Alabama-Clemson III feels inevitable just three weeks into the 2017 season

Are we there yet?

No, not the Louisville Cardinals end zone Saturday night. That patch of turf was visited so many times by Clemson Tigers that it needed a new paint job.

The calendar says there are slightly less than four months until the College Football Playoff National Championship. Reality says we should just go ahead and fast forward to Jan. 8, 2018, in Atlanta.

A big hint as to whom we might see there: No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide and No. 3 Clemson won by a combined 44 points Saturday. On the season, they've won by a combined 163 points.

They're undefeated, undaunted and undeterred. Three weeks in, it's the Tigers and the Tide and everyone else.

And it's not even close.

Meet the new bosses, same as the old bosses.

If Alabama-Clemson III hasn't crossed your mind, warm up the ol' brain stem. A Saturday's worth of delicious games ended with the same old taste in our mouths.

Tide- and Tigers-flavored popsicles for everyone.

They're that good, that strong, that resilient. Once again. They've also split the last two national championships in games that show just how evenly matched they have been and continue to be.

A rubber match for the ages awaits on Jan. 8.

Are we there yet? Only about 700 college football games stand in the way. One by one, they will fall, a mere prelude to a re-rematch.

The loss of Deshaun Watson has been offset by a Clemson defense that might be the best in the country. Unless that honor belongs to Alabama.

Each team has faced significant challenges early on and come through ready to win their conferences. Bama knocked out Florida State Seminoles quarterback and probably its national championship chances in Week 1.

In what might qualify as the biggest game Louisville has played, Clemson came close to embarrassing the Cardinals in a 47-21 blowout. The Tigers put up more than 600 yards. Defending Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson couldn't put up with a withering rush.

Goodbye Heisman? Goodbye ACC? Goodbye playoff?

For now, goodbye Louisville.

"They have to remember," ESPN's Chris Fowler said of Clemson, "the season's not over."

It's a struggle, but yeah, it's only Sept. 16.

Nick Saban got some more tune up time for backup quarterback Tua Tagovailoa . That came during an 18-point thrashing of Colorado State Rams .

This next week it's Vanderbilt Commodores , and we're still wondering who might be the second-best team in the SEC. Based on Saturday, it might be Mississippi State Bulldogs . Then again, maybe not.

That's been the SEC's identity crisis these last few seasons. It's conference race is actually a boat race with Alabama seemingly always out front.

There just wasn't that much shock value Saturday until late. Josh Rosen and Mason Rudolph each threw five touchdown passes, the former in a tight loss and the latter in a dominant win. A basketball coach responsible for major NCAA violations was elevated to honored guest status on ESPN (Rick Pitino, guest picker). Florida Gators and Tennessee Volunteers scored nine points through three quarters, then 37 in the fourth -- sealed by a Hail Mary. Vanderbilt beat a ranked nonconference opponent for the first time since 1946.

Then Texas Longhorns and Southern California Trojans played a game for the ages. The Horns may be back after pushing the Trojans to three overtimes but that's another story for another time.

The season started with a dearth of darkhorses. Throw a blanket over the preseason top 10 and you've got your four playoff teams, I said. A quarter of the way through the regular season, that's still the case.

Keep looking underneath that blanket. We may have four months to go, but there are only two that will be left standing. We know that only three weeks into the season.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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