Week three of the college football season set the tone for the College Football Playoff race and will rearrange the AP Top 25 poll.
Observations, thoughts and takeaways from a weekend during which new national championship contenders emerged and other hopefuls were all but eliminated.
1. In a season filled with returning stars and high-profile Heisman Trophy contenders, Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson has passed them all to become the must-see player of 2016. Conjuring up memories of Michael Vick , Vince Young and Marcus Mariota, the sophomore is the Heisman front-runner and so far nobody is close.
2. Clemson’s DeShaun Watson gets to make his counterpoint to Jackson in two weeks, when No. 5 Clemson hosts the Cardinals, who will be making a big jump from No. 10 in the rankings Sunday.
3. Jackson was the star, but the beat down of Florida State was thorough and well-rounded. The Cardinals’ defense, which features three big-time players who transferred to Louisville — Devonte Fields, Shaq Wiggins and Josh Harvey-Clemmons — smothered the Seminoles.
4. For all of his missteps throughout his career, Louisville coach Bobby Petrino is one of the best offensive minds in football. But he has never had a quarterback like Jackson. Credit Petrino for modernizing his scheme, which had previously been built around more traditional pocket passers, and embracing spread principles that allow Jackson to flourish.
5. Why not Louisville No. 1 when the new AP Top 25 comes out Sunday?
6. Because Alabama.
7. Though Nick Saban still has plenty to be upset about after the Crimson Tide gave up 524 yards in snapping a two-game losing streak to No. 19 Mississippi.
8. Alabama ran for 334 yards, with quarterback Jalen Hurts getting 146 on 18 carries. The transformation that started with Blake Sims in 2014 has moved into the next phase. The Crimson Tide is a spread team now.
9. Louisville at No. 6 Houston on Nov. 17. Just so you know.
10. Who’s out? Ole Miss, No. 14 Oklahoma and No. 18 Notre Dame . It’s the middle of September and your chances of making the playoff are basically gone. Enjoy the rest of your seasons.
11. Urban Meyer has never lost a road game at Ohio State. He improved to 19-0 by beating up Oklahoma . Only Alabama reloads like the Buckeyes.
12. Just keep underestimating Michigan State. The Spartans have now won 12 of the last 18 games under Mark Dantonio in which they were underdogs.
13. Barring injury, the only Georgia quarterback to take a meaningful snap over the next three seasons should be Jacob Eason.
14. Do not assume Houston wins the American Athletic Conference. USF (3-0) won going away at Syracuse and hosts Florida State in Tampa next Saturday. Willie Taggart’s Bulls and Tom Herman’s Cougars do not play in the regular season, but could be moving toward quite a conference title game.
15. Beating No. 22 Oregon might not qualify as the signature win it was just a few years ago, but it will get Nebraska into the rankings. With a favorable schedule ahead, there is reason for optimism in the Mike Riley era in Lincoln for the first time.
16. It feels as if Tommy Armstrong Jr. has been at Nebraska longer than Tom Osborne. Not quite. The senior quarterback might never be beloved, but there is still time for him to be appreciated.
17. Oregon went 1 for 5 on 2-point conversions in a 3-point loss and had its NCAA-record streak of 82 straight games with a touchdown pass broken.
18. The Mark Helfrich confidence meter in Eugene has probably hit a new low .
19. North Dakota State did it again , and at this point if you’re surprised the Bison, the five-time defending FCS champions, beat No. 13 Iowa, you are simply not paying close enough attention. North Dakota State is 5-0 against Power Five teams since 2010.
20. The de facto Big Ten West leader: Western Michigan. The Boat-Rowing Broncos dominated Illinois and also have a victory against Northwestern.
21. There is no easy way for Penn State to play it halfway. Keep many of the alumni happy by giving an occasional nod to Joe Paterno , while trying to put the Sandusky scandal to rest.
22. Under Al Golden, Miami too often played poorly even with the talent advantage. Props to coach Mark Richt (and Brad Kaaya) for not allowing the Hurricanes to get ambushed at Appalachian State.
23. No big deal, coach Butch Jones, just the biggest game of your career next week when No. 15 Tennessee faces No. 23 Florida. The Vols did not look ready for the Gators against Ohio, but Florida’s got its own problems. Luke Del Rio went out with injury against North Texas.
24. How about instead of shortening the games , schools stop scheduling games where the teams have no business being on the field with each other?
25. The best thing to happen Saturday: Army beat UTEP to start the season 3-0, just days after teammate Brandon Jackson was killed in a car accident.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP
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