Winners and Losers: Parity reigns supreme after three eventful weeks

We’re a quarter of the way through the 2015 season and the water is as murky as ever.

After a wild day of action on Saturday, some perceived contenders are already slipping out of the College Football Playoff picture, while other top teams have been plagued by shaky play. With all of the week-to-week movement, there’s as much parity around the country as there’s ever been.

Take No. 6 USC for example. The Trojans won their first two games by a combined score of 114-15, but were pushed around Saturday night at home by a Stanford team that was beat up by Northwestern in Week 1.

The Cardinal offense bullied the Trojans defense up and down the field, dominating the line of scrimmage and controlling the ball for nearly 40 minutes behind stellar performances from Kevin Hogan (18/23, 279 yards, 2 TDs) and Christian McCaffrey (115 yards rushing).

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Now a USC team that appeared so explosive through two games all of sudden looks vulnerable. On top of that, two of the Pac-12’s best teams – USC and Oregon – already have losses with a daunting conference slate on the horizon.

Top-ranked Ohio State is another perplexing team. The Buckeyes’ offense looked lost for a second week in a row but managed to barely beat Northern Illinois. OSU’s quarterback depth was the talk of the offseason, but after three weeks, Urban Meyer is looking for answers – especially with No. 4 Michigan State continuing its stellar play.

Another top-five team, No. 3 TCU, also barely eked out a win over SMU as its defense took another hit with starting cornerback Ranthony Texada going down with a season-ending injury.

Most assumed the Big 12 would be a two-team race between TCU and No. 5 Baylor again this season, but No. 16 Oklahoma, led by Baker Mayfield, may stick its nose into the mix. Best of all, those three teams don’t play one another until November in games that will undoubtedly have playoff implications.

The ACC is wide open, too. Three-time defending league champions Florida State looked completely lost on offense in a shaky win over Boston College while Clemson needed all 60 minutes to hold off a lackluster Louisville team.

No. 14 Georgia Tech, another contender from the ACC’s top tier, traveled to South Bend on Saturday and found out that No. 8 Notre Dame will be just fine even without starting QB Malik Zaire.

And we haven’t even mentioned the SEC yet.

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Auburn and Arkansas were both trendy preseason Playoff picks. The Arkansas pipe dream is officially dead after back-to-back home losses to Toledo and Texas Tech. Ouch.

Auburn showed that last week’s lucky win over FCS Jacksonville State wasn’t a fluke. The Tigers were destroyed 45-21 by a resurgent Leonard Fournette-led LSU squad that will make another leap in the rankings alongside Georgia, which dominated South Carolina, 52-20, behind a record-setting effort from Greyson Lambert.

SEC teams will continue to beat each other up over the course of a long season, and with no clear favorite established, it’s going to be whole lot of fun to watch.

Oh, and No. 2 Alabama lost at home to No. 15 Ole Miss.

Think of it this way: if your projected College Football Playoff final four is the same as it was when the season started, you might as well be Nostradamus. The first three weeks have been wild, but we’re only at the quarter pole. Imagine the madness that awaits as we head to the finish line.


Ryan Switzer, North Carolina: The Tar Heels comfortably dispatched Illinois, 48-14, and Switzer had himself a day in the process. He had a 71-yard punt return in the second quarter that set up a North Carolina field goal, then snapped off an 85-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. All told, he racked up 168 punt-return yards to set a school single-game record set in 1951. He also caught three passes for 50 yards and a score, tallying up a big day that would have been even bigger had he not dropped what would have been another touchdown. He probably gets a free pass for that with the day he had, though.

Northwestern: It hasn’t been pretty, but wins over Stanford and now Duke have the Wildcats looking salty with a game against Ball State left before conference play. Northwestern held one of the ACC’s pluckiest teams to just 327 yards of total offense and forced three turnovers, while gaining just 271 yards itself, showing an opportunism that’s becoming a trademark of Pat Fitzgerald’s teams. And with an upcoming schedule devoid of Ohio State and Michigan State, the Wildcats are suddenly sitting pretty compared to their Big Ten West foes.

(Chris Howell/The Herald-Times via AP)
(Chris Howell/The Herald-Times via AP)

Jordan Howard, Indiana: Running back Jordan Howard has found a happy home at Indiana. Howard, a UAB transfer, led the Big Ten in rushing coming into Indiana’s home game against Western Kentucky and added to that total with 203 yards in a 38-35 win. In his first three games in a Hoosiers uniform, Howard has racked up single-game totals of 145, 159 and now Saturday’s 203 yards to give him 507 for the season. He also has three touchdowns for the 3-0 Hoosiers.

Greyson Lambert, Georgia: Lambert set an NCAA record by completing all but one of his 25 passes in a 52-20 win against South Carolina. Lambert, who was somewhat embattled after his first two starts, answered his critics by throwing for 330 yards and three touchdowns. Lambert posted a completion percentage of 96 percent, which was the highest percentage in FBS history for a minimum of 20 completions. He broke the mark of 95.8 percent that was shared by Tennessee's Tee Martin and West Virginia's Geno Smith. Lambert also completed his final 20 passes, which broke Mike Bobo’s record of 19 straight completions in the 1998 Outback Bowl. Take that, doubters.


Louisville’s end-of-game management: The Cardinals had every chance to beat Clemson in a 20-17 loss at home, and upon further review, everyone seems to agree that they let Clemson off the hook with just about every possible blunder down the stretch. Louisville started its third QB in three games, intercepted DeShaun Watson twice, and had back-to-back drives in the fourth quarter to tie or win the game, and failed both times. The final chance was squandered in the waning seconds when Kyle Bolin was sacked with no time outs, decided not to spike the ball on third down to stop the clock, and then opted for a Hail Mary with enough time to execute a shorter play and then maybe try a game-tying field goal. Granted, a lot of that has to do with Bolin being the third guy to give it a go under center for Louisville, but that’s on the coaches for not putting him in a better position to get through the home stretch. It was a winnable game for a team that’s now 0-3 and really shouldn’t be.

Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska: Before we get into the bad about the Nebraska QB it's important to note what he did to get his team into overtime. The Huskers were down 33-10 to Miami and scored 23 straight points over the final nine minutes of the fourth quarter to send the game into overtime at 33-33. But it's also important to note that he threw three interceptions in regulation (to go along with three touchdowns) and completed less than 50 percent of his passes.

OK, now the real bad. Nebraska got the ball to start overtime and Armstrong threw an interception in the end zone on the team's first play. A personal foul penalty on the interception return put the ball inside the 13-yard-line for Miami's possession and the Hurricanes kicked a field goal for a 36-33 lead.

Central Florida: UCF’s 16-15 loss to Furman on Saturday marked the first time the Knights had lost to an FCS team since they moved up to FBS in 1996. Furman kicker John Croft Hollingsworth hit a school-record 55-yard field goal to give the Paladins their first win of the season and their first win against an FBS team since 1999.

UCF is 0-3 for the first time since the 2004 season when the team went winless. It didn’t help that the three quarterbacks — Tyler Harris, Bo Schneider and Nick Patti — tasked with replacing injured starter Justin Holman, were a combined 14 of 30 for 98 yards and three interceptions. UCF faces South Carolina next week as both teams attempt to get their seasons back on track.

Illinois: With a win at North Carolina on Saturday, the Illini had a chance to start the Bill Cubit era 3-0 and sneak into the top 25. And a win wasn't out of the question either. North Carolina struggled in Week 1 against South Carolina and Illinois had steamrolled its first two opponents.

Illinois was the team getting steamrolled this Saturday. The Illini gave up over 470 yards of offense plus a bunch of special teams yards to Ryan Switzer while the passing game couldn't get on track. Wes Lunt completed less than 50 percent of his passes and averaged 4.4 yards per attempt. The Illini still have a chance for eight wins in an incredibly mediocre Big Ten West. But the post-Tim Beckman world would look a lot better at 3-0 and halfway to bowl eligibility a quarter of the way through the season.

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