College football’s Week 3 slate is filled with marquee matchups and games that will have a significant impact on rankings or playoff positioning later in the season. While there are more than just five meaningful games, Athlon Sports is highlighting five games – Alabama vs. Ole Miss, Louisville vs. Florida State, Ohio State vs. Oklahoma, Oregon vs. Nebraska and Notre Dame vs. Michigan State – as the most important matchups of the week. The spotlight is always on the stars, such as Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, Florida State running back Dalvin Cook or Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett. However, a handful of under-the-radar players are going to play a critical role in the outcome of Saturday’s games. Here are 10 players (that aren’t superstars) to watch this weekend:
10 Under-the-Radar Players to Watch in the Biggest Games of Week 3
Alabama Offensive Line
Instead of mentioning one player here, let’s group the entire Alabama offensive line in this section. The Crimson Tide’s front five has yet to jell in 2016, as this unit has surrendered five sacks and the ground attack is managing only 4.4 yards per carry. Ole Miss has one of the SEC’s top defensive lines and is headlined by likely All-SEC end Marquis Haynes, as well as talented tackles Breeland Speaks, Benito Jones, Issac Gross and D.J. Jones. Alabama’s offensive line has struggled this year, but Saturday’s game is a good test to see how far this unit has developed.
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Ugo Amadi/Arrion Springs, CB, Oregon
Oregon entered 2016 searching for improvement in the secondary. Last year, the Ducks ranked 95th nationally in pass efficiency defense and ranked 11th in the Pac-12 by allowing 56 passing plays of 20 yards or more. Through two games of 2016, the Ducks rank 40th nationally in pass efficiency defense and have allowed only two plays of 30 yards or more. However, the secondary will be tested on Saturday against Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong and a deep group of receivers. Amadi and Springs have started the first two games at corner and will be matched against Jordan Westerkamp (22.2 ypc), Alonzo Moore (33.5 ypc) and Brandon Reilly (26 ypc). Reilly and Moore are questionable due to injuries, but even if those two can’t go, Westerkamp, De’Mornay Pierson-El and Stanley Morgan is still a tough challenge for this secondary.
DeAngelo Brown, DT, Louisville
Brown is one of the ACC’s most underrated defenders and works as the anchor for Louisville’s line. Brown has accumulated only three stops (two for a loss) through two games, but his presence is critical to containing the ground game for opposing teams or disrupting the pass protection. Brown will test a Florida State offensive line that has been inconsistent through the first two weeks of the season.
Parrish Cobb, CB, Oklahoma
The Sooners have one of the Big 12’s top cornerbacks in Jordan Thomas, but the other starting spot was a question mark entering 2016. Dakota Austin struggled against Houston, prompting Cobb to get the start against ULM. Cobb signed with Baylor in February but left the program after the off-field issues this offseason. The talented true freshman recorded two tackles against ULM. He will be tested early and often against Ohio State on Saturday.
Tyler O’Connor, QB, Michigan State
O’Connor already has a huge road win under his belt. Last season, O’Connor and Damion Terry led Michigan State to a 17-14 victory at Ohio State. While O’Connor was filling in for an injured Connor Cook that week, the focus shifts solely to the senior this year, as he edged Terry for the starting nod in offseason workouts. O’Connor completed 13 of 18 for 190 yards and three scores in the opener against Furman but faces a tougher test in South Bend against the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame’s secondary struggled against Texas but held Nevada to 201 yards (46.2 completion percentage) last week. Additionally, the Fighting Irish has struggled to generate pressure on quarterbacks in 2016. Michigan State doesn’t need O’Connor to throw for 300 yards on Saturday night, but his performance could be the difference between a win or a loss.
Michael Hill/Dre’Mont Jones/Davon Hamilton, DT, Ohio State
Hill, Jones and Hamilton are the primary tackles for Ohio State after the season-ending injury to Tracy Sprinkle in the opener against Bowling Green. This trio will be tasked with controlling the line of scrimmage on Saturday night, along with stopping the run against Oklahoma running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. In the Sooners’ opener against Houston, the offensive line struggled against the Cougars’ defensive front. Can this Buckeye trio help ends Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard do the same thing on Saturday night?
Greg Little/Rod Taylor, OL, Ole Miss
This duo anchors the left tackle position for Ole Miss and faces a tough assignment in blocking against Alabama’s talented defensive front on Saturday afternoon. The Rebels have surrendered five sacks through two games, while rushers are averaging only 4.1 yards per carry. Senior end Jonathan Allen is the headliner for the Crimson Tide defense, but linebackers Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson are tough to contain off the edge. Can Taylor and Little keep the pocket clean for quarterback Chad Kelly?
Kevin Maurice, DT, Nebraska
Maurice earned plenty of praise this offseason for his ability to stuff the run, and the Cornhuskers are going to need a big performance from the senior on Saturday. Nebraska’s rebuilt defensive line faces an Oregon offense averaging 6.7 yards per rush. Running back Royce Freeman (294 yards through two games) is one of the best in the nation, while Tony Brooks-James, Kani Benoit and Taj Griffin provide support as backups.
Isaac Rochell, DL, Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish has yet to record a sack in the first two games of 2016. Getting pressure on Saturday night against Michigan State will be essential for Brian Kelly’s team, as the Spartans will test Notre Dame’s secondary with a handful of playmakers on the outside, including receivers Donnie Corley, Monty Madaris, Felton Davis, R.J. Shelton and tight end Josiah Price. Rochell has been one of the top defenders so far for Notre Dame, accumulating three tackles for a loss and three quarterback hurries. Can he get to Michigan State quarterback Tyler O’Connor on Saturday night?
A.J. Westbrook, DB, Florida State
It’s no secret Florida State’s secondary is going to miss Derwin James in Saturday’s game against Louisville. James is one of the nation’s top defenders, and his versatility was a huge asset for coordinator Charles Kelly. The Seminoles have struggled at times with coverage in 2016, surrendering five passes of more than 30 yards in two games. However, there’s plenty of talent for Kelly to work with in containing Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson. Westbrook received snaps in six games last year and is expected to step into James’ role for his first career start on Saturday.