Week 3 is an interesting time in college football. On one hand, it seems as if we’ve just started this wild ride, and there’s so much we don’t know. On the other hand, we’re already a quarter of the way through the regular season, and with three more top-15 teams falling Saturday, the playoff paths are already coming into view — or, if you’re Wisconsin or Auburn, fading out of sight. And if you’re like us, and you spent most of the week glued to The Weather Channel, you know there’s a great term that sums this all up nicely: The Cone of Uncertainty.
We know chaos is coming. It’s college football, after all. And we’ve got enough data to start making some reasonable projections. Of course, the certainty of those convictions can vary, and we’ll be adjusting our forecast as we go.
But this seems like a good time to test our cones of uncertainty with some of the top contenders and take a stab at separating the good from the lucky, the contenders from the pretenders, and most important, what to do about the impending armageddon that’s signaled by Kansas having a winning record.
Was it Pullman or Paxton in “Arlington Road”? What about “While You Were Sleeping”? It doesn’t matter. They’re interchangeable. Same at Oklahoma, where through the first three games of the season, the Sooners are 3-0 and Murray has tallied 1,032 yards, 10 touchdowns and a 93.8 Total QBR. Through three games last season, Mayfield had 1,033 yards, 10 touchdowns and a 94.6 Total QBR.
LSU’s SEC hopes
Certainty Level: Nic Cage movie
Watch LSU’s offense long enough and it’s easy to assume this is a train wreck in the vein of “The Wicker Man” or “Season of the Witch.” Joe Burrow is completing fewer than half his passes. The ground game averaged less than three yards a carry against Auburn. The Tigers have yet to top 400 yards of offense in a game. And then, just when you least expect it — boom! — an Oscar-worthy performance like “Raising Arizona” or “Leaving Las Vegas.” Is LSU good? We don’t know. But we do know what Ed Orgeron would say: “Yeahdeygoodgottakeepfocushowboutsomecrawfish.”
Wisconsin’s playoff hopes
Certainty Level: Inside straight
Let’s not write off the Badgers just yet. Saturday’s loss to BYU was a devastating one, and perhaps inevitable after two largely lackluster performances to open the season. Still, this is a solid roster, and the schedule still includes opportunities for signature victories against Michigan, Penn State and, given the lack of competition in the division, in the Big Ten title game. This was a bad loss, but no sense folding when there are still some cards to be dealt.
Certainty Level: Death and taxes
Ho-hum, Alabama is really good. Thing is, this team might be the best Nick Saban has had there, and that’s borderline terrifying. The Tide went on the road and dominated Ole Miss 62-7, marking the third consecutive game Alabama has scored 50. Believe it or not, that had never happened under Saban. In fact, Alabama’s margin of victory through three games is plus-142 — 27 points better than any other season during this Saban run. Tua Tagovailoa has made this offense so much more dynamic, and if the secondary can hold up against a receiving corps as good as the Rebels have, it’s hard to envision where there’s a true weakness.
UCF to the New Year’s Six
Certainty Level: Nate Silver’s calling it
With Boise State’s decisive loss to Oklahoma State, the Knights now look like the odds-on favorite to be the Group of 5 rep in the New Year’s Six, and it might not be that close. Sure, BYU had a heck of a win over Wisconsin, but it’s also carrying around a loss to Cal. USF is 3-0, but narrowly escaped Illinois. FAU, San Diego State, Troy — they’ve all got losses. Meanwhile, McKenzie Milton & Co. can officially stake their claim the next two weeks with home dates against FAU and Pitt.
Ohio State’s title hopes
Certainty Level: Three credits from graduating
With the rest of the Big Ten imploding, Ohio State pulled out a heck of a victory over TCU in Arlington, Texas, just in time for Urban Meyer’s Week 4 return to the sideline. So it sure looks like smooth sailing for the Buckeyes from here. Just don’t look too closely at some of the struggles with the Horned Frogs’ pass rush, the injury to Nick Bosa or the big plays TCU converted in the pass game. We’re sure all of this will be fine. Probably. What could go wrong?
First-year coaches turning things around
Certainty level: Tom Hanks in “Castaway”
Willie Taggart is under fire already at Florida State, and it’s not hard to see why. The Seminoles are horrid. But that’s true of virtually every team with a new coach this year, with Arkansas, UCLA and Nebraska all among those struggling. In fact, first-year coaches are a combined 11-29 vs. FBS foes so far this year, and only one of those wins — Mississippi State’s at Kansas State — came against a Power 5 opponent. So sure, maybe they escape these dire situations and find salvation, but odds are Taggart, Kelly and Co. will need to paint a face on a football to find any friends in the short term.
Notre Dame’s offense
Certainty Level: M. Night Shyamalan movie
Through three games, Notre Dame has outscored its opponents — Michigan, Ball State and Vanderbilt — by an impressive 52-16 margin. But like Shyamalan’s movies, the second halves have been chock full of twists and turns. In the opener, Michigan had a chance to tie late in the fourth quarter. In Week 2, Ball State pulled to within eight in the final two minutes. And Saturday, Vandy was a dropped fourth-down grab away from a potentially monstrous upset. So far, the Irish have managed to stick the landing each time, but if this keeps happening, sooner or later we’re going to end up with “Lady in the Water.”
North Texas punt returner Keegan Brewer pretends that he called a fair catch, then takes it to the house.
Keegan Brewer‘s top play
Certainty Level: The band is on the field
The North Texas punt returner pulled off a Phil Ivey-level bluff Saturday, nonchalantly securing what appeared to be a fair catch against Arkansas — only he never signaled for the fair catch. The Razorbacks shuffled toward the sideline, and Brewer took off down the sideline for the touchdown. Will it go down as the most entertaining play of the season in college football? Well, the contest isn’t over, but let’s just say the band is on the field, and it’d take a Stanford-Cal finish to top that one.
Clemson’s QB situation
Certainty Level: “Saved By the Bell,” Season 4
Is it a Tori episode or a Kelly episode? A Kelly Bryant drive or a Trevor Lawrence drive? “Saved By the Bell” alternated its cast every episode during its final season, and Dabo Swinney might well do the same. He has said he’s going to stick with this plan until one quarterback separates himself and, through three games, there’s not much separation. On 17 drives, Bryant has led six touchdown drives, had two field goal tries, and had nine punts or turnovers. Lawrence has been in on 17 drives, too, with eight touchdowns, three field goal attempts and six punts or turnovers.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
Certainty Level: Kanye’s Twitter feed
We have no idea what to expect from this team, but we’re not going to miss a minute of the ride. Texas Tech hung 63 on Ed Oliver and Houston on Saturday, and the Red Raiders have put up 167 points in three games. Of course, the defense has also given up 47 and 49 to the two FBS teams it has played, and Saturday’s game included a total of 1,339 yards of offense. Like Kanye, is this Texas Tech team completely off the rails? Probably. But it’s also kind of brilliant.
OREGON STATE HAS A TURNOVER CHAINSAW! pic.twitter.com/RIVFTDtTjE
— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) September 16, 2018
Certainty Level: Life support
Just when we thought the Tennessee garbage can, the Florida State backpack and Louisville’s boxing gloves had completely ruined the genre, the most unlikely of heroes emerged. Oregon State, en route to its 21st straight road loss thanks to a gut-punch missed field goal attempt, debuted the greatest sideline swag since the turnover chain … the Turnover Chain… saw! It’s good to know that, if the Beavers have no shot at the Pac-12 title, they’re at least well prepared to torment unsuspecting campers at Camp Crystal Lake.
Dino Babers gave an EPIC speech after Syracuse’s win 🔥 pic.twitter.com/P7XHNoUKUp
— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) September 15, 2018
Dino Babers’ victory speech
Certainty Level: Vin Diesel in Dodge Charger
Babers’ great postgame orations are just like the “Fast and Furious” movies. They arrive once per year, and they’re always riveting. Of course, based on Babers’ speech after Syracuse’s win over Florida State on Saturday, he’d prefer a ’66 Mustang to Dom’s Charger.
Certainty Level: Washington Generals
Two straight wins over FBS opponents. That hasn’t happened for Kansas in a decade. This puts the Jayhawks smack into the Big 12 title debate, right? Ah, no. But let’s celebrate these unlikely runs when we get them. It won’t be long before the opposition goes full Globetrotters, twirling a ball on their heads and using a stepladder during PAT tries.
Texas is back
Certainty Level: Broken clock
If we say it every week, we’re bound to be right eventually. Odds are, Saturday’s game said more about USC’s problems than Texas’ success, but a win’s a win, and the Longhorns really needed this one.
Akron would win the Big Ten West
Certainty Level: Buster Douglas vs. Mike Tyson
It was a brutal day in the Big Ten, with Maryland, Illinois, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Northwestern all losing to Group of 5 teams, including a stunning victory by Akron over the Wildcats. It was the first time the Zips upended a Big Ten team since the (second) Grover Cleveland administration in 1894. Did we mention Rutgers got demolished by Kansas and Purdue lost another heartbreaker?