College football's Week 3 winners and losers

Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph tries to elude Pittsburgh defensive lineman Dewayne Hendrix.

Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph tries to elude Pittsburgh defensive lineman Dewayne Hendrix.

Through the first two weeks of the season, it was apparent the nation’s most dangerous offense might belong to Oklahoma State. But against Tulsa and South Alabama, it was hard to make definitive diagnosis.

Some might quibble that Pittsburgh wasn’t exactly a formidable obstacle, either. But playing the ACC opponent on the road, the Cowboys didn’t even slow for a speedbump in a 59-21 victory.

Mason Rudolph threw for 497 yards and five touchdowns in 3 1/2 quarters. Four receivers had at least 100 yards – and that was without transfer speedster Tyron Johnson, who didn’t travel to Pittsburgh while serving a one-game suspension.

How good is Oklahoma State’s offense? See 2011, when the Cowboys probably should have played for the BCS championship, and then upgrade the quarterback. No offense intended to Brandon Weeden, but Rudolph is better. When the best quarterbacks in college football are discussed, he’s been on the list. But late in the first quarter he showed another reason NFL scouts are drooling, escaping a rush, scrambling to his left and then firing a strike to Marcell Ateman, who avoided one defender and raced for a 69-yard touchdown pass.

It’s time to move Rudolph into the topmost tier — and that’s whether you’re talking about pro potential or Saturday afternoon explosiveness. It might be time to do the same with the No. 8-ranked Cowboys. That touchdown built the lead to 21-0 less than 12 minutes into the game, which sent us fast-forwarding through the calendar.

More difficult challenges await, and soon. TCU visits Stillwater, Okla., next week. A trip to West Virginia in late October could be very interesting.

Oklahoma State’s offensive line might be an issue, and the defense remains a perennial program question until proven otherwise. But given how good this offense has been, it’s possible we’re headed toward a Nov. 4 Bedlam showdown with No. 3 Oklahoma — and perhaps a rematch a few weeks later in the Big 12 championship game — and that either or both matchups could have serious College Football Playoff implications.

Until then, the only real question about the Cowboys has been how early the broadcasts have had to begin retelling the stories about Mike Gundy’s mullet, or his pet donkey Blackjack with the bad attitude.

HAIL MARY: Florida takes out Tennessee with last-second bomb

AAC TRIUMPH: Memphis outscores Josh Rosen and UCLA

REVIVED IRISH: Notre Dame bounces back with win at Boston College

Here are Saturday’s other winners and losers:

WINNERS

Memphis: After the 2015 season, when Justin Fuente departed for Virginia Tech and Paxton Lynch headed for the NFL, it was fair to wonder how Memphis would fare. So far under Mike Norvell’s leadership – and with another dangerous quarterback in Riley Ferguson – the answer is: just fine. And the Tigers might just be ready to build off that eight-win debut season.

Saturday, a 48-45 win against UCLA ranks as the best in Norvell’s short tenure (and a very nice one for the American Athletic Conference in its continuing P.R. efforts – Power Six, anyone?). Ferguson outdueled Josh Rosen, throwing for 398 yards and six touchdowns; two to stud receiver Anthony Miller, who had nine catches for 185 yards.

Texas A&M: Could have gone into the “Losers” category, too. Yes, the Aggies won 45-21. But at halftime, trailing Louisiana 21-14, Texas A&M’s journey to the locker room included some heckling from the home fans. In return, freshman receiver Will Gunnell shot back the universal No. 1 symbol with both hands – only he used that other fingers

Gig ‘em, Aggies?

Gunnell later tweeted an apology, saying it was “an ill-advised gesture in no way aimed at the fans.”

Regardless, and even though Texas A&M pulled away in the second half to win 45-21, things are not good in Aggieland. At one point during the first half, A&M used an all-freshman offensive line, apparently in frustration or an attempt to send a message.

Up next, the SEC opener, which is a date with Arkansas in Arlington, Texas. And at this point with Kevin Sumlin, we’re probably going to attach critical significance to every single outcome. If something doesn’t get turned around – and why, given the first few weeks, would you suspect this would happen? – the coaching search will begin sooner rather than later.

Florida: No one is going to confuse the Gators with a formidable bunch just yet. But if the first offensive touchdown of the season didn’t come until nearly 115 minutes in, it was at least a clutch moment. More clutch: After Tennessee tied it in the final minute, Feleipe Franks threw a Hail Mary to win it.

Wisconsin: No, BYU turns out to not be very good. But the Badgers looked very good — again — in dismantling the Cougars in Provo. While all the attention gets focused on the Big Ten East, Wisconsin just keeps winning. Could the Big Ten’s best team reside in the other division? We’ll see.

TCU: Trailing 16-7 to SMU after one quarter, it was tempting to be concerned on a couple of levels. Was the win over Arkansas an anomaly? Or could the Horned Frogs have been flat after that victory? And would they lo—but the answer was no, all was fine. TCU got things together and downshifted into a fairly comfortable win, setting up a showdown of ranked Big 12 teams next week at Oklahoma State.

Purdue: Not much was expected, at least immediately, from Jeff Brohm’s rebuilding effort. But with a convincing victory at Missouri, the Boilermakers are 2-1. Even the loss, to Louisville in the season opener, was encouraging; Purdue led 28-25 in the fourth quarter. Who knows what happens from here, but already Purdue isn’t a pushover.

LOSERS

Nebraska: The arrival of Tanner Lee, a transfer from Tulane, was supposed to provide the Huskers with a pop. Three games in, his addition hasn’t made a significant positive difference.

Saturday, a home date with Northern Illinois went awry when Lee threw two first-quarter interceptions – one pick six, the other to set up a touchdown – that spotted NIU a 14-0 lead. By the time Northern Illinois’ 21-17 victory was complete, it wasn’t only the parody Twitter account @fauxpelini showing concern. Former Nebraska star Tommie Frazier was very active during the game, too.

And Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst told reporters he had confidence in Mike Riley, who was recently given a one-year contract extension. But Eichorst added:

“I’m angry, I’m frustrated, I’m disappointed. At the end of the day we have to stay together. I want to continue to show our support, but I also understand there is a sense of frustration out there when you don’t win games like today.”

Meanwhile, USA TODAY Sports’ Paul Myerberg noted Nebraska “has started 1-2 three times in the past 56 seasons … two of three have come under Riley.”

Tennessee: The Vols traveled to Gainesville with a 2-0 record, sure, but anyone who had watched that overtime win in the opener against Georgia Tech knew the Vols had issues. And then, after somehow rallying from 10 points down against Florida to tie in the final minute in Gainesville, they didn’t get to overtime, victimized by a Hail Mary. It won’t be a good week for Butch Jones.

UCLA: Life hack for a West Coast athletic director: When you schedule games back east — and you should do that — include some sort of stipulation requiring the game to kick off no earlier than lunchtime in your own time zone. Let’s be clear: the 9 a.m. Pacific kickoff wasn’t why the Bruins fell to Memphis — that can be attributed to a porous defense — but it didn’t help.

But back to that defense, or lack thereof. We saw a lot of it in Week 1, when Texas A&M grabbed that 42-14 lead before the Josh Rosen Show began its run. Rosen was pretty good (though not perfect, he threw two interceptions, including a pick-six), but UCLA’s defense was pretty terrible. Memphis piled up 560 yards. And now all of the old questions about UCLA return. The good news is, the Bruins return to Pacific time.

Kansas: Despite the on-field results, there was offseason optimism David Beaty was gradually rebuilding Kansas’ football program, and that it would become at least competitive in the Big 12. Check that. After a 42-30 loss at Ohio, the Jayhawks are not competitive in the MAC (they’d lost to Central Michigan last week) — and under Beaty, they’re 3-24 and still have only one win over an FBS opponent.

Missouri: Year 2 under Barry Odom was supposed to be different, and so far it has been. But getting steamrolled at home by Purdue — let’s type that again: Purdue, in Columbia, Mo. — was not the kind of change anyone had in mind. Odom already fired a defensive coordinator who wasn’t calling defensive plays (Odom had already taken over those duties). What’s next? The SEC schedule.

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Source: USA Today Fan Sports Poll

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