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Miami missed an opportunity to make a significant statement in Week 2 by losing at Ohio State, but the Hurricanes are still looking like the team to beat in the much-maligned ACC. Pittsburgh, after losing in Week 1 at Utah, needs a big win to boost its confidence. The Panthers are talented enough to win the wide-open Big East, but they need to shore up their pass defense (254.0 ypg) and get tailback Dion Lewis untracked. Here’s an interesting note: Neither team has a win over an FBS team yet.
Miami 24, Pittsburgh 17
Alabama (-7.5) at Arkansas
Some are calling it the biggest game in Fayetteville since 1969, when No. 1 Texas rallied for a 15–14 victory over No. 2 Arkansas in a classic battle of old Southwest Conference rivals. The stakes aren’t quite as high in this game, but the winner will take a commanding lead in the SEC West. Arkansas is riding high after beating Georgia in Athens last week, while Alabama improved to 3–0 with a dominating 62–13 win over Duke in Durham. Last year, the Crimson Tide defense shut down the Hogs’ offense in Tuscaloosa, holding quarterback Ryan Mallet to 12 completions (on 35 attempts) and 160 yards passing. Some of the names have changed on the Bama defense, but the results should be similar.
Alabama 30, Arkansas 17
Oregon State (+17) at Boise State
The crew from ESPN GameDay is making the trip to the Gem State to hype Boise State’s second — possibly final — big test of the regular season. The Broncos passed their first test, topping Virginia Tech 33–30 on Labor Day night. Boise needs to make another emphatic statement this weekend, due in part to Virginia Tech’s shocking loss to FCS foe James Madison two weeks ago. The pollsters who are looking for reasons to poke holes in the Broncos’ resume won’t be impressed unless Chris Petersen’s club soundly beats Oregon State.
Boise State 35, Oregon State 20
South Carolina (+2.5) at Auburn
It’s a great matchup between 3–0 teams hoping to make a move up the SEC food chain. Auburn won its second straight three-point game, beating Clemson, 27–24, in overtime Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium. After a shaky first half, quarterback Cameron Newton worked his magic, leading Auburn on scoring drives of 61, 72 and 83 yards in the third quarter. South Carolina has been the darling of the SEC media after the first three games of the season, with many already anointing Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks as the team to beat in the SEC. But keep in mind: South Carolina has yet to play on the road. We will know much more about this team after Saturday.
Auburn 20, South Carolina 17
West Virginia (+8) at LSU
They haven’t always looked great, but Les Miles’ Tigers keep on winning. In fact, LSU is the only team in the nation with three wins over BCS-conference schools (North Carolina, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State). The offense is still a concern — Jordan Jefferson has thrown for less than 100 yards in two straight games — but the Tigers’ defense has been very strong. West Virginia bounced back from a major scare against Marshall by beating Maryland with relative ease, 31–17. The Mountaineers were balanced on offense, with Geno Smith throwing for 268 yards and four touchdowns and Noel Devine running for 131 yards. Maintaining that type of balance against LSU will be far more difficult.
LSU 27, West Virginia 14
Stanford (-4.5) at Notre Dame
Notre Dame returns home after its second straight excruciating loss to a Big Ten school from Michigan. The Fighting Irish were on the verge of beating Michigan State in overtime until the Spartans executed a gutsy (and controversial) fake field goal on fourth down to secure a 34–31 win. Stanford has been very impressive in the early going, winning its first three games by an average score of 52–14. Last weekend, the Cardinal rolled up 535 yards en route to a 68–24 win over Wake Forest. Don’t be surprised if Andrew Luck and the Stanford offense have their way with the Notre Dame defense.
Stanford 35, Notre Dame 28
California (+7) at Arizona
It’s the Pac-10 opener for both schools. Arizona is 3–0 and in the national polls after its huge win over Iowa Saturday night. The story of the game was the Wildcats’ defense, which held Iowa’s top two tailbacks to a combined 35 net yards on 17 carries and sacked Ricky Stanzi six times. Cal suffered a significant setback last weekend, getting drilled at Nevada, 52–31. The Bears moved the ball with ease (277 yards passing, 225 rushing) but lost the turnover battle 3-to-1 and had no answer for Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Arizona 34, Cal 24
Georgia (+1) at Mississippi State
Two SEC teams in desperate need of a win meet Saturday in Starkville. Georgia, 0–2 in league play for the first time in Mark Richt’s tenure, is hoping to avoid its first 0–3 start since 1993. Mississippi State, which ended the ’09 season with a momentum-building win over Ole Miss, has averaged only 257.0 yards and 10.5 points in its two league losses, at home to Auburn and at LSU. In those two SEC defeats, quarterbacks Chris Relf and Tyler Russell have combined to complete only 26-of-53 passes with no touchdowns and six interceptions. MSU’s inability to throw the ball against quality competition — and yes, Georgia is still a quality opponent — will be the difference in this game.
Georgia 21, Mississippi State 14
Oregon (-12) at Arizona State
Oregon continues to put up unbelievable numbers on offense — 63.0 points and 611.7 yards per game — but keep in mind that two of the Ducks’ three games have come against New Mexico, arguably the worst FBS team in the nation, and Portland State, an FCS school that went 2–9 last season. There is no doubt that Oregon is very, very good, but the numbers this early in the season are a bit skewed. Arizona State is coming off a heartbreaking 20–19 loss at Wisconsin. The Sun Devils let an opportunity for a breakthrough win slip away. ASU is a team that leans on its defense, but quarterback Steven Threet, a transfer from Michigan (and Georgia Tech), and tailbacks Cameron Marshall and Deantre Lewis have been very productive. This one could be much closer than many predict.
Oregon 34, Arizona State 26
North Carolina (even) at Rutgers
It’s safe to say that the 2010 season has not gone well for the North Carolina Tar Heels. On the strength of the nation’s No. 1 defense, UNC was expected to contend for the ACC Coastal Division title. Butch Davis’ depleted team has played well but only has two 30–24 losses (LSU, Georgia Tech) on its resume. They have an opportunity to break into the win column against a Rutgers team that is a bit of a mystery. The Scarlet Knights have struggled on offense en route to wins over Norfolk State and FIU. There is a reason this game is a pick ‘em.
North Carolina 17, Rutgers 14
Last week: 9–1 overall (8-1-1 against the spread)
Season: 24–6 overall (17–10–3 against the spread)