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College football Week 3 winners and losers: Alabama leads the most disappointing teams of the season so far

We’re already a quarter of the way through the college football regular season.

Through three weeks, some teams have looked the part. They had big expectations in the preseason and they look like the teams we thought that could be. But others have not performed very well to say the least.

Here’s a look at the most disappointing teams so far this season, headlined by Alabama.

Alabama (2-1): Alabama has a major quarterback problem. It was a huge question mark entering the season after Bryce Young was selected No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft. Through three games, that question has not even come close to being answered. Jalen Milroe started in Week 1 and played well in a win over Middle Tennessee. He kept that starting role in Week 2, but it was a disaster as Milroe threw two ugly interceptions in a home loss to Texas. It was Alabama’s first non-conference home loss since 2007.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban has yet to settle on a reliable quarterback through the first three games of the season. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Alabama head coach Nick Saban has yet to settle on a reliable quarterback through the first three games of the season. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

This week, Nick Saban decided to start Notre Dame transfer Tyler Buchner over Milroe against USF and he was even worse. Buchner completed only 5-of-14 passes for 34 yards before being lifted for Ty Simpson. Simpson brought some competence to the offense at least as Alabama pulled out an ugly 17-3 win, but it wasn’t enough to inspire any confidence moving forward. With SEC play starting next weekend vs. Ole Miss, what will Saban do? Will he ride Simpson? Or could he go back to Milroe? If the Crimson Tide have any chance of competing, they need to get the position stabilized.

Baylor (1-2): Baylor won the Big 12 and Sugar Bowl in 2021. Since then, the Bears are just 7-9 overall. That includes an rough 1-2 start to this season — a season that fans hoped would be a bounce-back from an ugly 6-7 campaign in 2022 that concluded with four consecutive losses. However, Baylor laid an egg in Week 1, losing 42-31 at home to Texas State as a 27-point favorite. In Week 2, Baylor lost again. This time, the Bears blew a 13-3 lead and lost 20-13 to Utah by allowing two TDs in the final two minutes of regulation. Baylor at least got in the win column on Saturday, but it was an underwhelming 30-7 margin over Long Island, an FCS program that went 4-7 last year and already has losses to Ohio and Bryant this year.

Boise State (1-2): Boise State entered the season as the Mountain West favorites, but the Broncos looked a bit shaky in the non-conference portion of their schedule. It was a challenging slate, no doubt, but there have been some reasons for concern. The Broncos were barely competitive in the Week 1 loss at Washington. The Huskies are one of the best teams in the country, but giving up 450 yards and five touchdowns through the air in a 56-19 loss was a disappointing showing. And then in the home opener, Boise State lost 18-16 to UCF on a last-second field goal. Boise State was outgained 530 yards to 384 and really struggled to throw the ball. The Broncos posted a win Saturday over North Dakota to improve to 1-2, but the passing game again underwhelmed as Taylen Green tossed his fourth interception of the season and has completed only 52.3% of his attempts. Don’t be surprised if the Broncos are vulnerable in Mountain West play.

Clemson (2-1): We wondered all offseason what Clemson’s offense would look like after Dabo Swinney finally made a hire outside his coaching tree and brought in Garrett Riley from TCU as offensive coordinator. As it turns out, it has not looked much different. The offense was a major issue in recent seasons as the program fell short of its national championship expectations and it raised eyebrows when Swinney said Riley would be running “Clemson’s offense,” instead of the offense he called as TCU went all the way to the national title game last season. That was the case in an ugly Week 1 loss to Duke. In the second half of the loss, Clemson drove inside the Duke 10-yard line three times without scoring a single point. Prized starting quarterback Cade Klubnik has underwhelmed and the receivers have looked average at best. When fellow ACC contenders like Florida State are nabbing players like Keon Coleman out of the transfer portal, Clemson refusing to dip into the transfer market to upgrade its talent becomes even more glaring. Those two will meet next weekend, and the disparity could be on display for all to see.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney will have a tough challenge next week against Florida State. Can the Tigers get their offense on track by then? (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney will have a tough challenge next week against Florida State. Can the Tigers get their offense on track by then? (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Illinois (1-2): Illinois nearly won the Big Ten West last year but has had a shaky start to the 2023 season. In the opener, the Illini needed a last-second field goal just to beat Toledo at home. Last week, Illinois was blasted on the road by Kansas, 34-23. It wasn’t as close as the final score makes it seem. The Jayhawks had a 28-7 halftime lead and were up 34-7 late in the third before the Illini made a late charge to make the score respectable. Coming off that performance, Illinois had a spirited effort on defense in Saturday’s Big Ten opener vs. No. 7 Penn State. But this time, the offense imploded with five turnovers — four of which were Luke Altmyer interceptions. There’s a lot for Bret Bielema to clean up.

Nebraska (1-2): Nebraska posted the first win of the Matt Rhule era on Saturday night by beating Northern Illinois, 35-11. But the first two losses of the season for the new-look Huskers looked a whole lot like the old Huskers. In Week 1, Nebraska blew a 10-3 lead and lost 13-10 on a last-second field goal to Minnesota, but only after turning it over four times. Three of those were interceptions thrown by transfer QB Jeff Sims. In Week 2, the Huskers went on the road to Colorado and were doomed by turnovers yet again — four more in an ugly 36-14 loss. Sims fumbled three times, all on botched exchanges. Twice he dropped a shotgun snap, and then he had a fumbled handoff with his running back. He also threw an INT before exiting with an ankle injury. Rhule’s presence was expected to turn Nebraska into a much more disciplined operation. That has not been the case through three games.

Pittsburgh (1-2): Pitt has serious problems on offense. The Panthers opened the season by beating Wofford, but have since dropped back-to-back games to Cincinnati and West Virginia. In the loss to Cincinnati, Pitt had only 262 yards of offense as transfer QB Phil Jurkovec went 10-of-32 for 179 yards. Things were even worse on the road at West Virginia on Saturday night. The Panthers fell 17-6 and put up only 211 yards. Jurkovec struggled mightily yet again, completing only 8-of-20 attempts for 81 yards with three ugly interceptions. If Pat Narduzzi doesn’t get his offense figured out, things could get ugly for the Panthers.

Pittsburgh quarterback Phil Jurkovec (5) has struggled so far this season as the Panthers are off to a 1-2 start. (AP Photo/Chris Jackson)
Pittsburgh quarterback Phil Jurkovec (5) has struggled so far this season as the Panthers are off to a 1-2 start. (AP Photo/Chris Jackson) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Tennessee (2-1): Tennessee just doesn’t have the dominant offense it had a year ago. Josh Heupel’s unit was operating at an extremely high level with Hendon Hooker at QB but it hasn’t been as crisp with Joe Milton. There were some serious signs that things weren’t right last week as the Vols sputtered in a win over Austin Peay, an FCS program. And then this week, Tennessee was beaten soundly on the road by Florida, 29-16. The Vols have a chance for a get-right game next week vs. UTSA before resuming SEC play. Through three games, this just doesn’t look like a team that realistically can make a run at Georgia in the SEC East.

Texas Tech (1-2): In the offseason, Texas Tech was being hyped as a potential sleeper to contend for the Big 12 title. Perhaps that’s still the case, but losing to Wyoming was probably not part of that projected path. The Red Raiders were 14-point favorites in Week 1 but ended up blowing a 17-0 lead in a 35-33, double-OT loss in Laramie. And then, in Week 2, Texas Tech lost at home to Oregon. The Red Raiders were underdogs, but it was a game they should have won as they had a 27-18 lead entering the fourth quarter. TTU improved to 1-2 with a win over Tartleton State on Saturday, but this was not the start the faithful in Lubbock envisioned.

UTSA (1-2): After going 12-2 in 2021 and 11-3 in 2022, it’s surprising to see UTSA already has two losses. The Roadrunners are in their first season in the AAC, but they haven’t been able to take care of business in the non-conference portion of the schedule. UTSA outgained Houston in Week 1 but ended up losing 17-14 thanks in part to three interceptions thrown by veteran QB Frank Harris. In Week 2, UTSA really had to scratch and claw to get a 20-13 win over Texas State. And then on Friday night, with Harris sidelined with turf toe, UTSA fell to 1-2 with a 37-29 home loss to Army. The Black Knights gashed the Roadrunners for 442 yards.

WINNERS

LSU: The Tigers made quick and easy work of Mississippi State on Saturday in a 41-14 win in Starkville. QB Jayden Daniels threw for four touchdowns and had just one incompletion on 22 pass attempts in the first half while WR Malik Nabers was absolutely uncoverable. Nabers had 13 catches for 239 yards and two scores as LSU led 24-7 at the half and 34-7 after three quarters. Mississippi State’s offense struggled as Will Rogers was just 11-of-28 passing for 103 yards. After losing to Florida State in Week 1, the Tigers may need to run the table to make the College Football Playoff. Saturday was a great start to their SEC schedule.

Penn State: The Nittany Lions forced five turnovers in a 30-13 win at Illinois. Penn State had just two scoring drives longer than 50 yards as Illinois QB Luke Altmyer threw four interceptions. Drew Allar didn’t have a great game — he was just 16-of-33 for 208 yards, but RB Trey Potts connected on an 11-yard TD pass with Tyler Warren in the third quarter to give Penn State firm control of the game.

Missouri: The Tigers got a big win as Harrison Mevis hit an SEC-record 61-yard field goal with no time remaining to stun Kansas State, 30-27. The field goal came after Missouri inexplicably took a delay-of-game penalty with six seconds left as the entire sideline seemingly thought a timeout had been called after QB Brady Cook spiked the ball on first down to stop the clock. Cook had the best game of his Missouri career on Saturday as he threw for 356 yards and two TDs despite playing much of the second half on an injured right knee.

Ohio State: Western Kentucky’s hopes of an upset over the Buckeyes lasted for about two minutes. WKU cut Ohio State’s lead to 14-10 with 8:10 to go in the second quarter on Saturday. On Ohio State’s next offensive play, QB Kyle McCord hit WR Marvin Harrison Jr. for a 75-yard TD.

Harrison’s TD was the first of four straight TDs in the second quarter as Ohio State took a 42-10 lead into halftime on the way to a 63-10 win. McCord finished the game 19-of-23 passing for 318 yards and three scores while Harrison had five catches for 126 yards and RB TreVeyon Henderson had 13 carries for 88 yards and two scores.

Syracuse: The Orange got a big road win to move to 3-0 with a 35-20 win over Purdue. QB Garrett Shrader had 25 carries for 195 yards and four touchdowns. His fourth score came on a 28-yard run with 3:19 to go to put the game away. Syracuse also forced four Purdue turnovers as the Boilermakers fumbled three times and threw an interception. Until Saturday, the last time Syracuse had won a non-conference game on the road against a Power Five opponent was in 2013 when the Orange beat Maryland.

Utah: The Utes have successfully navigated their non-conference schedule without Cameron Rising. Utah beat Weber State, 31-7, to move to 3-0 without their star quarterback. Rising is closer and closer to making his season debut after suffering a torn ACL in the Rose Bowl and there was no need for the Utes to use Rising on Saturday even if he was ready to go. Freshman Nate Johnson was 13-of-21 passing for 193 yards and a TD and rushed 16 times for 71 yards. With No. 24 UCLA up next and No. 16 Oregon State in Week 5, Rising will likely get the call if he’s ready to roll.

Miami (Ohio): The RedHawks got their first win over Cincinnati since 2005 with a 31-24 victory in overtime. Miami blocked a go-ahead field goal try by the Bearcats in the final minute and then Brett Gabbert hit Joe Wilkins Jr. for a TD on the first possession of overtime before stopping the Bearcats from scoring on their possession. Gabbert had 237 yards and three touchdowns passing while also rushing nine times for 132 yards thanks to a 74-yard run. Cincinnati’s Emory Jones rushed 20 times for 101 yards and a score but threw two interceptions.

LOSERS

Iowa State: Things aren’t going very well for Iowa State. With starting QB Hunter Dekkers sidelined after he allegedly bet on ISU games earlier in his career, Iowa State has scored 20 points over its last two games combined. The Cyclones lost 10-7 at Ohio on Saturday and had a potentially good field goal by Chase Contreraz ruled no good by one of the officials standing under the goalposts. Coach Matt Campbell even had to be restrained from confronting a fan who said he was on the hot seat after the game. Iowa State sits 1-2 heading into Big 12 play and it’s hard to see a win on the schedule anytime soon.

Oklahoma State: It’s impossible to sugarcoat the Cowboys’ 33-7 home loss to South Alabama. Sure, South Alabama is an emerging program under coach Kane Wommack that won 10 games a season ago. But Oklahoma State was favored by a touchdown and was absolutely dominated. Three Cowboys quarterbacks combined to go 16-of-35 for 114 yards and an interception while the team rushed 29 times for 94 yards. OSU coach Mike Gundy doesn’t have a clear favorite to start at QB among his son Gunnar, Alan Bowman and Garret Rangel, and Saturday night’s loss didn’t help matters. After losing five of six to end the 2022 season, Oklahoma State could be caught in a quagmire.

Georgia Southern: The Eagles found themselves tied 7-7 at halftime with Wisconsin despite Davis Brin’s three first-half interceptions. It was easy to envision how Georgia Southern could pull the upset over the Badgers with a better second half. Spoiler alert: that better second half didn’t happen. Brin threw two more interceptions as the Eagles turned the ball over a total of six times in a 35-14 loss. Wisconsin turned all three of Georgia Southern’s second-half turnovers into touchdowns to pull away as the Badgers ran 38 times for 207 yards and five scores.

Michigan State: The Spartans were overmatched from the start in a 41-7 loss to No. 8 Washington. Michigan State had done a great job of limiting big plays through its first two games, yet Washington QB Michael Penix was 27-of-35 for 473 yards and four touchdowns and Rome Odunze had eight catches for 180 yards. Washington ended up with an incredible 713 yards of offense in Michigan State interim coach Harlon Bennett’s first game in charge after Mel Tucker's suspension for alleged sexual harassment. MSU, meanwhile, had just 261 yards.

Washington's Jalen McMillan (left) was one of several Huskies to feast on Michigan State's defense Saturday. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
Washington's Jalen McMillan (left) was one of several Huskies to feast on Michigan State's defense Saturday. (AP Photo/Al Goldis) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Minnesota: The Gophers were no match for No. 20 North Carolina in a 31-13 loss. North Carolina QB Drake Maye was 29-of-40 passing for 414 yards and two TDs and two interceptions as the Tar Heels cruised in the second half thanks to Minnesota’s inability to throw the ball. Athan Kaliakmanis was 11-of-29 passing for 133 yards and Cole Kramer threw an interception on his only pass attempt. Saturday’s game showed just how limited Minnesota is offensively. If the Gophers can’t get a lead and get the run game going, they’re out of luck. Kaliakmanis has thrown 88 passes so far this season for just 446 yards. That’s just over five yards a pass and he simply has to be better for Minnesota to have a shot in the Big Ten West.

Virginia Tech: It could be another long season in Blacksburg. The Hokies lost, 35-16, at Rutgers on Saturday to drop to 1-2. As Virginia Tech fans have come to expect, the run game averaged just 3.3 yards a carry as QB Kyron Drones led the team with 22 carries for 74 yards. But Drones fumbled on the first drive of the game and Rutgers scored on its first offensive play. Somehow, Virginia Tech lost the game with the Scarlet Knights averaging just 2.9 yards per pass. A trip to Marshall in Week 4 is a tough test before games against Pitt and Florida State. It’s not going to be terribly surprising if Virginia Tech is 1-5 at the halfway point of the season.

Vanderbilt: The Commodores lost, 40-37, at UNLV despite overcoming a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter. Vanderbilt trailed, 30-17, at the start of the final period and tied the game at 30-30 with less than five minutes to go and again at 37-37 with 1:12 left. The Commodores immediately got the ball back on an interception and had a chance for a go-ahead field goal but Jacob Borcila’s 33-yard kick missed with 44 seconds to go. That was enough time for UNLV to go 62 yards in five plays as Jose Pizano hit a 36-yard field goal for the win with five seconds to go. The loss drops Vanderbilt to 2-2 ahead of SEC play and ensures the Commodores will need to go 4-4 in league play to get to a bowl game.