There are many truths about college football, but one in particular was applicable for Week 3. Some of the more interesting games are played when the schedule looks the least appealing.
Indeed, Sept. 19 was yet another warm-up date for Week 4, when the SEC finally joins the fold and conference play really gets underway. But that doesn't mean the light slate on Saturday was void of entertainment value. No. 19 Louisiana needed overtime to come from behind and beat Georgia State 34-31. Louisiana Tech vs. Southern Miss went down to the wire with the Bulldogs capping off a 21-3 run by scoring a touchdown with just seconds remaining. Wake Forest vs. NC State was a truly delightful offensive showcase.
Were any of those huge, notable games? Not really, but the football has been decent.
Now, the big games of the day were another story. No. 17 Miami took it to No. 18 Louisville in the only matchup of two ranked teams. Meanwhile, No. 11 Oklahoma State continued the troubling trend of Big 12 teams starting slow. There was still a lot to cover, so let's get to the biggest stories and overreactions from Week 3.
Miami's offense is a problem
Look, Louisville's defense is, shall we say, not great. We'll get to that below. But let's take a minute and appreciate what an upgrade Miami's offense has undergone in an offseason. Saturday's 47-34 win over the Cardinals was a perfect display. Obviously, quarterback D'Eriq King is the real deal. What he brings in passing attack -- 325 yards and three touchdowns -- combined with his legs is a truly special combination. Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee has a Ferrari and he knows how to use it.
But the matchup nightmares for this offense are everywhere. Running back Cam'Ron Harris is a real home run threat and a perfect complement to King. His 134 yards rushing -- 75 of which came on one touchdown carry -- was just the right balance to King's play-action and passing game.
Speaking of which, the Hurricanes have tight ends for days. Brevin Jordan and Will Mallory create a ton of issues. Even though Mallory only had one catch for 17 yards, he had another big gain wiped out by a penalty. And Jordan? He's a freak.
There are weapons everywhere and Lashlee throws in just enough window dressing to get the confusion and matchups he likes. Not every offensive performance will be like this, but there's a lot to like about this speedy, talented group. Last year's Hurricanes offense was an eye sore with zero potential for big plays. This one looks night and day different.
Miami had zero plays of 70+ yards from scrimmage all of last season.— Matt Baker (@MBakerTBTimes) September 20, 2020
The Canes have two in their last two plays tonight
Louisville isn't ready for primetime
I'll spare you the "Miami is back" chatter, but Saturday's loss was an example of Louisville not quite being where it wants to be. That's understandable. Coach Scott Satterfield inherited a cruddy situation from Bobby Petrino and instantly won eight games. But in Year 2, the players you have are the players you have. And right now, the Cardinals don't have the players they need on defense. Coaching didn't help them, either. The busted plays were truly awful. Far too often there was no contain, no discipline, no communication. The result were things like this:
The offense is a bit of a different story. That's where Louisville has its best players. But even stars like quarterback Malik Cunningham had forgettable moments, like a missed touchdown pass, a bad interception and poor throws from outside the pocket. Some of that was Miami's defense not biting on play-action and getting in the backfield. Quarterbacks are only as good as their protection allows them to be. Satterfield can scheme his receivers open as well as anyone, but there was a clear difference in the athletes on the field overall.
Louisville is still a team to watch in the ACC, but the gap between them and the conference's best still appears to be wide enough.
The Big 12 is a two-team race
No. 11 Oklahoma State didn't lose to a Sun Belt team on Saturday, but rallying to beat Tulsa 16-7 without quarterback Spencer Sanders is only marginally-less bad. Sure, losing Sanders could be a tough blow if he's out for an extended period of time with what was officially called a "lower extremity injury." But there are questions beyond quarterback play. For one: what on Earth was going on with Oklahoma State's offensive line? The Pokes allowed six sacks to a team that was replacing its top pass rusher and tallied only 14 sacks a year ago. It's one game, but other than Oklahoma and Texas, which played against far inferior opponents in Week 2, the Big 12 just ... doesn't look all that good. Maybe it's rust. Maybe it's COVID-19. Maybe conference play next week provides some more clarity. But if the Sooners are the bar, there don't appear to be any teams really capable of challenging for the conference title.
UCF looks New Year's Six bound
Memphis was my pick to win the AAC, but at this rate the Tigers may not play another game this year. Kidding aside, the No. 14 Knights made a statement in their 49-21 win at Georgia Tech. Most impressive was UCF's offense. Quarterback Dillon Gabriel had 417 yards passing with four touchdowns. He can really spin it and his deep ball placement is one of the best parts of his game. To be road favorites without having played a game is tough and Georgia Tech, for all its mistakes, is clearly better in Year 2 under coach Geoff Collins. There was a point in the fourth quarter when the Yellow Jackets reduced UCF's lead to a touchdown. In response, the Knights ripped off 21 straight points. That's what teams with good winning cultures do. It's only a game, and the season is long, but UCF looks awfully poised to make a run at a New Year's Six bowl. That offense is pure lightning.
Watch out for ... Boston College?
The ACC is Clemson, Notre Dame and 13 teams trying to claw their way to the surface to get noticed. Add Boston College to that group. First-year coach Jeff Hafley might have something going with the Eagles, who took care of Duke 26-6 in their season opener. The Blue Devils don't look like world beaters, but Boston College strung together a lot of nice individual effort plays, especially from tight end Hunter Long (7 catches, 93 yards and a touchdown) and receiver Zay Flowers (5 catches, 162 yards and a touchdown). Quarterback Phil Jurkovec looks like an upgrade after passing for 300 yards. Boston College gets a tough draw with North Carolina, Clemson and Notre Dame, among others, but this looks like a fun team capable of pulling off at least a couple of unexpected wins.
Marshall is undervalued
Make no mistake, No. 23 Appalachian State missed their chances in a 17-7 loss to the Thundering Herd. A missed field goal and a fumble on a would-be touchdown were the 10 points the Mountaineers needed. But Marshall earned an impressive, hard fought victory over a quality Group of Five team in a game that featured all kinds of weird bounces. The defense was opportunistic -- both takeaways were in the red zone for Appalachian State -- and the combination of quarterback Grant Wells and running back Brenden Knox accounted for 346 of the team's 379 yards. Conference USA is, to put it lightly, not the strongest FBS conference. At 2-0, I don't know that there will be many games Marshall won't be favored in moving forward.