For a program outside the traditionally elite, changing perceptions can be a long process.
Louisville did it in the span of one afternoon. With the opportunity at home to make a national statement against No. 2 Florida State, the Cardinals shattered their perceived ceiling with a 63-20 victory and made a legitimate case to be the No. 1 team in the country.
We already knew Louisville was good and quarterback Lamar Jackson was a potential star. But were the Cardinals good enough to compete with a quote-unquote “legitimate national championship contender” like Florida State?
That question was answered early and often, as Jackson delivered the worst defeat of Jimbo Fisher’s career with 216 passing yards and 146 rushing.
Obviously it’s just one game, and sometimes teams are capable of freak performances. It seems unlikely the 43-point margin is a true indicator of the difference between Louisville and Florida State.
But for now, the Cardinals look like a scary good team with a Heisman-contending quarterback that can absolutely get to the College Football Playoff. If Louisville wins the ACC, nobody will need to be convinced they belong.
The Cardinals took care of that on Saturday.
Here are the rest of Saturday’s winners and losers in college football:
Alabama: When the Crimson Tide trailed 24-3, it sure seemed like a replay of Ole Miss’ victories the last two years. It wasn’t a stretch to think that, for whatever reason, Hugh Freeze just has Nick Saban’s number.
But the Crimson Tide turned the momentum with special teams and defensive touchdowns at the end of the second quarter and start of the third, respectively. Alabama struggled to throw the ball but scratched out enough yards in other ways to pull away from then hold off the Rebels in the fourth quarter.
This is going to be an interesting season for Alabama with freshman Jalen Hurts at quarterback — and maybe some ups and downs to come — but there’s no denying the overwhelming talent. Alabama is the heavy favorite to win the SEC again.
Miami: Saturday’s trip to Appalachian State had trap written all over it, but the Hurricanes looked very sharp from the first snap and took care of business 45-10 to move to 3-0. Though it’s not a win with huge name value, it’s a confidence-inspiring performance for first-year coach Mark Richt.
Appalachian State is a dangerous opponent, as it showed in a narrow Week 1 loss to Tennessee, and the Hurricanes were walking into a frenzied atmosphere for an early kickoff. No matter; Miami led 21-0 after the first quarter and outgained the Mountaineers 549-241. Quarterback Brad Kaaya finished 21-of-27 for 368 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.
Penn State: On a day where the school honored Joe Paterno, drawing unnecessary controversy that does nothing to help James Franklin rebuild the program, he secured a very necessary win against Temple 34-27. After getting run over by the Owls last season and just missing at Pittsburgh last week, a third consecutive loss to an in-state rival would have been bad optics for Franklin.
Instead, there should be reasons for optimism as the Nittany Lions looked competent offensively once again, racking up 403 total yards. Last season, they failed to reach 300 yards of offense on five occasions. It seems like there is real progress on that side of the ball.
Western Michigan: This might finally be the breakthrough season for P.J. Fleck. The Broncos are 3-0 and already have two road wins against Big Ten foes in the bag after blowing out Illinois in Champagne. Western Michigan beat Northwestern in the season opener and could gain some top-25 steam if it beats Georgia Southern next week.
South Florida: Favored to win the American’s East Division, the Bulls got a solid road win at Syracuse to go 3-0 and set up a massive opportunity next Saturday at home against Florida State. This is a very potent offensive team averaging 49.6 points through three games. The Bulls racked up 459 yards against Syracuse in a 45-20 victory.
Nebraska: Quarterback Tommy Armstrong hasn’t been at Nebraska forever; it only seems like it. But Saturday’s 35-32 victory against No. 21 Oregon may have been the most impressive of his career. Nebraska, which was very disappointing in Mike Riley’s first season, is now 3-0 and could be a factor in the Big Ten West.
On the go-ahead touchdown drive, Armstrong converted a huge fourth-and-9 with his arm before a 34-yard run gave Nebraska a 35-32 lead. The Huskers got some help from Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, who got a two-point conversion on the game’s opening touchdown and then kept trying it but ended up 1-for-5. It was Nebraska’s first win against a ranked nonconference team since beating Notre Dame in 2001.
Florida State: It’s just one game, and teams have come back from bad performances early in the season to make the playoff. But there’s no doubt this one is going to leave a mark.
The Seminoles squandered much of the credit they earned for beating Ole Miss in the season opener, and they could face some trouble in the next three weeks with games at South Florida and Miami sandwiched between a home date with North Carolina.
Kansas: After last season’s 0-12 debacle, the idea for David Beaty in Year 2 is to see some shreds of progress. So far, they’ve been tough to find. Kansas looked as hopeless as ever in a 43-7 loss at Memphis, and frankly, the final score could have been worse. Kansas turned it over six times as the Jayhawks lost for the 16th consecutive time against FBS competition.
Vanderbilt: The job security of third-year coach Derek Mason has been a hot topic in Nashville, and Saturday’s 38-7 loss at Georgia Tech could prove to be very damaging. Vanderbilt had just 85 rushing yards against a suspect defense and went 4-for-13 on third down while Georgia Tech dominated the game with 511 yards of offense.
The upcoming schedule does Vanderbilt no favors with a non-conference road game at Western Kentucky followed by Florida. Mason is just 8-19 overall at Vandy.
Northern Illinois: Coach Rod Carey’s story is a good one. In the span of six years, he went from Division III assistant to head coach at one of the best programs outside the Power Five and experienced significant success his first two seasons. But things have turned on the Huskies, who are now on a six-game losing streak (dating to last season) following Saturday’s 42-28 loss to San Diego State.
It’s been a tough schedule so far, and Northern Illinois could certainly turn things around in Mid-American Conference play. But if they don’t, Carey’s job could be in jeopardy.
Tennessee: The Volunteers beat Ohio 28-19, but it’s clear they still have some problems heading into the definitive game of their season next weekend against nemesis Florida. Not only is Tennessee hampered by injuries, but the offensive line was less than dominant against Ohio, and the Vols never really pulled away from a team that had no business competing in Neyland Stadium.
Making matters even worse, star cornerback Cam Sutton was injured and will be out for an extended period of time, according to coach Butch Jones.
Auburn: The Tigers fell to No. 20 Texas A&M, which is not a bad loss, necessarily, but it does leave Gus Malzahn's team 1-2 on the season and 3-12 in its last 15 games against Power Five opponents.
Notre Dame: A loss to No. 8 Michigan State knocks the 1-2 Fighting Irish out of the Playoff and reveals continuing issues on defense.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM WEEK 3