College Football Week 3 Preview – Top 25 Matchups Highlight Big Week
For the first time in history, the top three teams in the AP poll will all be on the road against ranked opponents. If that doesn’t scream potential for chaos, I don’t know what does. Here are some of the big questions going into this weekend of college football.
Can Ole Miss Threepeat?
Only two schools can claim to have beaten Nick Saban three straight years, and both cases go back to Saban’s Michigan State days (Michigan in 1996-98 and Purdue 1997-99). So for the Rebels to take down Saban and the Crimson Tide for the third consecutive time would place them in a rare pantheon of college football.
For Ole Miss to pull another upset, quarterback Chad Kelly will likely have to put the game on his shoulders. The Crimson Tide led the nation in rush defense last year and has given up just 43.5 rush yards per game this year. Kelly had an up-and-down game in a season-opening loss to Florida State, throwing for 313 yards and four touchdowns but also turning the ball over four times. He will need to not just play well but also avoid costly mistakes against an Alabama defense that thrives on takeaways and stuffing the run game. He could become just the second quarterback (Drew Brees being the other) to beat Nick Saban two years in a row.
For Alabama, the key is holding onto the ball. In the two previous losses to Ole Miss -- both by just six points -- the Crimson Tide has been an uncharacteristic minus-six in turnover margin. Alabama certainly has the personnel to beat the Rebels. They just have to stop shooting themselves in the foot.
Can Anyone Stop Lamar Jackson?
If the season ended today, not only would the playoff selection committee have a really tough job but it’s likely Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson would walk away with the Heisman. In just six quarters of action, the sophomore has already racked up 1,015 yards and 13 touchdowns. In the Cardinals’ 62-28 win over Syracuse last week, Jackson set an ACC record with 610 yards of total offense, became the first player in FBS history to pass for 400 yards and rush for 175 in the same game and set a school record for career rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (15—in just his 14th game).
However, those gaudy stats came at the expense of Charlotte and Syracuse. To cement his place as the Heisman frontrunner, he’ll have to do it this week against No. 2 Florida State. The Seminoles got off to a rocky start, giving up 34 points and 313 passing yards in a Week 1 win over Ole Miss. But they rebounded a bit the next week, albeit against weaker competition, allowing just eight points and 294 total yards to FCS Charleston Southern.
But the matchup to watch will be in the secondary where Florida State will be missing All-American free safety Derwin James, who will be out 5-7 weeks with a torn meniscus. While the Seminoles certainly don’t lack playmakers on the defense, James’ presence in the middle of the field could be missed if Jackson gets time to throw or can break contain and run with the ball.
Will the Big 12 Be An Afterthought by October?
When the season started, the Big 12 boasted one legitimate national title contender (No. 3 Oklahoma), one trendy dark horse pick (No. 13 TCU) and a couple of teams with big potential (No. 21 Oklahoma State and No. 23 Baylor). Fast forward a couple of weeks and all but Baylor have already lost. It’s hard to imagine TCU, Oklahoma State or Baylor working themselves into the playoff mix at this point and, with No. 3 Ohio State on deck, the Sooners could be looking at two September losses for the first time since 2005.
Yes, Baylor is still unbeaten. And Texas looked good in its 2OT win over Notre Dame. But the Longhorns have a tough road matchup at Cal this weekend and it’s difficult to see either of them getting through Big 12 play unscathed. So all eyes in Big 12 country will be on the Ohio State/Oklahoma game this weekend. If the Sooners go down, they’ll likely take the conference’s playoff hopes with them.
How Big is This Weekend for Nebraska?
Nebraska has not won a conference title since 1999 and has not beaten a ranked, nonconference opponent in the regular season since 2001. So while a win over No. 22 Oregon wouldn’t launch the Cornhuskers back into the ranks of college football’s elite, it would signal that second-year coach Mike Riley—who is no stranger to playing the Ducks—at least has the program moving in the right direction.
Nebraska has looked solid on offense this year, with a balanced attack that has put up 478 yards per game in wins over Fresno State and Wyoming. They should be able to have success against a Ducks defense that ranked 116th nationally last year, has struggled to stop the run and has given up 27 points per game against Virginia and UC Davis.
While the Nebraska defense has shown improvement this year, they haven’t faced an offense of the Ducks’ caliber. Transfer quarterback Dakota Prukop is averaging 301 yards per game with six touchdowns and no interceptions. Running back Royce Freeman, who averages 147 yards per game, is always a big play threat. While the defenses are good enough to keep this from becoming an outright shootout, the two offenses will almost certainly be on display. One trend to watch will be turnovers: through two games, Nebraska is plus-seven in turnover margin after six straight years of being in the negative.
While Nebraska fans love to reminisce about their mid-90’s dynasty, those days aren’t coming back anytime soon. In the meantime, however, a win over Oregon would be a big confidence boost the once-proud program needs to contend in the Big Ten.
And just for some random trivia, the last time an unranked Nebraska squad beat a ranked nonconference opponent in the regular season? 1977, when the Cornhuskers knocked off No. 4 Alabama, 31-24, after apparently being inspired the night before by a viewing of some hot new swashbuckling space movie called Star Wars.
Can Lightning Strike Twice?
Michigan was able to sleep walk through wins over Hawaii and Central Florida. And, although Colorado is showing signs of improvement, Michigan is still deservedly a heavy favorite. The Wolverines should go into Big Ten play unbeaten, but stranger things have happened.