Las Vegas Review-Journal

Perennial title contenders displaying vulnerabil­ities

Superpower­s’ close calls give some hope to outsiders

- By Ralph D. Russo

Alabama looked beatable for the first time.

Ohio State’s defense still looks discombobu­lated, Clemson’s offense still looks limp, and Oklahoma still looks far from elite.

Maybe college football’s season of the super teams won’t be such a foregone conclusion.

The top-ranked Crimson Tide faced their first challenge but got out of The Swamp undefeated against No. 11 Florida. The No. 9 Buckeyes, No. 6 Tigers and No. 3 Sooners also were winners — with blemishes.

Those four teams have combined for 20 College Football Playoff appearance­s. Fans, at least those of other teams, have been lamenting the same old, same old and bracing for another round of it in 2021.

Three weeks in, dare to dream of something different.

Credit Florida coach Dan Mullen with back-to-back games against Alabama where — with different personnel — the Gators made the Tide’s offense operate under pressure by carving up its defense.

“To be honest with you, I hope we see them really soon, like later this season,” Mullen said of the Tide after the 31-29 defeat.

No. 9 Ohio State (2-1) is past the point of needing just a tuneup. The Buckeyes pulled away from Tulsa in the fourth quarter thanks to freshman phenom Treveyon Henderson (270 yards rushing and three TDS).

Those defensive issues that had coach Ryan Day being asked about the status of defensive coordinato­r Kerry Coombs after the Oregon loss? Still there. Tulsa passed for 428 yards.

Clemson’s opening, touchdown-less loss to Georgia seemed no reason to panic, and maybe Saturday’s long weather delay against Georgia Tech got the Tigers (2-1) out of sorts. Still, 284 total yards against a team that lost to Northern Illinois is disconcert­ing. Clemson has scored 17 points in two games against FBS opponents.

As for Oklahoma, the hype coming into this year was based on the premise that the Sooners had a good defense to go with what is almost always a supercharg­ed offense. The assumption being that with Lincoln Riley calling plays, Spencer Rattler would go from good to great at quarterbac­k and the rest of the offense would follow.

Rattler would turn into a Heisman contender like the three quarterbac­ks (Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts) who came before him. What’s the old saying about assuming?

Oklahoma’s offense is still a long way from from the Baker/kyler days. In a workmanlik­e victory against Nebraska, Rattler was 23 of 34 for 213 yards and no picks.

Now, a reality check: Wins are wins, and by the time November rolls around all these powerhouse­s could be rolling toward the CFP again.

But for now, the rest of the country has some reason to hope a playoff race is possible.

Fresno State folk hero

Jake Haener transferre­d from Washington to Fresno

State and turned into a Pac-12 killer. The Bulldogs quarterbac­k engineered two late touchdown drives to upset No. 13 UCLA and turn Pac-12 After Dark into a debacle for the Power Five conference. San Diego State beat Utah in three overtimes, No. 23 Brigham Young won at No. 19 Arizona State, and Northern Arizona beat Arizona for the first time in almost 90 years.

But nothing was worse than the UCLA loss. Just two weeks ago, the Bruins knocked off Louisiana State and seemed on the way to a big season under Chip Kelly.

The Pac-12 is 16-16 in nonconfere­nce games, including three losses to BYU, five against Mountain West teams — such as Fresno State — and two to FCS schools.

Around the country

Memphis won a wild game against Mississipp­i

State with one of the more bizarre punt return TDS you’ll see — and one that Bulldogs fans will be fuming over.

Kedon Slovis got his opportunit­y at Southern California two seasons ago because of an injury to JT Daniels. Did Jaxson Dart just Wally Pipp Slovis? The Trojans’ freshman came off the bench to pass for 391 yards and four touchdowns in a rout of Washington State.

Florida State is 0-3 for the first time since 1976, the late Bobby Bowden’s first season as coach. Rutgers is 3-0 for the first time since 2012.

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