Week 3 of the college football season is in the books and a line from the Oscar-winning film “Gladiator” comes to mind...
Are you not entertained?
Thus far, the 2021 season has been nothing if not entertaining and unpredictable. Eighteen teams that have held a ranking in either the AP or Coaches polls have lost at least once already — again, we are three weeks in — most in upsets to perceived lesser foes.
There is also this: Of the 130 teams that play football at the FBS level (Football Bowl Subdivision), only 34 have yet to lose.
BYU and Utah State are two of those undefeated teams, and on Saturday night, both the Aggies and Cougars pulled out thrilling victories over opponents that were largely regarded as superior to them.
Utah, on the other hand, is one of those formerly ranked teams that has already found its way into the loss column, which the Utes have now done twice.
It has been a whirlwind few weeks, with the promise for even more upheaval on the horizon.
Here are six takeaways from the weekend in college football.
BYU probably won’t win pretty this year and that’s OK
Let’s start with the highest ranked team in the state. No. 15-ranked BYU did what it needed to do against Arizona State late Saturday night and pulled out its third straight victory over a Pac-12 opponent.
Plenty went into the win. There were timely turnovers and defensive stands. Tyler Allgeier continues to make a case that he is one of the better running backs in the country and even with two interceptions, Jaren Hall still managed to look like a more than capable quarterback.
At 3-0, BYU is legitimately one of the best teams in the West. Only Oregon and maybe San Diego State have an argument for a better start to the season (Utah State deserves an honorable mention here), but the Cougars are the only team that has defeated three Power Five opponents (Arizona probably shouldn’t count as one. The Wildcats have lost 15 straight games).
What the Cougars didn’t do against ASU was make it look pretty. They didn’t do that against Arizona or Utah either. Unlike last season when BYU wowed observers with its brand of explosive offensive football, this year’s Cougars don’t win pretty, and that is OK.
The competition has been more difficult this season, and it seems that this year’s team relishes a fight. As Hall told the Deseret News following the win over ASU, “Warriors, man. We haven’t won pretty … We grind it out from beginning to end.”
There might be a few opponents on the horizon that BYU simply outmatches — think USF, Idaho State and maybe Washington State — but based off the first three games, matchups with Baylor, Virginia, Boise State, USC and possibly Utah State and Georgia Southern will go the way of wins over Arizona, Arizona State and Utah. That is, they’ll be slugfests, decided by a few timely plays here and there.
Which at this point is how BYU likes it.
Utah isn’t a program that can just reload
It is the dream of every program and fanbase: Become Alabama under Nick Saban.
That is not realistic for most teams, but the dream is to build a program that, like Alabama, experiences few drop-offs in play from season to season, instead maintaining its success over the years.
In 2017, Utah went 7-6 overall, which was a step back from 9-4 the previous season. That was normal, though. Most programs take steps back, then rebuild and repeat the process.
In 2018, Utah won nine games. The rebuild process was working. The following year the Utes won 11 games, and then all of a sudden the discussion became that perhaps Kyle Whittingham had cracked the “reload, not rebuild” formula.
Much of that belief stemmed from recruiting. Utah had just pulled in some of the best recruits in program history, so it seemed, maybe, that the Utes could reload this time around, especially since they brought in more than a few high profile transfers, too.
The 2020 season was a write-off for Utah because of the pandemic, so this season was the chance to see if the Utes had pulled it off, to see if they had reloaded and skipped the whole rebuilding part.
Through three games, the answer is a resounding no.
Following its triple overtime loss to San Diego State on Saturday, Utah fell to 1-2 on the season, with the only win coming against Weber State. The Utes had chances against both BYU and San Diego State, but they came up short both times.
Utah could still run the table in Pac-12 play and win not only the South Division but the conference also, but that isn’t likely. The Utes’ losses suggest they are a team that is in the middle of the rebuilding process, which is right where they are supposed to be.
“We’re not sharp enough as a football team right now,” Whittingham told the Deseret News. “We’re not polished enough. We practice the right way and prepare the right way but it’s not translated to game day like it needs to.”
Utah State has two quarterbacks, and that’s a good thing
One of the most common adages in football is “if you have two quarterbacks, you actually have none.”
That idea has been around for what feels like forever, and whenever a team rotates quarterbacks, it is usually disparaged and labeled a team that can’t win.
Thus far, Utah State is proving the adage wrong.
The Aggies started the season with Logan Bonner and Andrew Peasley still battling for the No. 1 role, and with them alternating series, the Aggies defeated Washington State. The following week, things appeared more settled, as Bonner played significantly more and Utah State defeated North Dakota.
But against Air Force on Saturday — after Bonner was knocked out for a time with a lower back injury — it was Peasley who stole the show.
Peasley was electric for the Aggies. There is an argument to be made that USU doesn’t come back and defeat Air Force without him under center.
In relief of Bonner, Peasley completed 10 of 15 passes for 195 yards and three touchdowns, and his chemistry with receivers Deven Thompkins and Justin McGriff, as well as his uncanny scrambling ability, put the Air Force defense on its heels.
When the Aggies needed a two-point conversion late, it was Peasley who escaped a sack and scrambled for the conversion. It was Peasley who ran for first downs on multiple third-and-long situations and it was Peasley who made play after play after play with the game on the line.
Put simply, Peasley won the game for Utah State, and that is even as linebacker Justin Rice, running back Calvin Tyler Jr. and others had some of the best games of their lives.
“I thought Peasley did an amazing job stepping up and improvising to make some huge plays late,” Utah State coach Blake Anderson said. “We looked different. To be ready when his number got called, to be truly prepared, you have to give him credit. We knew that situation would come up at some point and could not be more proud.”
The Pac-12 is down. The ACC, too
The 2021 season is not going all that well for the Pac-12.
Entering the season, the conference had lofty aspirations. There was a hope that Oregon, Washington, USC and maybe even ASU and Utah could compete on the highest stage of college football. New conference commissioner George Kliavkoff had been clear that football in the conference needed to improve.
“The number of years it’s been since (the Pac-12) won a football or a men’s basketball championship. We’re going to do everything we can at the conference level to fix that,” he said.
The fix doesn’t appear to have come this season.
Of those aforementioned teams, only Oregon has come close to meeting expectations. The Ducks have been great and are ranked No. 3. After them, though, it’s been rough.
Washington, USC and Utah are all 1-2, while ASU is now 2-1. UCLA was a conference darling for a hot minute, but a loss to Fresno State late Saturday night takes the shine off the Bruins a bit.
Stanford has won two in a row, but the Week 1 loss to Kansas State was too ugly to forget just yet, and we don’t need to talk about the beatdown Minnesota laid on Colorado Saturday.
At this point, the Pac-12 is a one-team league.
As bad as things have gone for the Pac-12, the ACC is right there. Clemson is the conference standard bearer and the Tigers barely escaped with a win over rebuilding Georgia Tech and already have a loss to Georgia. North Carolina lost Week 1, Miami has lost twice and Virginia Tech was upset by West Virginia.
The ACC hasn’t been the deepest conference in recent years, living largely off Clemson’s excellence, but this year it looks worse than ever, from top to bottom.
Don’t forget about the Mountain West. It might not be around much longer
With conference realignment ramping up again, there has been talk about the American Athletic Conference trying to poach schools from the Mountain West Conference to replace departing Cincinnati, Houston and UCF.
As reported by CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd, Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State and San Diego State are all AAC targets for expansion, and there is some mutual interest.
What would the Mountain West look like without those four schools? Obviously significantly depleted, which would only set the realignment boulder rolling again (hello, Conference USA and Big Sky).
The Aztecs are 3-0 this year with wins over Arizona and Utah. Air Force is 2-1 and consistently boasts a solid team, and then there’s Boise State. The Broncos may have lost to Oklahoma State Saturday, falling to 1-2 on the year, but they are yearly contenders for the conference crown. As for Colorado State, well that one is all about media market (the Rams are really bad this year in case you weren’t aware).
When it comes to this season, though, there are some positives for the Mountain West. Fresno State upset UCLA and gave Oregon the fight of its life and San Jose State battled USC (both the Bulldogs and Spartans are 2-1). Utah State is reborn and undefeated, with a win over Washington State, and Wyoming has yet to lose a game either.
The Mountain West might be in danger of collapse in the next couple of years, but so far this season, the conference has proven itself a match for the Pac-12.
Chaos is oh, so close to reigning
Since the creation of the College Football Playoff, true title contenders have been few and far between.
Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson. Those three are the regulars, with a smattering of Oklahoma, Notre Dame, LSU, Washington, Georgia, Oregon and Florida State thrown in a time or two.
Cracks have started to show this year, however.
Clemson already has a loss, as does Ohio State. Alabama barely survived a Florida team playing a quarterback no one but Gators coach Dan Mullen wants out there .
Oklahoma barely survived Tulane and Nebraska, and the Big 12 appears to have some serious threats to the Sooners this year, including Iowa State, Baylor and Kansas State, who are a combined 8-1. Washington is a mess, Notre Dame has barely escaped with wins three weeks in a row and FSU is a straight dumpster fire at 0-3.
Only Georgia and Oregon seem to be trending in a great direction, but the Bulldogs have their weaknesses, mostly on offense, and the Ducks seem to inexplicably lose a conference game every year.
If Alabama, Georgia or Oregon do suffer a loss at some point, the playoff could be wide open to the likes of Penn State, Iowa or Michigan. Maybe Texas A&M or even Ole Miss and Arkansas could get in. Or, take a deep breath, a Cinderella-like Cincinnati.
It would be an unprecedented season, but after so many years of the same, chaos would do college football some good.