College Football: Week 3 Who’s Hot & Who’s Not

    Week 3 of the college football season brought some separation in the race for the CFP. Here's who's hot and who's not as we head into Week 4.

    September 19, 2016


    A look at who’s hot and who’s not from Week 3 of the 2016 college football season.


    Who’s Hot

    Western Michigan

    The Broncos wouldn’t win the Big Ten West if the division was home. They wouldn’t finish in the cellar either, though. Western Michigan completed its sweep of the state of Illinois, coupling its opening day upset of Northwestern with a rout of Illinois behind the running of Jamauri Bogan and the play of the D. There’s a long way to go, and visiting Georgia Southern will be no Week 4 pushover, but P.J. Fleck’s kids can dream of a perfect season now that two of their biggest hurdles have been cleared.

    Middle Tennessee RB I’Tavius Mathers

    Middle Tennessee has a back to complement the pitch-and-catch combo of Brent Stockstill to Richie James, and that ought to unnerve Conference USA coordinators. Mathers, an Ole Miss transfer, sparked a blowout at Bowling Green by rushing for more than 100 yards, catching four passes for more than 100 yards and scoring four times. The Blue Raiders will test their new-found balance when La Tech visits this Saturday.

    Army

    There’s something very interesting taking place at West Point, where the Black Knights are 3-0 for the first time in two decades. And Army has been impressive getting to this point, opening with an upset of Temple and slapping 66 points on UTEP in El Paso Saturday. The Academy is halfway to its first bowl game in six years, and with Buffalo, Duke, Lafayette and North Texas coming next, it might be postseason eligible before Halloween.

    Miami

    The trip to Appalachian State looked an awful lot like a trap game for the Canes on Saturday. Instead, it was a statement for Mark Richt’s first Miami squad. The Mountaineer team that should have upset Tennessee in Knoxville in Week 1 never had a chance. QB Brad Kaaya got back on track, RB Mark Walton averaged eight yards a carry and the Chad Thomas-led D is maturing at warp speed. Unbeaten Miami now gets a week off before traveling to Georgia Tech to begin the ACC Coastal quest.

    Davis Webb to Chad Hansen

    Webb didn’t even play for Cal a year ago. And Hansen began his career at Idaho State. But here they are in Berkeley, piling up numbers as the nation’s most prolific pitch-and-catch combination. Through three games, the pair has already hooked up 40 times for 546 yards and five touchdowns. And Hansen was unstoppable in Saturday night’s upset of ranked Texas. The Bears open the Pac-12 schedule this week in Tempe with renewed optimism, thanks to Webb’s darts and Hansen’s sticky hands.

    Houston Defense

    Sure, Greg Ward Jr. and the offense generate the headlines, but the Cougars are no one-note playoff contender. The D is proving to be every bit as instrumental in Houston’s quest for perfection. Rookie DT Ed Oliver is an interior force, LB Steven Taylor is everywhere and CB Howard Wilson is helping solidify a green secondary. The Cougs held Oklahoma to 23 points and sealed Thursday’s win at Cincinnati with two pick-sixes in the span of seven seconds.

    The Florida D

    To be fair, the Gators have opened the year with UMass, Kentucky and North Texas. Still, a nation-low 4.7 points per game and 2.6 yards per play is exactly how a defense wants to be playing before the annual Tennessee clash. Florida is suffocating opponents with a collaborative, front-to-back effort that must continue this week in Knoxville. True, the Vols are banged up, but the Gators will be without injured QB Luke Del Rio, so points will be even harder to come by with Austin Appleby behind center.

    Michigan LB Jabrill Peppers

    So far, so good on coordinator Don Brown’s experiment with Peppers at linebacker rather than safety. Peppers has been a heat-seeking missile from the second level, leading the country with 9.5 stops for minus yards. And he continues to contribute on offense and special teams, which is boosting his Heisman profile. Peppers is the kind of playmaker who can help bail teams out when they’re in trouble, much the way he did Saturday after the Wolverines started slowly versus Colorado.

    Texas A&M

    The Aggies are a confident team through three weeks, and who could fault them? They’ve now defeated UCLA and Auburn, the latter on the road in a key SEC West litmus test. Kevin Sumlin’s offense has been fair, but the defense has been terrific for coordinator John Chavis. And with fellow undefeated Arkansas up next in Arlington, Tex. A&M will have a shot to bump another divisional rival down a peg in Week 4.

    Nebraska Head Coach Mike Riley

    Winning a close game versus an old nemesis, in front of an electric crowd. If Riley goes on to lead the Huskers to a Big Ten West crown, he’ll point to the Week 3 comeback win over Oregon as a turning point. The coach snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Ducks behind a heroic four-touchdown effort from QB Tommy Armstrong Jr. And on a day that Iowa lost to North Dakota State and Wisconsin struggled with Georgia State, Nebraska is understandably bullish about its divisional chances as league play begins this week.

    Michigan State as a Dog

    Want to motivate the Spartans? Tell them no one expects them to win. Few coaches do a better job of rousing an underdog than Mark Dantonio, whose kids outclassed Notre Dame in South Bend in a game that was more lopsided than the 36-28 final score. No one knew what to expect from Michigan State following an uninspired opener with Furman. Turns out the Spartans don’t plan to hand over their Big Ten crown without a fight, beginning with this week’s visit from Wisconsin.

    Ohio State WR Noah Brown

    Nah, the Buckeyes won’t have problems developing weapons this season. All of the Buckeyes were hot in Norman, as Ohio State dismantled Oklahoma, but Brown was the face of the uprising. He caught four touchdown passes to nearly equal his career reception total, and he flashed the acrobatic ball skills to help elevate QB J.T. Barrett. The scary thing is that Brown will get even better with reps, especially in the next two games with defensively-challenged Rutgers and Indiana.

    Louisville

    It’s official. No one in college football is hotter than the Cardinals, which put an epic beatdown on No. 2 Florida State, 63-20, to the delight of the home crowd. Louisville outplayed the Seminoles on offense, defense and special teams, the hallmark of a complete squad ready to make a run at playoff contention. And if that’s not enough for the Cards, which get Marshall before travelling to Clemson, just wait until QB Lamar Jackson tightens his reads and his overall passing skills.

    Who’s Not

    Virginia

    It might early to wonder if Bronco Mendenhall is second-guessing his decision to leave BYU, but this rebuilding plan in Charlottesville is even harder than the staff anticipated. The Hoos fell to 0-3, having also lost to FCS Richmond, when Alex Furbank missed the potential game-tying field goal from 20 yards out against UConn. With one more non-conference game against Central Michigan, Virginia is leaving little doubt that it’ll occupy the ACC cellar in 2016.

    Pitt on D

    What has happened to Pat Narduzzi’s defense, a unit that was supposed to bludgeon opponents in alleys this season? The Panthers have now allowed at least 38 points in each of the last two games, with the pass defense getting exposed by Penn State QB Trace McSorley and Oklahoma State WR James Washington. Up next? Carolina, which is really beginning to hum around QB Mitch Trubisky and the running tandem of Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan.

    Arizona State

    The Devils needed to escape UTSA, rallying from a 28-12 deficit against what was an overmatched Conference USA opponent on paper. And while ASU is 3-0, nearly falling to the Roadrunners is a major red flag entering the start of the Pac-12 season this week versus Cal. Above all else, QB Manny Wilkins and the offense have to become more efficient in the red zone after Zane Gonzales attempted five field goals in San Antonio.

    Tennessee

    Is this your identity, Vols, show up when everyone is watching but play down to the level of the competition? Appalachian State and Ohio have now put a scare into Tennessee. The Bobcats were within two points in the fourth quarter, and the Volunteer O-line continues to look shaky. Plus, with the annual showdown versus Florida up next, CB Cameron Sutton is out and linebackers Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Darrin Kirkland may not be at full strength.

    Wisconsin Quarterbacks

    The Badgers are the rare unbeaten and ranked squad facing an unsettled situation behind center. Yeah, Wisconsin is 3-0, with a statement win over LSU, but it was forced to bench starter Bart Houston in favor of rookie Alex Hornibrook last week versus Georgia State. The Badgers barely escaped the winless Panthers, and now Paul Chryst must field QB questions as he tries to focus his undivided attention on the Big Ten opener with Michigan State.

    Iowa

    There’s no shame in losing to North Dakota State, which remarkably made it six straight over FBS opponents when Cam Pedersen’s field goal split the uprights as time expired. The Hawkeyes, though, were outmuscled at the line of scrimmage, a disturbing fact as Big Ten play gets set to begin. While the Bison churned out well over 200 yards on the ground, Iowa’s LeShun Daniels and Akrum Wadley were stuffed all day.

    Oregon

    The Ducks fell in a heartbreaker to Mike Riley and Nebraska. Oh, and star RB Royce Freeman and LT Tyrell Crosby were injured in the loss. Hardly an ideal audition for the kickoff of Pac-12 play, particularly with a hungry and improved Colorado team coming to Autzen Stadium this week. Even without Freeman, Oregon ran the ball very well, but the defense still has issues, and head coach Mark Helfrich is facing a ton of pressure after his team failed four two-point tries in a three-point loss in Lincoln.

    Notre Dame, Except the Passing Game

    DeShone Kizer to Equanimeous St. Brown and Torii Hunter Jr.? Terrific. Everyone else in South Bend? The makings of a 7-5 team. The Irish couldn’t run the ball on Michigan State, and Brian VanGorder’s defense doesn’t have the answers or the playmakers … or a single sack through three games. An average Spartan attack racked up more than 500 balanced yards on the Irish, which must locate answers in the upcoming cushy stretch against Duke, Syracuse and NC State.

    Ole Miss with a Cushion

    Elite teams close. The Rebels aren’t an elite team right now. Ole Miss led Florida State, 28-6, on Labor Day. The Rebs lost, 45-34. This past weekend, Hugh Freeze’s team led top-ranked Alabama, 24-3, seemingly headed to a third-straight win over Nick Saban. The Rebs lost again, 48-43. Ole Miss has now collapsed to two very good opponents, which is the kind of thing that could linger with young players, beginning with this Saturday’s Georgia visit.

    USC

    Tough early schedule, no doubt. But this is still the Trojans, with Trojan talent. And losing to Alabama and Stanford by a combined score 79-16 is never going to cut it. USC is not developing under Clay Helton, especially on offense, where poor execution at the line is hurting the production of playmakers JuJu Smith-Schuster, Ronald Jones and Justin Davis. Troy has already wilted in the face of two physical opponents, and now here comes Utah, which prefers a bareknuckle style of play.

    Oklahoma

    It took just three weeks for the Sooners to confirm what most already knew—they rarely handle expectations well. After losses to Houston and Ohio State, the latter in embarrassing fashion at home, Oklahoma will once again fail to live up to the top 10 hype. A return to the playoffs won’t happen. Plus, the Sooners looked so bad on both sides of the ball against the Cougars and the Buckeyes that hopes of defending the Big 12 crown is in serious jeopardy as well.

    Florida State

    The Noles didn’t just lose to Louisville in Week 3. They were dressed down so badly that they may not recover in time to threaten in the ACC. Florida State imploded in every phase of the rout, including an O-line that yielded five sacks and has been a huge disappointment in September. Now, with games upcoming versus South Florida, Miami and Carolina, what will the mindset and the passion be for a team that began 2016 believing it was a bona fide title contender?

    The Big 12 (Again)

    Yeah, it might be piling on, but it’s fully warranted after Oklahoma bowed to Ohio State and Texas lost a shootout to Cal. The Big 12 is down to just two undefeated teams, Baylor and West Virginia, meaning hopes of sending a team to the playoffs are fading a lot faster than even the pessimist could have imagined. With the rollout of league play just a week away, the Big 12 has a lot of soul-searching to do, and for reasons beyond the usual realignment talk.

    MORE: 1-128 College Football Rankings – Week 4

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