The bill came due for Coach Prime and Colorado in Oregon.
Florida State stared down Death Valley.
Alabama embraced winning ugly.
And Ohio State coach Ryan Day had enough of critics questioning the Buckeyes’ toughness.
A Statement Saturday in September that featured six games matching ranked teams was the first chance to make some sense of the season.
Here’s what we learned.
Day is no fan of Lou Holtz. The former Notre Dame coach called out the Buckeyes for a lack of toughness earlier this week while picking the Fighting Irish to win a top-10 showdown with No. 6 Ohio State.
“I’d like to know where Lou Holtz is right now,” Day said during a postgame interview with NBC. “What he said about our team, I cannot believe. This is a tough team right here. We’re proud to be from Ohio. It’s always been Ohio against the world, and it’ll continue to be Ohio against the world. But I’ll tell you what: I love those kids. We’ve got a tough team.”
Buckeyes-Fighting Irish was a worthy main event on a loaded schedule.
The Irish have lost so many of these types of high-profile games over the last two-plus decades. No. 9 Notre Dame came in 4-19 in top-10 games since 1994.
But this time it was the Irish who seemed to have the advantage at quarterback: Sam Hartman in his sixth year vs. Kyle McCord, making his fourth start.
McCord came through in the end, leading a game-winning drive in the closing seconds. To make the loss even more crushing for the Irish, Chip Trayanum’s 1-yard go-ahead plunge with a second left came against a Notre Dame defense with only 10 men on the field.
Irish coach Marcus Freeman said he noticed the problem with the lineup, but he didn’t have a timeout and didn’t want to rush a player on the field, take a penalty and risk giving Ohio State another play.
“It’s on us. We got to be better,” Freeman said.
So does Colorado.
Deion Sanders’ Buffaloes have been a fun and fascinating story, maybe the biggest in all of sports during a 3-0 start. Team Transfer Portal has had television networks chasing it all over and been must-see TV.
“The Cinderella story’s over, men. They’re fighting for clicks, we’re fighting for wins. There’s a difference,” Ducks coach Dan Lanning said in a fiery pregame speech in front of ESPNs cameras.
The 10th-ranked Ducks then backed it up with 35-0 first half. It was every bit as lopsided as the 42-6 final score.
There were plenty of red flags for Colorado coming into the game at Autzen Stadium: A one-dimensional offense; a porous defense; needing a miraculous comeback and overtime to beat Colorado State last week.
Oregon exposed all the 19th-ranked Buffs’ flaws.
Sanders called it “a good, old-fashioned butt kicking.”
But don’t think it’s going make him any less brash.
“You better get me right now. This is the worst we going to be,” Sanders said.
Sanders still deserves a ton of credit for his hyper-speed roster flip and already tripling CU’s win total from last year — but now we see the ceiling and it’s more like six or seven wins than Pac-12 contender.
Fox is already down for another trip to Boulder, Colorado, for Big Noon Kickoff next week when Caleb Williams and No. 5 Southern California come to town. USC’s inconsistent defense gives CU a puncher’s chance, but we have probably seen the best of the Buffs this season.
Florida State, meanwhile, appears ready to soar. Only two days into the fall, and the Seminoles have on their resume a resounding victory against LSU and their first win against Clemson since Jameis Winston was QB1.
“Ultimately, if every day we can continue to get better, I’m going to put no limits on what this team can accomplish,” Florida State coach Mike Norvell told reporters.
Florida State’s schedule is about to open up. The Seminoles’ next three games are in Tallahassee and their only remaining games against ranked Atlantic Coast Conference foes (No. 18 Duke and No. 20 Miami) are at Doak Campbell Stadium.
Credit Clemson for a tremendous effort, three weeks after the Tigers got buried for losing their opener at Duke.
That said, you can already put coach Dabo Swinney’s team down for a third straight season that ends outside the College Football Playoff.
This from a program that made it to the CFP six straight years, played in three national title games and won two championships from 2015-2020.
There will be more talk about the trajectory of the program and Swinney’s reluctance to aggressively use the transfer portal.
He brought in one of the most sought-after offensive coordinators in the country in Garrett Riley to fix that side of the ball, but Clemson managed only seven points after halftime and couldn’t get a first down in overtime.
“Just situationally — we’ve got to be better as coaches there and help our quarterback,” Swinney said about a curious third-and-1 pass play in the extra period.
Since starting last season 8-0, Clemson is 3-5 against Power Five opponents. At 0-2 in the ACC for the first time since 2010, the Tigers are in danger of missing the league championship game for the second time in three years.
Speaking of ailing dynasties: Alabama’s still got problems, but the Crimson Tide muscled up to put Lane Kiffin and Mississippi in their place.
“We dominated the line of scrimmage,” Nick Saban said about a second half that ‘Bama won 18-3.
The Crimson Tide went back to Jalen Milroe at quarterback. The offense still looks limited but Milroe went 17 for 21 for 225 with a pretty, long touchdown pass and a really bad red zone interception.
It might take a return to the murderball days of ferocious defense and power running for Alabama to contend in the Southeastern Conference this season. That might actually be enough to keep the Tide in playoff contention.
The team of September has been Utah.
The 11th-ranked Utes haven’t been the most dominant team in the country. Not even close.
But after beating No. 22 UCLA with a brilliant defensive performance, Utah has three victories against Power Five opponents and no snaps taken by its two-year starting quarterback.
Cam Rising is still recovering from a knee injury. Without him, the Utes have used two quarterbacks, settling on redshirt freshman Nate Johnson against UCLA.
There has been a lot of attention on the Pac-12 this month: its star quarterbacks, its resurgent left-behinds Oregon State and Washington State, and, of course, Coach Prime.
But two-time defending champ Utah, well coached with little flash and a nasty defense, might be the value stock in the Pac-12.
Next up for the Utes: A Friday night game in Corvallis against No. 14 Oregon State.
AROUND THE COUNTRY: The Beavers and No. 21 Cougars, on their way to being unfairly squeezed out of the power conferences, put on a show in the Pac-2 title game. Cameron Ward, who has emerged as the next in a long line of prolific Wazzu passers, threw for 404 yards and four TDs. … It was a White Out shutout for No. 7 Penn State against No. 24 Iowa. The question coming into the season in the Big Ten East was could the Nittany Lions close the gap on Michigan and Ohio State? After four weeks, the answer looks to be yes. … Under-the-radar 4-0 teams about step into the spotlight: Syracuse, which hosts Clemson next week, and Kentucky, which welcomes No. 25 Florida. … Welcome to the Power Five. After Houston lost its first Big 12 game against TCU last week, Cincinnati, BYU and UCF all dropped their new league openers Saturday. No. 16 Oklahoma beat the Bearcats at Nippert Stadium; Kansas improved to 4-0 with a home win over the Cougars; and Kansas State pulled away from UCF. … File under college football is weird: A week after South Alabama won big at Oklahoma State, the Jaguars returned home and lost to Central Michigan. … Receiver of the day: USF’s Naiem Simmons had eight catches for 272 yards and a touchdown in a victory against Rice.