TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Week 3 was about just getting through it for most of the highly ranked teams.
No. 1 Georgia, facing its first opponent with a prayer to challenge the two-time defending champs, needed a half to find a groove against South Carolina on Saturday.
No. 2 Michigan had to work around four turnovers to beat Bowling Green.
No. 3 Florida State fought through early lethargy and second-half sloppiness at Boston College to hang on for dear life.
No. 4 Texas used a 21-point fourth quarter to shake Wyoming.
No. 7 Penn State needed five takeaways to win ugly at Illinois.
No. 18 Colorado made a miraculous comeback to beat Colorado State in double overtime.
And then there was No. 10 Alabama, which went through two quarterbacks and needed almost three quarters just to get into the end zone at South Florida. The Tide were unrecognizable, even in victory.
As unsettling as last week’s loss at home to Texas might have been to Alabama fans, this had to feel just as ominous.
"I’m really proud of our players for the way they competed in the game. This was obviously a tough game,” coach Nick Saban said.
Next week has the makings of being a huge one in college football, with as many as six matchups of ranked teams.
The immediate question is: Will Alabama be one of them?
The road trip to Tampa, Florida, seemed weird for the Crimson Tide, but Alabama recruits a lot in the Sunshine State and USF plays in an NFL stadium.
The Bulls (1-2) have been languishing for several years, with just one victory against an FBS team since 2020.
What could go wrong for Alabama?
Well, first off, a midday thunderstorm caused more than a hour delay in a first half that ended 3-3.
Notre Dame transfer Tyler Buchner got the start at quarterback for the Tide instead of Jalen Milroe, who made big plays but also threw two interceptions against Texas.
Buchner wasn't the solution, going 5 for 14 for 34 yards.
Ty Simpson (5 for 9 for 73 yards) relieved and was a little better, but the combination of a redshirt freshman processing slowly and an offensive line struggling to protect led to USF registering five sacks, the most for the Bulls in a game in four years.
Milroe did not play at all, and Alabama did not ice the game until powering for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
"We’re going to evaluate the quarterbacks that played today and evaluate Jalen Milroe in terms of how he played and decide this week who gives us the best opportunity to be successful as an offensive team,” Saban told reporters.
This was a performance without precedent under Saban since his first season in Tuscaloosa was marred by a home loss against Louisiana-Monroe.
Other good teams have bad days and occasionally let overmatched opponents hang around. Not Alabama.
Since that loss to ULM and before Saturday’s game, the Tide went 42-0 in the regular season against non-Power Five opponents (including FCS), with an average margin of victory of 40 points.
Only two of those games were decided by fewer than 24 points. The Tide scored at least 31 points in all but one of those games.
The Crimson Tide return home next week for what should be a key Southeastern Conference West game against No. 17 Mississippi, which beat Georgia Tech.
It's part of what looks like a monster slate: Ohio State at Notre Dame, Florida State at Clemson, UCLA at Utah, Colorado at Oregon, Oregon State at Washington State and Iowa at Penn State.
All could be games matching ranked teams when the new AP Top 25 comes out Sunday.
Alabama has not been unranked since 2007, a streak of 248 appearances that is second only to Nebraska's 348 straight weeks ranked from 1981-2002. The Tide's run might be in danger.
What is more likely to come to an end this week is Alabama's run of 128 polls ranked in the top 10. That, too, is second-longest all-time. Miami went 137 straight polls as a top-10 team from 1985-93.
Three weeks into the season, the entire SEC has an unfamiliar look.
The conference has only five undefeated teams, and three of them came into Saturday unranked.
The Pac-12 leads the way with eight unbeatens. The Atlantic Coast Conference has seven, the Big Ten six and the Big 12 also has five with perfect records.
Within the SEC, No. 11 Tennessee got outmuscled by the same Florida team that looked totally out of sorts in an opening loss at Utah. The Vols have not won in The Swamp since 2003, and so far Joe Milton is no Hendon Hooker at quarterback.
Outside the conference, the SEC went 1-1 against Power Five opponents Saturday to move to 4-7 on the season.
Missouri scored the SEC's best nonconference win so far, beating No. 15 Kansas State of the Big 12 on a 61-yard walk-off field goal from burly kicker Harrison Mevis. It was breakout game for former five-star receiver Luther Burden III, who had seven catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns.
The Big 12 got even later, with BYU winning at Arkansas.
The SEC often heads into November with multiple teams in the College Football Playoff race. This season, it looks a lot more like a conference full of teams that will pick each other off.
With two Saturdays left in September, the SEC's national title hopes might be Georgia or bust.
PRIME TIME AFTER DARK
College football's most entertaining team started the day hosting the pregame shows and ended it with a thriller that went well past midnight.
Shedeur Sanders led a game-tying, 98-yard drive late in the fourth quarter and then Colorado finished off Colorado State in double overtime.
“Brady mode,” Sanders said about the drive that forced overtime.
That would be Tom Brady.
CU fans rushed the field and Deion Sanders and CSU coach Jay Norvell shared an uneventful handshake after some verbal sparring over sunglasses during the week.
Colorado has tripled its win total from last year.
AROUND THE COUNTRY: As for those Georgia Bulldogs, the post-Stetson Bennett/Todd Monken offense needs to smooth some things out. ... No coach entered the season on a hotter seat than West Virginia's Neal Brown. The Mountaineers got their coach a huge win in the Backyard Brawl against Pitt ... No. 6 Ohio State tuned up for its trip to No. 9 Notre Dame by dropping 63 on Western Kentucky, easing some concerns in Columbus about QB Kyle McCord. ... The LSU team some expected to contend for a national title showed up at Mississippi State and routed the Bulldogs, who look lost offensively as they transition away from the late Mike Leach's Air Raid. LSU's Malik Nabers had 191 yards receiving — in the first half alone. ... Without suspended coach Mel Tucker, Michigan State got embarrassed by No. 8 Washington. Who knows how much the players were affected by what's going on with their coach? Could not have helped, especially against Michael Penix Jr. and what is right now the best passing offense in college football. ... Alabama tried to hire Washington offense coordinator Ryan Grubb during the offseason. Huge win for the Huskies. ... No. 21 Duke has won each of its first three games by at least 20 points for the first time since 1994. ... South Alabama produced the day's most notable Group of Five over Power Five upset, thumping Oklahoma State in Stillwater. It was one of three games the Big 12 lost to G5 schools. Ohio beat Iowa State and Miami, Ohio, broke a 16-game losing streak against Cincinnati to give the Mid-American Conference two upsets.