The 2021 college football season is well underway, and so it goes every year in the sport, there are the usual fair share of expected storylines. The SEC, ACC, Big Ten, and Big 12 look primed to have teams in the College Football Playoff once again.
But there have also been some surprises, even this early on in the season. Alabama's offense looks dominant, even though it replaced most of its starters and offensive coordinator from last year's national title team. The UCLA Bruins and Oregon Ducks look like the teams to beat in the Pac-12, and a couple of other unexpected teams have had some statement victories early.
Let's take a look at what some of the biggest surprises have been this season as we head into Week 3 of college football.
Alabama's Offense Is Still a Force Despite Losses
It was a bit surprising when Alabama announced in January that Bill O'Brien, who was fired as the Houston Texans head coach early last season after compiling a 52-48 record over six-plus years, would be the Tide's new offensive coordinator. He replaced Steve Sarkisian, who became the Texas Longhorns head coach.
The hire was even more surprising given that Alabama seemed to be facing a challenging offensive rebuild. It had to replace starting quarterback Mac Jones, running back Najee Harris and receivers Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith, among others.
But O'Brien and the Tide's offense have risen to the challenge.
Through the first two weeks, the unit is averaging 46 points per game and is third in ESPN's S&P+ rankings, which measures teams' tempo and opponent-adjusted efficiency.
New starting quarterback Bryce Young hasn't had issues in the spotlight, averaging 285.5 yards passing per game, and he's tossed seven touchdowns and zero interceptions. Leading receivers John Metchie III and Jameson Williams are averaging a combined 16.9 yards per reception and have posted three scores together.
The offense hasn't had to do too much on the ground thanks to Young's success—the Tide's rushing attack ranks 77th in the nation. But backs Brian Robinson Jr. and Trey Sanders have combined for 201 yards and a pair of scores.
Next up is a trip to visit the No. 11 Florida Gators, so this will be an important test for Young's poise in a hostile environment. Florida's defense has seven sacks, and it's allowed 17 points per game. The Gators secondary allows 224.5 pass yards per contest, so we'll see if the Tide's aerial success can continue this week.
The Oregon Ducks Are Undefeated
Oregon had a statement victory over Ohio State last week to move to 2-0, upsetting the No. 3 Buckeyes 35-28 on the road. Not to mention they did so without two of their biggest defensive stars—potential No. 1 overall pick Kayvon Thibodeaux and linebacker Justin Flowe. The loss marked the Buckeyes' first at Ohio Stadium since Sept. 9, 2017, when then-No. 5 Oklahoma was victorious.
Oregon, which was a 14.5-point underdog, looked much better than it did in its season opener. Against an unranked Fresno State, the Ducks won by just a touchdown, 31-24—the Bulldogs even had a three-point road lead in the fourth quarter.
Ducks quarterback Anthony Brown has thrown for an average of 204 yards per game and has tossed three touchdowns. Junior running back CJ Verdell, who posted 1,000-yards rushing in 2018 and 2019, had 161 yards rushing and two touchdowns against Ohio State.
Head coach Mario Cristobal's defense has averaged 26 points allowed, but the unit is giving up just 3.36 yards per carry, a top-51 mark. The passing defense has been abhorrent with 391 yards allowed per game, the country's third-worst average. The Pac-12 isn't known for its defensive prowess, but defending the pass will come into play if Oregon hopes to make a CFP run.
With the victory against OSU, the Ducks look primed to win the Pac-12 North. The only team that might stand in their way in the division is Stanford, which Oregon faces on the road Oct. 2.
Who might Oregon face in the Pac-12 Championship Game? That brings us to our next surprise...