavers once again.

Falk was 37-of-49 for 396 yards and six touchdowns as the Cougars won 52-23. Look at his career statistics against Oregon State. Remember, this is in four games. Filthy.


Dante Pettis: He did it again. In Washington’s blowout win over Fresno State, senior wideout Dante Pettis tied an NCAA record by returning a punt for a touchdown for the eighth time in his career, tying Texas Tech’s Wes Welker and Oklahoma’s Antonio Perkins. It was the third straight game with a punt return TD for Pettis. He got it out of the way early by breaking off a 77-yard return in the first quarter. Pettis made it look easy, too, and also had three touchdown catches in the game. UW improved to 3-0 with the win.


Shun Brown: Arizona ran roughshod over UTEP on Friday night and Shun Brown was one of the reasons why. Look at this move.


Brown had a 63-yard punt return for a touchdown and three receptions for 42 yards and a score as the Wildcats won 63-16.

USC’s gesture: Sean Adams, a popular sports radio host in Austin, Texas, died suddenly at the age of 46 this week. With Texas visiting USC in Week 3, the Trojans saved Austin a seat in the press box. Classy move, Trojans.


BONUS WINNERS:

Houston and Rice: The two Houston-area teams coincidentally were scheduled to play in Week 3 as the region still deals with the aftermath of flooding from Hurricane Harvey. Houston wore “Houston” on their jerseys in lieu of player names on the back and both teams shook hands on the field before the game.


Iowa: This new Iowa tradition of waving to a nearby children’s hospital is seriously the best.

*sobs uncontrollably*


LOSERS

Tanner Lee: The Nebraska quarterback and Tulane transfer was hyped as a possible NFL prospect over the summer. He’s done nothing through the first three weeks of the season to show that he’s an NFL-caliber quarterback.

Lee has thrown seven interceptions over the past two games, including three in Saturday’s 21-17 loss to Northern Illinois. Two of those picks were returned for touchdowns. Had Lee not turned the ball over, the Huskers could be 2-1. Instead, Nebraska is 1-2 entering Big Ten play and the team’s path to six wins is a lot tougher than we expected it would be.

Michigan’s red zone offense: You gotta start scoring touchdowns, Wolverines. Michigan won 29-13 over Air Force on Saturday but needs to get better in a hurry, especially in the red zone. Michigan kicker Quinn Nordin kicked five field goals on Saturday, including four inside 36 yards.

The Wolverines’ two touchdowns came on a punt return and a 36-yard run, meaning the team has scored just one touchdown from inside an opponent’s 20 all season long. At 3-0, things are pretty good for the Wolverines. But getting three points more often than seven could come back and bite Michigan at some point this season.

Nevada: Nevada made the switch to true freshman Kaymen Cureton at quarterback this week. Cureton had an okay performance, but his team still lost at home to FCS Idaho State, which got destroyed by Utah State 51-13 last week. The final score in this one was 30-28, but it took a big comeback for it to be that close. Midway through the third quarter, ISU held a 30-7 lead. Nevada, now 0-3, turned the ball over three times in the loss. It’s going to be a long year in Reno.

Josh Allen: The Josh Allen hype train continues to skid off the tracks. Allen, the Wyoming quarterback, has gotten a ton of buzz for his potential as an NFL prospect. So far in 2017, Allen has really struggled. In a 49-13 home loss to Oregon, Josh Allen was 9-of-24 for 64 yards with an interception and a rushing touchdown. Now in his three career games against Power Five competition, Allen is is 48-of-96 passing (50%) for 427 yards, one touchdown and eight interceptions. The argument could certainly be made that Allen doesn’t have much help around him, but those numbers are pretty ugly. We’ll see how he fares in Mountain West play.

Arizona State: Consider Todd Graham’s seat extremely hot. After losing to San Diego State at home last weekend, Arizona State dropped to 1-2 with a road loss to Texas Tech. Arizona State fell behind 35-17 at halftime and actually managed to tie the game 45-45 in the fourth quarter but couldn’t get over the top. The Red Raiders put the winning score, a short Dylan Cantrell TD run, on the board with 1:55 remaining and ASU’s chance to tie the game went nowhere. In the loss, Arizona State’s defense allowed 615 yards.

ASU’s next three games are against Oregon, Stanford and Washington. The Sun Devils could be staring a 1-5 start in the face.

Arizona State coach Todd Graham watches his team during an NCAA college football game against Texas Tech, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, in Lubbock, Texas. (Brad Tollefson/Lubbock Avalanche-Journal via AP)