College football coaches can resemble pinatas. They’re hit over and over until the candy falls out or they manage to hang on until the kids (fans and overeager media members) decide to move on to the next easy target. Brian Kelly knows this well. Ever since his blowout loss to Alabama in the 2013 BCS Championship game, fans and the media alike have all but plastered Kelly’s forehead with the message of: Unable to win the big one. And after the Irish finished 4-8 in 2016? Well, I think Paul Finebaum wanted to pull out the shovel right then and there.

Yet people seem to ignore the rebound.

Kelly is the first Irish head coach since Lou Holtz to produce three straight 10-win seasons. He carries a 72 percent win rate during his Irish tenure, higher than anyone in South Bend since Holtz stepped away. Instead, people pointed to yet another disparaging stat: 0-5 against top 5 opponents. He can’t win the big one.

Consider that narrative debunked following a 47-40 overtime victory over No. 1 Clemson on Saturday evening. It’s only Notre Dame’s second win over a top 5 opponent this century, and it should permanently end the “Notre Dame gets stomped by elite teams” narrative that’s so long surrounded the program.

Yes, people will point out the Tigers missed significant pieces across their defense, not to mention one of the greatest QBs of his generation, but making excuses for Clemson would be selling Notre Dame short. The Irish (7-0) played by far the best game of their season, owning the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball – Clemson averaged 1 yard per carry while the Irish averaged 5.1 – and making play after play when required. Ian Book played the game of his life and Notre Dame’s playmakers showed up time after time.

The Irish have steadily built a talented-enough roster, ranking No. 8 in the Team Talent Composite, and it showed. Notre Dame did not look outmatched like it did in a 2018 Cotton Bowl loss to Clemson. Instead, it looked like the aggressor against a Tiger team that showed glimpses of its championship mettle but also looked like an injured heavyweight champion.

Will Notre Dame win the rematch if these teams play again in the ACC title game? I’m not sure I’d pick them, which would create playoff chaos potentially. The hopes of the Big 12, Pac-12 and Group of Five now depend on what happens with the Irish, who could likely afford an ACC title game loss and still reach the playoff. If that happens and Clemson wins out, say goodbye to anybody not named Ohio State, Alabama or Florida.

But that’s a conversation for the future. For now, Notre Dame just took up the baseball bat and turned it on everyone swinging at them for so long. The Irish needed a game like this to start the transition from great to elite. They just took the first step.

THREE NOTABLE STORYLINES

1. Florida Blows Up The Narrative

There might not be a more reserved quote in college football than Kyle Trask. Shy and savvy, Trask isn’t going to say much. But even Trask could not help but brag a bit following No. 8 Florida’s 44-28 victory over No. 5 Georgia.

“I think we can play with anybody,” Trask said.

The rest of the college football world does, too, Kyle. Any question about that was erased as Florida’s offense averaged 7.1 yards per play against a Georgia defense – albeit shorthanded – that was discussed in historic terms earlier this season. The Bulldogs’ defense isn’t quite on that level, especially without multiple starters. But that shouldn’t take away from Trask & Co. putting on an offensive display that would hold up just as well against Alabama, Ohio State or anybody else you want to mention.

There were some questions entering the week. Florida hadn’t yet faced a defense that ranked among the top 60 nationally in yards per play. But even Georgia’s defense, with draft picks at every position, could do little to slow Trask’s pinpoint passing display, Dan Mullen’s exceptional gameplan and a bevy of skill talent that’s quietly emerged as among the nation’s best.

Any conversation starts with Trask. He played nearly flawless, completing 30 of 43 passes for 474 yards and four touchdowns. He’s the first SEC QB to ever throw four touchdowns in four consecutive games, and that consistent play vaults Trask to the status of a top-tier Heisman contender alongside Mac Jones. Trask is easily Florida’s best QB since Tim Tebow and he gives Florida a chance each and every week.

Yet it’s hard not to focus on Trask’s weapons. Superstar tight end Kyle Pitts couldn’t play in the second half due an injury, and it didn’t matter that much. Six other Florida receivers had at least 39 yards receiving, and that group doesn’t include Trevon Grimes and Justin Shorter, both of who caught touchdowns. The Florida run game isn’t explosive, but Trask and the Gators open things up for Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis, both of whom made flash plays.

Offense wins championships in this era, and Florida is equipped to attack anyone thanks to its QB and seemingly endless group of playmaking weapons, which seems impossible following an offseason in which the Gators lost their top four receivers to the NFL.

Florida versus Alabama in the SEC Championship game, which is a virtual lock midway through the season, is going to be a fireworks display of offensive goodness.

But before moving on, it’s important to acknowledge the importance of this win to the arc of Mullen’s tenure in Gainesville. Kirby Smart has owned this rivalry, and this was easily Mullen’s best chance to close the gap on his rival. Florida took advantage, and that fact cannot be discounted in the aftermath of this game. This is no longer a one-sided rivalry, nor will future recruiting battles between these two programs go so easily in favor of the Bulldogs. The Gators have officially shown up in this series, and the battle for future SEC East dominance is going to be a bloodbath.

2. The Pac-12 Is Finally Back

Welcome back, Pac-12. Let me be the first to say I dig the 9 a.m. format. Let’s make that a thing moving forward. Late morning football is much better than early morning football. Anyway, given that the league is back in action – 66.6 percent at least with two games canceled due to COVID-19 – for its abbreviated six-game regular season, let’s quickly run through some important takeaways from the Pac-12’s debut.

USC 28, Arizona State 27: I guess karma owed Bru McCoy after a rocky freshman season, because the world came through in a big way for the former five-star. USC should have lost this game. The only reason it didn’t is McCoy caught a tipped pass on 4th-and-13 to bring the Trojans within six with 2:52 remaining. Then he recovered an onside kick! Kedon Slovis (381 yards, 2 TD), who remains very good, took care of the rest with a little help from Drake London

(125 yards, 1 TD).

Arizona State is really talented and its offensive line is much improved. Jayden Daniels is going to need some help from his receivers, who struggled throughout. The Trojans, for their part, looked like a team with a limited opportunity to practice throughout this offseason. There were turnover issues (4 of them), tackling issues (many of them) and red zone issues (zero points on three different trips). But USC found a way to win, and this is a team that should get better as the season goes along. The schedule is favorable. Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Washington State and UCLA isn’t exactly a gauntlet.

Oregon 35, Stanford 14: The best Joe Moorhead quarterbacks have always provided a bit of a rushing threat. Tyler Shough showed he could do that Saturday, throwing for 227 yards, rushing for 85 and totaling two touchdowns in his starting debut. A revamped Oregon o-line looked great, paving the way for a run game that averaged 6.7 yards per carry while not surrendering a sack. Oregon’s defense, replacing pretty much everyone, did not play as well. Stanford averaged 7.2 yards per play. But the Cardinal were held down in the red zone. Overall, it’s an impressive start for the Ducks.

As for Stanford, this result is sullied by the fact starting QB Davis Mills missed the contest due to either a positive COVID-19 test or contact tracing. He’s had a heck of a path to get to this point, and it’s just the latest roadblock for the No. 1 passer in the 2017 class.

Colorado 48, UCLA 42: UCLA looked like a team that had a limited practice availability, falling behind 35-7 to Colorado midway through the second quarter. Then the Bruins stormed back, pulling to within 42-35 to make things a game. Too little, too late. You don’t really win games in which you turn the ball over four times. This is the third straight year the Bruins have opened with a loss under Chip Kelly’s watch. Heck of a first win by Karl Dorrell. I’m sure he got more than a little satisfaction beating the team that fired him 13 years ago. Senior QB Sam Noyer is also a heck of a story. A QB turned safety, Noyer entered the transfer portal following the 2019 season. He opted to stay, however, switching back to quarterback and eventually won the job. He played well Saturday, throwing for 251 yards and a touchdown on 20-for-31 passing in addition to 64 yards rushing and another score..

3. Penn State’s Nightmarish Start

Penn State is 0-3. Let that sink in for a second. The Nittany Lions, who debuted at No. 7 in the preseason Top 25, are 0-3. That’s difficult to comprehend, but let’s try. Here’s the score that got them there: Maryland 35, Penn State 19. Never mind. I can’t comprehend that. It makes no sense. Yet here we are. The Nittany Lions had some serious, “I don’t want to be here” vibes Saturday in their loss to the Terps. How else do you explain a result like this? This is not meant to be dismissive of Maryland (2-1). The Terrapins are talented. But they’re still in the rebuilding stages of Mike Locksley’s tenure. Penn State is supposed to be competing for championships. Instead, it has more losses through three games than it has had three of the last four seasons. It’s only the fourth time in 80 years the Nittany Lions have started a season 0-3.

Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh gets a lot of hate nationally, and we’ll get to him soon. But it’s only fair to point out that Franklin is just 8-10 against Top 25 competition since 2016, the season that many thought signified Penn State’s next step as a program. Throw in recent recruiting struggles – Penn State lost top 100 in-state recruit Derrick Davis to LSU before the Maryland game kicked off – and Franklin’s program is struggling as much, if not more, as Harbaugh’s despite a narrative that seems to put his feet to the fire weekly while sparring Franklin much criticism.

Franklin is an excellent coach. Penn State is an excellent program. But some serious flaws are showing in Happy Valley, and this season has already been squandered before we even reached the halfway point.

Three Teams Feeling Better

1. Indiana Hoosiers: I could focus on Michigan here. That’s probably what you want — screaming hot takes about Jim Harbaugh and Don Brown. But let’s just go with a fact: Following a 38-21 loss to No. 13 Indiana, Harbaugh is just 6-15 in his Wolverine career against Top 15 competition. At Michigan. That’s all that needs to be said.

But how about the Hoosiers! Indiana (3-0) beat the Wolverines for the first time since 1987, Harbaugh’s rookie year in the NFL. It’s been a minute. This game was never close. Indiana held Michigan to a paltry 0.7 yards per rush and Micahel Penix (342 yards, 3 TDs) as the Big Ten’s second-best QB behind Justin Fields. Speaking of second-best, you could pretty strongly argue that Indiana is the second-best team in the Big Ten right now. (I just haven’t seen enough from Wisconsin.) Tom Allen has done a hell of a job with this program, and the Hoosiers are off to their first 3-0 start in Big Ten play since 1988. So, who had Indiana at Ohio State in two weeks as the Big Ten’s showcase game of the year?

2. BYU Cougars: Statement made. Given a primetime national TV spot against the best team BYU dominated No. 21 Boise State in a 51-17 road victory. BYU led 45-3 early in the fourth quarter, handing the Broncos their worst home loss since 1996. Zach Wilson continued his spectacular 2020 season (21-for-27, 359 yards, 2 TDs) while the Cougar defense held Boise State to 173 yards before garbage time truly kicked off in the fourth quarter. It should be said, the Broncos entered this game shorthanded without its starting running back and quarterback. In the end, Boise State was forced to roll with its third-string QB due to an injury to backup Jack Sears. Regardless, the Cougars rolled against the team they had to. Their average scoring margin is now 31.4, best among those teams that have played two-plus games, and they should inarguably at least be in the playoff conversation. BYU (8-0) beat up the best remaining team on its schedule. Now, it’ll be up to the CFB Playoff committee to determine if it has done enough. To have forced that conversation is a win for a program outside of the Power Five.

3. Northwestern Wildcats: How good are things for Northwestern right now? The Wildcats won just three games a season ago in a disastrous 3-9 campaign. Northwestern equaled that win total Saturday after just three games, beating Nebraska (0-2) 21-13. That Northwestern is good isn’t much of a surprise. The Wildcats returned more production than anyone in the FBS. But it’s still notable the program is 3-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since 2000. Pat Fitzgerald’s team is a legitimate contender to win the Big Ten West following a trio of wins (Maryland, Iowa, Nebraska) that will hold up well by season’s end. You won’t find many defenses better than Northwestern, which has yet to give up a point in the second half this year. Given that Northwestern avoids Ohio State, Indiana, Michigan and Penn State, it’ll have a very favorable path to Indianapolis. The next two weeks against Purdue and Wisconsin will be key, but the Wildcats are in great shape to win the West.

Three Teams Feeling Worse

1. South Carolina Gamecocks/Tennessee Vols:

Yep, a two-for-one deal in the SEC East. They were both awful Saturday evening in different ways.

South Carolina got blown out by No. 7 Texas A&M, 48-3, in a game that was never close. The Aggies were dominant, looking like the CFB Playoff contender they are. South Carolina (2-4) also looked like what it is: A program in need of a change. The Gamecocks have had some nice moments under Will Muschamp. They have. They also have far too many games like this, where they simply fail to show up. The Gamecocks have 17 losses the last three years. That’s not good. But what’s worse is 12 of those have come by 14 points or more. Not only does South Carolina lose, it’s usually not competitive. That’s on Will Muschamp and his staff.

Tennessee is a different sort of brutal. The Vols are supposed to be on their way up under Jeremy Pruitt. Instead, they blew a 13-0 halftime lead against Arkansas (3-3), producing absolutely nothing in the second half thanks, in large part, to a run-first offense that belongs in the college football of a decade ago. Is part of the issue Tennessee’s QB situation? Heck yes. But so is the fact the Vols tried to salt the game away with a 13-0 lead instead of attacking. That’s a mentality issue and it’s a schematic issue. Both of those things are on Pruitt and his staff, a group in legitimate danger of losing six of its final seven games – I’m being nice and giving Tennessee a win over Vanderbilt, which beat the Vols just two years ago.

Two want-to-be contenders in the SEC East and two programs stalling yet again. Not a great week for anyone in the SEC East not named Florida.

2. Virginia Tech Hokies: I’ll leave it to other writers to fawn over Hugh Freeze and No. 25 Liberty (7-0) following a 38-35 road win over Virginia Tech (4-3). Freeze is a hell of a coach. I fully expect him back in the Power Five sooner rather than later despite his past transgressions. But excuse me if I avoid showering him with praise and laud his “comeback.” As for Virginia Tech, this is all about how the game ended. Liberty lined up to take a 59-yard field goal with 11 seconds remaining. The Flames’ kicker is good. But his career long is also 42 yards. Despite this, Hokies head coach Justin Funete called a timeout to ice the kicker at the last moment. So last second, in fact, his team ended up blocking the field goal and returning it for a game-winning TD. It just didn’t count. Instead of kicking it the next play, Freeze called a fourth-and-6 pass. This shouldn’t be a problem. Except, Virginia Tech played well off and allied a quick eight-yard completion. That took the field goal from near impossible to a manage 51 yards, which Alex Barbir promptly nailed to win the game.

Any time a Power Five team loses to a non-Notre Dame independent it’s a problem. But that loss is particularly magnified for Virginia Tech, which lost to an in-state school during a season in which it has conference title aspirations.

3. South Florida Bulls: You know what makes a six-game losing streak feel worse? Blowing a 13-point lead with just 4:36 remaining. Memphis scored a pair of touchdowns in just 2:37 of game time, working back for a 34-33 win. South Florida really could have used this victory. Not only would it have snapped a five-game losing streak, a road win upset of that nature would’ve been something you can sell to recruits. Alas, the Bulls have now lost their second game this season by two points or fewer.

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

OFFENSE

D’Eriq King, QB, Miami | Kyle Trask, QB, Florida

This is not usually a co-player of the week honor. But I’ll make an exception for this pair, both of whom were brilliant this week. They’re used to each other’s company anyway, playing together at Manvel High School in Texas back in the day.

King did everything for No 11 Miami (6-1) on Friday evening, leading a 44-41 come-from-behind win over NC State (4-3). King finished the game with 430 yards passing and five touchdowns in addition to 105 yards rushing. He’s just the fourth FBS QB since 2000 to post at least 400 yards passing, 100 yards rushing and at least five passing touchdowns. The only other Power Five QB to do so, Tajh Boyd, also did so against NC State.

His Manvel backup, Trask, also had a whale of a day. The former two-star passer threw for a career high 472 yards to go along with four touchdowns as Florida got pretty much whatever it wanted against a banged up Georgia defense. Trask entered this game playing brilliant football. But this was his showcase opportunity against the best defense he’ll see all season. He didn’t miss a beat. This is a deep Heisman year at the QB position. But I wouldn’t be shocked to see both Manvel teammates in New York at season’s end. They’re balling out.

DEFENSE

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame:

Owusu-Koramoah made himself some money Saturday evening. Already viewed as a high-ceiling off-ball linebacker, Owusu-Koramoah was all over the place in Notre Dame’s win over No. 1 Clemson. The redshirt junior finished with a team-high nine tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss to go along with a forced fumble and 0.5 sacks. Let’s not forget that he snagged a fumble out of the air in the second quarter and returned it for a 23-yard touchdown that gave the Irish a 20-10 lead. JOK made play after play Saturday night, and he’s a huge reason the Clemson run game (33 carries, 34 yards) did nothing all night.

SPECIAL TEAM

Rutgers!!

Yes, the team. Not a player. Really, I just want to highlight this amazing trick play punt return touchdown that the Scarlet Knights pulled out Saturday evening in a loss to Ohio State. I’m fully in favor of other teams employing interesting special teams plays like this. Let’s make it happen, college football.

MY TOP 10

2. Alabama

3. Notre Dame

4. Clemson

5. Texas A&M

6. Florida

7. Cincinnati

8. BYU

9. Miami

10. Georgia

(There hasn’t been a large enough sample size yet to include anyone from the Pac-12 or Wisconsin. Try again next week. Indiana would be the 11th team.)

HEISMAN WATCH

Mac Jones, QB, Alabama (Idle)

2. Kyle Trask, QB, Florida (30-for-43, 474 yards, 4 TDs in win over Georgia)

4. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson (DNP vs. Notre Dame)

3. Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State (24-for-28, 314 yards, 4 TDs in a win over Rutgers)

5. Zach Wilson, QB, BYU (21-for-27, 359 yards, 2 TDs in a win over Boise State)

Mac Jones is completing 78.5 percent of his passes and averaging 12.4 yards per play. He’s not losing his top spot just because he was idle. Trask made a great case Saturday, however, slicing apart the best defense he’s seen all year. He vaults over Lawrence and Fields thanks to his much larger sample size of production. Lawrence remains ahead of Fields. He’s played six games compared to Fields’ three. But Fields has been brilliant. He’s played 12 quarters thus far and has tossed just 11 incompletions. As for Wilson, I almost feel bad leaving him fifth in these rankings. But I’m trying to project what voters will do, and I fully expect the Power Five signal callers to get most of the love. Perhaps that will change after Friday night. I’m not sure what else Wilson can do. He’s been nearly perfect.

To be honest, the top-tier QB play in 2020 has been insane. All five of these passers will get legitimate first-round consideration in the 2021 NFL Draft.

HOW THE REST OF THE TOP 25 FARED

Justin Fields continued to be near perfect as No. 3 Ohio State rolled to a 49-27 win over Rutgers (1-2). That score makes the game look closer than it actually was. The Buckeyes opened up a 42-9 lead before taking their foot off the gas. Still, a 22-point loss is a huge improvement for Rutgers in this series. They lost their first five meetings by an average of 50.2 points per game. The No. 6 Bearcats ran for 389 yards and 8.8 yards per carry in the win, pushing around one of the more talented teams in the AAC. Also of note with this one: Cincinnati’s margin of victory (28) is larger than BYU’s (17) against Houston earlier this year. That may end up mattering by season’s end. No. 15 Coastal Carolina (7-0) in a closer-than-usual 23-6 win for the Chanticleers. Brock Purdy is playing the worst football of his career, tossing a trio of first-half interceptions against Baylor (1-4). Give Purdy credit, however; he rallied in the second half and lifted No. 17 Iowa State out of a 14-0 hole for a 38-31 win. Breece Hall continues to carry the Cyclones, rushing for 133 yards and two touchdowns. The No. 18 Mustangs scored on all six of their second-half possessions, rolling to a 47-23 win over Temple (1-4). Shane Buechele continues to excel no matter who shows up at receiver, throwing for 355 yards and four touchdowns. No. 16 Marshall. The Thundering Herd held UMass to just 3.5 yards per play.No. 14 Cowboys did not play well. They were outgained by 104 yards by a reasonably inept K-State offense. But the defense created a touchdown to take the lead late with a scoop-and-score as the Wildcats pushed into the red zone. Rhamondre Stevenson is back off suspension, and Oklahoma is loving it. Stevenson rushed for 104 yards and three touchdowns in his second game back, leading No. 19 Oklahoma past Kansas (0-7). The Sooners (5-2) also felt Ronnie Perkins’ impact (4 tackles, 1.5 sacks) as he was in his second game back from suspension. No. 22 Texas held on to beat West Virginia, 17-13, at home. This game came down to the red zone. The Mountaineers (4-3) reached the red zone four times in the second half and came away with just six points, failing to convert fourth down attempts on their last two drives. How even was this game? Texas (5-2) had 363 yards and West Virginia had 360.

OTHER NOTABLE STORYLINES

– North Carolina rebounded from a loss last week against Virginia by smacking another basketball power, Duke (2-6), for a 56-24 road win. The Tar Heels (5-2) were paced by Javonte Williams, who ran for 151 yards and three touchdowns on 12.6 yards per carry.Mohamed Ibrahim and his 149 yards and three touchdowns rushing. Ibrahim already has nine rushing touchdowns this season, which would’ve ranked seventh nationally entering the week. Rocky Lombardi tossed a trio of interceptions in the loss. Max Duggan ran for 154 yards and three touchdowns as TCU beat Texas Tech (2-5), 34-18, to get back to .500 on the season.

  • Down to its backup QB, defending MAC champion Miami (Ohio) escaped a Week 1 upset, earning a late interception with 42 seconds left to put itself in position for the game-winning field goal against Ball State.
  • The Rourke legacy continued at Ohio as Kurtis Rourke, Nathan’s brother, earned the start for the Bobcats as a redshirt freshman. He played well, finishing 12-for-19 with 231 yards and two touchdowns. But Central Michigan, last year’s runner-up in the league, came away with a 30-27 win. Two second-half fumbles by the Bobcats made all the difference.
  • Toledo looked dominant in a 38-3 win over Bowling Green, outgaining the Falcons by 257 yards (nearly all of their 267-yard total) and forcing a trio of turnovers in a 38-3 win.
    Welcome back, Jaret Patterson. The best back in college football a year ago you haven’t heard of – he rushed for combined 2,812 yards and 33 touchdowns as an underclassman – started his 2020 season off with 137 yards and two scores in Buffalo’s 49-30 win over Northern Illinois.
  • Haven’t heard of Patterson? You probably haven’t heard of Dustin Crum either. Well, you should know the name. The Kent State senior QB finished 21-for-29 with 219 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-23 win over Eastern MIchigan. Crum is the best passer in the MAC.
  • Akron failed to win a game a season ago and doesn’t look like it’ll be much better this year, losing its opener, 58-13, against Western Michigan. The Broncos averaged an eye-popping 14 yards a pass in the win.

Brent Brennan is quietly building something at San Jose State. He won a combined three games his first two seasons, five a year ago and is off to a 3-0 start in 2020 following a 28-17 win over in-state rival San Diego State (2-1). The Spartan passing game usually leads the way, but the defense forcing three turnovers and holding the Aztecs to just 2.2 yards per carry made the difference in this one. Carson Strong is on fire early this season, passing for 350-plus yards in each of his first three games. That includes 411 yards and a trio of touchdowns Friday evening in a 34-9 win over Utah State, which resulted in Gary Andersen’s firing.