Athlon previews college football's Week 3 action.
College football's Week 3 slate is full of interesting action. Arkansas had a surprising defeat to Louisiana-Monroe last week but has a chance to knock off No. 1 Alabama this Saturday. The Razorbacks are heavy underdogs and could be without starting quarterback Tyler Wilson. The action in the SEC isn't limited to Arkansas-Alabama, as Florida-Tennessee meet in Knoxville for a crucial East Division showdown. Notre Dame-Michigan State, USC-Stanford, BYU-Utah and North Carolina-Louisville are some of the other top games to monitor this weekend.
Top Storylines to Watch in Week 3
1. Will Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson play against Alabama?
With or without Tyler Wilson, Arkansas has an uphill battle to beat Alabama on Saturday. The Razorbacks have lost their last five games against the Crimson Tide, including a 38-14 matchup last season. In addition to preparing for college football’s No. 1 team, Arkansas is still reeling from last week’s loss to Louisiana-Monroe. If Wilson can’t go, redshirt freshman Brandon Allen or junior Brandon Mitchell will get the start. The offense isn’t the only side of the ball dealing with question marks, as the Razorbacks have to play better on defense to beat Alabama. Even if Wilson plays, this matchup has all of the makings of an Alabama blowout.
2. SEC East Showdown
The Tennessee-Florida rivalry isn’t quite ready to become nationally relevant once again, but it’s getting closer. Both teams are off to 2-0 starts, and the winner of this game could challenge Georgia or South Carolina in the East. The Volunteers’ passing attack (353.5 yards per game) will be challenged by a Florida secondary that has yet to allow a passing touchdown this season. While Tennessee should be able to move the ball on the Gators’ secondary, it needs to establish the ground game and bring some balance to the offense. When Florida has the ball, all eyes will be on Jeff Driskel. The sophomore finished with 162 passing yards against Texas A&M but didn’t throw an interception. For the Gators to win, Driskel needs to be efficient, while running back Mike Gillislee needs to get to at least 100 yards.
3. Can Matt Barkley finally beat Stanford?
The only Pac-12 team Matt Barkley hasn’t defeated during his illustrious USC career is Stanford. The Cardinal have won the last three games in this series and had a convincing 50-13 win over Duke last week. While Stanford has had success against the Trojans in recent years, Barkley should be able to win his final matchup against the Cardinal. Stanford’s secondary is allowing 290 yards a game and has yet to play a passing attack as skilled and talented as the Trojans'. The Cardinal’s rushing attack will test USC’s defense, but the Trojans simply have too much firepower on offense.
4. Can Michigan State remain unbeaten?
With Michigan and Nebraska losing in the first two weeks of the season, Michigan State is the Big Ten’s best shot at reaching the national title. The Spartans had a sluggish showing in the opener against Boise State but as expected, had a convincing win over Central Michigan last week. Michigan State takes on Notre Dame this Saturday, a team it has defeated two times in a row in East Lansing. The Irish handled the Spartans 31-13 in South Bend last year. Quarterbacks will be in the spotlight in this game, as Michigan State wants to see progress from Andrew Maxwell, while this will be Everett Golson’s toughest challenge as Notre Dame’s quarterback. Golson did not finish last Saturday’s game against Purdue but has thrown for 433 yards and two touchdowns on 49 attempts thus far. With two young quarterbacks still finding their rhythm, look for a low-scoring, defensive game. Turnovers will play a large role in determining the outcome of this matchup, while it’s also important for both quarterbacks to get on track early in the game.
5. The Holy War
The Holy War is one of the nation’s top rivalry games and Saturday’s game will be an important one for both BYU and Utah. The Cougars lost 54-10 to the Utes last season and need to go unbeaten to have any shot at a BCS game. Utah is reeling a bit, as it lost to in-state foe Utah State last Friday and lost quarterback Jordan Wynn for the season with a shoulder injury. The stakes are always high when these two teams meet, but there’s an extra sense of urgency. The Utes need a good showing to erase last week’s disappointing effort, especially with Pac-12 play beginning on Sept. 22 at Arizona State. For the Cougars, it’s all about revenge and keeping BCS hopes alive. With both teams ranked in the top 20 in total defense, points could be at a premium on Saturday.
6. Intriguing Off-the-Radar Games
Wake Forest at Florida State – This is the first real test for Florida State. Games against Murray State and Savannah State didn’t give much insight into the Seminoles, who are expected to challenge for the national title. The Demon Deacons are a big underdog but are 2-2 in their last four games against Florida State. One area to watch for the Seminoles on Saturday will be a revamped offensive line.
Virginia at Georgia Tech – It’s only Week 3, but this is a crucial game for the Yellow Jackets. With an opening week loss to Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech needs to win to keep its ACC Coastal title hopes alive. With a win over the Yellow Jackets, Virginia would be positioned to be the top challenger to the Hokies.
Arkansas State at Nebraska – After allowing 36 points to UCLA last Saturday, the Red Wolves won’t be an easy out for Nebraska. Arkansas State quarterback Ryan Aplin ranks eighth nationally in total offense, while Tennessee transfer David Oku is averaging 96 yards a game on the ground. The Red Wolves may not win, but will give Nebraska all it can handle.
Connecticut at Maryland – Otherwise known as the Randy Edsall Bowl. Edsall had a messy departure from Connecticut and hasn’t won over all Maryland fans after a 4-10 start to his tenure in College Park. While Edsall facing his old team will be intriguing, the real matchup to watch is the Huskies’ defense against the Terrapins’ offense. Connecticut’s defense has allowed 10 points through the first two games of this year and could make life difficult on Maryland true freshman quarterback Perry Hills.
North Carolina at Louisville – The Tar Heels struggled to stop Wake Forest last week, allowing 327 passing yards to quarterback Tanner Price. North Carolina’s secondary will be under fire once again, as it looks to slow down Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater.
Arizona State at Missouri – These two teams met for a 37-30 shootout last season, and there should be no shortage of points this Saturday. The Sun Devils are off to a fast start under new coach Todd Graham, while Missouri dropped its SEC opener to Georgia last week.
TCU at Kansas – The Jayhawks are reeling, especially after losing to Rice last week. The Horned Frogs easily took care of Grambling last Saturday, but this will be their first Big 12 game in school history. TCU should win without much trouble, but this is a historic moment in the program’s history.
Washington State at UNLV – The Rebels shouldn’t pose much of a threat to the Cougars, especially after losing to Northern Arizona last week. However, it will be interesting to watch Washington State’s offense. Surprisingly, the Cougars have yet to get on track, and will likely have a new quarterback under center (Connor Halliday).
7. Five Players to Watch
Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State – Thanks to two strong performances, Miller has thrown his name into the Heisman mix. The sophomore has back-to-back 100-yard rushing efforts, while throwing for 362 yards and three scores. Miller should shine once again against California, but Urban Meyer would like to reduce his carries this Saturday.
David Ash, QB, Texas – Saturday’s game at Ole Miss will be Ash’s second start on the road. Although the competition hasn’t been great, the sophomore has thrown for 377 yards and three touchdowns in two games and has yet to throw an interception. If Ash has another solid performance in Oxford, it would help ease the concerns about the offense going into Big 12 play.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson – After sitting out the first two games of the year due to a suspension, Watkins will be back in the lineup against Furman. The Tigers shouldn’t need Watkins to win, but it’s a crucial time to have the sophomore back in the lineup. With Florida State up next, Clemson needs Watkins and quarterback Tajh Boyd to be on the same page.
Kiehl Frazier, QB, Auburn – Auburn’s offense ranks among the worst in the SEC and it may not get much better if Frazier doesn’t improve along the way. The sophomore has thrown for 319 yards in the first two games but has also tossed four picks. It’s important that Frazier gain some measure of confidence before the Tigers play LSU on Sept. 22.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M – Manziel was solid in his college debut, throwing for 173 yards, while rushing for 60 yards and a touchdown. He should get better with more experience and should have a huge day against a SMU defense allowing 532.5 yards per game.
8. Desperate for a Win
Auburn (0-2) – With a schedule that features LSU, Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M in the upcoming SEC slate, Saturday’s game against Louisiana-Monroe is a must-win game for Auburn. The Tigers are struggling to find the right mix on offense, but the defense has to tackle better and stop opposing team’s rushing attacks.
Colorado (0-2) – Coach Jon Embree inherited a tough situation at Colorado, but he has done little to show the Buffaloes are on the right track. After losing to Colorado State and Sacramento State, Colorado desperately needs to beat Fresno State this Saturday.
Penn State (0-2) – The Nittany Lions nearly broke into the win column against Virginia last week but missed a last-second field goal for the victory. Penn State gets a Navy team that’s always difficult to prepare for, but the Nittany Lions’ defense should be up to the task.
Pittsburgh (0-2) – The Panthers were a popular sleeper pick in the preseason, but they are off to a disappointing 0-2 start, which includes a 31-17 loss at the hands of Youngstown State. Getting into the win column for Pittsburgh won't be easy, especially with a tough matchup against Virginia Tech this Saturday.
Wisconsin (1-1) – The Badgers have not looked like a Big Ten title contender through the first two weeks of the season, barely beating Northern Iowa in Week 1 and losing to Oregon State in Week 2. Wisconsin faces a dangerous Utah State team on Saturday, and it will be interesting to watch how the Badgers' offensive line plays, especially after line coach Mike Markuson was fired after last week’s game.
9. Injuries to Monitor
Nathan Scheelhaase, QB, Illinois – Scheelhaase did not play in the loss to Arizona State but is expected to play against Charleston Southern this Saturday.
Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina – Shaw missed last week’s game against East Carolina due to a shoulder injury, but backup Dylan Thompson threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns in his absence. Shaw is getting closer to a return, but the Gamecocks may hold him out until next week’s SEC game against Missouri.
Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State – Tuel suffered a knee injury against Eastern Washington and is unlikely to play in Friday’s game against UNLV.
Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas – Wilson suffered a concussion in last week’s loss to Louisiana-Monroe and is questionable to play on Saturday. Even if Wilson plays, it will be tough for Arkansas to beat Alabama.
Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina – Bernard missed last week’s game against Wake Forest due to a knee injury but is back at practice and is expected to play on Saturday.
Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska – Burkhead missed last week’s game against UCLA due to a sprained MCL and may not play once again this week. The Cornhuskers should be able to establish their ground attack against Arkansas State without Burkhead, so they can afford to allow him another week of rest.
Mike Gillislee, RB, Florida – Gillislee has been a key factor in Florida’s 2-0 start this season, rushing for 231 yards and four touchdowns so far. He suffered a groin injury against Texas A&M, but it is not expected to sideline him against Tennessee this Saturday.
Nick Harwell, WR, Miami (Ohio) – Harwell is battling a knee injury, which is a concern for the RedHawks’ passing attack with Boise State on tap for this Saturday.
Khaled Holmes, C, USC – Holmes left last Saturday’s game against Syracuse with a leg injury, and his status for this week’s game against Stanford is uncertain. The senior is one of the nation’s best centers, so if he is forced to miss any time, it will be a huge blow to USC’s offense.
10. Upset Picks to Watch
Ball State at Indiana (-2.5)
The Hoosiers are off to a 2-0 start, but their schedule has been very soft. Quarterback Tre Roberson was lost for the year due to a leg injury against UMass, which means junior college recruit Cameron Coffman will step into the starting role. Ball State upset Indiana last season, so a victory this Saturday wouldn’t be much of a surprise.
Pick: Ball State 31-27
Louisiana-Monroe at Auburn (-16.5)
Thanks to their upset win against Arkansas last Saturday, the Warhawks have been in the spotlight all week. Can they make it two in a row? Auburn’s defense is capable of playing better than it has so far this year, which will make life tough for ULM quarterback Kolton Browning. If the Tigers struggle on offense once again, the Warhawks will have a shot at the upset.
Pick: Auburn 30-24
Utah State at Wisconsin (-13)
The Badgers have not impressed through the first two weeks of the season, and coach Bret Bielema isn’t waiting long to make changes. Line coach Mike Markuson was fired, which is yet another change to a coaching staff that went through many personnel changes following the 2011 season. Utah State is coming off an upset over Utah last week and if it doesn’t suffer much of a hangover from beating the Utes, it could pull off another one this Saturday.
Pick: Wisconsin 34-27
Western Kentucky at Kentucky (-7)
Kentucky coach Joker Phillips desperately needs to win this Saturday. The Wildcats were handled by in-state rival Louisville in the season opener and can’t afford to lose to the Hilltoppers this week. Western Kentucky doesn’t have an explosive offense, but its defense picked up six sacks against Alabama last week.
Pick: Western Kentucky 24, Kentucky 20
11. Five Games to Avoid
James Madison at West Virginia
This game should be an opportunity for West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith to pad his stats for a run at the Heisman.
Pick: West Virginia 58-7
UMass at Michigan
Even though the Wolverines are allowing 33 points a game, UMass’ offense should pose little threat after scoring six points through the first two contests.
Pick: Michigan 52-7
Idaho at LSU
After losing to Eastern Washington in the season opener, the Vandals played better in Week 2 against Bowling Green. However, Idaho is simply overmatched against LSU.
Pick: LSU 52-3
FAU at Georgia
The Owls barely squeaked by FCS opponent Wagner in the season opener and lost to MTSU in Week 2. The Bulldogs might have a bit of a letdown after winning at Missouri last week, but they will still pull away for one-sided victory on Saturday.
Pick: Georgia 50-7
Tennessee Tech at Oregon
The Ducks haven’t had to sweat much through the first two weeks of the season and should have another breather against Tennessee Tech. The only intrigue surrounding this matchup will be former Tennessee receiver Da’Rick Rogers (now at Tennessee Tech) taking on the Ducks’ secondary.
Pick: Oregon 62-10
by Steven Lassan
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