Sign up for the Until Saturday newsletter | Jayna Bardahl and The Athletic’s college football staff deliver expert analysis on the biggest CFB stories five days per week. Get it sent to your inbox.
Week 3 was short on marquee matchups but delivered some revealing results that should set the table for conference play around the country. Below, our writers break down the day’s biggest storylines.
The Athletic has live coverage of college football Week 3 with Top 25 scores, highlights and analysis.
Texas’ uninspiring Alabama encore
For at least a few moments on Saturday night, things were tense in Austin. A pesky, tough Wyoming team held the ball for what felt like a week, milking 10 minutes and 22 seconds off the third-quarter clock before tying the game with a field goal as the teams entered the fourth. The Texas offense, which had conquered Alabama a week ago, had sputtered all night, managing only 87 passing yards and taking only 40 snaps in the first three quarters.
In the fourth, the Longhorns woke up.
A 44-yard catch-and-run touchdown by Xavier Worthy, a 61-yard bowling ball imitation by Jonathon Brooks and a pick six by safety Jerrin Thompson helped No. 4 Texas avoid disaster and pull away with a 31-10 win over the Cowboys that looked a lot more comfortable than it was.
If this one came as a surprise, it shouldn’t. Coming down from the emotional high of the win in Tuscaloosa was always going to be tough for Texas, a team that hasn’t had to handle much success in the last decade-plus. And Wyoming is a good team, as shown by its upset win against Texas Tech in Week 1 and the Cowboys’ competitiveness on Saturday. Craig Bohl’s team isn’t to be taken lightly.
Striking the knockout blow in the fourth quarter as strongly as the Longhorns did is encouraging. Starting as slowly as they did for the second time in three weeks is not. Texas struggled out of the gate in Week 1 against Rice, too, before turning up the heat in the third quarter to put that one away.
The Big 12 seems ripe for Texas’ taking. Kansas State, the preseason pick to finish second in the league behind the Longhorns, lost to Missouri on Saturday. TCU, Baylor and Texas Tech don’t appear as good as some thought they might be. Oklahoma State got hammered by South Alabama. Through three weeks, Oklahoma appears to be the Longhorns’ biggest threat.
But Texas will have to rectify those slow starts in conference play to avoid any hiccups down the road. The Big 12, even in its weakened state, is good enough to capitalize on off nights. — Sam Khan Jr.
Tennessee slips up in The Swamp
It didn’t quite feel like ‘98 after Florida’s 29-16 upset of Tennessee. Last season, when Hendon Hooker was at the helm of an explosive offense and Volunteer fans were harkening back to the height of the Phillip Fulmer era, the hallmark of Tennessee was its poise. The 2022 Vols fell behind by two possessions to Pittsburgh before rallying and escaping with an overtime win, then went blow for blow with Alabama before ending their Third Saturday in October losing streak. On Saturday, penalties, poor play calling and worse game management cost the 2023 Vols any time they built momentum toward a second-half comeback. The offense was lacking in the fluid sequences of success, complementary football or high-speed tempo needed to keep the Gators’ defense on its heels.
There has to be some concern about who Joe Milton is as a quarterback. Chris Fowler made mention of it on ESPN’s broadcast, but Milton has never thrown a touchdown pass on the move in his college career, and he struggled mightily with his ball placement anytime he had to make an off-platform throw. I’m not certain how Tennessee coach Josh Heupel remedies this, either. The offensive line isn’t nearly as strong as last year, the receiving corps isn’t as overwhelming, and the design of the offense necessitates that the quarterback holds the ball for a while.
Florida constantly changed its defensive looks, and that made Milton hesitant at times, too — even when the best decision would’ve been to scramble or check the ball down. This offense will need to make some adjustments to maximize Milton’s talent against the top defenses on its schedule, or the Vols will have more long nights ahead in SEC play. — Diante Lee
Are Georgia and Alabama just … pretty good?
Look, it’s not really fair to lump these two teams together. One is clearly in much better shape than the other. But the performances by Georgia and Alabama on Saturday afternoon were, well, not exactly dominant.
Georgia found itself playing from behind against South Carolina, trailing 14-3 at halftime to a 27-point underdog. Much has been made of the extreme ease of the Bulldogs’ schedule this season, so it was useful to see this team have to sweat a little and figure things out with a deficit and with several key players (right tackle Amarius Mims, safety Javon Bullard, receiver Ladd McConkey) out with injuries.
The Bulldogs did find their groove in the second half by doing what they can do really well: Pound away with Daijun Edwards and the run game, balance it with efficient play from quarterback Carson Beck, build up a lead, then tee off with their talented pass rush. The Gamecocks needed Spencer Rattler to throw their way back into the game, and he did the best he could without an injured Juice Wells but couldn’t put together a rally.
There wasn’t anything Georgia did on Saturday that would suggest it ought to fall from the No. 1 spot, but it’s fair to say this team did not look unbeatable in its first SEC test. And head coach Kirby Smart knows it.
“They’ve got resiliency, they’ve got toughness and they better get a lot better,” Smart told CBS.
Alabama still needs to get a lot better after a 17-3 road win at USF. There’s nothing scary about the Tide right now. Three games in, the identity and confidence on offense just aren’t there.
It wasn’t always easy to tell what was wrong with Alabama in the first half, thanks to the extremely zoomed-out broadcast cameras necessitated by weather safety measures, and blame whatever did occur on a stormy day if you wish. In theory, the USF game was the right time to test out what the Crimson Tide have at quarterback with Tyler Buchner and Ty Simpson. But the brutal weather helped turn what might’ve been a low-stakes tryout into an ugly, sloppy battle.
Buchner couldn’t get anything done in his first five drives and was pulled for Simpson, who went 5 of 9 for 73 yards and took five sacks in his most significant college action to date. The offense closed out by bullying the Bulls with an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to cap a 17-3 victory. That’s sort of where the Crimson Tide are at this point: searching for meaning and catharsis late in the fourth quarter against a rebuilding 34-point underdog.
If Alabama fans were hoping for clarity on who gives them the best chance to beat Ole Miss next week, it doesn’t seem like they got it. In fact, Week 1 starter Jalen Milroe might still be their best bet. Are any of these quarterbacks actually ready to lead the kind of win streak this team needs to stay in the College Football Playoff hunt? We’re about to find out. — Max Olson
Florida State escaped Boston College with a 31-29 win after nearly blowing a 31-10 second-half lead. Second to the win, quarterback Jordan Travis got hurt on a second-quarter hit, coming up holding his left side. He came out briefly at the end of the first half but returned to start the second half. Travis finished 15-for-24 passing for 212 yards and two touchdowns, along with 38 yards on the ground. He completed a couple of deep passes, but FSU went 1-for-9 on third downs.
The FSU defense was gashed by Boston College, which finished with 457 yards, including 305 through the air and 9.0 yards per pass attempt. The Eagles also converted eight of 19 third downs.
Boston College might have won the game if not for penalties — the Eagles committed 18, the last of which was a facemask on a third-and-7 stop with a minute to play, giving FSU a first down and the ability to run out the clock.
The Seminoles will need Travis to be healthy and the defense to be better when they travel to Clemson next week for an ACC showdown. — Chris Vannini
LSU impressive in SEC opener
LSU and Jayden Daniels are getting right after a slow start to 2023.
Malik Nabers is going to get the bulk of the accolades after Saturday’s 41-14 win at Mississippi State, and rightly so. The LSU junior receiver — currently Dane Brugler’s No. 2 wideout for the 2024 NFL Draft — was unstoppable (as is often the case) Saturday with 13 catches for 239 yards and two scores. However, do not sleep on what this day was about for Daniels.
LSU’s quarterback got off to a disappointing start during the Tigers’ Week 1 loss against Florida State. He left that performance in the shower, though, and was businesslike in a blowout of Grambling State (18 of 24, 269, five TDs, zero turnovers) before letting it rip against Mississippi State. Daniels showed outstanding patience in the pocket and routinely got the ball where it needed to be. Daniels finished the game 30 of 34 for 361 and two scores after the contest with 13 straight completions, connecting on 23 of his first 24 attempts.
The fight for QB3 in the 2024 draft gets a lot of attention. But spots four through nine are also really up in the air and probably in the eye of the beholder. In this loaded class, Daniels seems to be making moves. Meanwhile, Florida State quarterback Jordan Travis was brilliant in the win over LSU but was all over the place last week against Southern Miss, and FSU’s offense was nowhere near as efficient as it should’ve been Saturday at Boston College. How QBs handle big losses, and how they handle big wins, matters. — Nick Baumgardner
(Photo: Tim Warner / Getty Images)