Orlando Sentinel

Early impression­s far from concrete

- By Matt Murschel |

It wasn’t perfect but Alabama survived its first test. Top-ranked Alabama outlasted humid temperatur­es, a rowdy crowd of 90,000 at The Swamp and a pesky Florida team to earn a hard-fought road win Saturday. The Crimson Tide looked tired at times and lacked defensive energy while allowing 20 second-half points to the Gators, all concerns for a team expected to contend for another SEC and national championsh­ip.

Florida continues to rack up moral victories against Alabama.

It wasn’t the result Florida’s Dan Mullen was looking for and it doesn’t count in the win column, but the Gators coach can take some comfort in knowing his team has pushed Alabama to the brink in the last two meetings. They did so in the 2020 SEC championsh­ip game and once again this weekend with hopes of another meeting in the conference title game.

Penn State is the best team in the Big Ten right now.

While Ohio State continues to struggle through the first three games, the Nittany Lions have played some of their best football, knocking off ranked foes Wisconsin and Auburn. The defense has been opportunis­tic with six takeaways, while quarterbac­k Sean Clifford has played efficientl­y in leading the offense. Road contests against Iowa and the Buckeyes remain the biggest hurdles.

Clemson and Ohio State haven’t lived up to preseason expectatio­ns with both programs struggling to find their stride. Clemson’s offense is the worst in the ACC, while Ohio State ranks near the bottom of the Big Ten in total defense. If you take on Oklahoma’s uneven performanc­e so far, the race for the College Football Playoff could be wide open.

Early title favorites continue to struggle. It’s time to consider Cincinnati a playoff contender.

Cincinnati found itself on the outside of the playoff discussion last season despite an undefeated regular-season record. The Bearcats are off to another 3-0 start, including a dominating second-half performanc­e in a win over Indiana. The Hoosiers may not be the Hoosiers of last season but they’re a good enough program to earn Cincy considerat­ion for the top four spots.

The Pac-12 continues to stumble out of the gate. Oregon is a legitimate playoff contender but the rest of the Pac-12 is a mess after disappoint­ing losses by Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Utah and UCLA. All five teams went into the weekend as favorites and all five lost. Utah and UCLA dropped games against San Diego State and Fresno State. There’s plenty of fight left in USC. It’s been a rough week for USC football with the firing of coach Clay Helton early last week and the loss of starting quarterbac­k Kedon Slovis to an injury early in their game against Washington State. But true freshman Jaxson Dart came off the bench to throw four touchdowns to lead the Trojans past the Cougars and give interim coach Donte Williams his first career victory.

Don’t sleep on BYU. The Couggars have been on fire, knocking off Arizona, Utah and Arizona State in consecutiv­e weeks to open 3-0. BYU has won 14 of its last 15 games and could give Cincinnati a run as the best non-Power Five team in the country when it’s all said and done.

Things have gone from bad to worse at Florida State.

FSU turned the ball over six times including four intercepti­ons in a loss to Wake Forest. The Seminoles have started 0-3 for the first time since 1976 — the first season under legendary coach Bobby Bowden — and could face an 0-4 start for the first time since 1974 if they drop this week’s contest against Louisville.

It was a banner weekend for the state of Michigan.

Michigan State quarterbac­k Payton Thorne tossed four touchdowns in leading the Spartans to a road upset over No. 24 Miami on Saturday. Couple that with Western Michigan’s upset of Pittsburgh and Michigan demolishin­g Northern Illinois and it was a solid day for some of the top teams in Great Lakes State.

 ?? CHRIS GARDNER/GETTY ?? BYU beat Arizona State 27-17 on Saturday for its third win over a Pac-12 team this season.
CHRIS GARDNER/GETTY BYU beat Arizona State 27-17 on Saturday for its third win over a Pac-12 team this season.

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