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College Football Week 3 Preview: Match-ups and Upset Picks

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By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

10 Key Storylines to Watch for Week 3

1. It’s only Week 3, but Saturday’s game between Florida State and Oklahoma will have an impact on the national title race. The winner of this matchup has a good chance to run the table and finish undefeated. With both teams expected to rank among the top 5-10 spots in the final poll, this could be an elimination game for the national championship. The Sooners have won the last five meetings between these two teams, including a 47-17 blowout last year. The Seminoles should have a better showing this time around, especially with this game in Tallahassee. Keep an eye on the matchup in the trenches. Florida State’s defensive line is one of the best in college football, which will be an issue for Oklahoma, especially with tackle Daryl Williams hobbled by a high ankle sprain.

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2. The annual Florida-Tennessee game has lost some of its appeal in recent years. Under Urban Meyer, the Gators won six in a row over the Volunteers. Also, Tennessee has struggled to contend for the SEC East title, posting a 10-14 conference record since 2007. This season’s matchup features a lot of intrigue. Florida coach Will Muschamp is familiar with Tennessee coach Derek Dooley from their days as assistants under Nick Saban at LSU. Also, the Volunteers have been impressive on offense through two games, while the Gators look like they have one of the best defenses in the SEC. Tennessee’s offensive line is still a work in progress and if it struggles to protect quarterback Tyler Bray against a very good Florida defensive line, the Volunteers will have a long afternoon in the Swamp. Bray has posted some big numbers in a short time as the starter, but has yet to face a defense the caliber of Florida.

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3. If not for turnovers, there’s a good chance Notre Dame would be 2-0. The Irish rank last nationally in turnover margin, which has to be corrected in Saturday’s game against Michigan State. The Spartans have won three out of the last four in this series, including a 34-31 thriller in East Lansing last year. Saturday’s game is an important one for Notre Dame, as it needs to get back on the winning track. The Irish could still finish 10-2, and contending for a spot in one of the BCS bowls isn’t dead yet. Notre Dame has struggled against the pass, allowing 233 yards per game through two weeks. The Spartans should test the Irish secondary, but protecting quarterback Kirk Cousins is a concern. It’s hard to call the third game of the year a must-win, but after outplaying its first two opponents and losing, Notre Dame really needs this one.

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4. With Utah joining the Pac-12 and BYU becoming an Independent, these two rivals won’t meet as conference foes for the first time in 113 years. However, that shouldn’t change the anticipation for this matchup. The Holy War is an underappreciated rivalry on the national front. Quarterback play will be huge. BYU’s Jake Heaps looks to bounce back after a sluggish performance against Texas (22 of 38, 192 yards and two interceptions), while Utah’s Jordan Wynn needs to build some confidence as he continues to recover from offseason shoulder surgery. Five of the last six matchups have been decided by a touchdown or less. Expect a similar outcome on Saturday.

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5. Two of the top offensive minds in college football will meet when Clemson hosts Auburn this Saturday. Gus Malzahn (Auburn) will square off against his protégé Chad Morris (Clemson) in what should be an entertaining non-conference matchup. Over the last four years, Malzahn’s offenses have ranked no worse than 17th in scoring offense. Morris coordinated Tulsa’s offense to a No. 6 national ranking in scoring offense. These two offensive gurus are friends off the field, but for 60 minutes, it’s all about winning. Clemson has not impressed in two games, while Auburn has needed a late play in both games to win. With suspect defenses, Auburn and Clemson could be one of this week’s highest-scoring games. 

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6. Less than 225 miles separate the Maryland and West Virginia campuses, but this rivalry has been pretty quiet in recent years. The Mountaineers have claimed the last five in this series, with Maryland’s last victory coming in the 2004 Gator Bowl. The Terrapins should have a good chance to break that losing streak on Saturday, especially with Danny O’Brien under center. The 2010 ACC Rookie of the Year had a stellar performance in the opener, throwing for 348 yards and one score against Miami. West Virginia’s new pass-first offense is still a work in progress, largely due to a suspect offensive line, but Geno Smith is completing 66.7 percent of his passes and has yet to throw an interception. With both teams wanting to establish the pass, whichever offensive line can protect the best might be the deciding factor on Saturday.